Category Archives: People

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!

Remembering Gene Cedarbaum

Quietly, but for decades, Gene Cedarbaum was an important force in Westport life. He died yesterday, at 77.

WestportNow.com Image

Gene Cedarbaum

Gene’s contributions were broad and varied. He served on the Board of Education, Representative Town Meeting, Citizens Transit Committee, Commission on Senior Services, Westport Transit District, and as a justice of the peace. He was the town’s fair housing agent too.

He was a board member of United Way, the Connecticut Association of Boards of Education, Westport Arts Center, Westport Historical Society and Temple Israel. He also served in the House of Delegates of the Connecticut Bar Association. He helped formed and represented A Better Chance of Westport.

Gene was a member of the Westport Sunrise Rotary Club. Active in Democratic town politics, he served as a delegate to state conventions

He was a graduate of New York University, where he was elected student body president, and Columbia University School of Law. He started his legal career as an Army lawyer. He moved with his family to Westport, and entered private law practice in 1973

He is survived by his wife Carol, his children Mark and Deborah Cederbaum Jones, and grandchildren

A service for Gene is set for tomorrow (Monday, January 20, 1 p.m., Temple Israel. Friends are invited to the family home, 57 Partrick Road, on Monday and Tuesday (4 to 8 p.m).

Vani Court Fire Victim Needs Clothes And More

Yesterday’s house fire on Vani Court was devastating.

A renter lost everything — except his grandfather’s Purple Heart. (That’s the good news. When he told firefighters it was in the still smoldering house, they retrieved it.)

But that was all they salvaged. Jason needs to start over from scratch. He was at a job interview — wearing a thin sports coat — while the house burned down. Even his warm winter coat is ashes.

Jason is a size large in clothes, size 10 in shoes.

He also has an 8-year-old girl and 6-year-old boy. 

Concerned Westporters are collecting clothing, toiletries, small household items, kids games, crafts and monetary donations. There is no need for furniture yet; he has nowhere to put it. (He is staying at a hotel; his children are with their mother.)

There’s another big ask: He needs a car too.

Donations can be dropped off at 18 Bulkley Avenue South (behind Stop & Shop). Funds can be Venmoed to @Jason-milanese, donated via Facebook (click here), or checks (made out to Jason Milanese) can be dropped off at the above address, or mailed there (to Monica Ryan).

Every little bit helps!

Jason’s grandfather’s Purple Heart – saved by Westport’s firefighters. (Photo/courtesy of Facebook: Westport/Fairfield Community)

(Hat tips: Kami Evans and Monica Ryan)

Staples Students Plan Afternoon Of Gun Violence Awareness

The Parkland massacre 2 years ago — and a subsequent assault rifle scare at their own school — affected, then galvanized many Staples High students.

Elana Atlas was just a freshman. But she organized a national letter-writing campaign to legislators, and created a website — Action Against Gun Violence — filled with background information on school shootings; texts sent by terrified students in the midst of gunfire; counter-arguments to the “right to bear arms” clause; links to gun safety organizations; advice on how to start your own movement — and of course, her letter templates.

Elana Atlas, at work 2 years ago.

Two years later, the epidemic continues unabated. But — rather than being discouraged, or overwhelmed by the pressures of being a Staples junior — Elana is committed more than ever to doing what she can to making America’s schools and streets safe for everyone.

In the aftermath of Parkland, she joined fellow Stapleites Audrey Bernstein, Ruby Coleman, Kaela Dockray, Brooke Kessler, Peri Kessler and Eliza Oren in creating a local high school chapter of Students Demand Action. That’s the national organization — affiliated with Everytown for Gun Safety — fighting for common sense gun reform and usage.

Now, Elana has helped turned it into an official Staples High School club.

She’s sparked a number of intriguing projects. The group is working on an open letter to Mitch McConnell, the Senate majority leader who has stalled most gun legislation in that chamber. They’re coordinating with student groups around the country — especially in McConnell’s home state of Kentucky — to get viral social media attention.

Staples’ Students Demand Action and the Westport/Fairfield Moms Demand Action chapter presented a panel on gun violence in schools. Elana was one of the speakers.

Next month, and again in June, the students will commemorate Parkland.

Right now, they’re gearing up for their biggest event yet. On Friday, January 24 (3 p.m., Toquet Hall), Students Demand Action sponsors “An Afternoon of Gun Prevention and Activism.”

Toquet will hum with activities. There will be information about local, state and national legislators’ stands on gun laws; signmaking (with photos, to post on social media); voter registration, and speakers, including lawmakers, studens, and Tara Donnelly Gottlieb, whose parents were killed in 2005 during a robbery of their Fairfield jewelry store.

The goal, Elana says, is to show that the Westport gun violence movement remains strong — and help people get involved.

In 2018, Staples High School students stood in the courtyard to demand action on gun violence. They’re still going strong. (Photo/Ali Feder)

“An Afternoon of Gun Prevention and Activism” is open to all. Elana hopes many high school students will attend, and that parents will bring their children too.

“It will be uplifting — not gory,” she promises.

And very, very important.

(Pre-registration is not mandatory, but it helps for planning numbers. Click here to pre-register.)

Sing Your (A Cappella) Songs!

In 2016, Danielle Merlis created Westport’s first cello camp.

Danielle Merlis

The award-winning musician — who was initially inspired at Long Lots Elementary School, earned first chair honors in the Staples High orchestra, and went on to perform with Chris Brubeck and the Eagles, at venues like Lincoln Center — wanted to give back to the community that gave her so much.

It was an instant success.

Three years ago, she added a summer a cappella camp. It includes vocal technique, beatboxing, ensemble skills and choreography.

Now there’s a winter and spring workshop too.

Starting February 2 and running through April 26 at the United Methodist Church, the camp — for students in grades 4 to 12 — will help them “shake off daily school stress and experience the joy of singing with friends,” Merlis says.

Each week will include a cappella ensemble coaching, beat-boxing masterclasses, vocal improvisation, solo technique and choreography. It ends with a final concert for friends and family.

Typical performances include A-ha’s “Take on Me,” Pentatonix’s “Take Me Home,” “Kendrick/Timberlake’s “True Colors” and One Republic’s “I Did.”

All vocal skill levels and ranges are welcome. Merlis believe that singing should be fun, so she promotes a “supportive, positive, non-competitive” atmosphere.

Sounds good to me!

(For more information on Camp A Cappella, click here.)

MLK Celebration Shines Light On Voter Suppression

Carol Anderson teaches African American studies at Emory University. She is one of America’s foremost experts on voter suppression.

Anderson’s research has identified suppression that, she says, could have reversed results in key states during the 2016 presidential election. She also studies voter disinformation (election meddling), and the disenfranchisement of black women voters from the suffrage movement through the 1960s.

Anderson’s latest book is  One Person, No Vote: How Voter Suppression is Destroying our Democracy.

Dr. Carol Anderson

All of which makes her an excellent choice to deliver the keynote address at Westport’s annual Martin Luther King Day celebration. It’s set for Sunday, January 19 (3 p.m., Westport Country Playhouse), with an audience Q-and-A, reception and book signing to follow.

The event also includes performances by award-winning opera soprano Helena Brown, and students from Trumbull’s Regional Center for the Arts.

The importance of voter suppression — as we hurtle toward the 2020 presidential election, and voter registration lawsuits plod through the courts — is why, in addition to the usual MLK Day sponsors (TEAM Westport, the Westport Weston Interfaith Council, Westport Library and Playhouse), Anderson’s appearance draws strong support from the Westport League of Women Voters, and Westport’s 1919 Committee.

That’s a group of library staff and volunteers who have planned events throughout the year to commemorate the 100th anniversary of women’s suffrage.

One Person, No Vote is included in the Westport Library’s 2019–20 WestportREADS program, which celebrates that centennial.

The MLK Celebration on January 19 is free. However, tickets are required. Click here to register.

Stand Cafe Attracts Hard-Core Vegans — And Many More

Jenna Jacobs McPartland did not plan on opening a vegan restaurant.

She grew up in suburban Minnesota; moved to New York at 20 to study at a conservatory; acted off-Broadway, got married; got pregnant.

Her husband was killed on 9/11. Six days later, their son was born.

Jenna was lifted by the kindness of friends, and strangers. After hand-writing 1,200 notes — and realizing how many people did not have the support she did, after her husband died very publicly — she helped start September Smiles, a non-profit to help non-9/11 widows deal with tragedy.

Jenna Jacobs McPartland

Jenna remarried, and moved to her husband’s home in Weston. She finally reached Broadway — with a walk-on role in “Oklahoma!” for one night, 3 days before it closed.

She divorced, and married her “third and final” husband. Jenna now lives in Westport, with her blended family.

A few years ago she read “Eating Animals,” by Jonathan Safran Foer. She had already given up red meat, but now went fully vegan. As part of “learning how to really cook,” she attended New York’s Natural Gourmet Center. She graduated in 2015.

Jenna began looking for Westport locations, to start a vegan restaurant. Last year she bought the Stand Juice Bar at Fairfield’s Sportsplex. It was the right opportunity — she would not have to build a customer base from scratch.

Now called the Stand Vegan Café — with a full menu — she’s made it her own. She believes in “whole, organic, non-GMO, local plant foods for the planet, the animals, our bodies, and our spirits.” (She also believes “a yummy cookie is totally worth it once in a while!”)

Jenna calls her menu “very comfort food-y.” Breakfast (served all day) ranges from tofu broccoli quiche and ancient grain oatmeal to Belgian waffles and a very popular Seitan bagel sandwich.

Lunch includes soups, a hummus plate, sandwiches and wraps, cauliflower-based mac and cheese, salads and toasts. There’s a full bakery, and of course juices and smoothies. Many of the dishes can be made gluten-free.

Stand Cafe, where the food is as good as it looks …

“It’s a gentle introduction to veganism,” Jenna explains. She realizes non-vegans resent being called “unethical or wrong” for their diets.

Jenna is proud that “a lot of non-vegans come in and love what we serve.” She’s threading the needle, with food that’s “interesting enough for hard-core vegans, but approachable enough for skeptics.”

Good food, she says, is “all about high-quality ingredients, with high-quality techniques.”

The Stand Café is “almost a zero-waste establishment.” A farmer collects all her scraps for his fields. Nearly all material is compostable.

She pays her employees above standard restaurant rates. “We’re a family,” Jenna says.

… including dessert!

That’s not entire selfless, of course. With 6 children ages 21 to 9 in her blended family, she needs “a life outside my restaurant. Everyone who works here loves what we do. We feel like we’re achieving something together. We all look out for each other, and cover each other.”

Besides her “Oklahoma” walk-on role, Jenna Jacobs McPartland did not make it to Broadway. But her Stand Café is now a shining star.

(Jenna also supports local artists. Every 3 months, she features someone different on her walls. Next up: Westport artist Lisa Stretton.)

 

Remembering Sally Deegan

Sally Deegan — for many years the secretary to the principal of Staples High School, and part of a long-time, well known Westport family — died earlier this month. She was 93. Her family writes:

Our mother, Sally J. Deegan, passed away after a valiant battle with old age.

She was born May 28, 1926 in Ridgefield, to Marion Wakeman and Sereno Thorp Jacob. Her dad was a pioneer aviator who flew in The Lafayette Escadrille during World War I.

As a child, Sally battled numerous life-threatening illnesses and missed a lot of school. However, her determination to succeed at everything she did, saw her through. She graduated from Ridgefield High School as class valedictorian.

A child of the Great Depression, after high school she went right to New York City, and was hired as secretary to the president of Faberge Perfumes. Fable has it she was taking dictation while watching a plane crash into the Empire State Building.

In 1946 she married our dad, Donald B. Kellogg. They lived at Compo Beach. Don passed away several years after their 4th child was born, leaving Mom a young widow with 4 kids under the age of 13. She drew on her warrior spirit, doing what she had to to keep a roof over our heads and food on the table.

Not long after she met the love of her life, William F. Deegan. They married in 1962. He had the courage to take on 4 kids, and survived our teenage years. Bill was a crack golfer so Mom, drawing again upon her tenacious spirit, learned how to play.

Sally Deegan

After summers spent on Fairfield Beach, they pursued their dream of having a home in Vermont. They joined the Woodstock Country Club, where Mom won the club championship and chaired the women’s golf committee.

Before moving to Vermont permanently, Mom was secretary to several principals at Staples High School in Westport. No student wanted to be confronted by her.

She also formed the union for public school staff that provided health insurance benefits. She was brilliant at reading fine print, and learning the ins and outs of the insurance industry, which served her for the rest of her life.

Bill and Mom enjoyed many years in Woodstock. They played lots of golf, and made many friends. Bill passed away in 1997.

Before moving to Naples, Florida in 2001, Mom worked at The Bank of Woodstock, and was a part-time realtor.

Mom loved her hard-earned retirement years in Naples. She enjoyed lots golf, tennis, bridge, and many new friends. She played golf just before her 90th birthday, and had a wicked short game. However, old age crept up. Her final years were spent at Aston Gardens Senior Living, where she made even more friends.

Our mom was a Valkyrie. She had gumption and grit. She was smarter than most, and her intuition never failed her. Saint Peter better have his office in order, because she will see to it that his filing system is in order, and his desk clean.

She is survived by her brother, Merritt W. B. Jacob of Hendersonville, North Carolina; children Sally Kellogg (Bruce Tansey) of Naples, Florida, William Bradley Kellogg of Fairfield, Hope Kellogg Kokas (Dan) of Holderness, New Hampshire, and Donald B. Kellogg, Jr. (Anthony Arguelles) of Providence, Rhode Island, and step-daughter Sharon Deegan.

She will be missed as well by her 5 grandchildren  and 7 great-grandsons. She was Aunt Sally to the Jacob girls, residing in Connecticut and Newport, and their brother. Finally, she will be missed by her beloved cat Casper.

We will be forever grateful to Jessica Anderson for her dedication to Mom’s comfort and care for the past 6 months; the folks at AVOW Hospice, and all the staff at The Inn at Aston Gardens.

Internment will take place in Westport. In lieu of flowers, please send a donation to The Humane Society of Naples or The First Tee Naples/Collier.

[OPINION] Dorothy Curran: Westport History Museum Broke Faith

Dorothy E. Curran has lived in Westport since 1977. She has served on the boards of the Westport Library (trustee; co-chair, River of Names community capital campaign) and Westport Woman’s Club (past president, chair/co-chair, many Yankee Doodle Fairs).

Dorothy Curran

She is also — most importantly for this story — a Westport Historical Society past president, chair or co-chair of 5 Holiday House Tours, and co-curator of multiple exhibits, including the original “Cover Story: The New Yorker in Westport.”

This morning, Dorothy reacts to the news that the Westport Museum for History & Culture — formerly the Westport Historical Society — changed the name of its main gallery. It previously honored the Sheffer Family, for their contributions of funds and time. It is now named for a new donor, Daniel Offutt. Dorothy writes:

No one needs to be a member of a historical society, pay annual dues, contribute to annual giving, volunteer to support its educational work, catalog its collections, staff its fundraisers, buy tickets to those same fundraisers, or then buy back donated auction items.

Yet in Westport for more than a century, many have done just that, and some have done even more: leaving substantial bequests to the Westport Historical Society’s modest endowment in their wills or contributing major capital to the campaigns that purchased the historic Bradley-Wheeler property, restored the rare heptagonal cobblestone barn, refurbished (what used to be) the period rooms, built the underground climate-controlled archive and constructed the exhibit gallery addition.

The Westport Historical Society was a people-friendly place with a devoted shoestring staff and intelligent, enthusiastic members and volunteers who contained the costs and raised the funds to keep it going. Most of them grew up somewhere else, but after moving here (Joanne Woodward and Paul Newman among them) were drawn to the WHS by the energy, camaraderie and front-row seats to the remarkable story of how this amazing little (population 25,000) coastal 06880 Zip Code came to be.

The Westport Museum for History & Culture — formerly the Westport Historical Society — on Avery Place.

How was it that Westport grew from the Pre-Contact era through the Puritan Colonial era, the farming, fishing and maritime commerce eras, the American Revolution, the War of 1812 embargo, the rise of small manufacturing, the market boat (local produce to NYC) era, the 1835 formation of the town, the building of the Maine to Georgia (and, in particular, the last piece: New York to New Haven) railroad, the onion (supplying Grant’s troops during the Civil War) and apple farming eras, the 20th century arrival of the nation’s leading artists, illustrators, writers, actors and performing artists, the 20th century leadership in breaking “the gentleman’s agreement” and other discriminatory practices, the building of Westport’s link in I-95 (Maine to Florida), the welcoming of the (United Nations) world through “jUNe Day,” ground-breaking models (like Save the Children and Newman’s Own) for social entrepreneurship, and now, in the 21st century, to providing a base for everyone from hedge fund managers to a burgeoning farmer’s market, from a humongous annual Maker Faire to Interfaith Housing and Homes With Hope, from the Westport Country Playhouse to pop-up art shows, from early adopters of front-line climate change resistance technology to the vigilant volunteers who staff the Historic District Commission?

It’s an amazing saga for a small, but nationally and globally influential town, and the primary place for the public to access this story, told in “chapters,” through exhibits and programs, has long been the Sheffer Gallery of the Westport Historical Society. When the WHS membership purchased the Italianate (built over the original saltbox) Bradley-Wheeler House, it had very limited exhibit and gathering space, and the financial burden of acquiring and refurbishing the antique home for WHS use had left many wallets thin.

The Sheffer family was in a position to help with a major, restricted gift: If the WHS accepts our capital, the new construction will be named, in perpetuity, “The Sheffer Gallery.”

An action that relies on a promise is a contract.

The Westport Historical Society gratefully agreed.

The organization’s recent name change does not give it license to break faith with its past contracts, nor would that be a wise choice for an institution committed, through the benevolence of donors, to preserving the memory of how today’s Westport came to be.