Category Archives: People

Former Westporter Killed By Lightning

Peter Hawkes — a member of Staples High School’s Class of 2011 — was struck and killed by lightning Tuesday evening in Colorado.

Peter Hawkes, in Staples' 2008 yearbook.

Peter Hawkes, in Staples’ 2008 yearbook.

Hawkes — who appears in the Staples yearbook only during freshman year, in 2008 — was on the Indian Tree golf course in Arvada. Witnesses saw 4 bolts of lightning and 2 men huddling under a tree during the fast-moving storm, which caught golfers by surprise.

A woman with lifeguard training applied CPR, but to no avail.

According to CBS Channel 4 in Denver, this was the 15th death in the US from lightning this year, but the 1st in Colorado.

(For the full CBS story, click here.)

 

North Miami Police Shooter Is A Staples Grad

Jonathon Aledda — the North Miami police officer who shot at an autistic man playing with a toy truck, wounding instead his black caregiver — is a Staples alumnus.

Jonathon Aledda, in the Staples High School Class of 2004 yearbook.

Jonathon Aledda, in the Staples High School Class of 2004 yearbook.

Aledda played Staples football, and was a hurdler on the high school track team. He graduated in 2004.

A 4-year veteran of the department, SWAT member and Officer of the Month in October 2014, he has been placed on administrative leave without pay.

The Miami Herald described the difficult challenges officers face:

As happens often with people who suffer from severe autism, the 27-year-old wandered away from his caregivers, in this case leaving a group home. Someone in the neighborhood misinterpreted his behavior, calling 911 while apparently mistaking his toy truck for a gun.

When North Miami police confronted the man sitting cross-legged in the middle of an intersection, he refused commands to lay down. That’s not unusual, experts say, for profoundly autistic people who cannot process verbal commands from police officers trained to think the worst.

“It looks like they’re being defiant, when in fact they have a disability,” said National Autism Association spokeswoman Wendy Fournier. “A lot of times they’re not verbal either, so they can’t even talk to police to explain why they are not responding.”

“This case is so crazy. I’m so glad that the man didn’t get shot and so grateful that his caregiver is going to be OK.”

Jonathon Aledda in 2016.

Jonathon Aledda in 2016.

The shooting of caretaker Charles Kinsey sparked widespread outrage Thursday after bystander video emerged showing him with his arms raised as police officers confronted the unnamed autistic man, who began hollering loudly. The president of North Miami’s police union said Thursday that the officer was aiming for the autistic man — fearing Kinsey was in danger — but hit the caretaker by mistake.

Long May She Wave

I sure screwed up yesterday’s post about a “missing” AED. (It wasn’t stolen from Winslow Park at all – it had never been installed. I also misidentified the donor — it’s the Gudis Family Foundation and Norwalk Hospital, not the Adam Greenlee Foundation. Click here to see how many times I could be wrong in one post.)

This one is on the money.

A year ago, Tarantino owner John Paul Marchetti installed an American flag outside his Railroad Place restaurant.

He’s a proud Marine Corps Reserves veteran — he served in Iraq — and was honored to fly it 24/7.

Tarantino flag

Yesterday, he and his brothers — co-owners of the popular Saugatuck spot — noticed the flag was gone.

Marchetti was angry. “This country gave my immigrant parents everything,” he said. “The flag is a symbol of freedom. Someone stole that symbol.”

I told Marchetti I would post the story on “06880.” We’d ask the thief to return the flag, no questions asked.

Meanwhile, Marchetti posted a photo on social media.

Westport Hardware Store owner Richie Velez saw it. He promised to bring a replacement over, as soon as he got off work.

So, if you’re the flag thief, do the right thing. Hand it off to someone who can fly it as proudly as Marchetti, and cares as much as Velez.

(Hat tip: Johnny Carrier)

Pictures From A Party

If you were among the 100 or so folks who made it to Compo for yesterday evening’s 4th annual “06880” blog party: thanks!

It was a wonderful evening: fun, relaxed, beautiful, filled with very cool people, very good food, and very great weather.

If you could not join us, here’s the next best thing.

PS: We hope to see you there next year!

Bart Shuldman brought a pair of dueling beverages: Trump Tonic ("Make America grape again") and Hillary Hooch ("classified flavor").

Bart Shuldman brought a pair of dueling beverages: Trump Tonic (“Make America grape again”) and Hillary Hooch (“classified flavor”).

"06880" party-goers had the best tables, the best views -- and the best time -- at Compo last night.

“06880” party-goers had the best tables, the best views — and the best time — at Compo last night.

Musician Warren Bloom (harmonica, guitar) and artist Miggs Burroughs (painting, photography, graphic design) compared their awesome heads of hair.

Musician Warren Bloom (harmonica, guitar) and artist Miggs Burroughs (painting, photography, graphic design) compared their awesome heads of hair.

Honoring the party with "06880" hats -- well, 3 of the 4, anyway.

Honoring the party with “06880” hats — well, 3 of the 4, anyway.

State Representative Gail Lavielle was in the house. (Get it?)

State Representative Gail Lavielle was in the house. (Get it?)

Happy together.

Happy together.

Longtime Compo lover Mike Calise enjoys the beach, just the way it is.

Longtime Compo lover Mike Calise enjoys the beach, just the way it is.

A breeze played havoc with the balloons, provided by Jennifer Hershey and Mary Hoffman. But the sunset was as spectacular as always.

A breeze played havoc with the “06880” balloons, provided by Jennifer Hershey and Mary Hoffman. But the sunset was as spectacular as always.

Joe DeJesus Revolutionizes America’s Workforce

It’s a side of life Westporters seldom see, but contractors and laborers here know well: pick-up points in places like Norwalk, Bridgeport and Stamford, where builders and workers connect every morning.

Bosses are never sure what type of workers they’ll get. Workers are never sure if they’ll be paid what they’ve been promised. It’s a risky, inefficient dance.

A new app may revolutionize the entire process — all over the world. And it was born right here in Westport.

Joe DeJesus is a 1981 Staples High School graduate. A builder himself, he’d long been frustrated by the process of finding skilled, reliable carpenters, electricians and others to work on his projects.

Dayworks logoA couple of years ago he used Uber for the first time. He realized the on-demand idea could work for laborers too.

He pitched the idea to Andre Haroche, a friend who had brought Liberty Travel into the digital age. He signed on as co-founder.

For $1,000, coders in India created a prototype. Convinced they had something, DeJesus and Haroche plowed ahead.

Dayworks launched locally, in the Port Chester-Danbury-New Haven area.

The idea is simple. After downloading the app, workers list themselves for free. They note their specialties (plumbing, HVAC, masonry, painting, tile setting, wood flooring, etc.); the languages they speak; the minimum number of hours they’ll work: their rate. and how they want to be paid (cash only or check); whether they have a ride or need one, and if they have a license and/or insurance.

Workers can post photos of themselves too. Coming soon: video.

Bosses — both builders and individuals with home-improvement projects — can search for workers by skill. Clicking one button completes the hire.

Builders and laborers connect through Dayworks.

Builders and laborers connect through Dayworks.

A boss can also post an entire project, including conditions like start and end date, maximum hourly rate, and whether English is required. Workers can respond immediately.

Bosses rate workers. And workers rate bosses.

Dayworks makes money by charging bosses $3.99 a month, or $1 per hire. (The 1st 5 hires are free.)

It’s a win-win situation, DeJesus says. For one thing, it takes the uncertainty out of the pickup-site process, which is both time-consuming and uncertain.

For another, it offers a transparent way of offering — and seeking — pay. Rates are often standard at pick-up sites. With Dayworks, bosses can offer a bit more to clearly qualified workers. Workers — who sometimes miss out on jobs because they’re pressured by peers to not ask for less than the prevailing rate — can increase their chances of being hired by pricing themselves accordingly.

It’s also a boon to workers like electrician Andrei Petrov, who explains:

Since its launch, Dayworks has spread across the globe. Bosses and workers are connecting everywhere in the US, and as far away as Australia. (Locally — and personally — DeJesus has hired excellent people through his own site.)

Much of the growth has been by word of mouth, and YouTube videos (created by Westport’s own Bobby Hudson).

Flyers — in English and Spanish — are also handed out at job sites.

But Dayworks is not just for builders and tradesmen. Other categories include house cleaners, automotive (mechanics, detailers, etc.), boating, restaurants (dishwashers, barbacks, busboys) and catering, tech repair, even personal trainers.

Joe DeJesus got the idea for Dayworks from Uber. Soon — like the revolutionary car service — his labor finding-and-sharing app may be everywhere.

And maybe — like Uber — it will even be a verb.

(Dayworks is available free; click here for Apple and Android devices. Click here for the website.)

 

Pasek And Paul In “La La Land”

Broadway loves Pasek and Paul.

Songwriters Benj Pasek and 2003 Staples High School graduate Justin Paul have earned raves, for productions like “A Christmas Story,” “Dogfight” and — moving to Broadway this fall — “Dear Evan Hansen.”

Soon, Hollywood audiences will love Pasek and Paul too.

Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone sing their lyrics in “La La Land.” The musical — about a love story between a jazz pianist and a would-be actress — opens in movie theaters this December.

In the trailer below, Gosling sings “City of Stars.” The music is by Justin Hurwitz.

(Hat tip: Lynn Flaster)

David Pogue Loses It

David Pogue leads a wonderful life. The Westport-based tech writer (Yahoo, New York Times, Scientific American), TV correspondent (“CBS News Sunday Morning,” PBS “Nova Science Now”) and author (“Missing Manual” series, “Pogue’s Basics”) has won 3 Emmy awards, 2 Webbys and a Loeb for journalism.

But even Pogue’s life doesn’t always go according to plan. The other day — well, let him describe it for “06880” readers:

I love drones. I love reviewing drones. I love filming drones!

But last week, something really crazy happened. I was reviewing the new $1300 Yuneec Typhoon H, taking it out for a test flight before the Yahoo video crew arrived next day to film my video review.

David Pogue drone

My son Kell (a Staples High School 2015 graduate) and a couple of his buddies stood on our attic balcony, checking it out. I let it hover at their eye level, just so they could see how cool and menacing-looking this hexacopter was. (It has 6 rotors. No, that doesn’t make it a sexcopter.)

From there, I flew it straight up. It hovered over the house, giving me an amazing view (on the remote control’s screen) of the Wakeman athletic fields.

Wakeman athletic fields - Pogue drone

The drone hovered 370 feet up — just shy of its 400-foot, hardwired altitude limit (also the FAA’s maximum allowable height). Then, before my eyes, the drone started drifting away. The controls did not respond!

The screen just said, “Trying to reconnect.” As I watched in disbelief, the drone drifted away over Bayberry, toward Fairfield. I was helpless.

I got on my bike and rode around, looking and looking. I never found it. There’s a $1300 drone in somebody’s bushes somewhere.

Drone flyaways are supposed to be impossible. They’re programmed to return to their takeoff position (in this case, my backyard) if they ever lose their connection to the remote. Somehow, that fail-safe system never kicked in.

A little Googling shows that flyaways do, in fact, happen. (One landed on the White House lawn last year.)

David Pogue, perhaps trying to find his drone.

David Pogue, perhaps trying to find his drone.

The company analyzed my flight logs and concluded that nothing I’d done contributed to the flyaway. But they had no explanation for what caused it.

Nobody’s ever been hurt by a flyaway drone, and companies are working on better sensors, software and electronics to prevent flyaways. But I was really rattled — though not as much as if I’d actually bought this drone. (It was a review unit.)

Friends suggested I tape “LOST DRONE” signs on telephone poles in the neighborhood. I decided, nah. That’s just be too embarrassing.

But if an “06880” reader finds a sleek black drone in their bushes: I’ve still got the remote control. Let’s talk.

Town Fights 8-30g — And Wins

A real estate developer buys suburban land. He announces plans to build a massive number of housing units on it. Citing Connecticut’s 8-30g statute, 30% will be “affordable,” according to state guidelines.

Townspeople — worried about the impact of such a massive development — rise up to oppose it.

Sound familiar? It happens all over — including Westport.

Here’s the unfamiliar part: The townspeople won.

The town is not Westport. But it’s nearby.

Easton residents and officials just got big news. A 5-year battle against a 99-unit, 31-building townhouse complex, on 124.7 acres of watershed bordered by Sport Hill, Westport, Silver Hill and Cedar Hill Roads, has come to an end. An appellate court declined to hear the developer’s appeal of a January decision by Hartford’s housing court, which upheld Easton’s Planning and Zoning Commission and Conservation Commission’s 2011 denial of that plan (and a previous one for 105 units).

Part of the Easton property proposed for a 99-unit 8-30g housing development.

Part of the Easton property proposed for a 99-unit 8-30g housing development. (Photo/Google Earth)

How did they do it?

Ira Bloom explains. He was legal counsel for the town commissions. He’s also Westport’s town attorney, so he knows something about 8-30g.

Unlike most zoning applications, Bloom says, if a town commission turns down an 8-30g application, the burden is on them — not on the developer — to prove they made the right decision.

There are a couple of ways to do that, Bloom says. One is to show there is “substantial public interest” in the denial. “Mere traffic congestion” does not work, Bloom notes. Traffic safety, however, may. “Substantial public interest” must clearly outweigh the need for affordable housing in that town.

Another way is to show that no possible modification of the proposal would satisfy the requirements.

Ira Bloom

Ira Bloom

“That’s a heavy burden of proof,” Bloom says. In fact, last year 9 8-30g cases were decided by Connecticut courts. 7 were won by developers. Towns prevailed in only 2 — including Easton.

Bloom argued that because the 99 units would be built on public watershed — serving most of the Easton — the town had a substantial public interest in denying the application. He cited Department of Energy and Environmental Protection guidelines that no more than 1 unit be built on every 2 acres of watershed.

In Westport, officials used the “substantial public interest” argument in denying a proposal for a large 8-30g complex on Wilton Road, near Kings Highway North. The fire chief testified there were severe safety concerns, about the ability of his department to access the proposed complex.

Westport is now writing briefs for that case. They’re due August 12. The developer — Garden Homes — then submits their own briefs.

Easton has very little affordable housing. Westport has more.

But when it comes to 8-30g, no town is out of the woods.

And, Bloom notes, the Easton developer still owns that property. A new proposal may be in the works.

James D’Amico: The Time Is Now For New Staples Principal

Timing is everything.

For James D’Amico, fortuitous timing has been part of every career step. Last week — just a few days into his new job — he reflected on the turns of fate that brought him to the post he’s most excited about: Staples High School principal.

D’Amico grew up in New Fairfield. His mother was a nurse; his father commuted every day by car and train to Brooklyn, where he worked for the New York Transit Authority.

After graduating as an all-state chorus member (tenor) and avid musician (clarinet, sax, a little piano), D’Amico headed to the University of Connecticut. He loved his time there — and met his wife in the marching band. But if he had anything to do over, he says, he’d have taken a gap year to explore himself, and the world.

James D'Amico

James D’Amico

He earned a BA in communications science, but also fell in love with history. He’d always admired school and his teachers, so with the encouragement of his wife — a teacher – he added a graduate degree in education.

Westport had an opening in 2001. D’Amico parked in front, tried to figure out where the main entrance was, entered the moldy, low-ceilinged building, and interviewed with principal Gloria Rakovic and social studies department chair Elliot Kraut. “I couldn’t believe this was Westport,” he says of the soon-to-be-demolished school.

“They took a chance on a green kid,” D’Amico recalls. It was a wise choice.

His new colleagues were “so creative,” D’Amico says. “And creativity was encouraged.” Friends teaching in other districts were handed curriculum binders; he was encouraged to teach to his strengths.

“From Day 1, my colleagues trusted me. They were very kind — and real characters. I knew I’d found a home.”

Led by challenging, student-oriented mentors like Stephanie Muson, Jackie Boland and Rich Mott, he thrived in the classroom.

When Kraut retired in 2004 and a replacement could not be found, D’Amico became temporary “department liaison.” He enjoyed learning how the entire school ran, and helping staff set goals. The next year, he was appointed social studies chair. He taught 2 to 3 classes, led the Junior State of America club, and also got involved in the rest of the building.

When that position was expanded to include the middle schools, D’Amico gained even more experience. He hated leaving the classroom — but kept his beloved JSA club.

James D'Amico and director of elementary education Julie Droller, in Westport school district headquarters at Town Hall.

James D’Amico and director of elementary education Julie Droller, in Westport school district headquarters at Town Hall.

After 9 years as department head though, he felt he was growing stale. He looked for jobs beyond Westport.

But when the director of secondary education position became open, he threw his hat in the ring. Older, more experienced administrators applied. A different Elliott –superintendent of schools Landon — again took a chance on D’Amico.

He liked the curriculum and assessment aspects of the job. He helped teachers grow professionally. But, D’Amico admits, “It was an office job. I really did not like being in Town Hall. I learned a lot there — but I realized I need to be in a school.”

He was on the 2015 search committee to find a replacement for retiring Staples principal John Dodig. No one could be found. An interim was hired.

Several months ago, D’Amico’s wife said, “You’re going to apply for that job, right?”

“She knows me so well!” he says. “She knew I’d be happier around kids.” Though they have 4 young boys, involved in a variety of activities in Bethel, she encouraged him to go for it.

In March, Landon announced D’Amico as Staples’ next principal.

“Every morning when I walk through the doors, I say, ‘I’m home!'” D’Amico says.

James D'Amico stands proudly in the foyer of Staples High School.

James D’Amico stands proudly in the foyer of Staples High School.

He believes that his district-wide experience gives him a sense of how the elementary and middle schools fit in to Staples.

He also knows many Staples staff members.

“Any job is about relationships,” D’Amico notes. “I have a feeling for how this place works. I know the secretaries, the custodians, the people who make it go.”

As a former social studies teacher, he also knows its history. “I was here with the jackhammers outside my room.”

But he knows he has a lot to learn. He’s spending time with the assistant principals, maintenance supervisors Horace Lewis and Tom Cataudo, and many others to really understand how the many high school pieces fit together.

He gives props to secretary Karen Romano, who has served — and guided — several principals. “On Day 1, she had a folder for me outlining the entire summer,” D’Amico laughs.

Starting at the same time as new superintendent of schools Colleen Palmer is “fun,” says D’Amico. “There’s a clean slate. We’re figuring out where we want to take the high school.”

However, having been a teacher, he’s well aware that ideas need to be shared — not imposed.

“We’ve got a great school,” D’Amico says. “Our job is: How can we make it greater?”

He plans to listen to ideas. They’ll come from teachers, parents and students.

James D'Amico (left) and former Staples High School principal John Dodig chat during the 2016 graduation ceremony.

James D’Amico (left) and former Staples High School principal John Dodig chat during the 2016 graduation ceremony.

“It’s clear Staples is a competitive, high-powered place. We have courses and opportunities other places only dream of. Most kids come here wanting to learn and participate. But what about those who don’t fit into the prevailing goals, or feel too much pressure?”

He’s spoken with Dodig about ways to offer “emotional support.” As a strong supporter of the district’s “Guiding Principles” initiative, D’Amico is eager to carve out time to help implement them.

“How you spend time shows what you value,” he explains. “Right now we value moving kids through 6 or 7 periods a day. I think about systems and policies a lot. There’s a lot of different ways we can do things.”

His 1st staff meeting next month will provide a good introduction to the new principal, and his philosophy. His plan that day is to bring the large, often departmentalized faculty together — in a fun, kind, sincere way.

There’s a lot ahead. But D’Amico understands he needs his own life too. “If I’m not good with my family, I won’t be good with the school.”

His 4 boys are 11, 9, 8 and 6. He’s been involved with their Cub Scouts, baseball, soccer and church activities. He’ll cut down to 1 or 2 of those — but he plans to stay active.

James D’Amico’s career has been all about timing: being in the right place at the right time.

The right place now is Staples. As for timing: School starts September 1.

It Really Is The “Class” Of ’66

Staples High School’s Class of 1966 has always been special.

Growing up in postwar Westport, then coming of age in high school as a turbulent decade picked up steam, they were an active, accomplished bunch.

The Class of ’66 included 14 National Merit semifinalists, 29 All-State musicians and 5 All-State actors. The Orphenians traveled to the Virgin Islands; student government brought the Beau Brummels and Animals to Staples, and as a gift to the school — a tradition that unfortunately has disappeared — the class donated a handsome sign for the entrance on North Avenue.

John Lupton (left), Class of 1966 president, shakes hands with '67 president Dick Sandhaus at the sign's dedication ceremony. Principal Jim Calkins looks on.

John Lupton (left), Class of 1966 president, shakes hands with ’67 president Dick Sandhaus at the sign’s dedication ceremony. Principal Jim Calkins looks on.

But in the 50 years since graduation, the Class of ’66 has really stepped up its game. A few years ago they paid to refurbish the exterior of the Lou Nistico Fieldhouse at Staples, and added lighting to the current North Avenue entry sign. They’ve also organized their own special scholarship fund through Staples Tuition Grants.

Over the years I’ve become friends with many of the members, who I knew only by name and legend as a kid growing up in town. They’ve accomplished amazing things — in music, the arts, journalism, religion, education, even modeling and wine importing — but for half a century they have remained tight and loving. (Very, very fun-loving too).

A number of them remain — or became — reconnected to their hometown through “06880.” I’ve been honored to be a guest at their 2 most recent reunions.

This year’s 50th was fantastic. It began Friday night at the VFW (with kick-ass music from, among others, Rob Carlson, Jon Gailmor and Roger Kaufman). It continued with a lobster dinner last night at the Westport Woman’s Club (and a moving memorial to the 65 classmates who have died). It ended this afternoon at the beach.

Jon Gailmor, Steve Emmett and Rob Carlson reprised the famed Triumvirate group at the VFW. Gailmor replaced the late Chris Avery.

Jon Gailmor, Steve Emmett and Rob Carlson reprised the famed Triumvirate group at the VFW. Gailmor replaced the late Chris Avery.

There were many highlights for me, as I mingled with so many heroes and heroines from my youth. But the coolest came as I was leaving.

Each class member received a goody bag. In every one was a stone — collected, over a long time, from Compo Beach. They were stamped “Staples High 50th reunion, Class of 1966.”

Class of 66

And wrapped around them were these words:

Each stone carries memories created by the gentle and loving spirit of Compo Beach — our playground, our retreat, the safe haven of our youth. Compo loves us unconditionally. It is the beautiful link that will — like each stone and echoes of friendships — last forever.

While they were growing up, the members of the Class of 1966 — like most teenagers — probably did not realize the gifts they were gaining from their school, and town. I did not realize it several years later, and kids today don’t either.

The passage of time does something powerful and good. But it takes a special group of people to actually stop, think about and honor that time.

Well done, Class of ’66. Very, very classy indeed.