Category Archives: People

Justin Paul Is Booked In Westport

When Justin Paul was a Staples High School student, he played piano for the Westport Library’s signature Booked for the Evening fundraiser.

The Class of 2003 graduate returns to the event this year.

This time though, he’s not the entertainment.

He’s the honoree.

Justin Paul

Paul — the Oscar, Grammy, Tony and Golden Globe Award-winning songwriter whose collaboration with Benj Pasek includes “Dear Evan Hansen,” “La La Land,” “The Greatest Showman,” “A Christmas Story,” “Dogfight” and “James and the Giant Peach” — joins the likes of Tom Brokaw, E.L. Doctorow, Pete Hamill, Martin Scorsese, Doris Kearns Goodwin, David Halberstam, Patti Smith, Alan Alda and fellow Westporters Nile Rodgers and Lynsey Addario as “Booked” recipients.

Not bad for a 33-year-old.

Paul admits that he doesn’t have the “life experiences” of honorees. But he’s got plenty of riveting acccomplishments.

And he knows the Westport Library well.

“Growing up, it was a constant in my life,” Paul says. “I went there to research school projects, to find new books to read, and everything else. It’s a cornerstone of Westport.”

In middle school, going downtown by himself to the library made him feel “very adult, very cool.”

The CD and DVD collections helped him on his career path. “I think they subtly encouraged my exploration of music, movies and plays,” he says.

Another library — the music one at the University of Michigan — played an important role in Paul’s life too.

“I spent a healthy percentage of time there,” he recalls. “They had scores of every classical piece, and every Broadway musical. It completely fed my hunger and curiosity.”

Justin Paul and Benj Pasek, at January’s Golden Globe Awards. (Photo/Paul Drinkwater NBC)

When Paul and Pasek began their songwriting careers, librarians would request official copies of their work.

“We always said yes,” Paul notes. “As 23-year-0lds, hearing from a librarian made us feel very grown up.”

A lot has happened in the decade since. And it’s been only a decade and a half since Paul went from playing piano at Booked for the Evening, to the main event.

What will he talk about on June 11?

“I could fill an hour just listing all the Westport influences on my life,” he jokes.

“But the library is all about story-telling. That’s what Benj and I do. So it will probably have something to do with stories.”

Book it!

(“Booked for the Evening” is set for Monday, June 11, 7 p.m. at Rolling Hills Country Club in Wilton. For tickets and sponsorship information, click here.)

ABCs Of Westport Contest: Get Those Entries In!

The collage is beautiful.

But some “06880” readers may have been intimidated by the challenge.

(Photo collage by Shelly Welfeld)

Last week, we invited you to guess where in downtown Westport Shelly Welfeld found all the images she photographed to formed the “letters” in this work.

The first correct complete answer wins a $50 gift certificate, generously donated by The ‘Port restaurant. But we don’t expect anyone to get all 26 — maybe not even half. So if no one gets all 26, the person with the most correct answer wins.

The contest deadline is extended to noon on Wednesday, May 30. Email your entries to dwoog@optonline.net.

Come on! Don’t be intimidated. This is your chance to win a great meal at The ‘Port.

Which of course is located in National Hall — one of the photos in the collage.

See — you’re already on your way!

 

Bedford Science Olympians Score At Nationals

Olympics are not just for athletes.

The Bedford Middle School Science Olympiad team finished 1st in the state last month — earning them the right to represent Connecticut at the 34th annual Science Olympiad national tournament

It was held last weekend at Colorado State University.

So how did our guys and girls do?

Here are 2 reports. The first — from parent Danielle Teplica — sets the scene:

It was a fantastic experience — a deep and extreme immersion into a much higher level of science competition than they had yet been able to fathom, let alone experience.

They had the chance to feel what it’s like to respect awesome competition, and perform their best against it.  It was a non-stop, fast-paced 4 days, packed with parades and pageantry, bright lights, loud music, big arenas, learning how to run from one event to another across a university campus, high altitude, little sleep and lots of science.

Plus live tarantulas, turkey costumes, CalTech professors — a lot to take in.

Hannah Even and Anja Gubitz represent Connecticut, at the opening ceremonies.

The team bus arrived at BMS Monday around 2 a.m. None of them had napped on the plane or bus. They were still excited by what they’d just done.

What had they done? Read this report, from parent chaperone Trudie Gubitz:

They performed exceptionally well. The team brought home 2 medals: 6th place for Mystery Architecture, and 1st place for Rollercoaster! In the 34 years of Nationals competition, no Connecticut team had won a gold.

Overall, Bedford finished 25th out of 60 teams — the highest ever for a team from our state. That’s a wonderful achievement — especially because BMS had competed at nationals only once before (in 2015). Most of the top 20 teams are regulars.

For me, the most inspiring thing was the team’s cohesion. These kids have  worked, built and studied for this event for almost a year. Over this time they have created a bond that is hard to describe in words.

They laugh and play while working to a common goal. They support each other when things do not go as planned, celebrate each other’s successes, and pick each other up from disappointments.

The Bedford Middle School Science Olympiad team.

Fifteen children competed in the 23 diverse events: Microbe Mission, Hovercraft, Dynamic Planet and Road Scholar, to name a few.

Another 9 students and their parents also formed part of the team as alternates, showing enormous support.

The support extended further to BMS alumni, who came from Staples to help during preparations. One was even there at 2 a.m. to cheer the returning team bus.

Staples High School Science Olympiad students — and Bedford Olympiad alums — sent this encouraging photo to the BMS team in Colorado on the morning of the competition.

The children had a wonderful time. That speaks to the amazing guidance provided by the 3 teachers who support this program: Arthur Ellis, Dr. Daniel Cortright and Kathryn Nicholas.

Thanks too to all the Westporters who donated to help get the team to Colorado (and back).

Now get some sleep. 

And then get ready for next year!

Coach Art Ellis

Farmers’ Market Serves Up Top Chef Battle

The Westport Farmers’ Market is 12 years old — and wildly popular.

Every Thursday from May through November throngs fill the Imperial Avenue parking lot, on a hunt for fresh produce, meat and fish, baked goods, even pizza, tacos and dog food.

But the Market always looks to add spice to its spices, herbs and more.

So — even though the Westport Farmers’ Market is a community celebration, not a competition — they’re introducing a Chef of the Market contest.

Starting this Thursday — and running once a month through the fall — 12 well-known names battle it out through an opening round, semifinals and finals. The winner will be, I guess, the chief chef.

The brainchild of board member — and no-slouch-himself chef Bill Taibe — works like this.

On the 3rd Thursday of each month, 3 chefs go head-to-head-to-head.

At 10 a.m., they get $20. They have 45 minutes to shop for ingredients, cook, and present their appetizer-size dish to the judges. PS: Electricity is not allowed.

In keeping with the fun theme, judges are randomly selected from any shopper who wants to participate.

In 2015, chefs prepared a recipe at the Westport Farmers’ Market. This year, they’ll compete against others. (Photo/Oliver Parini)

The first round runs through August. The winner of each group moves on to the semifinals, the 3rd Thursday in September.

Finals are set for “Fork it Over,” the Westport Farmers’ Market annual October fundraiser.

All chefs donate one $50 gift certificate from their restaurant. The winner gets every gift card — so he can enjoy his competitors’ meals yet not pay for them — along with other prizes.

The early chefs — particularly those tomorrow — have it tough. They can’t choose from flavorful snap peas, strawberries or squash. However, Taibe is sure they’ll do imaginative, tasty things with this month’s bounty, like radishes and kale.

Fresh produce is one of the Westport Farmer’s Market’s most popular attractions. Chefs competing in this year’s competition know exactly how to prepare it. But can they shop for it — and finish their dish — in just 45 minutes?

All 12 chefs gathered at the Market last week, to pick their dates out of a hat.

There was already smack talk — including between the chefs at Taibe’s own Whelk, Kawa Ni and Jesup Hall, all of whom are competing. Other Westport chefs represent The Cottage, OKO, Match Lobster Burger and Amis.

There’s chatter on social media too.

Starting Thursday, the rest of us can see where it all leads.

Let the Chef of the Market games begin!

Chef competitors include: May 24, Geoff Lazlo, Ben Freemole, Christian Wilki; (June 21) Matt Storch, Jeff Taibe, Adam Roytman; (July 19), Jonas/Brad, Anthony Kostelis, Anthony Rinaldi; (August 16) Nick Martschenko, Dan Sabia, Carlos Baez.

A Ducky Rescue

Most Westport Fire Department press releases describe house blazes, motor vehicle extrications and hazardous waste clean-ups.

This one’s different. 

And one more reason why we love our firefighters:

 Earlier this evening, Westport Fire Department dispatchers received numerous calls for an animal rescue on I-95. A family of ducks had been observed trying to navigate I-95 at rush hour, resulting in 9 ducklings falling into a storm drain.

Rescue 3 and the shift commander responded to I-95 North to provide assistance, meeting up with state police troopers just prior to exit 17. A Department of Transportation Safety Patrol vehicle provided critical barrier protection for those working on the highway.

Removing the grate for the rescue.

Firefighters used a variety of hand tools, hydraulic rescue tools and metering equipment to gain access to the storm drain. Firefighter Andrew Ponticiello entered the storm drain via a ladder and patiently rescued all 9 of the ducklings, despite their reluctance to exit. This was his second animal rescue from a storm drain in as many days.

Firefighter Andrew Ponticiello, with his 9 ducklings.

As a reminder, if you are concerned about the welfare of any animal — particularly when the animals are on a highway or main road — call 911 and ask for assistance. The roads and highways are dangerous places to be. We want to make sure everyone goes home safely.

Calling All Veterans!

Like a true veteran, Ted Diamond keeps serving.

He’s 100 years old. He’s a former Memorial Day parade grand marshal.

And he wants to make sure that every vet — particularly those who, like he, served in World War II — get a chance to participate in the event.

For the past 10 years, he has arranged transportation in the parade. Once again, he’s made sure there are a few cars available, for vets to ride in.

Any veterans wishing to participate next Monday should call Ted (203-227-7680), or e-mail him: tdiamon2@optonline.net.

As for the rest of us: We’ll line the route, waving and giving our thanks.

Ted Diamond, at last year’s Memorial Day ceremony.

 

[OPINION] Developer: In Wake Of Hiawatha Court Decision, We Plan 187 Units

In the wake of a Superior Court judge’s ruling that Westport grant conditional approval for a sewer line extension — the first step toward construction of a large housing complex on Hiawatha Lane, off Saugatuck Avenue next to I-95 Exit 17 — the developer in the lawsuit has issued a press release.

Summit Development says:

A 14-year effor to create a moderate-income housing community in the Town of Westport took a major step forward after a State Superior Court judge ordered the town to grant a conditional approval for a sewer line extension to serve proposed new development on Hiawatha Lane in the Saugatuck neighborhood.

In a ruling issued May 7, Judge Kenneth Shluger ordered the town to extend an existing municipal sewer line 1600 feet to serve the proposed development. The judge said the town’s Water Pollution Control Authority has abused its discretion by delaying the extension. The town’s 3-member governing Board of Selectmen serves as the commissioners of the Authority.

The town has maintained that it could not consider extending the sewer because a failing sewer line and related pumping station that would serve the site are inadequate to handle the additional sewage effluent the new housing would generate, and further said that an existing town policy precluded it from issuing conditional approvals.

The developer, Summit Saugatuck LLC of Southport has maintained since early 2016, when it negotiated a joint venture agreement with the Westport Housing Authority to build 155 units, that the town was not only authorized but obligated to issue a sewer extension approval conditioned upon the completion of the sewer and pump station upgrades.

In 2016, the Public Works Department set the schedule for the upgrades, which are now nearing completion. Summit’s property met all the criteria for receiving sewer service, including being within the Sewer District, and that the town’s sewage treatment plant having ample capacity.

Summit’s attorney, Timothy Hollister, said the judge’s decision supports Summit’s position that the town’s interests are fully protected by granting the extension conditioned on the upgrade being completed, and that the town produced no evidence that it has a long-standing policy against issuing conditional approvals. “There is no such policy,” he said.

Felix Charney, president of Summit Development, said: “The judge found that the town has been using the sewer system upgrade as a way of delaying creation of the moderate-income housing that is so desperately needed in Westport. In 2016, the town encouraged us to partner with the Westport Housing Authority and we came up with a great plan for 155 units including 70 moderate-income units. But when we presented the very plan the town had encouraged, the Town Board dropped its support and hid behind the sewer line issue as the way of blocking the development. Now, with the Housing Authority having lost its financing opportunity, we are proceeding on our own.”

Summit’s new proposal: 187 units.

Summit’s revised plan will feature 187 studio, 1- and 2-bedroom apartments with 30 percent for moderate income households having maximum rent and household income restrictions for 40 years. The 8-acre site is centrally located with access to local stores, restaurants and services.  The community will be a transit oriented development (TOD), as it is within easy walking distance of the Saugatuck train station.

Westport First Selectman Jim Marpe has been quoted saying that the court decision will have “very little practical impact on the proposed project’s timetable.”

Charney responds: “For years we have offered compromises, all of which have been rebuffed by the town. We have a great location near the train station, are in a neighborhood where there are other multi-family apartments and are using a classic New England-style architecture that fits beautifully within the community. The real question boils down to whether Westport wants to be an inclusive or an exclusive community?”

He said Summit had offered the town a series of smaller proposals including the one in partnership with the Westport Housing Authority, but the town chose to not commit.“They left us no alternative but to turn to the courts.”

Carol Martin, executive director of the Westport Housing Authority, said the authority supports the private sector developing housing in the town. “We have reached the point where we are no longer accepting additional applicants signing up with us. With approximately 1,000 names already on the list, there’s no point. We applaud private sector developers like Summit who are willing to step in and help to address the huge need we have in Westport.”

Boosting The Bayberry Bikers

The weather was not great. The miles were not easy.

But 92-year-old Paulette Weibel sat at the end of her driveway today, cheering on the hundreds of Bloomin’ Metric bicyclists who struggled up the Bayberry Lane hill.

She waved to every one.

And nearly every one waved back.

(Photos/Joyce Bottone)

Paulette’s daughter Joyce Bottone asked “06880” to give a shout-out to all those bikers who — despite their exhaustion — returned the wave.

But Paulette deserves our thanks too. Those guys (and gals) loved seeing you there!

Staples’ 12 Angry Men (And Women)

Nine years ago, Staples Players produced “Twelve Angry Men.” The classic courtroom drama was staged in the Black Box Theater — in the round.

The audience surrounded the set, on all 4 sides. I saw it 3 times — always in a different spot. Each vantage point was unique. I saw 3 versions of the same play.

This week, Players again produce “Twelve Angry Men.” Once again it’s in the round.

“With racial profiling and challenges to justice ever present in the news today, this felt like the right time to bring back the show,” Roth says.

“It feels like the actors are in a fishbowl — being watched and judged by society. That’s what we want.”

“Twelve Angry men” explores the dynamics between 12 jurors, from different backgrounds, as they meet on a hot summer day to decide one man’s fate. Though the play was first performed live on CBS in 1954, the preconceptions and assumptions of the characters are quite relevant today.

Tempers flare as jurors deliberate in “Twelve Angry Men.” From left: Tucker Ewing, Nick Rossi, Sam Gusick, Chad Celini, Jack Watzman and Kristin Amato. (Photo/Kerry Long)

Kristin Amato — Juror #8 — says, “The show really makes you think. It is all about the questioning of morals and personal prejudices. I think many audience members will go home reflecting on their own actions, and how they may have acted if they were in the same circumstances as the jurors in the show.”

She adds, “As much as I love the main stage, there’s something special about the intimacy of the Black Box. I love the interaction with the audience. Because we’re so close, when anyone claps or laughs or even gasps, we as actors can really play off of it. The energy just builds.”

For several seniors, “Twelve Angry Men” — which Roth and Long have cast to include female jurors — will be the final Players show before college.

Sophia Sherman — who will study acting at the University of Michigan — plays a Russian immigrant. Her passion for democracy, and strong statements about immigration, race and class difference, are “eye-opening,” Sherman says.

My eyes were opened — in 3 different ways — 9 years ago. I look forward to seeing the same show, in yet another way, soon.

(“Twelve Angry Men” will be performed this Thursday, Friday and Saturday, May 24, 25 and 26, at 7:30 p.m., and Sunday, May 27 at 3 p.m., in the Staples High School Black Box Theatre. Click here for tickets. A few tickets may be available in the Black Box Theatre lobby 30 minutes prior to performances.)

Dwain Schenck’s PR: From Barbara Bush To Guy Smith

Dwain Schenck first met Guy Smith at a refugee camp in the Middle East.

It was the first Gulf War, right before Kuwait was liberated by allied ground forces.

Dwain Schenck

Schenck was communications director for Americares. He lived in Jordan, helping coordinate medical relief airlifts from the US. Working together, the two men became fast — and lifelong — friends.

Schenck has had an intriguing career. He was the first Western TV reporter in Armenia after a devastating earthquake. He worked in disaster areas and war zones around the world, including Iran, North Korea, Nicaragua, Egypt, Somalia, Sudan, Rwanda and Bosnia.

In 1993 he traveled with former first lady Barbara Bush to the war-torn Croatian port of Split, on a humanitarian mission, delivering medical relief supplies to hospitals. He wrote several speeches for her.

Bush was “inquisitive and very compassionate,” Schenck recalls. “She was also tough and a real trouper, braving cold and difficult conditions at clinics and refugee camps. She was a class act, with a down-to-earth style all her own. She looked like America’s grandmother, but she was young at heart and full of energy.”

Dwain Schenck and Barbara Bush share a moment.

Schenck, his wife and 3 children moved to Westport in 2003. It’s a town he’d always loved, from his early days with Stamford-based Americares.

Today he owns Schenck Strategies, a boutique PR and strategic communications firm.

Last December, Smith called. He’s running for governor of Connecticut. Schenck signed on as communications director.

Smith is a Democrat from Greenwich. After Americares he joined Diageo as a senior executive. He was a special adviser to Bill Clinton during the president’s impeachment proceedings.

But, Schenck says, Smith is “not a career politician or a career candidate.”

Guy Smith

Schenck calls him “the right man for the job, at this point in our state’s history.” His communications director says Smith brings people together, and can “break through the divisiveness that keeps government from working for the people of this state.”

Westport is not exactly ground zero in the gubernatorial race. We do, however, have 2 candidates: Republican Steve Obsitnik and unaffiliated Marisa Manly.

Now another neighbor is helping a Democratic candidate.

There are about 25 candidates in the ever-changing list of hopefuls to succeed Governor Dannel Malloy. May the best man or woman win.