Category Archives: religion

Greens Farms Church Signs “Bad News Bears” Minister

It’s been more than 40 years since aging, down-on-his-luck ex-minor leaguer Walter Matthau coached a team of misfits.

But even current Little Leaguers — whose grandparents saw the movie when they were kids — knows that the “Bad News Bears” are not exactly the New York Yankees.

There were 2 sequels to the sports comedy. Only 5 actors appeared in all 3. David Stambaugh is one.

David Stambaugh, then …

His character — Toby Whitewood — is the son of councilman Bob Whitewood, who secretly paid Morris Buttermaker to coach the team.

Stambaugh — whose career began at age 4 (he was in commercials for, among others, Bazooka gum and Tide), and continued with a decade’s worth of appearances on the soap opera “Love of Life” — put all that behind him before he was out of his teens.

“At 15, acting becomes very competitive,” he says. “Especially if you don’t look as cute as you did at 9.”

An avid church youth group member since junior high, Stambaugh attended Messiah College. It’s a Christian school, but he did not want to be a pastor. He majored in communications.

Yet religion was important. So Stambaugh went on to earn 2 master’s degrees, in theology and divinity.

His undergrad major actually came in handy. “I communicated as an actor,” he notes. “As a pastor, I communicate when I preach, and do weddings and funerals.”

… and now.

He became a youth and young adult minister in New Jersey, then a solo pastor for 5 years at a church on the Shore.

Stambaugh returned to Hollywood — but not as an actor. He got the call from the United Methodist Church there.

However, his family was all on the East Coast. When Stambaugh’s wife was hired as children’s pastor by the First Congregational Church in Guilford, they eagerly moved back.

The minister there introduced him to Jeff Ryder, senior minister at Greens Farms Congregational.

Last month, Stambaugh was ordained as the 307-year-old church’s minister of faith formation. He works with the 8th and 9th grade confirmation classes, and with adult education. He teaches Bible studies, and preaches once a month.

Stambaugh knows Westport’s heritage as an arts community. He’s played drums for years, and looks forward to meeting fellow musicians.

He’s also intrigued that Jason Robards once lived here. Stambaugh was in “The Thanksgiving Treasure” — a 1973 film — with him.

Three years later came “The Bad News Bears” — David Stambaugh’s Hollywood home run.

The Life And Loves of Horace Staples

Jeanne Stevens is an amateur genealogist. Before retiring this year, she was also an AP US History teacher at Staples High School.

So it was natural that when she learned about the condition of school founder Horace Staples’ grave — it, and those of his wife Charrey Crouch, son Capt. William Cowper Staples and daughter Mary were cracked, broken, knocked over, and overgrown with weeds and brush in Greens Farms Congregational Church’s cemetery — she vowed to help.

The grave of the founder of Staples High School, before restoration.

The cost for restoration was $10,000. (By comparison, Wilbur Cross — Horace Staples’ 2nd principal — was paid $700 for the year. Of course, that year was 1885.)

With the help of graduating classes and fellow teachers, she raised some of the funds. In August, Horace and Charrey’s stones were reinstalled.

Horace and Charrey Staples’ graves today. (Photo/Jeanne Stevens)

Meanwhile, in retirement, Stevens headed to the Connecticut State Library in Hartford. She had found a reference to the diary of Eliza Ann Hull Staples — Horace’s first wife — and wanted to see it.

Eliza began writing when she was 14. The last entry was on May 5, 1832, 2 days before William was born and a few weeks before her own death.

Horace Staples’ entry in his wife Eliza’s diary, after she died.

Stevens calls Horace’s entry underneath Eliza’s final one “heartbreaking.” He wrote: “Thus ends the diary of her whose worth was counted more than all this world by her unworthy partner. [She lived] 28 years, 3 months & 3 days.”

On the next page he added:

3 ½ OClock [sic] A.M. 10 June 1832 an hour never to be forgotten by me being an hour which brought upon me an irretrievable loss in the death of my beloved and affectionate wife. Although she was resigned to her fate & felt sure of entering the gates of Heaven until her last breath yet it seems more than I can bear to say Oh, Father thy will be done. Her disease was of that nature that brot [sic] death gradually upon her in the space of 5 weeks – she has left me 2 small children the eldest 3 years & 7 days old youngest 5 weeks whom I consider as dear pledges of pure and life lasting affection and may God bless them.

A few years later, Horace Staples married Charrey. They enjoyed another half century together.

Horace Staples

He became Westport’s wealthiest citizen, running a lumber and hardware business, and general store. He bought sailing vessels, a silk factory, and part of an axe factory. He owned a farm, a thriving pier on the Saugatuck River and helped found a bank.

In 1884 — well into his 80s — he established Staples High School. He lived another 13 years. He died in 1897 in his Riverside Avenue home — age 96 — of pneumonia.

His house still stands. Now — restored once again — so does his grave.

Saul Haffner’s Legacy Lives On

When Saul Haffner died in November at 87, he left quite a legacy.

He served on the RTM, was a member of the Y’s Men, and taught photography and writing at the Senior Center and Norwalk Community College.

Haffner was a US Army veteran. Professionally, he was an engineer who worked on NASA’s Gemini program, as well as a professor of business and marketing at Sacred Heart University.

He was perhaps best known as a justice of the peace. He may have been the nation’s foremost authority on the subject.

Saul Haffner

His legacy continues. The Congregation for Humanistic Judaism —  where Haffner was a longtime member and former president — has established a memorial fund in his name.

It will organize the types of programs Haffner embraced: those benefiting the CHJ and broader Jewish community, and that bring together people of different faiths.

When he retired, Haffner wrote stories about his life. “Just a Boy from Brighton Beach” was completed by his wife, Barbara Jay. Contributors to the Memorial Fund will receive a complimentary copy.

Contributions made payable to “CHJ,” with “Saul Haffner Fund” on the memo line,  may be sent to the Congregation for Humanistic Judaism, PO Box 82, Westport, CT 06880.

George Weigle Memorial Service Set For Saturday

A memorial service for George Weigle — the longtime and beloved Staples High School choral director who died last month at 90 — is set for this Saturday (September 22, 2 p.m.) at the United Methodist Church on Weston Road. In addition to his Staples tenure, he served as choral director there for 43 years.

Dr. Weigle’s many friends — and countless former singers — are warmly encouraged to attend. A reception follows the service in the Fellowship Hall.

George Weigle (Photo/Lynn Untermeyer Miller)

100 Teens, 370 Pounds Of Trash

Longshore is a beautiful park.

It’s well-cared-for, lovingly maintained — almost spotless.

Yet you’d be surprised what you’d find there.

Or rather, what the Assumption Church youth group and Staples High School AP Environmental Sciences classes found yesterday.

Over 100 teenagers gathered nearly 370 pounds of trash and debris. Their haul included plastic, golf balls (a huge maritime hazard), part of a car windshield (!), and what appeared to be a rusted piece of a large boat engine.

That last piece of junk was too heavy to carry. So 2 boys borrowed a cart from the E.R. Strait Marina, and added it to the items they disposed of.

The event was part of Save the Sound‘s Coastal Clean-Up Day.

Marine life, golfers, and everyone else in and around Longshore thanks all who helped!

A large tire was one small part of yesterday’s Longshore trash haul.

(Hat tip: Michele Harding)

Sam’s Mobil Self-Serve Closes Soon

A couple of years ago, a big snowstorm closed local roads.

Concerned that Samer “Sam” Hiba — owner of the Mobil Self-Serve next to Barnes & Noble — might not make it home to Trumbull, a nearby customer called and invited him to sleep at her house.

Not many gas station owners develop those kinds of bonds with their customers.

As of Thursday, there will be one less in Westport.

Tomorrow (Tuesday, September 18) is the last day for Sam’s station.

He explains:

The gas company informed me that they decided to withdraw from this location only after carefully analyzing the numbers and determining that, unfortunately, the station’s projected long term revenues are not sufficient to justify investing the additional resources necessary to do the mandatory upgrade to the tanks, along with the corresponding improvements to the canopy, pumps and store.

Sam will shut off the pumps at 10 p.m., then spend Wednesday and Thursday cleaning out the station he loves.

He is devastated. So are his many customers — many of whom prefer the word “friend.”

Sam Hiba, in his Mobil Self-Serve gas station.

From the day Sam bought the business 5 years ago, his life has been intertwined with the men and women who come in for gas, coffee, snacks and conversation.

He has brightened their days. They’ve supported his major community work: caring for Syrian refugees.

Sam left his native country 25 years ago. He’s now a proud American citizen — as are his 5 children, all of whom were born here. But he’s never forgotten that war-torn nation.

His long list of friends include Westport residents, local businesses, even St. Luke Church. Sister Maureen and the entire staff has been particularly strong supporters of Sam’s Syrian relief efforts.

“From the first day, I loved my customers,” Sam says. “They are part of my family now. They know about my life, and I know about theirs. We chat all the time. I will miss them, big time.”

As customers hear that Sam’s Mobil Self-Serve is closing, they’re shattered. Today and tomorrow they’ll fill his small but well-stocked mini-mart, and say thanks.

“I see their tears and concern for me,” Sam says. “That’s very special.”

He promises to keep in touch with his customers — er, friends. He knows they’ll do the same.

Yet life on that stretch of the Post Road will never be quite the same.

 

All That Jazz

For over 3 years, “Jazz Rabbi” Greg Wall and his cohorts have created a thriving community.

Every Thursday night, they’ve played at a local restaurant.

But — according to an email sent to fellow musicians and fans — a “deteriorating environment for both the audience and the artists” is causing the Jazz Society of Fairfield County to seek a new home.

The goal is to ensure that “live, world class jazz music remains a key part of our area’s cultural life.”

Greg Wall, the Jazz Rabbi.

This week, the Jazz Rabbi invited everyone to his “other pulpit” — Beit Chaverim Synagogue — for top-notch music, food (this week, sushi), drink and good cheer.

The Jazz Society does more than play. In just 3 years they’ve raised funds to buy the famous Steinway piano from the historic Village Gate Jazz Club in New York. They’ve gotten not-for-profit status, conducted workshops for local students, and produced a benefit concert for Bridgeport’s Neighborhood Studios at the Bijou Theater.

Meanwhile — until an appropriate venue emerges — the musicians are looking for hosts for Thursday night house parties. If interested, email jazzrabbi@gmail.com.

Challah On The Merritt

Lea Kaner leads an active life.

The retired Bi-Cultural Day School teacher returned to her Stamford home a few days ago, after a summer in Israel.

Last night, she got on the Merritt Parkway. She headed to Westport, to celebrate Shabbat with her children — former 2nd Selectman Avi Kaner and Celia Offir — and their families.

But her active life ground to a halt. A multi-car accident closed all northbound lanes for almost 2 hours.

On the front seat was Lea’s freshly baked, homemade challah. (As I said, she is very active.)

Lea Kaner (2nd from left) and her 3 children.

After an hour not moving at all, she got out of her car. Soon, she offered her challah to fellow stranded drivers.

They were a diverse group. Only one woman knew what challah is — and she wasn’t Jewish.

So Lea went into teacher mode. She educated them.

A young man in his 20s who runs a gas station was worried about waking up early this morning. He particularly enjoyed the soothing challah.

Everyone else did too. All said it was delicious.

Eventually Lea made it to Westport. They had a late — but treasured — Sabbath meal.

There was no challah. But the chocolate cake Lea baked — and which remained in her car during the long traffic jam — was wonderful.

Lea Kaner’s chocolate cake.

Remembering Carol Mata

Longtime Westporter Carol Mata died last week, at 73.

She was an entrepreneur, starting a doll-making business in Peru, and an Ecuadorean handcraft store in Westport called El Rondador. Carol also managed many rental properties. 

She was a host mother to many foreign exchange students throughout the years, and an adopted mother and grandmother by countless people around the world. 

She was an accomplished entertainer, party organizer and self-taught chef. She welcomed hundreds of people into her home with warmth, elegance and epicurean treats. 

Carol was also deeply involved in Westport activities. Her daughter — Staples High School art teacher Angela Simpson — sends along this remembrance:

Last week, Westport and the greater community lost a humble and generous servant. Carol Mata, a resident of Westport for approximately 50 of her 73 years, passed away peacefully but unexpectedly in her sleep.

Carol Mata

Carol’s generosity extended beyond her kindness to her family. She dedicated her time and talents to the Westport Woman’s Club (in particular the Yankee Doodle Fair), ran Fairfield Prep annual auctions, fundraised for Staples marching band uniforms, and always opened her pocketbook to support charities, especially Al’s Angels and Caroline House.

She was a fixture at St. Matthew’s Church in Norwalk, where she served as a eucharistic minister, delivered home-cooked meals to those in need, and assisted with accounting and event planning.

She also served for years as a CCD instructor at Assumption Church in Westport. She took her lesson planning very seriously, and was delighted to have one of her own grandchildren in her class.

Carol’s philanthropy extended outside Fairfield County, and even outside the country, but her greatest gift was her genuine care for all people. She did so much for so many, and never expected recognition.

Carol was a breast cancer survivor, and understood the importance of cherishing family and friends. From Carol you could count on original, personalized Christmas cards, along with her signature “Christmas Coffee Can Cake,” heartfelt and handwritten thank-you notes, and multi-course gourmet meals served from chafing dishes, always accompanied by beautiful floral arrangement.

Carol will be missed by many. But the many organizations and individuals that she touched are the better for her efforts.

Rev. Heather Sinclair Takes The Methodist Church Pulpit

She’s been the United Methodist Church pastor for a bit over a month. But Rev. Heather Sinclair has already participated in one of Westport’s special religious observances.

In late July, she led the ecumenical Sunday morning service at Compo Beach.

The weather was perfect. Over 100 people came.

Meanwhile, just around the jetty, the Westport Weston Family Y held its 40th annual Point to Point Swim.

At the end of the service, when Sinclair asked everyone to form a circle and sing the closing benediction, she noticed a few newcomers. Point to Point swimmers — in bathing suits and towels — had joined the group.

It was a quintessential Westport moment. And — no offense to Sinclair’s previous postings — it wasn’t anything she’d seen in Greenwich, Shelton or Trumbull.

Rev. Heather Sinclair is still settling in to her new office.

Though her pastoral career has been spent in Fairfield County, Sinclair is a Massachusetts native (Westford). She entered Colgate University planning to study medicine.

But a series of events — she took religion classes, got involved in campus church groups, and “did not do well in biology and chemistry” — culminated in her chaplain mentor encouraging her to look at the ministry.

She chose Yale Divinity School because of its diverse student population.

“I wanted to go somewhere not specifically Methodist,” Sinclair notes. She appreciates Yale’s “deep academic study as a springboard for pastoral ministry.”

She loved working in Trumbull, Shelton and — for the past 5 years — the First United Methodist Church in Greenwich. But when Rev. Ed Horne announced his retirement after 16 years in Westport, she relished the opportunity to move.

From her work in Fairfield County, Sinclair knew the church here was “open and welcoming for families, kids and people of all ages. The congregation is vital, strong and active.”

She also knew that — like all churches — it’s involved in an ongoing search to “figure out its place in the community, and the world.”

She had long admired Horne’s “voice for justice, and his pastoral manner.” It fit well with her own calling.

The United Methodist Church on Weston Road.

Now that Sinclair is here, she has found United Methodist to be indeed a welcoming place.

“They’ve embraced my family,” she says — her husband, an attorney in Fairfield who she met at Colgate, and their 10- and 8-year-old girls.

She is still exploring exactly how she’ll build on Horne’s foundation. “We’ll see what God has in store for us,” she says.

Sinclair says her passion is “connecting the church and community. Finding ways to work together — no matter what our religious backgrounds — is important. We’ll always be looking at how to bring hope and healing to the community.”

Sinclair knows that Westport has a strong interfaith clergy council. “I’m excited to explore it all,” she says. “We’re at a pivotal time, a key point for religious communities to speak out about justice and hope, and be a force for change in the world.”

Her style is “collaborative and relaxed. I believe in a cooperative ministry, one that celebrates a diversity of gifts.”

The church she now leads has a long history in Westport. But its current building on Weston Road is young enough so that some congregants were here when the cornerstone was laid in 1967. And new members join all the time.

Sinclair is still getting acclimated to Westport. She’s been to the Hall Family concert at the Levitt Pavilion — they’re congregants — and has hung out at Starbucks.

She “tags along” as her husband and daughters sail. (He’s got a 40-foot racing sloop.) In her free time Sinclair enjoys cooking, yoga, and finding fun things to do with her girls.

But, she notes, “I’m still unpacking boxes!”

With a few pauses, of course, to do things like lead a Sunday morning beach service for everyone who shows up.

Even those in bathing suits and towels.