Category Archives: People

Tina’s Cat: The Sequel

In the aftermath of the death of Tina Wessel — the homeless woman known to many Westporters, who died last month — “06880” readers have wondered about the fate of her beloved cat.

Julie Loparo — president of Westport Animal Shelter Advocates — reports:

Tina’s cat — now named Elsie — is a delight. She is approximately 4 years old, healthy…just wonderful.

Elsie

Elsie

She is temporarily being boarded at Schulhof Animal Hospital, receiving excellent care and attention from staff and WASA volunteers. Now, WASA is searching for a local forever home for Elsie. She will need to be kept indoors for her safety.

Potential adopters should email wasa1@optonline.net, or call 203-557-0361.

Tina’s funeral will be held today (2 p.m., Friday, December 9), at Christ & Holy Trinity Episcopal Church in downtown Westport.

Friendship Pins, 2016-Style

In the 1980s — those pre-technology-time-sucking days — girls made friendship pins. All it took were some beads, a safety pin and — voila! Kids pinned them on their shoelaces, and traded them with each other.

Julie Gannon remembers those times. Recently — when people started wearing safety pins as a sign of solidarity in an unsure political environment — the Westport mom starting thinking it would be a great project to bring back.

But this time with a new, more powerful meaning.

Her project is not about politics. It’s about unity and solidarity — a community coming together to support people of different backgrounds, religions and whatnot.

She started making the 2016 version of friendship pins with her sons, ages 9 and 5. When friends — hers, or the boys’ — stopped by, Julie asked them to help too.

Taking a break from making pins.

Taking a break from making pins.

Now, Julie hopes, kids will see them. They’ll learn that the pins symbolize support and open-mindedness for all. She drives the message home with a note that says, “Friendship pins: Making friends no matter what our differences.” She’s also posted photos of them on Facebook.

Julie hopes others will make them too. They’re cheap, and fun to do. (She’s made a few for adult friends, with a crystal wrapped in wire attached to a gold-covered safety pin. Those are more expensive.)

“I know this isn’t the most diverse area,” she says. “But small gestures can lead to bigger thinking, when those children grow older.”

Plenty of pins to go around.

Plenty of pins to go around.

Right now, Julie’s sons are distributing the pins at school. If “06880” readers want any, she says she’s happy to make them, and put them in a basket on her porch for free pickup. Just email juliegannon1@hotmail.com for details.

Tell her a friend sent you.

 

Taylor Harrington Speaks Strongly For Those Who Can’t

For some Staples High School students, club rush is a chance to grab candy, as organizations try to lure in new members.

For Taylor Harrington, it was a life-changing event.

As a freshman in 2011, she discovered Best Buddies. The organization — which fosters 1-on-1 friendships between students with intellectual and developmental disabilities, and their classmates — grew to be a passion.

As a junior, Taylor was paired with Wyatt Davis. Though they shared similar interests — sports, music and food — and had attended Coleytown Elementary and Middle Schools together, they did not know each other well.

Their relationship grew quickly. They attended Staples games together. Wyatt invited Taylor out on his family’s boat. They attended a “Walk the Moon” concert in New York.

Wyatt Davis and Taylor Harrington, watching a Staples baseball game.

Wyatt Davis and Taylor Harrington, watching a Staples baseball game…

Their friendship has lasted beyond high school. Wyatt has gone to Penn State — where Taylor is a sophomore — for a football game. She showed off the school she loves, and hit the Waffle Shop for eggs and pancakes.

For years the 2 friends have sat in Wyatt’s kitchen, watched his dad Brett cook, and chatted. “He makes the best food!” she says.

Wyatt — who has cerebral palsy — communicates using an iPad attached to his wheelchair. He has a great sense of humor, Taylor notes.

“I love being Taylor’s friend,” Wyatt — now a student at Gateway Community College — says by e-mail. “She makes things easy when we hang out. When she comes over, she’s like part of my family. She is incredibly genuine and sincere.”

“We are all way more similar than we are different,” Taylor notes. “Too many people judge Wyatt and other people with disabilities just because of their medical condition.

“That’s not fair. Wyatt doesn’t let his disability define him, which I love. Any time I think I can’t do something, I think of Wyatt’s attitude. I tell myself, ‘I can do this — just maybe not in the easiest way, or the first way I think of.'”

...and on Wyatt's parents' boat.

…and on Wyatt’s parents’ boat.

Last year — her first in college — Taylor realized how much she missed Best Buddies. She noticed that fellow students who had not gone to school with students with disabilities felt disconnected from them. She also wanted to learn more herself.

That led her to minor in disabilities studies. This semester she’s taking a course with a blind professor. She’s learning how blindness affects the woman’s life, and is asking questions she could not get from a textbook.

Last year, a Deaf Culture class helped her understand hearing impairments as a difference, not a disability.

Taylor’s major is advertising. Her other minor is entrepreneurship. All of those subjects converged in September, when Project Vive — a small State College-based start-up that makes communication devices for people with cerebral palsy and ALS — hosted a poetry night at their workspace.

A 70-year-old woman named Arlyn shared her poetry with an audience, for the first time ever. Because her speech is slurred, she used Project Vive’s Voz Box.

Project Vive's Vox Box.

Project Vive’s Vox Box.

The Box is a speech generation device. It’s customizable — Arlyn operated it with her foot; others use a hand — and at $500 it costs far less than the $16,000 average of similar devices.

Taylor was excited to hear Arlyn — and eager to help.

Soon, she was hired as Project Vive’s marketing intern. She runs social media accounts, promotes events, and creates innovative ways to expand the company’s network of supporters.

She also runs an Indiegogo campaign.

That’s necessary, because even though the Voz Box is a lot less expensive than other speech generators, it’s still out of reach for many.

Her goal is $10,000. But she has less than 24 hours to reach it. The campaign ends tonight (Thursday, December 8) at midnight.

Taylor Harrington, Wyatt Davis, Arlyn the poet and Project Vive have one voice. Through it, they speak loudly and clearly: “Please help!”

Click here to contribute.

Remembering John Travers

“06880” reader Alice Horrigan writes:

A vibrant town has creative teachers and students. In the 1970s Westport was one such town, and John Travers — who died in Hollywood last month at 57 — was one of those kids.

As a young boy he loved horror movies. For Ed Clark’s 6th grade “Projected Art” class, John created an animated chess game. From then on he used film for many assignments.

There was no film program at Staples High School when John was 15. So he and Kent Hickenlooper formed their own Compo Film Center.

They made movies and held festivals at Staples, Saugatuck Congregational Church and the Seabury Center, with themes like “A Day of Comedy” and science fiction billed as “The Ultimate in Screen Horror.”

He and lifelong friend Scott Deaver turned Staples into something of an incubator for classroom filmmaking. They filmed cowboys riding horses down Main Street for “Basura del Oeste” (“Garbage of the West”), for Scott’s Spanish class, exploding blood squibs that Scott fashioned from firecrackers for realistic gunshot wounds.

They also filmed a man running for his life down the Longshore entrance, demonstrated the laws of physics with “William Tell” and arrows in science class, and shot a sci-fi fantasy about robots at Compo Beach.

John Travers, filming at Compo Beach.

John Travers, filming at Compo Beach.

John was inspired by creative people, but also faced tragedy. His father Robert, a novelist, died of cancer when John was just 14. His half-sister Mary Travers was an accomplished musician (of the folk trio Peter, Paul and Mary), but too busy to be close to him.

He channeled his pain and joy into filmmaking. He steadily mastered storytelling and technical aspects including lighting, photography and editing.

After graduating from Staples in 1977 John attended the University of Bridgeport, and was a finalist in the American Cinema Editors’ editing contest. He worked for Westport director Sean Cunningham (of “Friday the 13th” fame), and for local documentarians Bill Buckley and Tracy Sugarman, editing a PBS film about civil rights activist Fannie Lou Hamer.

His award-winning short “Jenny,” filmed at Nyala and Wakeman Farms, was screened at the 1st Fairfield County Film Festival.

A film festival poster

A film festival poster

John moved to Hollywood, and worked for legendary filmmaker Roger Corman.

John’s perfectionism and quiet ways were a blessing to his work, but at times a liability in a town where schmoozing often trumps talent.

In Los Angeles John met and dated 1976 Staples grad Alice Horrigan. They co-wrote “Conversations in Public Places,” a finalist in the Motion Picture Academy’s Nichol Screenwriting Competition. It found a producer, and would be John’s 1st feature film as a writer and director.

But just as things were looking up, John felt the producers wrecked it.

He picked up the pieces, and built a reputation as an “editor’s editor.” He worked on dozens of films, and co-produced and directed the documentary “The Resurrection of Victor Jara.” It screens at the Havana Film Festival this month.

Had Westport not provided a welcoming setting for developing his interests, he might not have had the resilience to persevere in Hollywood. Had he known he’d make an early exit — sudden death from arterial sclerosis — he might have taken time to thank his home town.

Ninth grader John Travers and his half-sister, Mary Travers.

Ninth grader John Travers and his half-sister, Mary Travers.

John is survived by nieces Alicia Travers Bonney and Erika Travers Marshall, and 2nd cousins Mary Jane Williams and Jim Duke.

A memorial service will be held at Saugatuck Congregational Church this Saturday (December 10, 1 p.m.).

Deb Sawch Teaches The World About Education

Chances are you won’t read Educating for the 21st Century: Perspectives, Policies and Practices from Around the World.

It’s a scholarly book, thick with macro and country-specific perspectives on teaching today, plus “granular/classroom based approaches to what it means to educate in our complex, technological, interconnected world.” Contributors hail from Japan, Singapore, Kuwait, China, Finland, South Korea, Australia and the US.

Fifty Shades of Grey it ain’t.

But if you curl up by the fire with this 490-page, $119 tome, you’ll find Chapter 10 fascinating.

deborah-sawch-book-coverTitled “Exploring the Transformative Potential of a Global Education Framework: A Case-Study of a School District in the United States,” it focuses on a place called “Westfield.”

That’s the thinly disguised alias of Westport.

Our district’s inclusion in the book is not happenstance. One reason is that one of the 4 editors is Deb Sawch. An independent education consultant and faculty member of Columbia University’s Teachers College, she spent 3 years as a Staples High School English instructor (after beginning her career in the private sector).

Sawch is married to Staples alumnus Chris Sawch. Their kids are Staples grads too.

The 2nd reason that Westfield Westport is featured in the book is that our school district is doing some pretty noteworthy stuff, 21st-century-education-wise.

Sawch knows all about it. Through Teachers College, she’s been involved with “Westport 2025.” The K-12 initiative — launched in 2010, with 65 teachers and administrators — aims to develop students’ critical thinking, creative, communication and problem-solving skills.

Non-cognitive (emotional) skills, including ethical thinking, have since been added to the program.

Deb Sawch

Deb Sawch

“Westport is a forward-thinking district,” Sawch explains. “Educators here really want to share ideas about what it means to be a fully engaged global citizen.”

Our town’s journey through that 2025 initiative is at the heart of Chapter 10.

Sawch’s book has taken several years to edit. Re-reading it today, she realizes the importance of the role of educated, interconnected citizens. “There’s no going back now,” she says.

Sawch recently returned from Singapore, where she gave a presentation about collaboration by international students.

On December 13 she gives another talk — this one at nearby Sacred Heart University.

All over the world — from Asia to Westfield Westport — Deb Sawch is educating all of us for the 21st century.

Help Needed For Bone Marrow Transplant

This is late news. But it’s important.

You might even say: life-saving.

Tomorrow (Wednesday, December 7, 12 noon to 2 p.m.), New Beauty Wellness in Westport (1137 Post Road East) is hosting a bone marrow drive.

Staples High School graduate Rachel Sanfilippo needs a bone marrow transplant. Her sister Neva can donate — but she’s only a half match. Hopefully, a better match can be found.

The test is free, painless, and takes only 30 seconds for a mouth swab. Anyone between the ages of 18 and 60 can be tested.

Because of the late notice, you may not be able to get there. If you’d like, click here for a free swabbing kit. Shipping and a return label are included.

Neva and Rachel Sanfilippo

Neva and Rachel Sanfilippo

Anya Liftig: In US, It’s OK For Artists To Live In Squalor

Anya Liftig is a 1995 Staples High School graduate. She entered Yale intending to major in political science. Ahead lay law school and a career in public service. But, Liftig says, “I took the liberal arts mission very seriously. I ended up questioning if that was what I really wanted to do.” She graduated as an English major.

She wandered through Asia with a backpack, and worked on a farm. She came back, and became a paralegal for a white-shoe Wall Street firm. She helped set up offshore entities and made good money. Yet she thought all the lawyers with fabulous apartments were “bored out of their minds.”

She quit and signed on with Hillary Clinton’s 2000 Senate campaign. Liftig was a tracker, following Rudy Giuliani around with a camera. Clinton kept talking about the need for health care, but did not provide it to her own workers like Liftig.

Disillusioned, Liftig left politics. She studied with Norwalk photographer Joe DeRuvo. Her photos appeared in the New York Times Magazine.

Anya Liftig

Anya Liftig

She reconnected with her old high school boyfriend and moved to Georgia where he lived. A short time later, they broke up. She enrolled in Georgia State University’s master’s in fine arts program. She earned two degrees and became a conceptual performance artist.

Liftig moved back to New York. She knew if you can make it there, you can make it anywhere. She’s done other things — tutoring, selling books on the street — and she built out an art space (until her building was condemned, then turned into condos). 

In the aftermath of the horrific Oakland fire — which gutted a warehouse that had been converted into a live/work art space, and killed a Staples graduate — Anya posted her reactions on Facebook. She wrote:

Every artist, especially every performance artist I know, has had experience living, staying, creating, and working in a space like this. We know this building and thousands like it in Detroit, Chicago, Brooklyn, Newark, Cleveland, Portland, Queens, Berlin, New Haven, the Bronx, Yonkers, London, Bridgeport, Oakland, Los Angeles, Atlanta, Philly, Pittsburgh et al.

When I moved to Bushwick in 2004 and built out a raw factory space with my partner, this was our reality. The fire exits were padlocked with chains to keep us from using them. No fire extinguishers. There were no fire detectors or working sprinklers. Eventually we were tossed out to make way for another round of artists (read people who could pay more.) Today 17-17 Troutman is a bastion of the Bushwick/Ridgewood art scene — flush with established galleries and artists with the money to pay the exorbitant rent.

This is the legacy that Soho/Tribeca/LES/East Village/DUMBO/Williamsburg/ Gowanus et al is built on. (Lest we forget the women of the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire.)

At Staples High School, Anya Liftig was part of the O Gallery art collective.

At Staples High School, Anya Liftig was part of the O Gallery art collective.

But it’s not only the artists who are at risk, and artists who suffer. When the FDNY eventually raided our building, we spoke with them and appealed our case. They told us that, surprise!, we were living in a former pesticide factory and that our “landlord” had lied about having a Certificate of Occupancy from the city –and that when fire and destruction eventually came to our building (only a matter of time since people were illegally welding, wiring electricity, etc. in the building) that they would be risking their lives to come and save us. That put it in a new perspective for me.

Blame the developers.

Blame a country that thinks it is acceptable and even chic for artists to live in squalor.

Blame a country that claims to value freedom of a expression above all else and forces its real, honest to G-d artists to always live in poverty.

Blame a national culture that fetishizes “creativity” and “thinking outside the box” only when it serves to line pockets with cash and decorate Louis Vuitton bags.

(Hat tip: David Roth)

 

Westporter Feared Dead In Oakland Fire

Riley Fritz — a 2005 graduate of Staples High School — is believed to be one of the 36 people killed this weekend in the Oakland warehouse fire.

Riley’s father, Bruce Fritz, is en route to California, at the coroner’s request.

Bruce Fritz told the Connecticut Post that the 29-year-old played bass guitar locally, graduated from the School for the Visual Arts in Manhattan in 2010. and recently moved to Oakland.

After college, Riley identified as a woman. She used the name Feral Pines.

The Post said that although she was at the electronic music show and party at the Oakland artists’ collective — a former warehouse — she did not live there.

Funeral arrangements are incomplete.

Feral Pines

Feral Pines

15 Belden Place: 3 Different Views

A photo with this morning’s post about the upcoming demolition of 15 Belden Place — the charming red house on the Saugatuck River, in the midst of downtown — did not show that storied property in the best light.

I took it yesterday, from the dirt parking lot leading down from Main Street.

From that vantage point, many Westporters would not recognize the house that for years has been home to artists, teachers and other less-than-McMansion-type tenants.

But anyone who ever stood at the edge of Gorham Island, and gazed at the soothing marshland just a few feet from Parker Harding Plaza, will recognize this view from 2000, by Andrea Fine:

EPSON MFP image

And this one:

(Westport Historic Resources Inventory, courtesy of Wendy Crowther)

(Westport Historic Resources Inventory, courtesy of Wendy Crowther)

Here’s a more distant shot, by Jaime Bairaktaris:

15-belden-place-2-jaime-bairaktaris

Now you know what the loss of this house will mean to Westport, right?

(Hat tip: Morley Boyd)

“Save Cockenoe Now” Posters: The Sequel

Yesterday’s post about the “Save Cockenoe Now” posters at Walter and Naiad Einsel’s estate sale reminded readers of a past political battle: When Westporters saved Cockenoe Island from becoming the site of a nuclear power plant.

Everyone who was here then also remembers the Einsels’ iconic artwork.

But alert “06880” reader Jeff Manchester went over to the sale, and found other posters that never gained that cult-status attention. It’s kind of like finding unreleased Beatles tapes, nearly 50 years later.

Here, in all their late-’60s, trippy glory, are 3 of those “unreleased” posters. I particularly like the “Fishin’, Not Fission'” one.

Thankfully — with a big boost from the Einsels — we’re here today to tell that tale.

cockenoe-poster-2-einsel

cockenoe-poster-4-einsel

cockenoe-poster-3-einsel