Category Archives: People

Remembering Brian Gordon

Brian Gordon — a beloved 1987 graduate of Staples High School, and since 2017 the 2nd selectman of Weston — died Sunday morning. His family was at his side.

After moving to Westport in 1983, Brian starred on the Staples basketball team. He was co-captain his senior year — while also serving as president of his senior class.

Brian majored in political science at the University of Pennsylvania. Once again, he was elected class president.

Brian Gordon

After graduating in 1991, Brian returned to his home town of Cincinnati to work in brand management at Procter & Gamble.

In 1994 he caught the entrepreneurial bug. Brian left the corporate world to co-found Beyond the Wall. The new media company provided access to hard-to-reach teen and college markets through iconic advertising, in the form of posters.

In 1999, BTW was acquired by Youthstream Media Networks.

The next year, Brian joined Markitecture as a partner. He worked with a variety of clients, developing and launching new products.

In 2005, Brian and 1986 Staples grad Patrick Moore started Soundview Research, a marketing consulting firm. Brian launched several new ventures including eBeanstalk, an e-commerce site providing developmental and learning toys.

Most recently, Brian helped launch EZ Massager, the next generation in topical pain relief.

In 2016, Brian was asked to run for 2nd selectman in Weston. A Democrat, he convinced Republican voters that he offered non-partisan, common sense solutions to town challenges. Brian firmly believed he could bring all constituents together for a common goal.

He was also active in Weston as a coach of his daughters’ basketball and soccer teams.

Last year in Weston, Brian Gordon (center), posed with his Penn classmate (and former Tennessee congressman) Harold Ford Jr. (right) and Brian’s former Staples High School basketball teammate Dave Sweedler.

Brian is survived by his wife Kristy, daughters Molly and Drew, sister Elizabeth of Rye, New York, and parents Ronald and Claire of Westport.

A memorial service for Brian will be held tomorrow (Wednesday, November 21, 12 noon) at Temple Israel in Westport.

After Coleytown: School District Considers 9 Plans For Next Year

When mold closed Coleytown Middle School in September, school administrators, teachers, staff, students and parents scrambled to adjust.

Sixth and seventh graders moved to Bedford Middle School. Eighth graders headed to Staples. That temporary measure will last through the current school year.

Now — with the fate of CMS still undetermined — educators and townspeople must plan for the next school year.

Yesterday at Town Hall, superintendent of schools Colleen Palmer presented 9 options to the newly formed Community Advisory Group. Comprised of teachers, administrators, PTA members and others, they have a December 10 deadline to present a 2019-20 plan to the Board of Education.

The options — which may be amended as work continues — include:

  1. Keeping 6th grades at elementary schools; all 7th and 8th graders would remain at Bedford. Stepping Stones Preschool would move from Coleytown Elementary to a rented facility; Long Lots kindergartners would attend CES in that space.
  2. As above, but Long Lots 6th graders would attend Coleytown El in the current Stepping Stones place.
  3. Stepping Stones would move to a rented facility. Long Lots 6th graders would attend CES; Saugatuck and Kings Highway 6th graders would go to Bedford Middle School (which would include portable classrooms); Greens Farms 6th graders would remain in that school, and CMS 7th and 8th graders would remain at BMS.
  4. All 6-8th graders would attend Bedford on a staggered schedule. For example: grade 6, 7 a.m. to 1:45 p.m.; grades 7-8, 9:15 a.m. to 4 p.m.
  5. Maintain the current plan: All 6th and 7th graders at BMS; CMS 8th graders at Staples.
  6. All students in grades 6-8 attend Bedford on the same school schedule.
  7. All students in grades 6-8 attend Bedford, with double sessions. For example: Session I, 7 a.m. to noon; Session II, 12:30 p.m. to 5:30 p.m.
  8. Housing one of the following at a different, rented location: Early learning center (Stepping Stones Preschool and all kindergarten classrooms districtwide); 6th grade; 8th grade; all of Coleytown Middle School.
  9. Utilize 1 of the 5 elementary schools to house CMS. Those elementary school students would be redistricted to the other 4 elementary schools.

The Community Advisory Group’s next meeting is tomorrow (Tuesday, November 20, 7:30 p.m., Bedford Middle School).

Tailor Meets Taylor

Ryan Meserole owns a great business on Railroad Place.

Suited.co — recently rebranded as Quentin Row — is a men’s custom clothing shop. Directly opposite the train station, Ryan makes commuters (and many other folks) look and feel great.

A couple of miles away, Michael Connors has a thriving business too. Taylor Place — named for its location, between the library and Tiffany — is a consignment boutique, with an ever-changing treasure trove of intriguing items.

We often think of Saugatuck and downtown merchants as competitors. But Ryan and Michael forged a connection that’s a model for small local merchants, wherever they are in town.

Not long ago, Ryan wandered into Michael’s shop. He wanted some vintage pieces for his window display.

Michael already knew of Ryan from “06880.” The consignment owner asked the custom suit guy a few questions about marketing. Ryan helped re-build Michael’s website, and gave advice on how to leverage social media.

Michael — who has a wonderfully artistic eye — helped Ryan redecorate his storefront. He gave Ryan some sharp-looking furniture.

There’s now green ivy on the bricks, a new sign and alluring windows. Soon, Ryan will add a barber, stylists and shoeshine in the back, ramping up the men’s style vibe.

Quentin Row is going all out to be a great neighbor. Starting this Saturday, Ryan is opening up some of his newly renovated space as a holiday pop-up. For example, Lynn Reale of Gypsy Bleu Jewels will showcase her line of men’s beaded bracelets.

Artisans, craftsmen and other cool people interested in exhibiting at Quentin Row should email Ryan@suited.co.

Quentin Row also offers a Black Friday special (November 23 to 26): Buy one, get 50% off the second.

Michael and Ryan share a passion for Westport’s small businesses. Wherever they’re located in town, the 2 owners don’t want them to leave.

“The Chamber of Commerce helps where it can,” Ryan notes. “But 1-on-1 connections like this — sharing talents, helping each other — can really help revitalize Main Street, the rest of downtown, and Saugatuck.”

A vintage piece from Taylor Place, now on display at Quentin Row.

The idea is spreading. Ryan says that other stores on the block — like The Flat next door — are also freshening up their looks.

“If you don’t evolve, you die,” he notes. “We have to make sure that people enjoy shopping local.”

“No one wants to see a store like ours, or Michael’s — or Savvy + Grace, The Brownstone or Indulge by Mersene — go out. We all need to work together. And we’re having a great time doing it.”

The holiday season is here. Our local merchants work hard to draw shoppers in.

Now, they’re working together — to sew together our town.

They Are The Champions!

It’s very tough to win a high school state championship.

It’s even tougher to repeat.

But the Staples field hockey team did just that this afternoon. Coach Ian Tapsall’s girls decisively shut out Cheshire 2-0, to capture their 2nd consecutive class “L” (largest schools) crown. It’s the 3rd in the program’s history, following a co-championship in 2016.

State champs — again! The Staples High School field hockey team.

A couple of hours later, coach Barry Beattie’s girls soccer team fell 1-0 to Ridgefield, in the title match. It was the 2nd straight year that the 2 FCIAC schools met in the “LL” (largest schools) final — and the 2nd straight win for the Tigers.

Congratulations to both teams, for great runs.

And, of course, kudos to coach Laddie Lawrence’s boys cross country squad. Earlier this year they captured the “LL” title — their 3rd in a row. In 2015 and ’16, they were also state open champions.

Remembering Arpi Ermoyan

Arpi Ermoyan — a longtime Westporter, and a major name in the world of commercial illustration — died last week. She was 99 years old.

Arpi Ermoyan

Ermoyan was an illustrator, editor at Cosmopolitan in the 1950s and ’60s, worked at Doyle Dane Bernbach ad agency, wrote an important book called “Famous American Illustrators,” curated gallery exhibitions of illustration art, and for many years directed the Society of Illustrators. She was one of very few women to break through in that male-dominated field.

In 1953, she and her husband Suren — also a noted illustrator, who served as art director at Good Housekeeping — moved to Tanglewood Lane, off Stony Brook.

She became part of the vaunted Westport Illustrators group — again, one of the few female members.

According to the Illustration Art website:

Illustrators in Westport during this era used each other for models all the time, and Arpi was a favorite….Neighboring illustrators would stop by the house on Tanglewood Lane and before you know it, Arpi had to “put aside her drawing board and start modeling.” Several great illustrators of the era were inspired by her striking good looks and painted her into their illustrations.

In 1961, the Ermoyans moved from Westport. They sold their house to another, younger illustrator.

Perhaps you’ve heard of him: Bernie Fuchs.

Arpi Ermoyan, by Bernie Fuchs

(Hat tip: Kevin McConnell)

Teen’s VFW Project Propels Community Effort

A year ago, “06880”‘s Veterans Day story highlighted Dylan Mace.

The Staples High School junior was raising funds for Westport’s VFW Post 399.  The Riverside Avenue building lacked a handicap-accessible bathroom. Dylan was appalled — “brave men and women who serve could lose limbs!” he said — and vowed to help.

Dylan Mace

Dylan — whose grandfather was a Korean War vet — went to work. Singlehandedly, he raised almost $8,000.

And then he got more help from the community.

Early in his fundraising, architect Lou Lefort and electrician Barry O’Reilly offered their services.

General contractor Scott Rochlin contacted Dylan too. Scott’s son Charley was a decorated Marine.

After Charley died in an automobile accident, Scott’s family set up a foundation to help veterans and their families. Scott volunteered to oversee the project — and said his organization would cover any extra costs.

Scott also brought in Dino Meloni, from Nicolia Marble and Tile. He installed the bathroom tile, gratis.

Bender donated a handicap sink and toilet. Lowe’s and The Tile Shop in Norwalk gave Dylan contractor discounts on supplies. Westport Glass chipped in too.

One of the specially created VFW tiles.

But Dylan wanted this to be extra-special for veterans. He found Custom-Tiles.com online, and asked if they could make special tiles with the emblems of the 5 US military branches. The owner worked with Dylan, creating amazing ones for the walls.

Dylan was so moved by the project, and the people he met through it, that when it came time to plan his service project for the National Honor Society, he asked to paint the inside of the VFW — and spruce up the outside.

Congratulations, Dylan, for all you do.

I’m sorry I couldn’t post this a few days ago, on Veterans Day.

But thanks to you — and all who helped — every great day at the VFW will now be even better.

2 For The Weekend

Looking for something to do this weekend?

A couple of great ideas just crossed my desk popped up in my inbox.

The first is a world premiere. Westport-based Connecticut Theater Dance kicks off its 2018-19 season with the original ballet “Drosselmeyer: The Toymaker’s Story” at Fairfield University’s Quick Center on Saturday (7 p.m.).

Artistic director Michelle Sperry wrote the fictional story of how the legendary toymaker created the magical nutcracker. Renowned choreographer Rodney Rivera — with 13 professional dancers, and supporting roles from CTD students (including young Westporters) — brings the ballet to life.

Writing and producing a totally new ballet is never easy. It’s especially tough when you’re a true non-profit, with a 100% volunteer board.

Sperry did it in just 2 months. But it could not have happened without plenty of help from Westporters.

Local businesses contributed funds. The company raised money by organizing a Halloween costumefest, renting a movie theater for a private showing, creating and selling calendars, and (of course) running a bake sale. Sperry even secured a private bank loan to make up the shortfall.

The young dancers augmenting the professionals in “Drosselmeyer” include Westporters.

The CTD’s mission of promoting diversity produced housing challenges. Sperry opened her home to a dancer from El Salvador for 5 weeks. Resident choreographer Alejandro Ulloa hosted a Nicaraguan dancer. Choreographer Rodney Rivera –from Puerto Rico — was welcomed in by another CTD family.

Most sets were made in Sperry’s garage — including a train big enough for cast members to ride on. Local residents offered rocking horses, dolls and beer steins.

CTD families donated food, helped sew (staying up until 3 a.m.!), and done much, much more. They’re honored to support dancers who commute up to 2 hours each way.

This is a labor of love for everyone. It should be an inspiring evening. And hey — how often do you get to see a world premiere?

Click here for tickets, or call 203-254-4010.

Meanwhile, Joan Nevin raves about the Westport Country Playhouse’s production of “Thousand Pines.”

The longtime Westporter — who has no connection with the theater, other than as a patron — calls the current play “groundbreaking and heartbreaking.”

It was developed in the Playhouse’s New Works Circle last year — the first to come out of the program with a full production. 

Playwright Matthew Greene explores how families and communities try to cope after a school shooting, in “an incredibly moving, intelligent way.”

Five characters — playing roles in different families affected by the tragedy — are “brilliantly nuanced.” Nevin won’t give away the ending, but calls it “brilliant. The play comes full circle with a powerful, heart-wrenching understanding among members of the community.”

She says it connects to devastating current events “without political implications or easy answers, but with  emotional depth and power.”

“Thousand Pines” runs through this Saturday (November 17). For more information and tickets, click here.

 

The Little Red House Lives!

It’s a constant Westport discussion: empty Main Street storefronts, the perceived loss of community character, the fate of downtown.

Recently, David Waldman — developer of Bedford Square on Church Lane, and the new retail/residential complex at the old Save the Children site on Wilton Road — cautioned in an “06880” post that pessimism can be self-fulfilling. He pointed out many positive occurrences downtown.

Local preservationists/alert “06880” readers Wendy Crowther and Morley Boyd agree that good things are happening by the banks of the Saugatuck. They offer this story as proof.

In December 2016, the “Little Red House” faced demolition. A new mixed retail and residential project was planned for 201 Main Street/15 Belden Place — the spot opposite Le Rouge by Aarti and Ron’s Barber Shop, occupied by an aging storefront and some riverfront residences.

The Little Red House in 2016. (Westport Historic Resources Inventory, courtesy of Wendy Crowther)

Immediately, “06880” readers expressed strong opinions about the loss of a familiar part of the downtown landscape. Perched on the edge of the Saugatuck River, the circa 1920 Colonial Revival style structure could never be mistaken for distinguished architecture.

But that wasn’t the point. It was a picturesque little house which, despite flooding and development pressures, had endured. With the passage of time, the structure simply became a small part of what so many felt made Westport special.

Westporter Peter Nisenson, of PEN Builders, saw the many comments on “06880.” As the property’s new owner, he quickly reconsidered his company’s plans to demolish the antique waterside structure.

Nisenson realized that the house could actually become an attractive, valuable part of his larger redevelopment project.

After obtaining a record-setting 15 variances (thank you, Zoning Board of Appeals!), the Little Red House has been flood-proofed and refurbished.

Today, it’s almost near completion.

The Little Red House today. (Photo/Wendy Crowther)

Now divided into 2 light-filled apartments – each with its own porch and astonishing 180 degree views of the Saugatuck River – the structure retains all its beautiful wooden beams.

As a special nod to its place in the hearts of Westporters, the house’s original red paint has been color matched.

So here’s our takeaway: Whether it’s a quirky iron bridge, a beloved local bar or simply a picturesque waterfront dwelling, residents need to speak up when our non-renewable resources become endangered.

In this case, a savvy local developer responded to community input. He harnessed the peculiar power that authentic and familiar things seem to have over us.

As a result, his project is enhanced. And the public has the satisfaction of knowing that the Little Red House will contribute to the aesthetic value of Westport’s riverfront for generations to come.

How’s that for a positive downtown story?!

Morley Boyd and Peter Nisenson, in the refurbished house. (Photo/Wendy Crowther)

Remembering Dale Wehmhoff

The Town of Westport lost a hard worker, and the sports world lost an avid competitor, when Dale Wehmhoff died last week.

The 1979 Staples High School graduate was 57.

Dale’s family moved to Westport when he was 6 years old. He played basketball, baseball and ice hockey.

Dale Wehmhoff

The ice was his particular passion. He became an assistant coach at Staples at age 18. A few years later as head coach, he took Norwalk High to the state final. He later coached again at Staples, as well as with youth and junior teams.

Dale was an avid softball player too. He played on local teams, and traveled around the country to tournaments.

Dale spent 31 years with Westport’s Department of Public Works. He also managed his own landscaping business, employing many friends and high school students.

Dale’s father Ralph was well known in Westport. After his death, Dale took over his popular role as “Santa” in the holiday season. He spread warmth and happiness to less fortunate area residents.

Dale was especially proud of his children’s success. His daughter Kelcie is head cheerleading coach at Brien McMahon High School, and in youth sports. His son Kyle is assistant hockey coach for the Connecticut Junior Whalers.

In addition to his children, Dale is survived by his wife Cheryl Anderson; his mother Marlene of Westport; his sister Marilyn Gula of Delray Beach, Florida; his brother Wayne of Westport, and several nieces and nephews.

Calling hours are this Sunday (November 18, 2 to 6 p.m., Harding Funeral Home, Westport). Services take place on Monday (November 19, 11 a.m., Saugatuck Congregational Church).

In lieu of flowers, scholarship donations can be made to Kelcie or Kyle Wehmhoff, c/o Wells Fargo Advisors, 450 Post Road East, Westport, CT 06880.

 

Christie’s Closes Soon. Another Westport Institution Is Gone.

In 1926, Christie Masiello opened a fruit and vegetable stand on Cross Highway. For nearly 7 decades she and her nephew Don were staples of that northern Westport neighborhood: a place to buy food (and gas). And — just as important — to meet.

The place went through some changes — it was briefly a dry cleaner — but when John and Renee Hooper bought it in 2009, Christie’s regained its rightful place as a neighborhood store. And community center.

John added burritos, prepared foods and more to the menu. He rented space to Frosty Bear ice cream. There was a farmers’ market on Sunday mornings.

Nearby Staples High and Bedford Middle School students flocked there after class (sometimes during). Neighbors stopped in a couple of times a day, for whatever they needed. (Including cumin for a Christmakkah meal — click here for that great story.)

It was the only place around for builders, construction workers, tradesmen and delivery people too. They packed the parking lot at lunchtime.

Christie’s was also the go-to place during weather disasters. When hurricanes howled or blizzards blew, the store was the neighborhood port in a storm. John offered ice, water, food, cell charging — whatever anyone needed.

If his power was out too, it was still the place to gather, swap stories, and get energized for the cleanup ahead.

(Photo/Katherine Hooper)

But all those will soon be memories. With sadness, John has announced that Christie’s is closing next month.

Rent and taxes are high, relative to sales and income that can be generated in his out-of-the-way place.

The lease was up in June. But John and Renee stayed on, to see if they could create a plan to make things work.

Christie’s is a non-conforming use, in a residential neighborhood. Zoned as a retail food establishment, it can operate as a takeout deli, with limited tables and chairs to seat approximately 9 patrons indoors.

The Hoopers wanted to offer brunch in the winter — in front of the fireplace — and on the porch in summer.

Christie’s handsome front porch.

They hoped for limited dinner too, in the form of Friday Family Fun Nights  (Saturdays too).

But before they could get approval from Planning & Zoning, they needed an okay from the Health Department.

Health officials said the septic system could not handle the additional stress. And — according to state regulations — the surrounding soils made expansion of the current system unfeasible. John and Renee had to operate as they currently do.

“Local officials were great,” John says. “They tried to work with us. But state laws prohibit expanding the septic system.”

So Christie’s will close soon after their last catering event: a Staples PTA holiday lunch for teachers.

That’s fitting. John has always been a huge supporter of Westport (and Fairfield) schools. He’s provided great food as cheaply as he can — sometimes at cost.

Four middle schoolers hung out the other day at Christie’s — near a menorah, moose and reindeer.

“Renee and I are thankful for all the great friends and supporters we’ve met,” John says. “I’ve watched a lot of kids grow up. It’s been amazing, and what I’ll miss the most.”

“Closing Christie’s is sad for me. But Renee is comforted that I will be able to devote more time to her growing food company.” White Oak Farm & Table sells non-GMO and organic shelf-stable food to stores nationwide.

Everyone who made Christie’s their home away from home is sad too.

Really, everyone in Westport should be.

A little bit of what made our town special will soon be gone.

Thanks, John and Renee, for 9 great years.

And Christie’s, for 92 of them.