Category Archives: People

Vika Aronson Tackles “Broken Justice”

In many ways, America’s justice system is broken.

That’s particularly true in Missouri. Public defenders have an ethical responsibility to represent their clients. However, they are overwhelmed by the number of cases. Yet when they are unable to spend an appropriate amount of time with a client, they risk losing their licenses.

Vika Aronson wanted to do something about that. She’s not an attorney. Nor does she live in Missouri.

Vika Aronson, at work.

However, she is the podcast producer for “PBS Newshour.” So the Staples High School Class of 2007 graduate is in a unique position to help.

Her 5-part series — “Broken Justice” — debuted earlier this month. New episodes are released weekly.

Focusing on Ricky Kidd — convicted wrongly of a double homicide in 1997 — but also covering the entire public defender crisis, they’re well worth listening to.

Vika always had a creative bent. She was a member of Staples Players, took directing classes, and sang with Orphenians. She apprenticed at the Westport Country Playhouse. At Skidmore College she majored in government, but also took theater courses.

After graduation Vika did food justice and environment work for non-profits. But she missed the creativity she’d found in theater and story telling. Moving to the Bay Aea, she discovered podcasts. Public radio is big there. She joined a training program at KPFA, the Pacifica station in Berkeley.

Vika loved reporting: talking to people, gathering stories, adding music to produce a finished piece. She used many of the lessons learned during her Playhouse apprenticeship, including sound design.

Vika worked fulltime, managing a retail store. But she did freelance radio work in the area.

In the summer of 2018, her boyfriend got an internship at NPR. The moved to Washington, DC. Last December she was hired by “PBS NewsHour,” to direct their podcasts.

Companion pieces to the heralded TV show, Vika’s podcasts range from an analysis of the State of the Union speech, to a 4-part companion to the televised “Antarctica” series.

“Broken Justice” is the first “NewsHour” podcast geared solely to audio. The pitch to Vika came from Frank Carlson, a reporter deeply interested in the topic. While Vika and he were working on, a dramatic decision was handed down in Ricky Kidd’s case. It makes for compelling listening.

Vulture called it one of the best crime podcasts ever. It’s gained a steady stream of listeners — and may result in legislative action.

You can hear “Broken Justice” yourself, any time. It’s available on Apple Tunes, and wherever else you get your podcasts.

Happy Thanksgiving, 2019

In 1941, The Saturday Evening Post published Westport artist Stevan Dohanos’ Thanksgiving cover.

A few years later Dohanos produced this illustration, titled simply “Thanksgiving.” The house was a red gingerbread, at 55 Long Lots Road.

That home still stands — though it’s been remodeled. Much else has changed in Westport over the years too.

And much has not.

On this Thanksgiving Day 2019, “06880” wishes all our readers — in this zip code, or far away — a happy, healthy and heartfelt holiday.

As we count our blessings, I’ll start with this:

I am truly grateful for each and every reader. You make our community — online and off — one of the liveliest, most robust, most fulfilling and fun — on earth.

Unsung Heroes #125

Last weekend, the Westport Library held its annual holiday book and gift sale. As always, it was a smash.

The success of these sales — winter and summer — depends on generous donations of materials from the community.

Yet nothing would happen without volunteers. For the most recent event, 108 volunteers donated their time and energy. All worked hard.

But late Sunday afternoon, near closing time, the teen volunteers went above and beyond.

Henry Potter

The story starts with Henry Potter. He’s a project manager for Builders Beyond Borders, and for several years has overseen B3 teen volunteers at the book sales.

Through his own very high standard of working hard, Henry sets an excellent example for the group. He always does it with a smile.

During the recent Transformation Project, book donations were accepted in a temporary construction trailer on Jesup Green. The “drive up, drop off” experience was so positive for patrons, staff and volunteers that the library built a permanent annex in the Levitt parking lot, to accept and process donations.

For the past 2 months of construction, however, the library had to stop accepting contributions. Thanks to Henry and the teen volunteers though, the  new book donation annex will be open starting next Wednesday (December 4).

Mimi Greenlee, co-chair of the book sale, says, “We knew this was going to require a great deal of manpower, not only to move the items, but also to shelve the books in the correct categories. Henry happily agreed to set his team on this project.

“In 2 hours they accomplished what would have take us days. And they did it with smiling faces and great attitudes.”

Builders Beyond Borders volunteers get the donation annex ready.

B3 has done plenty of good work overseas. Last weekend, they helped out right in their own back yard.

(To nominate an Unsung Hero, email dwoog@optonline.net. Hat tip: Rachel Reese Pegnataro.)

Great New Festival Shines A Light On Cribari Bridge

Westport is filled with holiday treats. But the lights on the Cribari Bridge outshine nearly every other winter wonder.

Ever since Al DiGuido and a crew of volunteers first hung hundreds of bulbs all over the historic span nearly 20 years ago, however, the actual lighting has been a low-key affair.

This year, there will be a very impressive ceremony.

No, it won’t rival the Christmas tree lighting at Rockefeller Center.

Ours will be better.

The William F. Cribari Bridge, in all its holiday glory. (Photo/JD Dworkow)

This Friday (November 29, 6:30 p.m.), Westporters are invited to the Saugatuck Rowing Club. There on the patio — with a perfect view of the Cribari Bridge — there’s hot cocoa, spiked cocoa, Saugatuck Sweets sundaes, Donut Crazy donuts, cookies, popcorn, a hot dog cart, live music, a cash bar and more.

The actual lighting takes place at 8 p.m. But the party lasts till 9:30.

Kids go free. It’s $20 for adults — but 100% of the proceeds benefit Al’s Angels. That’s the organization founded by bridge lighter (and Saugatuck Sweets owner) Al DiGuido. All funds help children and families battling cancer, rare blood diseases, natural disasters and severe financial hardships.

The Cribari Bridge lights were created as a symbol of hope for all in town.

Let’s hope there’s a huge turnout of angels on Friday, when Al turns on the lights.

(For tickets and more information on Saugatuck Rowing Club’s Bridge Lighting Festival, click here.)

Another view. (Photo/Joel Treisman)

 

“Sounds For A Starry Night” Set

“The arts” is a broad term. Westport embraces various forms — music, visual arts, poetry — in various ways.

On Friday, December 6, a variety of disciplines come together. A pair of internationally acclaimed musicians — both Westporters — join a visual artist and the town’s poet laureate. It’s a night of classical music, poetry and vocals — and a benefit for Staples High School students needing help with college costs.

“Sounds for a Starry Night” stars violinist Igor Pikayzen and his mother, pianist Tatyana Pikayzen.

Igor Pikayzen

Igor — a Russian native — made his concert debut with the Moscow Philharmonic at age 8. Now — a graduate of Staples High School, Juilliard and Yale — he has performed with major orchestras around the world, and won numerous competitions.

Igor received a Westport Arts Advisory Committee Horizon Award, as an outstanding Westport artist under age 30 with an international reputation. Critics note his astounding technical ability and majestically lush tone.

His mother — called “the Paganini of the keyboard” — has earned acclaim on 3 continents. A top prize winner at the Chopin International Competition in Warsaw, she has soloed in the world’s most prestigious concert halls.

Cellist Michael Katz completes the distinguished chamber ensemble. Casey Rose Clark will perform a vocal interlude. Noted illustrator Miggs Burroughs and Westport poet laureate Diane Meyer Lowman will speak too.

All artists will be on hand for a post-concert reception.

It’s a benefit for the Westport Woman’s Club scholarship program. Grants are awarded, on a financial need basis, to graduating Staples High School seniors.

The salon-style concert and reception take place at the Westport Woman’s Club. Seating is limited. For tickets ($50 adults, $25 students), click here.

“Local Love” Is Back!

Last year — just in time for the holidays — local shoppers and diners enjoyed a spectacular discount coupon book. Dozens of area stores and restaurants offered deals — and part of the sales went to a plan to build a playground downtown.

“Local Love” returns for a second year. Card sales are already live. And the dream of a downtown playground is closer to reality. Plans are in place, with completion scheduled for this summer at Bedford Square.

The playground tie-in is strong. People buying the Local Love card can have their name — or their child’s — on a commemorative plaque there.

Artist’s rendering of the Bedford Square playground.

The “local” part of the campaign is important. Organizers Megan Rutstein and Melissa Post want to do the same thing with the card as they do with their multi-platform WestportMoms site: “keep our town vibrant, keep businesses alive, keep people connected, and celebrate everything this community has to offer.”

This is a true townwide effort. Megan and Melissa have partnered with civic officials, the Westport Downtown Merchants Association, and over 100 retailers, spas, fitness studios and restaurants.

The campaign runs from Saturday, December 7 through Sunday, December 15. Coupon books are $40; click here to purchase.

For a full list of participants, scroll down:

Appliances & Electronics

Stanton Miles (Vaccums) – 20% off

Arts, Art Classs & Flowers

Compo Flowers – 10% off orders $100+
One River Art School  – $75 off first month of a weekly class membership
Westport Country Playhouse – Buy 3 tickets, get the 4th free (25% off) – Box office only

Clothing & Accessories

Alala – 20% off
Anthropologie – 20% off
Athleta – 20% off
Bella Bridesmaids – 20% off (some exclusions)
Cotelac – 20% off
Fleet Feet – 20% off sneakers
Fred – 20% off; 10% off for members
Great Stuff – 20% off (some exclusions)
Groove – 20% off
J. Crew – 20% off
Joie – 20% off
Jojo Maman – Up to 50% off, plus gift in store
Madewell – 20% off (excludes denim)
Marine Layer – 20% off purchase over $425
NIC + ZOE – 20% off
Scout & Molly – 20% off
She La La – 20% off kids and women’s clothing; 10% off jewelry (excluding Julie Vos)
Soleil Toile – 20% off purchases over $150
Southern Tide – 20% off
South Moon Under – 20% off
Splash of Pink – 20% off
Theory – 20% off
West – 20% off
Winged Monkey – 20% off (excludes gowns and select other items)

Fleet Feet in Sconset Square is filled with running gear, and accessories.

Fitness

Bar Method – 15% off
Club Pilates – $10 membership fee, plus 15% off 3-month membership
CST 50 – 20% off a 5-pack (one-time use)
F45 Westport – 15% off class packs and membership
Gym Source (fitness equipment) – 20% off
Joyride Cycling + Fitness- 15% off
PureBarre – 15% off
Row House – 15% off
Solid Core – 15% off a 5-pack or a private in-studio 12 person class
Stretch Lab – 15% off
Upper Deck Fitness – 20% off

Hair & Nails

Amenity Nail & Spa – 20% off, plus free manicure with pedicure
Blow Dry Westport – 15% off products and services
Greg & Tony Salon – 15% off products and services
Hair Genies – 15% off
Le Boudoir – 15% off
Nail Factory – 15% off
Roots Salon – 15% off
Sharkey’s – 20% off services and retail products
Steven Mancini – 15% off products and services
Studio on Main – 15% off gift cards and retail
WHIP Salon – 15% off products and services

Don’t give lice for the holidays. Hair Genies can help!

Health, Beauty, & Spa

Artistex Salon & Spa – 15% off
The Brow Girl – 20% off
Dermatology Associates – 15% off botox and fillers (on Main Street)
Dream Spa – 20% off
European Wax – 15% off products and services
Modern Dermatology – 15% off all skincare products (excluding Alastin and SkinBetter)
New England Hemp Farm – 15% off
Restore Cryotherapy – 15% off all services
Westport Dental Associates (teeth whitening) – $399 ZOOM Teeth Whitening (40%+ discount); 2 Quip toothbrushes for $40 (normally $30 each); $20 off kids Sonicare with purchase of Adult Sonicare

Home Decor & Gifts

Belmondo – 20% off one-time purchase
Fig – 20% off
Party Harty – 20% off (excluding helium)
Redi-Cut Carpet – 20% off
Savannah Bee – 20% off honey products
She La La – 20% off kids and women’s clothing; 10% off jewelry (excluding Julie Vos)
Tusk – 20% off select items (designated in store)
William-Sonoma – 20% off

Savannah Bee Company: a honey of a local business.

Jewelry

Faye Kim Fine Jewelry – 20% off select items
Lux Bond & Green – 10% off (20% off select items)
Noya – 10% off select jewelry items
Silver Ribbon Jewelry – 10% off

Pet Care

Earth Animal – 20% off

Restaurants & Food Services

190 Main – 10% off
A&S Food – 10% off
Bagel Maven – 10% off
Black Duck – 10% off
The Boathouse (at Saugatuck Rowing Club) – 10% off
The Cottage – 10% off dinner
Field Trip Snacks – 20% off
Freshii – 10% off
Garelick & Herbs – 10% off
Gold’s Deli – 10% off restaurant dining
The Granola Bar – 10% off
Green & Tonic – 10% off menu; 30% off detox and cleanse
Ignazio’s – 10% off
Jesup Hall – 10% off
Joe’s Pizza – 10% off
Le Rouge by Aarti (chocolates) – 10% off
Match Burger Lobster – 10% off
The Meatball Shop – 10% off
Mystic Market – 10% off
OKO – 10% off lunch
Organic Market – 10% off
The Pearl – 10% off
Le Penguin – 10% off
Planet Pizza – 10% off
Rizzuto’s – 10% off
Rye Ridge Deli – 15% off
The Spotted Horse – 10% off
Stiles Market – 10% off butcher, deli and prepared foods
Tarrylodge – 10% off
Tavern on Main – 10% off
Wafu – 10% off
Westport Pizza – 10% off
Winfield Street & Deli – 10% off

Gold’s Deli: a Westport favorite for over 60 years.

Sporting Goods

ASF Sports and Outdoors – 20% off footwear
Fleet Feet – 20% off sneakers
Ski & Sport – 15% off ski rentals and 20% off (10% off Bogner)
Soccer & Rugby Imports – 20% off

Toys

Age of Reason – 20% off
The Toy Post – 20% off

At 52, Kat Noon’s Music Career Takes Off

Kat Noon is living proof that — despite a major illness, and turning 50 — life goes on.

Actually, it gets even better. Kat is just hitting her stride.

In her native Washington, DC, she was Katie Feffer. After marrying Mark Noonan — a Staples High School and Duke University soccer star, now a very successful sports marketer — she became Katie Noonan.

But there’s already an Australian singer/songwriter with that name. So now — after releasing her first EP, at 52 — the world is getting to know Kat Noon.

Kat Noon

Her long road to recording began when she was 16. Picking up the classical guitar her mother carried from Madrid to America in the 1950s, Kat strummed songs by Jim Croce, Carole King, the Stones and Fleetwood Mac.

At night Kat enjoyed live music at jazz, reggae and dance clubs. She went to concerts too: The Who, Kinks, David Bowie, U2, Madonna, Toots and the Maytals.

At Duke she performed West African and modern dance — and met Mark.

After college, Kat went on to earn a Ph.D. in industrial/organizational psychology. Based in Chicago, she worked for a data analytics team at HR consulting firm Mercer. After work, she headed to blues clubs.

When Mark became chief marketing officer of Major League Soccer, the Noonans moved to Greenfield Hill. They had 2 girls. While they were in preschool, Kat found time to take guitar and voice lessons at Westport Music Center.

She started writing songs. With native Westporters John Porio and Chris Myers, she hit local stages and back patios with the garage band The Hollow.

Then came KNB — Katie Noonan Band — covering tunes by Suzanne Vega, Steely Dan and Blind Faith.

Kat Noon, in concert.

She was hooked. But her fulltime job was managing the back office and keeping books for Mark’s marketing firm, FocalSport.

In 2008, the economy tanked. KNB’s keyboardist moved away. The next year, Kat was diagnosed with breast cancer.

The family had already lost Katie’s mother and Mark’s sister Clare to the disease. Yet despite 2 surgeries, chemotherapy and radiation, Kat never broke stride.

She was inspired by her doctor, Richard Zelkowitz, who encouraged her to “live your life.”

With her girls in middle school, she realized the best way to keep fear of a recurrence at bay was to take on a new challenge. She helped launch a new R&D group: Mercer’s Workforce Sciences Institute. Music fell by the wayside.

But when Mark was traveling 200,000 miles a year as a senior executive with the World Surf League, Kat decided to focus on family, and find stimulation in music.

In 2015 Mark and her girls gave her a Mother’s Day gift: a spot at the Crown of the Continent Guitar Workshop and Festival in Montana. She performed in the mainstage tent, and met and learned from international artists like Jon Herington of Steely Dan.

Kat Noon and Jon Herington.

Kat returned twice more over the next 3 years. She took workshops and master classes taught by Jim Messina, one half of Loggins and Messina. (He suggested her stage name.)

The opportunity to step out as a solo artist finally came when Mark was hired as CEO of the Hearts of Oak soccer club in Accra, Ghana. With their daughters in college, it was a perfect opportunity for an empty nest adventure.

The music scene in the African capital was lively. Kat landed a string of gigs — embassy events, opening for popular artist Broni, guest sets with an indie band.

Her fresh, unusual experiences inspired new songs. Turning 50, she decided to venture into the recording studio.

A sprawling Makola Market inspired Kat to write “Accra Blues.”

The Noonans returned to the US after corruption in the Ghana Football Association upended soccer in that country. Working with Westporter Danny Fishman — who she first met when he walked into a doctor’s waiting room carrying a guitar — Kat recently recorded a self-titled EP.

Songs include “Here I Come” (inspired by Africa); “Shadowed (written after her mother’s death), “Accra Blues” (a humorous acknowledgment of life in unfamiliar surroundings) and “You Belong Here With Me” (an ode to her husband).

With her husband Mark Noonan, at a rooftop bar in Ghana’s capital. Kat’s friends from India henna-ed her hand.

“Kat Noon” has already earned over 40,000 streams on Spotify.

Landing in Denver, she again picked up some projects with Mercer — this time on gender equity and experienced worker inclusion issues — for Westport resident and global business head Pat Milligan.

“I’m prioritizing balance, a healthful lifestyle, and music that feeds my soul,” Kat says.

She’s also trying to set up performances in this area.

It’s been a long, strange trip for Kat Noon.

But she wouldn’t have it any other way.

FUN FACT: Kat’s retro-flavored logo awas designed by Connecticut musician friend and renowned illustrator Gerard Huerta. He’s done logos and album artwork for AC/DC, Blue Oyster Cult, Ted Nugent, HBO, Arista and HBO.

(“Kat Noon” is available on Spotify [click here], YouTube, Apple and most major music platforms. Her social media tag is @katnoonmusic.)

Kat Noon’s new EP.

Staples Field Hockey 4-Peats As State Champs

Can you say “dynasty”?

The Staples High School field hockey team won their 4th straight state class L (large schools) championship yesterday.

And there was no doubt about it.

The Wreckers downed Darien 4-2, at Wethersfield High School. The win comes on top of a 2-0 victory over Cheshire last year, 1-0 against Darien in 2017, and a co-championship with Darien in 2016, the 2nd year of coach Ian Tapsall’s tenure.

Darien is a worthy rival. The Blue Wave won 3-1 in September, in the 2nd game of the regular season. The 2 teams tied 0-0 earlier this month, to share the FCIAC crown.

Yesterday’s victory was decisive. Sportswriter Rich DiPreta writes: “At times, it seemed like Staples had 20 players on the field against Darien’s 11.”

Congratulations, Wreckers. We look forward to the drive for 5!

(For a full story from the Ruden Report, click here.)

The Staples High School field hockey team celebrates, earlier this season. (Photo courtesy of Matt Dewkett for the Ruden Report)

100 Cows

Alert “06880” reader Robin Moyer Chung is the editor/writer for Westport Lifestyle magazine, and a lyricist, book writer and blogger. Her musical, “The Top Job,” is produced around the world.

She and her family recently had a profound adventure. She writes:

Crossing Thresholds is an organization that works with local leaders to create 3 schools in the Kibera slum in Nairobi, Kenya, and a high school north of the city. They also organize trips to educate volunteers, who build and maintain these schools and interact with the students.

A school in Kibera.

I was ambivalent about writing about our trip. I knew people might accuse me of virtue-signaling, slum tourism, or voluntourism. But I’m okay with that. Call it whatever you’d like, just please keep reading. These are stories that need to be told no matter how we label them.

My only real hesitation was traveling halfway around the world for philanthropic purposes instead of focusing on vicinal needs. But a story about the Masai tribe reminded me that we’re all citizens of the world, and geography should not dictate our charity.

Robin Chung, reaching out in Kibera.

Kibera is roughly the size of Central Park, yet home to an estimated 800,000 to 1.5 million disenfranchised nationals. The government doesn’t “recognize” this rancid bit of land: they provide no electricity, water, sewage or police protection for residents.

Watching my children follow an armed guard down an uneven alley, cautiously stepping over rivulets of trash and sewage, brought the inhumane conditions into sharp focus. I thought images in movies and magazines had inured me to slums; I was wrong. The real brutality of poverty is a slap in the face.

Kibera, Kenya.

Yet within these hellish few miles, punctured with disappointment, clogged with desperation for survival, flickers an inexplicable hope. What tinders this hope is beyond Western reason. But there it is.

As a group we painted classrooms, scrubbed floors, carried firewall bricks, managed art projects, taught students games, and surrounded ourselves with dozens of children who craved our attention and affection. Every evening we returned to the hotel spent, hot and dusty.

Connecting halfway across the world: Robin’s son True.

Visiting a home in which these children live is an important part of the trip, to understand how poverty informs their lives and development. My oldest son requested that, after the visit, I not deliver a parental soliloquy about how lucky we are relative to these Kenyans. How he intuited my plan, I have no idea. But I relented.

This home is the size of 2 parking spots, typical for families of 7 or more. We crammed in. The renter, a woman, held her infant and told us she has 3 more children, but no husband.

Her home was full, with only a sofa nailed from wood planks, a chipped coffee table, and one mattress. Thin floral sheets hung from the ceiling and covered the sofa, masking the rusting metal walls and cheap wood.

Her “kitchen” was a brazier, a pot, and a few plastic dishes on a shelf. When she has money she makes gruel of flour. water and maybe a few vegetables. When she doesn’t have money, they don’t eat.

The dusty town.

It’s not unusual for a single mother to pour alcohol into her baby’s bottle so they sleep all day. Then the mother leaves home to find day work. If she works she can buy food; they may both survive. If she doesn’t, mother and child starve. Statistically, girls sell their bodies at age 14 to earn money.

We left the home quietly, shaken by her life and surroundings. No motherly monologue necessary.

But like I said, they have hope. They believe, despite living among dunes of rotting trash, that life will uptick. Even in the filthiest reaches of the slum, residents keep their clothes clean and fix their hair. They smile, greet us with Christian blessings and name their children Grace, Joy, and Sunshine.

Robin’s son Ty, and friends.

Slum residents are primarily descendants of Kenya’s many tribes. One of the largest is the Masai. Carter related a story of his friend Shani Yusef, a tribe elder:

Masai are famously resistant to modernization. Many live on earth too worn to yield significant vegetation. They work hard, beading jewelry and carving sculpture for tourists while raising herds of thin cows which are their currency.

Given their scant finances and isolation, Shani is one of the few Masai who has access to international news. On September 11, 2001, he was horrified to learn of the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center in New York City, a place he had only read about.

Shani gathered the Masai elders. After a few days of meetings, to help the people in a city few of them had heard of and none of them had seen, they decided to donate 100 of their cows, or roughly 30% of their wealth.

One hundred cows.

RIP, Raymond Lewis

Raymond Lewis died in 2001. He was just 24 years old.

I don’t know him. Nor do many other Westporters.

But today, plenty of people are talking about him.

The other day, a headstone appeared outside 1 Main Street. That’s the entrance to PoP’TArt, a pop-up gallery in the space previously occupied by Calypso. For many years it was a small spot outside the original Westport Public Library, at the foot of the Post Road. In the 1960s, when it was a favorite place for scruffy teenagers who (supposedly) used and sold drugs, it was called Needle Park.

Now it looks like Raymond Lewis’ final resting place.

Except it probably isn’t, of course.

No one knows when or how the headstone appeared.

No one — at least, no one I’ve talked to — knows who Raymond Lewis is either.

If you have any information on this mystery, click “Comments” below.

(Hat tips: Mary Palmieri Gai and Frank Rosen)