We’ll miss a lot this holiday season: Family. Friends. Fun.
But we can still have flowers.
Brightly colored, lovingly arranged and fresh smelling, bouquets lift the lowest spirits. Michele Sinacore makes sure we all enjoy those ephemeral joys.
Michele Sinacore (Photo/Tamira Wilcox)
The Westport mom (and former Ironman triathlete) spent many years as a New York event producer, for clients like ESPN, Yahoo and the NBA. Four years ago — after her 2nd child was born — she pivoted, and went to floral school.
A year ago, Michele started Blossom + Stem Floral Design at home. Working on weddings, events and corporate projects, and offering custom arrangements, classes and consulting, she was looking for studio space when the pandemic hit.
For 8 weeks, Michele was frozen. She could not find fresh flowers anywhere.
But floral designers around the world formed an online community. They shared sources. advice and encouragement.
Michele took classes. She learned new skills, networked, and gained confidence.
She branched out into staging and personal bouquets. Her flowers brightened an otherwise dark time.
It’s the nature of the business to have extra flowers. One day Michele took a bouquet to Joey’s by the Shore, not far from her home. Did they want fresh flowers? she asked.
Did they ever!
Soon, Michele was delivering bouquets — free — all over town. Manna Toast, Kneads, Shearwater Coffee, Restore Cryotherapy, the Fire Department after Tropical Storm Isaias — all received her gifts.
Arrangement by Michele Sinacore. (Photo/Melani Lust)
Last week she partnered with a new group, Design Port, and awarded a very appreciative mom a bouquet as part of “Fresh Flower Friday.”
Michele continues to seek out recipients for her extra flowers. She’s busy now with holiday bouquets, Thanksgiving tablescape decor, and virtual make-your-own wreath and arranging classes. Customers get a box of fresh florals and supplies delivered to their door, then learn techniques.
“Flowers make people happy,” Michele says. “As a mom, I have a lot of empathy for what people are going through. I’m grateful to be doing what I love, and be part of the community. It’s so important now to feel good.”
Westporters know: This will be a long, dark winter. In its midst, Michele Sinacore will bring color and light to our lives.
(To learn more, click here or email email@example.com.)
Matt Johnson — longtime executive director of the Westport Weston Family YMCA, and the man who over 40 years brought it from a small institution into one of the town’s most robust organizations — died Wednesday on Cape Cod. He was 91.
Amy Sanborn passed along the sad news — and a very in-depth piece from the Westport Y blog, in 2014. The Y at that time was still downtown, where Bedford Square is now. The story said:
Matt Johnson came to our Y in 1952 as a fresh-faced college grad from upstate Connecticut. He started as a supervisor of the Y’s youth and adult physical programs, taking on more responsibility over the following 2 decades. In 1970 he was named executive director, a position he filled with great accomplishment until his retirement in 1989. The longtime Weston resident remains an active part of our Y family to this day….
It’s safe to say that no other Y staffer presided over more change at our Y over more years than Matt Johnson. Matt was instrumental in bringing sports and recreational opportunities to Weston youth, efforts that ultimately led to our Y serving all our Weston neighbors as the “Westport/Weston YMCA.”
Matt Johnson (standing) with (from left) YMCA president George Dammon, CBS News anchor (and Weston resident) Douglas Edwards, and 1st Selectman John Kemish.
Matt also oversaw the greatest development of our Y facility since its opening a half-century before: the construction of the Weeks Pavilion in the 1970s, which gave our Y its Stauffer Pool, racquet courts, men’s and women’s health centers, locker rooms and an indoor track ….
Matt then laid the groundwork for the next phase of our Y’s evolution at our downtown facility: the conversion of the town’s central firehouse into a 2-level Fitness Center that to this day boasts the original brass pole used by generations of local firefighters.
After recalling Matt’s encounters with guest speaker Jackie Robinson, and Westport actors Bette Davis and Paul Newman (an avid YMCA badminton player), the story continues:
When hot-rodding became popular, the Y rolled right along. As Matt recalls, “Bill Etch, who was a volunteer leader, had an interest in cars and with some friends formed a club called the ‘Downshifters,’ which met every Friday at the Y.”
“When the club became too big for the Y rooms, they began to meet at Camp Mahackeno, where they set up shop in the unheated pavilion. There were 30 or so young men in the club, including a young Michael Douglas, and they’d take apart cars, put ‘em back together and then participate in regional events with their cars.”
Matt and his late wife Fran raised their 4 children in Weston, and were instrumental in helping develop the community’s recreation programs and establishing Weston’s enduring connection to our Y ,…
As far back as the 1950s, Y leaders realized the need for more space to hold its many popular programs and activities, and shortly after Matt took the helm of the Y in 1970, he helped spur the most ambitious expansion of the Y to date.
The most critical need at the time was, simply, “more water.” As you can see from photos of the time, Staples High School swimmers used the 4-lane, 20-yard long Brophy Pool (then 4- to 10-feet deep) as their home pool. Imagine the scraped chins, or worse!
The original Brophy pool — used by Staples High School for practices and home swim meets.
Matt helped coach the Staples team, including a young swimmer named Bob Knoebel. Another swimmer, Mike Krein, was instrumental in forming the Y’s Water Rat swim team, holding practices both in the Brophy Pool and, during summers in the ‘60s, at Longshore Club Park. At the time Longshore’s pool was saltwater, flushed regularly, but evidently not often enough. The Y’s swim team name derives from the trespassing rodents the kids would sometimes encounter during their early-morning swims.
The Y’a voard and volunteer leaders set a 5-year goal that included building a new facility with a larger pool….
The addition of the Stauffer Pool and Weeks Pavilion in 1977 (named for the retired geologist who was a major donor) was followed by the conversion in 1984 of the town’s central firehouse into the Y’s fitness center.
Matt Johnson (center) at a 2011 Westport Y function, flanked by (from left) then trustee chair Pete Wolgast and Jim Marpe, past Y trustee chair and now Westport First Selectman,
Longtime Y member Larry Aasen, who has known Matt since 1963, says, “For Matt, it wasn’t just about running the Y; it’s about serving the community. And whether his task was raising money for an expansion or doing the dishes after a potluck dinner, you could always count on him.”
Indeed, Matt Johnson has played a major role in building up our Y over the past 60 years. But more than that, he’s left his mark as a community builder – of Westport, Weston and of all the separate communities of swimmers, gymnasts and program participants that make our Y all that it is today.
(Click here to make contributions in Matt Johnson’s name, to the Westport Weston Family YMCA.)
The upper gym at the Westport YMCA was named for Matt Johnson in 1999.
As a 5-year-old in 1994, Drew Angus first heard Harry Connick Jr.’s “When My Heart Finds Christmas.”
The iconic album — and the longstanding tradition of family Christmas Eve parties in the Anguses’ Westport home — were important parts of his childhood.
Christmas is his favorite season. Christmas songs play a huge role. And — now that Angus is a professional musician — timeless music like Connick’s inspires him artistically.
For years, the 2007 Staples High School graduate wanted to provide others with the joy he felt. Now — with the release of “A Snow Globe Christmas” — he’s done exactly that.
A busy touring schedule and other commitments kept him out of the studio in past summers. That’s when holiday albums are recorded. Just as Santa’s elves work all year round, it takes months of recording, art, marketing, distribution and promotion to produce something that magically appears right now.
But this August — when the pandemic wiped out Angus’ gigs — he had the perfect opportunity to bring some cheer, via holiday tunes.
Work began in August. He and Black Rock Sound producer Mikhail Pivovarov picked songs, and started arranging.
“With Christmas music, you don’t reinvent the wheel,” Angus says. “You take songs that everyone knows, and make them your own.”
His 5-track EP includes chestnuts like “The Christmas Song” and “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” along with Elton John’s rocking “Step Into Christmas.”
It was also important to Angus that he include new music. So — drawing on his love of Connick, Michael Bublé, Bing Crosby and Nat King Cole — he wrote 2 original tracks.
One — “Snow Globe” — was composed with his friend Nicholas Wells, via Zoom. It’s a hopeful reminder to take a step back, and find some calm amid the holiday season mayhem.
“The season will look a little different this year,” Angus says. “Thanksgiving may be more quiet. The Christmas Eve party won’t be filled with the usual gathering of families.”
Still, he notes, “the cheer will never be lost. I hope ‘A Snow Globe Christmas’ brings families a little joy this holiday season — and for many years to come.”
Just as Nat King Cole, Bing Crosby — and of course Harry Connick Jr. — have done for years, for Drew Angus.
(Click here to hear “A Snow Globe Christmas” on your favorite platform.)
Leave it to the Westport Library to have “Artists in Residences.”
That’s the clever name for an equally clever project. COVID-19 has closed the library’s 3 rotating galleries — popular spaces that were booked nearly 2 years ahead.
So exhibit curator Carole Erger-Fass and artist/library supporter/creative guru Miggs Burroughs — whose “Artist to Artist” discussion series was also shelved — devised a new way to connect artists and art-loving patrons.
The Zoom series provides peeks into otherwise-hidden spaces: artists’ studios.
The first episode was with Nancy Moore. Her “Unconventional Women” exhibit was scheduled to be installed the day the library shut down in March.
Instead, Nancy invited a crew into her airy workplace. She shared her works in progress, showed off the tools of her trade and discussed the inspiration for her vibrantly patterned paintings that no one could now enjoy in person.
The series blossomed into a living document of the state of the arts — and artists — in Westport. Twenty-four episodes have already been recorded. More are in the works.
They feature sculptors, painters, photographers, and digital and collage artists. Some have experimented with new mediums. Others have had the luxury of time to delve deeper into their genres.
Some have been inspired anew by the pandemic. Others have been stymied.
All speak eloquently about their craft. Particularly moving are Westport legends like Ann Chernow, Leonard Everett Fisher, Roe Halper, Nina Bentley, Judith Katz and Niki Ketchman. Their age makes them vulnerable to the coronavirus — but they steam ahead creatively.
The most recent episode features Charles Joyner. His intricate, layered collages meld colors, patterns and symbols inspired by his growing up in rural North Carolina, and his extensive travels to Ghana.
So how is the longtime Carolinian a “Westport artist”?
In 1964, he came to Westport through an American Friends Service program that brought 35 Southern students to the North to promote integration. He lived with the Ader family.
After graduating from Staples High School he headed to Iowa State University on a football scholarship, transferred to North Carolina A&T, then earned a Ph.D. from the University of North Carolina-Greensboro.
Joyner spent many years as a tenured professor in the North Carolina State University College of Art and Design. He is also an outstanding jazz drummer.
But here’s something to look forward to: “Five Weeks in Westport.”
That’s the title of a new romcom/drama/mystery narrative feature film. Shirlee Hauser and her husband Howard Friedman wrote and filmed it — predominantly in Westport — over a 3-year period.
It just screened at the Mystic Film Festival. This week it premieres at the Fort Lauderdale International Film Festival, in that city and Hollywood. (Hollywood, Florida, that is.)
And it was all done with a budget under $5,000.
Shirlee and Howard’s Westport roots are deep. They moved here in 1995 with their young son Josh.
After Howard retired from advertising — he created and directed TV commercials — he felt bored. With a small $700 camera bought on Craigslist, he filmed short pieces around town — things he felt beautiful or touching.
That was not his first film. In the mid-1970s Howard had written and directed a small independent project, “Sweet Talk.” It won him a Best New Director awrd, and found its way onto cable TV.
But that was it — until “Five Weeks in Westport.”
The plot: When mysterious international film director Ross Griffin arrives in Westport to stage a play based on real events, the lives of retired New York actors Mary Evans and her husband Gus Jacobs — along with close friends Grace and Murray — are upended. Revelations from the past unfold.
The cast includes Westporter Leigh Katz, who had extensive stage experience; Westport Community Theater favorite David Victor; Fairfield’s Kitty Robertson, a veteran of film and TV (and Gault spokesperson); soap/film/TV actor Will Jeffries; Peter Wood, who is leading man-attractive and provided a needed motorcycle, plus up-and-comers Sunny Makwana, Chris Finch, Erin Shaughnessy and Nancy Sinacori.
Shirlee and Howard co-directed. Their son Josh came from Massachusetts to do sound and hold the boom. Staples High School junior Sydney Winthrop helped too.
The directors’ home doubled as 2 separate houses. Jessica Bram’s living room was used for a scene requiring a baby grand piano.
The first exterior shot took place on a hot summer morning outside of Oscar’s Delicatessen. Owner Lee Papageorge gave permission, adding he’d be sorry to miss it. Shirlee and Howard had no idea that within a week, Lee would die of lung cancer.
Three other restaurants in the film have since closed or changed hands too: Tavern on Main, Christie’s Country Store, and Joey’s by the Shore.
Scenes were also filmed at Barnes & Noble (soon to move), Pane e Bene, Compo and Burying Hill Beaches, Westport Community Theater and the downtown Fine Arts Festival.
Scenes from “Five Weeks in Westport.”
The process was helped by advice from Marshall Brickman, who co-wrote and/or directed films like “Annie Hall,” “Manhattan” and “Sleeper, and helped create “Jersey Boys” on Broadway.
When Shirlee and Howard learned that post-production would cost $40,000, they decided to do it themselves. He took on the arduous task of sound mixing and color correction.
The couple’s first look at the final product came at the Mystic Festival. “It played looked and sounded just fine,” Shirlee reports.
The audience reacted just right too — laughing and falling silent appropriately — and finished with a burst of applause.
The Mystic and Fort Lauderdale film festivals are among the few that, during COVID, have in-theater showings (with masks, and audiences capped at 50% capacity). They also make their films available virtually.
Howard Friedman and Shirlee Hauser.
“We don’t anticipate winning any Academy Awards,” Shirlee says. “But the entire experience has made us both very grateful.”
They feel gratitude toward their cast; for “living in such a generous town that allowed us, without hesitation, to film where we wanted,” and for the visually lovely scenes they captured.
As the pandemic rages, “Five Weeks in Westport” is also a bit of a time capsule: a reminder of a town that existed just a couple of years ago.
Or — as it feels now — once upon a time.
For a “virtual screening” via the Fort Lauderdale International Film Festival, click here. It’s available through November 22. Click below for a sample reel (top) and the trailer (below).
When Gordon Joseloff started WestportNow in March 2003, it was special.
Few communities had a local, online news site — let alone one written and edited by a professional journalist who had reported from hot spots and major cities all over the world.
When Gordon Joseloff died earlier this month, WestportNow was still special. Over the past 18 years, countless community news sites came and went. But WestportNow was still there.
For over 6,400 days it has provided news, photos, obituaries and more. Features like upcoming teardowns and business openings made it a go-to source for thousands of loyal readers.
At the end of the month though, Westport will lose this unique source. Joseloff’s children, Anna-Liisa Nixon and Ben Joseloff, announced today that at the end of the month, WestportNow will cease publication.
WestportNow was more than a job to our father. It was the natural culmination of two of his life-long passions: journalism and Westport.
Like many small business owners, he devoted nearly every waking hour to its success. WestportNow would never have had such a remarkable run without the contributions of many talented individuals, but Gordon Joseloff was the heart and soul of the newsroom’s 24/7 operations.
Our father passed away last week following a 3-year battle with a rare blood cancer. Continuing to provide the level of coverage WestportNow readers expect and deserve without his leadership would be challenging. For this reason, WestportNow will cease publication at the end of the month….
We are deeply indebted to all WestportNow readers, contributors, and advertisers for making the site a trusted source of fact-based information for so many years. None of this would have been possible without you.
Westport is an incredible community. Thank you for allowing WestportNow to tell its stories.
Fortunately, all WestportNow content will remain accessible, online.
Today is a sad day for local journalism. Since 2009, WestportNow and “06880” have been friendly competitors — and friends.
Gordon Joseloff. Photographer Lynn Untermeyer Miller is a longtime WestportNow contributor.
I have picked up plenty of story ideas from them (and vice versa). From time to time, Gordon let me know about a piece that was not right for WestportNow, but might work on my site. I did the same.
It’s safe to say that without WestportNow leading the way, there would be no “06880.”
It’s also safe to say that without WestportNow, countless readers — here and around the globe — would know a lot less about their town. They’d feel a lot less connected to the goings-on in Town Hall, the library, the arts, the store opening up downtown and the house being torn down next door.
For 18 years, Gordon Joseloff set the bar high. I can’t imagine a local news site anywhere that lasted as long as his, with as much material, in so broad a way.
Next month, the Westport journalism scene will lose a major player. I’m thankful for what we’ve had for nearly 2 decades.
And I’m glad that archive will still be online. It will be as invaluable in the years ahead as it has been since 2003.
After 13 years in Norwalk, Chef Renato Donzetti is moving here. He and his crew will double their current space, and have access to outside dining.
Donzetti says he will “introduce contemporary, inventive menu items to the already beloved Mediterranean repertoire.”
French, Portuguese and Greek specialties will be added, along with artisinal Neapolitan pizza made in a wood-fired oven.
He expects to open later this month, after renovations that include exposed brick walls, recycled wood and leather furniture, and artwork that pays homage to Donzetti’s Mediterranean background. (Hat tip: Jeff Jacobs)
I really like the men and women who work at CVS. Though overworked and (I am sure) underpaid, they are always polite, eager to help, and friendly.
And they do it all despite having to put up with what they know is corporate imbecility.
The other day, I made an appointment online for a flu shot. 10 this morning worked perfectly. And sure enough, at 9:30 a.m. I got a text reminder. It included instructions on how to check in online.
“Welcome, DAN!” the next screen said. “When you arrive at the store, tap the button to let our pharmacy know you’re here.”
“I’m here at the store,” I tapped.
The pharmacist seemed surprised to see me. “We’re out of flu shots,” she apologized.
“But I made an appointment online!” I said. “They told me to come in. Why couldn’t they have told me you ran out?”
“I’m sorry,” she apologized again. “They don’t have that capability.”
“That’s pretty stupid,” I said, stupidly stating the obvious.
“I know,” she agreed.
My blood pressure was dangerously high. I should have asked for some medicine.
Then again, it was probably out of stock.
Every I-95 driver knows the former Armstrong Rubber Company headquarters in New Haven. That’s Marcel Breuer’s 1960s-era concrete box on the left as you head north, just before the I-91 merge.
The former Armstrong Rubber Company headquarters. (Photo/John Muggenborg for New York Times)
It’s been vacant for a while. But it’s being converted into what the New York Times says “could be the most energy-efficient hotel in the country.”
Hotel Marcel’s developer and architect — Westport-based Bruce Becker — is building it to meet net-zero energy standards. It will generate as much energy as it uses.
“It’s probably the most challenging project I’ve ever undertaken, particularly since we’re doing it during a pandemic,” Becker told the Times.
“But I’ve been intrigued with the building at least since I was a graduate student at Yale in the late ’80s, and I thought it could be fascinating.”
One more Westport connection: Saugatuck’s LANDTECH is the project’s site/civil engineer.
Click here for the full story. (Hat tip: Mark Mathias)
A while back, Katie Larson’s daughter asked what would happen if Santa Claus fell asleep on Christmas Eve. Cute!
Just as cute: The 1995 Weston High School graduate (Katie — not her daughter) has just published a children’s book. “The Night Santa Fell Asleep” is now available in paperback. Click here to order. (Hat tip: Erin Regan)
And finally … Booker T. Washington died 105 years ago today. The educator, author, orator and adviser to US presidents was 59 years old.
Henry Beck was an inspired choice to speak at this week’s Veterans Day ceremony.
The Staples High School first honors senior — captain of the football and lacrosse teams, and an indoor track athlete as well — is both an FCIAC Exemplary Scholar-Athlete (3.82 GPA) and AP Scholar (Economics and Computer Science).
Henry also serves as a Staples Link Crew freshman mentor. He is a member of the Service League of Boys and the Staples Radio Club.
In the summer he works in maintenance and guest services for Westport’s Parks & Recreation Department. Throughout the year he is a volunteer youth football and lacrosse coach.
In his address at the VFW, Henry said:
I am honored to be here today. Words cannot describe how thankful I am for our American veterans.
When I was asked if I would attend this ceremony and say a few words, I decided that I should tell you a little bit about myself and why I feel so compelled to serve our country. I am privileged to stand here today to talk about service and what that means to me.
Henry Beck, at Wednesday’s Veterans Day ceremony.
For most of my life, I have gravitated towards team sports. My dream, as far back as I can remember, was to play football at Staples High School. I remember idolizing the players I grew up watching, and aspired to be like them.
Football is the ultimate team sport. All 11 players must do their jobs independently to achieve success as a team. As captain this past season, it was my job to lead and inspire my teammates to be disciplined, work hard, and execute.
Often this required trust and sacrifice for the greater good of the team. Doing this repeatedly, throughout the season, enabled us to come together as a brotherhood. There is a quote by G.K. Chesterton that I hold close to my heart every time I walk onto a field to compete: “The true soldier fights not because he hates what is in front of him, but because he loves what is behind him.”
As I entered my senior year at Staples and began the process of deciding where I wanted to attend college, I reflected a lot on who I was, and what was important to me. I kept coming back to the U.S. Military Academy at West Point.
My grandfather served in the Army during the Korean War 70 years ago, and while we never spoke about it when he was alive, I was always curious. This curiosity laid the foundation for my interest in West Point. I hope to have the chance to join the most important team on the planet, the U.S. Military, to play a part in its goal of protecting our great nation, its people, and their freedoms.
Ruth Steinkraus Cohen Bridge (Photo/Lauri Weiser)
Whether it is at West Point or an ROTC program, I am compelled to give back and pay it forward. I want to give back for all the freedoms I enjoy today, and I want to pay it forward so the kid in elementary school, who has dreams, will have the same chances I did.
All this self-reflection had me thinking a lot about my freedom and those who served to ensure it. They say that giving one’s life in defense of country or freedom is the ultimate sacrifice. I completely agree.
But it hit me that such a sacrifice started with courage and commitment. Anyone who has served our country first had to have the courage to commit to that possibility. What an inspiring example to follow.
Because of the lessons I have learned from my family, coaches, and now you, courage and commitment will serve as a guiding principle in my life.
As a kid my plan was to follow the example set by the Staples football players. Now that I have done that, my dream is to follow the example you have set by serving our country.
Thank you for giving me the freedom to choose what I do with my life. Thank you for your commitment to our country and for being a role model for my generation. Thank you for your courage!
Longtime Westport resident and former owner of the Mansion Clam House restaurant Barbara Saltus died peacefully on Tuesday in Marble Falls Texas, after a short illness. She was surrounded by family and her Yorkshire terriers Beau and Annie, who watched over her until the end.
Born Barbara Henry in Fairfield, she married Don Saltus in 1956. They purchased the historic Bennett House on South Compo Road, and settled in Westport.
After her 5 children were grown, Barbara resumed her education. She graduated from Sacred Heart University with a degree in teaching, and later received her master’s degree. She worked as a special needs educator in Darien and Wilton.
In 1987 Barbara left teaching. and with family members purchased the landmark Mansion Clam House. While operating the business end of the restaurant, she took on the task of restoring the family’s 1758 Bennett house.
Her restored historic home was the quintessential New England homestead: a magical place where she entertained her children, their spouses, grandchildren and friends.
Anyone lucky enough to attend one of her holiday parties or Sunday brunches appreciated her attention to detail. Barbara kept her large family and friends wonderfully amused and well fed.
Outside in the backyard her grandchildren climbed the large beechwood tree, and swung on the family swing, and enjoyed their childhoods.
Despite her busy schedule Barbara found time to travel, exploring the US and Europe with her husband and grandchildren. The teacher in her was always expanding their minds and providing a sense of exploration.
In 2000 she retired from running The Mansion Clam House and moved to the seaside village of Stonington Borough, where she opened a hat and gift shop called Junie Moon on Water Street.
Barbara’s son Matt calls her “the warmest, funniest and most caring person you could ever meet.”
Barbara is survived by her daughter, Bobbi; her sons Duke, Brett and Matt, and many grandchildren and great-grandchildren. She was predeceased by her husband Don and eldest son Jocko.
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