Category Archives: Looking back

Unsung Hero #11

Lois Schine has done many things in her long life.

A mechanical engineer at a time when nearly all her peers were men, she helped found the Society of Women Engineers.

She served 18 years on Westport’s Representative Town Meeting (RTM). She chaired our Human Services Commission, and was a member of 1st Selectman Diane Farrell’s Land Use Committee.

Today she’s an active member of the Westport Downtown Master Plan Committee, and a Friend of the Senior Center.

But of all she’s done, Schine says her “crowning accomplishment” is helping the town keep Winslow Park as open space.

Lois Schine

Following its days as the Westport Sanitarium — and after B. Altman abandoned its plans to build a department store there — the 32-acre site of woods and meadows just north of downtown was owned by perfume executive Walter Langer von Langendorff (aka “the baron”).

First selectman Jacqueline Heneage asked the baron if the town could buy the land. Schine’s husband Leonard — a noted attorney and judge — negotiated with the owner.

The baron backed away, offended by the town’s “low” offer of $2.38 million. Schine planned to return to the issue in a while. But he died — and so did the baron.

The baron left several wills. It appeared his land would be tied up in court — then sold, to satisfy his various estate obligations.

In 1987 the RTM voted 26-8 to condemn the land. Citizens opposed to the deal brought a referendum. Lois Schine, Joanne Leaman and Ellie Solovay helped spur a “yes” vote. By 54-46%, Westporters chose to move ahead with eminent domain.

The purchase price was $9.42 million. But no one in town knew what to do with the property.

Schine worried it would be used for buildings, or some other intense activity. She asked town attorney Ken Bernhard how to designate the land as “open space.”

Winslow Park draws visitors with dogs …

He said there was no such zoning regulation in town. He suggested she run for the RTM, so the body could pass a resolution asking the Planning & Zoning Commission to create that designation.

She did. She won. And — with Ellie Lowenstein at the P&Z helm — officials created an “open space” zone for passive recreation.

“Longshore, Compo, all the pocket parks — none of them had open space designations,” Schine recalls.

Today they do. So does the baron’s other property — the 22 acres across the Post Road, between Compo Road South and Imperial Avenue.

… and sleds.

“Some people say Winslow is ‘only a dog park,'” Schine notes.

“But it’s a park in the middle of town.”

And — had it not been for Lois Schine, and many others — that middle of town might look very different today.

 

Stevan Dohanos’ Firehouse Comes Home

Pat Kery thinks of the Saugatuck firehouse as “her” firehouse.

The art appraiser once had an office at Bridge Square. She still lives nearby.

So when she found a Stevan Dohanos print for sale called “Hose Co. 4” — which looked a lot like the Saugatuck firehouse, Engine Company 4 — she was excited.

The Saugatuck firehouse.

Actually, more than excited. She helped bring it home to Westport.

Kery consults for WestPAC — Westport’s Public Art Collection. She’s also a longtime Dohanos aficionado. Researching her 1982 book, “Great Magazine Covers of the World,” she learned a lot about the local illustrator. He drew 123 covers for the Saturday Evening Post — as well as the incredible mural that has hung since 1953 in the Coleytown Elementary School office.

Dohanos’ 1950 firehouse lithograph shows firemen shooting the breeze with a mailman, as they wait for the next call.

Stevan Dohanos’ “Hose Co. 4.”

“His genius was capturing the ordinary things in life — in particular some of the small details we might miss in our fast-paced lives,” Kery says.

“Hose Co. 4” shows bedposts in the 2nd-floor windows, laundry drying on a clothesline, and an alert Dalmatian for companionship.

“From a stylistic standpoint, the artist brilliantly echoes circles and squares — the firehouse, the trees, the dog — to visually tie in elements in the print,” she explains.

Stevan Dohanos at work.

Recently, Kery learned the print — signed by the artist in the lower right, one of an edition of 250, and in pristine condition — was being sold by a dealer in the Midwest. She called, and learned he’d visited Dohanos in Westport shortly before his death.

The seller offered an excellent price — and framed it. Sam  Gault generously provided funds for its purchase. Now it joins 3 other Dohanos Saturday Evening Post covers, and various illustrations — in the WestPAC collection.

It’s a treasure trove of art, including a Picasso and other world-renowned works.

But the real value of WestPAC is the chance to bring something like Stevan Dohanos’ firehouse “home.”

BONUS STEVAN DOHANOS PHOTO BELOW: 

This circa 1950 print — donated by Kery — is from a photograph at the Norman Rockwell Museum’s Famous Artists School Archives.

It shows Dohanos hanging out with Westport firefighters, in front of the original fire headquarters. It was on Church Lane downtown, next to the YMCA Bedford Building (left).

When fire headquarters moved to the Post Road, where it is today (next to Terrain),  the old firehouse was incorporated into the YMCA. Its 1st floor became the Y’s new fitness center, while the 2nd floor was converted into a weight room and cardio studio.

Today, both the Bedford Building and old firehouse have been refashioned into  Bedford Square.

PS: Check out the dalmatian at Dohanos’ feet!

When Comics Were King

Over the years, Westport has been known nationally for a few things.

During the Civil War, our onions helped Northern troops stave off illness. In the ’70s and ’80s we were awash in marketing companies.

And for a longer period of time — the 1950s through ’90s — we were part of “the comic strip capital of the world.”

Vanity Fair’s September issue explores that funny period in our history. Writer Cullen Murphy — whose father was one of those illustrious illustrators — looks at all of Fairfield County as the world capital. It was

where most of the country’s comic-strip artists, gag cartoonists, and magazine illustrators chose to make their home. The group must have numbered 100 or more, and it constituted an all-embracing subculture …. In the conventional telling, the milieu of Wilton and Westport, Greenwich and Darien, was the natural habitat of The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit — and I was certainly aware of the commuters who took the train into Manhattan every morning from my own hometown of Cos Cob. But, for me, those salarymen with their briefcases seemed like outlandish outliers.

Murphy cites Westport’s “large cluster” of cartoonists Bud Sagendorf (“Popeye”), Leonard Starr (“On Stage,” “Little Orphan Annie”), Dick Wingert (“Hubert”), Stan Drake (“The Heart of Juliet Jones,” “Blondie”), Jack Tippit (“Amy”), John Prentice (“Rip Kirby”) and Mel Casson (“Mixed Singles/Boomer”).

Bernie Fuchs’ famous studio. It was demolished earlier this year.

Murphy’s father compared Bernie Fuchs to Degas. The writer adds: “Fuchs’s career was all the more remarkable because he had lost 3 fingers on his drawing hand in an accident when he was a teenager.”

Murphy does not mention Curt Swan (“Superman”). I’m sure he’s missed others.

From the 2002 book “Curt Swan: a Life in Comics”

Murphy offers a few reasons why this area attracted so many illustrators: lack of a state income tax; affordable homes, and of course the presence of other artists.

It was solitary work — which is why so many Fairfield County illustrators got together in groups, here and on Wednesdays when they brought their art to their editors in the city. They talked about their work. They also ate and drank.

Murphy notes:

One defining reality about the cartoonists was that although their characters —Beetle Bailey, Snoopy, Prince Valiant, Blondie — were known worldwide, they themselves passed through life more or less anonymously. Unlike actors or sports figures or reality-TV stars, they were never stopped on the street. They didn’t have a “gal” to protect them or “people” to speak for them.

Semi-domesticated, they depended heavily on their families, especially wives, who in many ways held the entire enterprise together, from basic finances to rudimentary social cues…. Life was interrupted mainly by mundane chores. More than a few collectors have bought original comic strips and found notations like “prescription ready” or “diapers, bologna, Chesterfields” in the margins.

Bud Sagendorf, and his most well-known character.

Of course, nothing lasts forever. Murphy writes:

The concentration of cartoon talent in Fairfield County was a product of special circumstances, and those circumstances have disappeared. Newspaper comic strips are not the force they were, and few magazines still publish gag cartoons.

The New York City newspaper strike of 1962–63 led to the demise of the Hearst flagship, the New York Journal-American, whose funny pages were the best in the country. Making it there was like opening at the Roxy. Now it was gone.

New York remains the center of the publishing industry, but the railroad is no longer a lifeline: the Internet has meant that artists can send their work from anywhere. Connecticut has a state income tax now, though that’s not what has made Fairfield County unaffordable — Wall Street is responsible for that.

Westport, of course, is now a financial capital — both as headquarters to the world’s largest hedge fund, and home to many financial executives.

I wonder what kind of cartoon Bud Sagendorf, Stan Drake, Mel Casson or any of the others would draw about that.

(Click here to read the entire Vanity Fair story. Hat tips: Doug Bonnell and Paul Delano)

From comics to capitalism: Westport is now home to Bridgewater, the world’s largest hedge fund.

“High School That Rocked” Plans An Encore

It’s always fun to discover a “sleeper” film hit.

But it’s never fun to get turned away.

The Westport Cinema Initiative and Westport Historical Society were stunned last month, when the Town Hall auditorium proved too small for the throngs that wanted to see “The High School That Rocked!”

That’s the documentary chronicling the amazing period in the 1960s when bands like the Doors, Cream, Yardbirds and Rascals played at Staples High School.

Ginger Baker, Cream’s drummer, at Staples. (Photo copyright Jeremy Ross)

So the WCI and WHS are doing what any good promoters should: They’ve added another showing.

The film will be screened again on Saturday, August 26 (5 p.m., Westport Historical Society). A talkback follows, with the movie’s producer Fred Cantor, and filmmaker Doug Tirola. Both are Westport residents.

There’s limited space, so tickets must be ordered in advance (click here for the direct link). The cost is $10 — and includes free popcorn.

That’s a great bargain — even if it is $7.50 more than it cost to see those great concerts, back when Staples High School really rocked.

Ringo’s Hair

For the sold-out crowd in the Town Hall auditorium last weekend, Fred Cantor’s documentary “The High School That Rocked!” combined Woodstock and class reunions with a trip down memory lane.

Men with far less — but grayer — hair than in the mid-’60s, and women wearing not granny but actual glasses smiled, laughed and clapped as the true story of how the Doors, Sly & the Family Stone, Rascals, Cream and Yardbirds played at Staples High School was told by folks who Really Were There.

There were plenty of anecdotes. Two Westport girls baked a cake for the Rascals; another touched Jim Morrison’s face.

Ed Baer

And then there was the tale told by Ed Baer. A former WMCA radio “Good Guy” and longtime Westporter, he spoke on camera about the astonishing effect the Beatles had on everyone at the time. The example he used was a contest his station sponsored. The grand prize: a locket of Ringo Starr’s hair.

The audience smiled knowingly.

But one woman could not believe her ears.

Leslie Schine graduated from Staples in 1971 — Cantor’s year. But in 1964 she was 11 years old.

And she won the same contest Ed Baer described in the film.

A Bridgeport Post news story shows 11-year-old Leslie Schine clutching her Beatles album.

At a reception after the showing, she mentioned the astonishing coincidence. And, she said, she had not even entered the contest. She did not know who sent in her name.

A 1964 story in the Bridgeport Post suggested it was a colleague of her father’s. Leonard Schine was a noted local attorney, and a former Westport Town Court judge.

The lock of hair — clipped from Ringo’s head on the Beatles’ 1st US tour — arrived at Leslie’s Bayberry Lane home, along with a photo of the Beatles cutting his hair; an affidavit signed by Ringo; a letter from WMCA, and a fan club postcard signed by all the Beatles (except John).

More than 50 years later, Leslie Schine mimics her previous pose. Here, she holds a photo she was sent by WMCA, showing “the Good Guys” cutting Ringo’s hair. (Photo/Carlotta Grenier Schaller)   

When Leslie told this story last weekend, she thought she still had it “somewhere.”

Sure enough, the next day — in just 15 minutes — she found it in her attic.

Along with the documentation.

“I seem to remember bringing it to Coleytown Elementary, and handing out single strands to friends,” Leslie says.

It’s amazing. Of all the anecdotes Ed Baer could have told, that’s the one he chose.

And of all 300 people in the auditorium last weekend, one of them was Leslie Schine.

Ed Baer was there too. Unfortunately, neither he nor Leslie knew of the coincidence, so they did not meet.

Still, it’s an astonishing story.

Yeah, yeah, yeah!

William F. Cribari: The Man Behind The Bridge

Everyone is talking about the William F. Cribari Bridge. That’s the official name of the historic 133-year-old swing span over the Saugatuck River. Yet many Westporters still use the old name: the Bridge Street Bridge.

That’s a shame.

William Cribari — or “Crobar,” as he was universally known in his native Saugatuck — was quite a guy.

He was a World War II vet. Serving under General George S. Patton, he took part in the invasions of Normandy, Sicily and North Africa. He also served in the Battle of the Bulge.

But that’s not why the bridge is named after him.

For more than 30 years, Cribari was a special police officer. He walked the beat on Main Street, and directed traffic at both the pre-light Riverside/Saugatuck Avenue intersection, and the Post Road by Kings Highway Elementary.

But that’s not why the bridge is named after him either.

His greatest fame came when he was shifted to Riverside Avenue, at the entrance to the Manero’s (now Rizzuto’s) parking lot.

William F. Cribari (Photo courtesy of Paul Ehrismann)

There — with a smile, a theatrical wave and more than a few dance steps — he masterminded rush hour traffic through the heart of Saugatuck. Much of it went over the Bridge Street — now William F. Cribari — Bridge.

He was much more than a traffic cop, of course. Cribari’s full-time job was tool crib operator for Nash Engineering. He was a longtime Westport PAL volunteer, and a Knight of Columbus. He attended every Army-Navy football game from 1946 on.

At 12 years old he joined the Saugatuck Volunteer Fire Department as a snare drummer. He remained a life member.

More than 30 years later, he became drum major for both the Nash Engineering Band — marching every year in the Memorial Day parade — and the Port Chester American Legion Band.

In 2003, Cribari and his wife Olga were honored as grand marshals of Festival Italiano. That annual event was held in Luciano Park — not far from where he was born at home in 1918, and just around the corner from where generations of commuters learned to love Westport’s greatest traffic cop.

Paul Ehrismann found this great montage from the Westport News, and posted it on Facebook.

Cribari died on January 30, 2007, at 88.

A decade later his name lives on, through his namesake bridge.

Let’s all make sure his legend does too.

For years, William F. Cribari controlled traffic on the Bridge Street Bridge. Now it’s named for him. (Photo/Michael Champagne)

Beneath Playhouse Stage, A Hallway Of History

The list of actors who have graced the Westport Country Playhouse stage is long and luminous.

Alan Alda. Tallulah Bankhead. Richard Dreyfuss. Joel Grey. June Havoc. Helen Hayes. James Earl Jones. Liza Minelli. And of course our own Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward.

Their head shots line the walls beneath the famous stage. Before every performance, actors in the current production walk out of their dressing rooms, past those photos.

Westport Country Playhouse company manager Bruce Miller, with some of the head shots near the dressing rooms underneath the stage.

Many of the 500 head shots show less famous actors. They too are part of the Playhouse’s wonderful history of 87 years, and more than 800 shows.

But on one wall — at the end of a hallway — hang 25 images. They are men and women who appeared at least once on the stage above.

The unidentified photos hang at the end of a hall.

They have no tags. Their names have been lost to the ages.

Yet one by one, company manager Bruce Miller is figuring out who they are.

The story begins with that very 1st show in 1931:”The Streets of New York.” Dorothy Gish’s photo went up in the wood-paneled lobby. For more than 70 years, dozens of other head shots joined hers.

For the 2003 renovation, Playhouse officials cleared the catacombs of photos, programs and other records. About 20% were moldy; they were thrown out.

The rest were stored off-site, in Bridgeport. When a sprinkler head bust, half of those items were lost.

Do you know this man …

During the renovation, someone decided to switch the locations of the head shots and the posters advertising previous shows. The idea was that the actors would appreciate seeing photos of their predecessors right outside the dressing rooms; theatergoers, meanwhile, would want to see the posters.

Now — thanks largely to those patrons — the gaps in the Playhouse’s history are being filled in.

Once a month, Miller says, someone calls or emails with something like this: “We were cleaning out my grandmother’s attic. We found a poster for this old show. Do you want it?”

… or this woman?

Playhouse staffers help too.

John Mosele was intrigued by the photo of an unknown mustached man. Working only with a partial name and Google, Mosele found the name “Emil Bundesmann” on a Spanish website.

Bundesmann turned out to be a member of the Playhouse’s original repertory company. He appeared in — and served as stage manager for — that 1st-ever show, “The Streets of New York.”

Anton Bundesmann, looking very suave.

After staging 3 plays in New York, Bundesmann was hired by David O. Selznick as a casting director — supervising screen tests for “Gone With the Wind.”

Under the name “Anthony Mann,” Bundesmann then directed films for Paramount, RKO and MGM, including 7 with James Stewart. His final 3 films were “Cimarron,” “El Cid” and “The Fall of the Roman Empire.”

Meanwhile, for years the only thing anyone at the Playhouse knew about the 1934 production of “The Virginian” was that Henry Fonda was in it. One day, Miller’s wife was talking to someone, when the Playhouse was mentioned. The woman said her mother had acted in “The Virginian.” She gave Miller her mother’s head shot. It now hangs near Fonda’s.

A young Henry Fonda.

But what about those photos the Playhouse has always had — yet remain unidentified?

Each year during the springtime open house, someone peers closely and says, “Oh, that’s so-and-so.” Miller searches online to confirm. Often, he can match the actor to the show.

Surprisingly, Miller says, the folks who know these long-ago actors are baby boomers — even millennials. They recognize the faces from movies — not plays.

A few of the identifications come from older actors. No one, however, has yet identified him or herself.

That would be a great plot twist.

Remembering Toni Cunningham

The Independence Day fireworks are Westport’s biggest community celebration of the year.

It’s when Soundview Drive — our town’s handsome, quirky beachfront exit road — turns into a party promenade.

This year — as we prepare for another year of cookouts, hanging out, and bombs bursting in air — we should also pause for a moment (on Soundview) to remember Toni Cunningham.

The grande dame of Compo died on Thursday. She was 101.

Toni Cunnnigham, at her 80th birthday celebration.

In that century of life, she saw astonishing changes at the beach just outside her front window. She herself contributed to many of them.

Toni first came to Westport as a teenager. During the 1930s her parents — who lived in Scarsdale – rented #75 (now #17) Soundview Drive. She crewed on Star sailboats, often swimming out to join friends to help in races.

Gail Cunningham Coen — one of Toni’s 3 daughters — says that Toni also swam to Cockenoe Island and back.

When her parents moved here full time, she’d walk to Cockenoe in winter over thick ice.

Toni and Frank Cunningham, in front of 17 Soundview Drive.

Every year in late June, Toni’s father Frank Bosco drove to a special “fireworks contact.” He shot them off from a card table on the beach in front of his house. Neighborhood kids loved it.

Frank was a longtime treasurer of the Compo Beach Improvement Association — which really did spiff up the area.

The group organized field days, and swim races to and from the floats anchored offshore. Toni was an avid participant.

She also loved riding on the seaplanes that landed on shore.

In those days, “air conditioning” meant opening windows. Toni’s daily piano playing was enjoyed by everyone who strolled by. She knew all the popular songs, and was often asked to sing and play for parties.

As she grew older, Toni succeeded her father as treasurer of the CBIA. She also became secretary. Her talent for shorthand guaranteed highly accurate meeting notes.

Compo was a family affair. Toni’s mother, Margaret Bosco, created the first “beach rules.” They ensure safe, responsible behavior — and strong litter prevention practices. (Interestingly, Toni’s daughter Gail later became CEO of Keep America Beautiful.)

In 1938, a strong hurricane hit the area. Toni refused to leave, and rode out the storm.

In fact, during her 85 years on Soundview only one hurricane forced her to leave. That was in the 1950s, when waves chewed up the road and deposited huge chunks of the seawall in front yards.

As she earned fame for riding out storms, reporters regularly called her for blow-by-blow news.

Toni and Frank Cunningham, playing a 4-hand duet.

July 4th was not the only holiday  Toni enjoyed. She also loved New Year’s eve. In the early 1960s she built a party room on the 3rd floor of her house at 27 Soundview, where she and Frank raised their family.

It featured a Steinway baby grand. But the party wasn’t in full swing until Toni sat down to play. Governor John Davis Lodge and his wife Francesca were frequent guests.

Today a small sign on the flower bed at the start of Soundview Drive — near where the boardwalk begins — honors Toni Cunningham for her dedication to the CBIA, and her beautification efforts at Compo.

The sign on Soundview Drive.

It’s a simple gesture, but an important one. In many ways, that stretch of Compo Beach is Toni Cunningham.

Think about that as you enjoy the fireworks — the first 4th of July Toni Cunningham has not been alive for in over a century.

(Contributions in Toni’s memory can be made to the Compo Beach Improvement Association Traffic Calming and Beautification Fund, 40 Compo Beach Road, Westport, CT 06880.)

Taking The Oyster Tour

A few weeks ago, I wrote about the Northrop family’s new venture.

Westport’s premier oystermen were planning tours of their admired-from-afar-but-seldom-seen-up-close operation on Sherwood Mill Pond. It was a chance to watch a very cool (and nationally known) business in operation — and to visit the mysterious house out on Hummock Island.

Last week, I took the tour.

I joined Jeff Northrop Jr. and his dad, Jeff Sr., plus a longtime Westport couple and a girl who just graduated from Staples.

It was high tide. On the Mill Pond that’s only 18 inches to 2 feet deep. But it was perfect for the boat. The weather was outstanding too.

Jeff Northrop Jr. readies his boat.

As we headed out, Jeff Jr. said that his father’s great-uncle had dragged the 1747 house — originally built as a cooper shed next to a grist mill — across the 83-acre Mill Pond by oxen, at low tide, around 1850.

A photo showing the grist mill and adjacent cooper shed — now the Hummock Island house — hangs on the wall inside.

The pond was originally a tidal stream. It was dammed up to provide power to turn the water wheel that ground grain.

Relics inside the Hummock Island house include timbers from the original Allen’s Clam house. They came from the schooner Remson, built by the Sherwood triplets. The abandoned vessel is still visible at low tide, in the Saugatuck River near the William Cribari/Bridge Street Bridge.

Jeff Sr. lived in the house during his high school years (he graduated from Staples in 1971).

The Hummock Island house (left). On the right is an equipment shed/boat, added a couple of years ago.

A caretaker then lived there for decades, until he was 83. The next year, Hurricane Sandy devastated the house.

The Northrops painstakingly restored it. They did so well, it’s earned a Fairfield County preservation award.

The Hummock Island house.

It sits now on a tiny spit of land. But the island was once much bigger. In fact, Jeff Sr. said, the town still insists he has 5 1/2 acres there.

The view to the back of Sherwood Mill Pond — toward I-95 and the train tracks — from the Hummock Island house.

Jeff Jr. pointed out 2 machines. One separates oysters into 3 sizes. The other cuts them down to uniform shapes. In 1 hour, it does what once took a week.

Oysters must be separated, because smaller ones won’t grow in the same cage with larger ones.

Hummock Island oysters.

The Northrops farm 4 million oysters at a time, below the surface and in floating bags. The Mill Pond is so nutrient-rich — and the water so pristine — that they take just 18 months to mature. Nearly everywhere else, it’s 3 years.

Jeff Northrop Jr. shucking oysters.

The Northrops supply wholesalers, including Pagano’s of Norwalk. From there they’re distributed all over the country. The 3-inch Hummock Island oysters are the highest grade — a delicacy prized by oyster lovers everywhere.

Next to the house is an equipment shed: the “Oysterplex.” Though it looks like another house, it’s actually a boat. (Jeff Jr. called it a “giant catamaran.”)

The Northrops hauled all the materials across the Mill Pond, and built it from scratch. When town officials questioned whether it was a structure or a boat, father and son rode it all around the island. It’s definitely a boat.

Jeff Northrop Jr., inside the Oysterplex equipment shed/boat.

The Northrops are well known for their oysters. But there’s 30 more acres behind the Hummock Island house. Just as they’ve done with oystering, they’re now revitalizing clamming in the Mill Pond.

A clam rake.

The tour over, Jeff Jr. and Sr. took us back across the Mill Pond. We passed a stick they’d found and planted. Instantly, Jeff Jr. said, ospreys and hawks found it.

The Northrops’ love for the Mill Pond is palpable. They know its history, its rhythms and its secrets.

Now the secret of Hummock Island is out.

And it — at least, its tour — is yours for the taking.

(The Northrops’ tours run through August. Times vary, depending on tides. For more information, click here.)

They Do Grow Up!

On July 1, 2003, a small group gathered underneath a pear tree, on a patch of grass separating a rutted parking lot from the sprawling, 1-story Staples High School campus.

Several speakers at the low-key ceremony praised the high school as “the jewel in the crown” of the Westport school system.

Then superintendent of schools Elliott Landon, principal John Brady, 1st selectwoman Diane Goss Farrell, Board of Education chair Sandra Urist and 10 other educators, politicians, citizen-volunteers and Turner Construction Company representatives turned over symbolic shovels of dirt.

Ground was broken for construction of an even more sprawling, 3-story school. Another major chapter in Staples’ fabled history had begun.

The Westport News ran a front-page photo of a young boy helping out:

As the caption noted, 4-year-old Jacob Leaf was the grandson of Dan Kail, chairman of the Staples School Building Sub-Committee.

The paper was wrong, however. Jacob is a member of the Class of 2017 — not 2018.

Tomorrow (Thursday, June 22, 2 p.m.), he and over 450 classmates graduate.

They’ll do so in the fieldhouse — one of the only parts of the building not touched by the $84 million renovation.

The project — completed in 2005 — transformed Staples forever. It is a 21st-century building, and this year’s graduating class have done their high school — and town — proud.

Sitting especially proudly in tomorrow’s crowd will be one of the Westporters most responsible for the modern Staples High School: Jacob’s grandfather, Dan Kail.

Congratulations to all the graduates; to all who made Staples possible, and all who continue to do so.