Category Archives: People

Mike Kulich Funeral Service Set

Former classmates, friends and neighbors of Mike Kulich — and countless business associates and customers — were devastated by news of his sudden death last week. The 29-year-old Staples High School Class of 2004 graduate was an adult entertainment industry leader.

He was preparing for his wedding. Instead, he will be buried next to his father.

Mike’s funeral is set for Thursday, October 6 (1:30 p.m., Curlew Hills Funeral Home, Palm Harbor, Florida). A reception follows at Mike’s mother Sophia’s home, 4172 Ridgemoor Drive North, Palm Harbor 34685.

In lieu of flowers, memorial contributions may be sent to that address, made out to the Tyler Kulich Trust Fund. He is 5 years old, and recently recovered from leukemia.

Condolences can be emailed to sophia@sophiastravel.com.

Mike Kulich

Mike Kulich

Walk With Gigi For ALS Awareness

For over 30 years, Gigi of Westport was a well-known, beloved local institution.

Raised in Egypt, England and Switzerland, with an MBA from the London School of Economics, Gigi Sakr and her skincare and medical aesthetics business helped countless Westport women look better.

But she also helped raise the confidence of unemployed women desperate for work, and the self-esteem of acne-scarred teenagers. She had plenty of high-end clients, and volunteered her services for plenty more who could not pay.

Gigi Sakr and her daughter, Gizelle Begler.

Gigi Sakr and her daughter, Gizelle Begler.

Gigi was also one of the first female coaches with the Westport Soccer Association. In  her spare time, she walked — a bandanna wrapped around her spiky blonde hair — anywhere near the water.

Five months ago, she closed Gigi of Westport. She’d been hospitalized with blood clots in her lungs, and an inflammation of her heart. At the same time, she was diagnosed with ALS — commonly called Lou Gehrig’s Disease.

“I always felt like a 30-year-old,” Gigi says. “Now I feel like I’m 90.”

She cannot walk or use her hands. Breathing is difficult.

“You see yourself dying a slow death,” Gigi adds. “Nothing can be done. There’s no treatment.”

She spends her days taking care of herself. And doing what she can to help others.

On Saturday, October 15 (10 a.m., Sherwood Island State Park), the ALS Association will sponsor a walk. The goal is twofold: to raise funds for, and awareness of, the disease.

Gigi Sakr in her native Egypt, a year ago.

Gigi Sakr in her native Egypt, a year ago.

Despite the famous ice bucket challenge, too many people know too little about it.

She is organizing a group — “Team Gigi” — for the ALS Walk. Family members (including her daughter Gizelle Begler, who closed her very successful couture business to take care of Gigi), friends and former customers have all signed on.

Gigi will be at the walk. And not just to cheer everyone on.

She’ll participate too — in a wheelchair.

“I’m gonna do it!” she promises.

Her voice and body are weak. But her spirit is very, very strong.

(To sign up for Team Gigi — or make a contribution — click here.)

Commuter Spots Available — But Watch Those Signs!

An alert, ticketed — and ticked-off — “06880” reader writes:

I’ve been a railroad parking permit holder for 20 years. Today I got a ticket because I couldn’t find a spot in a permit lot.

The town has changed the lot by Exit 17 from being permit-only to daily parking only.

I don’t get it. I pay for my permit, yet when I catch a later train (9 a.m. today), I get stuck with a daily fee ticket?

When I went to the police station, I was told that having a permit does not mean you get a space. It strikes me that the town is forcing permit holders who come later in the morning to pay twice to park: once for the permit, then for the daily fee. Do I have this right?

Not exactly. I contacted Foti Koskinas, Westport’s police chief who also administers railroad parking.

train station parking

He says that the police monitor parking spots every day. There has never been “no parking” for permit holders. In fact, he says, Lot 3 — on the south side of the tracks — has 75 to 100 spaces open every day.

What the department has done is change some of the parking distribution. After taking surveys and watching traffic patters, they realized that the limited number of $5 daily parking spots in each lot caused daily parkers to drive from lot to lot, searching for them.

Now, 2 lots — #4 and #8, one on each side of the tracks — are dedicated solely to $5 daily parking.

By parking in one of those lots — when permit places were available elsewhere — the “06880” reader took a spot away from a daily parker. That’s why he got a ticket, Foti says.

“Just because you have a permit, that doesn’t mean you can park anywhere,” he emphasizes. “We have 6,000 to 8,000 commuters a day. There’s a real science to this.”

In other railroad parking news, new lights will be installed Friday.

Commuter parking, circa 1949.

Commuter parking, circa 1949.

Remembering Mike Kulich

Mike Kulich — the 2004 Staples High School graduate who became an adult entertainment industry leader, founding 3 film companies and one of the world’s most 100 visited websites, plus a very successful PR firm — died suddenly yesterday.

Mike was proud of what he’d accomplished. In a story 4 years ago, I wrote:

After graduating from Staples in 2004, Mike spent a semester at John Jay, studying criminal justice. But the lure of his youth was strong. He soon headed west, got an apartment in Marina del Ray, and knocked on the door of industry kingpin Howard Levine.

“I was 18 or 19, a cocky kid,” Mike says. “He told me to get out.”

Today, Levine is Mike’s distributor.

The dogged Mike landed a job with International Video Distributors. He made cold calls, selling videos to adult stores, liquor stores — and, memorably, Westport’s Merritt Country Store.

As the growth of internet porn slowed sales of videos, Mike started a company that printed and replicated videos for big studios. After a big payout, last year he began producing his own films….

Mike is happy to explain that his success is a result of hard work.

“I knew from high school on that this is what I wanted,” he says. “I researched the industry, went with reputable companies, reached out, and built my reputation.”

Many people have misperceptions about the adult entertainment industry, he adds. “They think porn stars are hookers. But people here are really monogamous. Being on set is like another day at the office. People work, then they go home to their significant other. It’s just one niche in the entertainment world.”…

“I’m a studio owner at 25,” he says proudly. “For me to get to this position in banking or marketing would have taken most of my career.”

Mike was a watchdog for his industry. When a Michigan man lost his entire porn collection in a robbery, Mike replaced it with every title his company ever produced. At one point, that was 40 a month.

In April — when North Carolina passed what became known as the anti-transgender “bathroom bill” — Mike programmed his XHamster website so that it did not serve any computer with a North Carolina IP address. He said the blank screens would stay in place until the state repealed the bill.

Wakeman Town Farm Raises The Roof

Back in the day, when a farmer needed help his neighbors rallied round.

In 2016, Westporters do the same for Wakeman Town Farm.

The working farm that offers educational programs, hands-on workshops and Community-Supported Agriculture — among many other sustainability efforts — was the site last night of an old-fashioned barn-raising.

Wakeman Town Farm is a place of growth and healthy living. But the farmhouse itself needs repairs. (Photo/Charlie Colasurdo)

Wakeman Town Farm is a place of growth and healthy living. But the farmhouse itself needs repairs. (Photo/Charlie Colasurdo)

Nearly 250 people gathered for the 7th annual Harvest Fest, to “raise the roof.” The Cross Highway property needs new shingles, interior and exterior renovations, and a new kitchen classroom, to better serve its stewards — the Aitkenhead family — and the 10,000 students and adults who pass through the farm every year.

Robin Tauck pledged a major gift. Others gave plenty too  — including $100 “shingles.”

First Selectman Jim Marpe and his wife Mary Ellen (center) were at last night's Wakeman Town Farm Harvest Fest, along with Kelle and Jeff Ruden.

First Selectman Jim Marpe and his wife Mary Ellen (center) were at last night’s Wakeman Town Farm Harvest Fest, along with Kelle and Jeff Ruden. (Photo/Dan Woog)

Area purveyors like Greens Farms Liquors, Rothbard Ale + Larder and AMG Catering donated appetizers and libations for the cocktail hour. DaPietro’s, Harvest Wine Bar, Wave Hill Breads and Saugatuck Sweets were among those providing fantastic, locally sourced dinners.

This was not your typical fundraier food! (Photo/Charlie Colasurdo)

This was not your typical fundraier food! (Photo/Charlie Colasurdo)

Dining inside the farmhouse tent. (Photo/Charlie Colasurdo)

Dining inside the farmhouse tent. (Photo/Charlie Colasurdo)

It was all served and poured by big-name volunteers: heads of non-profits like Bill Harmer (Westport Library), Tony McDowell (Earthplace), Jeff Wieser (Homes With Hope) and Sue Gold (Westport Historical Society).

Staples students — many from the Environmental Studies courses — pitched in too.

Environmental Studies students volunteered to serve too.

Environmental Studies students volunteered to serve at Harvest Fest. (Photo/Dan Woog)

The WTF roof is a lot closer to be raised, thanks to last night. But you can still help — 2016-style. Click here to contribute any amount.

These were just the appetizers. (Photo/Dan Woog)

These were just the appetizers. (Photo/Dan Woog)

wtf-3-charlie-colasurdo

Wakeman Town Farm Committee co-chairs Liz Milwe and Christy Colasurdo. (Photo/Charlie Colasurdo)

Monica Lewinsky In Westport: More Than Just Words

When I heard that Monica Lewinsky will speak in Westport on October 6 — as part of the Westport Arts Center’s bullying exhibition — my first thought was: “Huh?”

But that’s the whole idea. For nearly 20 years, she’s been defined by what happened between her and the President of the United States.

Lewinsky is no longer a 24-year-old intern. She’s a 42-year-old woman who spent 10 years in self-imposed silence (several of them outside the country).

Now she’s speaking out. She talks about a subject she knows too well: internet shaming.

Lewinsky has tried to move beyond her image as the young woman in a stained dress. She’s now a social activist, contributing editor to Vanity Fair — and ambassador to BystanderRevolution.com.

Lewinsky has first-hand knowledge of the “culture of humiliation.” She is an expert at the effects of cyberbullies.  Anyone — and everyone — can become, like her, a target of the digital playground.

Her 2015 TED Talk — “The Price of Shame” — has been viewed millions of times. In it, she describes losing her reputation instantly — and globally — via the internet. “Public humiliation as a blood sport has to stop,” she says.

In Westport, Lewinsky will build on themes underlying the Arts Center’s exhibit. It examines the topic of bullying within a broad cultural context that considers how perceived imbalances of social, physical — or political — power can be abused to marginalize others.

Sadly, it seems just as relevant in 2016 as it was in 1998.

(Monica Lewinsky’s talk at the Westport Arts Center at 7:30 p.m. on Thursday, October 6 includes a panel discussion. For more information or to purchase tickets, click here or call 203-222-7070.)

 

New York Sports Club Lives On

When the Westport branch of New York Sports Club closed in July, they left behind a number of disappointed clients.

They also did something wonderful for a 16-year-old boy.

new-york-sports-clubMorgaine Pauker was one of those customers. Her husband Mark works with a man from Easton whose son Zach had just been paralyzed from the waist down, in a car accident.

Mark and Morgaine wondered if NYSC would donate some upper body strength equipment.

The club usually distributes excess machines to other NYSC locations. But they considered the request, and said they were happy to help

Then they went the extra mile. The other day, a machine was delivered to Zach’s house — and installed.

New York Sports Club is gone from Westport. But in one nearby home, it will never be forgotten.

(Click here to contribute to Zach’s medical fund.) 

Delivering the strength machine to Zach's home.

Delivering the strength machine to Zach’s home.

Historic Westport Home Hits The Auction Block

Not many people realize the connection between Kodak and George Gershwin.

Fewer still know that both are connected to Westport

Leopold and Frankie Godowsky. (Photo/Zillow)

Leopold and Frankie Godowsky. (Photo/Zillow)

But Leopold Godowsky Jr. — a concert violinist with a passion for photography — moved here in the 1930s.  He set up a lab, and for several decades in town helped develop Kodacolor and Ektachrome.  Today he is considered a major contributor to the field of color photography.  He was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame in 2005, 22 years after his death.

Godowsky’s wife, Frankie Gershwin — George and Ira’s younger sister — was a painter of oils and acrylics, and later a singer.  She too was a prominent Westporter.

In 2009 the Godowskys’ former home — a 7,000-square foot, low-slung compound at the end of Stony Point overlooking the confluence of the Saugatuck River and Long Island Sound, featuring pools, a waterfall, tennis court and dock — became one of the most expensive teardowns in Westport history.

Now the Godowskys’ previous house here — at 157 Easton Road — is on the market.

The 7-bedroom, 10-bath, 6-car garage property sits on 2.75 acres. There’s a boathouse, indoor pool, 2 bars, a wine-tasting room, guest quarters, tennis court, waterfalls, walking paths, and stone bridges. The Saugatuck Aspetuck River flows through the back yard.

157 Easton Road

157 Easton Road

The Godowskys moved to Easton Road from New York in 1938. Four children grew up there, before moving to Stony Point in the early 1950s.

Her parents entertained guests like local residents Richard Rodgers, John Hersey, Maureen O’Sullivan and her daughter Mia Farrow.

The house will be auctioned off on September 30.

It is not the place Nadia Godowsky Natali — Leopold and Frankie’s daughter — remembers.

Back then, she tells Zillow, it was “a country house. Very simple…not pretentious.” That place, she says, is gone.

How does Natali — now a California-based psychotherapist, author of “Cooking Off the Grid” and Zen center founder — know? She’s seen photos of the former “bucolic compound.”

They were digital, Zillow notes.

Not Kodachrome.

(Hat tip: Wendy Crowther)

Moth Radio Hour: Westport-Style

A while ago, Jane Green told a story for the Moth Radio Hour. It was recorded in front of a live audience at New York’s Cooper Union.

Jane Green

Jane Green

In June, the Westporter — and internationally renowned author — told Moth stories again, on stage at an old, lovely theater in Boston. She was  joined by a Jamaican writer, New York City doctor, Puerto Rican actress and Boston fireman.

If you don’t know the Moth Radio Hour, you should. Broadcast on 400 radio stations — including WNYC in New York — it makes “This American Life” sound like amateur hour.

Story tellers have no script, and use no props. They stand in front of a microphone, under a spotlight, facing a room full of strangers.

The Moth Radio Hour is real, true stories, told by real, true people. Some are humorous. Others are heartbreaking. Some are both. All are transfixing and addictive.

moth-radio-hourAlert “06880” reader — and very-interesting-woman-herself — Katherine Bruan is a Moth fanatic. She also loves Jane Green.

So, Katherine thought, why doesn’t Westport — a town filled with talented, charismatic people, many with diverse backgrounds and all of whom have stories — have our own Moth hour?

It could be once or twice a year, Katherine suggested, at the Westport Country Playhouse or library. It would bring the community together. We’d all be entertained, moved and uplifted.

It’s a fantastic idea. And — to Katherine’s, my and probably your surprise — it’s already been done.

Starting last fall, Tom Croarkin organized several similar events at the Unitarian Church in Westport. He calls them “Story Slams,” but they’re really Moth Radio Hours without the radio.

Each participant gets 5 minutes. They can’t use props. And their story must fit a theme.

The Westport Unitarian Church welcomes everyone -- including story-tellers.

The Westport Unitarian Church welcomes everyone — including story-tellers.

The first one — last November — centered around “Lying Through My Teeth.” The second, in February, was about “Lost and Found” (stories were figurative, as well as literal).

May’s theme was “Trouble.” Fifteen folks got up and told woeful tales.

The next Unitarian Church Story Slam is this Friday (September 23, 7 p.m.).The theme is “Vacation.”

There’s a $10 admission fee (it’s a fundraiser for the church). BYOB.

To RSVP (not required) or more information, email tcroarkin1126@att.net.

So start thinking about your vacation stories. I’m sure Jane Green has at least one good one to share!

60 Years Later, Elmo Morales Can’t Forget Westport

Earlier this month, Greg Wolfe and Nancy Lewis dropped their daughter Emily off for her 2nd year at the University of Michigan.

After dinner, the couple passed a tiny t-shirt shop near campus. As they looked at merchandise set on the street, the owner came out to chat.

Elmo Morales designed this t-shirt for Jim Harbaugh's return as Michigan football coach.

Elmo Morales designed this slogan for Jim Harbaugh’s return as Michigan football coach. (Photo/Ryan Stanton for The Ann Arbor News)

“Where are you from?” he asked.

“Westport, Connecticut,” they said.

He was stunned. “You’re the first people I’ve ever met here from Westport!” he said.

And then Elmo Morales told his story.

In 1957 he was an 11-year-old living in Washington Heights. The Fresh Air Fund arranged a week in Westport. He stayed with the Petrucci family. They owned a liquor store, and had a son around Elmo’s age.

His eyes welled up as he told Greg and Nancy his story.

On the way home after picking Elmo up at the train station — with his clothes in a shopping bag — the Petruccis took him to a toy store. They told him to pick out anything he wanted.

He chose a Mattel 6-shooter. “I never got anything, except at Christmas,” he says. “And then it was pajamas.”

It was the first time Elmo had seen carpeting in a house, or a TV in a bedroom. There was orange juice every morning. Every day, they went to the beach.

Most importantly, Mr. Petrucci talked with Elmo about college, and what he wanted to do with his life. It was the first time the boy had thought about his future.

“They broadened my horizons,” Elmo says. “I was able to see the rest of the world. Everything grew from that little seed.”

Elmo went back to Washington Heights. A shared love of jazz cemented a friendship with a youngster named Lew Alcindor (now Kareem Abdul-Jabbar).

Elmo earned a track scholarship to Michigan. He stayed in Ann Arbor, and became a teacher.

After graduating from Michigan, Elmo Morales continued to run.

After graduating from Michigan, Elmo Morales continued to run.

About 40 years ago, he opened Elmo’s T-Shirts as a sideline. For years it was on Main Street. Not long ago, he moved to East Liberty Street.

This is one of those great “Westport meets the world” stories I love so well.

But don’t just read it and smile.

Every year, Staples sends at least a dozen graduates to the University of Michigan. So, students and parents: Head to 404 E. Liberty Street.

Buy a t-shirt or souvenir.

And then tell Elmo you’re from Westport.