Category Archives: People

Unsung Hero #3

If you’re a Westporter, you probably know Mike Calise.

The 1958 Staples High School graduate and Marine Corps veteran runs the longtime and very successful Settlers & Traders real estate firm. He’s a frequent attendee at town meetings, making sure nothing slips through our boards and commissions’ cracks.

Mike Calise with his sweetheart, Sally.

You can find him almost any day — in any weather — at Compo Beach. That’s where he hangs out, by himself or with his extended family. He keeps a loving eye on it too.

Mike and his grandkids. Cookouts on the beach are a family tradition. The food often comes from Calise’s deli — the market his family established in the 1930s,.

Mike has a great back story. While still at Staples, he boxed in the New York Golden Gloves tournament.

While stationed at Camp Lejeune, he bought a 9-passenger Pontiac Safari station wagon. Each weekend he ran a North Carolina to New York transport service ($15 each way; 658 miles in 11 hours).

His mother Louise — of Calise’s market fame — packed a large bag of delicious meatball and eggplant sandwiches for every trip back.

Mike Calise, Staples Class of 1958.

As a Marine from 1958 to ’63, he was assigned to Force Recon — an elite group that was always first on shore. They trained with daily long distance runs and swims.

Mike started an Arnold bread truck route in 1963. He founded Settlers & Traders in 1967. In 2008, he received a Historic Preservation Award for the restoration of  his office building at 215 Post Road West. This year, his real estate firm celebrates 50 years.

For all his life — going back to his family’s stores on Post Road West and East — he’s been an important part of life here. He’s a longtime member of the Republican Town Committee; a former delegate to the state Republican convention, and served on the RTM and Architectural Review Board.

Mike loves nature, gardening and canoeing. No morning at the beach is complete without his “Compo Gumbo.”

He loves Compo so much, he’s got it on his license plate:

Mike cherishes his family: his longtime sweetheart Sally; his 5 children (Catherine, Sandra, Maria, Bettina and Frank), and 7 grandkids (Francesca, Trent, CJ, Reed, Charlotte, Cameron and Caleigh).

They love him right back.

As does the rest of Westport — the town he’s loved for over 70 years.

Mike Calise, in a familiar pose.

They Do Grow Up!

On July 1, 2003, a small group gathered underneath a pear tree, on a patch of grass separating a rutted parking lot from the sprawling, 1-story Staples High School campus.

Several speakers at the low-key ceremony praised the high school as “the jewel in the crown” of the Westport school system.

Then superintendent of schools Elliott Landon, principal John Brady, 1st selectwoman Diane Goss Farrell, Board of Education chair Sandra Urist and 10 other educators, politicians, citizen-volunteers and Turner Construction Company representatives turned over symbolic shovels of dirt.

Ground was broken for construction of an even more sprawling, 3-story school. Another major chapter in Staples’ fabled history had begun.

The Westport News ran a front-page photo of a young boy helping out:

As the caption noted, 4-year-old Jacob Leaf was the grandson of Dan Kail, chairman of the Staples School Building Sub-Committee.

The paper was wrong, however. Jacob is a member of the Class of 2017 — not 2018.

Tomorrow (Thursday, June 22, 2 p.m.), he and over 450 classmates graduate.

They’ll do so in the fieldhouse — one of the only parts of the building not touched by the $84 million renovation.

The project — completed in 2005 — transformed Staples forever. It is a 21st-century building, and this year’s graduating class have done their high school — and town — proud.

Sitting especially proudly in tomorrow’s crowd will be one of the Westporters most responsible for the modern Staples High School: Jacob’s grandfather, Dan Kail.

Congratulations to all the graduates; to all who made Staples possible, and all who continue to do so.

Josh Duchan’s River Of Dreams

Josh Duchan grew up in Westport. But, he says, “as the son of 2 New Yorkers, Billy Joel was the soundtrack of my childhood.”

Records filled the Duchans’ High Point Road home. Cassettes played on the radio, as Josh was shuttled between activities.

Duchan took piano lessons. He discovered that rather than looking at every note, he could read guitar chords and “fake it.” He bought scores to Billy Joel songs, and learned to play and sing along.

Duchan was a talented musician at Long Lots Elementary and Coleytown Middle Schools. He played Will Parker in Staples Players’ “Oklahoma!”, then wrote the score and conducted the pit for their production of “The Tempest.”

Staples teacher Alice Lipson cultivated Duchan’s love for choral music. Her theory classes showed him “the amazing ways music really works.”

Private instructor Bill Hall shaped Duchan’s tenor voice. Billy Joel is a tenor too. If you think Duchan was a fan of the singer/songwriter then — read on for today.

Josh Duchan

Duchan graduated from Staples in 1997. After majoring in music at the University of Pennsylvania, he earned a master’s and Ph.D. in ethnomusicology at the University of Michigan. He loved studying the intersection of music and culture. Mozart fascinated him; so did Native American and South African music.

But when his first major paper was assigned, Duchan nervously pitched the idea of … Billy Joel.

His master’s thesis was not on Billy Joel. But, Duchan notes, “I used him for just about every example of musical meaning.”

His doctoral dissertation was about a cappella groups. His research led to Duchan’s first book, “Powerful Voices: The Musical and Social World of Collegiate A Cappella.”

Now he’s written a second. If you can’t guess the subject, I guess that’s just the way you are.

The idea for “Billy Joel: America’s Piano Man” began in 2013, when Duchan gave a presentation on you-know-who at a meeting of the International Association for the Study of Popular Music. Two attendees were editors of a book series on 20th century musicians.

Four years later, “Billy Joel” has just been published. If you think it’s worth reading: You may be right.

Duchan says, “Billy Joel was not just the soundtrack of my childhood. He was the soundtrack to many people’s lives.”

The singer/songwriter’s music offers “a window into what people cared, thought and worried about” from the 1970s through the ’90s, Duchan says.

On the surface, for example, “Allentown” is about a struggling city. But it represents major changes in American manufacturing, and difficult decisions about staying in your hometown, or leaving. Duchan puts that song — and many others — in the context of how it was written, and why it appealed.

The book is not a biography (several have already been written). Instead, Duchan examines a selection of songs — some mega-hits, many not — in a series of themed chapters. Songs about places, for example, cover Joel’s well-known home (“New York State of Mind”), as well as Los Angeles (where he once lived) and the familiar concept of suburbia.

Other chapters cover topics like relationships and history (“We Didn’t Start the Fire”).

“Billy Joel” is also not a book filled with technical music jargon. Duchan aims for a general readership.

Billy Joel

The book’s subject loves the project. Duchan — who has seen Joel in concert a few times — scheduled an hour phone interview in September. The more insightful Duchan’s questions became, the more enthusiastic Joel got. He had not had many opportunities to think — and speak — so introspectively about his music.

Duchan had to hang up to teach a class — his day job is professor of music history, ethnomusicology and pop culture at Wayne State University in Detroit — but they agreed to meet in person.

Duchan wanted it to be in a place with a piano. A month later, he flew to Joel’s home near Oyster Bay.

Their scheduled hour interview turned into 4 hours (including lunch in his kitchen). Joel played classical music as well as his own songs, explaining melodies and chords along the way.

Joel then added a coda: A great blurb for the back cover.

Library Journal gave it a very positive review (“must-read analysis”).

Now Duchan is planning his next project: the same sort of how/why deep dive into creativity, with another popular composer. His sights are set on James Taylor.

But right now, Josh Duchan is enjoying his Billy Joel moment.

And so it goes.

Young Education Director Teaches Old History

The Westport Historical Society works hard to make the past come alive in the present.

Though they offer many exciting programs for kids and teenagers, WHS staff and volunteers skew — well, not “historical” exactly, but certainly “older.”

Which is why everyone there eagerly welcomed Nicole Carpenter. In her first job after graduating from college, she’s embraced her new role — director of education and programs — with energy and joy.

And with a nod to Westport’s long legacy.

Nicole Carpenter, with a Westport Historical Society award.

“I’m passionate about history and art,” Carpenter says. “This town has a great blend of both. It’s fascinating to learn about the history, and all the artists and other people who lived here.”

The Brookfield, Vermont native attended Castleton University. She majored in art history and painting, with minors in history and business administration.

Then it was off to Syracuse University, where she earned a master’s in museum studies.

Last year, when Carpenter’s boyfriend landed a job as the Wilton Historical Society collections manager, his boss there recommended her for the Westport education role.

At the time, Carpenter knew little about Westport beyond its reputation as an artists’ and writers’ haven. But she used her research skills — online, and using actual books.

When she began work in September, Sven Selander — and many other Westporters — told her “tons of stories.”

Carpenter has found Westport to be “both similar to and different from the rest of New England.” It’s larger and more urban than her Vermont home. But residents in both places have “a deep appreciation of where they live.” Westporters, she says, “are really, really proud of their town.”

Among her many duties, she particularly enjoys leading school tours, and outreach programs like History on Wheels. The WHS recently sponsored a Colonial Family Fun Day. She also helped organize speakers for walking tours and the Danbury raid exhibit.

Wheeler House — the Westport Historical Society’s Avery Place home — in a painting by famed local artist Stevan Dohanos. Nicole Carpenter loves the town’s artistic heritage — and its vibrant present.

Carpenter cites 2 particularly big accomplishments. One is the 3rd grade tour of Wheeler House involving students, teachers, administrators, curators and historians. “It’s so much fun to see kids discover their town’s history,” she says.

The other was the “Come Build Westport” Lego project in March. As children “constructed” Town Hall, National Hall and the WHS’ Wheeler House itself, they (and their parents) learned a lot about how the town grew.

Carpenter’s most recent project — undertaken with 7 high school interns — was the first-ever 1st grade tour.

She looks forward to 3 week-long camps this summer.

Then Carpenter begins planning for next year. She’s already an “old-timer.”

Though still a very young one.

Stew Leonard Jr.: Amazon Purchase Of Whole Foods “A Game-Changer”

Amazon’s proposed $13.4 billion purchase of Whole Foods has rocked the grocery and retail industries.

An hour ago, Stew Leonard Jr. was one of the experts CNBC called on for expert reaction.

Stew Leonard Jr. (Photo courtesy/Westchester Magazine)

The president and CEO of the small but influential chain called the deal — which includes a store on the Westport border just a mile from Stew’s Norwalk flagship location — “a game-changer in the industry.”

Amazon’s technological know-how “will revolutionize how people buy food and get it delivered,” he added.

Leonard — whose grandfather Charles Leo Leonard founded the store’s predecessor, Clover Farms Dairy, and personally delivered milk straight from the farm to local customers — saw today’s announcement as a return to those days.

“The cost of the last mile of delivery has been dropping,” he noted.

Leonard also cited the growing number of millennials as a factor. Using his 31-year-old daughter as an example, he said that her generation expects every purchase to be deliverable.

However, he continued, “retailers have to get snappier” about how they present the purchasing experience.

“We try to make it fun,” he said, with plenty of animation and the chance to see mozzarella balls being made fresh.

However, he acknowledged, buying cereal and water in a store is far less exciting.

(Click here for the full 4:42 interview.)

When Amazon gets into delivery of Whole Foods products, will the animals at Stew’s be less of a draw?

Building Bridges Between Catholic, LGBT Communities

Three years ago, Sharon Carpenter read Father James Martin’s “Jesus: A Pilgrimage.” The longtime Westporter was challenged and inspired by the Jesuit priest’s lighthearted yet loving exploration of ancient Galilee and Judea, and his exploration of how Jesus speaks to believers today.

When Sharon’s husband Sam decided to treat her to a 30th wedding anniversary trip to the Holy Land, he figured a Father Martin-led trip was just the ticket.

Father James Martin

Sam — who is not Catholic — did not realize Father Martin is a Big Name in Catholic commentary. A Wharton Business School graduate who entered seminary in 1988 after 6 years with GE Capital, he’s written extensively — and been interviewed by everyone from Bill O’Reilly to Stephen Colbert and Terry Gross.

Father Martin’s tour had been sold out for a year. The wait list held 400 names.

But Sam said if anyone dropped out at the last minute, they’d be ready to go.

Miraculously, there was a cancellation. Sam and Sharon got the call.

The trip was all she’d dreamed of. Father Martin was a warm, wonderful — and brilliant — guide.

Though Sam was the only non-Catholic in the group of 40, Father Martin asked him to read the Beatitudes at the Mount. “He’s that kind of guy,” she says admiringly.

Sharon and Sam Carpenter in the Holy Land.

After the trip, the Carpenters remained friends with Father Martin.

As the publication date neared for his new book, he asked Sharon to help with the launch.

Building a Bridge — appropriately published on Tuesday, during this month when the LGBT community celebrates Pride — is a passionate plea for Catholic leaders to relate to their LGBT flock with compassion and openness.

The book was a response, in part, to last year’s Orlando massacre at the Pulse club. Father Martin felt that Catholic church leaders had not spoken strongly enough about the LGBT aspect.

His voice is important: Earlier this year, Pope Francis appointed him a consultor for the Vatican’s Secretariat for Communication.

Sharon read the galleys. “He brings faith back to the basics,” she said. “It’s all about being sensitive and welcoming.”

Still, she wondered about the reaction if she tried to arrange a launch party here.

She needn’t have worried.

Father Andy Varga of St. Luke — the parish where Sharon has been active for 25 years — offered the church for an event. Father Tom Thorne of Assumption wanted it at his church too.

St. Luke was chosen to host the Thursday, June 29 (7:30 p.m.) talk, Q-and-A and book signing by Father Martin.

But there’s more. Father Varga put out the word to Westport’s interfaith clergy group. Father Thorne has publicized it in parishes around Fairfield County.

Other groups are also promoting it. The Triangle Community Center — Fairfield County’s LGBT organization — is all in. So are the Westport Library, Barnes & Noble, and the (Jesuit) Fairfield University bookstore.

Sharon’s book club and prayer group are also excited to hear Father Martin.

As Pride Month winds down, Sharon Carpenter could not be more proud.

(Click here  for more information on Father Martin’s St. Luke talk.)

Melissa Kane Enters 1st Selectman Race

Jim Marpe has an opponent.

This afternoon, Melissa Kane announced her candidacy for 1st selectman of Westport. The Democratic activist opposes the Republican incumbent.

Kane currently serves as chair of the Westport Democratic Committee, and is a member of the non-partisan RTM from District 3. She is also co-chair of the Downtown Implementation Committee (appointed by Marpe).

Previously, as chair of the Downtown Steering Committee, she helped create a new Downtown Master Plan.

Melissa Kane

Kane recently received the Democratic Women of Westport’s first scholarship to the Yale Campaign School for Women.

She has been a Westport Library trustee, a board member of the Green Village Initiative and A Child’s Place, and active with Earthplace, the Westport Arts Center and PTA.

After moving to Westport in 2003, Kane launched and ran a floral design company, MKK Designs. She began her career as a columnist for Hearst New Media’s online publications, before becoming a publicist in the recording industry.

A graduate of Mount Holyoke College with a B.A. in international relations, she is married to Jonathan Kane.  Their children are George (18) and Lily (14).

In her announcement, Kane said:

First, I’ve loved Westport since I was a little girl. I spent my summers at Beach School and fishing in the currents off the bridges at the Mill Pond. Today, I love this town for all that it offers, and for its extraordinarily active community involvement.

Westport’s inclusive values, the importance of community, the integrity and beauty of our open spaces and beaches, and the quality of our schools, led my husband and me to choose to raise our family here.

Second, I have a vision for our infrastructure, public safety and economic sustainability that is critical to our future. We can do much more to protect the fiscal strength of our schools and to enhance our home values, to attract future generations, and support local businesses. As your first selectman, I will have a clearly articulated economic development plan. Times require more than just hoping to come in on budget each year without clear priorities.

At the women’s march on Washington the day after President Trump’s inauguration, Senator Richard Blumenthal posed with Connecticut protesters. Among the crowd was one of the state organizers, Melissa Kane.

Third, every Westporter deserves to have a leader who is willing to stand up for our most important priorities and values.

If you are concerned about maintaining excellence in our schools, know that I will advocate forcefully and effectively to make sure our schools are fully funded.

If you are a senior or have aging parents, know that I will work proactively with our P&Z officials and developers to make sure seniors have access to affordable, centrally located housing, or that they have the tax relief and support they need to be able to age in place.

If you are a commuter, know that I will work to make sure our traffic issues are finally addressed. I will improve mobility throughout town by working more collaboratively with DOT and the Citizens Transportation Commission on innovative solutions, and I will commit to investing in multi modal public transportation options as alternate ways to get around town.

If you are concerned about public safety, know that I will work with our local, state and national officials on responsible gun protection measures, and I will always stand up to hate in any form.

In this election we have an exciting opportunity to move Westport forward and to ensure that our town’s leaders represent the values we believe in.

 

Remembering Art Marciano

Westport has long been an educational pioneer. From the 1950s on, our school district’s many assets included its high number of superb — and highly respected — male elementary school teachers.

One of the most well known — to thousands of students, and their grateful parents — was Art Marciano.

Beginning in 1959, and for over 3 decades, he taught 4th through 6th grades. Marciano died Monday, at 88.

Art Marciano

A Waterbury native, and the youngest of 7 children, he owned a flower store before entering the military. He attended Central Connecticut State College on the GI Bill, then earned 2 master’s degrees from Columbia University Teachers College.

After being hired by the Westport school district, Marciano supplemented what were traditionally low teachers’ salaries by working at Ed Mitchell’s.

But those were the days when many teachers — even men — lived in Westport. He and his wife Suse — a German native — raised 2 sons, Martin and Tristan, here. He passed on his love of classical music to them.

Marciano and Suse were married for 56 years. Long after retirement, when they walked at Compo Beach, former students would rush up, talk, and say thank you for all he had done for them, many years ago.

He cherished those students, and his long friendships with colleagues. His obituary singles out Sid Birnbaum — another in Westport’s outstanding list of male elementary school teachers.

A mass of Christian burial will be celebrated for Marciano on Saturday, June 24 (11 a.m.), at St. Luke Church. A reception follows, in the community room.

In lieu of flowers, contributions in his memory can be made to Staples Tuition Grants or St. Luke  Church Community Outreach Fund.

The Historical Society That Rocks!

One of the most persistent urban suburban legends in Westport is that the Doors played a concert in the Staples High School auditorium.

Also the Animals, Yardbirds, Sly & the Family Stone and a host of other rock ‘n’ roll legends.

It’s all true.

To find out more, you can click here to read an “06880” story from 2014.

You can click here to download “The Real Rock & Roll High School,” Mark Smollin’s meticulously researched, fantastically illustrated and awe-inducing history of that remarkable era in Westport history.

Or you can go to the Westport Historical Society. “The High School That Rocked!” opens tomorrow (Friday, June 16, 6 p.m. reception). The exhibit runs through September 2.

The Yardbirds’ “For Your Love,” part of the exhibit’s stacks of wax.

The walls are filled with photos, posters, ticket stubs  and press clippings from and about those mid-’60s concerts. A record player sits near the entrance, with a stack of 45s; choose your favorite, and play it. (Kids: Ask your grandparents how!)

A screen plays clips from the “High School That Rocked,” the video that inspired this show. Staples Class of 1971 graduate Fred Cantor produced the documentary, with much younger (Class of 2014) filmmaker Casey Denton.

Cantor also curated this show, with ’70 Staples grad Mary Palmieri Gai.

Ironically, Cantor never saw any of those concerts. He still can’t figure out how he missed them.

Fifty years later, he’s made up for all that. He zeroed in on some of the most recognizable names — the Doors, Cream, Animals, Rascals, Yardbirds, and Westport’s own Remains — but also includes information about proms (the Blues Magoos played for the seniors, the Blues Project and Left Banke for the juniors), and Lester Lanin’s short-lived Nines Club discotheque (with groups like the Youngbloods and ? and the Mysterians).

Miggs Burroughs — who has his own rock ‘n’ roll stories — puts the finishing touches on the Westport Historical Society exhibit. (Photo/Larry Untermeyer)

The exhibit pays homage to Dick Sandhaus and Paul Gambaccini — Staples students who had the vision (and audacity) to bring those bands to Westport — and to Cantor’s classmates Charlie Karp (Buddy Miles’ sideman), Brian Keane and Michael Mugrage, all of whom still rock the music industry.

The Westport Historical Society usually highlights events like the Revolutionary War. This is quite a different show.

Then again, so were the ’60s at Staples.

(Other cultural venues are tying in to the WHS exhibit. The Westport Cinema Initiative screens the “High School That Rocked” video on Saturday, July 15 [4 p.m., Town Hall]. The Westport Library hosts a panel discussion on ’60s music on Monday, August 14. And the Levitt Pavilion may soon announce — well, stayed tuned for that one!)

Ginger Baker, Cream’s drummer, at Staples. The copyrighted photo by Jeremy Ross is part of the “School That Rocked” exhibit.

[OPINION] Keep Tesla Out Of Saugatuck!

Alert “06880” reader Mark Kirby is an organizer of Saugatuck Neighbors. As outlined below, he is opposed to the plan for a Tesla service facility in his neighborhood.

Two months ago I got a letter from Mel Barr, former Westport Planning and Zoning director, now a zoning consultant. Tesla Motors wanted to change town zoning to allow a “service center” at one of two sites in Saugatuck, including one that abuts part of our backyard. Would I attend a meeting to learn about the proposal?

I had mixed feelings. I was excited to have Tesla in Westport. I support its vision for a less carbon-reliant future; I signed up for a Model 3 before it was officially announced.

But as a neighbor, I worried about noise from tools like compressors and pneumatic wrenches. A service center isn’t what I’d imagined in the neighborhood—in fact, it’s prohibited. But because it was Tesla, I wanted to keep an open mind.

20 Saugatuck Avenue — the proposed site for the Tesla facility.

The meeting was held on a Tuesday night. Mr. Barr was there, along with the building’s landlord, Bruce Becker (a Westport architect and Tesla enthusiast), 4 Tesla representatives, and Tesla’s realtor.

Mr. Barr handed out his proposed zoning amendment. Something jumped out immediately: the zoning change was for a dealership. I asked him and the Tesla representatives about it.

Me (reading their amendment): “Said establishments may also provide vehicle sales of new and used electric motor vehicles, subject to a State License.

Them: Well, we can’t actually sell cars in Connecticut right now.

Me: But I’ve just signed a petition supporting legislation that would allow you to.

The conversation went on from there, but you get the idea: It was a challenge getting forthright answers from this group. At one point, I asked whether Tesla would be willing to go forward without the dealership. Their answer was no.

What’s so bad about a dealership? I’ve heard lots of reasons from neighbors but I’ll share only mine here.

My wife and I settled in Saugatuck because we liked the easy access to transit, and that it was a walkable neighborhood. Many families in Saugatuck have done so for similar reasons.

It’s not just the immediate neighbors who want to preserve this area. Creating a walkable Saugatuck is a priority for both the current Saugatuck Transit-Oriented Master Plan and the town’s draft 2017 Conservation Plan of Development.

I can’t think of a single example of a walkable neighborhood with a car dealership smack in the middle. Our kids are young, and we’re especially concerned about test drives in cars that are fast, silent and accelerate in ways that startle new drivers. While there may be virtues to having a pioneering company like Tesla in town, I wouldn’t count bringing car dealerships to residential areas as one of them.

I realize that some people will read this and cry NIMBYism! But the kind of zoning change proposed here isn’t just bad for Saugatuck; it’s bad for Westport.

Some Saugatuck residents fear this is what the Tesla facility will turn into.

Saugatuck is already a chokepoint for the town — and that’s predominantly from local trips. Tesla would mean additional cars from out-of-towners hopping off I-95 for gas, a rush-hour service appointment or a test drive.

The fact that Saugatuck has the village character it does today is the result of decades of zoning decisions aimed at keeping highway services out of the area. There’s also the question of why we’d want a car dealership (which even for green cars aren’t pollutant-free environments) either on the river or alongside a stream feeding directly into the river.

While learning about zoning rules and knocking on neighbors’ doors weren’t things I anticipated doing this spring, I’m glad for it. It’s been a great way to meet neighbors, get to know town officials, and learn about the many fights over neighborhood preservation that have made Westport what it is today. We’re pleased that Save Westport Now and the Greens Farms Association are supporting neighbors in protesting this zoning change. If you’d like to support us too, you can here.

Westport is investing a lot of time and effort into studying Saugatuck. Will it be a well-planned, cohesive community with local businesses and residents supporting each other, or will we pre-empt all that by dumping a dealership right in the middle of the village?

My hope is that the Planning and Zoning Commission will listen to the neighborhood at the hearing tomorrow (Thursday, June 15, 7 p.m. Town Hall), and make this decision wisely.