Category Archives: People

Staples Wrestlers Tackle Tough Jobs

High school winter sports are on hold until January 19. Basketball courts, hockey rinks, swimming pools — all are quiet.

The Staples High School wrestling team can’t practice or compete either. But they’re not taking the layoff lying down.

The Wreckers keep in shape by lifting. Not in the weight room, of course — that’s closed too.

Instead, the grapplers lift treadmills. Sofas. Pianos. You name it — if you’ve got a moving job (or any other work), they’ll do it.

And the service is free. (Donations to the wrestling program are gratefully accepted, for sure.)

Need a stone wall dismantled and moved? Call the Staples wrestling team!

The wrestlers form one of the tightest, most cohesive teams at Staples. (Their sport is one of the toughest, too.) Much of that is built on the foundation laid by Terry Brannigan. The former Staples wrestler’s son TJ graduated last spring after a stellar career. His second son Eamon is a junior on the squad.

As part of Brannigan’s effort 3 years ago to boost the morale of what was then a flagging program — and introduce the community to the team and sport — he realized that strong, enthusiastic teenagers could fill a need.

Facebook’s Westport Front Porch page often featured requests for help with jobs no one seemed to want to do. They were heavy, messy, small or required a truck.

One day Brannigan responded: “I know 30 fit, polite and responsible young men who are happy to do it: the Staples wrestling team!”

Quickly, someone asked how much they’d charge. He replied, “Nothing. If you’re happy, just say something nice about the team. If you feel like making a tip, it will go to the team.”

That was 100 jobs ago.

Among the wrestlers’ jobs: moving a chicken coop. This was before the pandemic, which is why they’re not wearing masks.)

The first request was to clear wood and brush from a yard, left there by an unscrupulous contractor. The homeowner could not pay what Brannigan calls “extortion prices” of area companies. After the wrestlers’ final trip to the dump, she tearfully said, “you’ve restored my faith in this town.”

Word spread. Soon they were working nearly every weekend. Along the way, they met “the nicest people,” Brannigan says. “And we’ve had a great time.”

They have moved, cleaned and transported everything imaginable. The heavyweights do the heavy lifting; the light guys maneuver in tight spaces.

Since the pandemic struck, they’ve done a booming business moving treadmills. Some are ordered online, delivered to the garage, and need to be brought downstairs. Others are bought from someone in town, and must be transported.

“We’ve gone up and down and around obstacles no one else would touch,” Brannigan says.

The wrestlers put the treadmills together too, if needed. One of their favorite jobs was for a 103-year-old military veteran, who was excited to get back to exercising.

The wrestling team specializes in bringing big items down small spaces.

The list of jobs is long. The teenagers have moved hot tubs, patio furniture and a chicken coop. They maneuvered a piano down stairs that a professional mover would not touch (“without even touching a wall,” Brannigan says proudly).

They’ve planted 900 tulip bulbs, fixed awnings, removed snow too, took apart a stone wall, and broke down the Remarkable Theater after a concert.

Each time, Brannigan says, “we make a friend. We receive a donation. Most importantly, they meet our athletes.”

It’s a fun event for the boys. They meet at Brannigan’s house or the diner for breakfast before work, or have a donut afterward. (Hey — the season has not yet begun!)

Most weekends, 2 crews work. Sal Augeri helps Brannigan supervise, but the bulk of the work is done by the teenagers. Five have pickup trucks; one has a trailer.

It takes money to run a sports program, beyond what the athletic budget provides. The wrestlers are earning funds to pay for extra coaches, equipment, and some of the extras that make their program one of the best in the state.

Now all they need is a season. They certainly earned it.

(Need some help? Email terrybrannigan5@gmail.com or call 203-644-8403.)

Jeff Dunkerton Named New Town Clerk

When Patty Strauss retired as town clerk, she left big shoes to fill.

On January 19, Jeff Dunkerton will be fitted for them.

Most recently the assistant town clerk for Danbury, he was responsible for the automation of that office, including digitizing all city records. His management and administrative functions included preparation of department budgets and day-to-day oversight of departmental staff.

Jeff Dunkerton

Before that, Dunkerton served as a registrar of voters in Brookfield, and was an operations manager for a Pitney Bowes division. He is a volunteer firefighter in Brookfield, a marine patrol officer for the Candlewood Lake Authority, and a mentor with the Danbury Schools & Business Collaborative program.

“I am very impressed with Jeff’s background and employment history,” says 1st Selectman Jim Marpe.

“His dedication, experience and commitment to his profession are precisely what we are looking for in a town clerk. We look forward to having Jeff join the town staff in this important leadership role.”

Representative Town Meeting Moderator Velma Heller ads, “We look forward to working with Jeffrey in his new position. I’m certain that he will be a very effective Town Clerk.”

Dunkerton lives in Brookfield with his wife Amber and their 2 sons.

Amy Feder: Eldercare Concierge

Amy Feder has always found seniors fascinating. At weddings, she says, “I talk to the grandmother no one else pays attention to.”

Helping people is in her DNA. Her father was a child psychiatrist; her mother taught special ed.

Amy found her calling in social work. She earned a master’s from New York University, and is certified as a dementia practitioner and geriatric care manager.

She moved to Westport 20 years ago, and raised her children here. “This town has been so good to me,” she says. “I’ve never felt alone.”

Amy Feder

After working at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, NYU Medical Center, Norwalk’s Family & Children’s Agency and, for the past 8 years, Jewish Senior Services as a care coordinator helping people stay in their own homes, Amy is now a private practitioner.

Her niche is eldercare and aging. She’s in the right place at the right time.

“I was getting calls from friends for help with elderly parents or spouses,” she says. “They needed knowledge, advocacy and support. I became a concierge for eldercare.”

Their questions were real, and crucial: How do I find an assisted living community? How do I talk to my parents about driving? How do I figure out the Medicare maze? I’m burned out from being a caregiver — can you help?

COVID has amplified senior issues. Isolation is bad enough; add the need for conversations about end-of-life care, and Amy has been busy since spring.

She has been pleased — but not surprised — by how well many senior have coped with the coronavirus. “They’re less restless than younger people,” Amy says. “They’re resilient.” Of course, isolation is tough for everyone, at any age.

Sometimes she consults for an hour. Other times she provides ongoing counseling.

Over the past several months, Amy has helped families set up technology for loved ones, to keep connected. She’s found communities where they can engage with others. She’s offered strategies to combat loneliness.

Y’s Men meetings are now held by Zoom. Amy Feder helps seniors and families set up technology, to stay connected.

Always, she listens. Often, Amy notes, “people just need someone to talk to.”

A while ago, she had to have end-of-life discussions with her own mother. They were painful, she admits. But Amy found solace that her mother died with “all of her wishes known.”

The pandemic hastened trends that Amy had already noticed, like telemedicine. She finds the future exciting — for seniors and their families.

She believes Westport is a “great town” for seniors. “The Senior Center is fabulous — it’s closed now, but they still run great programs. And there are plenty of resources all over town.”

Still, she adds, “we could use more senior housing. We’re an aging population, and this is an expensive town and state to age in.”

The Residence at Westport is our town’s first assisted living facility. Amy Feder says we need more senior housing options.

Having had a vaccine, Amy is available for home visits.

“It’s important to engage now and plan ahead,” she says. “No one wants to get into an emergency situation.”

(For more information click here, email amyfeder@optonline.net, or call 917-826-6660.)

Remembering Herbie Carusone

Westport native and longtime Westport firefighter Joseph Herbert Carusone died last week in his Walpole, Maine  home. He was 88.

Herbie’s father owned the Mayfair Market grocery store, on the corner of Post Road West and Wilton Avenue. He worked there, and enjoyed fishing and crabbing in the nearby Saugatuck River.

Carusone graduated from Staples High School in 1951, though he missed the ceremony because he had already joined the Navy. His 4 years of service included deployment to the Mediterranean Sea on the USS Tidewater.

He sent some of his pay back home to help his parents, but kept enough money to buy US Savings Bonds.

Joseph Herbert “Herbie” Carusone

After returning to Westport, Carusone joined his dad in the grocery store. He worked alongside his younger sister Pat, and his best friend Ray Bowne.

In 1964 he joined the Westport Fire Department. His grandfather had been a volunteer there too.

In his free time Carusone went fishing, clamming and lobstering in Long Island Sound. He also painted houses.

Carusone used his construction skills to build a house in Weston, acting as general contractor.

After retiring from the Westport Fire Department as a lieutenant in 1986, with 22 years of service, he sailed up the New England coast. Moving to Wiscasset, Maine, he became known by his first name, Joe.

In Maine he met Janis Breen Warsky. They were married in 1991.

Carusone frequented auctions to find diamonds in the rough, to refinish and sell in his shop, Wiscasset Cottage Antiques. Customers loved his workmanship, and he enjoyed sharing his treasures with them. He was in his shop through this past summer.

When he wasn’t there, Carusone caught stripers in the Sheepscot River, was an avid collector of antique household items, and renovated several houses.

Carusone particularly loved being with family and friends, having large family dinners, and chatting with his kids and grandkids. Recently he found joy in sitting on the patio with Jan, watching waves crash onto the rocks at Pemaquid Point.

Carusone was preceded in death by his sisters Naime Wakeman and Nona Aznar. He is survived by his wife, Janis Warsky-Carusone; his daughter Pamela and husband Garvin Gardner; sons Joseph (Maria) and Jeffrey; step-daughters Stephanie Smith (Nathan) and Kristen Warsky (partner Joshua); step-son Jordan Warsky (Kelly); sister Pat Stannard (Elmer); 9 grandchildren and several great-grandchildren.

His family thanks the many doctors and nurses who provided Carusone with exceptional care and love.

In lieu of flowers, donations can be made in his name to MaineHealth Care at Home,15 Industrial Park Road, c/o Roy Garland, Saco, Maine 04072.

There will be a special days of remembrance in Connecticut and Maine this summer.

Bright, Airy, Fresh-Smelling, Mold-Free: “New” Coleytown Middle School Reopens Today

In September 2018, Coleytown Middle School closed due to mold.

Today, teachers return. Tomorrow they’ll be joined by students.

The $32 million remediation and renovation project was not easy. The school was in far worse condition than anyone imagined. A global pandemic disrupted both the supply chain and some of the workforce.

But the reopening comes only a couple of months late. And the final cost is right on budget.

The exterior of the “new” Coleytown Middle School.

Staff and students will enjoy an entirely new HVAC system. Every window has been replaced. The exterior cladding is new. The entire property was regraded.

The entry atrium and library are bright and fresh. Science classrooms have been modernized.

Most importantly, for the first time in decades the school will not smell. The dank, musty odors that permeated the building — remembered miserably by generations of Coleytown Colts and their parents — are gone.

A new seal graces the entryway,

The school’s closure — after students reported dizziness and nausea — was first projected to last a month. Sixth and 7th graders were sent to Bedford Middle School; 8th graders headed to Staples High.

But the months stretched on. After educators and other officials considered everything from an entirely new $75 million building to permanent abandonment of the site, a middle ground — renovation — was the solution.

On March 4, 2018 a building committee was formed. The next day, they held their first meeting.

Chair Don O’Day — a former Board of Education head — and members John Broadbin, Jay Keenan, Karen Kleine, Srikanth Puttagunta, Joe Renzulli and Vanessa Valadares went right to work.

They had 3 charges: repair or replace the climate control system; repair or replace the exterior, to prevent water incursion, and regrade the exterior grounds to move water away from the building.

That meant replacing the entire roof, and every window; changing the exterior walls, adding new insulation and metal cladding; installing an all-new heating, cooling and dehumidifying system (and adding air conditioning to the gym), while regrading and installing a French drain outside.

Every window is new — including these large ones in the cafeteria.

The committee hired building engineers Wiss, Janey, Elstner Associates; mechanical engineers Kohler Rohan; civil engineers Langan Connecticut; general contractor Newfield Construction, and interior designers CPG Architects.

Susan Chipouras — who earned kudos overseeing previous renovations of Staples and Saugatuck Elementary School — served as project manager.

Another key hire was EnviroMed. The Meriden-based firm industrial hygienist firm identified contaminants, and oversaw a rigorous removal protocol.

All furniture was taken out, cleaned and tested. Items that did not pass were thrown out.

“The school was a lot sicker than we thought,” O’Day says. “There were a number of structural challenges to address.

“We couldn’t just put in a new roof, windows and HVAC. We had to shore up the structure in a far more significant way than we expected. The town finally realized we needed more than just a Band-Aid.”

The renovated school is bright and airy. This is the atrium at the entrance.

O’Day lauds former CMS PTA co-presidents Sue Herrmann and Lee Goldstein for “relentlessly telling anyone who needed to hear that this building was sick, and not an appropriate place for kids or staff.”

Principal Kris Szabo and the custodial staff also worked hard to address all issues.

“The town has sent a clear message: Our children are valued,” O’Day says. “It’s our priority that they attend a school they’re proud of, and that will help them learn in the 21st century.”

The library has been modernized too.

He cited the Boards of Finance and Education, 1st Selectman Jim Marpe, principal Szabo and Westport Public Schools director of technology Natalie Carrignan for “making our committee’s job a lot easier. We couldn’t have done it without them.”

Now, at last, the new Coleytown Middle School is ready for prime time.

Some teachers have gone in on their own time, to set up their classrooms. They’ll all be on hand today, making sure everything is ready when students return tomorrow.

A world language classroom is ready for students.

It will be like the first day of school for everyone. Current 8th graders spent only 3 weeks in the building before it closed. Seventh and 6th graders have never been inside.

Of course, a few details remain.

Exterior work will continue through February — but only on Wednesdays and weekends, when students are not inside.

Superintendent of Schools Tom Scarice’s office is working with the state to obtain reimbursement of up to 20% of eligible spending.

Then there’s one more item to address. The company that created all the handsome new signage spelled one word wrong — every time.

It’s “cafeteria,” not “cafteria.”

Whatever it’s called though, it too looks — and smells — great.

Don O’Day in the cafteria — er, cafeteria. (Photos/Dan Woog)

Remembering Marty Mellin

Longtime Westport resident Martin Mellin died on December 22, 9 days before his 68th birthday. He contracted COVID-19 while recovering from knee surgery in the hospital.

His son Ethan wrote this tribute:

Dad, I love you so much. Whether it was school, sports, music — anything — you were my #1 fan. You gave me everything I could ever need in life and more, just because you cared and to show me you loved me.

Marty Mellin and his young son Ethan.

By high school, when my friends thought of you the first image that came to mind was your lawn chair on the sideline of one of my sports games. It was a running joke, but I see now that you took pride in your reputation, because it signified how present you were for every moment in my life.

Marty Mellin and Ethan, at Staples High School baseball team’s Senior Day in 2014.

As a kid, you were in that lawn chair for every baseball, football and basketball game since I could walk. You would beg to read my school essays — no matter how boring — just because you were proud.

As an adult, you always called me just to ask about my day, work, the stock market, Yankees, Giants, Kelsi, Lyla — it didn’t matter what we talked about.

“Just tell me what’s going on,” you would say. All you wanted in life was to see Jedd, Julia, and me be happy and be loved, because at the end of the day our family brought you more joy than anything else in the world.

I think that is the hardest part about losing you. There are so many beautiful things in our lives left to look forward to that I know would have made you so freaking happy. Julia’s high school graduation; the start of Jedd’s law career; retiring and growing old with Mom now that us kids are all grown up, Kelsi’s and my wedding. becoming a grandfather…

Marty Mellin with his family.

It’s hard to imagine a life where you aren’t around for these things, and it’s going to feel pretty empty for a while. But I know that we will all carry you deep in our hearts for the rest of our lives. So while it crushes my soul that we won’t have any more moments together in person, I have to remember that you will still be watching and loving on us every single day. I love you, Dad.

========================================

To “06880” readers:

Just as we thought he was better and days from coming home after knee surgery, things rapidly took a turn for the worse.

On December 16 my dad was placed on a ventilator. That night was the last time I got to hear his voice.

Six days later he passed, suffering no physical pain.

In the US, 3,238 other lives were cut short by this pandemic the same day as my dad. Like him, each of those numbers is a person — someone with a story, a family, friends, a future they will no longer see.

Marty Mellin with Jedd and Ethan.

It breaks my heart. We are so close to the end of this awful year, but we can’t become complacent and give up on the things that we know will save lives — that will prevent even just one more story like this one.

Wear a mask. Social distance. Be with family if you can do so safely, but don’t let the pain of missing your loved ones today potentially lead to a lifetime without them.

I would sacrifice anything in the world to have one more day with my dad.

What would you sacrifice to be with yours?

Marty Mellin is survived by his wife Nisa, sons Jedd (Staples High School Class of 2012) and Ethan (Staples ’14), and daughter Julia (Staples ’21).

(Hat tip: Jeff Mitchell)

Marty Mellin and friend.

 

EMS Ends 2020 With A Shot In The Arm

The COVID vaccine has come to Westport.

Emergency medical technicians and paramedics serving on Westport’s ambulances have begun vaccinations, as part of the national roll-out to front line medical personnel.

Officials call the vaccines “a sign of hope for local Emergency Medical Service volunteers and staff, after 10 months of treating the community’s COVID-19 patients.”

Yesterday, several Westport EMS members, along with other first responders from the Police and Fire Departments, received the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine at the Westport-Weston Health District.

Volunteer EMT Lynette Pineda, Volunteer EMT/Westport Volunteer EMS president Mike Burns, and Paramedic/Westport EMS deputy director Marc Hartog were the first to receive the vaccine at the Westport Weston Health District.

First responders have been authorized by the CDC to go to any certified vaccine clinic in the state. This allows personnel living outside of Westport to find a clinic closer to their home.

However, the ability to administer vaccinations here will make it easier and more efficient for EMS providers to receive their shots.

“We encourage everyone to get vaccinated as soon as it is available to you. In the meantime we’ll continue to wear masks, wash our hands frequently and practice social distancing, and ask all of you to do the same.” said EMS deputy director Marc Hartog.

Only 1 member of the nearly 75-person Westport Emergency Medical Service has been diagnosed with COVID-19 throughout the pandemic. Officials cite strict infection control and PPE protocols for keeping EMS members — and the many patients they treat — safe.

Most of the service’s volunteers and staff members say they’ll get the vaccine as soon as they can.

Missyfit’s 2020 Hissy Fit

The last time “06880” caught up with Mia Gentile, the former Staples Players and “Kinky Boots” Broadway star had just released a stunning, Black Lives Matter-inspired version of “Have You Ever Seen the Rain?

She and collaborator musician/video producer Roger Klug called themselves MISSYFIT.

“06880” loves Mia. Previous stories covered the 2007 Staples/2011 Cincinnati Conservatory of Music grad’s clever, multi-genre interpretations of the Stanley Steemer jingle, and her many stage roles back in the days when live theater was a thing.

Which brings us to her latest project.

Once again, Mia and Roger have worked together — though hundreds of miles apart — on a new take of an old classic.

Or in this case, 2 classics.

“It was cathartic for us to ring out 2020 with some punk rock angst,” she says.

They mashed up the Ramones’ “Glad to See You Go” and “I Wanna Be Sedated.” The latter song is particularly apt — you know, “20, 20, 20, 4 hours to go…”

It’s a quick leap to 2020 — the year we can’t wait to bid adieu.

So, with just about 9 hours to go … take it away, Mia and Roger!

Roundup: Garage Renovation, Mike Krysiuk, Larry Aasen, More


Want to celebrate New Year’s at home, but worried about asking guests inside? And no fire pit or hot tub outside to gather round?

Take a page from Claudine Rossman’s book. She and her family converted their Saugatuck Shores garage into a “lodge.” On Christmas Eve a small family group gathered — tested, masked, socially distant, and with the door opened as much as it needed to be.

It’s a great idea. But if you want to do the same for tonight, get busy. This project looks like it took a while.

Claudine Rossman’s garage before …

… and after.


In 1974, Mike Krysiuk was having a great senior year at Staples High School. He played baseball, and worked at Mario’s. But a devastating automobile accident left him with a traumatic brain injury and many broken bones.

He’s well known in his home town, for the motivational talks he gives and the 25 years he’s spent working in Town Hall.

Now Mike has written The Big One: Miracles Happen when You Shoot for the Sun, about his youth in Westport.

He shares insight about his astonishing comeback from the unimaginable, fueled by dogged determination and a dream.

His co-author — award-winning writer Julia Bobkoff — is the co-founder of Westport’s Christmas Lake Creative writing workshop.

The Fairfield University Bookstore host Mike’s virtual book launch on January 14 (7 p.m.); click here for the link. To purchase The Big One, click here.

Mike Krysiuk


Meanwhile, Larry Aasen has just compiled his 9th book — at 98 years old.

The latest effort from the indefatigable, longtime Westporter — who has also authored a possible world record 4 books about his native North Dakota — is Stolen Jokes and Swiped Cartoons.

With illustrations by the late, beloved Westport illustrator Howard Munce, the booklet has gags like this: “A 90-year-old man was complaining. He said, ‘My eyesight is not very good, and I can’t hear too much. Thank God I can still drive a car.'”

To order, email aasenm@aol.com, or call 203-227-6126.


Westporters can’t get enough of this end-of-the-year Full Cold Moon. Jeanine Esposito shares these great shots:

Over the Cribari Bridge …

… and the Saugatuck River (Photos/Jeanine Esposito)


Marcelle Smart — one of a corps of young teachers at Staples High School in the mid- and late-1960s — died recently December 21, from vascular dementia. She was 77 years old.

The French instructor then moved to New Hampshire with her husband, Staples graduate “Doc” Hagen, and raised 2 children. 

Former colleague Jeff Lea remembered her as “very bright, and student-centered.” She graduated from the University of Michigan, and earned a master’s in teaching at Johns Hopkins.

Donations in her memory may be to the Special Friends program at The Worship Place, 811 Sun City Boulevard, Georgetown, TX 78633.

Marcelle Smart, in the Staples High School 1969 yearbook.

And finally … for generations of American’s, it’s not New Year’s without “Auld Lang Syne.”

And it’s not “Auld Lang Syne” without Guy Lombardo and his Royal Canadians.

The orchestra played almost half a century of New Year’s Eves, first on radio — from the Roosevelt Grill in New York in 1928 — and beginning in 1956 on television, first from the Waldorf Astoria and then Times Square. Lombardo died in 1977, but his band continued playing on CBS for 2 more years.

“Auld Lang Syne” is a poem written by Robert Burns in 1788, and set to the tune of a traditional Scottish folk song.

 

Roundup: Twilight Zone, Top Restaurants, More


One of my favorite New Year’s traditions is the SyFy channel’s “Twilight Zone” marathon.

It airs December 31 and January 1 — one great, thought-provoking, stand-the-test-of-time episode after another.

Rod Serling began writing and introducing his stories while he lived in Westport — right down the street from my family, in fact, on High Point Road.

Some were influenced by this suburban, post-war town. And “A Stop at Willoughby” — with a train conductor calling out to a time traveler, “Next stop: Westport!” — is on tomorrow (Thursday, December 31) at 9:20 p.m. Click here for the full schedule.


Congratulations to The Cottage and Kawa Ni — and their owners, Brian Lewis and Bill Taibe respectively. Both are included in Connecticut Magazine’s list of the Top 15 restaurants in the state.

That means our town includes more than 13% of all the best restaurants!


Did you miss last night’s full Full Cold Moon?

Wendy Crowther sure didn’t.

(Photo/Wendy Crowther)


And finally … influential bluegrass and new acoustic singer/guitarist Tony Rice died Saturday in North Carolina. He was 69.