Category Archives: Organizations

Photo Challenge #220

I thought last week’s Photo Challenge was one of those hiding-in-plain-sight views.

But plenty of people instantly knew: J.P. Vellotti’s image showed the sculpture on the front of 210 Post Road East.

That’s the building on the corner of Imperial Avenue that houses Harding Funeral Home.

More importantly — for this story, anyway — it’s also the home of Masonic Temple Lodge #65.

Westport’s Masons have been around since 1824 — more than a decade before Westport was incorporated. The Post Road building has been their headquarters since 1911 — before anyone currently living here was born.

But the sculpture — actually, the Masons’ symbol — was not affixed to the building until last November. It hasn’t escaped the notice of Westporters, apparently.

The symbol (click here for the photo) depicts the square and compass used by stonemasons. (The Freemasons trace their origins to 14th century stonemasons.) The “G” — sometimes used in the symbol, sometimes not — refers to either “geometry” or “Great Architect of the Universe” (God).

You can read all about the sculpture, and its placement on the Westport building, here (hat tip: Elaine Marino). And click here for my 2015 story on my visit to the Lodge.

Congratulations to Fred Cantor, John L. Krause, Michael Calise, Andrew Colabella, Jonathan McClure, Michael A. Vitelli, Elaine Marino, Rich Stein, Bobbie Herman, Alan Goldberg, Diane Silfen, Dianne Ford, Molly Alger and James Leonard — alert “06880” readers all, who knew exactly where to find last week’s Photo Challenge.

Here’s this week’s Challenge. If you know where in Westport you’d find this, click “Comments” below.

(Photo/Chip Stephens)

 

Anne Farkas’ Very Close Shave

For years, Anne Farkas was a warm, welcoming sight at Restoration Hardware. Her huge smile was familiar to every customer.

Her green hair — that’s new.

Anne Farkas

It all started with Brent McCreesh.

The Westporter was 3 years old. He’d spent over a year in the hospital, battling neuroblastoma cancer — only to be put in isolation at home for 6 months. He missed the nurses, staff and volunteers who played with him nonstop.

He pleaded with his parents to go back to the “fun” hospital. Then he met a few fantastic volunteer caregivers.

One was Anne. By then she was working at the Fairfield Public Library. She helping bring joy into Brent’s life.

She also became a face of St. Baldrick’s, the pediatric cancer fundraising organization that sponsors — among other things — head-shaving events. (The idea is to show solidarity with youngsters undergoing chemo treatments.)

Every year, Anne puts on an enormous bow tie and green leprechaun cap. She greets everyone at the Westport Weston Family YMCA’s St. Baldrick’s.

She’s also a prodigious fundraiser. She said when she reached $3,000, she’d add green highlights to her hair. At $5,000, she’d dye her hair green — and at $7,000, purple.

Now she’s set a new goal: $10,000. When Anne reaches that amount, she’ll shave her head at St. Baldrick’s. The event is set for next Sunday (March 24, Westport Y, 12 noon).

This year’s St. Baldrick’s is the last one for Anne and “Team Brent.” After 15 years, they’ve decided to focus on helping new groups grow. They know what they’re doing: So far, they’ve raised over $4 million.

Taking it all off for St. Baldrick’s, in 2015.

As always, this will be a great day. Head-shaving is done by volunteer stylists; there’s head painting too (and photos!), all while a DJ spins tunes.

There are inspirational speakers (hosted by sportscaster Deb Placey). Anthony Capalbo — whose son Charlie, a former Fairfield Ludlowe High School hockey player, has battled 2 cancers — will talk too.

Brent McCreesh will be there. He’s now 16 — and has been cancer-free for over 13 years.

He’ll take on comers in a challenge chess match. All funds will go to St. Baldrick’s.

See you there, mate!

(For more information on Anne Farkas and the March 24 St. Baldrick’s event — and to donate and register —click here, or email DanaMcCreesh@gmail.com) 

Who doesn’t love a bald guy?

Cocktails For A Pancreatic Cancer Cure

Jen Greely moved to Westport 6 years ago. She met fellow artist Binnie Birstein and was captivated.

“She was quite a character,” Jen says. “She never minced words. But she always gave great feedback to me and other artists.”

Binnie was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in 2017. Jen and fellow members of the Artists Collective of Westport became her caregivers.

“She never spent a single night alone,” Jen says. “We were there 24/7. When her kids came, we gave respite to them too.”

Binnie Birstein with her work, at the Westport Arts Center. (Photo/Jen Greely)

Binnie died this past May. As Jen talked about her mentor, and her experience as a caregiver, with other Saugatuck Elementary School moms, she learned how many people have lost loved ones to pancreatic cancer.

One of those Westporters is Jessica Newshel. A decade ago, her world was thrown into a tailspin as her 50-year-old uncle — healthy, active, the father of 3 — battled the disease.

Jessica Newshel (Bottom left) in 2001, with her uncle Jeffrey Rosenzweig (top right), cousin Steven Rosenzweig and aunt Lizanne Rosenzweig.

He died 6 weeks before Jessica, her relatives and friends walked in a Lustgarten Foundation fundraiser. The organization is the largest private funder of pancreatic cancer research.

Jessica’s family — who also lost their matriarch to pancreatic cancer — provided a large challenge grant to Lustgarten. They also organized several large race events in Westchester, raising over $500,000.

Now Jen, Jessica and fellow Westporter Natalie Kroft have teamed up for their next event. And it’s right here, in their hometown.

“Cocktails for a Cure” — set for Thursday, April 4 (7 p.m., Westport Country Playhouse barn) — includes drinks, light bites from Bartaco, treats and live music.

Jen, Jessica and Natalie all have personal connections to pancreatic cancer. They are doing all they can to raise awareness around the importance of testing, early diagnosis, and research.

They do it for their loved ones. And for all of us.

(Click here for tickets and more information on the April 4 “Cocktails for a Cure.”)

Seed Exchange Set For Saturday

Every year between March and May, the Westport Farmers’ Market lies fallow.

It’s a time when farmers prep for the new season. But to do that, they need seeds.

And — with spring just (please, God) around the bend — so do Westporters with gardens of any size and type.

So on Saturday, March 16, the Westport Winter Farmers’ Market says goodbye to its indoor Gilbertie’s Herbs and Garden Center home with a free seed exchange.

Everyone is invited to bring seeds saved from their own garden — or take home a few saved by others. WFM farmers will donate seeds from their favorite crops too.

All seeds are welcome — except those from invasive species (click here for the list). However, the market encourages people to bring and take home heirloom or organic varieties.

“Heirloom seeds are critical to reclaiming our food system,” says Farmers’ Market executive director Lori Cochran-McDougall.

“These open-pollinated plants have been passed down from generation to generation without human intervention or manipulation. They taste better, are more nutritious, and help protect plant diversity.”

The seed exchange runs this Saturday from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m. — or until all seeds are shared. Gilbertie’s is located at 7 Sylvan Avenue South.

Adult beverages and music will be provided. Can you dig it?

Pic Of The Day #689

Nearly every night, there’s a worthy fundraiser.

One of the best each year is the Galaxy of Gourmets. Sponsored by STAR Lighting the Way — the advocacy and support organization that since 1952 has helped individuals of all ages with developmental disabilities live full, independent lives — it’s a night of fantastic food, wine and craft beer. A couple dozen area restaurants and caterers turn Aitoro’s Appliances in Norwalk into a wonderful party room.

There’s live music too, from Rubberband and the Suburban Chaos Band. The groups include STAR clients.

Make no mistake:  They’re good. The place rocked. Rubberband: You guys are STARs!

(Photo/Dan Woog)

Dream On: A Better Chance Changes Lives

Five years ago, Michael and Karen Wolfe were invited to A Better Chance of Westport‘s Dream Event.

They knew little about the organization, but were happy to support their friend. Michael expected a typical charity night: a fun cocktail party, silent auction and dinner.

Then the speeches began.

Two seniors were graduating from ABC — the program that brings academically gifted, economically disadvantaged and highly motivated young men of color to Westport. They live in Glendarcy House on North Avenue, attend Staples High School, and take full advantage of the opportunity. But they give back to this community at least as much as they get.

That night, the young men spoke passionately about their 4 years with A Better Chance. Ruben Guardado talked about growing up in the San Diego barrio, and how coming to Westport opened his horizons to new worlds.

Khaliq Sanda spoke directly about overcoming metaphorical walls, and how ABC allowed his parents — immigrants from Cameroon — to fulfill their dreams of providing an excellent education for their son.

Khaliq Sanda, speaking at the 2014 A Better Chance Dream Event.

Ruben was headed to the University of Southern California, Khaliq to Duke. The Wolfes were in awe, hearing how one organization touched and changed two lives, on such profound levels.

Almost immediately, Michael and Karen decided to become more involved. Fortuitously, Diane Johnson sat at their table. She ran the host family committee. (Each ABC scholar is paired with a Westport family, with whom they spend every Sunday and one full weekend a month. The broadening experience often leads to lifelong friendships.)

The Wolfes’ own children — Jacob and Rachel, twins about to enter Staples themselves — were all in.

Over 4 years, they watched Jarod Ferguson blossom from a shy freshman from Philadelphia into a strong, capable young man, now proudly attending the University of Pittsburgh.

Jarod Ferguson (far left) with the Wolfe family.  They had dinner together every Sunday. This was their final get-together, at Compo Beach.

Last year, Michael introduced Jarod at the 2018 Dream Event. He said, “All we did was share our home over the weekend. But Jarod was willing to share his heart, his mind and his dreams with us. For that, we’re eternally grateful to him, his amazing mother Angela, and to A Better Chance of Westport.”

Michael — now ABC’s vice president of fundraising — is getting ready for this year’s Dream Event. It’s set for Saturday, March 30, at Rolling Hills Country Club in Wilton.

As he learned 5 years ago, it’s far more than a charity fundraiser. It’s a inspiring, remarkable evening. And it can be as life-changing for attendees as ABC has been for the scholars.

Once again, 2 graduating seniors will speak from the heart.

David Li and Darby Aurelien, A Better Chance of Westport’s 2 graduating seniors.

Since joining ABC 4 years ago from Queens, David Li has been active in basketball, rugby and track. He excels in art, which ABC helped facilitate.

David says:

ABC has been very helpful in my growth and development as a person. Not only have I been able to mature and better myself, but I had the opportunity to continue to pursue my interests and further my creativity.

Since sophomore year I have taken art lessons with Roe Halper. She has helped me immensely, guiding me to perfect my craft and exposing me to new styles and techniques. I am very grateful for everything that ABC and the Westport community have offered me.

“Woman,” an ink drawing by David Li.

It’s hard enough for most ABC scholars to leave their homes in 9th grade — but at least they start as new freshmen with their peers. Darby Aurelien made the transition from Teaneck, New Jersey as a sophomore.

But he too has thrived. Staples fostered his passion for music and public service. Last year Darby traveled to the Dominican Republic with Builders Beyond Borders, where he helped build classrooms. Next month, he heads to Guatemala.

He says:

My time in ABC has been filled with action-packed and memorable experiences. What was once a yearning attempt to just attend a new high school has turned into amicable relationships, wholehearted support, and a growing maturity.

The ABC program provides lots of opportunities to volunteer and give back. With B3 I bond with other students, learn to immerse myself in a community culture, and adapt to living conditions. It is a delight to see what we accomplished as a team to better the lives of others — as A Better Chance of Westport has done for me.

Every year Westporters head to their first Dream Event, expecting just another charity fundraiser.

Like Michael and Karen Wolfe, they never dream of the impact it will make not only on the very special scholars’ lives — but on their own.

(A Better Chance of Westport’s Dream Event is set for Saturday, March 30 at Rolling Hills Country Club in Wilton. For more information and tickets, click here.)

Chris Coogan’s “B Minor Blessing”

Chris Coogan is getting married.

Fairfield County’s favorite jazz and gospel composer/pianist/singer/ teacher/choir director/producer ties the knot in June with Marion Howard. She’s got her own artistic background.

Marion Howard and Chris Coogan.

But that’s not what this story is about.

As Chris was thinking about his impending step-fatherhood, Marion was reading to him from a recently discovered memoir. “U Bernátū” describes the lives of her Jewish ancestors from Osek, a tiny village in Bohemia (today it’s the Czech Republic).

Marion had discovered a link to that heritage through an English-language Radio Prague story. Her uncommon family name Wedeles was noted in the story as “Wels.” She realized the piece was about her own ancestors.

In a beautiful passage mixing heartbreak and joy, the narrator describes how his mother prepared luggage for her 2 children, before they emigrated to America in the late 1850s. She knew she would likely never see them again. Her 14-year-old son was leaving to be spared from enforced conscription, as happened to many Jewish peasants.

The mother stuffs baked goods into the luggage, then fills even tinier spaces with dried fruit. Her children’s journey will be long; she does what she can to help them make it, with food and love.

The Wedeles family: Marion Howard’s ancestors.

At the same time, Chris was writing a new composition. He chose B minor, because of the key’s mystical and meditative qualities. It ends in D major, signalizing the realization of hope for the next generation. Marion’s relatives’ losses — not everyone made it out of Bohemia alive — and triumphs live forever now, in Chris’ “B Minor Blessing.”

One stunning moment — the children are loaded onto an oxcart to carry them to the train bound for Bremen; the mother runs after them shouting prayers and blessings, following behind until it disappears from view — is reflected in the music.

Marion and Chris learned from the “U Bernátū” memoir that the ship was lost at sea for months. The passengers’ food was cut to 1/4 rations. Many became weak, and illness spread. But because of the mother’s loving foresight, the dried food kept her children fed and well.

The “B Minor Blessing” starts with one female solo voice — the mother — singing an Aaronic blessing in Hebrew. The choir then follows. The music swells to a piano solo by Chris; it represents the overseas journey.

The final verse is in English. It’s quiet and reflective — much like a prayer for the now-distant family, sung in the language of their new lives.

The Fairfield County Chorale presents the world premiere of “B Minor Blessing” this Saturday (March 9, 7:30 p.m., Norwalk Concert Hall). It’s part of the evening’s “journey through time and across the globe.” Chris will accompany the chorale on piano.

The other day, he shared his new piece’s back story with the Chorale. They connected on a personal level. Nearly everyone, Marion says, has a similar tale of brave immigrant ancestors who boarded boats, mules or planes — or arrived somewhere on foot.

Everyone does have a family story. As Chris Coogan and Marion Howard prepare to merge theirs, they’ve collaborated on a new story — told in music — for all of us to hear, think about, and appreciate.

(The Norwalk Concert Hall is at 125 East Avenue. Tickets to the March 9 Fairfield County Chorale performance are $30 in advance, $5 for students, and $35 at the venue. Click here to purchase, and for more information.)

Morgan Mermagen Boosts Pepperlane

Westport is filled with working women. They enjoy professional networking opportunities too.

But our town is also filled with women taking a hiatus from work. They spend time raising children — a full-time job itself, of course.

Many hope to eventually return to work. Some re-enter their former fields.

Others — out of necessity or choice — look to start their own business. The possibilities are endless: catering, childcare, eldercare, computer support, event planning, floral design, home organization, interior design, landscaping, travel, photography, bookkeeping, tutoring, graphic design and much more.

But where do they turn for advice and support? How can they learn to be entrepreneurs, while still balancing the demands of running a household and raising kids?

Pepperlane is an online community. Women use the platform to set up a business site, and market themselves. There are lessons on finances. It’s all done by mothers, for mothers, about mothers.

Pepperlane is a great service. But personal, face-to-face contact is important too.

Welcome, Pepperlane Boost. A Boost is a meeting: part networking, part advice-giving, part back-patting.

It’s the kind of event women in the corporate world often attend, but that those running their own businesses seldom have access to.

Tomorrow — Wednesday, March 6 — Pepperlane Boost comes to Westport. It’s the first one in the state.

Morgan Mermagen (Photo/Pamela Einarsen Photography)

The event — set for the Panera Bread conference room — is organized by Morgan Mermagen. She’s the perfect example of the type of woman Pepperlane Boost hopes to attract.

She spent 16 years on Wall Street. But she took time to raise her kids. Last year, Morgan made a career change. She got certified as an executive coach.

Tomorrow’s Pepperlane Boost is the first of what Morgan hopes will be monthly events. She looks forward to meeting an eager, active group of entrepreneurial mothers.

Panera Bread is an inspired choice. They’ll be hungry for advice — and to meet others like them.

(Tomorrow’s Pepperlane Boost event is sold out. Click here to be put on the wait list. For more information, email morganmmc1@gmail.com.) 

Westport’s Cartoon History: What A Laugh

Westport’s heritage as an artists’ colony is no laughing matter.

Except when it is.

In addition to attracting some of the most famous portrait artists and commercial illustrators in the country, Westport was a haven for cartoonists.

“Popeye,” “Little Orphan Annie,” “Superman” — they and many of America’s most famous comic strips and books were drawn right here.

Westporter Curt Swan drew the “Superman” comics for many years. This illustration is part of the Westport Schools Permanent Art Collection.

The mid-20th century was America’s  golden age of cartooning. Now it’s memorialized in a show at the Bruce Museum in Greenwich. “Masterpieces from the Museum of Cartoon Art” — the current exhibition — features more than 100 original works, including strips, newspaper panels, comic books and animation.

There’s an early editorial cartoon by Thomas Nast, a New Yorker gag by Peter Arno, and classic “Peanuts” and “Doonesbury” drawings. Special programs include a panel tribute to “The Golden Age of Cartooning in Connecticut” (Thursday, March 7).

Wherever you turn in the Bruce Museum show, it’s hard to escape Westport.

Curator Brian Walker — former director of the Museum of Cartoon Art, and son of Mort Walker (“Beetle Bailey”) — grew up in Greenwich. But he knows Westport well.

His father was part of a large group of cartoonist friends. Many lived here. This is where their professional meetings (and parties) took place.

Bud Sagendorf (“Popeye”), Curt Swan (“Superman”), Stan Drake (“The Heart of Juliet Jones,” “Blondie”), Mel Casson (“Boomer”), Leonard Starr (“Little Orphan Annie”), John Prentice (“Rip Kirby”), Jack Tippit (“Amy”), Bill Yates (King Features comic strip editor) are just a few of the important Westport cartoon names.

They came here, Brian Walker says, for several reasons.

Westport was close enough to New York City to go in when they had to. But Connecticut had no state income tax.

Cartoonists work alone, in their studios. But they liked having like-minded professionals nearby.

Bud Sagendorf, and his most well-known character.

Max’s Art Supplies on the Post Road welcomed cartoonists. They’d buy pens, pencils and paper — and hang around to talk.

The coffee shop and Mario’s — both directly across from the railroad station — drew them in too. They’d work right up to deadline, head to Saugatuck, hand their work to a courier to be delivered to a New York editor, then sit around and tell stories.

The Connecticut chapter of the National Cartoonists Society — the largest chapter in the country — met for years at Cobb’s Mill Inn and the Red Barn.

In the heyday of Westport’s cartoon era, they had a bowling league. An annual golf tournament too.

Over the years, the world of cartooning changed. Today, it’s all about “animation.”

That’s no joke. But for several decades — not that long ago — Westport was where much of America’s laughter began.

(Click here for more information on the Bruce Museum exhibit, “Masterpieces from the Museum of Cartoon Art.” Click here for more information on Brian Walker’s March 7 panel discussion. 

Westport Cinema Initiative Adds Partner, Adopts New Mission

Westport Cinema Initiative — the organization dedicated to bringing a movie theater back to town — has added “contagious new energy.”

That’s their phrase, in an announcement made moments ago. The energy comes in the form of “enthusiastic new board members who are passionate advocates for people with disabilities.”

The group — Creating Acceptance through Purposeful Employment (CAPE) — has pursued an employment model similar to the Prospector Theater in Ridgefield. That’s the non-profit, first-run movie house that’s enjoyed great success hiring and training people with disabilities.

WCI and CAPE are now officially merged. The combined organization has an amended mission: “A non-profit movie theater acting as a cultural and community hub, providing training and purposeful employment to adults with disabilities.”

The new board is “more dedicated than ever to building a theater in Westport” — with “an additional focus on employment and inclusion in town.”

Members of the new board are Joanna Borner. Stacie Curran, Marina Derman, Cornelia Fortier, Diane Johnson, Diane Kwong-Shah, Larry Perlstein, Jeffrey Peterson, Lee Rawiszer, Jonathan Steinberg, Deirdre Teed, Douglas Tirola
and Michelle Vitulich. Founding director Sandy Lefkowitz will serve on the professional advisory committee.