Category Archives: Media

Refreshing New Look For Westport’s Website

So much of Westport sparkles.

Our transformed library. Compo Beach, from the playground and pavilion to the new South Beach walkway and grills. Longshore. Staples High School. The Saugatuck River. From Harbor Road to Beachside Avenue, Sherwood Mill Pond to Mahackeno, this is a truly remarkable town.

Our website, however, sucked.

Last updated in 2011 — after 2 previous equally grim versions — it was an ugly, bloated mess. Typography, layout, massive text and lack of photos  — all that wouldn’t have been so bad, if you could easily find what you were looking for.

But you could not.

Happily, as of today Westport’s official website is as crisp, clear and clean as so many of our other wonders.

The new website landing page.

Don’t believe me? Click here!

The new site was more than 2 years in the making. First Selectman Jim Marpe appointed a Website Redevelopment Steering Committee, including town staff and residents with expertise in technology, design, economic development and community interests.

They worked with Granicus, a company that specializes in website services for local governments.

Since the 2011 version debuted, users have migrated from desktops to mobile devices. The new website, all agreed, had to be mobile-friendly.

In addition, town operations director Sara Harris says, users needed quicker access to information.

“Popular services” and “I Want To…” provide quick access to information.

One key feature of the new design is a better search bar. The former “mega-menu” has been cleaned up and streamlined.

The committee used Google Analytics to rearrange the “How do I…?” section. The most popular requests — regarding, for example, beach passes, railroad parking permits, town maps, employment opportunities, open bids and bid results, and videos of town meetings — are given the most prominence.

A one-click “Popular Services” section makes it easier to pay taxes, register for programs, and get meeting agendas and minutes.

News is more prominently displayed on the home page.

There are more photos too, showing (of course) Westport at its best and most beautiful.

An “Economic Opportunity” page is aimed at anyone considering opening a business or relocating here. The goal, Harris says, is to show the town’s great quality of life, and support of business.

For the first time, Westport is marketing directly to businesses and employers.

The site now offers a 1-click link to subscribe to some (or all!) town notifications: emergency alerts, meeting information, news, you name it.

And — this is very, very cool — the Town Charter, plus every ordinance and regulation (including Planning & Zoning, the Conservation Commission, and Parks & Recreation Commission) are all available on one page.

As often happens, after the 2011 website went live certain sections lay dormant. Now, every department has a designated content manager. They’re trained on how to keep their own pages fresh and updated — and respond to users’ evolving needs.

The Parks & Recreation page is one of the most visited on the town’s website.

As part of the project, volunteers with marketing and design backgrounds — including graphic artist Miggs Burroughs; advertising creative director Rob Feakins; brand innovation principal and Westport Downtown Merchants Association president Randy Herbertson, and marketer Jamie Klein — worked to refresh the town’s “brand identity.”

Westport’s new website logo.

They eventually settled on a new logo. Designed by Samantha Cotton — who grew up in and now works here — it suggests open space, the movement of water or sails, and “open warmth and refreshing coolness.”

After a month of testing by the committee and town staffers, the new website went live yesterday.

Harris says, “We’re confident that users will be happy with the experience. We think it represents the town very well.”

She invites residents — and everyone else — to test-drive the new website. The URL is the same: www.westportct.gov.

What do you think? Click “Comments” here.

And/or email the town directly: webmaster@westportct.gov.

Of course, you can also do it from the site itself. Nearly every page has a “feedback” button.

It’s simple. It’s easy.

And that’s the whole idea behind the refreshing new website refresh.

A highlight of the new WestportCT.gov website is the Highlights page.

Social Media For Good: The “I Love You, Mom” Project

It was a brutal start to 2018: On New Year’s Day, Stacy Waldman Bass’ mother was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.

Jessica Waldman

In the dizzying month that followed — dealing with the diagnosis, finding doctors and treatment plans, facing a very uncertain future — Stacy fell into despair. She searched desperately for something positive.

Photography is one of her many talents. She’s superb at it, and feels comfortable behind the lens. She’s taken many photos of her very photogenic mother. Others have too, over her more than 70 years of life.

Stacy wanted to share her images — and others — with her mother’s many friends.

She asked her mother if that was okay — and to let people know why. A few days later she told Stacy: sure. Go ahead.

Stacy’s plan was to post a photo a day on Facebook, for a year. “I didn’t even know if she’d still be alive then,” she says.

The idea resonated. The project began on February 1 — one month after the diagnosis. Every day Stacy’s photo was accompanied by a brief message.

Stacy Waldman’s first post. (Click on or hover over to enlarge.)

Her goal, she said, was to take

tiny slices of her then almost 74 years as a daughter, summer camper, counselor, student, wife, mother, grandmother, friend, teacher, philanthropist, passionate theatregoer, and lover of language (to name only a few). I hoped to create a living and breathing portrait, one that would both delight and remind my mom of the wonderful life she had lived, and the range of people she had impacted and influenced.

She also hoped to create and fuel a community of supporters to nurture my mother’s memories, and engage her in an online conversation that could buoy her spirits and positively occupy her time.

The photos Stacy chose (and took) were beautiful, insightful and meaningful. Jessica looked forward to them.

For Stacy, the daily postings became a way to fortify and connect with her mother. They were a way to chronicle her life, and battle. They were a way too for Stacy to stay motivated, and get out of bed each day.

Every day, Jessica woke up eager to see what image Stacy had chosen, what she wrote about it, and what the online community would say.

Through the process, Stacy says,

I had the chance to fall in love with my mom anew. I grew to see her as a whole person, a complete and multifaceted woman who was my mother, but also so much more.

It gave me a more refined appreciation for the nuances of her life, the choices she made, the challenges she faced. I saw strength where before I’d seen only softness. Layers and layers of lovely that I may have taken for granted, now shone through.

As explained in the text, this photo — posted on Jessica’s 74th birthday — is one of Stacy’s favorites. It shows her mother as “bold, playful, and quietly confident.”

At moments along the way, Stacy believed that

the swelling force of the movement that formed around her could somehow change the course of her prognosis, or at the very least extend her time. I think she believed that too.

The love and positivity that flooded in her direction, from near and far, from “likes” and “loves” to comments and questions, was so empowering and transformative that maybe, just maybe, it could work. The digital conversation quickly spilled offline. My mother was supported in ways unimaginable by many she knew and loved and many more that she did not.

Yet Stacy’s mother died just shy of a year after her diagnosis: January 12. Stacy was devastated.

Mother’s Day last month was particularly difficult. That morning, she wrote on Facebook:

I felt unending joy and good fortune in being lucky enough to be a mom, step-mom and mother-in-law to 6 extraordinary, wonderful, kind and generous humans. Not to mention the wild excitement I have in anticipation of our first grandchild, due only a few short weeks from now.

But then, then, it was impossible to get though this holiday, another first and looming large, without also feeling the crushing and often overwhelming weight of my own mother’s recent death, only 4 months ago. The contrasts were staggering.

In the quiet moments in between the mourning, the grieving and the throbbing tears, I have been working hard on a plan to make a difference: to honor my mom’s memory and to help others who may have similar challenges still ahead.

Looking back, Stacy wrote, she realized she had tried to “harness the immediacy, range, and force of social media for good.”

She did. The project was a success. But now she wanted to do even more.

She had planned to make a book of all the posts, and give it to Jessica. It would be a small, beautiful treasure.

In 1960, 16-year-old Jessica won a contest. The prize: a date with Bobby Darin, at the Copa. Here are those photos.

Stacy’s Mother’s Day post continued:

I imagined that together, we could celebrate the victory of both the medicine and the memories, and marvel at the astonishing community that blossomed around her.

In her absence, palpable and ever present, I nonetheless still found myself wanting and needing to make that book; and to find a way to redirect the gift that was intended for my mom to others who are still fighting, and who could still prevail.

So — though her mother was gone — she made the book anyway.

And she created it to help defeat pancreatic cancer.

In partnership with the Lustgarten Foundation — the world’s leading pancreatic cancer research group — donors of $75 or more will receive an e-book version of “I Love You, Mom.” Print copies are available too, on demand.

In the foreward to the book — a slightly curated version of her posts — Stacy writes:

I hope that in reading this you will not only learn about my mother or my journey or my loss, but that like so many who followed along, day by day, you will be similarly inspired: to be grateful for and expressive about the relationships in your life—with your own mother, or daughter, or sister or friend; to mindfully nurture and attend to those relationships and to cherish the simplicity and beauty of the everyday.

Every day that you can.

I can’t imagine a finer tribute to a mother.

Or a more fitting epitaph for anyone.

(To contribute to Stacy Waldman Bass and the Lustgarden Foundation’s “I Love You, Mom” initiative, click here.)

Staples Graduation: See It Now!

Missed Staples High School’s 132nd commencement exercises on Tuesday?

Or just missed that moment when your favorite graduate got his or her 15-seconds-of-fame diploma?

No problem!

Retired video production teacher Jim Honeycutt was in the fieldhouse, filming the entire ceremony.

It was a model of efficiency: just 1 hour and 45 minutes for faculty and students to walk in, a couple of choir numbers, a few quick speeches, 475 graduates to march across the stage, cap-tossing, and exit.

Still, even though it’s all here, you don’t have to watch every second.

Click below for Jim’s video. Including the fast-forward button.

Save The Date: “06880” Blog Party Is July 18

If you’re reading this, you’re part of the great “06880” online community.

Which means you’re invited to our 6th annual “blog party.”

The date is Thursday, July 18. We’ll gather at 6 p.m. at Compo Beach — specifically, alcohol-is-okay South Beach, by the trees (the opposite end from the cannons).

Bring your own food, beverages (no glass bottles, though!), beach chairs and blankets.

The first 5 years were great successes. They were true community gatherings– chances to meet and mingle with the diverse “06880” community (both online and real). It’s fun, un-fancy, and free (unless you don’t have a sticker — but even then, we’ll try to arrange rides).

This year’s blog party will be better than ever. And here’s a special feature: a new bathroom has just been built, a few steps across the road.

You may recall reading about it on “06880.”

Happy party-goers at the 2014 “06880” bash.

Larry Aasen: “North Dakotans Never Give Up”

Larry Aasen has just written his 4th book about North Dakota.

That may be a world record.

“Very few people write books about North Dakota,” the Peace Garden State native and longtime Westporter says modestly.

“Then again, very few people live in North Dakota, period.”

At 96 years old, Aasen still has all his wits — and his wit.

So I should note here: Very few 96-year-olds write books, period.

Aasen’s oeuvre includes “North Dakota 100 Years Ago,” “Images of North Dakota” and “North Dakota Postcards 1900-1930.” The postcards are fascinating — some are from his parents’ collection (they corresponded that way when they were courting, and lived 30 miles apart) — and so are the photos his mother took using a new-fangled camera (they were sent to Minneapolis to be developed, and arrived back 3 weeks later).

Larry Aasen has written 4 books. All focus on North Dakota.

His latest book — “North Dakotans Never Give Up” — goes beyond images, postcards and history. It’s a personal memoir, weaving together Aasen’s youth in the still-pioneer state with the inspiring story of residents who overcame great adversity, and achieved big things.

(Eric Sevareid, Lawrence Welk and Peggy Lee, to name 3.)

“The Depression was a terrible time,” Aasen says of his youth. “Many young people in North Dakota today have no idea. There were grasshoppers, drought — you name it.”

Those North Dakotans who never gave up survived by raising cows, turkeys, chickens and pigs. They made their own food. They built chairs and benches out of wood they chopped. They were self-sufficient. They had to be.

“Winters were tough,” he says. “Kids really did walk to school in the snow.”

He was one of those kids. And he’d go to school after milking cows. “We smelled. The town kids teased us,” he recalls.

Larry Aasen’s garage is filled with North Dakota — and political — memorabilia.

Aasen’s grandparents were certainly tough. All 4 lived into their 80s. Their stories form an important part of the new book.

“Weak people died,” Aasen says. His grandparents never went to the hospital. They didn’t even have medical care.

“It cost $1 for the doctor to come to the farm. That was too expensive.” He doesn’t remember ever seeing medicine in the house — “except maybe cough syrup.”

His mother kept a diary, which he still has. “She would talk about whatever happened that day,” Aasen says. “‘Today an airplane flew over the farm.’ ‘We butchered a pig.’ ‘Hoover was elected president.’ There were a lot of bank robberies too.”

Larry Aasen’s mother’s 1929 diary (left), and 2 pages from 1937.

Aasen is an assiduous researcher. He spent 9 months writing the most recent volume — and did all the layout too. (His son-in-law got it copy-ready.)

“I’m 96, but I’m too busy to be a senior citizen,” Aasen — whose Mississippi-born wife Martha, 89, is equally active — says.

Aasen’s books sell well — and all over the country. They’re bought by libraries, universities, people who live in North Dakota, and those who have left.

They’re reviewed regularly in publications like the Bismarck Tribune, Grand Forks Herald and Forum of Fargo.

Aasen promotes his books himself, partly through direct mail. After 4 volumes, he’s built up a robust mailing list. (Robust by North Dakota standards, anyway.)

He used to go back every year. His trips now are less frequent.

“I had 31 cousins there. Now there’s 1,” Aasen says. “My classmates, my Army mates — they’re all gone.”

Memorial Day 2018 grand marshal Larry Aasen and his wife Martha. (Photo/Ted Horowitz)

Larry and Martha Aasen moved to Westport in 1963. They’ve been involved in town life — too many activities to count — ever since.

But nearly 6 decades later — after nearly a century on the planet — Larry Aasen still loves his home state. And he’s proud to honor the people he grew up with there.

“A lot of people today, if they can’t get a job they sit around feeling sorry for themselves,” he says.

“In North Dakota, you couldn’t do that. You’d starve.

“You had to be tough, and figure things out.”

Like his book title says: North Dakotans Never Give Up.

(To buy a copy of Aasen’s book, email aasenm@aol.com, or call 203-227-6126.)

Remembering D-Day, And Tracy Sugarman

As the world honors the 75th anniversary of D-Day, Westport should not forget Tracy Sugarman, and his role in that historic event.

Tracy Sugarman

We often think of the artist, writer and longtime Westporter — who died in 2013, age 91 — for his civil rights activism. He published 3 non-fiction books and 1 of fiction about his experiences as a Freedom Rider during the 1960s.

But he also served as an officer with the Navy’s Amphibious Corps during World War II. On D-Day, he stormed the French beach.

In 2011 — a few days before he spoke as Memorial Day grand marshal — I wrote about Tracy’s experiences. 

As a junior at Syracuse University’s College of Fine Arts, Tracy Sugarman had a great time.  He was on the lacrosse team, was dating a wonderful woman named June — “it was all Joe College,” he says.

Then the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor.

The next day, Tracy and a fraternity brother took a bus to Buffalo.  When they returned to campus, they were in the Navy Reserve.

Tracy Sugarman and June, during World War II.

He was allowed to finish school.  But 2 days after graduation — May 13, 1943 — Tracy headed to midshipman’s training at Notre Dame.

“We kept ‘invading’ England,’” Tracy recalls.  “Then one day, it was time to invade France.”

June 6, 1944 was “extraordinary,” says Tracy.  “There were 3,000 planes, and 3,000 ships — as far as the eye could see.”

The day was sunny, but the seas rough.  They circled until 3 p.m.  Everyone was seasick.  As an officer, Tracy had to pretend he was fine.

“Finally we hit the beach,” he says.  “It was just awful.

“It was noisy.  It was smoky.  Ships were blowing up.  There were bodies in the water.”

Tracy made his way through the maze of iron.  He kissed the ground, then returned to the assembly area.

World War II watercolor, by Tracy Sugarman.

He spent the next 6 months unloading ships, working with troops, ammunition and hospitals.

Finally — with the ports secured — he helped 2 other officers close up Utah Beach.  He went back to England.

On April 12, 1945 he had to announce to his ship that Franklin Roosevelt had died.  Most of the sailors had never known another president.

“I was 23,” Tracy says.  “I took 17-, 18- and 19-year-olds to the D-Day beach.  They looked at me — the ‘old man’ — to take care of them.”

Among Tracy’s many works is “My War.” In 2000 he published a collection of over 400 letters, drawings and watercolors he sent to his young wife, during the harrowing days of World War II.

“06880” reader Douglas Davidoff reminds us that the Library of Congress has an online portfolio of Tracy Sugarman’s drawings of D-Day. They’re available here.

There’s much more on Tracy Sugarman and World War II too, Doug notes. For a treasure trove of material via the Veterans History Project, click here.

Tracy Sugarman was grand marshal at Westport’s 2011 Memorial Day ceremony.

Minimalist Poolhouse Packs Maximum Punch

Beachside Avenue’s most famous sculpture — Claes Oldenburg’s 19-foot, 10,000-pound typewriter eraser — is gone. Its new home is the Norton Museum of Art in West Palm Beach, Florida.

Nearby, a new project looks like a new sculpture.

It’s not. It’s a poolhouse.

And you’re not even supposed to really see it.

This month Architecture Digest explores the structure, on the sloping lawn of Andrew Bentley and Fiona Garland’s home.

A broad view of the poolhouse. (Photo/Paul Rivera for Architectural Digest)

Designed by Roger Ferris, and “magnificently minimalist in form,” the poolhouse is built underneath “a verdant berm….Save for the skylight that runs the length of its green roof, the building is hardly visible as you approach it.”

But it certainly is something.

“Elegant concrete walls bookend a 75-foot long pool (and) a generous living-dining room with a Grayson Perry tapestry….While the northern side of the floor plan, tucked into the earth, contains the kitchen, bath, and changing areas, the south-facing window wall offers breathtaking views of the Long Island Sound.”

The pool is framed by window walls, Douglas fir paneling, and a tapestry by Grayson Perry. (Photo/Paul Rivera for Architectural Digest)

It seems like an amazing poolhouse. Andrew and Fiona have great taste; Roger Ferris does inspired work, and Becky Goss of The Flat consulted on the furnishings.

Now I really want to see their mudroom!

Chef Brian Lewis Flays Competition

There’s always something going on at Wakeman Town Farm.

Last night, for example, Tim’s Kitchen was the site of an intimate chefs’ dinner.

Brian Lewis — chef/owner of the wildly popular Cottage and OKO — hosted the event, as part of a sold-out series.

What the guests didn’t know is that one of the dishes on the menu — English pea sachetti with robiola cheese, lemon brown butter and sage crumbs — was the same one Lewis had cooked when he taped “Beat Bobby Flay.”

Brian Lewis, cooking last night at Wakeman Town Farm …

And the episode aired that very night.

So as guests enjoyed their great meal, the rest of America was watching Chef Lewis go head to head with Bobby Flay.

Dessert included viewing the competition on TV.

The icing on the cake: Lewis won!

… and on TV.

“06880” is pleased to pass on this very tasty tidbit.

(Hat tip: Christy Colasurdo)

Gabe Sherman: The Loudest Voice In The Room

Roger Ailes has been called the man most responsible for making Donald Trump president of the United States.

On June 30 — when Showtime begins a 7-part series about the Fox TV CEO/ media consultant who died in May 2017, a year after resigning following allegations of sexual harassment — the man who may be most responsible for that show is native Westporter Gabe Sherman.

Gabriel Sherman

“The Loudest Voice” — Showtime’s they-said-it-couldn’t-be-made series — is based on Sherman’s 2014 book, “The Loudest Voice in the Room: How the Brilliant, Bombastic Roger Ailes Built Fox News – and Divided a Country.” That too was a book “they” said could never be written.

In both cases, Ailes’ purported wide-ranging, all-encompassing clout was said to forestall any attempt to tell his story.

Sherman knew what he was doing. He was educated through grade 10 in Westport schools. After graduating from Holderness School in New Hampshire and Middlebury College (2001), he spent 10 years writing for New York magazine (including a stint as national affairs editor).

He’s now a special correspondent for Vanity Fair, and a regular contributor to NBC News and MSNBC.

Sherman first began covering Ailes for New York Magazine. The media mogul was not pleased.

“Anything I touched, they waged war at me,” Sherman told The Hollywood Reporter.

When Sherman got a Random House contract to write his book, Ailes hired private detectives to trail him. Ailes also had a 400-page dossier drawn up on the writer.

Sherman’s revenge: In 2016, he got the scoop that Fox owner Rupert Murdoch was orchestrating Ailes’ departure.

Gabriel Sherman covered Roger Ailes — the man perhaps most responsible for making Donald Trump president — extensively.

Three years later, the adaptation of Sherman’s book is set to debut on TV — the medium that Ailes once ruled, and used so powerfully during Trump’s presidential campaign.

Sherman is ready — for both the series, and its ending.

He says, “In addition to the world getting to see our show” — his wife Jennifer Stahl shares a writing and producing credit — “we’re really ready for this chapter of our lives to be over. This is the end of the Roger Ailes story.”

(For the full Hollywood Reporter story on Gabriel Sherman and the Showtime series, click here.)

“06880” Honored By Journalists

I don’t care much for writing awards*. So I’ve never submitted “06880” for any.

But Fred Cantor and Neil Brickley — longtime readers, and much-longertime friends and former Staples High School classmates — did.

Without my knowledge, they sent 3 stories to the Society of Professional Journalists’ Connecticut chapter Excellence in Journalism contest. All told, there were 842 entries, in 39 categories.

Last night — at the annual meeting in Berlin — one of those stories earned a 1st-place award. It was for “Reporting Series.”

The story — “This is ABC” — was a photo essay done with my sister, Susan Woog Wagner. It explored Westport’s great A Better Chance program, through the eyes of scholars, host families, resident directors, drivers, founders, tutors and others. (Click here for the first story in the series.)

Study time at Glendarcy House — the A Better Chance of Westport residence on North Avenue. (Photo/Susan Woog Wagner)

I’m proud and honored that Fred and Neil did that on my behalf. And excited to have won, for sure.

The one award is nothing compared to WestportNow. The local news site enters the contest every year, and picks up passels of honors. Last night founder/editor Gordon Joseloff, writer James Lomuscio and photographers Dave Matlow, Helen Klisser During and Anna-Liisa Nixon shared 6 first-place, 4 second-place and 4 third-place awards.

Other local winners included Justin Papp (1st place) and Sophie Vaughn (3rd place), both of the Westport News.

Local journalism is alive and well. The awards are nice — but serving Westporters is even better.

*Though the Pulitzer Prize is very impressive.

(For a full list of winners, and more information, click here.)

Dinnertime! (Photo/Susan Woog Wagner)