Category Archives: People

Memorial Day Parades: We Remember

Last year around this time, I posted a fascinating video of Westport’s 1981 Memorial Day parade.

Tom Leyden had just bought a new-fangled video camera. Standing on Riverside Avenue near Assumption Church, he captured 21 minutes of the annual event:

Former Governor John D. Lodge and all the town bigwigs; the Staples High School, and Long Lots, Coleytown and Bedford Junior High bands; WWPT sports broadcasters, Little Leaguers, Scouts, Indian Guides, the Westport Historical Society — even Big Bird (and traffic cop/drum major Bill Cribari).

The video was so popular, I’m posting it again.

But Tom uploaded another parade to YouTube. This one is from 1969.

It’s grainier than ’81. There is no sound. It’s just as fascinating though — especially the final shot.

In those days, the post-parade ceremony was held at Jesup Green. On the left, you can see the town dump. (Today it’s the site of the Westport Library.)

That’s one of the few things that have changed, however. As Tom’s twin videos prove, Westport’s Memorial Day parade is timeless.

See you on Monday!

(PS: The ceremony is now at Veterans Green, starting around 10:30 a.m. It’s part of the event that should not be missed.)

Friday Flashback #143

Years ago, the Bridge Street Bridge was renamed to honor William F. Cribari.

“Crobar” spent many years as the ever-smiling, often-dancing, always-vigilant traffic cop at the intersection of Bridge Street and Riverside Avenue.

But that was not his only post.

He was equally effective — though with less choreography — at the heavily trafficked Post Road/Main Street crossing.

This was a typical scene around 1985. Ships restaurant (now Tiffany) drew a steady crowd. So did the rest of downtown.

But Crobar was clearly in charge.

(Photo/Al Bravin)

“06880” Honored By Journalists

I don’t care much for writing awards*. So I’ve never submitted “06880” for any.

But Fred Cantor and Neil Brickley — longtime readers, and much-longertime friends and former Staples High School classmates — did.

Without my knowledge, they sent 3 stories to the Society of Professional Journalists’ Connecticut chapter Excellence in Journalism contest. All told, there were 842 entries, in 39 categories.

Last night — at the annual meeting in Berlin — one of those stories earned a 1st-place award. It was for “Reporting Series.”

The story — “This is ABC” — was a photo essay done with my sister, Susan Woog Wagner. It explored Westport’s great A Better Chance program, through the eyes of scholars, host families, resident directors, drivers, founders, tutors and others. (Click here for the first story in the series.)

Study time at Glendarcy House — the A Better Chance of Westport residence on North Avenue. (Photo/Susan Woog Wagner)

I’m proud and honored that Fred and Neil did that on my behalf. And excited to have won, for sure.

The one award is nothing compared to WestportNow. The local news site enters the contest every year, and picks up passels of honors. Last night founder/editor Gordon Joseloff, writer James Lomuscio and photographers Dave Matlow, Helen Klisser During and Anna-Liisa Nixon shared 6 first-place, 4 second-place and 4 third-place awards.

Other local winners included Justin Papp (1st place) and Sophie Vaughn (3rd place), both of the Westport News.

Local journalism is alive and well. The awards are nice — but serving Westporters is even better.

*Though the Pulitzer Prize is very impressive.

(For a full list of winners, and more information, click here.)

Dinnertime! (Photo/Susan Woog Wagner)

From Williamsport To Westport: Last Inning For Baseball Stars

Six years ago, 11 6th and 7th grade baseball players mesmerized Westport.

The youngsters battled their way through through local, state and regional competition. They won in blowouts, and in nail-biting fashion.

They kept winning — all the way to the Little League World Series finals, in Williamsport, Pennsylvania.

In 2013, Westport Little League All-Stars (front from left) Tatin Llamas, Chris Drbal and Chad Knight, plus Harry Azadian (rear) celebrated one of their many wins.

The dream ended in the championship game — on national TV — but they returned home to a heroes’ welcome.

It was a fantastic run. Unfortunately, too many times in youth sports, success at an early age is a recipe for disaster later on.

All that attention turns their heads. Other kids catch up — and surpass them. They discover other interests. Or they burn out.

Not every 12-year-old gets interviewed by ESPN. Harry Azadian did.

Thankfully, that is definitely not the case here.

Six years later, the Westport Little League All-Stars have become stars of the Staples High School baseball team.

Two years ago, they won the state LL (extra large schools) championship. This year, they’re battling for it again.

It’s a bittersweet time for them — and their parents. Four of the 11 players are seniors (the other 7 graduated last year). They’ve been together since they were 9 years old.

Soon — hopefully later rather than sooner, but in a single-elimination tournament, you never know — they will play their last game together.

Drew Rogers (7) and Chad Knight (27) celebrate. (Photo copyright Chris Greer)

It’s an especially emotional time for Tim Rogers. He was their head coach, from those 9-year-old days through Williamsport, then beyond in travel baseball.

He’s watched with pride — and helped immensely — as his son Drew, and fellow seniors Harry Azadian, Chad Knight, Charlie Roof, have grown as baseball players.

And grown up, from boys into young men.

Rogers is proud of many things. One is that they handled that Little League World Series experience so well. Despite the demands of the sport — and the media — they were still kids. They met other players from around the world. They hung out, and made friends. 

Enjoying the 2013 parade, in the streets of Williamsport.

Then they took that experience, and brought it into the rest of their lives far beyond Williamsport.

Rogers is also proud that they have continued to play — and love — baseball. No one burned out. No one quit. No one peaked as a 12-year-old.

He is proud that 2 years ago — when other All-Stars, including Matt Stone, Tatin Llamas, Max Popken, Chris Drbal and Alex Reiner were still playing together — Staples beat 4-time defending state champion Amity High 5-1, in the LL title game.

Four years after the Little League World Series: pure joy, as Staples stops 4-time defending champion Amity High in the state class LL final.

All along, Rogers says, “they’ve found a way to win. They’re deep as a team, but that winning mentality is something intangible.”

He’s proud that they have become leaders. His son, Azadian and Knight are captains of this year’s Wreckers. They’re passing their competitiveness and values on to the younger players.

Rogers is proud that the Little League World Series finalists remained poised and humble. Ever since Williamsport, whenever they’re interviewed, they’ve put baseball in perspective.

Rogers may be proudest though that the longtime teammates still love being together. Through all their success — and occasional disappointments — they’ve remained close friends.

Captains (from left) Drew Rogers, Chad Knight and Harry Azadian, with Staples coach Jack McFarland. (Photo copyright Chris Greer)

Staples’ Fairfield County Interscholastic Athletic Conference is a brutal league. The Wreckers have had to fight for what they’ve gotten, every year.

This spring, they finished with the best record. On Wednesday night they avenged a regular season defeat to Fairfield Ludlowe by winning the FCIAC championship in storybook fashion.

Jake D’Amico — one of those younger players — drove in the winning run. On a 3-2 pitch. With 2 outs. In the bottom of the last inning.

Knight pitched a complete game, giving up only 2 hits and striking out 5.

Chad Knight (center) jumps for joy, as the Wreckers race onto the field after their dramatic FCIAC title win. (Photo copyright Chris Greer)

The final quest — the state championship — starts Tuesday.

Graduations are always wonderful, and hard. For Rogers — who just turned 50, and saw his oldest son graduate from college — watching Drew and his baseball teammates march down the aisle, and out of high school, will be “one more step in my process,” he laughs.

So right now, he — and all the other parents, who have been together through so much and so long — are hoping the season lasts as long as it can.

So do the boys of so many summers.

The FCIAC champion 2019 Staples High School baseball team. (Photo copyright Chris Greer)

Bookcycle’s Remarkable Journey

The Remarkable Bookcycle sure gets around.

The mobile free library — a fun, funky collaboration between writer Jane Green, her husband Ian Warburg, artist/longtime Remarkable Book Shop enthusiast Miggs Burroughs and former Staples High School student Ryan Peterson — made its way from the Green/Warburgs’ Owenoke home to Bedford Square last fall.

EJ Zebro — owner of TAP StrengthLab — pedaled it over to Main Street recently, where it greeted visitors to the 1st Outdoor Market behind Savvy + Grace.

But Jane — a client and friend of EJ’s — told him the Bookcycle had to be back at the beach for the summer.

He and his TAP staff jumped at the chance to help. When the weather was right, Lauren Leppla hopped on, and made her move.

Local director Amelia Arnold chronicled the trip. If you didn’t see her (and it) riding by, here you go:

Meet Nick Zeoli: Memorial Day Parade Grand Marshal

The ranks of World War II veterans are rapidly thinning.

One of these years, no one will remain from that world-changing conflict to honor at Westport’s Memorial Day parade.

But it seems like Nick Zeoli has been — and will be — around forever.

The 2019 grand marshal is a proud Saugatuck native. He was born in 1923 to Dominick (a firefighter), and Olympia Zeoli. On July 1, he will be 96 years young.

Zeoli was a star football, basketball and baseball player at Staples High School, on Riverside Avenue just down the street from his home.

Young Nick Zeoli.

He was offered a football scholarship to Gettysburg College. But with war raging, he enlisted in the Navy.

He was assigned to the USS Boston, a heavy cruiser. Zeoli spent 3 years in the Pacific Theater. His ship engaged in 13 major battles, including Okinawa.

He was promoted to Radarman 3rd Class, and received a commendation from legendary Admiral William Halsey Jr.

After discharge in December 1945, Zeoli enrolled at Arnold College (later absorbed into the University of Bridgeport). He earned a BA in physical education, then went on to receive master’s degrees from both Bridgeport and Columbia.

Zeoli spent his summers during college as head lifeguard at Compo Beach. That’s where he met 1949 Staples grad Joanne Scott.

They married in 1952. On June 13, they’ll celebrate their 67th wedding anniversary. Their children Steve, Chris and Nikki are all Staples alumni.

Nick’s grandchildren — Jennifer, Charlotte and Nicholas — attend Westport schools. All are on track to be 3rd-generation Staples graduates.

Nick Zeoli, physical education teacher.

Zeoli began his career as a substitute teacher in Westport. But Wilton — newly opened as a high school — offered him a full-time job as phys. ed. teacher and head football coach.

He soon became Wilton’s first athletic director, and won national awards for his work.

He spearheaded the development of the high school field house — the first in New England. When he retired in 1994, it was named the Nicholas T. Zeoli Fieldhouse.

In Westport — where he always lived — Zeoli directed the Special Olympics program. He trained Special Olympics coaches in Pakistan and Bangladesh.

Nick Zeoli, a few years ago.

For many years, Zeoli emceed the Sportsmen of Westport awards ceremony. In 1985, the organization presented him with its Sportsmen Award.

Last June, Zeoli was honored by the Fairfield County Interscholastic Athletic Conference for his lifetime contribution.

There’s still plenty of life left in Nick Zeoli. He and his wife live now on a lake in Vermont.

He looks forward to making the trip south, and talking about nearly a century of life in Westport, and in war.

(This year’s Memorial Day parade kicks off on Monday at 9 a.m., at Saugatuck Elementary School. It heads down Riverside Avenue to the Post Road, goes over the Ruth Steinkraus Cohen Memorial Bridge, and takes a left on Myrtle Avenue before ending up at Town Hall. A ceremony — including grand marshal Nick Zeoli’s address — follows immediately, approximately 10:30 at Veterans Green. The parade and ceremony are two wonderful Westport traditions. Don’t miss them!)

Push (Up) Against Cancer — And For Kids

In 2010, Andy Berman was opening a new gym in Westport. He wanted to give back to the community.

When he heard about the Hole in the Wall Gang Camp — the amazing experience for youngsters with serious illnesses — and then learned it was founded by Westport’s own Paul Newman, he knew he’d found his cause.

Berman’s first fundraising effort was a Push Against Cancer. Twenty participants did push-ups in his Fitness Factory gym. They raised $9,900.

Each year, the event grew. Last year, 334 men, women and children collected over $150,000. That brought Berman’s 9-year total to nearly $500,000.

Hundreds of participants had a great time last year, at Levitt Pavilion.

This year’s Push Against Cancer is bigger than ever. He and his team expect over 400 participants. The goal is $200,000.

That would send 80 boys and girls to the Hole in the Wall Gang Camp — at no cost to them or their families.

Westport Police Chief Foti Koskinas (right) joins Andy Berman in promoting the June 9 Push Against Cancer.

The event is set for Sunday, June 9, at Staples High School’s Jinny Parker Field. The venue should draw plenty of students (and their teams).

Many Stapleites are getting into the act. The Orphenians will sing the national anthem.

Of course, anyone — of any age, or athletic ability — can sign up for push-ups.

Do them for Andy Berman. Do them for Paul Newman. Most of all, do them for the Hole in the Wall Gang Camp kids.

(To register as an individual or a team on Sunday, June 9 at Staples High School’s field hockey field — or to donate — click here. To become a corporate sponsor or for more information, email PushAgainstCancer@gmail.com.) 

The Westport Fire Department will be out in force June 9, for the Push Against Cancer.

Our Town’s Players

David Roth has acted in 3 productions of “Our Town.”

In 1980 — the summer he moved to Westport, as a rising Staples High School freshman — his introduction to his new town’s drama community came via Thornton Wilder’s classic play.

A few years later in college, he was cast in it again. The third time was as an adult, with the Wilton Playshop.

Kerry Long was introduced to “Our Town” as a Staples student. English teacher Karl Decker traditionally read it to his senior class.

Roth and Long now co-direct Staples Players. But in over 60 years, the nationally recognized organization has produced the play only once.

That was in 1962. Craig Matheson directed, 4 years after founding Players.

This Thursday through Sunday (May 23 through 26), Roth and Long will stage “Our Town” again.

Both love it.

“It’s brilliant,” Roth says. “It so well captures the human experiences we all go through.”

Much has changed in 57 years. Besides the auditorium, there’s now a smaller Black Box theater.

That’s where Players will stage “Our Town,” from Thursday through Sunday (May 23 through 26).

But much has not changed.

The set is spare. Props are minimal. Very little separates the audience from the actors, or both from life’s experiences.

Emily (Sophie Rossman) and George (Nick Rossi) at the soda shop. (Photo/Kerry Long)

Players’ 2019 cast wears contemporary clothing. Though the play is set in 1938 — and the “play within a play” covers the years 1901 to 1913  — Roth and Long want their audience to focus on the timelessness of the message, not its time frame.

The directors make good use of the Black Box’s intimacy and versatility. The audience sits on stage. They flank the actors, so the action happens both in front and behind.

Roth and Long have loved “Our Town” for years. They are excited to introduce a new generation of performers — and theater-goers — to it.

Mrs. Gibbs (Camille Foisie) and Doc Gibbs (Tobey Patton). (Photo/Kerry Long)

Most of the teenage actors knew of of the play, Roth says. But few of them actually “knew” it.

Now they appreciate it as much as their directors do.

That’s the magic of theater. Of “Our Town.”

And of Staples Players.

(“Our Town” will be performed Thursday, Friday and Saturday, May 23, 24 and 25 at 7:30 p.m., and Sunday, May 26 at 3 p.m. Online tickets are sold out, but a limited number will be available half an hour before curtain, at the door.)

Farmers’ Market Sprouts Thursday

The Westport Farmers’ Market did not exactly have humble beginnings.

Fourteen years ago Paul Newman and his sidekick, Michel Nischan — the chef and co-ownwer of Newman’s Dressing Room restaurant —  opened the market in the Westport Country Playhouse parking lot.

Newman’s name, Nischan’s passion — and the growing popularity of farmers’ markets — ensured a variety of vendors, and good crowds, from the start.

But now the Westport Farmers’ Market is really cooking.

It quickly outgrew its Playhouse home. The market moved to the Imperial Avenue commuter parking lot, just below the Westport Woman’s Club. There’s plenty of room, plenty of parking — and plenty to see, do and buy.

The Westport Farmers’ Market appeals to all ages. (Photo/Margaret Kraus)

When the new season opens this Thursday (May 23, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.), longtime market goers and eager newcomers will enjoy nearly 50 vendors, food trucks, chef demonstrations, children’s activities, music and more.

Offerings range far beyond fresh fruits and vegetables, to organic meat, seafood, bread, baked goods, coffee and tea (and kombucha), ice cream, honey and empanadas.

The most popular lunch trucks — pizza and Mexican food — are back too.

This year’s highlights include the Chef at the Market competition; Get Growing, the kids’ activity program, and more lunch seating than ever.

The Westport Farmers’ Market is not just a place to stock up on great, healthy food.

It’s a destination.

Somewhere, Paul Newman is smiling.

(For more information on the Westport Farmers’ Market, click here.)

Norma Minkowitz: Artist On The Run

Norma Minkowitz has quite a routine.

In the morning she goes to The Edge. Three days a week, she runs 1.5 miles on the treadmill. Then she does lunges, curls and core work with a trainer. She follows up with an hour-long spin class. The other days, she runs outdoors.

Then she heads back to her Westport home. She climbs the stairs to her studio, and begins a full day of work as an artist. “I run from one piece to another,” she laughs.

A few of Norma Minkowitz’s pieces, in her Westport studio.

Next month, Norma interrupts that routine. She heads to Albuquerque, New Mexico, for a national championship track meet. She’ll compete in the 1500, 800 and 400 meter runs.

She hopes to win a US title in her age group: 80 to 84 years old.

At 81, Norma has spent fully half her life in Westport. She met her husband Shelly at Cooper Union. She studied fine arts; he was an engineer.

Jobs with Sikorsky and PerkinElmer brought them to Connecticut. But he changed careers, becoming a home builder. Harvest Commons is his work. Four decades ago, he built their house on Broadview Road.

Meanwhile, Norma pursued her own career. In the 1960s she began working with fiber. “Back then it was considered ‘arts and crafts,'” she says. “Now it’s a fine art.”

Norma Minkowitz, and 2 of her works.

Her specialty is crocheted cotton thread. She also does pen and ink, and sculptures.

Her style is “very personal,” she says. “It has a dark edge, about life, mortality and human nature. I’m interested in sequences, and how things evolve.”

Her art grows stronger every year, Norma notes. “I’ve pared things down to simple lines, shapes, forms and meaning.”

Norma’s work is now in 32 museums. And they’re big: the Metropolitan, the de Young, the Wadsworth Atheneum.

Norma Minkowitz, before the 1987 New York Marathon.

She came to running later in life. In 1985, a friend talked her into training for the New York Marathon. She did not prepare well, and lasted “only” 20 miles.

The next year, Norma trained with a coach. At 49 years old, she completed all 26.2 miles in 4 hours, 6 minutes — a 9:25 per mile pace.

The year after that, she had bronchitis. She ran anyway.

But, Norma says, she is “not in love with long races.” In 1986 she began running shorter distances, in the Westport Parks & Recreation summer series organized by legendary track coach Laddie Lawrence.

Those were more her speed. She’s participated every year since.

These days, she often trains with 4- or 5-kilometer runs. It sounds daunting. But Norma insists, “that’s not real long distance.” After training, she feels “healthy, strong, accomplished — and tired.”

She also feels “like I’ve done something for my body. Maybe it’s the blood going to my brain.”

Running helps her artwork, Norma says. In her studio, she often stands. “Artists have to be strong,” she notes.

She sees people her age who “hardly move.” No one says that about Norma.

One reason she loves her spin class is meeting so many nice (and young) people. “Some of them tell me they wish their mothers did this,” she says. “And their mothers are younger than I am!” She’s made many friends through the running community.

Her fellow spinners — and runners, and artists — are in awe of Norma’s accomplishments. They know how committed she is. And how hard she is training for the upcoming National Senior Games at the University of New Mexico.

Three years ago — at 79 — Norma Minkowitz led a pack of much younger runners.

It’s a big deal. Over 13,500 “seniors” — ages 50 to 100 — will compete in age group categories. Events include swimming, diving, biking, paddleball, bowling, golf, pickle ball and pole vault.

She qualified for her 3 track races last year, in a downpour in New Britain and a follow-up meet in New Jersey. Her times were well below the cutoffs.

But she’s leaving nothing to chance. She has no idea how the high altitude will affect her. So she’s working with former Staples High School runner and coach Malcolm Watson.

Last month, she ran in the Westport Young Woman’s League Minute Man race. Her mile time was 10:30. “That’s pretty good for 81,” she says.

It is indeed.

Two of Norma Minkowitz’ medals, from the Senior Games qualifying meet in New Britain.

“It’s exciting,” Norma says of the upcoming national meet. “I’m a novice. But you never know…”

And if Albuquerque goes well, there’s the 2020 Senior Olympics in Fort Lauderdale.

“That’s sea level,” Norma says with relief. “On the other hand, there’s the heat…”

(Click here for more information on the National Senior Games. Click here for Norma Minkowitz’s art website. Hat tip: Mitch Thaw.)