Category Archives: People

Cold Fusion Comes To Westport

About 3 years ago, Eric Emmert and his wife Kelly got the entrepreneurial itch.

He was commuting from Westport to New York, where he traded high-yield bonds. She worked in sales and marketing.

They looked at various options, including a medical supply company. Meh.

Then they found a gelato business. Bingo!

“Everyone loves the ice cream guy,” Eric notes.

Eric and Kelly Emmert, and their gelato.

At the end of 2016, the couple bought Cold Fusion. The Massachusetts-based firm makes and distributes gelato and sorbet — all by hand, using all-natural, locally sourced ingredients. There’s a line of vegan sorbets, and every item is kosher-certified.

The website explains: “The result of all of this love and dedication is a silky, cool, uplifting fusion of flavor.” (Eric’s favorite: salted caramel chunk.)

A Cold Fusion sampling.

“Gelato is healthier than ice cream,” Eric says. “There’s less fat and fewer calories. And the taste lingers more.”

Sure, it’s a great, fun product. But the couple did not sit around smacking their lips. They restructured Cold Fusion, and grew it.

Working with a new distributor, they’re marketing Cold Fusion up and down the East Coast. You can find it here at Mystic Market and Rizzuto’s; it’s also sold at Walrus + Carpenter restaurant in Bridgeport, and other restaurants around Hartford and Providence. There’s a retail store in Newport, Rhode Island.

The factory is in Massachusetts. Eric and Kelly hope to move the facility closer to home. “I’ve looked at half the vacant spaces in town,” he says.

In their 13 years in Westport, raising 2 daughters here, both have sunk roots into the community. Eric has coached basketball and softball, and been an age-group commissioner. Kelly has coached basketball and volleyball, been a Girl Scout leader, and a member of the Westport Young Woman’s League.

The owners donate Cold Fusion products to local functions, like Homes with Hope’s White Party, the Staples High School PTA holiday lunch and Kings Highway Elementary School’s 5th grade moving-up ceremony.

Gelato is now Eric’s full-time business. Kelly continues in her corporate job, but adds her marketing acumen to Cold Fusion.

The Emmerts are so excited for future growth, they can almost taste it.

Something they might not be able to say if they’d bought that medical supply company, instead of this one 3 years ago.

Titanic Discoverer, Undersea Explorer Surfaces At Library

The 2nd “Andrew Wilk Presents…” will be fascinating.

On Thursday, February 13 (7 p.m.), Dr. Robert Ballard speaks at the Westport Library.

I was excited to interview him, for a sneak peak. In 1985 he discovered the wreck of Titanic. He’s also found the Bismarck, the lost fleet of Guadalcanal, the aircraft carrier Yorktown (sunk in the Battle of Midway), and John F. Kennedy’s PT-109.

Dr. Robert Ballard

But when I started talking about those titanic discoveries, he basically said, “Who cares?”

Ballard has bigger fish to fry.

The National Geographic Society Explorer-at-Large says his most important discoveries were of hydrothermal vents — and the exotic life forms living miles below the surface.

Basically, Ballard found the origins of life on earth. These creatures have found ways to duplicate photosynthesis without sunlight. Thanks to Ballard, we now know that life can flourish all over the universe.

He’ll talk about all that in Westport. (And Titanic too. “It’s part of the story of human history,” he realizes.)

But wait! There’s more!

Ballard is also about to embark on “the 2nd Lewis & Clark Expedition.” Of course, there are a couple of differences between this, and the one 2 centuries ago that uncovered the wonders of our still-unexplored continent.

Dr. Robert Ballard, ready to explore

For one, Ballard is going underwater. The US owns waters 200 miles from our coastline — and we’ve got a lot of coast. Including Alaska, Hawaii and all our Pacific islands like Guam, Ballard says there is as much undersea as the entire surface of the United States.

And we have no idea what minerals and species are down there.

“I’ll tell you when I find it,” Ballard says confidently.

A second difference between the 1800s and 2000s: Half of the explorers this time will be female.

“I’m calling it the Lois and Clark Expedition,” Ballard says.

So he’s not only astonishingly smart, and superbly adventurous. Ballard is also quite funny.

“Andrew Wilk Presents…” — hosted by Westport’s Emmy-winning television executive producer and director/playwright/symphony conductor — brings remarkable men and women to the library. The series kicked off last month with Michael Davie, a filmmaker who has worked on major projects for Oprah Winfrey, National Geographic, Discovery and more.

Ballard will be a compelling guest. His sense of adventure is — clearly — profound.

So I wanted to know more about what he will discover, in his upcoming exploration of our planet’s vast oceans.

“What did Lewis and Clark expect when they got in their canoes?” Ballard asked rhetorically.

“I’ll tell you when I find it.”

(Tickets for Dr. Robert Ballard’s talk with Andrew Wilk are $50 for reserved seating; $150 for VIP reception and reserved seating. Click here for tickets and more information.)

History Museum Billed Town For Employees’ Time; Marpe “Surprised” And “Concerned”

In late 2018, organizers announced the end of Westport’s First Night celebration.

Recognizing a need for family-friendly New Year’s Eve activities, the Westport Historical Society filled the breach. In just a matter of days, executive director Ramin Ganeshram and her staff organized “First Light.”

Performances, horse-drawn carriage rides, face painting, a digital caricaturist, a henna artist, food trucks, a bonfire — it was all there. And (despite the rain), it was greatly appreciated.

A true New England horse-drawn sleigh ride.

This year, the Avery Place institution — now called the Westport Museum for History & Culture — continued the new tradition.

This year’s First Light included horse-drawn carriages, a live band, short films,  tarot reader, henna tattoos, teen game night at Toquet Hall, stargazing with the Westport Astronomy Club, ballroom dance instruction — and that warm bonfire.

As with previous First Nights, and last year’s First Light, attendees wore buttons for admittance to all events. They cost $10 online, $15 on site.

Ganeshram gave credit to the town of Westport, for helping support the event.

That support includes police officers, fire fighters, logistics — and funding.

On December 11, Ganeshram asked for town assistance “from the fund formerly attributed to the First Night Celebrations.” She detailed “projected costs as they exist to-date for the First Light Festival on New Year’s Eve.”

The organization’s spreadsheet showed that the horse and carriage would cost $1,300. The band was $250, the tarot reader $200; Branson Hall rental $200; marketing materials and buttons $100.

There is also a line item that reads “(1630-2130 hours x at holiday rate (#82.50 per),” at a total cost of $1,213.

In addition, the Museum requested that the town reimburse half the cost of the salaries of 5 Museum employees. They were projected to spend anywhere from 30 to 80 hours each on First Light activities, at fees ranging from $11 to $25 per hour.

The employees work in several areas for the Museum, including programs, operations, marketing, administration and administrative support.

Four of the employees would be reimbursed by the town for half of their hours worked: $750, $600, $600 and $500. The administrative support staffer was projected to work 30 hours at $11 per hour, for a total of $330. The Museum requested $330 from the town for her salary, but confusingly also said they would contribute $330 to it.

The total reimbursement request to the town for Museum employees’ salaries was $2,780.

Executive director Ramin Ganeshram was listed as spending 20 hours on First Light, at $50 an hour. Her $1,000 was covered fully by the Museum.

The bonfire at Veterans Green. (Photo/Dan Woog)

The invoice was sent December 26, and received at Town Hall 2 days later. A check for the full amount requested — $5,943 — was issued to Westport Historical Society, Inc. on December 30.

I asked 1st Selectman Jim Marpe about the use of town funds to cover salaries of Museum employees. He responded:

For nearly 30 years, the Town of Westport co-sponsored “First Night,” a family-friendly, substance-free New Year’s Eve celebration that offered an array of musical and variety performers, kid-oriented activities, bonfires, carriage rides and even fireworks.

This event took place through a combination of volunteers under the volunteer leadership of enthusiastic residents such as Barbara Pearson-Rac and her husband Frank, the late Bill Meyer and Allen Bomes, donations from local business and fund-raising organizations, and also town funding in the range of $7,000.  First Night also sold admission badges to help fund their budget, and the town provided some of the venues for various events.

The First Night concept was very popular around Connecticut and New England for many years, but in recent years, Westport became one of the few towns to offer this NewYear’s Eve option. Unfortunately, it became virtually impossible to stage a fireworks show in the downtown area, and rising costs and the dwindling number of volunteers began to limit the variety of entertainment options.

Fireworks were once a First Night tradition.

While the Town budgeted $7,000 to support the 2018 to 2019 New Year’s Eve First Night (last year), it became clear in the early fall that we would not be able to conduct the First Night event as we had in prior years.

The then-named Westport Historical Society stepped forward and offered to produce a mini-version of First Night called First Light.  The town approved the use of a small portion of Veterans Green for a bonfire, and provided financial support to underwrite the carriage ride and other out-of-pocket costs for performers as well as Fire Department oversight of the bonfire activity.  It was (and is) our belief that a substance-free, family alternative to celebrate the new year is a good thing for Westport and its residents of all ages.

In anticipation of this year’s (2019 to 2020) New Year’s Eve, we budgeted another $6,000 in case the now-named Westport Museum of History & Culture decided to conduct another First Light event, which in fact they did with some expansion of their offerings and venues.

Face painting was a popular activity at this year’s First Light celebration. (Photo/Dan Woog)

It was always the intention of that money to cover the costs of outside services such as the carriage rides, musicians and other performers and marketing material which the director of finance and I approved.

I was surprised to learn in the past week that the Town’s support was also used to cover a portion of the salaries of several Museum employees.

It was never our intent to subsidize the costs of non-town employees, and I’m concerned about the potential inappropriate use of town funds for this purpose.

I have asked our director of finance to look into this matter immediately, and to determine the appropriate course of action regarding this payment.

As I noted earlier, I believe that events like First Night and First Light are good for our community and add to our reputation as a family friendly community, particularly when they are supported by volunteers and non-for-profit organizations such as the Museum.

The town has always been willing to consider financial or in-kind support of specific services for events that serve the whole community, but it has never been our intention to subsidize the salaries of individuals who work for those organizations.

Stay-At-Home Moms Gets Up And Go

Plenty of Westport moms work outside the home.

Plenty of others don’t.

For women who move to here with young children — sometimes leaving the workplace — meeting others in their situation can be hard.

Nearly 2 years ago, newcomer Nathalie Jacob tackled the problem. With Sonam Sethi and Samreen Malik — who had similar ideas — they created a Facebook group. “Westport Stay-at-Home Moms” brings mothers of babies and toddlers together.

There certainly is a need. Nearly 400 members meet for play dates, trips, Moms Night Outs, potlucks at the beach and more.

A recent outing, with moms and kids …

The newest event is Play2Give. These are play dates at which the mothers help their children do activities for charity. For the holidays, moms and toddlers picked out food at a supermarket, and packed it up for donations.

“What we have in common is that we all have children of a similar age,” Nathalie says. “We’re enjoying this amazing new stage in our lives as parents of babies and toddlers.”

“Many of our own parents live far away. Through this group, we’ve made friends who feel like family.”

… and another …

Members mirror the diversity that is part of Westport, but not always seen. They come from more than 30 nations — the UK, Italy, Serbia, Australia, Greece, India, Russia, China, Brazil, Kazakhstan, Guyana, South Korea, Paraguay, Jamaica, you name it — which adds great energy and variety to activities.

Moms in nearby towns are welcome. So are working mothers — and fathers. They’ve even formed a sub-group. “Yo DAD” gets together once a month.

A pleasant surprise: “Not just the moms, but our husbands and kids have become close as well,” Nathalie says. “It feels like an extended family, where our kids have a ton of ‘cousins and aunties.’

“We celebrate holidays together, watch each other’s kids in emergencies, and even travel together. We all feel at home, because we have created a family in Westport.”

… and moms alone, at Via Sforza.

Anyone can design or host a play date or event, anywhere they choose — “their home, a playground, the aquarium, wherever,” Nathalie explains.

“We all vote on big decisions, like the group’s rules. Everyone always has a say and a voice.”

Feedback is great. One woman says the group helped out of a shell of loneliness. Another says she has met her closest friends, who help her feel “connected, support and loved. A third called it “life-changing — no exaggeration. I met the most amazing moms, with equally amazing toddlers.”

Moving to the suburbs can be tough. Moving without the tether of outside work can make it even tougher.

Say what you will about Facebook. For hundreds of women, its Westport Stay-at-Home Moms group makes the move work.

Westport History Museum: A Remarkable Story

When the Remarkable Book Shop closed, Westporters mourned the loss of a quirky, comfy store that for decades epitomized Main Street.

When former owners Sidney and Esther Kramer gifted the Westport Historical Society the right to use the name — and their Edward Gorey-inspired logo — for its gift shop, Westporters rejoiced.

The Remarkable name lived again — and on Avery Place, just a few yards from the original store. Not everyone who shopped for books, maps and posters about Westport knew the significance of the Remarkable Gift Shop name, or the delightful logo, but that didn’t matter.

Those who did, smiled.

Remarkable guy at Westport Historical Society (Photo/Lynn Untermeyer Miller)

But they — and the Kramer family — are not smiling now.

Besides renaming both the Historical Society itself (it’s become the Westport Museum for History & Culture), and the main exhibition room (the Sheffer Gallery now honors Daniel E. Offutt, III Charitable Trust), there’s a new name for the gift shop.

Gone is the Remarkable name. Gone is the Remarkable guy.

“It’s a makeover!” the website trumpets. “New space. new stock, new name!”

Are you ready for the great new name? Nothing says Westport like …

“The Shop at Wheeler House.”

PS: Neither Wendy Posner nor Mark Kramer received any notification from the Westport History Museum that their parents’ naming gift had been expunged.

Westport Y Puts Special Focus On Special Needs

Every day — at all hours — the Westport Weston Family YMCA pulses with activity.

The gym, pool, spin center, yoga and fitness rooms — all are filled with boys and girls, men and women, all active to whatever degree of intensity works for them.

It’s a friendly, vibrant place. Many members come regularly. They greet fellow basketball players, swimmers, runners and Zumbaists with smiles and waves.

Some of the heartiest greetings go to members with special needs. They may be in wheelchairs, or come in groups with aides. They may talk loudly, or not at all. All are welcome at the Y.

Enjoying the gym at the Westport Weston Family Y.

Their swims, workouts, classes and social interactions are among the highlights of their days. The folks who share the pool, fitness center and classrooms are happy to see them too.

The Westport Y offers group membership programs to 5 group homes in Fairfield County. Over 100 clients take advantage of the facility off Wilton Road.

Membership director Brian Marazzi says that STAR has the longest association with the Y: more than a decade. Clients with intellectual and developmental disabilities take part in a wide array of activities. Some arrive independently, to exercise.

STAR clients, outside the Westport Y.

St. Catherine Academy — a Fairfield-based private school — uses the warm pool for recreational swim and aqua-therapy for severely disabled clients. The group then socializes with a large group lunch in the lobby.

St. Catherine’s appreciates the family and dependent care locker room, which includes a private special needs shower and changing room. Staff also store equipment at the Y.

Ability Beyond and Keystone House clients focus on the Wellness Center. Members of Abilis — the newest group home to join the Y — primarily walk on the treadmill, and use the gym.

Some of the more independent clients come on their own. A few have become volunteers themselves, meeting and greeting guests.

But that’s only part of the way the Westport Y serves the special needs population.

Sixty kids and young adults ages 8 to 21 play basketball and floor hockey, swim and do track and field, under the guidance of paid and volunteer coaches. Many are involved in Special Olympics, but that is not a prerequisite for Y participation.

A special needs swimmer, and an equally enthusiastic volunteer.

The Sunday morning swim program is particularly popular. A 1:1 ratio of volunteers — many of them members of the Westport Water Rats team — to athletes ensures education, safety and fun. The special needs swimmers are also called Water Rats, and proudly wear the team’s logowear.

Strong bonds are clear. Over Christmas break, as volunteers returned from college, there were joyful reunions and hugs. Parents of special needs swimmers develop their own community too, as they watch from the deck or gym.

Oliver Clachko has made a special impact. He was last year’s near-unanimous choice as Westport Weston Family Y Volunteer of the Year. He enjoys working with the special needs program so much, he’s recruiting friends and classmates to help too.

This spring, the Y hosts its first-ever special needs swim meet.

The Westport Y Water Rat Special Olympics swim team.

Up in the gym, basketball players hone their skills. They compete too, in a “Hoopla” against other area Ys.

Special Needs Teen Nights are another popular event.

Marazzi says the Y has gotten very positive feedback — from clients, group home workers, parents of special needs youngsters, and other Y members too.

Occasionally, he says, members complain about noise or behavior. Marazzi quickly counters, “We love having them here. We’re very inclusive.”

It’s the Westport Weston Family YMCA, remember.

And don’t forget: There are many ways to define family.

(The Westport Y’s Special Olympics and other special needs programs rely in part on fundraising. Starting on her 10th birthday, Chloe Kiev asked that instead of gifts, friends and family donate to the effort. Click here for more information.) 

“State Of The Town” Meeting Set For Sunday

Presidents have their State of the Union addresses. Governors deliver (oddly named) “State of the State” talks.

This Sunday (January 26, 2 p.m., Westport Library), 1st Selectman Jim Marpe will discuss the “State of the Town.” He’ll be joined by Board of Education chair Candice Savin.

They’ll look back at town and school accomplishments over the past year, and preview upcoming initiatives.

There’s audience participation too. A question-and-answer session will be led by RTM deputy moderator Jeffrey Wieser.

The event is sponsored by Westport’s 2 Rotary clubs.

Westport Museum Posts Statement

Eagle-eyed “06880” reader Amy Bauer has discovered a statement from Westport Museum for History & Culture board chair Sara Krasne. In it, she addresses the controversy following the renaming of the Sheffer Gallery, after receiving a large donation from an estate.

Krasne’s statement — under the heading “Statement From Board Chair” — appears far down on the home page of the museum’s website, underneath information on upcoming events. She says:

I asked Ann Sheffer if this statement accurately represented her conversation with Krasne. Ann said:

Although I appreciate the apology from Sara about not contacting me personally before issuing the press release about removing my parents’ names from the WHS exhibit hall, our conversation in no way clarified what the Historical Society plans to do to rectify the situation.

I have also had a conversation with Dick Orenstein, the trustee of the Daniel Offutt estate. We had a very productive discussion about responsibility to donors both historic and current, and I am awaiting his report after he has had a chance to talk with Historical Society board members.

Unfortunately, there are a number of other issues regarding recent policies that should be addressed as well. I don’t feel that there is yet any acknowledgement of this, or openness to discussion within the affected parties and the community at large.

 

MLK

This story has become a Martin Luther King Day tradition on “06880.”

Today is Martin Luther King Day. Westporters will celebrate with a day off from school or work.  Some will sleep in; others will ski, or take part in a Staples basketball clinic for younger players. Few will give any thought to Martin Luther King.

Twice, though, his life intersected this town in important ways.

Martin Luther KingThe first was Friday night, May 22, 1964. According to Woody Klein’s book Westport, Connecticut, King had been invited to speak at Temple Israel by synagogue member Jerry Kaiser.

King arrived in the afternoon. Kaiser and his wife Roslyn sat on their porch that afternoon, and talked with King and 2 of his aides. She was impressed with his “sincerity, warmth, intelligence and genuine concern for those about him — our children, for instance. He seemed very young to bear such a burden of leadership.”

King’s sermon — to a packed audience — was titled “Remaining Awake Through a Great Revolution.” He analogized his America to the time of Rip Van Winkle — who also “slept through a revolution. The greatest liability of history is that people fail to see a revolution taking place in our world today.  We must support the social movement of the Negro.”

Westport artist Roe Halper presented King with 3 woodcarvings, representing the civil rights struggle. He hung them proudly in the front hallway of his Atlanta home.

Artist Roe Halper (left) presents Coretta Scott King with civil rights-themed wood carvings.

Within a month Temple Israel’s rabbi, Byron Rubenstein, traveled south to take place in a nonviolent march. He was arrested — along with Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King.

In jail, the rabbi said, “I came to know the greatness of Dr. King. I never heard a word of hate or bitterness from that man, only worship of faith, joy and determination.”

King touched Westport again less than 4 years later. On April 5, 1968 — the day after the civil rights leader’s assassination in Memphis — 600 Staples students gathered for a lunchtime vigil in the courtyard. Nearby, the flag flew at half-staff.

A small portion of the large crowd listens intently to Fermino Spencer, in the Staples courtyard.

A small portion of the large crowd listens intently to Fermino Spencer, in the Staples courtyard.

Vice principal Fermino Spencer addressed the crowd. Movingly, he spoke about  his own experience as an African American. Hearing the words “my people” made a deep impression on the almost all-white audience. For many, it was the 1st time they had heard a black perspective on white America.

No one knew what lay ahead for their country. But student Jim Sadler spoke for many when he said: “I’m really frightened. Something is going to happen.”

Something did — and it was good. A few hundred students soon met in the cafeteria. Urged by a minister and several anti-poverty workers to help bridge the chasm between Westport and nearby cities, Staples teachers and students vowed to create a camp.

Within 2 months, it was a reality. That summer 120 elementary and junior high youngsters from Westport, Weston, Norwalk and Bridgeport participated in the Intercommunity Camp. Led by over 100 Staples students and many teachers, they enjoyed swimming, gymnastics, dance, sports, field trips, overnight camping, creative writing, filmmaking, photography, art and reading.

It wasn’t easy — some in Westport opposed bringing underprivileged children to their town — but for over a decade the Intercommunity Camp flourished.

Eventually, enthusiasm for and interest in the camp waned. Fewer Staples students and staff members wanted to devote their summer to such a project.  The number of Westporters willing to donate their pools dwindled. Today the Intercommunity Camp is a long-forgotten memory.

Sort of like the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King. Even on his birthday.

MLK speech

Troop 100 Honors 7 New Eagle Scouts

The phrase “Eagle Scout” has come to mean someone exceptional: straight-arrow, self-reliant and true.

But there is a literal definition too. An Eagle Scout is a Boy Scout who has earned 21 merit badges; secured recommendations from teachers, advisors or community leaders; completed a major service project with a charity organization; demonstrated leadership skills — and had all that confirmed by local and national boards.

This Saturday, January 25 (Christ & Holy Trinity Episcopal Church, 11 a.m.), 7 members of Troop 100 will receive the honor of Eagle Scout.


From left: Jake McGillion-Moore, Matthew Griffin, Dylan Murray, Max Boyle, Daniel Syomichev, Miguel Gura, Whit Lupoli.

Staples High School senior Max Boyle coordinated the collection of tennis gear to benefit underserved youth through Norwalk Grassroots Tennis.

Staples senior Miguel Gura carved and constructed bird silhouettes for the Earthplace preschool.

Staples senior Jake McGillion-Moore refurbished a playground and created a garden for Bridgeport’s Caroline House.

Staples senior Dylan Murray led a trail creation and restoration project at the Lillian Wadworth Arboretum.

Weston High School junior Matthew Griffin cleared and built a wood chip trail connecting Earthplace and the Wadsworth Arboretum.

Staples senior Daniel Syomichev constructed benches and “caterpillar stacker” at the Earthplace playground renovation.

Fairfield Prep senior Whit Lupoli construted a 60-foot walk for Homes with Hope’s Linxweiler House.

Six of those Scouts worked together since they were 6-year-old Cub Scouts. Congratulations to Westport’s newest Eagle Scouts!