Steve Axthelm is one of those unheralded, overlooked, under- (as in “non-“) paid volunteers who make Westport what it is.
He served for many years on the Parks & Recreation Commission, and the board of Westport Baseball & Softball. His goal was to give everyone an opportunity to play sports, have fun, and enjoy Westport’s amenities.
Two weeks ago — when the sale of his house closed — Steve resigned from both posts. He and his wife Laura headed to North Carolina.
Steve Axthelm, with his skatebaords.
Here’s his final message to Parks & Rec — and to the town he’s loved, and given so much to:
“It has been an honor to serve on the Westport Parks & Recreation Commission. I’m proud of what we have accomplished together, and think we have been an example of a group that puts serving the community over politics or personal desires.
“I’m especially pleased with what we were able to accomplish at Compo Beach, especially the walkways and the bathroom on South Beach to provide accessibility and enjoyment to all. The stewardship and improvement of the town’s parks and sports facilities has been steadfast. Thanks go to Charlie Haberstroh and my fellow commissioners, and to Jen Fava and her team for outstanding work over the years.
“One regret: we did not get the skate park done. It is severely outdated, and an eyesore at Compo. No other sports group has to use such a poor facility in Westport.
The Compo Beach skate park.
“A beautiful concrete skatepark will be an enhancement to Compo and a boon to a robust skateboarding community. Skate Camp counselor Gabriel Dick and Skate Camp director James Bowles will rally the skateboarding community for fundraising.
James Bowles and Gabe Dick, at a rally 8 years ago to save the Compo skate park.
“In the past skateboarding was an afterthought, and participants were sometimes characterized as misfits (hmmm, I was a skateboarder when I was a grommet, inventing gnarly moves to grind the dinosaurs). It is simply a great sport in which to hone athleticism and creativity. And now it is an Olympic Sport.
“Our skateboarders and our town deserve this. Let’s get it built!
Donut Crazy — the wonderful, warm, not-for-the-calorie-conscious coffeehouse on the eastbound side of the Saugatuck train station — is closed today.
It’s unclear whether it’s permanent. Loyal customers hope not. Their fingers are crossed it will reopen — perhaps under new owners.
The past 17 months have not been easy. Always a bit out of the way for late-arriving morning commuters to New York, the steep drop in ridership during the pandemic must have hurt.
The arrival of Steam donuts and coffee at Desi’s Corner, at the Railroad Place by Riverside Avenue, is another blow.
Donut Crazy’s 4 other locations — in Stratford, Shelton, Branford and West Hartford — remain open. That’s not too far to go for some of the craziest donuts (and more) on earth. (Hat tip: Carolanne Curry)
Sam Palmer is the son of a Staples High School teacher. A 2019 graduate of Fairfield Warde High School, he’s been diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. He’s waiting for a blood stem cell/bone marrow transplant.
And he needs a donor.
A “Swab for Sam/Be the Match” donor registration drive is set for this Saturday (August 28, 9 to 11 a.m., Fairfield Warde High School, 755 Melville Avenue).
It takes just 5 minutes to register, and have your cheek swabbed to enter the marrow donor registry. The more donors, the more chances Sam — and others like him — have to live long, full lives.
Rod Gilbert — the New York Rangers great who died last weekend at 80 — leaves behind many fans.
Among them: Charlie Capalbo. The Fairfield hockey player — and grandson of Westporters Ina Chadwick and Richard Epstein — has battled cancer for several years. His spirits have been lifted by many people in the hockey world.
Gilbert was among the first. Here was his message to Charlie, in 2017:
Did you miss the 2018 Westport Country Playhouse presentation of “Man of La Mancha?” Saw it, and want to see it again? Just looking for great entertainment, as the Delta variant has us all wary again of crowds?
The award-winning show is available now, on demand, through September 5. Tickets start at just $25. Click here to order.
Laura Nelson died Friday, surrounded by family and friends, following a battle with cancer. She was 55.
Her family says: “Laura’s light always shined brightly. The people of Westport may remember sharing a friendly wave, a peace sign or a warm smile with Laura as she drove around the neighborhood in her clementine orange VW bus, laughing and soaking up every drop of life.
“She was an accomplished communications executive and public relations expert, dedicated wife and mother, loving sister and aunt, best friend, and adored colleague.
“Above all, Laura loved her husband Jim and their children Charlie and Annabelle fiercely and unconditionally. Her pride in their accomplishments knew no bounds.”
Laura began her career as a PR professional with Dan Klores Associates in New York City. For over 3 decades she rose through the media industry as the cable television business flourished.
In her early career she led the communications team at Comedy Central, then a fledgling startup channel. She rose to senior vice president of communications and public affairs for VH1 and MTV. She later joined Nielsen, where she served as chief communications officer during a transformative period.
Laura advised celebrities and media executives throughout her career. Her family says, “She was known as a savvy strategist and insightful advisor. She was a student of the spoken and written word and used this knowledge to advance the interests of her clients and organizations. Maybe most importantly, Laura knew how to bring out the best in her people—she was the perfect combination of mentor, coach, advocate, leader, and friend. Over the years, she assembled multiple award-winning teams, and many of her protégés have gone on to serve as chief marketing and communications officers themselves.”
Born in Mt. Prospect, Illinois, Laura grew up in Darien. In 1983, Laura served as a Page in the US Senate and attended the Capitol Page School. At Darien High School she was the editor of the school newspaper. She graduated from Boston College with a BA in ohilosophy. As part of her undergraduate studies, she attended Temple University in Rome, where she developed a lifelong love of Italy and its culture.
Her family notes: “Laura was generous, loyal, and warm, and she readily adopted friends into her extended family. She was known for her sense of humor, authenticity, and dedication to her family and friends. She was unyielding on the things that mattered to her and to the world, and she loved with her whole heart and soul.
She is survived by her husband James A. Kremens; children Charles Kremens and Annabelle Kremens, all of Westport; siblings Gina Wilcox (Brady) of Old Lyme; Paul Nelson (Julie) of Wilmette, Illinois, and Andrew Nelson (Meghan) of Cincinnati.
A mass of Christian burial will be held Friday, (August 27, 11 a.m., Church of the Assumption.
In lieu of flowers, the family asks that donations be made to The Cancer Couch Foundation, P.O. Box 1145, Southport, CT 06890, or thecancercouch.com.
While Westporters frantically prepared for Hurricane Henri yesterday — stocking up on water and batteries, pumping gas and creating huge traffic messes from the Post Road to (inexplicably) Cross Highway and Easton Road — a rainbow appeared over Compo Beach.
Hopefully it was a good omen. Henri — downgraded now to a tropical storm, but still dangerous — veered sharply eastward. It now appears headed for landfall in Rhode Island. Our fingers are crossed for our many Ocean State friends.
Heavy rains could still head our way. Winds might not be as high as originally thought. But they may be.
And storm surges — especially around high tide at noon, during a full moon — could be dangerous.
We’re not yet out of the woods. But it appears the woods may not contain as many toppled trees as we feared when we went to bed last night.
The current track of Henri, as of 7:45 a.m. today.
Local to Market — the new Main Street shop across from Cold Fusion, offering food, drink and craft items — takes its “local” mandate seriously.
Founder Chris Marcocci is surveying Westporters, to learn which items they’d like him to carry. They’re ordering inventory, in hopes of opening the full store within the next 2 weeks, and don’t want to miss anything.
Being proactive here: In the event of a power outage, “06880” may need a temporary home. If any reader has a generator and space where I can work, please email: firstname.lastname@example.org. All options are gratefully accepted!
When the 2020 (’21) Paralympic Games begin Tuesday in Tokyo, Westporters should pay attention to swimmer Matthew Torres.
The 20-year-old Fairfield University sophomore — born without part of his right leg and missing all but one toe on his left foot, along with curvature of his hands — will compete in the 100 and 400 meter freestyle, and 100 meter backstroke.
He’s a proud alum of the Westport Weston Family YMCA Water Rats program — and winner of the 200 individual medley at the 2019 World Para Swimming World Series.
Go get ’em, Matthew. And congrats to the Water Rats, who helped get him there!
The Westport Police Benevolent Association Car Cruise scheduled for today (Saturday), has been canceled due to weather concerns. The new date is October 2 (10 a.m. to 2 p.m.)
All 3 sailors from Longshore Sailing School’s week-long regatta in honor of the late Doug Sheffer are Staples High School students. In the photo below, winner James Russell is flanked by second place finisher Annabelle Lott, and bronze medalist Alex St. Andre.
Who knows what Henri will bring?
But even as the clouds rolled in, there were few worries last night at Compo Beach:
The New York Giants are deep into their training camp. They kick off their preseason on Sunday.
If you’re a hardcore fan, you know that.
But if you were even a casual NFL fan in the 1960s, you’d have been more aware of the team.
For one thing, they played at Yankee Stadium — far closer to Connecticut than New Jersey.
For another, they trained a couple of miles away — at Fairfield University.
And when they played — as in, went to restaurants and bars, not “played football” — it was often in Westport.
Bill Staby is a native Westporter. He remembers those days well. He sent a link to a 2015 Hour story by George Albano, to fill in the details.
From 1961 to ’69, Albano wrote, Fairfield U. was the Giants’ summer home. They knew Connecticut already, from playing an exhibition game every year at Yale Bowl.
When they looked to leave their traditional Catskills training camp, officials — including head coach Jim Lee Howell, line coach Harland Svare and owner Wellington Mara’s son nephew Tim — toured the Jesuit school. They liked what they saw.
College officials gave them the dorms for free. Then they worked out a plan to feed the football players — hungry eaters all — for $6 per player a day.
As in: $6 for all 3 meals. The Giants — astonished — offered to pay a bit more: $6.50.
The publicity for Fairfield University was worth the investment.
Workouts were closed to the public. But an intra-squad scrimmage on the last day of camp was open to fans. The place was packed.
Fans at a New York Giants intra-squad scrimmage.
Players like Frank Gifford and Y.A. Tittle trained at Fairfield. It was close to home for Stamford’s Andy Robustelli. Hungarian Pete Gogolak — pro football’s first soccer-style kicker — later made his home in Darien (and opened a soccer camp).
Dozens of other players trained at Fairfield too. When they wanted a break, they’d jump on the “Connecticut Turnpike” (now I-95) to places like the Arrow restaurant in Saugatuck (now Mystic Market). Owner Lou Nistico always treated them well.
(From left) New York Giants head coach Allie Sherman, with Earl Morrall and Fran Tarkenton, at Fairfield University in 1967.
They hit the bars up and down the Post Road too.
But those are stories for another day.
OVERTIME:Bill Staby has other Giants memories too.
When home game television broadcasts were “blacked out” — to encourage fans to buy tickets — his father took him to Birchwood Country Club. A high-tech aerial rotated via electric motor to pick up a Hartford station.
“I’m sure Birchwood’s investment in that equipment was more than made up for by increased sales of drinks and food,” Staby says.
He adds, “Even though I live smack in the middle of Patriots territory now, I grew up to become a rabid Jets fan.”
“Yesterday I saw 2 people that I believe are homeless.
“One was asking for money in front of Fresh Market. After I gave him some, he showed me his injuries from overseas military assignments. I then stayed in my car watching, as many Westporters passed him by.
“The second individual I saw yesterday morning walking in Southport towards Westport (see photo).
“I wonder: What is Westport doing to help these people?”
“06880” readers know Caryl Beatus for her insightful comments, on a broad range of subjects.
The Longshore Ladies Golf Association know her as a friend.
On August 31, they’ll celebrate 60 years of existence with a luncheon. (A year late, because of COVID. Good things come to those who wait.)
Caryl — an original member, when the organization was formed in 1960 — is an important part of those 60 years.
In 2017, the LWGA recognized her service by naming its annual member/member tournament after her.
Caryl has served the LWGA in many capacities. She oversaw the creation and revision of its by-laws, was tournament chair, and for many years organized biannual luncheons.
She has put in countless hours, and always made herself available to help move the organization forward.
Patty Kondub, a past president and coach of the Staples girls golf team, says that a decade ago, when she and Caryl were both injured, Caryl convinced her to serve with her as a “co-hostess.” Every week early in the morning they greeted members, explained the tournament, and introduced players to each other to build camaraderie.
Patty notes that Caryl is a “good luck charm.” Many LWGA members have shot their best rounds while playing with Caryl in their Tuesday tournaments.
Congrats to the LWGA for 60 (61) years — and to Caryl Beatus for all she has one, during those 6 decades.
Caryl Beatus (right) and Anne Krygier, enjoying another day on the links.
Longtime Westporter — and North Avenue-area resident — Carl Addison Swanson shares an email he sent to 1st Selectman Jim Marpe:
“Last year, over 100 children died and another 25,000 were injured on their way to school.
“In Westport, where I grew up and have been associated with this town since 1952, North Avenue is used as a commuter route for those living in Easton, Weston, Wilton, Fairfield and Southport. Drivers drive too fast. A recent study, using a radar gun, clocked 72% of drivers exceeding 45 m.p.h. on the road.
“What makes this issue more critical is that 4 schools are situated on North Avenue: Coleytown Middle, Coleytown Elementary, Bedford Middle and Staples High School. And while a traffic guard is used to direct traffic, they are not there when, many times, children cross before and/or after school hours due to sports or extracurricular activities. Further, many adults use these crossways to take a walk or bike ride at odd hours.
“I have written to the Westport Police Chief with return comments such as we do not use traffic lights to control traffic,’ and the placement of little green men cones (as seen on Riverside and downtown) are too expensive. Really?
“In every other jurisdiction I have lived in, from Texas to Vermont, the state and town protects their children by blinking lights, a speed limit of 5 mph during peak times, and strict enforcement by the local police on each and every school.
“For a town that bases its importance on the education of their youth, you seem to yield to the flow of traffic rather than the safety of our residents? A grassroots effort by concerned Westporters to change this is now being organized.”
Carl Addison Swanson would like to see — at the minimum — signs like these near our schools.
A limited number of complimentary tickets are available for first responders, frontline workers, teachers, and community groups to attend “Stars on Stage from Westport Country Playhouse.”
The 3 nights of concerts by Broadway artists Shoshana Bean (Wicked, Waitress), Gavin Creel (Hello, Dolly!, The Book of Mormon) and Brandon Victor Dixon (NBC’s Jesus Christ Superstar, Hamilton) will be taped August 31 through September 2, for a future national television broadcast. There are 2 shows each night: 7 and 9 p.m.
Click here to join via livestream or in person. Copies of My Place At the Table are available for ordering and pickup at the Library, or shipping if further away.
Author/essayinst/memoir writer Mary-Lou Weisman hosts :Introductory Memoir Writing Workshops” this fall. They are on Mondays, from September 20 through October 25 (12:30 to 2:30 pm). Click here for more information, and to register.
The acronym stands for Catch A Special Thrill. The national non-profit enriches the lives of special needs kids through fishing. The organization provides them with their own rod and tackle box. Volunteer fishermen (and women) help show them the many joys of catch and release.
The Marcus family — Bonnie and Andrew, and sons Ben and Josh — have been involved from the start.
(From left): Bonnie, Andrew, Ben and Josh Marcus.
The other day, they opened their Saugatuck River home for the 3rd annual event.
Josh — a rising senior at Stamford’s Bi-Cultural Day School — spent the past year raising money with CAST for Kids. Funds paid for free rods, tackle boxes, t-shirts and awards for all participants.
He worked with the parents of local teenagers and children to coordinate the day. Josh made sure everyone was partnered with a “fishing buddy,” who taught them to hold a rod, what it feels like when a fish is on the line, and how to safely release the fish back into the water.
Bella with her catch.
A surprise “celebrity” traveled from Washington DC, to learn how to fish.
Jose Montano — a blind, wheelchair-bound teen with cerebral palsy — told his parents during the pandemic that when they could travel again, he wanted to go somewhere to learn to fish.
Jose: The CAST celebrity in Westport.
Jose’s mother found CAST for Kids online. They arrived in Westport the night before, so he could be ready early in the morning.
Jose was already known for his talented hands. He overcame his blindness by pursuing his passion for music, become a jazz piano sensation.
Everyone loved the day. (Including the fish, who were returned to the water.)
The Marcuses are already planning next year’s event. To volunteer, help sponsor, or spread the work, email email@example.com.
Westport Urgent Care‘s air conditioning unit has been in urgent need of a part for a while. It’s still on back order.
What was merely an inconvenience earlier became — well, urgent — this sweltering week. With latex gloves sticking to doctors and nurses’ hands, dangerous heat levels, and ill patients being exposed to even more danger in the waiting area, the health care center tried to adapt.
Yesterday, the walk-in clinic closed early. A sign cited “equipment failure,” and apologized for “inconvience.”
There was no notice on the website, or voice message, whether Urgent Care will be open today. It usually opens at 9 a.m. on Saturdays.
Then there’s this heat-related postponement: Today’s Car Cruise has been rescheduled for next Saturday (August 21, 4 to 8 p.m., Saugatuck train station parking lot #1).
The sponsoring Westport Police Benevolent Association decided it was just too hot.
Cars of all years, makes and models are welcome. The fee to enter and display is $20. Funds benefit charities like the Hole in the Wall Gang Camp, Special Olympics, and Veterans and Families of Fallen Officers.
The first 100 cars to arrive get a gift bag. The family-friendly event includes music, food, trophies and raffle prizes.
Still on: Wednesday’s (August 18, 2 p.m., Jesup Green) rally to end a message about the importance of supportive housing for Connecticut’s most vulnerable residents.
As the housing market is at a fever pitch, a coalition of groups — including Homes With Hope, the Westport Housing Authority and The Partnership for Open Communities — are working on funding initiatives.
Vulnerable residents include homeless people, the housing insecure, domestic violence survivors, youth, and families struggling to stay in our community.
Congrats too to Tallula Stvan. The June Staples High School graduate heads off to the University of Connecticut as winner of the Westport Woman’s Club’s Leah Scherzer Scholarship.
Tallula’s activities included the school newspaper Inklings, and a community service project. Her award — part of the WWC’s $31,000 given in student aid this year — is named for the Woman’s Clubs most active member.
And more kudos: rising Staples High School sophomore Leigh Foran just had a paper published in The Pre-Collegiate Global Health Review. It’s called “A Disease Called Poverty: The Sickness Dismantling Global Health Equity.”
PGHR — a Johns Hopkins University student- and faculty-led publication — is the first international, peer-reviewed journal that features articles on global health topics written by high school students. Leigh’s article underwent a rigorous review process.
In it, she discusses the inequitable correlation between poverty and illness, including how poor people are disproportionately more devastated by preventable diseases. She comments on the role of non-governmental organizations in adding to this problem, and what can be done to find a solution.
This week’s #FridayFlowers grace the front entrance of Earthplace. It’s appropriate. The arrangement was created by club member Becky Newman, who in her spare time directs the center’s nature programs.
And finally … it’s too hot to do much during the day. But tonight, head outside. Look up. You’ll see the Perseid meteor shower. If you’re lucky — and away from too much light pollution — you’ll see one of nature’s true wonders.
Last winter, as Westport edged slowly out of the coronavirus crisis, the youth basketball travel program instituted a strict rule: Only one parent per player could attend games.
Donald Lowman’s 12-year-old son Dhilan was on the team. Donald told parents he could help. He’d broadcast contests on Instagram.
Donald is not a sportscaster. He runs a search and consulting firm with Korn Ferry, focusing on benefits. But he and his son Dustin — a 2011 Staples High School and 2015 Middlebury College graduate, now a freelance writer and musician — are avid Mets fans. They love the announcers’ spirit and camaraderie. They figured they could augment Donald’s iPhone camerawork with their own banter.
The Lowmans’ setup was not sophisticated. (Then again, middle school gyms are not Citi Field.) But parents loved it.
Some said they preferred Donald and Dustin’s feeds to watching games in person. Thanks to the announcers, they knew more about what was going on.
Moms and dads were not the only viewers. Grandparents far from Westport tuned it. It was an exciting, fun way to connect with their grandsons. Some had not seen them in a year.
Travel basketball season ended. Travel baseball began.
“Not everyone wants to drive to Milford,” Donald notes. So he (who had coached all 3 of his sons) and Dustin (who remembered his Little League days fondly) headed out to left field, where their camera could zoom in on the batter’s box.
Donald did play-by-play. Dustin was the color analyst. In between action — and in baseball, there’s lots of that — they riffed on their shared passion: music and pop culture trivia.
“We both know an enormous amount of useless information,” Dustin says. “It’s not useful anywhere else except here.”
The broadcasters learned each player’s tendencies and special talents. Parents loved that.
Donald and Dustin’s genuine enthusiasm for the game and its young players was infectious. So were Dustin’s insights into his own Little League experience, more than a decade earlier.
Donald and Dustin Lowman, at Westport’s 10U state championship game.
Watching live on Instagram was great. Some viewers — including the players themselves — also watched afterward. “I wish we had that when I was playing,” Dustin says.
Dhilan’s team lost in the district all-star finals. But parents of the 10U team — which was still playing — offered to pay Donald and Dustin to broadcast the state championship.
The duo did it for free. A friend of a coach provided a hi-def camera, mixing board, and headphones. This was the Big Time (Little League-style).
They had by far their largest audience: 500 viewers.
Donald has a full-time job. Dustin has his writing and music projects. They’re not going to turn this into a full-time gig.
But they’re not powering off Donald’s iPhone, either.
The Lowmans are thinking about how to turn their avocation into an after-school project. They’d especially like to reach out to youngsters in neighboring towns, who may not have access to the TV facilities in their schools that Westport kids do.
But enough pre-game chatter. Get some peanuts and Crackerjack. Grab a seat. Then click below.
It’s time to listen to Donald and Dustin’s state championship 10U call.
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