Category Archives: People

Stafford Thomas Named Staples’ New Principal

Forty strong candidates applied to be Staples High School’s next principal.

But after winnowing the field to 6 men and women, and then 2, the decision — first by a committee of parents, educators and community members, and tonight by the Board of Education — was unanimous.

Stafford Thomas Jr. is the new leader of Westport’s high school.

He’s got sparkling credentials.

Interim superintendent of schools Dr. David Abbey introduced Mr. Thomas at today’s Board of Ed meeting as “an exceptional leader (with) outstanding interpersonal and communication skills.”

New Staples principal Stafford Thomas shows off his new Wrecker hat.

He began his career as a social studies teacher at South Side High School in Rockville Centre, New York. After making a strong mark as an administrator in Barrington, Rhode Island and Mystic, Mr. Thomas was hired 8 years ago as principal of Trumbull’s Hillcrest Middle School.

This year, the Connecticut Association of Schools honored it as Middle School of the Year. The award noted that students, faculty, administrators and parents combined to create a community known for innovative teaching strategies, after-school programs and high academic achievement.

Mr. Thomas graduated from Georgetown University, where he rowed on the crew team. He earned a master’s of arts in education from Brown University, and a dual degree in law (juris doctor) and educational administration (M.Ed.) from Boston College.

In addition to Hillcrest, Mr. Thomas currently teaches courses in education law and finance, and advanced curriculum, at Sacred Heart University. He is also a member of the board of directors with the Connecticut Association of Schools.

Stafford Thomas addresses the Board of Education tonight in the Staples cafeteria…

Dr. Abbey calls Mr. Thomas “a highly knowledgeable, creative and resourceful leader — one who is well-respected by students, parents and staff.”

In brief remarks, the new principal smiled broadly. He said he feels “very excited and privileged. In the world of K-12 education, there is no better position than this.”

He looks forward to “starting this journey, at a school steeped in tradition. Go Wreckers!”

He continued to smile — and look forward — in a meeting with more than a dozen Staples teachers, who came to hear the announcement. He said, “My door is open.” They responded with applause.

Mr. Thomas succeeds James D’Amico, who heads north to his alma mater, New Fairfield High School, after 3 years at Staples’ helm. Mr. Thomas will begin his new, very important — and exciting — job on July 1.

… and then speaks with staff members who came to the high school to welcome their new boss.

Ratatouille Serves Up Empowering Dishes

As debate over US immigration policy rages, the focus is on Central American refugees arriving at the Southwest border.

But many other refugees seek asylum here too. In 2017, “06880” highlighted Ratatouille and Company.

That’s the upscale, Westport-based catering company. They train women to become high-level chefs and catering wizards.

And they do it with a strong social mission. They work with women from all backgrounds, but they’re particularly proud of their refugees and immigrant women.

A quick break, before a big catering job.

Ratatouille empowers them, offering cooking, presentation and management skills, along with opportunities and encouragement.

But the women give back plenty in return. They share local recipes and inspire co-workers, clients, and anyone else fortunate enough to enjoy their mouth-watering meals.

Since that “06880” story 2 years ago, Ratatouille has trained over 30 women in culinary arts. They gain both front and back of the house experience, and learn to collaborate with fellow team members.

Concentrating on great food — and perfect presentation.

“It’s a great skill set — a lot more than dishwashers and waitresses,” says co-founder and Westporter Evelyn Isaia.

“We put on events in places these women would never have access to. And they appreciate all those opportunities.” Two women have already gone on to work for the Jean-Georges Group.

An immigrant from Vietnam is typical. Her life is hard. But she is showcasing her cooking talent. Recently, she organized a 5-course tasting menu in Greenwich.

A beautiful Ratatouille and Company delicacy.

Ratatouille caters everything from small cocktail parties to large events. The other day, they set up a tent in New Fairfield and provided wedding guests with lobster rolls, gazpacho, barbecue, tarts, puff pastry (with ratatouille!), and 3 desserts. Seven servers, and a kitchen crew of 5, worked for 11 hours.

This is no charity organization. After one year, it turned a profit.

Ratatouille chefs earn $20 to $25 an hour. With tips, a server can make $200 an evening.

But the women work hard — learning how to communicate in a kitchen, operate a business and serve. Always, they work on their cooking.

“Our clients’ eyes open wide when they see the food we put out, and the level of service,” Isaia says.

The food comes from Syria, Kazakhstan, Honduras — wherever the women come from. Menus are adaptable to each client’s needs.

Evelyn Isaia

Cooking is done in a kitchen in Bridgeport. Isaia is looking for a second kitchen in the Bronx. Ratatouille caters events throughout the tri-state area.

One woman hired Ratatouille for a cocktail party because she believed in its mission. She’ll hire them again, because “the food was inventive, delicious and generous, and the staff was well-trained and gracious.”

Another says the women are “pleasant, professional and warm, and the food is sensational.” She calls “the added plus” of helping female refugees support themselves and their families “a delicious and soul-satisfying combination.”

Women come to the company from trade schools, community colleges and non-profit organizations focused on workplace development. All are vetted and documented.

“We never discuss politics,” Isaia notes. “But we all realize this is another side to all that talk about caravans, and immigrants taking jobs from Americans.”

Remembering Sean Brown

Sean Douglas Brown — a member of the Staples High School Class of 2008 — died earlier this month, 8 days after his 29th birthday. RTM member Andrew Colabella writes:

“All souls must go, but no soul should go untold.” Here is a story about one of the many Westporters who left this earth too soon.

Sean Douglas Brown was born June 1, 1990 and lived in Westport his whole life. His soul was as bright as his blue eyes that saw ways to achieve and accomplish the impossible. These traits were inherited from his late mother Judy and his father Doug. Sean also inherited their abilities, a strong desire to always finish what he started, and a drive to succeed.

Sean played soccer from a young age. He branched out to motocross, fishing, boating, skateboarding, mountain biking, even ice hockey on Sherwood Mill Pond.

Sean Brown

A jack of all sports and a master of competitiveness, Sean’s energy brought all the young souls of Westport together, in activities from street hockey on Grove Point, to fishing at Old Mill Beach, to the skate park where he shredded obstacles and ramps.

He was a competitive, fearless soul with energy that traveled. Everywhere he went, he left an imprint.

Sean was a traveler who explored places he always imagined and wondered about. Everyone he met has a story that can be shared or told about him.

From his friends at Champlain College, to those in Colorado and California where he explored business opportunities and real estate as a licensed agent, Sean was a relaxed and laid back boy, who grew into a young man.

“Remember that one time with Sean…” “So this one night, Sean and I…” has been repeated by so many people he touched in Westport, and beyond.

All roads and stories to lead to Westport. Our tales of our memories and times with him will be shared by strangers, who then become friends.

Sean’s soul will unite all again to celebrate his life this Sunday (June 23, 3 to 7 p.m. at Longshore, next to the marina). Those attending are welcome to bring food and beverages, as Sean’s many friends barbecue together.

(Sean leaves behind his dog Bella, his best friend and sister Morgan, and his father Doug.)

Charlie Karp Tribute: A Levitt Concert For The Ages

The Levitt Pavilion has been the site of countless great concerts.

But in its over-40-year history, it’s never hosted — on one night — artists who have played with the Beatles, Doors, Michael Jackson, Sting, Elton John, Van Morrison, Stevie Wonder, David Bowie, Linda Ronstadt, The Band, Pete Seeger, Smokey Robinson, Rascals, Aerosmith, Buddy Miles, Billy Joel, James Taylor, Elvis Costello, James Brown, Jon Bon Jovi, Cheech & Chong, Michael Bolton, Barry Manilow, Herbie Hancock, Liza Minelli, Cher, Marvin Gaye, Chaka Khan, Mamas and the Papas, Paul Simon, Foreigner, Grand Funk Railroad, Eartha Kitt, Dave Brubeck, Whitney Houston, Roberta Flack, Lenny Kravitz, Chuck Mangione, Harry Chapin, Arlo Guthrie, Bee Gees, Edgar Winter, Grace Slick, Jefferson Starship, John Sebastian, Joe Cocker, Ted Nugent, Mötley Crue, Boz Scaggs, Amy Grant, Sinéad O’Connor, Vince Gill, Carole King, Orleans, Johnny Winter, Emmylou Harris, Chieftains, Lou Reed, Joan Jett, Larry Coryell, Rosanne Cash, Buckwheat Zydeco, Shawn Colvin, Julio Iglesias, Michael McDonald, Luther Vandross, Usher, Jean-Luc Ponty, Jose Féliciano, Herb Alpert, Bad Company, Paul Winter, Taj Mahal, Badfinger, Rick Derringer, Blue Oyster Cult, James Cotton, Bruce Hornsby, Spyro Gyra, Muddy Waters, Eric Weissberg, Wynton Marsalis, New York Philharmonic, London Symphony Orchestra, Boston Pops Orchestra, Vicki Sue Robinson, Aztec Two-Step and James Montgomery.

Just to name a few.

The key is: Nearly all of the musicians who played with those greats also played with Charlie Karp.

And on Saturday, July 6 (7 p.m., Levitt Pavilion) they’ll honor Charlie’s memory, rocking a sure-to-be memorable concert for the ages.

Charlie Karp, in his Buddy Miles days.

Charlie left Staples High School at 16 to play guitar with Buddy Miles. He hung and played with Jimi Hendrix and Keith Richards, and wrote songs for Joan Jett and Joe Perry, before returning home to earn a fanatic following with bands like Dirty Angels, White Chocolate, Slo Leak and the Name Droppers.

He simultaneously earned Emmys as a producer of music for sports networks, documentaries and feature films, and became a guitar teaching mentor to generations of aspiring young stars.

Charlie died in March, at 65. He had been diagnosed a few days earlier with liver cancer.

Nearly everyone who ever played with Charlie — and a few other big names who were influenced by him — will appear together on the Levitt stage. Over 70 strong, they’ll reimagine the rock and R&B Charlie recorded, played and loved so much.

The mammoth, not-to-be-missed show includes Barry Tashian. Seven years older than Charlie, he fronted the Remains. They opened for the Beatles on their final 1966 tour, and were — in the words of legendary critic Jon Landau — “how you told a stranger about rock ‘n’ roll.”

The Remains were a major influence on Charlie. He and good friend Brian Keane — now a Grammy-winning composer and producer — played their songs in a Coleytown Junior High band. Later, Charlie and Barry became friends.

The Remains’ Barry Tashian (left) and Vern Miller, while touring with the Beatles.

Barry has not played in Westport for several decades. He’s flying up from Nashville for this show.

The cast also includes Roger Ball of the Average White Band, Joe Bonadio of Sting, Michael Mugrage of Orleans, Motown recording artist Ada Dyer, Tim DeHuff and Roger Kaufman.

Of course, members of Charlie’s beloved bands from the ’60s through 2019 — guys like David Hull and Rick Castillo — will play too. The Fun Band, Slo Leak, White Chocolate, Dirty Angels and Name Droppers — it’s a trip down memory lane. And a reminder that great music never dies.

Charlie Karp (Photo/John Halpern)

Mandrake Root — a seminal Westport band — will reunite after 50 years. Tony Prior is coming from North Carolina to join in the jam.

The Reunion Band will be there too. Comprised entirely of Charlie’s classmates from Staples’ class of 1971 — all of them noted professional musicians — they were there with Charlie 2 years ago, for one of the Levitt’s best nights ever.

Charlie’s high school sweetheart, Debbie Sims, will introduce “I Still Love You Anyway.” Charlie wrote that song for her, on Buddy Miles’ iconic “Them Changes” album. It — and “Runaway Child,” which Charlie wrote with Buddy — will be performed by the popular local band, the 5 O’Clocks.

Joey Melotti will be there. The musical director for Michael Jackson and Michael Bolton had a huge Westport following with his 1980s band Sunsight.

Chris Coogan’s Good News Gospel Choir will round out the amazing evening.

Guitarist/producer/songwriter Danny Kortchmar can’t be there — he’s on tour with James Taylor and Carole King’s rhythm section. He sent a note to be read from the stage.

So did Keith Richards. He too is sorry he can’t attend. His band, the Rolling Stones, is out on tour.

Charlie Karp and Keith Richards. (Photo/Ray Flanigan)

Every musician is donating their time. Some turned down lucrative gigs to come.

Proceeds will benefit two organizations. The Charlie Karp Memorial Fund promotes promising area musicians, by offering studio time at the Carriage House in Stamford and Horizon in West Haven. The other beneficiary is the Levitt Pavilion.

That’s fitting. Charlie Karp played to adoring Levitt audiences many times.

On July 6, he’ll pack the place one more time.

(The Charlie Karp Tribute Concert is a ticketed event. Click here to purchase, and for more information.)

In Death, The Gift Of Life

Like many others, Dan Levinson moved from New York to Westport when his children were young. He thought it would be a great place to raise kids.

He was right. He grew to love the town, and has been active in many non-profit organizations here and in Bridgeport.

Like some others, his father — Peritz Levinson — moved in with the Levinsons late in life. He too learned to love the beach, Longshore, the library and Senior Center.

Peritz died a year later. Unlike many others, however, his death was not frightening, painful or brutal.

Instead, it was powerful. It was meaningful.

And now it’s become the impetus for an intriguing, important book project.

Peritz Levinson spent his life in Cincinnati. That’s where he took care of his own parents, until they died.

Peritz Levinson, with a very young Dan.

A psychiatrist, he came to Westport when he was 90. His wife had died, and he was ailing. He did not want to impose on his son.

Peritz need not have worried. He had prepared to die. During the last year of his life, he “became transcendent,” Dan says. “He was less present, but more brilliant.”

As they heard Dan talk about his father’s death, people who befriended Peritz during his last year — Sue Pfister at the Senior Center, Bill Harmer of the Westport Library, Sharon Bradley at Visiting Nurse & Hospice of Fairfield County — encouraged Dan to write about the experience.

Peritz and Dan Levinson take a selfie.

He realized there were other stories out there, of “good deaths.” He decided to find them, find writers to tell them, and collect them in a book.

“Beautiful Exits: Sparking Local Conversation on Dying Well” will be “hyperlocal,” he says, featuring 10 stories from Westport.

“It’s not a book for the world. But I think it can influence a lot of people.”

For much of history, Dan notes, death was seen as a natural part of life. People died at home, surrounded by loved ones. But advances in technology and medicine have made us think we need to “fight and scrap,” to put off the inevitable end of our days.

Peritz Levinson, enjoying his son Dan’s back yard.

Peritz Levinson had thought for years about death. He was a founding member of Exit International. The non-profit organization wants to ensure that all rational adults have access to the best available information, so they can make informed decisions about when and how they die.

“My father wanted to be present as he died,” Dan says. “He was calm. He had clarity.”

The final 3 months in particular were “spectacular.”

Dan took his father to meaningful places. Peritz loved the beach. At Elvira’s, Stacy gave him rice pudding. When they drove through the golf course, people waved. Dan’s son Jesse — Peritz’s grandson — was around for much of the time too.

Peritz Levinson, surrounded by (clockwise from lower left), his grandchildren Andie, Adam and Jesse, plus Andie’s fiance Steve and Adam’s girlfriend Hayley.

“It was beautiful,” Dan says. “We had quality time, and closure. There was acceptance and peace.”

Dan is fully aware that his family’s experience is rare. Part of the reason for the book is to spark conversations about dying.

He’s identified many of the 10 stories — and 10 writers — for the book. He only needs a couple of both.

Estelle Margolis, longtime activitst and a Westporter who prepared well for her own death.

Longtime civic volunteer and political activist Estelle Margolis, for example, prepared well for her own death. Her grandson will write her story. Rev. Alison Patton and her husband Craig would like to tell the story of someone still living, now making preparations before death.

“Beautiful Exits” will also include a short piece by assistant town attorney Eileen Lavigne Flug framing the history and legal issues, and another by State Representative Jonathan Steinberg, a proponent of a proposed law that would allow a terminally ill patient with 6 months to live to take his or her own life.

Retired Unitarian Universalist minister Frank Hall may also contribute a piece about death and dying.

Artist Miggs Burroughs might create some of his young-and-old lenticular images for the book.

Someone told Dan, “Your father gave you his life. And he gave you his death.”

Now Dan Levinson is passing on that gift, just as his dad did: with honesty, clarity, grace and love.

Chad: Challenger Baseball’s Shining Knight

Chad Knight has a sparkling resume.

Last week the Staples High School senior captained his baseball team to their 2nd state championship in 3 years. In 2013 Chad starred on the Westport squad that reached the finals of the Little League World Series.

He’s been drafted by the New York Yankees — but he’s heading first to Duke University. He’s also an excellent piano player.

Yet one of his many other recent honors — Gatorade Connecticut Player of the Year — led to an especially fine moment.

As part of Gatorade’s Play It Forward Fund, Chad was given $1,000 to pass on to any national or local youth sports organization of his choice.

He chose Westport Little League’s Challenger Division. That’s the very successful program for boys and girls with disabilities.

Chad Knight (rear, center, white shirt) and Challenger commissioner Beth Cody (front, blue shirt) join Challenger players, buddies, and Staples baseball players today.

Chad’s generosity came from the heart. Throughout the years he has served as a “buddy” to the players. He always found time to help out. He loved the youngsters, and they adored him.

In appreciation of Chad’s gift, commissioner Beth Cody announced that Gatorade is the official drink of the Westport Winners challenger team. Today at Meyer Field, she presented Chad with a bottle with his name, number and the Westport Winners name.

Starting this fall, every Challenger player will get one too.

It was a quick, fun ceremony, before Westport took on Norwalk in their final game of the season.

Then Chad headed off to his next celebration: his own graduation party.

In 2014, Chad Knight (right) was a Challenger buddy with Dylan Curran. Dylan is now manager of the state champion Staples baseball team, and still plays with the Westport Winners.

[OPINION] Good News — And Not So Good — At Baron’s South

Alert “06880” reader, historian and preservation advocate Morley Boyd writes:

In April, I raised environmental and safety concerns about the appearance of a large pile of fill at Baron’s South. The mysterious mound, estimated at roughly 5,500 yards, was discovered in what had once been a meadow dotted with mature trees.

Upon closer inspection I noticed that material in the mound included asphalt, jagged shards of metal, tires, pieces of what appeared to be asbestos cement pipe, plastic containers and the shattered remains of a toilet.

Earlier this spring, Morley Boyd photographed debris in the fill behind the Senior Center.

While erosion prevention netting had been placed across one side of the mound, gullies had formed anyway, and the entire top was exposed. Runoff was visibly headed to drains connected to nearby Deadman’s Brook, a tributary of the Saugatuck River.

Runoff from the fill heads toward Deadman’s Brook.

After learning that the fill had been excavated from a nearby construction site associated with the now completed Senior Center expansion project, I wondered what else might be in the fill. Had it been tested? And why was it there in the first place?

First, I reached out to those whose homes abut the park to see what they knew. After learning the homeowners had been told by the Senior Center project manager that the giant mound was permanent, I made private inquiries about the fill with town officials.

The site of the fill (just south of the Senior Center) is shown by a red arrow (bottom) in this Google aerial image.

When that inquiry went unanswered, the story appeared on “06880.” Shortly thereafter, in reaction to public outcry, the town retained the services of Steve Edwards, recently retired director of public works. He was charged with having the fill professionally tested for the presence of toxic substances.

My concerns proved valid. The recently released toxicology report indicates that the material contains DDT, traces of petroleum byproducts, and a level of arsenic that exceeds state standards for human exposure.

Because of the toxicology report and public pressure, the town has now agreed to remove all of contaminated fill (ideally within the next few months, according to the current director of public works), and restore the meadow to its previous condition.

Morley Boyd says that 6 feet of fill was dumped into the meadow near the Senior Center. (Photo/Morley Boyd)

At Tuesday’s Board of Selectmen meeting, town officials said the tree warden has prepared a replanting plan for the site, including new trees.

In the meantime, residents hope that the toxic pile, which remains fully exposed in the midst of a public park, will be cordoned off to safeguard the health and safety of visitors.

On the whole, this is good news. The town deserves credit for taking responsibility. Still, a number of unanswered questions remain — notably, why did this happen?

The approved site plan for the construction project did not permit the area in question to be disturbed, and the project’s contract included a specific line item for hauling away any excess fill.

Further, many question the wisdom of the town’s proposed plan for reusing the contaminated fill: a parking lot project at the Greens Farms railroad station.

Although the toxicology report — consistent with state guidelines — recommends that the contaminated fill be buried beneath several feet of clean fill if it is to be moved and reused, there is an apparent regulatory conflict.

While state standards for the use of fill are more relaxed, Westport’s are quite stringent. They specifically do not allow the use of fill containing “petroleum based products or materials.”

Since the Baron’s South fill has been shown to contain — in addition to other toxins — chunks of asphalt, it remains unclear how the town can use the fill at the Greens Farms train station and also comply with its own regulations.

If there is any doubt as to whether or not this contaminated fill can be safely remediated for reuse in a public space, wouldn’t the wisest solution be to just dispose of it at a proper facility?

Whatever ultimately happens to the toxic fill, the good news is that a quiet corner of Westport’s “Central Park” will soon return to its natural state. And that’s in large part due to the vigilance and concern of the “06880” community.

Janet Lefkowitz: In The Deep South, Deep In The Abortion Debate

In 1965, Connecticut was at the forefront of an important battle on women’s privacy and reproductive rights. The US Supreme Court’s landmark decision in Griswold vs. Connecticut paved the way to legalize birth control for unmarried couples — and then for Roe v. Wade, which guarantees safe and legal abortions.

Nearly 5 decades later — as abortion and women’s reproductive rights are under assault in parts of the nation — Connecticut stands on the other side. State legislators follow citizens’ leads in protecting — even strengthening — abortion laws and reproductive health choices.

It’s easy to sit here and tsk-tsk places like Alabama and Georgia, where women’s rights to abortion — and personal choices, and ultimately their health — are under attack.

It’s another thing entirely to live there, and be on the front lines of those battles. Westport native Janet Lefkowitz does, and is.

At Staples High School, she enjoyed a broad range of activities: Players, WWPT-FM, senior class vice president.

Dr. Janet Lefkowitz

After graduating in 1983 — and 4 years later from Sarah Lawrence College — Lefkowitz did children’s theater. She temped.

She did not — immediately — follow the career path of her father, orthopedist Dr. Larry Lefkowitz.

But her family, and Temple Israel, had imbued in her a strong belief in Tikkun Olam: acting as constructively and beneficially as possible, for as many people and as long as possible.

Eventually, Lefkowitz found her way to medical school. During her residency in obstetrics and gynecology in Hartford, she realized that field was perfect for her.

“I was working with generally healthy women. There were emergencies, but I could help them help themselves,” she explains.

Her personality — “formed in Westport,” she says — was perfect for that specialty. “I could talk to people,” Lefkowitz says. “As an OB-GYN, you spend a lot of time building relationships with patients.”

She joined a busy practice in Rhode Island. She counseled women, performed surgeries, and taught at Brown University. Her husband — former Staples classmate Jonathan Leepson — was in banking. When his job took him to Atlanta. Lefkowitz moved too.

Though Atlanta is a young, thriving and cosmopolitan city, it’s still in Georgia. Schools teach abstinence-based sex education. Lefkowitz was stunned.

The wife of a rabbi was past president of the local Planned Parenthood chapter. She encouraged Lefkowitz to get involved.

Realizing that women’s access to reproductive health care was at great risk, she soon became chief medical officer of Planned Parenthood Southeast. The organization provides reproductive health care, along with advocacy and education, throughout Georgia, Alabama and Mississippi.

Those states are ground zero in the current national abortion debate.

Officially a part-time job — she was hired to work 21 hours a week — it is actually much more. Yet it’s a “labor of love,” Lefkowitz says.

It’s also very frustrating.

“We’re having constant conversations about things that are should-haves — access to cervical and breast cancer screenings,” she notes. “It’s eye-opening, and scary.”

For a while, she worked behind the scenes. But when Alabama passed one of the nation’s most restrictive abortion laws — it would permit abortions only if the mother’s life is at risk or the fetus cannot survive, but not in cases of rape or incest — and Georgia and Mississippi pursued legislation that would ban abortion as soon as a physician detects a fetal heartbeat, the national Planned Parenthood office asked her to speak out.

The video “sort of outed me,” Lefkowitz. Previously, some neighbors did not talk to her because of her work. Now, many more people knew what she does. And where she stands on perhaps the most controversial topic in the region.

“There’s a lot of emotion, and a lot of misconceptions,” Lefkowitz says of the current debate.

She sees the issue as “protecting a woman’s right to do what she wants with her body, for the good of her family and herself. It’s fundamentally a health issue.”

So I wondered: After spending time on the front lines, is she optimistic or pessimistic? Proud? Worried?

“All those things!” Lefkowitz says.

“I’m super-proud to be engaged in this work. Women are being denied their rights. If I can help people understand that abortion is safe — and that it’s not a choice made lightly — that’s good.

“I’m angry that politicians don’t see women as responsible decision-makers. They feel they need to make choices for us.”

Alabama is ground zero in the national abortion debate.

They’re also forcing doctors like her, she says, “to choose between providing ethical care, and breaking the law.” If the new wave of legislation is upheld, she believes most doctors would follow the law — or leave the area. That would worsen the already poor state of health care for women.

Yet Lefkowitz is also hopeful the laws will be stopped in court. She’s heartened that what’s happening in the South has spurred activism around the country. States like Connecticut, New York and Vermont are trying to widen — rather than restrict — women’s reproductive rights.

And she is heartened that people are now talking about the issue.

Personally, Lefkowitz says, one good thing has come out of her recent activism.

“This has helped me become a more compassionate physician. Women are being forced to make heartbreaking decisions. But I’m glad to be with them, taking care of them during a very important part of their lives.”

(Hat tip: Emily Silverman)

Larry Aasen: “North Dakotans Never Give Up”

Larry Aasen has just written his 4th book about North Dakota.

That may be a world record.

“Very few people write books about North Dakota,” the Peace Garden State native and longtime Westporter says modestly.

“Then again, very few people live in North Dakota, period.”

At 96 years old, Aasen still has all his wits — and his wit.

So I should note here: Very few 96-year-olds write books, period.

Aasen’s oeuvre includes “North Dakota 100 Years Ago,” “Images of North Dakota” and “North Dakota Postcards 1900-1930.” The postcards are fascinating — some are from his parents’ collection (they corresponded that way when they were courting, and lived 30 miles apart) — and so are the photos his mother took using a new-fangled camera (they were sent to Minneapolis to be developed, and arrived back 3 weeks later).

Larry Aasen has written 4 books. All focus on North Dakota.

His latest book — “North Dakotans Never Give Up” — goes beyond images, postcards and history. It’s a personal memoir, weaving together Aasen’s youth in the still-pioneer state with the inspiring story of residents who overcame great adversity, and achieved big things.

(Eric Sevareid, Lawrence Welk and Peggy Lee, to name 3.)

“The Depression was a terrible time,” Aasen says of his youth. “Many young people in North Dakota today have no idea. There were grasshoppers, drought — you name it.”

Those North Dakotans who never gave up survived by raising cows, turkeys, chickens and pigs. They made their own food. They built chairs and benches out of wood they chopped. They were self-sufficient. They had to be.

“Winters were tough,” he says. “Kids really did walk to school in the snow.”

He was one of those kids. And he’d go to school after milking cows. “We smelled. The town kids teased us,” he recalls.

Larry Aasen’s garage is filled with North Dakota — and political — memorabilia.

Aasen’s grandparents were certainly tough. All 4 lived into their 80s. Their stories form an important part of the new book.

“Weak people died,” Aasen says. His grandparents never went to the hospital. They didn’t even have medical care.

“It cost $1 for the doctor to come to the farm. That was too expensive.” He doesn’t remember ever seeing medicine in the house — “except maybe cough syrup.”

His mother kept a diary, which he still has. “She would talk about whatever happened that day,” Aasen says. “‘Today an airplane flew over the farm.’ ‘We butchered a pig.’ ‘Hoover was elected president.’ There were a lot of bank robberies too.”

Larry Aasen’s mother’s 1929 diary (left), and 2 pages from 1937.

Aasen is an assiduous researcher. He spent 9 months writing the most recent volume — and did all the layout too. (His son-in-law got it copy-ready.)

“I’m 96, but I’m too busy to be a senior citizen,” Aasen — whose Mississippi-born wife Martha, 89, is equally active — says.

Aasen’s books sell well — and all over the country. They’re bought by libraries, universities, people who live in North Dakota, and those who have left.

They’re reviewed regularly in publications like the Bismarck Tribune, Grand Forks Herald and Forum of Fargo.

Aasen promotes his books himself, partly through direct mail. After 4 volumes, he’s built up a robust mailing list. (Robust by North Dakota standards, anyway.)

He used to go back every year. His trips now are less frequent.

“I had 31 cousins there. Now there’s 1,” Aasen says. “My classmates, my Army mates — they’re all gone.”

Memorial Day 2018 grand marshal Larry Aasen and his wife Martha. (Photo/Ted Horowitz)

Larry and Martha Aasen moved to Westport in 1963. They’ve been involved in town life — too many activities to count — ever since.

But nearly 6 decades later — after nearly a century on the planet — Larry Aasen still loves his home state. And he’s proud to honor the people he grew up with there.

“A lot of people today, if they can’t get a job they sit around feeling sorry for themselves,” he says.

“In North Dakota, you couldn’t do that. You’d starve.

“You had to be tough, and figure things out.”

Like his book title says: North Dakotans Never Give Up.

(To buy a copy of Aasen’s book, email aasenm@aol.com, or call 203-227-6126.)

VFW Posts An Impressive 100 Years

We pass it every day. For nearly 100 years, it’s sat proudly at one of Westport’s busiest intersections.

Yet VFW Joseph J. Clinton Post 399 is also one of our town’s best-kept secrets.

It’s not for veterans only. It’s not a private club. It’s not smoke-filled (anymore).

It is a place where “guests” are welcome (just sign the book!). It is a place you can rent for your next reunion, birthday or anniversary party, shower or club meeting.

It does boast some of the best-priced food and drinks in town.

Oh yeah: There’s also a dock in back, with low-cost moorings, and slots for anyone to tie up before enjoying a great lunch or dinner.

(From left) Bob Tirreno, Tom Dubrosky, Phil Delgado and Joe Gallo, at the VFW’s 24-slip dock.

The VFW has been a Westport institution since 1920. Named for a World War I veteran, it occupied a couple of different sites in Saugatuck. It moved to its present Riverside Avenue location — at the junction of Saugatuck Avenue, across from Treadwell — in 1973.

The property was donated to the chapter, which is part of the national Veterans of Foreign Wars organization. Westport veterans like the Kowalsky and Veno brothers, and Buck Iannacone, helped construct the current, spacious and welcoming brick building.

Out in front — seldom noticed — is one of the original cannons made in 1799, placed at Compo Beach in 1901 to commemorate the 1777 battle against the British.

It was vandalized in 1957. The Rotary Club restored it, and presented it to the VFW. The cannons at the beach today are replicas.

A Compo cannon, in front of the VFW.

In the 1980s, there were 150 or so active Post 399 members. Most were in their 60s or older, veterans of World War II and Korea.

That’s the traditional pattern of the post. Younger vets are busy raising families, and with careers. Once they retire, they have the time — and desire — to join.

Westport’s VFW counts over 180 members now, from Vietnam to Afghanistan. But most are inactive. Leaders include Phil Delgado (Bosnia), and Tom Dubrosky and Bob Tirreno (both Vietnam). Viet vet Frank Veno is vice commander.

Joe Gallo runs the excellent food service. Lunch is 6 days a week in the summer, 7 in fall and winter. Dinner is served Friday nights; Saturday is usually private parties.

One of 3 main dining areas, this room is bright, warm — and boasts a killer view of the Saugatuck River.

Though many Westporters don’t know it, Post 399 is available to rent. The lower level fits 150 people; the 2 rooms upstairs seats 60 and 45. Sports fans love the 9 flat-screen TVs throughout the 2 levels.

An open deck in back — with a stunning view of the river — was enclosed a while back.

Beyond the parking lot, the post has a dock with 24 slips. Most are rented (2 are donated to volunteer organizations). A few are available for anyone passing by, who wants to go in and enjoy lunch.

The Westport Fire and Police Departments hold regular events at the VFW. So do the Y’s Men, Kiwanis and other civic groups. VFW officials would love to host more.

But the VFW is not just about meeting, eating and drinking. Every Memorial Day they help provide the flags the Scouts place on veterans’ graves, and comprise the honor guard at the ceremony after the parade.

On Memorial Day last month, VFW Post 399’s honor guard stood proudly. From left: Tom Dubrosky, Johnny Deilus, Bobby Tirreno, Allan Chavez, Phil Delgado, Rob Custer, Frank Veno, Brad Menkin and Bernie Rombout.

They collect flags so they can be disposed of properly; furnish buglers for vets’ funerals, and are a resource for veterans with questions of any kind (whether VFW members or not).

There’s an active auxiliary too. Once limited to service members’ wives, it’s now open to their children and parents too.

Fairfield County is not fertile ground for veterans’ organizations. The Norwalk VFW post closed a while back, and Fairfield’s is inactive.

But — nearly 100 years old — Westport’s Joseph Clinton Post 399 is going strong.

They want to be even stronger.

As the post’s century anniversary approaches, they’ve got big plans. They hope to raise $100,000 from the community. Funds will retire the mortgage, and help dredge the river.

“We hope to be around for the next 100 years,” says Tom Dubrosky. “We want to be here, so people who serve now and in the future will have a place to go.

“We’re here for veterans — and the entire town.”

(For more information on Westport’s VFW Post 399, click here or call 203-227-6796.)