Category Archives: Looking back

Friday Flashback #249

It’s one of Westport’s lost, mostly forgotten mysteries: Pearl Bailey’s early-1950s recording of “I Caught Her in the Kitchen Playing Westport.”

It was even the subject of a previous Friday Flashback. But all I had were the lyrics. Even YouTube — where you can find anything — came up blank.

Today — thanks to the magic of Ellen and Mark Naftalin, and Miggs Burroughs — all of “06880” (and the world) can hear the sultry tune.

Ellen and Mark — longtime Westporters and musicians; she’s also a historian, he’s a Rock & Roll Hall of Fame inductee with the Paul Butterfield Blues Band — found the song.

In an album in their very own collection. It’s called — appropriately — “More Songs for Adults Only.”

Miggs turned the vinyl into an Mp3.

Click below to listen.

And if you want to sing along with Pearl, the lyrics are below.

There’s a little ranch house in the vale,
Pretty little ranch house up for sale;
All the shutters drawn,
Tenants all gone
And thereby hangs a long, unhappy tale.

‘Cause he caught her in the kitchen playing Westport,
A game indigenous to suburban life,
Where you take a wife of whom you’re not the husband,
While someone else’s husband takes your wife.

Some people may claim that the name of the game is Scarsdale,
Or Beverly Hills, or even Shaker Heights,
But commuters from Manhattan call it Westport.
And it’s the game that some of our local leading lights play
To while away those cold Connecticut nights.

Now in that little ranch house used to dwell
An advertising feller and his Nell.
Two kids and a pup, living it up,
And everything was sounder than a bell —
‘Til he caught her in the kitchen playing Westport
Between the washing machine and thermostat.

The husband thought it really was an outrage.
Said he, “You might at least remove your hat!”
Well, they may play it that way in Great Neck,
While in Levittown they’d never think it odd.
But there is not an architect in Westport
Who’ll ever forgive the cad that said, “My God! Sir.
I must have got the wrong cape cod!”

Since they are no longer groom and bride,
Quoting from the Sunday classified:
“Are there any takers
For three lovely acres
Of peaceful old New England countryside?”
‘Cause he caught her in the kitchen playing Westport
Which would ordinarily be a cause for gloom;
But though the sanctity of wedlock’s on the downgrade,
Currently housing is enjoying quite a boom!

And while they defame the name of the game in Boston,
Where naturally they think it’s a dirty shame,
In the green and fertile pastures of suburbia
The local dealers in real estate acclaim
It the best thing since the FHA, hey,

Westport is a grand old …
‘Midst pleasures and palaces …
Westport is a grand old game.

Paul Lane: “We Give You A Uniform To Look Uniform”

In 2005 I published a 400-page history of Staples High School. “120 Years of A+ Education” included interviews with many influential educators. 

One of the most interesting was Paul Lane. The legendary football, track and golf coach died Tuesday, at 93. Here’s my 2004 interview with him, conducted at his Soundview Drive home.

In 1954 I was working in my family’s leather tanning business. But as the business declined, I decided to go into coaching. It’s what I always wanted to do.

I took Bob Carmody’s place at Coleytown Elementary School. I met my wife Pat there.

In those days interscholastic athletics was hit or miss. In football you made up your own schedule. We’d play Darien and New Canaan twice in one year. We’d play Stonington – we went all over the state. And we hired our own officials – that did affect the game! We fired our officials too.

You didn’t get paid to coach in the ’50s. It was considered an honor, and we fought to coach. And Doc Beinfield, our team doctor from the ‘50s through the ‘80s – he did it for love, not money.

Paul Lane, 1957.

As a phys. ed. teacher, I took all the sophomores. I tested them in the quarter-mile one day, and the softball throw the next. Our program was geared to the philosophy that athletes should be discovered in gym class, so we trained in the fundamentals there – football, soccer, track, basketball, volleyball.

Albie Loeffler and I ran the intramural program at night. We refereed it too. Kids worked their way from gym to intramurals to interscholastic sports.

The girls had 6-person, half-court basketball, but it was definitely a boys’ world – a football and basketball world. Football had the edge, because it started off the year. We had pep rallies before games, and dances afterward. It really brought the kids together.

Cheerleading was a big deal too. The bleachers at Doubleday only held 200, so fans stood all around the field. We only had 18 or 22 kids in football, sometimes hardly enough to scrimmage. The kids went both ways.

The athletes were also in the choir and student government. A kid like Tommy Dublin – football, basketball, track, head of student government. No one told him he couldn’t do one thing because he was in the other. And the school was big then, too.

That was after we moved to North Avenue. We felt people cared about us; we were no longer in a dungeon. But that first year (1958-59), we still did sports at the old school on Riverside Avenue (now Saugatuck Elementary School). The football field on North Avenue had a huge drain in it – it was a mess – and the track was a big bucket that held water. It took 20 years to get it right.

At the same time, we changed from a single-wing football team to a T-Formation. The FCIAC (Fairfield County Interscholastic Athletic Conference) was being formed. Our schedules and officials were handed to us. And at that time, the school was growing by leaps and bounds.

At that time, I helped build the weightlifting program. Parents made the weight racks. They also built the press box, and donated the scoreboard and filming equipment. We formed a Gridiron Club, which met every Thursday night to look at film.

We had a great team in 1963. The number of transfers was phenomenal. It hit its peak in 1964. John Bolger went on to West Point, Buzz Leavitt to Wake Forest, and Bill During to Syracuse.

Steve Doig carries the football.

In the 1970s the phys. ed. department grew from Albie, me and Jinny Parker to 11 teachers. But in the ’60s gym was still a foundation for our sports program. We had boxing, wrestling, tumbling – to teach athletes how to fall – track and field, including high jump and pole vault, weightlifting – with demonstrations at halftime of basketball games, to “sell” it to parents – and a great touch football program.

But the high school just didn’t work. The environment was so disruptive. Still, we were always rated in the top 3 schools in the country. But from day one, the facility was horrible.

Stan (Lorenzen, the principal) had asked us about smoking. We had coaches smoking on the sideline. But we told Stan to start the new school clean. He said he’d try an experiment for a month. He created a smoking plaza, with a custodian to clean up after the kids. It took 30 years to get rid of that.

Paul Lane’s 1967 team won the FCIAC championship, in a memorable game. Stamford Catholic was riding high — and lost 8-0.

Before Staples was built on North Avenue, we put in for a fieldhouse. The only other one at the time was in Florida. But that one had a clay floor, and people were worried it would get tracked through the school, so they didn’t include it in the plans. The gym, the cafeteria and auditorium were all built for 1,200 kids. We blew past that number quickly, and it was not enlarged for years.

That was the era when we started recruiting coaches: George Wigton for basketball, Chuck Smith as a line coach from Ohio State – he started the wrestling program too – and Frank Henrick for baseball. They were good coaches, who could also teach.

During the drug era – the ’60s and ’70s – kids were told not to buy into “the system.” Well, to have a good team you have to buy into the Paul Lane, Albie Loeffler or Brian Kelley system. The kids with long hair were thumbing their noses at us. That was a horrible time to try to coach.

Some coaches just let them run wild. Some tried to oversell “values.” I said they could have their hair as long as they wanted, but it had to be in their helmet. It’s a team. We give you a uniform so you can look uniform. Some believed it, some didn’t.

We had kids pass out doing their physical fitness tests, from drugs. There were 2,000 kids in the school, and hundreds were on drugs. A certain number of adults liked that freedom of expression. We weren’t all on the same page at all times. The ability of teams went down, especially in the suburbs. City teams started beating us then. Bright suburban kids were reaching out for another world, but the city kids kept playing sports.

Paul Lane in 1969, with assistant coaches Saul Pollack and Dick Agness, and co-captains Dana Williams and Jono Walker.

Title IX – it was evident that girls were not being treated fairly in terms of the number of teams, things like that. By then Westport had come up with a complicated 10-point system for coaching pay. The girls’ coaches got less than the men – that was a time when all the athletic directors were men, many of them former football coaches.

Westport jumped on Title IX. They decided to equalize the numbers in gym classes, even though the law didn’t say they had to. We forced girls to play with boys, who didn’t want them and thought they weren’t capable. We cut out not only wrestling and boxing, but also Ann Rabesa’s, Judy Punshon’s and Jinny Parker’s fabulous tap dancing program. Boys’ and girls’ basketballs are different sizes, and the volleyball nets are different heights. So we started doing things in gym that had nothing to do with the sports we play. Boys used to run to phys. ed. class, because it was an outlet. Now they were going to play things like street hockey, but they couldn’t have physical contact.

The girls gained in basketball, but the boys stopped playing. It was a total waste of a gym period. We built big shower rooms, but no one sweated enough to use them.

But the good things – the FCIAC is a great league. It’s definitely improved the coaching. There’s been the introduction of soccer, hockey, skiing, lacrosse, wrestling, and about 10 girls sports. And there’s been the addition of junior varsity and freshman teams. And the facilities now – artificial turf, lights….

Paul Lane and assistant coach Earl Smith on the sidelines in 1977.

But the athletes haven’t changed. Sure, they know more now, because they see it on TV. The kids I coached in the ’50s, most of them hadn’t seen football. We had to teach them how to tackle and throw.

The best teams always stay together. They have reunions, and stay in touch. Success bonds them. That doesn’t change. There was no difference between my 1963 and ’75 teams. In the ’80s kids could throw and catch a little better, because of all the advantages they had, but a lot of success is the luck of who moves into town together.

One thing that was a real big blow for all sports was losing junior high interscholastics (when the 9th grade moved to Staples in 1983). That had been a real feeder program for us.

Let’s see – what else – well, uniforms in phys. ed. went out with the drug era. Gym classes became a lot less structured. They did away with mandatory showering. That was probably a bad policy; the lack of privacy was overdone.

The fieldhouse made a huge difference.

And I remember taking track teams to the Penn Relays and the New York Armory. That was tremendous for our kids. It’s probably the reason Laddie Lawrence is still involved in track!

Paul Lane, 1984.

Photo Challenge #336

You’d think a plaque honoring all of Westport’s veterans — “living or dead” — would be located in a prominent spot. Veterans Green, probably. The VFW, perhaps.

You’d also think that because it was dedicated in 1975, plenty of people would remember where it was.

You’d be wrong.

Wendy Crowther, Joyce Barnhart and Michael Calise were the only “06880” readers who knew where last week’s photo challenge can be found. (Click here to see.)

It’s not what our veterans deserve. The plaque is where Long Lots Road feeds into Post Road East, just west of Shearwater Coffee and One River Art (before that, Bertucci’s/Tanglewoods/Clam Box). A memorial flagpole once stood nearby. I can’t imagine many people ever see the plaque now.

Yet there’s a reason it’s there. For several decades, a Doughboy statue graced the median, between the restaurant and the hardware store across the way.

It was relocated 25 or 30 years ago to Veterans Green (though it was not called that then). It’s certainly a more appropriate — and accessible — spot.

Last week’s challenge was fitting: It was the day before Memorial Day. (And today is D-Day.)

This week’s photo has no tie-in to anything — except it’s somewhere in Westport. If you think you know where it is, click “Comments” below.

(Photo/Dinkin Fotografix)

Sylvan Road House: From Gerber Baby To Historic Plaque

Alert — and preservation-minded — “06880” reader Bill Kutik writes:

Every house in Westport has a history. I’ve been lucky enough to learn about mine from a man who grew up in it — 91-year-old Peter Barlow.

It’s already somewhat famous as the “Gerber Baby” house off Sylvan Road North, though we never think of it that way. We already knew it was built in 1927 by an original New Yorker cover artist and cartoonist, Perry Barlow. Many of his colleagues settled in Westport in the 1920s and ’30s because they had to go into New York only once a week to show their work to the magazine’s art editor. Back then, many considered Westport too far to commute on a daily basis. Imagine that?

Perry Barlow (self-portrait).

Barlow’s wife, artist Dorothy Hope Smith, had a sideline to her book illustrating and advertising work: doing oil paintings of friends’ children. In 1928, Gerber held a contest to find a face for its new baby food. Dorothy sent a simple charcoal sketch of a neighbor’s baby, and offered to paint an oil.

The marketing execs loved the sketch, paid her $250 (in 1929 dollars), and starting in 1931 the Gerber Baby turned into the longest running advertising symbol in American history – 90 years and counting. Imagine, if instead, they had given her a small payment every time they used it?!

Dorothy Hope Smith’s “Gerber baby” sketch.

After buying the Barlow House in 1998, my then wife and I dithered over its 2 painting studios. The larger one is part of the house with a 2-story ceiling, a huge north-facing window made of 77 individual panes of glass, and a soaring brick fireplace. The other is a separate building with much the same (including a bathroom and kitchen), but a smaller north window with 25 panes.

We needed historical precedent: Which artist used which one?

I opened the Westport phonebook (remember those?), and found Peter listed. He cheerfully answered my question: “My mother used the studio in the house.”

It became my office, where I have been delighted to work at such a historic intersection of art and commerce. After 30 years in the software industry – as columnist, consultant and impresario – I am close to finishing my first book. It was written largely in Dorothy’s studio.

Bill Kutik, at work in Dorothy Hope Smith’s former studio. (Photo/Nancy Moon)

My wife Nancy Breakstone has made Perry’s former studio into her photography studio. She frames and displays incredible photos of abstract patterns she finds everywhere: in the volcanic sand of Costa Rica’s Pacific beaches, in coral and even in modernist buildings like the TWA Hotel at JFK. You may have seen them at one of the 50+ local art shows she exhibits in every year, or online.

Perry Barlow’s studio is now used by Nancy Breakstone Photography.

So the “artists’ studio” tradition of the Barlow House continues.

I lost touch with Peter when he left Westport after 70-plus years to move closer to his daughter Dorrie Barlow Thomas in Pawcatuck. But I thought of him when I contacted Bob Weingarten, house historian and plaque coordinator since 2003 for the Westport Historical Society (now the Westport Museum for History & Culture). He immediately did an incredible deep dive into historical research. and determined the Barlow House qualified.

Happily I saw Peter commenting on a blog in “06880.” I answered his comment with my email address, and began a voluminous correspondence. We found half a dozen things in common over the 20 years separating us, including boating and typography. That’s in addition to his childhood home, which we both love.

Peter has been a professional marine photographer his entire working life. He shot editorial and advertising pictures for leading magazines, including Yachting and Motor Boating, which also published his 1973 book The Marine Photography of Peter Barlow (still available). For 17 years, he created his own 2-page spread of photos and copy every month in Soundings.

Peter was involved in every step of the plaque approval process. When COVID restrictions eased and spring weather arrived, Dorrie drove them both 90 minutes to Westport. We spent a great few hours together touring the house and studio, hearing how everything used to be, having lunch outside, and hanging the plaque together.

(From left) Nancy Breakstone, Bill Kutik, Peter Barlow and Dorrie Barlow Thomas, with the newly hung plaque at the Sylvan Road North home.

But first we recreated what he most enjoyed as a teenager: driving at top speed the original and still-unpaved uphill driveway to the house. It sits on top of what I’ve been told is the second highest hill in Westport. Peter confirmed that 85 years ago, you could see Long Island Sound from his 2nd-floor bedroom. How can I start a deforestation program to my south? I drove us up the driveway at reckless teenage speeds. He roared with delight — and told me I should have gone faster.

Famed Art Colony Studio Up For Sale

Westport has been home to many famous residents. None was more famous than the Fraser family — well, that’s what James Earle Fraser’s 1953 obituary said, anyway.

He was a sculptor who designed the buffalo nickel, the “End of the Trail” sculpture of a Native American slumped over a tired horse, and the Theodore Roosevelt statue at the Museum of Natural History.

Two of James Earle Fraser’s designs.

His wife Laura Gardin Fraser was also an internationally known sculptor. She designed the Congressional Medal of Honor, featuring Charles Lindbergh’s likeness.

The couple knew everyone who was anyone, local historian Mary Gai says. Among the guests who visited were the wives of Theodore Roosevelt and Franklin Roosevelt, Edsel Ford, Harvey Firestone, Averell Harriman, and George Patton’s family.

The Frasers married in 1913, and moved to Westport the next year. They built a large studio off North Avenue, north of Coleytown Road, where they worked for decades.

The Frasers’ home and former studio, today.

They bought surrounding property to keep their neighborhood quiet. They then sold some land to other sculptors and painters — including former student Lila Wheelock Howard and her illustrator husband Oscar, and Kerr Eby, whose etchings are still sold today.

The Frasers’ foresight — and hospitality — helped make Westport a true 20th-century “artists’ colony.”

James Earle Fraser, at work on a bust of Theodore Roosevelt in his Westport studio.

The Frasers did not just sit home and create art, of course. They helped found the Fairfield County Hunt Club, Westport Beach Club (now Longshore), and Shorehaven Country Club.

But the studio was the center of their lives. It featured stone walls, large doors and windows, and a dark slate roof. Legend has it that the Frasers had bought a villa in Italy, had it disassembled and brought to Westport — along with Italian masons — where it was rebuilt, stone by stone.

Sculptures created inside — including some of the most famous works — were rolled out through 2-story swinging doors.

The original studio, today.

The Frasers’ studio was later bought by Ralph and Betty Alswang. He was a noted theater designer — and, decades after the Frasers, another key contributor to Westport’s artistic life.

The studio — at what is now 2 Fraser Lane — is on the market. Enlarged over the years to 5,650 square feet (and 5 bedrooms), it’s been renovated inside. But the exterior looks much as it must have a century ago.

Several homes with long artistic histories have recently met the wrecking ball. Will this be preserved — or, like James Earle Fraser’s buffalo nickel, become just a faded artifact of an earlier time?

Mediterranean influences are strong on the Frasers’ former house.

Nick Rossi’s Memorial Day Speech: Grandson Honors Grandfather

There is more than a parade to Westport’s Memorial Day celebration.

Every year after the last firefighter, float and Brownie has passed Town Hall, a simple ceremony takes place across the way at Veteran’s Green.

The first selectman honors Westport veterans who died the previous year. There’s a police honor guard and wreath-laying. “Taps” is played.

The grand marshal speaks too. This year, 98-year-old World War II veteran Nick Rossi asked his grandson — also named Nick Rossi — to deliver those remarks.

It was an inspired choice. Nick Jr. — who graduated from Staples High School in 2020, and just completed his freshman year at Boston College — awed the crowd with insightful, inspiring words. Speaking powerfully and from the heart, he said:

Good morning, Westport!

My name is Nick Rossi, and I am the grandson of the grand marshal. It is my honor and privilege to share the stage today with my grandfather, Nicholas Rossi, as we celebrate him and all the veterans we remember today, on this very special Memorial Day holiday.

As most of you know, traditionally the grand marshal is called upon to share some remarks at this ceremony. My grandfather asked me to help him do so this morning, as it is a challenge for him (at almost 99 years of age) to manage this kind of public speaking engagement. So, with Mr. Vornkahl’s blessing, I’d like to share with you a few things I know about Nick Rossi, Senior.

Nick Rossi delivers remarks as his grandfather — the grand marshal — looks on. (Photo/Dan Woog)

Nicholas Rossi was born in Oyster Bay, New York in September of 1922.
Soon after graduation from high school, he enlisted in the Army Air Corps during World War II and served from December, 1942 through March, 1945. When he enlisted, he was 19 years old ~ the same age that I am right now. It is unimaginable to me what it must have felt like to go off to war as a young man who had barely begun to live his life. It was a selfless sacrifice, not even a choice at that point in time, but an expectation that that generation of young men would enlist and serve our country.

While his parents, who were immigrants from Italy, were filled with anxiety and reluctance, they let him go. Initially drafted into the Infantry, he found his way to the Air Corps. Thinking this was a “safer,” perhaps more elite assignment, he soon learned that there was nothing safe about fighting the war from the skies.
His flight crew was part of the 305th Bombardment Group of the 364th Squadron, assigned to the 8th Air Force Bomber Command in England which flew the B-17 “Flying Fortress” bomber in the European Theater. A technical sergeant, he flew multiple bombing missions over Nazi-occupied central Europe. He sat behind the pilot and co-pilot, handling fuel and mechanical issues, and trouble-shooting any technical problems. He became an expert on the B-17 aircraft.

Technical sergeant Nicholas Rossi.

As my grandfather has gotten older, his memory at times fails him. Yet he can still  recount for us in amazing detail what it was like to be part of those terrifying missions, to be shot at relentlessly by the Germans, to watch his comrades fall from the sky under firestorm attack, and then to return from a mission to find that the airman who slept in the bunk above him never returned.

He talks about the attitude that eventually overtook these men — they were resigned to believe that there was a good probability that they, too, would eventually not make it back from the next mission…but they still climbed into their planes for the next flight, ready to go to battle to defend our country.

These recollections are unfathomable to me, and to this day remain disturbing to him. He reminds us how awful war is, and what the price for peace really costs in terms of soldiers’ lives lost. It is on a day like today when we remember, with enormous gratitude, what these men (and women), and all the fallen veterans of war, did to guarantee our freedom, liberty, and democracy. 

How do we even begin to thank them for their sacrifices? 

Nicholas Rossi was discharged from the Army in March, 1945 but remained in Liege, Belgium after the war for several more years. As a civilian, he was employed by the government to work with the American Graves Registration Command for the purpose of locating and identifying unrecovered dead military personnel. “It was not a nice job,” but for my grandfather, it was important work to do, to stay behind and help account for the lost soldiers, as it provided closure for their families, many of whom eventually traveled to Europe to reclaim their sons, husbands, and brothers. Perhaps it provided some closure for him, too, after living through the horrors of World War II. 

When we think about why Memorial Day was established in the first place back in the late 1800s, for the purpose of decorating the graves of the soldiers who died in defense of our country, it seems there is some kind of connection when I think of my grandfather working over the graves of his comrades – it was an emotionally devastating job, but it was his way of honoring them, of giving them dignity and respect, as these servicemen were the true heroes. We remember and honor them today. 

Grand marshal Nick Rossi (Photo/Ted Horowitz)

Upon returning to the States in 1949, my grandfather attended Hofstra University on the GI Bill, earned a master’s degree in Industrial Engineering, and embarked on a career in the furniture industry which he pursued with great success for the next forty-plus years. He met his wife Elizabeth on Long Island during the early years of his professional career and married in 1956, raising five children in the house that he built in Mill Neck, New York. He remained very involved in his community on Long Island, as a member of the Knights of Columbus, the American Legion, the Oyster Bay Italian-American Citizens Club, and the Brookville Country Club.

After my grandmother passed in 2018, my grandfather relocated to Westport to live with our family. While he still considers Oyster Bay his first home, he has truly enjoyed becoming a part of the Westport community. I have been lucky enough to spend more time with him, especially since the beginning of the pandemic, and I believe it’s nothing short of special that three generations of the Rossi lineage are under one roof. After many hours spent working out in the yard gardening or reading the newspapers together, I have picked up on some colorful Italian sayings — and insults — that I’ve brought back with me to campus, as my friends can attest. 

Now in his 99th year, he is delighted to be this year’s grand marshal of the Westport Memorial Day parade, and on his behalf — I would like to extend his genuine gratitude to everyone in this town who has welcomed him, embraced him, and now today — honors him.

The Rossi family stands proudly at today’s Memorial Day ceremony. (Photo/Dan Woog)

In closing, I will echo a prayer that we say in our church, something called the “Prayer of the Faithful”: “For all the men and women who served in the armed forces, for those who put themselves in harm’s way on our behalf, let us pray to the Lord.”

On behalf of this year’s grand marshal, my grandfather ~ Nicholas Rossi ~ Thank you for this honor! And thank you to all the brave men and women who have made the ultimate sacrifice for our country.

Grand marshal/grandfather Nick Rossi, and his grandson and namesake. (Photo/Dan Woog)

Family Sacrifices: Making Meaning Of Memorial Day

As Westport prepares to celebrate Memorial Day, it’s important to personalize all those who gave their lives for our country. Over 75 years ago, 2 local families did far more than their share.

It may be an American record.

During World War II, 8 of the 12 Cuseo sons left Westport, to enlist in the armed forces.

Fortunately, only one — James — was killed.

The Cuseo family in 1935 or ’36. Daughter Mildred is missing.  Father James and mother Lucy are in the middle.. (Photo courtesy of Woody Klein’s book “Westport, Connecticut.”)

But when the Cuseos’ mother, Lucy, died in 1943, her daughter said it was due to her “broken heart.”

Lucy was buried here with military honors. American Legion members served as pallbearers.

The Cuseos’ contributions to World War II were astonishing. But in terms of sacrifice, none made more than the Wassell family.

Four sons enlisted. All were pilots. Three were killed in action — all within 15 months of each other.

Charles P. “Pete” Wassell

Before the war, Harry — the oldest — helped design fighter planes in Stratford. He, his brother Bud and other Westport men started the Westport Defense Unit, to teach marksmanship.

He enlisted in the Army Air Force after Pearl Harbor. A 2nd lieutenant, he died in Iceland in 1943 while ferrying aircraft to the European Theater.

Frank L. “Bud” Wassell Jr.

Like Harry, Bud left college because of the Depression. The 2 sons worked with their father, Lloyd, in starting the Wassell Organization on Sylvan Road. A very successful businessman, he had worked as personal assistant to George Westinghouse, founder of Westinghouse Electric.

The company invented and sold production control equipment, becoming instrumental in expediting the efficiency of defense contractors. A 1st lieutenant flight commander, Bud was killed in 1943 in a midair collision, while a flight instructor in Florida.

Harry B. Wassell

Pete — a 1940 Staples High School graduate — left Middlebury College to train as a pilot in the Civil Air Patrol. He transferred to the Army Air Force, and was commissioned a 2nd lieutenant navigator.

He served in the China/ Burma/India Theater, and died in 1944 after his B-24 aircraft was hit by antiaircraft fire while attacking a Japanese cruiser.

The 4th son — George — was a member of Staples’ Class of 1943. But he left high school in 1942, to enlist as an aviation cadet. Appointed a B-17 aircraft commander at the age of 18, he was recalled from overseas duty when his 3rd brother Pete was killed. He served as a B-17 pilot instructor through the war’s end.

George Wassell with his parents, Lloyd and Georgene, by the Westport train station on Railroad Place in 1943 or ’44.

George turned down a full engineering scholarship to Cornell in order to join his father in the Wassell Organization.

Pete left behind a child, born 2 months after his death. Harry had a daughter, Patty, who lived in Westport for many years. George married Betsy Schuyler in 1945. They raised 6 children in Westport.

George and Betsy Wassell at Longshore, not long after the war.

When Lloyd moved his family to Westport before the war, he and his wife Georgene bought several acres of land on Mayflower Parkway. He built a large house (by 1930s standards), and planned to give building lots to his 6 kids: the 4 boys, and daughters Pat and Betty.

World War II sabotaged all that. But George and Pat did build homes there after the war. George added a pool, 3-hole golf course and tree house. The property became a great attraction for lots of cousins, and tons of neighborhood kids.

Longtime Westporter Jono Walker — George’s nephew — remembers those times fondly.

“The Wassells never dwelled on their tragic history,” he says. “At least none of us kids ever felt it. The house was constantly filled with great joy and life.”

As for George and Betsy: They moved to New Hampshire in 1974. He died in 2010, age 85. Betsy Schuyler Wassell is now 95, healthy and sharp and living in Maine. She looks forward to hosting her annual Wassell reunion in Kennebunkport next month, greeting offspring from as far as the Netherlands.

Pat Wassell McAleenan lost her husband Peter 18 months ago. At last report she was well, and at 95 living in Estes Park, Colorado.

Betty Wassell Watts died just over a year ago, at 100. Her children were by her side.

The Wassell brothers and their parents are all buried at Willowbrook Cemetery.

(Hat tips: Eric Buchroeder, Jono Walker and Bud Wassell)

Roundup: Christian Siriano, Hall & Oates, Joan Isaacson …

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“Antiques Roadshow” took its show on the road recently — to Westport.

The popular PBS series visited Christian Siriano in his New York showroom, then traveled to his Westport home.

His couch, chairs and brass palm tree were appraised by David Rago, and Siriano talked about his quiet suburban digs. He called his home his “sanctuary.”

Click here for the full episode. (Hat tip: Seth VanBeever)

David Rago and Christian Soriano, in the designer’s Westport home.

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Les Dinkin sent along this image (below) of Hall & Oates’ 2021 tour dates.

“Don’t see Westport on the list :)” he says.

Don’t get the joke? Click here.

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Longtime Westporter Joan Isaacson is a wife, mother, grandmother, world traveler and passionate cook. She was born in Naples, Italy, and migrated to New Jersey when she was 8 years old.

She rediscovered her love of writing after retirement. Now she’s a published — and debut — author.

“The Red Velvet Diary” is fiction — based on real life — told in the voices of 3 women. Her grandmother Maria, the daughter of a rabbi, goes to Greece as a young girl and is given a new identity. She takes the reader from her childhood home in Turkey to a girls’ school run by nuns in Athens, where a priest twice her age asks for her hand in marriage.

Isaacson’s mother Lula, Maria’s daughter, comes of age as she lives through World War II in war-ravaged Athens during the Axis occupation. She falls in love with an Italian sailor who is occupying her city. Her journey takes her to Italy and eventually to America, where the author’s story begins.

She studied at Rutgers University, married her high school sweetheart, and together they raised 3 daughters. Isaacson was a stay-at-home mom for several years. When she returned to the workforce she started and managed an international relocation company. She also served on boards for local charities, and remains an avid volunteer.

Isaacson hopes to finish her next book by the end of the year. Click here for a video interview with her, about her first one. Click here for more information, and to purchase “The Red Velvet Diary.”

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This week’s “Friday Flowers” arrangement graces the Westport Library. Each week, the Westport Garden Club decorates another public space.

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Speaking of the Library:

They’re holding a book sale Memorial Day weekend: Friday, May 28 (9 a.m. to 6 p.m.); Saturday, May 29 (9 a.m. to 5 p.m.), and Sunday, May 30 (noon to 5 p.m. — half-price day).

There are thousands of gently used books in dozens of categories: non-fiction and fiction, for adults and children, as well as antiquarian books, CDs, audio books and DVDs. (Vinyl is available at the Westport Book Shop, across Jesup Green.) Click here for more information.

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And finally … today in 1934, bank robbers Bonnie and Clyde were ambushed by police and killed in Bienville Parish, Louisiana.

 

Remembering John Kemish

Former First Selectman John J. Kemish died April 25 in Boca Raton, Florida. He was 93.

Kemish served three 2-year terms as Westport’s chief executive, from 1967 to 1973. Prior to his election, beginning in 1958 he was the town’s first professional controller (now “finance director”). He improved Westport’s credit rating from A to AAA by establishing the town’s first Capital and Non-Recurring Expenditure fund. As controller he also played a pivotal role in the purchase of Longshore Country Club, under First Selectman Herb Baldwin.

John Kemish

Kemish earned a bachelor’s degree from Hillyer College (now called the University of Hartford), and a master’s degree in public administration and municipal finance from the University of Connecticut.

Woody Klein, in his book Westport Connecticut, The Story of a New England Town’s Rise to Prominence, called Kemish “a personable and highly competent public servant.”

At the time of his election, Westport “was about to face one of the most defining moments in the Town’s history.” United Illuminating Company, a statewide utility, had just announced its intent to build a 14-story nuclear power plant on Cockenoe Island, less than one mile offshore from Westport’s Compo Beach…. Kemish would soon become one of the key figures in the Cockenoe campaign.”

UI’s announcement galvanized the town, and sparked a “Save Cockenoe Now” campaign spearheaded by Jo Fox Brosious, editor of the Westport News.

The First Selectman’s Committee began a year-and-a-half environmental battle, with national coverage. The solution involved the purchase of the Island by the Town. MrKemish engineered the financing that made the purchase possible, and recouped 75% of the money from the federal government. Westport now owns Cockenoe Island in perpetuity.

Cockenoe Island. Thanks in part to John Kemish, it remains pristine.

MrKemish also spearheaded construction of the first solid waste transfer station (the current site of the Levitt Pavilion), effectively ending sanitary land filling of garbage in Westport. This was a landmark for Connecticut, and culminated in the formation of the State Resource Recovery Authority.

Among other important contributions to the quality of life in Westport, Kemish created Westport’s Beautification Committee. Chair Claire Ford and her organization gained the support of the Planning & Zoning Commission.  Significant changes included plantings and the restriction of signage along the Post Road.

Kemish was also responsible for the acquisition of the 38-acre Wakeman Farm, acquisition of the Nike Site on Bayberry lane, and a similar one on North Avenue (providing additional land adjacent to the Staples High School property, now the location of Bedford Middle School).

Bedford Middle School, on the site of a former Nike Missile Site.

During his years as first selectman, Kemish succeeded New York Mayor John Lindsay as president of the Metropolitan Regional Council, which was instrumental in improving services of the Metro-North railroad.

In addition, Kemish worked with Union Carbide and American Can Company on expansion of their municipal resource recovery and solid waste processing systems. In retirement he traveled extensively with his wife Gloria, and enjoyed family time in his homes in Connecticut and Florida.

He is survived by his wife Gloria Kemish, her family, and sons James and Steven.

Marpe Notes Death Of Former 1st Selectman John Kemish

First Selectman Jim Marpe says:

It was with deep sadness that I learned of the passing of former Westport 1st Selectman John Kemish on April 25, at the age of 93. John served three 2-year terms as Westport’s 1st Selectman from 1967 to 1973.

Prior to his election, John served as the town’s first professional controller (now the finance director), where he improved the town’s credit rating from A to Aaa. As controller, he played a pivotal role in the purchase of Longshore Country Club for the town under then-1st Selectman Herb Baldwin.

As 1st Selectman, John played a major role in the town’s campaign to save Cockenoe Island from United Illuminating Company’s plans to erect a nuclear power plant at that offshore site. Under John’s leadership, the agreement to sell Cockenoe Island to the town and eliminate the plans for the power plant proved successful. The town owes John a debt of gratitude, along with many others involved in that environmental fight to save the natural beauty and landscape of that island over 50 years ago,

First Selectman John Kemish (tie) is flanked by veterans at the Memorial Day parade.

According to Woody Klein in his book, Westport Connecticut: The Story of a New England Town’s Rise to Prominence, John is credited with the “acquisition of the Wakeman Farm as open space; he led the town’s effort to acquire the Nike Site on Bayberry Lane for the Westport-Weston Health District and Rolnick Observatory; he was responsible for the acquisition of the North Avenue Nike Site, providing additional land adjacent to the Staples High School property, (which became Bedford Middle School); he established the first major town beautification program by creating the Beautification Committee; and he played a role in the creation of the Transit District and the subsequent introduction of the Minnybus.” He also played an important role in the development of the original Levitt Pavilion.

Those accomplishments notwithstanding, I understand that John was a dedicated public servant who placed the issues and concerns expressed by many Westporters first. I know that generations of Westporters have and will continue to benefit from his due diligence, calm demeanor and leadership capabilities.

On behalf of the Town of Westport, I want to express my sincere condolences to his wife Gloria,  his sons James and Steven, and his entire family.

1st Selectman John Kemish (far right) with Westport YMCA director Matt Johnson (standing) and (seated from left) YMCA president George Dammon, and CBS News anchor (and Weston resident) Douglas Edwards.