Category Archives: People

“River Of Names”: The Sequel

Dorothy Curran — a co-organizer of the “River of Names” fundraiser that helped bring a 26-foot long, 6-foot high mural to the lower level of the Westport Library — has been following the artwork’s future during the library’s transformation project with interest. She reports:

I spoke directly to Kurt Derner, who installed the mural (we worked together on installation logistics). He is being hired to de-install it as well.

No one is more aware than he of the many risks and loose ends attendant to the project. Happily, he is a very intelligent guy and we had a good talk.

Among other things, he plans to cut down the wall in panels which will keep entire sections intact. However, as he cuts, the margins of the affected tiles are very much at risk. Also, his work ends with the wrapping and labeling of each section. He and Marion Grebow (the tile artist) are very concerned about what plans the library has for then safely packaging, transferring and storing the work.

For the record, the only conversations that those of us who were involved in the logistics of mural installation have had with the library pertain to the wisdom (or lack thereof) of taking the mural down and its planned destination 2 years hence. We were not invited to participate in discussion of the removal, transfer, storage and re-installation logistics.

The River of Names, in the lower level of the Westport Library.

However, happily, thanks to Marion, Kurt and I now are in touch and I will try and provide some quiet coding and logistical help for him. To start, in the River of Names book, on the pullout page the coding system that we used to guide tile placement is on display.

Remarkably, though the print is fine, every name and every word on the mural pullout is legible. The tiles that Kurt believes are most at risk are the bookshelf tiles. Anything that is broken will have to be re-made, but there is no plan or budget in place for that and no agreement with Marion.

Kurt also has told the library that the panels must be stored vertically. As far as we know, they will be placed in what now is the McManus Room: exactly the same floor where the jackhammering will be going on that supposedly necessitates removal of the mural from its existing location for its “safety.” He has no idea how they plan to create or box the panels for storage. Therefore, there may be a change in condition between the time that he removes the panels and the time that they are ready for reinstallation.

The only hopeful news is that, while Kurt indeed is coming to the library on Wednesday, it is “only” for a meeting. No date has yet been finalized for the beginning of his takedown. He is anticipating September.

The library says that the mural will be removed safely, stored carefully, and reinstalled appropriately.

Cleiten And Angelica: An Amazing, Artful Family

Nine years ago — soon after Lindsey Blaivas Levine moved to Westport — she hired a Brazilian couple to clean her house.

She loves learning about people’s backgrounds. Cleiten did not speak much English, but Angelica was eager to chat.

Her great warmth and wonderful work ethic quickly captured Lindsey.

A few years later, Angelica had her 1st child. Worried, she asked Lindsey questions about his development.

Over the years, Lindsey watched with awe as Angelica navigates the Bridgeport school system (advocating for services her son needs) and healthcare  (researching and saving money to see specialists).

Angelica and Cleiten, with their son and baby daughter.

“She is just about the most amazing parent I know,” Lindsey marvels.

“She and Cleiten quietly do whatever they need to to make sure their son gets everything he needs.  Their love and passion is evident in everything they do — even cleaning.”

But Lindsey did not email me because of their son. Instead, she wants “06880” readers to know about Cleiten’s art.

He is self-taught — partly from YouTube — and amazing. He paints murals and makes furniture (“Lillian August quality, if you ask me,” Lindsey says).

A chair and table, designed and created by Cleiten.

She had no idea of his talent until Cleiten showed up a few years ago with a hug Doc McStuffins mural for her daughter.

“He didn’t ask what her favorite character was,” she notes. “He just knew — because he pays attention to everything.”

Another example: He and Angelica stock Lindsey’s freezer with her kids’ favorite Brazilian cheese bread (pao de queijo), and leave delicious fudge yummies (brigedieros) for their birthdays.

Recently, Cleiten was asked by a friend to paint the inside of a Bridgeport ice cream store. “His work is impeccable,” she says.

Cleiten’s ice cream store mural.

Now — to help him get jobs — she’s pounding the pavement.

The owners of Splatterbox were impressed with his work, and will recommend him to clients for murals.

“Cleiten does not know I’m showing his work around Westport,” Lindsey says. (She did mention it to Angelica.)

Oh, yeah: He also customizes sneakers.

If you’re as impressed as Lindsey — and everyone else who has seen Cleiten’s art — and would like more information, email


More of Cleiten’s artwork.

Advocates Fear Tide Going Out On “River Of Names”

For 20 years, the River of Names has stood as one of the Westport Library‘most unique, quirky and popular attractions.

Stretching 26 feet long and standing 6 feet high, the mural contains 1,162 tiles. Each was individually created and drawn by artist Marion Grebow. Some portray historical events, like the founding of Westport, onion farming and the arrival of the railroad.

Others feature favorite places around town: the Compo Beach cannons, Minute Man monument and Staples High School. Some cite local organizations and businesses.

Most show the names of nearly 1,000 families. They honor parents, children and pets. They note when the families came to town, and where they lived.

One of the tiles shows Stevan Dohanos’ Saturday Evening Post cover of the World War II memorial outside the old Town Hall. It’s surrounded by tiles honoring familes and civic organizations. (Photo courtesy of

The River of Names was a special fundraiser. Under the direction of former 2nd selectman Betty Lou Cummings and Westport Historical Society/Westport Woman’s Club leader Dorothy Curran, sales of the tiles brought in $300,000 for the library’s capital campaign.

Donors were promised that the mural would exist in perpetuity.

The River of Names draws visitors — some curious, some wanting to find their own tile, all intrigued — to the lower “Riverwalk” level of the library.

Grebow designed her mural to be looked at like the river itself. Taken together, the individual tiles appear to shimmer and move — imitating the Saugatuck River a few yards away.

The River of Names.

But the library has embarked on an exciting 18-month “transformation” project. The downstairs level will be where most books are stored; a new entrance there will open up the river, improving the entire library experience for all.

On Wednesday, the mural will be taken down. A group of Westporters — including Curran, Cummings and arts advocates — fears for what happens next.

They worry that the library has no written plan for removing the mural from the wall. They don’t know where it will be stored, and how the tiles will be labeled so they can be replaced in the precise spots Grebow selected. And they haven’t gotten definite word on where it will be exhibited once the transformation is complete.

I asked library director Bill Harmer about those concerns. He replied: “Yes, it’s safe. It will be safely taken down and safely stored. It will be available for re-hanging when the library renovation project is completed.”

Town arts curator Kathie Motes Bennewitz adds:

The Library has held discussions with Marion  Grebow, individuals involved in the 1998 fundraising project, the original installer, and (as early as 2014) with 3rd-party fine art service firms on how best to de-install, pack, transport and store the wall.

The priority has always been to protect the wall during construction. I am confident it will be professionally handled and stored until it can come back to the library.

Meanwhile, mural advocates produced a video about the River of Names.

At the end, Curran says: “Every day the tide goes in, and the tide goes out. But the river remains.

“I hope that the names will, too.”

(For more information, email

Cops’ Kids’ Scholarship Announces Matching Grant

It’s one of the most important scholarship funds around.

And one of the least known.

Several years ago, Dr. Joan Poster and her husband Dennis searched for a way to honor Westport police officers, for all they give the town.

Their idea: scholarships for local cops’ kids. Scholarships are also available to Staples High School graduates who major in criminal justice in college.

Officers Mark Pocius and Don Rice helped organize an annual golf tournament. They’ve worked tirelessly each year, rounding up contributions for it from area businesses.

Included in the PBA golf tournament photo above are officers Mark Pocius (3rd from left) and Don Rice (3rd from right).

But the Posters think Westport citizens should contribute too.

Right now, an anonymous Westporter is matching all donations, up to $10,000.

“It’s a way of thanking our wonderful police department, which protects our beautiful community,” they say. “This is for the children of all the men and women who put their lives on the line every working day.”

(To contribute, click here, or send a check for the “Westport PBA Scholarship Fund” to: Westport PBA, 50 Jesup Road, Westport, CT 06880. For more information, call Dr. Poster: 203-259-3647.)

Where “06880” Meets The World (Swedish Edition)

As an All-American goalkeeper, James Hickok led the Staples High School soccer team to 3 FCIAC titles.

At Dartmouth College, he captained the Big Green to their 3rd straight Ivy League crown last fall.

Hickok graduated in the spring. UBS hired him as an analyst.

But they allowed him to defer work for a year. First, he’s playing professional soccer.

After trials in Spain and Scotland, Hickok was signed last week by Swedish club Gimo IF FK.

He headed overseas. He walked into the clubhouse — and there, among the dozens of banners hanging from the rafters, he spotted a very familiar one:

The Westport Soccer Association pennant was exchanged with Gimo when the youth teams met years ago, at the Gothia Cup in Gothenburg, Sweden.

And — in another reminder that this is indeed a very small world — the coach of that Westport team became (years later) Hickok’s Staples coach.

How do I know?

That coach was me.

NOTE: James Hickok made 12 saves in his professional debut yesterday.

James Hickok in Sweden.

Beach Stickers: Good For Businesses?

Like all Westporters, Bruno Donatti and his wife love Compo.

In fact, they love it so much, they run 2.2 miles from their place to the beach — with a stroller and baby on board.

It’s nice exercise, and keeps them in shape.

Of course, they’d be there more often if they had a beach sticker.

The reason they don’t is because they are Westporters during the day only. They own 2 fantastic businesses: Winfield Street Italian Deli, just over the Post Road bridge (formerly Art’s), and Winfield Street Coffee, across from the train station.

The Winfield Street Deli on Post Road West.

Bruno and his staff are fully invested in Westport. They donate to every good cause. They’re part of the community. Their customers love them.

So Bruno — who lives with his wife and baby in Stamford — has a good question.

“Should a business owner like me be allowed a beach sticker? I pay property taxes on all of my equipment to the town.”

He’s looking to buy a house in town. But moving here is not easy.

What do you think, “06880” readers? Should business owners be allowed to buy a beach sticker at the Westport rate? Or at a special discounted price? Click “Comments” below.

And when you’re done, head to either of Winfield’s locations. They’re worth a detour from anywhere — even the beach.

A Night On Cockenoe Island

The other day, alert — and adventurous — “06880” reader Seth Schachter headed out to Cockenoe Island. 

He’d been there often. This time though, he camped out overnight.

The experience was so special, he offered to share it with “06880” readers. He writes:

A few weeks earlier, I had reserved our camping location through the town Conservation Department. There are only 4 spots available. A shout-out to Emily Wadsworth, who was so friendly and helpful at Town Hall.

A Westport friend and I loaded up our kayaks. It was Saturday afternoon, and we headed to the state boat ramp underneath I-95.

And they’re off!

My friend had done this once before. His lightweight camping and cooking gear all came in handy.

After our 45-minute paddle, we checked in at the “front desk” (aka unloaded our kayak at the beach), and set up camp.

Home for the night.

We then enjoyed the large “swimming pool” in our back yard, and the incredible views and sounds that surrounded us.

The “yard.”

The sunset; the constant sounds of wildlife (Cockenoe is a nesting ground and habitat for threatened and endangered birds); the almost full moon; the morning sunrise — it was all amazing.

(We did not get to see a humpback whale, unfortunately!)

Sunset on Cockenoe.

The island was beautiful. It was a great time. That Cockenoe could have housed a nuclear power plant — so close to Compo Beach — is hard to fathom. The hard-fought, successful lobbying by Westporters in the late 1960s is very much appreciated.

Driftwood at night.

I hope these photos help recap some of the magic that enveloped us on this 1-night journey so close to mainland Westport.

I look forward to my next overnight experience on Cockenoe. If the opportunity presents itself, others should do the same!

The view in the morning. (Photos/Seth Schachter)

A map of Cockenoe Island on the Town of Westport website shows the 4 reservable campsite.. Numbers 2, 3 and 4 all point toward Compo Beach and the Westport shoreline.

From Cottage To Firehouse

When it was the Vigilant Hose Company, the firehouse next to National Hall was where firefighters worked, lived — and cooked meals.

After the fire station closed, De Rosa’s Brick Oven Pizza moved in. Later it was the site of Neat — a coffee spot by day, wine and cocktail bar at night.

Soon, the Wilton Road landmark will become Brian Lewis’ latest creation.

The Vigilant Firehouse on Wilton Road, circa 1977.

The chef/owner of The Cottage — the much-heralded New American restaurant in Colonial Green — will open a Japanese restaurant there this fall. The yet-to-be-named place adds to the burgeoning West Bank culinary scene, which already includes Bartaco and The ‘Port.

The menu is “Izakaya meets Omakase.”

Brian Lewis

Lewis and his Cottage architect will work together again. They hope to bring out the original character of the historic building, while melding Japanese cooking with an American chef’s vision.

This past spring, Lewis tested a weekday menu at the Cottage. It was an instant hit.

He soon added a sake program, plus new cocktails. That spurred him and general manager Charlie Gihuly to search for a suitable place with history and “great bones.”

They found it — in a spot with a culinary past they look forward to building upon.

PS: If you’re wondering: Izakaya means “informal Japanese gastropub.” And “omakase” is “chef’s choice.”

Nest Egg Foundation Helps Infertile Families Grow

About 1/8 of all couples have infertility issues.

Only half of those have insurance coverage to try to become pregnant.

And of those who do, many face strict financial limits. Becoming pregnant can cost up to $20,000.

Dr. Mark Leondires

Dr. Mark Leondires knows those issues well. As medical director and partner in reproductive endocrinology at Reproductive Medicine Associates of Connecticut, he sees them every day.

Now he’s doing something about it.

With a group of local residents — some medical professionals, others in finance and law; 4 from Westport, 1 from Weston — he’s formed the Nest Egg Foundation.

It’s a brilliant name — and a wonderful concept.

Each year, the non-profit provides $10,000 grants for in vitro fertilization treatment to people who have been unable to start their families due to financial needs.

There’s no guarantee of success in the infertility field. But the Nest Egg Foundation’s success is clear. Last year, they gave 4 grants. Three of those women are already pregnant. The 4th is getting ready to try.

It’s a rigorous process — and that refers to the selection, as well as the treatment. Applicants are vetted by a retired OB/GYN, a psychologist and a CPA.

“This is not about giving money,” Leondires notes. “It’s about giving the opportunity to try to get pregnant. My heart breaks for these people. If people want to have a child, money should not be a barrier to try.”

“Everyone thinks everybody around here can afford everything. That’s not true. A lot of our neighbors can’t.”

He adds, “In some ways, I have the best job in the world. People always send me pictures of their babies. But in some ways, this is the most challenging, because of all the people who can’t.”

The Nest Egg Foundation began when Leondires realized that although RMACT provided financial assistance to clients, it had no clear process for deciding who to help.

Now the aid is more consistent, more clearly defined — and out of the hand of the physicians themselves.

Though it’s professionally run, the Nest Egg Foundation relies entirely on volunteers. Miggs Burroughs donated the logo; others — including many from Westport — offer free legal and PR help.

Many people find the organization through RMACT’s website. “If you’re dealing with infertility, you spend a lot of time on the internet looking for information,” Leondires says.

Others hear of it through social media, or word of mouth.

Of course, the Nest Egg Foundation needs its own nest egg. Money comes from donations, board members and fundraising events like last month’s “Birdies for Charity” golf tournament.

Many worthy causes ask for money. Leondires is proud to be one of them.

“Becoming pregnant can change people’s lives,” he says. “The chance to try gives us the chutzpah to keep asking.”

(For more information on the Nest Egg Foundation, click here. To donate, click here.)

Unsung Hero #11

Lois Schine has done many things in her long life.

A mechanical engineer at a time when nearly all her peers were men, she helped found the Society of Women Engineers.

She served 18 years on Westport’s Representative Town Meeting (RTM). She chaired our Human Services Commission, and was a member of 1st Selectman Diane Farrell’s Land Use Committee.

Today she’s an active member of the Westport Downtown Master Plan Committee, and a Friend of the Senior Center.

But of all she’s done, Schine says her “crowning accomplishment” is helping the town keep Winslow Park as open space.

Lois Schine

Following its days as the Westport Sanitarium — and after B. Altman abandoned its plans to build a department store there — the 32-acre site of woods and meadows just north of downtown was owned by perfume executive Walter Langer von Langendorff (aka “the baron”).

First selectman Jacqueline Heneage asked the baron if the town could buy the land. Schine’s husband Leonard — a noted attorney and judge — negotiated with the owner.

The baron backed away, offended by the town’s “low” offer of $2.38 million. Schine planned to return to the issue in a while. But he died — and so did the baron.

The baron left several wills. It appeared his land would be tied up in court — then sold, to satisfy his various estate obligations.

In 1987 the RTM voted 26-8 to condemn the land. Citizens opposed to the deal brought a referendum. Lois Schine, Joanne Leaman and Ellie Solovay helped spur a “yes” vote. By 54-46%, Westporters chose to move ahead with eminent domain.

The purchase price was $9.42 million. But no one in town knew what to do with the property.

Schine worried it would be used for buildings, or some other intense activity. She asked town attorney Ken Bernhard how to designate the land as “open space.”

Winslow Park draws visitors with dogs …

He said there was no such zoning regulation in town. He suggested she run for the RTM, so the body could pass a resolution asking the Planning & Zoning Commission to create that designation.

She did. She won. And — with Ellie Lowenstein at the P&Z helm — officials created an “open space” zone for passive recreation.

“Longshore, Compo, all the pocket parks — none of them had open space designations,” Schine recalls.

Today they do. So does the baron’s other property — the 22 acres across the Post Road, between Compo Road South and Imperial Avenue.

… and sleds.

“Some people say Winslow is ‘only a dog park,'” Schine notes.

“But it’s a park in the middle of town.”

And — had it not been for Lois Schine, and many others — that middle of town might look very different today.