Category Archives: religion

Wired!

Yesterday, “06880” posted Jennifer Johnson’s gorgeous photo of Bedford Square.

Sitting outside SoNo bakery, an alert “06880” reader noticed how lovely Seabury Center — across from the new construction — looked in the afternoon light.

She snapped this photo:

seabury-center

Gazing down Church Lane toward Christ & Holy Trinity Church, she shot another:

christ-holy-trinity-church

But as she peered closer, she saw what she believes is a new utility pole.

Suddenly, she wondered: Will this lovely scene soon become a jumble of overhead power and cable lines?

She looked back toward Elm Street, and saw this cluttered mess:

elm-street

Last summer, she thought that all the work on Church Lane meant that utility wires would be buried underground.

Now she’s unsure.

And very, very worried.

Remembering John Skinner

John Skinner — a pilot who leveraged his travel experience in his 2nd “career,” as co-founder with his wife Jeri of Builders Beyond Borders — died Friday evening, from complications of a fall the day after Christmas. Surrounded by family, after a happy day of sharing memories and music with loved ones, he was 80 years old.

A native of San Jose, California, he grew up in Sacramento. John joined the Navy at age 18, and served as a fighter pilot for 12 years. He met his future wife Jeri at the Officers’ Club at Moffett Field. Their sons Christian and Craig were both born on February 9 — though 2 years apart.

After the Navy, John continued his flying career as a captain for Pan American Airways. The Skinners moved to Westport so he could be based out of New York.  With Pan Am he flew to Beirut, Johannesburg, London, Moscow, Rio de Janeiro, Tel Aviv and Tokyo. John finished his career with Delta Airlines, after their acquisition of Pan Am.

john-skinner

John Skinner

John loved flying and anything with an engine, especially cars. He enjoyed attending car races with Chris. His son’s friends used to line up their cars in the driveway so John could fix them.

Following retirement John, Jeri and Craig led Kingdom Builders and Builders Beyond Borders. He put his handyman skills to use building and repairing homes, clinics and daycare centers for the less fortunate. John and his family assembled groups of teens to travel to places like Brazil, Chile, Cuba, Dominican Republic and Honduras. Over 1,700 teenagers participated in these programs.

John leaves his wife of 57 years, Jeri; his son Christian and wife Tammy; his son Craig and wife Elizabeth; 4 grandchildren, and his French bulldog Winston.

In recent years John suffered from Parkinson’s disease but always kept a positive attitude. The effects of the disease contributed to his fall. In keeping with John’s generous nature, he donated his body to Yale University for research purposes.

John has requested that donations be made to the Michael J. Fox Foundation.

A celebration of John’s life will be held this Wednesday (January 18, 3 p.m.) at Southport Congregational Church.

Glenn Hightower Memorial Set For Saturday

The life of Glenn Hightower — educator, civic volunteer and coach — will be celebrated this Saturday (January 21, 2 p.m.) at the United Methodist Church on Weston Road.

The longtime Westport resident died New Year’s Day, age 76. Throughout his life he was devoted to his wife Beverly, and his daughters Holly, Julie and Heather.

Born and raised in Oklahoma, Glenn graduated from Mangum High School as valedictorian and class president. He completed his undergraduate degree at Oklahoma State University, his master’s degree at Kansas State University and his Ph.D from the University of Iowa.

Glenn Hightower at the former Bedford Middle School (now Saugatuck Elementary).

Glenn Hightower at the former Bedford Middle School (now Saugatuck Elementary).

Glenn and Beverly moved to Westport in 1969. He spent over 30 years as principal of Bedford Middle and Junior Schools, serving briefly as interim assistant superintendent.

He led through times of both consolidation and expansion, including working on the design of the new Bedford school on North Avenue.

During 8 years as principal of Westport Continuing Education, he expanded programming and grew enrollment. Glenn was committed to music, the arts and technology. He created compassionate learning environments that valued students and enabled them to excel.

Glenn was an avid sportsman. In junior high and high school he captained varsity football, basketball and baseball teams. He played handball competitively, served on the Bridgeport YMCA Board of Directors, and enjoyed playing in recreational basketball leagues around Fairfield County.

Glenn Hightower, during a Westport Road Runners race.

Glenn Hightower, during a Westport Road Runners race.

Glenn was often seen running throughout town. He competed in Westport Road Races, and completed 16 New York City marathons and 10 ultra marathons. Glenn was a competitor, but most of all he cherished lifelong friendships created along the way.

Actively involved in the Westport YMCA board of directors and Water Rats swim team, as well as the Staples High swim team, Glenn and Bev spent many days by the pool.

When his daughters played team sports, Glenn coached rec basketball. He helped grow Westport Little League softball, coaching for over 10 years. He later returned to a sport he loved, football, to coach middle school PAL football players.

Glenn served in the Rotary Club, and over many years dedicated himself to the United Methodist Church as a Sunday School teacher, lay leader and chair of the Administrative Council, among other activities.

Glenn was known for his warmth, kindness, generous spirit and devotion to his family. He held an unwavering belief in the power of public education and the importance of helping others. Glenn encouraged people to do their best, whether with their family, school, work, faith or on the ball field.

Glenn was predeceased by his wife Beverly. In addition to his daughters he is survived by 4 grandsons, and brothers Richard and Phillip and their families.

In honor of Glenn, the Hightower family encourages everyone to take time to talk with and truly listen to their children, look for the good in those around us, and strive to make a positive impact on our communities.

In lieu of flowers, donations may be sent to the United Methodist Church of Westport/Weston, 49 Weston Road, Westport, CT 06880; Staples Tuition Grants, PO Box 5159, Westport, CT 06881, or Magnum High School Alumni Association (c/o Mary Jane Scott, 414 South Robinson Avenue, Mangum OK 73554).

MLK

This story has become a Martin Luther King Day tradition on “06880.”

Today is Martin Luther King Day. Westporters will celebrate with a day off from school or work.  Some will sleep in; others will ski, or take part in a Staples basketball clinic for younger players. Few will give any thought to Martin Luther King.

Twice, though, his life intersected this town in important ways.

Martin Luther KingThe first was Friday night, May 22, 1964. According to Woody Klein’s book Westport, Connecticut, King had been invited to speak at Temple Israel by synagogue member Jerry Kaiser.

King arrived in the afternoon. Kaiser and his wife Roslyn sat on their porch that afternoon, and talked with King and 2 of his aides. She was impressed with his “sincerity, warmth, intelligence and genuine concern for those about him — our children, for instance. He seemed very young to bear such a burden of leadership.”

King’s sermon — to a packed audience — was titled “Remaining Awake Through a Great Revolution.” He analogized his America to the time of Rip Van Winkle — who also “slept through a revolution. The greatest liability of history is that people fail to see a revolution taking place in our world today.  We must support the social movement of the Negro.”

Westport artist Roe Halper presented King with 3 woodcarvings, representing the civil rights struggle. He hung them proudly in the front hallway of his Atlanta home.

Artist Roe Harper (left) presents Coretta Scott King with civil rights-themed wood carvings.

Within a month Temple Israel’s rabbi, Byron Rubenstein, traveled south to take place in a nonviolent march. He was arrested — along with Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King.

In jail, the rabbi said, “I came to know the greatness of Dr. King. I never heard a word of hate or bitterness from that man, only worship of faith, joy and determination.”

King touched Westport again less than 4 years later. On April 5, 1968 — the day after the civil rights leader’s assassination in Memphis — 600 Staples students gathered for a lunchtime vigil in the courtyard. Nearby, the flag flew at half-staff.

A small portion of the large crowd listens intently to Fermino Spencer, in the Staples courtyard.

A small portion of the large crowd listens intently to Fermino Spencer, in the Staples courtyard.

Vice principal Fermino Spencer addressed the crowd. Movingly, he spoke about  his own experience as an African American. Hearing the words “my people” made a deep impression on the almost all-white audience. For many, it was the 1st time they had heard a black perspective on white America.

No one knew what lay ahead for their country. But student Jim Sadler spoke for many when he said: “I’m really frightened. Something is going to happen.”

Something did — and it was good. A few hundred students soon met in the cafeteria. Urged by a minister and several anti-poverty workers to help bridge the chasm between Westport and nearby cities, Staples teachers and students vowed to create a camp.

Within 2 months, it was a reality. That summer 120 elementary and junior high youngsters from Westport, Weston, Norwalk and Bridgeport participated in the Intercommunity Camp. Led by over 100 Staples students and many teachers, they enjoyed swimming, gymnastics, dance, sports, field trips, overnight camping, creative writing, filmmaking, photography, art and reading.

It wasn’t easy — some in Westport opposed bringing underprivileged children to their town — but for over a decade the Intercommunity Camp flourished.

Eventually, enthusiasm for and interest in the camp waned. Fewer Staples students and staff members wanted to devote their summer to such a project.  The number of Westporters willing to donate their pools dwindled. Today the Intercommunity Camp is a long-forgotten memory.

Sort of like the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King. Even on his birthday.

MLK speech

What Would Martin Do?

Looking for a way to honor Martin Luther King?

Excited — or frightened — about the presidential inauguration?

Westport’s 11th annual Martin Luther King Day Celebration fills both bills.

This Sunday (January 15, 3 p.m., Westport Country Playhouse), check out an intriguing talk. It’s called “WWMD: What Would Martin Do in the Era of Post-Race Racism?”

Professor Tricia Rose

Professor Tricia Rose

The keynote speaker is Dr. Tricia Rose. She’s a Brown University professor of Africana studies, director of its Center for the Study of Race and Ethnicity in America, and a well-respected scholar of post-civil rights and black US culture.

Rose — who has been featured on PBS, CNN, NPR and many other media outlets — will talk about race in the current political environment, from the perspective of King’s philosophy. A Q-and-A session follows.

There’s also music from the Men’s Community Gospel Chorus of Norwalk; a spoken word piece based on King’s “Letter From Birmingham Jail,” presented by students from Trumbull’s Regional Center for the Arts, and refreshments.

The event — co-sponsored by the Playhouse, Westport/Weston Interfaith Council and TEAM Westport — is free. The Westport Weston Family YMCA will provide childcare and activities.

For more information on “WWMD: What Would Martin Do?” click here. For highlights of last year’s Martin Luther King Day celebration, click the video below.

 

Friday Flashback #23

Alert “06880” reader Dana Pronti emailed this photo. It’s a 1930s view — looking east on Newtown Turnpike — at what is now the Country Store on Wilton Road. The photo was taken from where the Three Bears restaurant once stood.

wilton-road-lookingi-from-3-bears

Click on or hover over to enlarge.

That’s now the site of Chabad Lubavitch.

Here’s today’s view, from the same spot:

(Photo courtesy of Google Earth)

Has it changed much? You be the judge.

Remembering Glenn Hightower

Glenn Hightower — a longtime Westport Public Schools administrator and community volunteer — died over New Year’s weekend. He was 76.

Glenn Hightower

Glenn Hightower

Hightower came from Oklahoma, as principal of Bedford Junior High School. In his several decades in the district, he also served as director of continuing education.

He spent an enormous amount of time in activities ranging from Little League softball to the United Methodist Church.

He and his wife Beverly — who died in 2015, at 72 — raised 3 daughters here: Holly, Julie and Heather.

A full obituary, and information on services, will follow soon.

Photo Challenge #105

I said last week — on Christmas — that that day’s photo challenge was my holiday gift to my readers.

I wasn’t kidding.

A record 26 of you nailed my slam-dunk shot: the lancet windows at Christ & Holy Trinity Episcopal Church.

Only 3 readers guessed incorrectly. One said Assumption Church; another thought the photo showed the old Fairfield Furniture Store (now National Hall), and a 3rd said (I hope as a joke) Chartres Cathedral.

Congratulations to Jack Harder, Tom Ryan, Fred Cantor, Nancy Lopresti, Jane Sherman, Shirlee Gordon, Cathy Jones, Roz Koether, Linda Amos, John F. Wandres, Mary (Cookman) Schmerker, Sarah Neilly, Andrew Colabella, Brandon Malin, Mary Ann Batsell, Sue Ryan, Scott Kuhner, Susan Huppi, Linda Parker, Bobbie Herman, Roger Perry, Kathleen Fassman, Rob Feakins, Jessica Branson,  Ginny Clark and Dorothy Fincher. (NOTE: It would have been pretty bad if Sue Ryan and Jessica Branson missed this one! Click here for the photo.)

Today’s photo challenge is tougher. If you think you know where it is, click “Comments” below.

And no, there is absolutely no “New Year’s” tie-in whatsoever. You’re on your own.

(Photo/Lynn U. Miller)

(Photo/Lynn U. Miller)

 

Westport’s Syrian Saga

Last year, Indiana Governor Mike Pence ordered all state agencies to halt the resettlement of Syrian refugees in Indiana. Connecticut Governor Dannel Malloy countered by inviting them here.

Since then, a number of other Syrian families have arrived in our state. They’ve been welcomed, even embraced. And the folks helping them say they’ve gained as much as they’ve given.

Very quietly — but energetically and lovingly — a large group of Westporters has helped provide a new home for one Syrian family. They’ve kept a low profile. But now that Mohamed, Nour, Hala and Yahya feel comfortable, safe and more assimilated, they’re okay that their tale can be told.

The story has its roots in 1993. A Muslim family from Bosnia came to Westport. The Methodist minister housed them, and helped the parents find jobs. An orthodontist fixed their teeth for free. When the mother was diagnosed with breast cancer, a Jewish surgeon operated on her. There was no bill for the operation, chemotherapy and radiation.

A similar effort has borne fruit in 2016. Initiated last fall by Rev. Ed Horne of the United Methodist Church as an offshoot of the Westport/Weston Interfaith Council, it includes St. Luke Parish, Temple Israel, Saugatuck and Greens Farms Congregational Churches, Society of Friends (Quakers) in Wilton, and 15 Muslim families in the Westport area.

Additional support comes from Assumption Church, Christ and Holy Trinity Church, the Center for Humanistic Judaism, Emmanuel Episcopal Church in Weston, and the Al-Madany Center in Norwalk. The coalition is led by John McGeehan of the Methodist Church, Lynn Jeffery of Temple Israel, and Sister Maureen of St. Luke.

United Methodist Church volunteers Ellyn Gelman, Janis Liu and Brenda Maggio help prepare an apartment for the Syrian family's arrival. (Photo/Eva Toft)

United Methodist Church volunteers Ellyn Gelman, Janis Liu and Brenda Maggio help prepare an apartment for the Syrian family’s arrival. (Photo/Eva Toft)

Scores of volunteers make the project work.

Among them: Samer Hiba — owner of the Mobil Self-Serve by Barnes & Noble — who arrived in the US 23 years ago, and is now an American citizen.

The family — including 2 young children — fled Syria 5 years ago. They spent much of that time in temporary housing across Egypt.

The family arrived in mid-July. They live in Norwalk, close to the children’s elementary school.

Finding a home was not easy. A couple of possibilities in Westport were rented to others during the long wait. The Norwalk rental is less expensive than here.

Plus, admitted Rev. Horne, “Norwalk is more multi-cultural. There’s a mosque there. It’s walkable, and public transportation is great.” Neighbors, teachers and many other Norwalkers have embraced the refugee family.

Westporters have flocked to help too. More than 100 help drive the family to medical and immigration appointments; assist with language training and shopping, and provide other types of support like employment, education and translation.

“The goal is self-sufficiency,” says Delores Paoli, a 25-year Westport resident active in the Muslim community. They’re getting there.

But it’s not easy. Mohamed – the father —  is a highly educated man. An Arab literature major in Syria, with experience in the import-export business, he has found work as a chef at Whole Foods in Westport.

The family attended the Interfaith Thanksgiving service, held this year at Temple Israel. Mohamed stood in front of the Torah ark, and in a beautiful voice recited a section of the Koran.

That moment was significant, says Temple Israel rabbi Michael Friedman. He’d been active in interfaith efforts at his previous synagogue, in New York. After talking with Rev. Horne about Westport’s Bosnian resettlement effort, the rabbi felt confident committing his congregation to the project.

The annual Interfaith Thanksgiving Feast draws together many people, with a wide variety of religions.

The annual Interfaith Thanksgiving Feast draws together many people, with a wide variety of religions.

“There is such a strong interfaith sensibility in Westport,” Rabbi Friedman says. “Our work as clergy together, and our trust, allows our congregations to do this.”

He notes, “There are clear principled reasons in Jewish texts, and our history, to care for children, widows and strangers. Vast numbers of Jews have fled persecution and bad situations, and been taken in. Now we want to provide safe refuge for others.

“We see these terrible images of a humanitarian crisis halfway around the world. We feel helpless. This effort is a way to say that while we can’t solve the entire problem, we also can’t absent ourselves from it. We have to try.

“What we’re doing is empowering. We hope it changes some lives, now and for generations in the future.”

“We saw the refugee crisis, and thought about it,” Rev. Horne adds. “As Methodists we welcome all, without restrictions. This is a chance to put that value into practice, with people who are fleeing for their lives.”

After fleeing Syria, Mohamed and his family spent nearly 5 years in different parts of Egypt.

After fleeing Syria, Mohamed and his family spent nearly 5 years in different parts of Egypt.

Both Rabbi Friedman and Rev. Horne say they and their fellow clergy members have heard “nothing but positive things” from congregants.

“Our families who help may be getting more out of this than Mohamed’s family,” Dolores Paoli says. “As we all work together, we realize how much we can do.”

“Human contact is so important,” Rev. Horne concludes. “We see these beautiful children, and engage with the charismatic Mohamed and his lovely wife. It’s transformative. It breaks the Westport bubble. It gives us a new look at the world.”

 

Beechwood Arts Concert Streams Into Your Home

Today — 2 weeks before Christmas — is a busy day for many of us.

We’ve got holiday parties to go to, trees to buy and trim, football games to watch. There aren’t enough hours in the day.

But if you can manage to be free for just an hour — starting at 5 p.m. — you won’t regret it.

Jeanine Esposito and Frederic Chiu, in their Weston Road home.

Jeanine Esposito and Frederic Chiu, in their Weston Road home.

Beechwood Arts and Innovation — the unique immersive salons sponsored by Frederic Chiu and Jeanine Esposito at their amazing Weston Road home — is staging another event.

But this time, on this cold day, you don’t have to leave the comfort of your home.

You don’t even have to live around here to attend.

All you need is Facebook.

The idea is to replace the “me” in social media with “we,” Chiu explains. “We hope to bring people together to inspire a sense of unity on a global scale.”

Igor Pikayzen

Igor Pikayzen

Today’s salon is a virtual one. Held on Facebook Live, it’s a stream of an actual salon to be held at the couple’s home (called Beechwood). Igor Pikayzen — a 2005 Staples High School graduate, 2007 Westport Arts Horizon winner, and internationally known violinist, will perform.

Fairfield neighbor Orin Grossman will play favorites from the Gershwin songbook on piano, and Brahms’ “Hungarian Dances” with Chiu.

Greg Wall — Westport’s unique “jazz rabbi” — will show off his rarely seen classical side.

“The goal is to create unity around the world, through the universal language of music,” Chiu says. “Facebook Live is the perfect platform, because it’s interactive.

beechwood-arts-logo“People can join us on their phone, computer, tablet or smart TV. They can communicate with each other using Facebook comments — emojis are fine!”

Hundreds of intimate gatherings of friends and families have already been planned (thanks to Facebook, of course). But individuals can join too. Everyone’s invited.

Today’s Beechwood salon is music at its finest — and most accessible.

That football game can wait.

(Click here to join the Beechwood Arts Salon Facebook Live event, or search Facebook for “Beechwood Arts and Innovation.”)

Greg Wall, the "jazz rabbi," plays classical music today.

Greg Wall, the “jazz rabbi,” plays classical music today.