Category Archives: People

Jack Norman’s Very Positive Direction

Jack Norman’s parents divorced when he was young. His dad had a drinking problem. When he lost his job, Jack’s mother picked up a second job, to support Jack and his younger brother.

One day when Jack was 13, he stayed home from his school sick. His dad came to take care of him. When Jack woke from a nap and asked for a sandwich, his father stood up — and passed out. He’d been drinking all morning.

Jack cut off all contact with him. Two months later, his father died.

Soon, Jack’s mom — 1985 Staples High School graduate Jen Rago — returned to her hometown from Atlanta. She’d be closer to her family, and her sons could attend better schools.

Jack thrived as a Coleytown Middle School 8th grader. The next year, at Staples High, he discovered Players and the Teen Awareness Group. He stage managed 18 shows, as well as music department and other performances. He served as TAG’s treasurer; this year as a senior, he’s president.

Last summer, he worked at A Child’s Place. He also babysits through CrossFit Westport’s daycare program.

Jack Norman, working behind the scenes as stage manager. (Photo/Kerry Long)

Jack is a role model for many students. Through TAG, he talks to freshman health classes about the challenges of growing up, and the toll addiction takes on individuals and their families. He is open about his life, and the devastating effects of his father’s alcoholism.

Now, Jack is reaching an even broader audience. “Jack’s Story” has been posted on Positive Directions’ website. And he’s featured in the organization’s new PSA.

When the non-profit mental health and addictive behaviors education/ prevention program asked for volunteers to share their stories, Jack never hesitated.

His TAG presentations — which began when he was a sophomore — have convinced him of the importance of letting students know they’re not alone.

“I’ve been lucky enough to have resources, and a support system,” the articulate, insightful and very energetic teenager says.

“My mom has been there for me. Mr. Frimmer at Coleytown, and the theater family at Staples, they’ve been great too.”

So Jack talks — at Staples, and now online. He describes growing up with an alcoholic father. His painful decision to cut off contact. Writing something that was read at the funeral.

When he first moved to Westport, Jack says, new friends asked about his parents. Jack tried to protect them from hearing the truth.

However, he soon realized, “death is a reality. If you can’t talk about it, it consumes you.” TAG gave him the opportunity to break down the stigma surrounding addiction, and to encourage, empower and inspire many others.

Jack Norman

The day after one of Jack’s talks, a freshman approached him during a Players rehearsal. Tearfully, she said she was sorry for his loss.

“I’m okay,” Jack replied. “But how are you?”

“It’s just good to know other people understand,” she said simply. They hugged.

“Knowing someone felt less alone, that’s very satisfying,” Jack says. Even if they don’t tell him everything, he’s helped them take one step on a long journey.

The Positive Directions PSA does the same thing. “The whole idea is to get the message out there,” Jack explains. That message is: It can happen to anyone.

This fall, Jack heads to college. He hopes to study stage management.

And he knows he will continue to speak up.

Bereaved Kids Enjoy Great Camp Experience

When Darren was 10 years old, his father committed suicide. Like many children who have lost a parent or sibling, he felt not only the sting of death, but isolation from his peers. He was different, he thought, from every other kid.

Fortunately, he attended Experience Camp. Every summer, bereaved youngsters come together for a week. Most of their time is spent in typical camp activities — swimming, arts and crafts, campfires.

But with the guidance of licensed clinicians, they find opportunities to share their life stories with kids who are just like them.

Darren did not say a word all week about his situation. Nevertheless, he came back the next year. And the year after. The year after that, too.

Finally — in his 4th summer at “ExCamp” — a counselor told Darren privately that he too had lost his father to suicide. Tentatively, Darren opened up.

The next year, Darren became a leader. Today, he’s a counselor helping other kids share their own stories.

To Sara Deren, that’s what ExCamp is all about. There is no right or wrong way to grieve, she says. But caring support allows hundreds of youngsters to move on from the trauma of losing a loved one.

Deren is a Westporter. And Experience Camps — which has grown from one site and 27 kids in 2009, to a network of 4 camps in New York, California and Georgia, with 200 volunteers serving 500 boys and girls ages 9 to 16 a year — is headquartered right here in Westport.

Jon and Sara Deren

Deren never went to summer camp. She had a high-powered career in financial services. But she married into a camp family. Her husband Jon owned Camp Manitou for boys in Maine.

Deren quickly learned about the wonders of camp. She and her husband also recognized that its high price prevented many youngsters from enjoying the growth of a summer in the woods.

In 2008 they formed a foundation, with the broad mission of providing a camp experience to those who could not afford it. When they learned that Tapawingo — another Maine camp — ran a bereavement program for girls, they realized they could fulfill their goal by setting up a parallel week for boys.

Experience Camp began the next year. It ran the week after Manitou’s regular session ended.

Using crayons, campers express their feelings after someone very close has died.

It filled a crucial need. “For a kid, death can be incredibly isolating,” Deren says. “Feeling ‘less normal’ than everyone else — and not having a way to express it — can lead to detrimental actions, sometimes years later. This gives kids a place where they don’t feel alone. A lot of times it’s the only place where everyone understands what they’re going through.”

Many campers return each year, Deren adds, “because grief changes too.”

Darren — the boy who grew into a leader, after 4 years of silence — is one example of the wonders of Ex Camp. There are many more.

Steven’s father spent years in a vegetative state after a car accident, before finally dying. A year later, Steven’s mother succumbed to cancer. An only child with no other relatives, he was adopted by the woman who nursed his mother before she died.

Despite his horrific childhood, Steven had not lost his smart, articulate, mature personality. At the camp’s talent competition he recited all the presidents’ names — backward and forward — and held up a sign about running for president. He was named “Mr. ManEx” (Manitou Experience).

Campers rushed the stage to embrace him. “For the first time, he experienced a real family,” Deren says.

He returns to Ex Camp every year, “paying it forward.”

Deren serves as executive director of Experience Camps. Her office is in downtown Westport, right above Brooks Brothers (coincidentally, just down the hall from another Maine camp, Laurel).

She loves her work. Now — in addition to planning 4 summer sessions — she’s looking ahead to year-round efforts. “We do camp really well,” Deren says. “But we also want a way for kids to stay connected all year long.”

One of her jobs is fundraising. No child pays anything — including bus transportation to and from camp.

It costs $1,000 for a week at camp. That’s all covered, thanks to individual donations, foundation grants and fundraisers.

A week at Experience Camp is filled with fun.

All the hard work is worth it.

“The feeling of fulfillment — of making a difference, and giving other people an opportunity to make a difference too — is fantastic,” Deren says.

“Our supporters, our volunteers, our campers — everyone works together to create a microcosm of how the world should operate: with acceptance and inclusion.

“Being able to provide a way for kids to thrive, to find happiness and lightness in an otherwise dark time — what an incredible privilege.”

(Click here to learn more about Experience Camps. Click here for a series of powerful videos, and here for resources for helping youngsters deal with grief.)

 

Aarti Is All In For The Cure

Aarti Khosla is one of my — and Westport’s — favorite people.

The owner of Le Rouge — the fantastic handmade chocolate shop on Main Street, just past Avery Place — is always the first to donate funds (or treats) for any good cause.

Today she went one step further.

As part of her mission to help the St. Baldrick Foundation raise money for childhood cancer research, she set a personal goal of $5,500.

Friends, family and customers pledged $6,783.

So today, Aarti sat down to fulfill her side of the deal.

Aarti Khosla before …

… during …

… and after the St. Baldrick’s fundraiser, at the Westport Weston Family YMCA.

She’s proud to do her part to help kids who are battling severe illnesses.

Now it’s your turn.

You can still donate to Aarti’s page. Just click here.

Then have some of her chocolates. They — and the knowledge of doing good — will make you feel great!

Democracy On Display In Westport

They came from all over Westport, and Redding and Roxbury. There were, by some estimates, 800 of them. But crowd estimates, as we all know now, are less important than the message the crowd sends.

They were Democrats, Republicans and independents. They were moms, dads, tweens and teens, and folks who marched in the ’60s and are now beyond that age.

The English translation of this Russian sign is: “Treason leads to impeachment.”

All 3 selectmen were there, with town officials, state legislators, and former GOP gubernatorial candidate Julia Belaga. The first President Bush appointed her regional director of the EPA, an agency that President Trump wants to scrap.

Past and present town officials — Republicans and Democrats — at the march included (from left) Steve and Rosemary Halstead, 2nd selectman Avi Kaner, 1st selectman Jim Marpe, State Representative Gail Lavielle and 3rd selectman Helen Garten.

They were there for the environment, women’s rights, immigration and education. They were there against authoritarianism, murky Russian ties and the countless whack-a-mole controversies that have sprung up ever since January 20.

Westporter Susan Terry led the crowd in a rousing, singalong “Star Spangled Banner.” Car horns honked in solidarity. (One car passed by with a counter-protest. “Make America great again!” the driver shouted.)

Suzanne Sherman Propp wore her favorite hat.

The music included upbeat songs like the Beatles’ “Here Comes the  Sun,” and protest anthems like Buffalo Springfield’s “For What It’s Worth.”

And when today’s “Connecticut: One Small State, One Big Voice” march from Jesup Green to Veterans Green was over — after Senators Chris Murphy and Dick Blumenthal, Congressman Jim Himes and 1st Selectman Jim Marpe had spoken — there was one last song.

“These boots are made for walkin’,” Nancy Sinatra sang. “And one of these days these boots are gonna walk all over you.”

Are you ready?

March organizers (from left) Darcy Hicks, Lauren Soloff and Lisa Bowman show off the message of the day.

Today’s march attracted demonstrators of all ages…

… including this future voter. (Photo/Cathy Siroka)

Congressman Jim Himes gets ready to speak.

Congressman Jim Himes said that President Trump has catered to “the worst elements of extremists.” But he hasn’t succeeded, because “all over America — in unlikely states like Oklahoma and Alabama — people came together. Reasonable Republicans heard from people like you.

“People have used fear to move decent Americans behind bad instincts,” Himes added. “But this is America. We don’t do fear well. Whatever your party, stand up.

“To all the Democrats and Republicans here: You are the best of America. Thanks to you, our shared values will prevail.”

The crowd responded with a heartfelt chant: “Thank you Jim!”

Senator Dick Blumenthal (Photo/Diane Lowman)

Senator Dick Blumenthal told the crowd at Veterans Green: “This is what democracy looks like!” It’s because of crowds like this, he said, that Trump’s “cartoonishly incompetent” healthcare plan went down to defeat.

The Judiciary Committee member pledged to push an independent investigation of the president.

He noted that his father fled Germany for the US in 1935. He was 17, and spoke no English. “This country gave him a chance to succeed. He would be so ashamed now, to see the Statue of Liberty’s lamp extinguished.”

Senator Chris Murphy (Photo/Lynn U. Miller)

Senator Chris Murphy energized the crowd, saying: “There is no fear that can’t be cured by political activism.” And though he sometimes goes to bed fearing the movement will lose strength, he wakes up in the morning to find it bigger than ever.

He said that he, Blumenthal and Himes “are trying to raise our game to equal this moment. Democracy is inefficient, but no one has invented a better system yet.” However, he noted, “democracy is not inevitable. We have to keep fighting for it.”

Senator Murphy on Veterans Green. (Photo/Diane Lowman)

Kindertransport Conversation Comes To Playhouse

Every day, the world loses Holocaust survivors.

In an age of rising anti-Semitism and distrust of “others,” hearing their first-hand stories is more important than ever.

Margie Treisman

Recently, Margie Treisman — a Westport Country Playhouse trustee and Anti-Defamation League national commissioner — was asked to help develop educational programming around an upcoming Playhouse production of “The Pianist of Willesden Lane,” about the Kindertransport children’s rescue.

She called Margie Lipshez-Shapiro. An ADL of Connecticut official and noted Holocaust educator, she knows almost every living survivor in the state who is willing and able to tell their tale.

Lipshez-Shapiro suggested Ivan Backer, a Kindertransport survivor who has written about his journey, and his life afterward. Backer will be at the Playhouse next Wednesday (March 29, 7 p.m.), as part of conversation called “From Hate to Hope.”

The event — sponsored by the Playhouse, ADL and TEAM Westport — is funded by the Anita Schorr “Step in and Be a Hero” Fund. Schorr — a longtime Westporter and Holocaust survivor who inspired thousands with her story of horror and hope — died last year. The event is free, but seats must be reserved by phone (203-227-4177). For more information, click here.

“The Pianist of Willesden Lane” follows a week later with a limited run at the Playhouse (April 5-9). The true story of a young musical prodigy, it intertwines the themes of family, hope and survival with piano selections by Chopin, Beethoven, Bach — even a little Gershwin. Click here for more information.

Schools Superintendent Outlines Budget Cut Consequences

Last week, the Board of Finance voted to cut the education budget by $1.7 million. Today, superintendent of schools Colleen Palmer announced possible reductions, if that cut is sustained.

Other reductions may also be added to the list. Right now, it includes:

  • Implementing “pay for play” at Staples High School
  • Eliminating freshman sports at Staples
  • Eliminating individual music lessons in grades 4 – 8
  • Reducing club and after-school offerings at the middle and high schools
  • Reducing the Workshop Program
  • Eliminating bus monitors
  • Deferring yearly technology purchases
  • Eliminating all 4 grade level assistants at Staples (the previous proposal eliminated 2)
  • Eliminating library paraprofessionals
  • Moving to a “double 3 tiers” of elementary busing, causing a 3:45 pm dismissal at either Long Lots, Coleytown Elementary or Greens Farms.

Palmer noted that according to union contracts, salary and benefits require at least a 3+% budget increase each year.

“The structure of education funding in Connecticut is grounded in binding arbitration for our union contracts,” she said.

“It is impossible to hold costs constant for education when there are built-in systemic accelerators which we do not control.  A $1.7 million cut forces severe reductions, impacting the quality of our district.”

The Board of Finance meets on April 5 at Town Hall (8 p.m., Rooms 201/201A). At that time, they may consider restoration of funds cut at their previous meeting.

The Board of Ed will discuss these issues at its own meeting this Monday (March 27, 7:30 p.m., Staples cafeteria). The meeting will be televised on Channel 78.

Andrew McConnell Serves Bridgeport Tennis

The list of top Fairfield County high school tennis teams is filled with places you’d expect: Staples. Greenwich. New Canaan.

It does not include Bridgeport’s Central High.

That’s a problem.

But Central tennis players are athletes. They don’t run from a challenge — they embrace it.

So does their coach.

Andrew McConnell

As area teams begin practice for the coming season. Andrew McConnell is eager to talk about his squad.

Coaching is his 3rd career. Teaching 9th grade social studies is his 2nd.

For 20 years, McConnell worked on Wall Street, for firms like Bear Stearns and Greenwich Capital. He moved to Westport in 1992, and has been here ever since.

In 2007 he decided to follow his dream — and do something his parents and 2 sisters already did: teach.

Earning certification through Sacred Heart University, the former financier requested an urban school. “It sounds trite,” he admits. “But I wanted to make the biggest impact I could.”

McConnell was worried that, as an older white man, he might not relate to city kids. A former Central principal who was one of his professors reassured him: “If you care, they know it.”

He interned at Central, and was hired there in 2010. After plowing through several principals, the school has flourished under Eric Graf. A former teacher and athletic director, he has boosted morale among staff and students.

But Bridgeport’s perpetual financial woes were exacerbated this year by the state’s. Recently, the superintendent of schools slashed $200,000 from the athletic budget. Gone were middle and high school programs in golf, lacrosse, fencing — and tennis.

That saved $2,600 stipends for Central’s boys and girls tennis coaches. Nevertheless, they swung into action to save their teams.

A collage of Central High School’s boys and girls tennis teams.

Stop & Shop donated Gatorade and bagels (home teams traditionally provide food for themselves and their opponents).

The Connecticut Alliance for Tennis and Education has pitched in with racquets.

One of the biggest costs is transportation. McDonnell — who is on the board of First Serve Bridgeport — got that after-school program to serve as a conduit for fundraising.

He had a bold idea: Buy a van. That would not only help with transportation fees (school buses are exorbitant to rent); it could also be used by First Serve throughout the year.

Last year’s Central High boys tennis team.

Tennis is an excellent vehicle for city youngsters, McConnell says. Despite its country club reputation, it’s relatively inexpensive. There are many courts in Bridgeport — including beautiful new ones at Central High.

It’s a lifelong sport. It teaches leadership and character. Because players call their own shots — there are no referees — it’s an exercise in sportsmanship.

That’s not just a cliche.

“The FCIAC (Fairfield County Interscholastic Athletic Conference) has 6 of the 8 best teams in the state. We’re not one of them,” McConnell explains.

“We don’t win a lot. But our kids love to participate. They have terrific attitudes. They try their best, work hard and have fun. Our competitors recognize that. We’ve won the league sportsmanship award several times.”

McConnell says that by interacting with players from other towns, his Central athletes form friendships they otherwise could not.

And sometimes the impact of tennis can be life-changing.

During his first 2 years at Central, Bashan Rosa had little focus. His grades were poor.

But he discovered tennis. To maintain academic eligibility, his grades rose — to honor roll level.

McConnell got him a summer job teaching the sport at the Cardinal Sheehan Center. Bashan also works for First Serve Bridgeport.

He can’t play for Central this spring. He’s a 5th-year senior, earning enough credits to graduate.

He’s still part of the squad, though. McConnell asked him to serve as an assistant coach.

On a team that — if McConnell’s fundraising efforts come through — serves as an FCIAC championship story. Even if they never win a match.

(To contribute to the Central High School tennis program via GoFundMe, click here.)

The O’Kane Family’s “Life On Mar’s”

For the first 10 years after moving to Kings Highway North, Yvonne and Neil O’Kane did not do much in the way of renovations.

They were busy with their careers. They were raising 3 kids. Besides, they liked the 1908 house in one of Westport’s most historic neighborhoods.

The small rooms were cozy. The Mexican tile in the kitchen reminded them of their years in Arizona. The house was home.

But 4 years ago they put in a pool. They terraced their yard. That added a grade, which didn’t look right. They started thinking about other changes.

The year before, Yvonne had met Mar Jennings. Now, as she visited his home during the Westport Historical Society’s Holiday House Tour, she asked the designer/stager/lifestyle expert/author/TV host for the name of a project manager to help plan a few renovations to her exterior, kitchen and bathroom. Mar said he’d take a look himself.

He stayed for 6 hours.

Mar Jennings at the O’Kanes’ house.

Yvonne — who is trained as an architect — felt something click. When Mar suggested doing the renovation as a makeover TV show, she got even more excited.

Neil agreed. But, he said, we won’t use our names. And though the house could appear on air, the family wouldn’t.

The next 18 months were, Yvonne says, “a magical fit of parts and pieces.”

The O’Kanes lived in their house throughout the renovation project.

The outside, kitchen and one bathroom were done. Then came beams, new doors and windows, insulation, new clapboard and a cedar roof.

The family room needed work, so that was next.

They added a deck off the master bedroom, then redid the bedroom itself.

After that were the kids’ bathrooms, and their son Teddy’s bedroom.

Dormers and library work opened up more space.

Dormer work added space in the bedrooms.

They turned an unused downstairs room into Yvonne’s studio. They added a laundry room.

When they were done, the only part of the house that remained untouched was the dining room.

It was as long and involved a project as it sounds. The O’Kanes were without a kitchen for 6 months, and a bedroom for 9. For a while they all lived together downstairs.

They loved it.

Neil, Caroline, Alexandra, Teddy and Yvonne O’Kane. (Photo/Carolinei O’Kane/Mercilie Chiarelli)

“It was a great experience,” Yvonne says, sitting in the sun-splashed living room, surrounded by furniture she and Mar found everywhere from Lillian August to Goodwill. (They shopped locally for nearly every item, and repurposed much of what was already in the house.)

The family grew closer during the adventure. As part of the TV show they went on a trapeze and to Six Flags. (It did not take long for Neil’s desire for anonymity to go out the newly designed window.)

“Mar was amazing overseeing the project,” Yvonne says. “He kept it running brilliantly.”

She was no slouch herself. And during it she even got her real estate license.

The exterior, at the end of a long driveway on Kings Highway North.

You might expect that in a project like this, everything that could go wrong, would.

Nope. There were very few surprises. And expect for a bit of structural work, all the surprises they encountered were good ones.

For example, workers discovered a hidden staircase. Mar and Yvonne promptly included it in their plans.

“We were a great fit,” she says. They named themselves “MY Team.” For Mar and Yvonne — get it?!

“I love every inch of this home,” Yvonne says. “The space works really, really well. We live in every room. The insulation is great. The kitchen is fantastic. Everyone has space, but we’re still together.”

Yvonne O’Kane loves her new kitchen. The family congregates there, she says.

Teddy — a Staples freshman — is still at home. Caroline — who lived through the renovation — is now a Fordham University freshman. Alexandra is a senior at Georgetown.

The TV show — said to be the first complete home makeover series filmed in Connecticut — took place while the house was still being renovated. Crews filmed Mar and Yvonne collaborating, shopping, and laughing together.

The first episode aired on ABC’s WTNH in New Haven. Twelve more followed, through last June. Despite competition from football and baseball games, the show earned excellent ratings.

Now it’s ready for prime time — that is, Amazon Prime.

You won’t forget the name. It’s called “Life on Mar’s.”

Charlie Capalbo’s Biggest Battle

Charlie Capalbo is not a Westporter. He’s a senior at Fairfield Ludlowe High School.

But his ties to this town are long and deep. Everyone here knows his grandmother: writer/poet/storyteller Ina Chadwick. Her husband, Richard Epstein — Charlie’s grandfather — is a Westport native; his parents moved here in 1958.

Charlie’s mother, Jennifer Wilde Capalbo — Ina’s youngest daughter — is a Staples graduate. For many years, she worked at a Westport asset management company.

Charlie’s aunts are Nina Wilde and Becky Wilde Goldberg Jarit. Years ago — to support her former Staples boyfriend, who suffered from lymphoma — Becky began running in charity events. She completed her first New York Marathon this year, at 50.

Ina Chadwick’s daughters: Nina, Becky and Jennifer.

Charlie has led a pretty good life. This winter as a goalie, he helped the Fairfield co-op ice hockey team make history. For the first time ever, the Mustangs qualified for the FCIAC and state Division I tournaments.

But other parts of his life are not good at all.

A few years ago, his house burned down. And just a couple of weeks ago — after making 27 saves in Fairfield’s 5-2 state tournament loss to West Haven — Charlie was diagnosed with cancer.

Charlie Capalbo (Photo/Dave Gunn)

His tumor is located near his heart and lungs, and has spread to his lymph nodes. Doctors say right now, an operation is not possible.

Charlie has already had a 5-hour biopsy at Yale-New Haven. Many more procedures lie ahead. Chemo starts tomorrow.

The Fairfield community — led by his coach and teammates — have rallied around Charlie.

Charlie Capalbo’s teammates lend support, as he heads to the OR.

A GoFundMe page was created Sunday night. In just 3 days, it’s already brought in over $129,000.

And that’s without most of Westport knowing his story.

Now we do.

(Click here for Charlie Capalbo’s GoFundMe page.)

Jim Marpe Runs For Re-Election On His Record

Jim Marpe grew up in Canton, Ohio. After earning a BA from Case Western and an MBA from Wharton, he embarked on a career with Accenture that took him to Chicago and Copenhagen.

Transferred to New York in 1989, Marpe and his wife Mary Ellen were attracted to Westport by the quality of education, amenities like Compo, and the beauty of Longshore. They also appreciated the town’s arts heritage. A performance at the Westport Country Playhouse sealed the deal.

They joined New Neighbors. The very first person they met was from the country they’d just left: Denmark.

That story illustrates everything Marpe loves about Westport. It’s also a reason why — as he completes his first term as first selectman — he looks forward to running for re-election.

First Selectman Jim Marpe

When he ran 4 years ago, Marpe — who had retired from Accenture as a senior partner — believed he could use his business skills, his experiences on the Board of Education (interim chair and vice chair) and Town Plan Implementation Committee, as well as his leadership roles with the Westport Weston Family YMCA, Homes With Hope, Westport Rotary Club and Greens Farms Congregational Church, to help his town.

“I love this place as much as anyone here,” he says.

He cites his accomplishments: improving town finances; keeping property taxes flat; upgrading Compo and Longshore; beautifying downtown; promoting Westport as an attractive place for business; updating tax policies for senior citizens, and improving the Senior Center; creating a Commission on People with Disabilities, ensuring the town remains inclusive for all residents (and their families).

He’s running again, he says, because there is still work to do. “Hartford has placed problems in our laps. We’ve made great strides in creating a budget to address the lack of any significant revenue coming from the state, and any new bills or taxes we can try to mitigate.”

First Selectman Jim Marpe and Westport Library director Bill Harmer, at work in the first selectman’s office.

Marpe adds, “Hartford’s problems are huge. They won’t get solved in one year. We’ll have to keep our own financial house in order for many years. We’ve been conservative in dealing with town finances. We have to work even harder at that, so Westport continues to be an attractive place to stay in, or move to — one of the most active and exciting communities in the country.”

For example, the first selectman says, a public hearing next month will examine rehabilitating the Compo bathhouses in a way that is “acceptable to all, at a cost we can afford.” Similarly, while the Longshore golf course rehabilitation has made it one of the top 8 public courses in Connecticut, the Inn and other parts of the property can also be improved.

Marpe says he is in “total agreement” with his potential challenger, fellow Republican Mike Rea, about the need for continuous improvement. “That’s what I’ve built my professional career on,” Marpe notes. “We can never rest on our laurels. We have to keep what Westporters hold dear, and make sure this is a town we’re all proud of.”

Personally, he is proud of his administration’s non-partisan approach to problem-solving. Marpe says he has “staffed committees and given assignments to the best qualified people, regardless of party. That’s how Westporters like to address issues.”

Jim and Mary Ellen Marpe, with their daughter Samantha.

Second selectman Avi Kaner will not run for re-election, due to increased demands of running his family business. But he’ll chair Marpe’s campaign, and will continue to work on special projects.

Marpe lauds Kaner’s work, and is “thrilled” that Board of Finance member Jennifer Tooker joins his ticket. “With her background, which also includes the Board of Education, she understands the financial challenges, and the important impact education has in Westport.”

Third selectman Helen Garten was Marpe’s Democratic opponent in 2013. “We’ve worked together as a team,” he says. “All three selectmen play to our strengths. That’s helped make our administration a success.”

He looks back on the past 4 years with satisfaction. Little moments stand out: thank-you notes sent after he attended local events; Memorial Day parades and ceremonies that honor individual citizens, the town and our country as a whole.

Nearly 30 years after moving here, Marpe, his wife and his daughter Samantha — a product of the Westport school system — appreciate more than ever all that Westport is, and does.

Right now for instance, he’s preparing for a panel on April 1 about Syrian refugees.

“Not many communities this size would have that discussion,” he notes. “But in Westport, we have debates like this. Some of them are heated. But when they’re over, we all go to the Black Duck together.”

Jim and Mary Ellen Marpe outside the Black Duck, during last year’s Slice of Saugatuck.

(Democratic State Representative Jonathan Steinberg has set up an exploratory committee to examine a run for first selectman. He declined an interview, citing his state legislature commitments on the budget.)