Category Archives: History

Ted Diamond’s Legacy

Kerstin Rao retired in 2021, after 2 decades as a teacher in Bedford Middle School’s gifted program.

Among her many wonderful experiences was the chance to meet World War II Army Air Corps combat navigator Ted Diamond. He died on Tuesday, at 105.

The longtime Westporter — who (among many other accomplishments) served 3 terms as 2nd Selectman — made quite a mark on Kerstin’s students.

And on her. She writes:

When I read on “06880” that Ted Diamond had passed, I found my heart filled with gratitude for the brief times I got to know him during his Veterans Day visits, when I taught at Bedford Middle School.

For at least 2 decades, possibly longer, Bedford’s 8th grade social studies teachers have organized visits by local veterans each November. The impact of these visits is often profound. Students would come into my classes the rest of the week bringing up points the veterans had talked about, wondering what they would have done if they were in the same situation, and curious about ways to serve the country.

Kerstin Rao and Ted Diamond.

My classroom was usually the gathering place as veterans arrived. The PTA would put together a breakfast, and the vets used that morning time to catch up with longtime friends. There was plenty of talk of grandchildren, ailments, and some razzing between the branches of service. However, I also observed how the older vets were genuinely curious to hear from the younger service members about their experiences.

Whenever I could, I brought my sketch journal. I quietly sat in the back of different classrooms as the vets shared their stories. Some years I made drawings of the men and women as they spoke, jotting down the insights that moved my heart. I’m glad I captured a sketch of Ted and some of his thoughts in my journal.

In 2016, Ted told how some men in his unit held deep racial biases. But when they were pinned down and the Tuskegee Airmen saved their lives, those biases were obliterated.

Kerstin Rao’s 2016 journal includes a sketch of Ted Diamond, and some of the important ideas he shared with Bedford Middle School 8th graders.

In 2017, he brought a photo of his unit. He pointed to a few faces, saying this one was from Michigan, this one was from Colorado. He said he could have brought photos of his wing shot off, or the engine of the plane across the way on fire, but to him, this was the single most important picture. He wanted the students to understand that no matter where we are from, we are one country, working together.

A photo Ted Diamond (top row, 2nd from right) shared with the students.

Ted Diamond stood out to me because every year, without fail, his stories focused on our shared humanity. He had a graciousness and gentle humor that made his listeners lean in. He took us into the moment during pivotal times of his World War II battle experiences. He always left us with the message that we have far more in common than we realize, and this is where the true promise of our country resides.

In my lifetime, I’ve never witnessed such bitter division in America as we have lived through these past few years. Nationally and locally, I am troubled to notice a greater willingness to violate the rights of others, speak in inflamed rhetoric without a willingness to listen, and openly expressed innuendo that violence could be inevitable.

Violence is not inevitable.

Discord is not inevitable.

When we pause a moment, we realize that we dishonor the legacy of our veterans if we allow our country to erode from within. I heard this expressed by several veterans over the years. If Ted has left us a call to action, it is this: Each of us has a choice. We could pull further apart, or we could strengthen our country by working together. We can choose integrity, understanding, and connection which becomes a service to our country.

For this message which guides my own path forward, I am truly grateful. Thank you, Ted.

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Ted Diamond’s family is still preparing his obituary. But they sent along a few photos. Here is a century-plus, of a well-lived life.

Ted Diamond is the youngest child in this photo.

Ted Diamond, as a World War II Army Air Corps combat navigator.

Ted and Carol Diamond’s wedding. They were married for 75 years.

Ted and Carol Diamond, and their 2 sons.

Carol and Ted Diamond.

Ted Diamond, looking pensive.

Ted Diamond, with his great-grandson Peter.

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Remembering Ted Diamond

Ted Diamond — proud World War II veteran, longtime local volunteer, former 2nd selectman, Memorial Day parade grand marshal, and beloved Westporter – died Tuesday night, of complications from COVID. He was 105 years old.

Ted died less than 5 months after his wife Carol. She was 100. They were married for 75 years.

An Army Air Corps combat navigator with the 15th Air Force, Ted flew 50 World War II missions over highly secured military installations across Europe. He often led groups of 28 B-17s.

Seven years ago — on his 98th birthday — Ted received France’s highest medal: the insignia of Chevalier (knight) of the Legion of Honor.

The award — established by Napoleon in 1802 — acknowledged his enduring contribution to the success of Operation Dragoon, a military campaign to free the nation from Nazi domination.

Ted Diamond, at this year’s Memorial Day ceremony.

He spent more than two-third of his life — 67 years — in Westport. In addition to 3 terms as 2nd selectman, he was an RTM member, and volunteered on numerous town committees, commissions and boards.

In 2007, Ted served as grand marshal of the Memorial Day parade. He attended nearly every one since moving here — including this past May. Surrounded by admirers, he always made sure to acknowledge the sacrifices of others.

Ted Diamond in May, at this year’s Memorial Day parade. (Photo/Ted Horowitz)

In 2019, 102-year-old Ted was honored at a Bedford Middle School Veterans Day ceremony. He met with 8th graders, and — in firm, clear tones — described his wartime experiences, and the lessons learned from them.

A memorial service will be held at a later date. A full obituary will be posted when it is available.

Ted Diamond and his wife Carol, at a 2018 “town hall” meeting with Congressman Jim Himes.

 

Our Native Daughters: The Sequel

Exactly 3 years ago — July 23, 2019 — the Levitt Pavilion made a bit of history.

Our Native Daughters — 4 gifted women who reclaim 1800s minstrel music, with power and pride — kicked off their summer tour here.

The next day, the group performed at The Smithsonian Museum of African American History & Culture in Washington, DC. Another tour stop was the Newport Folk Festival.

Spurred by a MacArthur “genius grant,” and with banjos, other instruments and willowy, jazzy and soulful phrasing, Our Native Daughters redefine roots music. Long the purview of whites wearing blackface, they seize it back, showing how storytelling and songs from Black women have been the bedrock of the African American family, from antebellum America to the present.

Our Native Daughters

A crew from the Smithsonian Channel was at the Levitt 3 years ago, to film this show.

The 2021 trailer features the pavilion right at the start:

The Smithsonian has now released the full documentary. It’s available on several platforms, including Paramount+ and Amazon.

But the Levitt is hardly living in the past.

Allison Russell — one of Our Native Daughters’ founding members — returns here on August 21. Her show is part of the “Stars on Tour” series.

On her Grammy-nominated debut solo album, “Outside Child,” Russell shared the story of her abusive childhood in a moving song-cycle of courage, empathy, hope and love.

She made history as the first Black artist to win a Juno for Contemporary Roots Album of the Year. The New York Times named it the #2 Best Album of the Year, and the song “Nightflyer” made Barack Obama’s annual list of favorites.

Click here for tickets, and more information.

Allison Russell

Unsung Hero #245

The woman and her 11-year-old twin daughters walked into the Westport Book Shop.

They’d just moved to town. The girls are avid readers. They especially love history.

One of them spotted the first 5 books of a rare 7-volume biography of George Washington.

Unfortunately, the price — $195 — was too high. Disappointed, they looked for less expensive options.

The George Washington biography. Author Douglas Southall Freeman won a Pulitzer Prize for his work.

Soon after arriving back home, a Book Shop employee called. The books had already been bought, she said …

… “for your daughters.”

There was only one other shopper in the store. One of the girls had explained to her why the biography was so interesting.

After they left, the woman purchased the set for the girls.

And asked to remain anonymous.

Karma is definitely at work here. “We’ve always donated books ourselves,” the mother says. “They need to have a life beyond just one owner.”

The George Washington biography is not easy reading. Each volume is over 500 pages. But the girls have already dived in. When they’re done, they’ll look for the final 2 books in the set.

But that’s not all they’re doing this summer. They wrote a long thank-you note, and asked the Westport Book Shop to send it to their anonymous benefactor.

(Hat tip: Dianne Wildman. If you know a worthy Unsung Hero, email 06880blog@gmail.com)

(Like the Westport Book Shop, “06880” relies on donations. Please click here to help.)

The Westport Book Shop.

Westport Country Playhouse: 91 Years Young Today

On June 29, 1931, the curtain rose for the first time at the Westport Country Playhouse.

It ushered in a new chapter in town history — and the theater world nationally.

By 1930, Lawrence Langner and his wife Armina Marshall had achieved remarkable success as theater producers. The Theatre Guild — which Langner co-founded — had become perhaps the most prolific and influential producer on Broadway, and the leading producer of touring productions throughout the country.

Residents of Weston, the Langners wanted to establish a resident acting company, and experiment with new plays and reinterpretations of classics. But it had to be away from the spotlight of New York.

In the winter of 1930 they saw an old barn in an apple orchard near downtown Westport. The town was already popular with Broadway’s theatrical community.

It was exactly what they were looking for. They bought the property, with an assessed value of $14,000.

The 1930 barn.

Cleon Throckmorton — a respected Broadway set designer who had also designed the Cape Playhouse in Dennis, Massachusetts — was hired to transform the 1835 tannery into a theater.

The first production — “The Streets of New York” — opened 91 years ago today.

It was called Woodland Theatre. On opening day, Langner changed the name, to Country Playhouse.

The Westport Playhouse has seen countless highlights since then. Among them:

1933: “Present Laughter” is directed by Antoinette Perry. The Tony Awards are now named for her.

1935: Langner purchases 3.5 more acres, at $2,000 an acre, to expand the facilities. Extensions to the theater and construction of a scene shop and offices cost $25,000; a refreshment stand is $225.

1939: An unknown Gene Kelly dances in a musical revue. with a pair of new composers/performers named Betty Comden and Adolph Green.

1940: Oklahoma!” was never performed on the Playhouse stage, yet it plays a critical role in its genesis. A 1940 production of Lynn Riggs’ Green Grow the Lilacs incorporates turn-of-the-century folk songs, and a square dance scene. Langner invites Fairfield resident Richard Rodgers to see a performance. Three years later the Theatre Guild produces Oklahoma! on Broadway.

An early audience outside the Playhouse.

1941: Tallulah Bankhead adds drama to Her Cardboard Lover by taking her bows carrying a lion cub in her arms. It’s such a hit, she does it every night.

1941: Lee Strasberg directs Tyrone Power in Liliom, which later becomes Carousel on Broadway. Power is ready to open at the Playhouse when Daryl Zanuck, head of 20th Century Fox, demands he return to Hollywood to re-shoot movie scenes. Playhouse attorney Kenneth Bradley invokes a 300-year-old Connecticut blue law to keep Power here.

1942-45: For 4 seasons during World War II, when gas rationing prevents audiences from getting to the theater, there are no productions. The next season closure occurs 75 years later, during COVID..

1946: Just before Olivia de Havilland takes the stage on opening night of What Every Woman Knows, she marries novelist and journalist Marcus Goodrich at Langner’s Weston home.

1946: The apprentice system begins. Over the years, summer interns include Stephen Sondheim (1950) and Tammy Grimes (1954). Today the Playhouse hosts the Woodward Internship Program, a national program for emerging theater professionals. It is named for longtime Playhouse supporter Joanne Woodward.

Stephen Sondheim (crouching, top of photo), during his 1950 apprenticeship. The photo was taken at the Jolly Fisherman restaurant. Also in the photo: future film director Frank Perry (front row, left) and Richard Rodgers’ daughter Mary (2nd row, 4th from left).

1949: Helen Hayes performs with her 19-year-old daughter, Mary MacArthur, in Good Housekeeping. Mary becomes ill the day after closing, and dies of polio one week later.

1951: A world premiere comedy by Noël Coward, Island Fling, stars Claudette Colbert. Post-performance visitors to Colbert’s dressing room include Marlene Dietrich, Danny Kaye, Richard Rodgers and Otto Preminger.

 1952: Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe, who had achieved great success with Brigadoon and Paint Your Wagon, struggle to create a musical from Shaw’s Pygmalion. Lerner sees it on the Playhouse stage. Four years later My Fair Lady becomes a smash on Broadway.

1954: ApprenticeTammy Grimes is fired from the box office in her first week because she is unable to make correct change. She is transferred backstage, where she irons actor Richard Kiley’s pants.

1954: A restaurant is built adjacent to the Playhouse: Players Tavern.

The iconic red Westport Country Playhouse.

1954: Christopher Plummer makes his American stage debut in Home Is the Hero. Years later, he joins the Playhouse board of trustees.

1955: The Empress includes apprentice Sally Jessy. She later earns fame as talk show host Sally Jessy Raphael.

1956: The big concern every day is how much ice to order. The theater is cooled by fans blowing over ice. Vintage posters in the lobby boast, “Air-cooled.”

Westport Country Playhouse in 1960 (Photo courtesy of Paul Ehrismann)

1957: Eartha Kitt stars in Mrs. Patterson, a Tony-nominated role she originated on Broadway. Fifty years later, now a Weston resident, she returns to the Playhouse stage in All About Us, a new musical by Kander and Ebb opening the 2007 season.

1958: Hugh O’Brian, popular star of television’s “Wyatt Earp,” causes a box office frenzy as the leading man in Picnic. It is a vivid illustration of the new power of television.

1958: Hume Cronyn and Jessica Tandy star in Triple Play.

1960: With a film career still in the future, Jane Fonda, age 23, stars in No Concern of Mine. Her father, Henry, had appeared in The Virginian at the Playhouse in 1937, the year his daughter was born.

1964: 18-year-old Liza Minnelli receives her Equity card, appearing with Elliott Gould in The Fantasticks. On opening night, according to a Playhouse brochure, “the rather gawky teenager…received a standing ovation.”

1969: Butterflies Are Free premieres with Blythe Danner and Keir Dullea. The comedy transfers to Broadway where it runs over 3 years, earning Danner a Tony Award. The  play — one of 36 that made the leap from Westport to Broadway — is reprised as a reading for the Playhouse’s 80th anniversary in 2010, with its original stars –Danner as the mother, Dullea as the evening’s host.

1973: The Connecticut Theatre Foundation is created to operate the Playhouse as a not-for-profit.

1974: In his playbill letter for Hair, Jim McKenzie, executive producer, says, “Open your mind, open your heart and prepare for the theatrical experience of a lifetime.”

1977: Absent Friends, a Playhouse co-production plan with the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, opens in Washington, following its Westport run. On the same evening, The Master Builder opens in Westport, following its engagement in DC.

1978: A fall and winter film and play series begins with the movie Gone with the Wind, plus a big barbecue hosted by Colonel Sanders himself.

1981: Eva Le Gallienne makes her last appearance at the Playhouse 45 seasons after her first, with many roles in between. Today, the Playhouse’s Green Room is named in her honor, and contains memorabilia from her career.

The green room. Think of all the legendary names that have passed through there.

1985: Philip Langner, son of founders Lawrence Langner and Armine Marshall, receives an offer of $1.2 million for the Playhouse property from Playhouse Square, the adjacent shopping center. The Connecticut Theatre Foundation, current lessee, has a right to match the offer. The Playhouse Limited Partnership, a group of 27 ardent theater supporters, is formed to purchase the property.

1985: A fall season includes A Bill of Divorcement starring Christopher Walken and Katharine Houghton, who recreates the role in which her aunt, Katharine Hepburn, made her film debut in 1932. Hepburn is in the audience.

1987: The Playhouse makes a major change: from producing 12 plays in 12 weeks to producing 6 in 12. Subscriptions spike. Seeing a show every other week is more convenient to many than committing to a weekly schedule.

1989: With the Playhouse in arrears on its mortgage and taxes, and facing major expenses to meet fire and safety codes, it asks local developer Ceruzzi Mack Properties to make good the debt, assume the mortgage, and renovate and lease back the theater for $1 a year, in return for property ownership and construction of commercial rental space on the Playhouse campus. The Planning & Zoning Commission turns down the application.

1990: The Playhouse is entered on the Connecticut State Register of Historic Places.

1991: 30-year-old Aaron Sorkin visits the Playhouse to see a production of his play A Few Good Men.

1999: Groucho: A Life in Revue is taped at the Playhouse for PBS.

2000: A campaign begins to renovate the Playhouse, and transition from summer stock to a year-round theater. Connecticut Theatre Foundation becomes owner of the Playhouse and adjacent restaurant. Contributions, bolstered by a $5 million state grant from the State of Connecticut, help reach the $30.6 million goal by the end of 2005.

The Westport Country Playhouse teoday.

2000: A 2-week run of Ancestral Voices by A. R. Gurney features a different stellar cast each week. Among them: Jane Curtin, Neil Patrick Harris, Joanne Woodward, Paul Newman, Paul Rudd, Swoosie Kurtz, James Naughton.

2001: Joanne Woodward is named artistic director. She directs 3 plays and appears in several productions, including Love Letters with Paul Newman, and a Script in Hand reading of Arsenic and Old Lace with Christopher Walken. Newman also appears in Ancestral Voices, Trumbo, and a revival of Thornton Wilder’s Our Town, which transfers to Broadway.

2002: Gene Wilder stars in Don’t Make Me Laugh. It’s his 4th appearance at the Playhouse, but first in a feature role. He performed here with Walter Pidgeon, Helen Hayes, and Carol Channing, “but nobody knew who I was then.”

2002: The Playhouse’s 2002 production of Our Town transfers to Broadway for a limited run, playing to full houses. The play airs on Showtime and PBS’ “Masterpiece Theatre.” Newman receives Tony and Emmy Award nominations for his performance as Stage Manager.

Local residents Jim Naughton, Joanne Woodward and Paul Newman, at the Westport Country Playhouse in 2002.

2003: During a regional power outage, the Playhouse is in the middle of Arthur Miller’s All My Sons with Richard Dreyfuss and Jill Clayburgh. Most actors live in New York and cannot travel to Westport. The performance is canceled.  However, Dreyfuss is in Westport. He drives to the theater and shakes hands with whoever arrives.

2003 and 2004: Fundraising galas support the Playhouse’s planned renovation with performances by Carole King, Robin Williams, Paul Newman, Robert Redford and Harry Connick, Jr. hosted by Brian Williams.

2005: May 23, 2005 marks the re-opening of Westport Country Playhouse and its 75th anniversary season, following a major multi-million dollar renovation.

2005: The Lucille Lortel Foundation awards a $2 million grant to establish The Lucille Lortel White Barn Center at the Playhouse.

2006: Paul Newman and Chef Michel Nischan open the Dressing Room restaurant next door.

2006: Stephen Sondheim returns to the Playhouse for the first time since his 1950 apprenticeship. He is saluted on the Playhouse stage with performances by Laura Benanti, Kristin Chenoweth, Barbara Cook, and Patti LuPone.

2006: James Earl Jones appears as Thurgood Marshall in the world premiere of Thurgood. He later joins the Playhouse board of trustees. 

2008: The popular Script in Hand play reading series begins.

2009: Stephen Sondheim presents a tribute to Mary Rodgers Guettel at the annual gala, An Enchanted Evening: The Music of Richard Rodgers. Sondheim and Rodgers Guettel are former Playhouse apprentices.

2021: During its 90th anniversary — and the pandemic, the Playhouse pivots to an all-virtual season. It’s available on-demand, with captions in Spanish.

After 91 years, the view has changed little. (Photo/Robert Benson)

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Burt Grad: Univac Pioneer Looks Back, And Ahead

For many older Americans, technology is wonderful. They FaceTime grandkids, stream videos, and stay in touch with the online world.

But they’re not digital natives. They rely on those grandkids for technological help. There’s always fear of pushing the wrong button. Computers can seem like a foreign language.

Not to Burt Grad, though. He’s spent his life around technology. He was in on the ground floor of some of the first computers — literally.

And now — at 94 years old — he’s working on a project to save as much of its history as he can.

Burt Grad, at his 85th birthday party.

His office is in the Westport home he shares with his second wife, Carol Anne Ances. There’s a computer, of course, and a cellphone. It has exponentially more power, he says, than “the whole building” that housed the original machines he worked on.

They were at GE. The company bought the first commercial-use Univac 1 computer ever made. There were only 2 others in existence: one at the Census Bureau, the other used by the Air Force.

Its main memory consisted of 1,000 words, of 12 characters each. Grad points to his cellphone — with exponentially more power — and laughs.

Remington Rand’s Univac 1, at the US Census Bureau in 1951.

He grew up in Washington. The summer after graduating from high school, in 1945, he worked at the Pentagon doing statistical analyses of Army Air Force training flights. It was his introduction to punch cards.

Grad earned a scholarship to Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, and majored in management engineering. He was hired by GE, headquartered in nearby Schenectady, New York.

Burt Grad, 1959.

Working there, then in New York City and Louisville, he created the first commercial business applications on that Univac, helping automate factories.

Moving on to IBM, he managed the development of over 100 application program products. He represented IBM in the software industry trade association.

IBM’s legendary former chair Thomas Watson once said that the maximum number of computers that the world needed was 17. “He was slightly wrong,” Grad notes.

As great and important a company as IBM became in computers, Grad adds, it missed the boat with software. They saw it only as a way to sell hardware — not something with intrinsic value.

His third career was in consulting. In a 3 decade-plus career, Grad worked for over 200 clients. He did strategic planning, due diligence studies and valuation projects for software and services companies.

An industry titan, he recognized the need to compile some of the history he was seeing (and participating in). As co-chair of the Software Industry Special Interest Group at the Computer History Museum, Grad has collected oral histories and pored through files from software pioneers from the 1950s through the ’80s.

Software — not hardware — is the force that truly powered the computer revolution, Grad says.

And this has been more powerful than the previous seismic one. “All the Industrial Revolution did was change how we move physical objects,” Grad says. “Now, we move ideas around the world.”

The computer revolution began in earnest in the 1970s. In 1971, when Burt Grad’s future stepson Michael Ances was 1, he played with this IBM 3270 terminal, connected to an IBM mainframe computer. Michael’s mother Carol Anne worked with Grad at IBM.

“Software” is a hard-to-define term, of course. “Google is really a software company,” Grad says. “So is Amazon. The only reason we use them is because they’re online.”

By that definition, Uber may be a software company too. And what about banks? They spend a significant amount of money on computing, Grad says.

Documenting the importance of software is one of the Westporter’s several passions. He has recorded 130 oral histories — each lasting 2 to 6 hours — for the Computer History Museum.

Topics include the development of spreadsheets, word processors and desktop publishing.

Why is it important? “Why is the history of the Gold Rush important?” Grad counters. “This is an incredible industry. It has impacted nearly everyone’s life. Except for a couple of people, like Bill Gates and Steve Jobs, it wasn’t being captured.”

There’s an irony to his work. During the Gold Rush, people wrote letters and journals. Those physical objects remain, a century and a half later.

Thanks to software itself, we have very little physical documentation of the development of that software.

Burt Grad, at work.

Grad knows a lot — and at 94, his mind is as sharp as it was when he was devising the first commercial applications for Univac 1.

But he draws the line at predicting what’s next.

“I’m not smart enough to do that,” Grad says. “No one is. No one in the 1960s and ’70s knew where we would be in 30 or 40 years. No one knows where we’ll be 10 years from now.

“I won’t be around then. But my kids, my grandkids and great-grandkids will be.”

Whatever world they live in, they’ll have Burt Grad to thank for helping them live in it.

And for keeping its history alive.

(Hat tip: Michele Solis)

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Roundup: Shonda Rhimes, Moving Up, Pollinator Pathway …

Shonda Rhimes — the producer/screenwriter/author/global media company CEO/Television Academy Hall of Fame inductee — entertained, inspired and wowed a sold-out crowd at last night’s Westport Library “Booked for the Evening” fundraiser. Actors Tony Goldwyn and Scott Foley were there too.

The leader in both her industry and for women of color, Rhimes is known for telling great stories (check out Netflix!). On stage before an appreciative audience, in a conversation with Vanity Fair editor Rhadika Jones, she spent her evening in Westport doing exactly that.

Shonda Rhimes, at the Westport Library. (Photo/Jerri Graham Photography)

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This is “Moving Up” week.

Ceremonies are held at Westport’s 2 middle and 5 elementary schools.

Dylan Chatterjee captured this scene yesterday, outside Bedford, where his sister Mia was celebrated. It seems symbolic: 8th graders moving toward the light of Staples High School, both literally and figuratively.

(Photo/Dylan Chatterjee)

Congratulations to all 5th and 8th graders — I mean, rising 6th graders and freshman — all over town!

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Happy Pollinator Week!

To celebrate, Pollinator Pathways organizers in Westport and surrounding towns are showcasing properties — both public and private — where habitat-friendly landscaping is done. They’ll also provide information on how homeowners can create Pollinator Pathway yards of their own.

It’s this Saturday (June 25) at 4 separate Westport sites, all 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.: Earthplace (3 gardens), Prospect Road (privately owned), Smith-Richardson Wildlife Preserve (2 meadows) and Wakeman Town Farm (a 100-foot pollinator border).

Weston’s Onion Farm tour is also Saturday, from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Guides and gardeners will be on hand, to answer questions.

Click here, then scroll down to plan your tour. You’ll also see Pollinator Pathway tours throughout Fairfield, New Haven and Westchester Counties.

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 The Westport Public Schools and Westport Weston Family YMCA have teamed up to coordinate child care — before and after school – for youngsters in grades K-5, during the coming school year.

The program includes arts and crafts, STEM activities, themed projects, outdoor and physical activities, homework help and snacks.

Transportation will be provided to and from the elementary schools, and YMCA.

The before-school program runs from 7 to 9 a.m. for Coleytown, Greens Farms, Kings Highway and Long Lots Schools, 7 to 8:30 a.m. for Saugatuck.

The after-school program runs from dismissal until 6 p.m. Students who sign up for any youth programs taking place during after-school care hours — karate, swim lessons, soccer shots, basketball, gymnastics, fencing or dance — will be accompanied to their program by a staff member. There is a separate fee for those programs.

3-, 4 and 5-day signups are available. Click here for more information, and to register.

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Sure, it was 2 days ago. But we can’t resist a good photo. Here’s a bird’s-eye view of the Levitt Pavilion during Sunday’s Michael Franti & Spearhead show:

(Photo/JC Martin)

Encore: Here’s a video of Michael, complete with a shout-out to Westport:

Looking ahead, the Levitt celebrates the final days of Pride Months with 2 performances.

Isle of Klezbos is this Thursday (June 23, 7:30 p.m.). New York magazine says their repertoire ranges from “rambunctious to entrancing: Neo-traditional folk dance, mystical melodies, Yiddish swing & retro tango, late Soviet-era Jewish drinking song, re-grooved standards, and genre-defying originals.”

It’s about time Levitt had some Yiddish swing and late Soviet-era Jewish drinking songs! Click here for (free!) ticket information.

Next week, it’s “Queer + Quiet”: an evening with Treya Lam (Tuesday, June 28, 7 p.m.). They’ll “lift up the underrepresented, quiet, marginalized voices in the BIPOC trans, non-binary, queer community.” Click here for (also free!) ticket information.

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Speaking of Pride: Fairfield County Story Lab opens this Sunday’s Write-In to all LGBTQ and LGBTQ-friendly writers and creatives — for free.

At 2 p.m. June 26, there’s an hour of socializing. Work on projects follows from 3 to 4:30; then there’s a wrap-up chat.

The Story Lab is a shared workspace, on the 4th floor of Saugatuck’s 21 Charles Street office building. Click here to reserve a spot.

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The June 27 (7 p.m.) Westport Library showing of the award-winning documentary “Four Winters” is noteworthy.

The film tells the story of the 25,000 Jewish partisans who battled the Nazis and their collaborators from the forests of Eastern Europe. The men and women — many in their teens — blew up trains, burned electric stations and attacked enemy headquarters.

But there’s also an important local connection: “Four Winters”‘ writer/producer/director Julia Mintz is a Weston High School graduate.

For more information, click here.

NOTE: “Four Winters” supporters have designed a program for screenings and talkbacks at colleges that don’t have Jewish Studies departments, or funding for Holocaust programming. Click here to donate.

Weston native Julia Mintz, with an interviewee for “Four Winters.”

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Lou Weinberg is the passionate, creative and very hands-on director of the Westport Community Gardens. He knows flowers, trees, grasses and bushes — and birds, bees, rabbits and all other wildlife there.

He’s also a gifted photographer.

Here’s his description of today’s stunning “Westport … Naturally” photo: “This gray catbird is eating a berry from a serviceberry tree. This native tree produces flowers and an abundance of fruit for a multitude of birds this time of year. If you like birds, plant serviceberry trees!”

(Photo/Lou Weinberg)

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And finally … because this is the first day of summer:

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Roundup: Taste Of Westport, Juneteenth, You Be You Day …

“A Taste of Westport” returned yesterday, after a 2-year COVID absence.

A record crowd — starved for great food for an even better cause — showed up at the Inn at Longshore. It was the perfect venue for the festive, almost-summer event.

A small portion of the large “Taste of Westport” crowd at the Inn at Longshore.

The traditional fundraiser for CLASP — the local non-profit celebrating its 40th year serving adults with autism and developmental disabilities — featured plenty of tasting stations, live music from the Bar Car Band`, a silent auction and a raffle.

Restaurants and vendors participating included Artisan, BE Chocolat, Black Bear Wines & Spirits, Boathouse, Cylinder, Evarito’s, Freixenet Mionetto, Little Dumpling House, Gabriele’s, La Plage, Little Pub, Lindsay’s Handmade, Mrs. London’s, Newsylum, Nordic Fish, Post Oak, Rive Bistro, Rizzuto’s, Romanacci, Tablao, Tarantino, The Spread and Walrus Alley.

It’s not an easy time to own a restaurant. Last night, all of them went above and beyond the call.

Artisan offered (among other items) a very tasty goat dish. Inn at Longshore principal Michael Ryan is at right. (Photos/Dan Woog)

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On June 19, 1865, Union troops  liberated enslaved African Americans in Galveston, Texas. Fifteen men from Westport took part, with the 29th Connecticut Colored Infantry Regiment.

For years, the day was informally called “Juneteenth.” Finally, it’s a federal holiday (Monday, June 20).

The Westport Museum for History & Culture celebrates with 2 events.

Tonight (Thursday, June 16, 7 p.m.) historic interpreter Dontavius Williams offers a virtual performance of the experiences of an enslaved man. Click here to register.

A walking tour — based on a 2018-19 exhibit about Westport’s African American history — is set for Saturday June 18 (10 a.m. and 2 p.m.). Click here to register.

The Westport Museum’s walking tour will include a stop at historic 22 1/2 Main Street.

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The Levitt Pavilion has never looked better.

As a quasi-town, quasi-private facility, the Pavilion itself is responsible for maintaining its ornamental plantings and beds — including the ones between the Riverwalk and lawn.

Every year, Friends of the Levitt volunteers answer the call. This year, Gault Energy helped out by donating all the mulch.

So the next time you enjoy a free show — enjoy the “free” scenery too.

Work day at the Levitt Pavilion.. (Photo/Jimmy Izzo)

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It was “You Be You Day” yesterday, at Westport’s elementary schools.

The night before, Kings Highway families helped “chalk the walk.”

Kings Highway 1st grader Siena Adams helps chalk the walk. Her mother, Cori Caputo Adams; is a Kings Highway and Staples High School (Class of 1994) alumnus.

Dozens of youngsters and parents wrote kind, motivating chalk messages on the walkway in front of the school. The goal was to encourage every student to be proud of who he or she is — and to feel proud too of being part of a community that accepts and celebrates them exactly as they are.

In the morning, KHS staff and students were greeted with colorful, positive sayings. It was a great start to “You Be You Day,” says PTA board member Meghan Bell.

Meanwhile, Greens Farms Elementary School celebrated in several ways.

Teachers read books with positive messages to their classes. Youngsters wore “You Be You” shirts. The sidewalk was chalked

And there was this bulletin board too:

(Photo courtesy of Leann Duggan)

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The Westport Kiwanis Club provides annual scholarships to graduating seniors who show exemplary community involvement and academic achievement.

This year’s recipients are Lena Lemcke, Elena Lim, Jaden Mueller and Ella Williams.

Funds come from Kiwanis’ annual Minuteman Triathlon. This year’s’ event is September 11, at Compo Beach. Click here for information and registration.

Kiwanis officials and scholarship recipients, at the recent awards ceremony (from left): Todd Ehrlich, Dave Fuggit, Jaden Mueller, Judy Stripp, Lena Lemcke, Rob Gould, Elena Lim, Elaine Daignault. Not pictured: Ella Williams.

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Osprey admirer/expert Carolyn Doan visited the Fresh Market nest this week. She was happily surprised to find “2 heads being shaded by mom. They must have been hot, as their mouths were open in the sun directly on the nest.

“They seemed to be having a serious chat with her. She listened patiently. She made a quick trip away from the nest. When she returned, they were thrilled.”

(Photo/Carolyn Doan)

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What could be more mundane than a midday chat?

Martin Greenberg captured this scene, for our “Westport … Naturally” feature:

(Photo/Martin Greenberg)

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And finally … in honor of our elementary schools’ great “You Be You Day” yesterday:

 

 

  

 

Memorial Day: We Remember

The photo below shows the World War II memorial on Veterans Green, across from Westport Town Hall, where a ceremony takes place after today’s parade (approximately 10:30 a.m.). Other monuments there honor veterans of other wars.

If you’ve been to a Memorial Day ceremony on Veterans Green, you know how meaningful and powerful it is. If you’ve never been: make this the year.

Tom Feeley And Mike Brody’s Memorial Day Tale

As Memorial Day approaches, longtime Westporter Tom Feeley writes:

It was 1945. The war in Germany was almost over. But SFC Mike Brody and the POWs did not know it.

Fast forward to 1973. I moved from San Francisco to Westport. As a Vietnam veteran, I joined VFW Joseph J. Clinton Post 399 VFW. I walked in the Memorial Day parade, attended the solemn Veterans Day ceremony, and made a bunch of new WWII NCO friends with CIBs, even a Silver Star.

My left shoulder had the Third Infantry Division Patch from 1/15 INF CAN DO, so I was real good with the WWII guys. I also led Audie Murphy’s platoon.

Junior Bieling

Westport veteran and Silver Star awardee Junior Bieling usually wore a coat over his uniform to hide his medal, out of modesty. He owned JR’s Hot Dog Stand.

I busted his chops: “You should be very proud. If an enlisted man earns a Silver Star, he really earned it.”

“Not too many officers would say that,” he replied.

On Fridays if I went in for a dog, I left smashed on his vodka screwdrivers. “Tom, the booze is on the house, but ya gotta pay for the dogs!”

There was also a burly Tech SFC Mike Brody, with ribbons and a CIB. He was from Brooklyn. I’m from Queens, with Brooklyn friends, so we became buddies. We ran into each other at the beach occasionally, and chatted.

He was almost 6 feet tall, built like a tanker. He had a contagious smile and a very quick wit.

The three of us hung out in the VFW bar after ceremonies or meetings. Those guys knew everyone.

Fast forward again, to 2000. I owned a boutique real estate firm. I had sold a beautiful modern home in Weston to inventor genius Bob Soloff and his wife Carol, also from Brooklyn. They held a beautiful catered open house for friends after the sale.

To my surprise, SFC Mike Brody showed up. We were a few hours into drinking when I asked Carol, ”Where do you know this guy Mike from?“

“He’s my little Jewish buddy from Brooklyn!” she said.

“What? Mike? Brody is a Jewish name?!”

In Jackson Heights you were Irish Catholic, Italian or Jewish, with a sprinkling of Protestants. We busted the Jews’ yarmulkes on Saturday, and they busted our Sunday ties or knickers.

Mike turned to Carol. “You’ve asked me about the war many times. I’ve had enough to drink that I’ll finally share my story with you and Tom.”

He continued:

“We were laying field radio wire, got encircled, captured and put in a concentration camp. I was a platoon sergeant, so I had some freedom to move about and interact with guards. who randomly asked to see my dog tags.

World War II prisoner of war camp, in Germany.

“Months later a new slender guard showed up. He was quite different, because he didn’t walk his post bored. He was alert and interested in what was going on behind the fence.

“I saw him a lot, and tried to be nice. He asked me where I was from. When I said Brooklyn, his eyes lit up. He called me ‘Brooklyn!’ from then on.

“One day he was looking for me. He pointed to the far corner of the camp, for me to go there. With a corner post and a lamp pole, it was hidden from the guard towers. He put his index finger to his lips and in perfect English said, ‘Not a word! Give me your dog tags. Return here tomorrow after breakfast. Not a word!'”

“I figured with no tags, I was dead. The next day we met. He returned one tag on the long chain — missing the long chain. He said ‘tank treads,’ and disappeared.

Some dog tags identified soldiers as Jewish with an “H,” for “Hebrew.”

“The next day, everyone was lined up for dog tags. ‘Jews over here!’ The tag the guard had returned was badly scuffed and twisted, like it was run over by a tank. The ‘JUD’ in the lower right corner had been mangled off.

“All the Jews were separated, and never seen again.”

Mike later learned that the guard was an American college student. He had been visiting his grandparents when he was conscripted and placed in a concentration camp, where he could spy with his bilingual skills.

Mike freed the guard by telling rescuers that the kid was an American citizen, and that he had saved Mike’s life.

That’s just one out of countless stories that our veterans can tell. As they gather for tomorrow’s Memorial Day parade and ceremony — and meet at places like the VFW, to share memories, socialize and enjoy their lives — let’s not forget every man and woman who has served our country.

All gave some. Some gave all.