Category Archives: People

Westport Psychiatrist: Physical, Mental Health More Important Than Ever

Dr. Rishon Stember is a Westport psychiatrist. He writes:

These days, physical and mental health are more important than ever.

As a psychiatrist I am receiving many calls from patients experiencing panic attacks and insomnia.  Unfortunately, this is not unusual.

Dr. Rishon Stember

It is very important for people experiencing elevated anxiety to know that they are not alone. This is the time to reach out for help. Please call or email your physician or mental health professional for guidance at this time. Telemedicine is now the norm.

In my own practice, sessions are by phone and medications are being filled electronically.

Stay vigilant about staying home if possible. Wash hands often. Keep social distance. Get plenty of sleep. Be kind to yourself emotionally.

Telephone friends and family. Don’t hesitate to acknowledge the reality of the situation, but know that it is temporary.

Mindfulness is a a great tool to use. Don’t think about the past or the future; just concentrate on being in the present. Try to take time, and appreciate every small activity you do. Take in sights, sounds, flavors and aromas.

Often, talking to a mental health professional and/or medication can be useful.  As with a headache, meds can be helpful until the headache is gone.

We will get through this. Stay strong, healthy and positive.

Alex Drexler couldn’t sleep. He took his dog on a 5-mile walk. The sunrise helped.

COVID-19: More Rent Reductions; Parks & Rec, Transit News; Realtors Unite; Staples Online; Low-Interest Loans; More

Yesterday’s Roundup began with news of the rent reduction promised by local landlords Edward and Joan Hyde, to tenants like Westport Yarns.

Breno Donatti — owner of Winfield Street Coffee on Post Road West — quickly emailed, noting that his landlord, Alon Panovka, also agreed to waive April’s rent. He’ll discuss May when the time comes.

“Alon has been great to us in our 4 years here,” Breno says.

Winfield Deli closed March 17. He may even get credit for part of this month. Thanks, Alon! (Meanwhile, feel free to order gift cards to use when Winfield reopens!)


Some rules don’t change. This April 1 — as always — dogs are no longer allowed on Compo, Old Mill or Burying Hill beaches, or the Longshore golf course. Dogs are of course welcome at Winslow Park.

The Parks & Recreation Department also announces that because it’s uncertain when the beaches will fully open, beach emblem sales are postponed until further notice.

Parks & Rec reminds Westporters not to congregate at parks and athletic fields. “We encourage all to get outside and get some exercise, but please do not gather in groups,” says director Jen Fava.

Sorry, Fido. As of Wednesday, life will no longer include a day at the beach.


Originally, the Westport Public Schools planned a 2-week closure. As it becomes clear that the shutdown will last (probably much) longer, the district is adapting to online education.

For Staples High School students, that means more interaction with teachers, in more manageable blocks of time. It’s a new way of learning, and administrators, staff and students are figuring it out together.

Whether you’ve got kids in high school or not — or none at all — a video from principal Stafford Thomas is, well, instructive. It shows how Staples is adapting; it outlines the promises and challenges, and it’s a vivid illustration of the cascading effects the coronavirus is having on us all. Click below to view.

 


Real estate agencies often compete for listings and sales. But many came together this week, to help fill a huge need at Yale New Haven Hospital.

A doctor told Sally Bohling they needed Lysol wipes, gloves and shoe covers. The William Raveis realtor called her friends contacted Karen Scott and Mary Ellen Gallagher, of KMS Partners @ Compass.

They put out the word to the Westport realtor community. Quickly, literally thousands of contributions poured in.

The booties idea was particularly inspired. “We aren’t hosting open houses, and the winter weather is behind us. So offering the ones we’re not using was a no-brainer,” Karen says.

 


Connecticut small businesses and nonprofits impacted by the pandemic can apply for 1-year, no-interest loans of up to $75,000,

The Connecticut Recovery Bridge Loan Program will make $25 million available to state businesses and nonprofits with up to 100 employees. Loans are up to the lesser of either three months operating expenses and/or $75,000. Click here for details.


With sharply decreased train ridership, starting Monday (March 30) Westport Transit will replace commuter shuttles with an on-demand, door-to-platform minibus service. It will operate to and from any Westport location and the Saugatuck and Greens Farms stations.

Calls should be made the previous day before 5 p.m. (Saturday for Monday pickup) for morning commutes, and at least 45 minutes prior to pickup for the evening commute. The phone number is 203-299-5180.

Door-to-door services for seniors and residents with disabilities are unchanged.

For more information, click here.


It’s a small idea from Hallie and Maya Wofsy, but a great one: Put a red or pink heart on your door. The goal is to show support for all our amazing front-line healthcare workers.

Take a look on your walks through the neighborhood. The hearts are already there. And if you don’t have colored paper or markers, Maya will (very safely) drop one ready-made at your door. Email mayawofsy@gmail.com for details.


And finally, when these 2 kids were quarantined in Italy, they decided to play a little Coldplay. On their violins. Their choice of a song — “Viva La Vida” — couldn’t be more perfect.

 

COVID-19 Roundup: Great Landlords; CNN; Pet, Art, Food News; Devil’s Den Closed; More

Beth Schaefer leads off with some great news!

She owns Westport Yarns. Her shop is considered “non-essential” — though everyone could do with some soothing knitting these days — and she’s completely shut down. Not even curbside pickup.

Yesterday, her landlords — Edward and Joan Hyde — suspended her rent for April. They did the same for her shopping center neighbors Body Quest and Party Hardy.

If conditions don’t improve, the Hydes will consider doing the same for Beth in May.

“This could make all the difference whether I can survive or not,” Beth says gratefully. “It’s not a guarantee, but it puts me in a much better place.”

The Hydes are not Westport’s biggest or wealthiest landlords. Plenty of Westport commercial real estate is owned by large corporations.

But Edward and Joan Hyde made that first generous, community-minded gesture. Will others do the same, to help other businesses survive?

When they do, let me know. I’ll give them the shout-out they deserve.


First it was the New York Times. Then Fox News. Now CNN has reported on Westport’s state-leading 79 coronavirus cases.

The story mentions the now-infamous party that may have contributed to the spread of the disease. But it also includes cautionary quotes from Yale New Haven Health System’s chief quality officer Dr. Steven Choi — a Westport resident.

“There was no social irresponsibility with the party,” he says. “It could have been any party.”

The spread is now “past the point of contact tracing,” State Senator Will Haskell — a Staples High School graduate — adds. “The most productive thing people could do right now is not point fingers, but stay at home as much as possible.”

For the full story, click here.


Everyone loves healthcare professionals, and pets. But who can care for the latter, when the former is at work?

Town House for Dogs and Cats, that’s who. Owner Sandy Goldman offers free “daycare” for healthcare workers. Email sandylee@optonline.net, or call 203-227-3276.


In related pet news, Westport-based Connecticut Humane Society is hosting a Zoom webinar tomorrow (Thursday, March 26, 3 p.m.).

It’s a PetTalk (the animal version of a TedTalk) about busting pet boredom. Participants will learn how to keep pets’ minds and bodies active. Click here to sign up.

The Humane Society adds, “thankfully everyone here is doing fine. Most pets have been moved to foster homes. Our Fox Memorial Clinic in Newington is seeing veterinary emergencies by appointment.”


In addition to being a frequent “06880” commenter, Rich Stein runs a catering business. He writes now about the sudden, complete end of work for all caterers and private chefs. No more galas or gallery openings; no more private parties. Justlikethat, they’re gone. (As is business for the vendors — including local farmers and markets — they buy from.)

Rich says that he and other caterers — he mentions Dash of Salt, AMG Catering, Along Came Carol, along with his own What’s on the Menu Event Services — have posted very tasty menus on their websites and social media, for anyone who wants meals prepared and delivered (and frozen). They are always scrupulous about cleanliness and health.

Remember: Easter and Passover are coming. You may not have your traditional gathering — but you’ll still want to eat well.


Speaking of food, Brian Lewis is doing all he can to help his dedicated restaurant staff.

All takeout orders at OKO support a new meal train for the employees who are temporarily out of work. He’s providing full dinners for them and their families, twice a week.

“Every dollar from takeout orders that members of the community are so graciously placing supports this meal train,” Brian says. “Each dollar also helps me keep 9 people employed. and our doors open.”

Brian also plans to help feed first responders, and medical workers.

To help OKO help others, click here. For a list of all restaurants and markets offering curbside and takeout delivery, click here; then scroll down.


Speaking even more of food, Stew Leonard Jr. was on Fox News yesterday, talking about his family’s business.

Panic buying seems over, he says. They’ve adjusted to spikes, like selling 40,000 cans of tuna fish a week, up from the usual 10,000.

He also noted changes, like eliminating loose bagel bins and (aaargh!) all those free samples.

Oh, yeah: Stew’s is paying employees an extra $2 an hour now.

Click here for the full interview.

 


The Nature Conservancy has closed Devil’s Den. A “dramatic increase” in visitors — combined with their lack of social distancing, and “not heeding the town of Weston’s request to refrain from parking on roads which can block emergency access for our neighbors” — sparked the decision.


Bridgeport Rescue Mission offers food, shelter, clothing, addiction recovery services and education to a desperate population in Bridgeport — and does it 24/7/365, with no city, state or federal funding. A number of Westporters are deeply involved in the Mission’s work.

COVID-19 hits the low income, homeless and mentally ill populations hard. Meanwhile, both food donations and financial support is down. Packaged food or wellness kits with hand sanitizer, tissues, soap and cough drops can be dropped off at 1069 Connecticut Avenue, Bridgeport (Tuesdays through Fridays, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.). Click here to donate online, or mail to: BRM, PO Box 9057, Bridgeport, CT  06601.

 


Beechwood — Frederic Chiu and Jeanine Esposito’s innovative, immersive arts salon series — offers intimate, personal encounters with music, paintings, sculpture, dance, the written word and more.

It’s the opposite of social distancing.

But you can’t keep Beechwood down.

From 6 to 7 p.m. every Wednesday in April, they’ll provide an hour of art, music, performances and special guests. And they’ll do it while connecting communities around the globe. Audiences don’t just tune in; they’ll interact too.

Each Wednesday has a theme. There are live performances, special guests, and excerpts from amazing performances over the past 9 years of salons.

Mark your calendars. Then click on facebook.com/beechwoodarts. For more infromation, click here.


And finally, a few wise words from Bill Withers:

Remembering Angela Cockfield And Joel Zabin

Two people who contributed greatly to Westport life died earlier this month.

Angela Cockfield had battled cancer. She was a passionate, dedicated librarian in the Westport school system for many years, and a lifelong advocate of education.

Her Staples High School colleagues remembered her as “dedicated, and committed to many causes…. a lovely lady who did great things when no one was looking.”

The daughter of a college English professor, Angela and her husband Raiford Cockfield — an IBM vice president — had 3 children (with a pair of Stanford MBAs).

Angela Cockfield, with her family.


Joel Zabin was well known to generation of Westport children and teenagers. He died at 86.

For years, Paul Zabin’s — his family’s store in Colonial Green — was the go-to place for back-to-school clothes.

Besides that iconic shop, he also worked at The Campus Shop, Macy’s and Brooks Brothers.

Joel is survived by his sons, Joshua Zabin (Valerie) of Monroe, Jonathan (Tracy) of Hamden, and 3 grandchildren.

Memorial contributions may be made to Jewish Senior Services,

Westport Connected: Send Photos And Videos Now!

Westporters keep coming up with great ideas to stay connected.

The latest is as simple as its name: WestportConnected.

The goal is to go beyond the usual social media platforms. Organizers Marcy Sansolo, Darcy Hicks, Lisa Newman, Jaime Bairaktaris and Melissa Kane — a who’s who of creative, concerned and well-connected neighbors — invite fellow Westporters to share a message by sending either a photo (of yourself and/or your family and/or pets), or a video (no longer than 10 seconds!).

Want to say hi to everyone? Send a photo! (Photo courtesy of Bob Weingarten)

You can also offer services or support, as a professional or someone willing to help. Just take a photo or video, holding up a poster with what you can do, and your contact info.

Need ideas? Organizers suggest:

  • Messages of love and support to fellow Westporters
  • An activity that you or your family is doing to keep sane
  • Services you can offer for people who can’t leave their homes: lawn work, shopping, outdoor repairs, etc.
  • Support contacts to get help for depression, spousal abuse, addiction, etc. If you are a professional or sponsor who can offer support, let people know how to reach you
  • Share lessons via Zoom or other virtual conferencing appointments: music or art lessons, meditation sessions, workout routines, etc.

Are you a therapist who can meet clients online? Let us know!

There aren’t many rules. Just be positive!

Organizers say, “this is an attempt to recover some of the life we’re missing due to quarantine. It’s a reminder for all of us that no one is alone.”

Of course, “06880” is happy to help. Messages will be made into a video — and it will be posted here on Monday (March 30).

Send your photos and videos to WestportConnected@gmail.com. The deadline is 4 p.m. this Friday (March 27).

Connect now. Then get ready to be uplifted on Monday!

 

Cynthia Gibb’s Triple Threat For Aspiring Actors, Writers, Dancers

As Westport teens and tweens settle down to life in a pandemic, they’re learning how to learn online.

Academics and extracurriculars are all done virtually now. But it’s one thing to learn math or history that way, or do your judo or piano lessons.

What about all those theater kids? When Mickey Rooney said “let’s put on a show!” he wasn’t talking to himself.

Cynthia Gibb rides to the rescue.

The 1981 Staples High School graduate sure has the credentials. She’s starred in “Search for Tomorrow” and “Fame”; played Karen Carpenter in her biopic; starred with Shirley Jones, Dick Van Dyke, Rob Lowe, Patrick Swayze and Burt Reynolds, and been on “Law and Order/SVU” and “Criminal Minds” too.

Cynthia Gibb earned a Golden Globe nomination for her portrayal of Gypsy Rose Lee in “Gypsy,” with Bette Midler.

Cynthia worked with Oliver Stone, Stephen Sondheim, Arthur Laurents and Jerome Robbins. Her credits include 13 features, 3 network series, 24 TV movies, countless TV pilots, commercials, voiceovers and print work.

A decade ago she returned to Westport, and opened Triple Threat Academy. It’s nurtured and inspired hundreds of young and adult actors, singers and dancers. Many have gone on to schools like Tisch and Carnegie Mellon, and careers on Broadway and in Hollywood.

Cynthia Gibb, at the “Fame” reunion in Italy.

When the coronavirus pandemic turned “Contagion” into reality, acting teacher Nick Sadler (“True Grit,” “Scent of a Woman”) brainstormed how to keep youngsters — so many of whose shows were canceled just days before opening night — engaged. It had to be more than a watching-and-waiting scene study class.

Cynthia had an idea: a pandemic monologue play.

Students could journal about their experiences during this crazy time, and craft a monologue. At the end of 6 weeks, it will be performed via Zoom. With Triple Threat’s help, actors might take the resulting play to a real stage or screen — even on tour — once people can congregate again.

Westport native Jamie Mann (right) and Josie Todd (middle), last summer in “Because of Winn Dixie” at the Goodspeed Opera House. The pair will perform together again — this time virtually — in Triple Threat Academy’s upcoming online plays. 
(Photo/Diane Sobolewski)

Cynthia’s “Monologue and Play Development Class” meets for 6 weeks, starting next week (high schoolers on Wednesdays, middle schoolers on Tuesdays, from 5 to 6 p.m.).

Monologues will be good, bad, fearful funny. (Remember, “A Chorus Line” started out as monologues too.) Enrollment already includes teenagers with extensive — even professional — experience.

“Art always reflects what is going on in life,” Cynthia says. “Just think about ‘Rent’ and the AIDS crisis. We now have an opportunity to find the light in dark times, the humanity behind the grim news, and the positivity to push forward — all through the powers of creativity, collaboration and storytelling.”

Meanwhile, Nick has organized a hybrid of traditional radio theater and today’s podcasts. (Remember when Americans huddled around the radio, listening to plays? Hey — we’re back huddling together.)

Nick Sadler (center) with Phillip Seymour Hoffman in “Scent of a Woman,” starring Al Pacino. Sadler landed this supporting role shortly after graduating from Juilliard.

His “Virtual Play Series” will teach students how to stage a fast-paced play (or two). Each week the cast will meet via Zoom to read, rehearse and ultimately “release” the play to an online audience.

Students will take on multiple roles, challenging them to invent a variety of characters. It’s a collaborative effort — just like all great theater. (An adult version is in the works too.)

It runs for 7 Sundays, from 3 to 4 p.m. for high schoolers, and 5 to 6 p.m. for middle schoolers. The first session is this Sunday (March 29).

Meanwhile, the third part of Triple Threat — dance — heads online too. Kim Porio offers a class this Sunday (10:45 to 11:45 a.m.) for young actors and singers. It’s “Bring a Friend Day,” so even those not enrolled can try it out.

It all should be quite a show.

(For more information about Triple Threat Academy’s offerings, including registration, click here, email TripleThreatAcademyCT@gmail.com, search on Facebook, or follow @TripleThreatAcademy on Instagram.)

Rev. Alison Patton: The Story The NY Times Should Have Told

The New York Times’ now-famous piece on the coronavirus in Westport — “How a Soirée in Connecticut Became a Super Spreader” — included a photo of The Rev. Alison J. Buttrick Patton.

The caption noted that the Saugatuck Congregational Church minister “led an online fellowship hour with parishioners on Sunday after her church in Westport closed.”

That was it. No quotes or insights from one of our town’s most caring residents — a wise, insightful observer of all that goes on here.

Many Westporters thought there must have been more to her brief appearance in the Times. 

There is. Rev. Patton writes:

When a New York Times reporter called to ask me how Westport was responding to the virus, I thought she had a great opportunity to write an article about the creative ways that communities are navigating the challenges posed by the coronavirus pandemic.

That’s not the story the Times chose to publish. So I thought I’d write that story.

Rev. Alison J. Buttrick Patton

This has been a profoundly trying few weeks. Contending with the virus itself, the related fears, and the disrupted schedules has put a strain on all of us.

In the words of pastor and public theologian Nadia Bolz-Weber: “We’re not only experiencing a pandemic of COVID-9, we are also experiencing an ‘epidemic of disappointment.’”

How many of us have had plans derailed: championship games, theatrical performances, business engagements or family vacations? How many have lost income, access to hot meals or life-saving support systems?

That’s a lot of grief, even if we do manage to avoid or ride out the virus itself. And of course, there are those who have contracted COVID-19. This pandemic has been hard on our hearts.

We are all scrambling to adjust, to stay safe and grounded. But here’s what has struck me: We are also working hard to stay connected as a community. Saugatuck Congregational Church, along with most other faith communities in the region, has suspended in-person worship.

But like all our other faith communities, Saugatuck is finding alternative ways to stay in touch, counter isolation, encourage people and feed spirits. We are urging physical distancing while sustaining social connection. The responses I’ve witnessed remind me that we have an amazing capacity to adapt, when our connectedness is at stake.

I have so many examples. There’s the 91-year-old member who asked for technical assistance so she could participate in our online bible study by Zoom, and the member who joined our Sunday morning social hour via Zoom from his hospital bed — just 2 days after major surgery!

Saugatuck Congregational Church has anchored Westport for centuries.

There’s the patience everyone has shown, as we figure out how to use technologies that are new to many of us. We are muddling through with remarkable humor.

As one Saugatuck member observed, in response to our Zoom social hour and online small groups, ”What we’re doing is totally different, but really touching and human.”

I know it’s not just Saugatuck Church. Creative efforts to stay connected are springing up all over town. I suspect that everyone reading this will have a story to add. There’s the Westport neighborhood where residents circulated red, green and yellow cards in mailboxes, to help vulnerable neighbors safely signal if they need supplies or other assistance.

There’s the high school student who created a Twitter account to report on the local impact of the Coronavirus and share helpful information, and the families who compiled a website designed to support local businesses by encouraging online shopping.

There are the local artists who are sharing photos and music online, to inspire and encourage us. The list goes on and on. For my part, I am grateful for and inspired by all those who have responded to these trying times with such generosity and innovation.

Westporters have expressed their emotions in many ways. A neighbor took this opportunity to thank our first responders. (Photo/Molly Alger)

Crisis can do 2 things: it can bog us down in our own anxiety or kick start our creativity. Surely, both are happening here.

We all have days when we are worn out from having to revise our habits again and again, in order to stay ahead of an invisible threat. But I hope we can also lean into those creative impulses, bearing in mind that isolation is hard because we are, fundamentally, interdependent. So we figure out how to reach and sustain one another.

The best story isn’t how this virus started or who may have contributed to its spread. It’s how we will get through it, and eventually stop the virus, because we can only do that together.

COVID-19 UPDATE: Town Report; Clothing Drive; Blood Donations; Help For Healthcare Workers; Playhouse Update, And More

As of 4 pm yesterday (Monday), , March 23, 2020, out of the 415 confirmed COVID-19 cases in Connecticut, 74 were from Westport and 4 from Weston.

Westport Weston Health Director Mark Cooper says, “Being ‘hit’ first, we may be first to see the virus start to slow its spread, so long as people self-isolate and socially distance themselves from others. Only time will tell.”

Although no age group is spared, the 40-49 and 50-59 age groups have the highest number of confirmed cases in the state. The 60-69 and over-80 age groups make up the majority of those hospitalized.

According to the WWHD, private company Murphy Medical tested 45 Westport and Weston residents today. However, due to the shortage of test supplies, some of this morning’s tests had to be rescheduled.

WWHD will restart the Westport Weston drive-thru testing site next Tuesday (March 31), testing supplies availability permitting. Appointments can be obtained by filling out forms at www.coronatestct.com.


Staples High School junior Remi Levitt runs a great clothing and lifestyle blog, called “Coat of Love.” Now she’s using it to organize a county-wide clothing drive for those affected by the coronavirus.

So, “06880” readers: Clean your closets. Separate items by gender and size, in garbage bags; mark their contests on the outside. Place them by your mailbox or the end of your driveway. Email remilevitt@gmail.com with your address; they’ll be picked up within 24 hours, and sent to folks in need.

For more information, click here.


Reader Paloma Bima writes that just before all non-essential stores shut down yesterday night, a customer called Compo Farm Flowers. She arranged for delivery of beautiful bouquets to many friends. It was an act of great kindness for them — and for one small, about-to-close business too.


Reader Nicole Klein has been passionate about giving blood for the last 25 years. When she was in college, a sibling was diagnosed with leukemia. Nicole is adopted, so she could not help medically.

She felt helpless that she was unable to donate blood platelets or bone marrow. Then she realized that although she could not help her sibling, she could help others.

“In today’s world of COVID-19, I again have the overwhelming feeling of hopelessness,” she says. “The only thing I could think to do was donate blood. There is an extreme shortage right now. I urge anyone who is healthy and able, to please click here to make an appointment.

“They are amazing and so grateful. During this time of indescribable helplessness, it will help you too.”


Like every gym, Upper Deck Fitness is closed. They’re doing what they can for their clients, using a two-way video platform. It’s a great solution — but not easy.

Yet Upper Deck still wants to help others. So the fitness center is offering a free month of virtual workouts to all nurses, doctors, techs and EMTs.

“Healthcare workers don’t have the liberty of social distancing, so keeping their immunity strong is of utmost priority,” says founder and CEO Suzanne Vita Palazzo.

“This is not just about a workout, but providing them with an hour to release stress and maintain their strength, while receiving support from a fully interactive community.”

The 2-way video service enables a certified coach to keep on eye on all participants. There are over 20 classes a week, all done via any device with an internet connection.

Healthcare professionals: Email
info@upperdeckfitness.com with your name and credentials.

National Hall and Upper Deck Fitness.


It’s not quite the way the Westport Country Playhouse expected its 90th season to go.

The iconic theater has pushed its April opening back to July.

The revised 2020 lineup includes the musicals “Ain’t Misbehavin’” and “Next to Normal,” and a new comedy, “Tiny House,” down from the original 5 productions. “Antigone” and “Blues for an Alabama Sky” have been postponed to future seasons.

The modified season will run from July 14 through October 24.

(Photo/Robert Benson)


Who has time for spring cleaning?

This year, most of us.

Westport Hardware is open for business, with a full supply of whatever you need for your yard, garage, attic, basement, deck, driveway, shed, etc., etc., etc.


As medical personnel desperately seek face shields, Westport Maker guru Mark Mathias says that people with 3D printers can help. For information on what to do, and how, click here. For additional info, email mark@mathias.org.


Yesterday’s post about Tina Dragone drew many comments on “06880” — and hate calls and emails to the store.

C’mon, readers. You’re better than that. She’s a small businesswoman, facing hard times like so many others.

It’s your choice to shop there or not. But personal attacks are definitely not cool.


And finally, in case you need a little reminder about social distancing, click below:

 

 

 

Eloise Reilly: The Centenarian’s Great Sequel

I was so glad this morning to run an upbeat story. Westporter Eloise Reilly turned 100 on Sunday, and — from a safe distance — her neighbors helped her celebrate.

I called her a “longtime Westporter, and still-very-active community member.” I didn’t know the half of it.

Today, alert and inspired “06880” reader Kristin McKinney sent along a profile of Eloise she wrote a couple of years ago, for the Westport Garden Club newsletter. In honor of Eloise, she graciously shares it with us.

She picked up her landline on the second ring, old school style, no email, no cell phone. Connecticut native and Westport Garden Club member since 1977, Eloise Reilly was cheerful, bright and as receptive as she could be, certainly she would meet with me tomorrow for a WGC newsletter profile.

She gave me directions; we agreed to meet at 10 a.m. Approaching her property and ascending the longish driveway I noticed the American flag hoisted proudly on a tall, metal flagpole. Ellen Greenberg tipped me off that Eloise served in some capacity during World War II, and seeing Old Glory so elegantly displayed convinced me that was indeed the case.

I parked, found the door after looping around the house which coincidentally afforded me a very nice glimpse of Eloise’s gardens, and gave a gentle knock. Two sets of beautiful eyes met me, Eloise’s piping blues and those of her two-year old rescue kitty who viewed me somewhat suspiciously.

Eloise Reilly, on her 100th birthday. (Photo/Darren and Sally Spencer)

I was invited in and led to a comfy chair near a large bay window where the next three hours passed like a New York City minute. Not having the advantage of searching a Facebook page or Linked In profile in advance of our interview, I proceeded conversationally, looking for common ground.

Eloise was charmingly forthcoming; our initial topic of discussion involved her very successful career as a human resources manager for advertising giant Young & Rubicam that began in 1953, and a second career after tiring of the NYC commute as a realtor with Helen Benson Real Estate.

Talk moved to her home, a beautiful structure designed and built by none other than Eloise herself in 1956, in a time and era where women “just weren’t doing those types of things.” I asked Eloise where she developed her fondness for gardening and asked if as a little girl, she spent time in her mother’s gardens.

The answer was not only yes, but it turns out that like Janet Wolgast, her mother knew the Latin names of every variety of plant, flower and shrub that is identified by the American Horticulture Society.

What is her passion? Growing from seed. Eloise shared that she loves watching things grow, geraniums in particular. As a curious seed novice, I asked about her method for obtaining them, her quick-witted response was, “Order them from Fark’s!”

Eloise Reilly, during World War II.

An interview with Eloise wouldn’t be remotely complete without going into detail about a period in her life which she describes as, “a fabulous experience. Never happened before, will never happen again.”

After reading an article in Life Magazine, Eloise discovered women could go overseas with the Red Cross. She applied unsuccessfully multiple times, each rejection letter specifying the same reason:  she didn’t meet the minimum age requirement of 25.

That year was 1943 and according to Eloise whose two brothers were in the Naval Air Corps, “1300 of Westport’s 7K residents were in active service, everybody and anybody enlisted.”

Not to be deterred, Eloise finally scored an interview in DC and in battling the age argument audaciously stated, “I’m not 25, the war is going to be over by the time I’m 25, but I’ll match my family against anybody you have in the Red Cross.” She was officially in.

Eloise Reilly became a member of the Clubmobilers, a unique unit of service recognized by U.S. Senate Resolution 471 dated May 23, 2012, for exemplary service during the Second World War. Clubmobiles, established in 1942 and conceived by Harvey Gibson, the Red Cross Commissioner to Great Britain, provided fresh coffee, doughnuts, entertainment and a listening ear to troops across Western Europe and eventually the Far East.

Eloise’s tour of duty took her through England, France, Germany, Luxembourg, Holland and Belgium, as she says, “zigzagging all over the place.” According to Eloise, “I learned to drive a six-wheel, two-ton truck with a double clutch and no power steering. We were assigned to a division, the 12th army group, and we had to meet them upon request in various towns or even countries. There were 8 trucks per group, 3 girls apiece, 24 in total. There was also a supply truck with two girls who could sing or play the piano.”

Eloise Reilly, as a Clubmobiler.

In the event of capture, the ladies were made second lieutenants and although this allowed them admittance into the officer’s club for a meal, they preferred to dine with the GI’s. The Clubmobilers found themselves living in tents, chateaus or even theoccasional, local bordello.

If they asked for directions to the powder room, most often the response was met with a nod toward the surrounding woods. Eloise remarked that in a world of men, the Clubmobiliers were placed on a pedestal, treated like sisters, aunts, mothers.  “They were protected,” said Eloise. “Nobody got out of line, the GI’s were self-policing.”

I asked Eloise if she was ever afraid and the answer was a resounding “no.”  While she admits to being apprehensive at times and despite some accidents and fatalities sustained by fellow Clubmobilers, she was never concerned for her own life.

In fact, her goal was to get to the Front.

FUN FACTThe Westport Garden Club is 96 years old. To Eloise, that’s almost a child.

Happy 100th, Eloise Reilly!

In the midst of a grave health crisis, it’s important to celebrate milestones.

Which is exactly what Eloise Reilly’s friends and neighbors did on Sunday. (From a safe but loving distance, of course.)

After all, it’s not every day someone turns 100 years old.

Eloise — a longtime Westporter, and still-very-active community member — topped off her radiant look with a sparkling pink tiara.

Eloise Reilly (Photo/Darren and Sally Spencer)

“Eloise has seen a lot in her lifetime,” say her friends Darren and Sally Spencer, who tied a joyful banner around her house.

“But she always keeps a positive attitude. That should serve as a great lesson for all of us.”

It does indeed.

Happy birthday, Eloise, from your many fans in 06880 and beyond!