Nancy Coley — an active Westporter and (among other things) the first female president of the Westport Horticultural Society — died on February 26 in Branford. She was 89 years old, and had battled pneumonia and other complications.
Born in Norwalk to James E. Coley II and Kathleen Coley, she graduated from Staples High School, then earned a BS degree from the New York School of Fine Arts.
Nancy had a fulfilling career as a technical illustrator with Sikorsky Aircraft and Norden Systems, where she served as director of technical art.
Nancy was a longtime member of Westport VFW Post 399 Auxiliary, including senior vice president from 2001 to 2016. She created memorable Memorial Day parade floats.
Besides her love of gardening and Horticultural Society activities, she was involved in Sportsmen of Westport and was a member of Christ & Holy Trinity Episcopal Church.
Nancy loved sailing, cruising and fishing on Long Island Sound with friends and family, and is remembered as an excellent artist, social activity coordinator, boater and homemaker.
She is survived by her brother James; nephews Andrew, Thomas (Bonnie), Michael (Heather) and Christopher, and their children.
A year after Connecticut was locked down, COVID has killed over 7,700 state residents. Nearly 2,100 have been in Fairfield County — 28 in Westport alone.
This Saturday, members and friends of Green’s Farms Church will mark the somber anniversary by placing 2,00 luminarias on Veterans Green.
Bagpipes and a brief service of dedication begins at 7 p.m. Thepublic is invited to walk among the lights (or view them from cars), reflect, and light their own LED luminarias in tribute to a life lost or affected by the pandemic, or as a symbol of hope for the future. The display will remain in place for 24 hours.
Sunday’s New York Times Real Estate section explored trends in the tristate suburbs.
Much of the Connecticut focus was on Westport. The paper said:
Gains were perhaps expected south of the Merritt Parkway, whose popularity derives in part from regular train service. Indeed, in the past two months, Westport saw 33 sales of single-family homes priced from $1 million to $2.5 million, compared with 19 sales last winter, according to William Pitt Sotheby’s International Realty.
There were quotes from a man who missed out on a home here, despite offering a 10% premium (“There seems to be so much irrational behavior”), and retirees from White Plains who very much wanted to move to town,
After two failed purchases, they swooped in last month with an all-cash offer for a four-bedroom house, listed for $1.749 million. And it seemed to do the trick; a contract was in the works.
But a rushed title search missed problems, and on Feb. 24, (they) walked away. (The seller upped the price to $1.849 million a day later.)
The piece is illustrated with 2 photos too. Note the New York license plate! (Click here for the full story. Hat tip: Peter Gold)
1992 Staples High School graduate Susan Izzo co-founded The Sports Management Mastermind. The company helps professional athletes maximize their potential — while never losing sight of who they are as people.
At 7 p.m. today (Tuesday, March 9) and Thursday (March 11), she and another sports agent host a 90-minute virtual sports management masterclass for aspiring pro, college and Olympic athletes, and their families.
I am hosting/teaching tomorrow and on Thursday. I am joining forces with another female sports agent and we are hosting a free 90-minute virtual sports management masterclass for aspiring professional, collegiate and Olympic athletes and their families.
Topics include building a successful career as a competitive athlete; creating and amplifying your brand; learning what sponsors, agents and coaches look for, and how to build those relationships; NCAA and Olympics regulations, and more.
The sessions are free, but spots are limited. Click here to register.
Speaking of sports: Westport READS continues during March with a fascinating conversation about baseball.
Andrea Williams — author of “Baseball’s Leading Lady” — chats with Westport Museum for History & Culture executive director Ramin Ganeshram about a little-known woman at the center of the Negro Leagues: Effa Manley, co-owner and business manager of the Newark Eagles.
The event is set for Monday, March 22 (7 p.m.).
Williams worked in marketing and development for the Negro Baseball Museum in Kansas City. She’s now a fulltime writer.
For many people, COVID created 2 types of hunger: for food, and for the human spirit.
Westport’s Unitarian Church helps feed both needs.
For years, a community of food-insecure people has gathered on Sunday mornings under Bridgeport’s Route 25 overpass. They celebrate together: children’s birthdays, sobriety, housing, new jobs. When ministers or priests appear, prayer circles form.
As the pandemic’s quarantine and health regulations prevented many non-profit providers from serving food at the John Street site, Unitarian Church members worked with April Barron of Helping Hands Outreach in Bridgeport to coordinate bagged lunches.
Over the past 9 months, they’ve handed out over 12,000 lunches — filled with sandwiches, drinks, fruit, snacks, and messages of support.
With donations of food and money way down, April says the Unitarian Church — and similar help from St. George Greek Orthodox Church in Norwalk — were crucial. Just as important: the interaction with people.
The Unitarian Church’s Shawl Ministry — which for years has knit and crocheted shawls for congregants — also made and gave warm hats, scarves and cowls to the John Street community this winter.
The other day, the Cornell Daily Sun highlighted the student-run Cornell University Emergency Medical Service. Working through the pandemic, they provide free 24/7 emergency care to staff, students and visitors.
In 1975, the Norwalk Symphony Organization planned a concert version of “Porgy and Bess.” Composer George Gershwin had stipulated it could only be performed by Black artists.
Gigi Van Dyke knew many Black singers in the area. She was asked to recruit a choir of 40 or 50 voices, teach them the score, and rehearse them.
Gigi called choir members from Norwalk to New Haven. She credits “serendipity” with finding all the sopranos, altos, tenors and basses needed.
Gigi Van Dyke
The story goes that the Norwalk Symphony Orchestra told Gigi to bring “her people” to the concert hall for a technical rehearsal. When the members — all well prepared and ready — showed up, there were more commands like “get your people to…” and “your people had better…”
Gigi told the NSO that she could not be involved with the project. The choir did not want to go on without her.
The Norwalk Hour got wind of the exit from a sold-out performance. The headline was something like “Porgy and the Norwalk Symphony: It Ain’t Necessarily So.”
Members of the pick-up choir did not want to disband after enjoying singing together, with Gigi playing piano and directing. They continued rehearsing.
Again by serendipity, opportunities to perform kept coming Gigi’s way.
Hundreds of men and women singers have been part of the group — now called the Serendipity Chorale — over the past 45 years. They performed with Pete Seeger, Andy Williams, Betty Jones, (and the Norwalk Symphony Orchestra), among others.
Peter Jennings and ABC News recognized Van Dyke and the chorale in 1998 for its “service to all mankind.” In 2000, Governor Jodi Rell honored the Chorale as a “Connecticut Treasure.”
The Serendipity Chorale’s last live performance was last February 23, at the Darien Library. The repertoire of show tunes, pop standards, folk songs and gospel spirituals was to have kicked off a busy year celebrating their 45th anniversary.
The pandemic shattered those plans. Instead, Chorale members and friends decided to sponsor the production of a solo piano CD featuring Gigi.
Finding the right piano, recording site and engineer was difficult. Finally Gigi’s longtime friend and colleague, Rev. Dr. Edward Thompson — minister of music at Westport’s Unitarian Church in Westport — suggested recording in the now-empty sanctuary, on the church’s Steinway Grand.
Gigi Van Dyke at the Unitarian Church’s Steinway. (Photo/Lynda Shannon)
Congregation member Alec Head — a recording engineer and producer — heard Gigi play. He quickly signed on.
The sanctuary was booked for 4 hours in September. Recording took just an hour.
“Artists always tell me they can do their piece in a single take,” Alec said. “It just doesn’t happen. Except that with Gigi it did.”
Head remastered the CD, titled “It’s Love.” It was created not as a Chorale fundraiser but as a gift to Gigi, and from her to churches that could no longer have live music, as well as to senior centers and other organizations where she and the Chorale had often performed.
Recording and production costs were underwritten by donations. Copies were sent to singers who have been part of the Chorale’s life and spirit for 45 years.
The Serendipity Chorale looks forward to singing together again — perhaps this year.
In the meantime, they can hear Gigi at the piano playing her favorite hymns and songs.
For the past year, the choir could not sing. But — without missing a beat — they shared the magic of music anyway.
Last week’s Presidents Day Photo Challenge fooled some of our most historic-minded Westporters.
Sure, in 1775 George Washington stopped (and slept) at the Disbrow Tavern, the site of the present-day Christ & Holy Trinity Episcopal Church. He returned 5 years later.
A plaque marks the spot, by the elm tree where Church Lane meets Myrtle Avenue. But that’s not the marker that Kathie Motes Bennewitz’s image showed. (Click here to see.)
A similar plaque is partially hidden near the Christ & Holy Trinity (and Assumption Church) cemetery, on Kings Highway North. It’s across from the grassy area by Old Hill Road that, in Revolutionary times, served as a militia training and parade ground.
Elaine Marino, Bob Grant, Michael Calise and Morley Boyd all knew the correct location of this plaque.
Elaine also pointed out — to my great embarrassment — this was a previous Photo Challenge, in July 2018. (I really should read “06880,” right?)
During the Washington Bi-Centennial Celebration in 1932, the Compo Hill Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution placed a bronze plaque at the base of the tree.
The plaque on Kings Highway does not indicate who placed it there.
The downtown plaque is more weather-beaten than its cemetery counterpart. It says: “George Washington stopped for refreshments at this tavern, June 28, 1775.” It also has the bicentennial dates: “1732-1932.”
That Disbrow Tavern visit — and the next — were not the only 2 times Washington stopped (and slept) here. As president, he spent the night of November 11, 1789 at Captain Ozias Marvin’s tavern, at what is now the north side of Post Road West, opposite Kings Highway South.
Sarah Marvin and her daughters cooked up a presidential feast: loaves of brown bread and pies, vegetables from their farm, huge roasts.
Yet Washington asked for only a bowl of bread and milk. To add insult to injury, he wrote in his diary: It was “not a good house, though the people of it were disposed to do all they could to accommodate me.”
No matter. For years thereafter, Marvin Tavern was known as the Washington Inn.
But enough about yesterday. Here is today’s Photo Challenge. if you know where in Westport you would see it, click “Comments” below.
Greg Naughton’s new film, “The Independents,” will be released virtually to art house cinemas on February 26. The wider on-demand release comes March 9.
But there’s a special screening — with Q-and-A afterward — at Fairfield’s FTC on Saturday, February 27.
That’s close to here. But the film has an even closer connection: Some of it was shot in Westport.
“The Independents” is a comedy/drama about 3 solo artists who collide at the same crossroads and discover harmony. They share a rollercoaster ride across America for a shot at musical glory.
The film stars (and was inspired by) the real-life folk-rock Sweet Remains. The Hollywood Reporter called it “an extremely engaging film (that) subverts all the clichés of the star-is-born story and proves there are plenty of offbeat ways to satisfy audiences without hewing to formula.”
Naughton — a longtime Westport resident — had quite a bit to do with “The Independents.” In addition to writing, directing and producing, he stars in it.
Click here for tickets and more information. Click below for the trailer.
The Westport Library’s next “Andrew Wilk Presents” examines anti-Semitism.
The event — a screening and conversation with filmmaker Andrew Goldberg and CNN anchor Alisyn Camerota — is set for next month.
On March 10 and 11, the Library offers Goldberg’s film “Viral: Anti-Semitism in 4 Mutations.” At 7 p.m. on the 11th, Goldberg will discuss the film with Camerota — anchor of the “New Day” morning show — and take questions from the virtual audience.
Camerota lives in Westport. Goldberg recently moved here. To register, and for more information, click here.
Looking for a summer camp for your kids? Something along the lines of, say, Recycled/Upcycling Art, Nature in Art, Engineering and Art, Chemistry and Art, Movement and Art?
Those are some of the weekly themes at Camp MoCA, a new summer day camp for youngsters ages 3 to 13. It runs June 7 to August 27; 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. daily, rain or shine. Certified educators and art instructors are in charge.
An early registration discount of $100 per week is available through May 1. Campers can sign up for one or multiple weeks. Click here for details.
And finally … on this day in 1791, Congress passed a law admitting the state of Vermont to the Union, effective March 4. It had existed for 14 years as an independent republic.
Many Westporters love Vermont. Among them: Jon Gailmor. The 1966 Staples High School graduate has lived there for decades. He runs music-writing workshops in schools, writes and performs all over, and has eveb been named an official “state treasure.”
Jon’s “Long Ago Lady” is a love song to his adopted state. It’s a beautiful tribute, to a wonderful place.
American Farmland Trust has recognized WFM as #1 in Connecticut. It’s also #10 in the Northeast — and #26 in the nation.
It’s been a tough year for an organization that prides itself of close interactions between farmers and shoppers. But, notes executive director Lori Cochran-Dougall, “For the first time in our history, we operated 12 months in a row to tackle to challenges presented by the pandemic. We set up a strict, COVID-safe, pre-ordering system that served as a model for others.
“It wasn’t easy, but we felt a duty to our farmers, knew that farmers’ markets would be more critical than ever, and we met the challenge.”
The other day, Westport comic/Star 99.9 host Courtney Davis joined 4 top New York City comedians, in a virtual fundraiser. The group raised nearly $2,500 for empowerHER, the non-profit that supports and connects girls and young women who have lost their mothers.
The Westport Country Playhouse is still closed. Until it reopens, all we’ve had are memories of our favorite shows.
Starting tomorrow though, there’s more.
The theater launches “From Concept to Curtain,” a virtual documentary series of 30-minute films. They offer free, behind-the-scenes looks at the creative process of putting together a Playhouse production.
The first episode is “In the Heights: Beyond el Barrio” (Thursday, February 4, 12 noon, at the Playhouse’s website and YouTube channel.
Host Marcos Santana — director and choreographer of the Playhouse’s 2019 production of “In the Heights” — performed on Broadway in the Tony Award-winning show.
The set, costume and lighting designers, and the music director, discuss their inspirations, challenges, what they would have done differently, and favorite moments from the show.
More videos will be announced soon.
“In the Heights,” at the Westport Country Playhouse.
High school students interested in learning more about the art portfolio submission process for college are invited to a workshop this Sunday (February 7, 12 to 3 p.m.) at MoCA Westport.
The session includes lectures, slide presentations, Q-and-A and individual portfolio reviews (up to 5 samples). The cost is $75. Click here to register. For more information, email email@example.com.
The Y’s Women and 597 Westport Avenue Apartments (just over the Norwalk line) have teamed up to contribute food to Mercy Learning Center.
Jane Ferreira — president and CEO of the Center, the wonderful literacy and life skills training center for women in Bridgeport — returns the favor, as Y’s Women’s virtual guest speaker this Monday (February 8, 11:30 a.m.). She’ll talk about MLC’s educational and support services — and how they change the lives of not only their clients and families, but also volunteers and supporters.
Anyone can log on to www.YsWomen.org to view past speakers. And any woman in Fairfield County can join for just $45 a year. Email president Barb Stephen (firstname.lastname@example.org) to learn more.
The Unitarian Church has 2 important — and timely — programs this weekend.
On Saturday (February 6, 10 a.m.), they’re sponsoring a virtual program on how to recognize domestic violence in today’s pandemic world, and what to do about it. The program is open to the public, via Zoom meeting ID 875 7140 7113 (passcode 739121). Questions? Contact email@example.com or click here.
Meanwhile, the women of the church are launching a series of programs about the history of Black lives in America, and its effects on our country today. “Revealing History: How We Got Here, Why It Matters” begins Sunday (February 7, 10:40 a.m.) with a multi-media event called “Racial Injustice: From Slavery to Mass Incarceration.”
The program includes a speaker from the Equal Justice Initiative, founded by Bryan Stevenson; a musical work with voiceover from Desmond Tutu, and other notable artists and artwork. Click here for the Zoom link (the program begins after the regular Sunday service).
And finally … today in 1959, “the music died.” That’s Don McLean’s “American Pie” reference to the Iowa plane crash that took the lives of Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and J. P. “The Big Bopper” Richardson.
Four are from Westport. Each has made positive differences in the lives of others.
Barbara Jay (Congregation for Humanistic Judaism) has been an active volunteer for 45 years. She creates and leads Shabbat services and programs; helps design CHJ’s website and newsletter, and serves on the board.
She is active in social initiatives too. Three years ago she founded the Saul Haffner Jewish Enrichment Fund in memory of her husband. It supports high-quality events with Jewish themes reflecting Saul’s interests in social issues.
One important event was a major symposium on climate change within the context of the Noah story. A panel of scientists and clergy convened at Sacred Heart University. It was broadcast throughout North America.
Dick Kalt(The Conservative Synagogue) oversees transportation for the High Holidays, ensuring a safe and efficient shuttle service. Inside the sanctuary he works with the audio company so that services are heard clearly and well.
Dick is always available for minyans and food drives. He provides thumb drives to students as they study for their bar and bat mitzvahs. He is a member of the cemetery committee — and personally visits it, making sure it is in good shape.
During the pandemic, Dick upgraded TCS’ livestreaming capabilities. Now, as the synagogue’s security chair, he constantly protects the building and congregants.
From left: Barbara Jay, Dick Kalt, Hildy Parks, Cindy Zuckerbrod.
Hildy Parks (Beit Chaverrim) is the synagogue’s treasurer. During COVID she has kept the lights on, and the staff paid. She keeps track of every detail — always with a smile.
When Rabbi Greg Wall was applying for his position, Hildy was his liaison. She arranged meals, coordinated schedules, and made him feel at home. She does everything, he says, with that same spirit.
Just before the High Holidays this fall, Hildy stepped into the role of administrator during an emergency. She made sure every aspect ran smoothly, during the most important and stressful time of the year.
Cindy Zuckerbrod (Temple Israel) works with Congregations Organized for a New Connecticut, and serves on their strategy team. She has also led Temple Israel’s anti-racism trainings, and their Two Books/Two Films program addressing racism in America.
Previously Cindy served on Temple Israel’s board of trustees, and taught teens i their high school program.
She also volunteers her time, expertise and care as a guardian ad litem, advocating for youth in Connecticut’s foster care system.
This story has become a Martin Luther King Day tradition on “06880.” After the events of the past several months, this year — more than ever — we should think about the history of our nation before Dr. King was born.
And where we are, more than half a century after his death.
Today is Martin Luther King Day. Westporters will celebrate with a day off from school or work. Some will sleep in; others will shop, or go for a walk. Few will give any thought to Martin Luther King.
Twice, though, his life intersected this town in important ways.
The 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 Halper (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.
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.
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