Category Archives: Staples HS

Water, Water Everywhere …

As Westport prepares for heavy rain and possible thunderstorms tonight — with  coastal flooding and shoreline impacts from midnight through 4 a.m. — alert “06880” reader JP Vellotti forwarded this text:

His only comment: “Kinda ironic.”

“Andrew’s Army”: Video Documents A Life Well Lived

From the time he was diagnosed with neuroblastoma — a very rare childhood cancer — at age 5, until his death 15 years later, Andrew Accardi battled hard.

He was a valued member of the Staples High School golf team. He vowed to walk across the stage on Graduation Day, 2011 — and did. He amassed a legion of friends and admirers, with his big heart and even bigger spirit.

Andrew Accardi

Andrew died on October 31, 2013. His friends — in Westport and at Villanova University, where he was a finance and marketing major — and family members, who called themselves “Andrew’s Army,” had already raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for neuroblastoma research.

In the 6 years since, they’ve done even more.

The latest: On Saturday, October 26 (6:30 p.m., Town Hall), there’s a special screening of a documentary, “Andrew’s Army.” A reception at Tavern on Main follows.

It was a labor of love by Sam Bender, a longtime classmate and friend. The talented filmmaker created it as his senior thesis at Emerson College. (At Staples, he earned renown as the first videographer for the boys soccer team.)

Sam Bender (left) and Andrew Accardi, in high school.

The 30-minute film touches on the personal and private parts of Andrew’s life. He kept quiet about his health struggles. He was adamant about being treated “normally” by his peers.

Andrew never asked for sympathy or preferential treatment; he only wanted to live his life to the fullest. The documentary shows how hard his fight was — and how hard he fought.

Sam interviewed Andrew’s family, Westport and college friends, the Villanova president, and doctors and nurses at Children’s Hospital in Philadelphia who treated him so long and loved him so much.

It’s an inspiring story. Andrew’s Army marches on!

(Click here for tickets to the October 26 film screening at Town Hall, and reception at Tavern on Main. All proceeds go to neuroblastoma research at Children’s Hospital. You can also donate on Venmo: @andrewsarmy.)

Scott Weinstein’s Jeff

Every Westporter knows the Tonys. The award — named for Antoinette Perry — is given in a number of categories, for excellence in Broadway theater.

You may not know the Jeffs. Honoring Joseph Jefferson, they’re the Tonys’ Chicago counterpart.

Scott Weinstein knows Jeff Awards. The 2006 Staples High School graduate has already earned 2 of them. On October 21, he’s up for a third.

Like so many alums in the theater world, Weinstein gained broad experience through Staples Players. He acted in “Urintetown,” “The Diary of Anne Frank,” “Cabaret” and “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.”

He directed in the One-Act Festival, and was a master carpenter on tech.

At Northwestern University, Weinstein majored in theater and minored in political science. He acted and directed, in everything from “Noises Off” to Shakespeare.

Gradually — because “I was never a good enough actor for the director in my brain” — he focused on directing.

Scott Weinstein, at work.

It’s not an easy profession. “There’s a lot of hustle,” Weinstein notes. “You’re always working on 3 or 4 projects at once.”

He’s been fortunate to work consistently — and on shows he is passionate about.

Right out of college, he started a company called Buzz 22 with friends. It developed new work — “a very Chicago thing to do,” he notes. One of their shows was produced at Steppenwolf.

Weinstein was hired as resident director for the first national tour of “Million Dollar Quartet.” He handled the Chicago and Las Vegas productions, and one for Norwegian Cruise Lines.

He currently splits time between Chicago and New York. Right now he’s developing new plays, including a musical comedy about surviving the Dark Ages. (Hey, you never know…). He’s also working on a re-imagining of “South Pacific” for the Finger Lakes Music Festival.

Everything he does today has its roots at Staples, Weinstein says. That’s where he learned “the vocabulary for talking about theater, and telling stories.” Most fellow theater majors did not enter Northwestern with those backgrounds in acting, directing and set building, he says.

Whether he is developing new musicals or devising a modern take on a classic, Weinstein believes that “music is timeless. It connects us.”

He is excited about theater today. “Amazing new voices are pushing things in exciting new directions. Boundaries are expanding. It’s more representative of what we are, and what our country looks like.

“I get to work with great collaborators, and brilliant writers. I’m glad that theaters trust me to do bold takes.”

Last week, Weinstein returned to his alma mater. He spoke with David Roth’s theater classes about his career after Players, and life as a director.

Scott Weinstein (6th from right, back row) next to Staples Players director David Roth. They’re surrounded by current students — including future actors, directors and tech crew professionals. (Photo/Kerry Long)

“It was surreal,” he says of his visit. “I have such vivid memories of the Black Box, hearing professionals talk to us.”

Ahead for Weinstein: directing “Something Rotten” and “Grease” in Chicago, and “Million Dollar Quartet” in Phoenix.

Plus, of course, that Jeff Awards ceremony. He’s been nominated for “Noises Off,” at the Windy City Playhouse.

Encore!

Rach’s Hope Reaches Out

Rachel Doran graduated from Staples High School in 2015. The Cornell University rising senior — a National Merit Commended Scholar, talented Players costume designer, and founder of “Rachel’s Rags,” a company that makes intricate cotton and fleece pajama tops and bottoms — died 3 years later, from complications of 2 very rare diseases.

Her family honored her memory by creating Rach’s Hope, a not-for-profit foundation that helps families weather the storm of critical illness, with lodging, meals and transportation. A Westport family is among those already helped in the tri-state region.

Rachel’s sister Ellie — now a Staples senior — keeps her memory alive at school. She started Rach’s Hope Club. Over 200 students have signed up to help.

Rachel Doran (right) and her sister Ellie.

Their first fundraising event is this Sunday (October 13, 3 to 6 p.m., Rothbard Ale + Larder restaurant). It’s a “Beatles Cocktail Hour,” with music by Tim Palmieri.

The club also runs social media for Rach’s Hope, and is helping plan the 2nd annual PJ Gala on February 29.

Rach’s Hope Club is not the only group keeping Rachel’s memory alive at Staples. On Tuesday, October 15 (4 p.m.), the girls varsity volleyball team dedicates its game to Rach’s Hope.

Of course, they’ll gladly accept donation to this great cause.

Billie Eilish: The “06880” Connection

You may not have heard of Billie Eilish.

But your teen or tween certainly has.

The 18-year-old is a pop sensation. In 2017 her first EP, “Don’t Smile At Me,” hit the Top 15 in the US, UK, Canada and Australia. This year’s album “When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?” contined Billboard Top 40 singles, including the #1 “Bad Guy.” She is the first — and so far only — artist born in the 2000s to record an American #1 single. Billie already has 8 gold and 4 platinum singles.

She lives in LA with her brother Finneas — a frequent collaborator — and her mother and father.

So why is the entertainer — whose full name is Billie Eilish Pirate Baird O’Connell “0688o”-worthy?

Because “O’Connell” comes from her father. Patrick O’Connell — who grew up at the top of Compo Hill — is a 1975 Staples High School graduate. He was an active member of Staples Players, best known for his role of John in “The Crucible.”

Billie Eilish and her father, Patrick O’Connell.

Patrick went on to Juilliard, and a career as an actor. He’s appeared in “Iron Man,” “The West Wing” and “Baskets.”

So even though you have not heard of the teen sensation until this moment, casually tell your kid, “You know Billie Eilish’s dad is from Westport, right?”

Your cool factor will rise exponentially.

(Hat tip: David Roth)

[OPINION] Fred Cantor’s 24 Hours In “Our Town”

Alert “06880” reader — and longtime Westporter — Fred Cantor hears frequent laments about the changes in town since “whatever decade people grew up here in.” Of course, he admits, things are different.

But, Fred notes, the small-town feel that existed when his family moved here in 1963 is still alive and well. As proof, he offers a series of events that occurred recently, in just one 24-hour period.

Bruce Davidson, from his Staples High School yearbook.

It started with a visit to a local periodontist which, believe it or not, proved enjoyable overall. That’s because he’s Dr. Bruce Davidson, Staples High School Class of 1965, a family friend from back in the day and a former soccer teammate of my brother Marc. Bruce has practiced for decades at the same location on the Post Road, near Sylvan Avenue.

After a thorough exam and patient clarification of potential issues raised by X-rays taken in California, there was time to catch up and hear, among other things, about the status of a documentary film by Bruce’s brother, Doc (Staples ‘70).

After my appointment I drove to Cohen’s Fashion Opticals to pick up new glasses, which were almost ready. No problem: It was close to lunchtime, so I headed a few doors down to Gold’s. Owner Jim greeted me warmly.

I had a delicious turkey salad sandwich. The food at Gold’s is every bit as good today as when my parents first took me there in the 1960s — and the setting seems exactly as it did back then.

Jim Eckl and his wife Nancy have owned Gold’s since 2003.

Later in the day, I enjoyed a timeless outdoor Westport scene: a large crowd gathered on the hill to watch a Staples soccer game, on a beautiful Friday afternoon.

I had not arranged to meet anyone there. That didn’t matter. I sat with Bill Mitchell (Staples ’61) and former soccer coach Jeff Lea. We shared a few laughs and some entertaining stories. Dave Wilson (a Staples captain in 1974) was there too.

The ageless Laddie Lawrence (Staples ’64) also joined us for a while; so did former Westport Late Knights soccer teammate, Alex Anvari. Somehow Alex’s little boy Emerson has grown up — he’s 6-1 now!—to be a Staples senior who, to my delight, is on the varsity team.

Enjoying Staples soccer on the Loeffler Field hill (from left):L Fred Cantor, Jeff Lea, Bill Mitchell, Laddie Lawrence.

It was the last weekend of summer, with near-perfect temperatures, so after the game my wife Debbie and I headed to Compo to enjoy the sunset. As often happens, we ran into a couple of longtime Westporters.

I also had a nice chat with Joey Romeo, the owner of Joey’s By the Shore. He is every bit as friendly as any Main Street storeowner was in the 1960s.

Compo Beach sunset. (Photo/Fred Cantor)

The next morning I was walking on Bridge Street toward the train station. A car pulled over. The driver was Staples alum Mike Elliot; he offered me a ride. I explained that walking is my regular exercise these days.

As I neared the station, another car stopped. Staples classmate Bob Uly wanted to know how I was doing health-wise.

It was just 24 hours. Nothing truly out of the ordinary happened.

But those little slice-of-life occurrences demonstrate, at least for me, that certain “Our Town”-like qualities still very much exist here.

Andrea Dutton: Westport’s Newest Genius

Andrea Dutton is a genius.

That’s not just hyperbole. The 1991 Staples High School graduate — visiting associate professor of geology at the University of Wisconsin, who investigates changes in sea levels and ice sheet mass — is one of 26 people chosen as 2019 fellows of the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.

That’s the official wording. The world calls them “genius grants.”

MacArthur fellowships honor “extraordinary originality.” The award is pure genius: a no-strings grant of $625,000, distributed over 5 years.

The fellowships — announced yesterday — went to men and women whose work “pushes the boundaries of disciplines and genres,” says the New York Times.

They include a theater artist who incorporates artificial intelligence into performances; novelists, musicians, scientists, historians, legal advocates, community activists and others. All were chosen “at a moment in their careers when the award might make a difference,” and range in age from 30 to 67.

Andrea Dutton with a fossilized coral reef in the Florida Keys. (Photo/Joshua Bright for Redux)

Potential geniuses are suggested by hundreds of anonymous nominators, in many fields. The final selection is made by a committee — also anonymous.

Dutton calls herself a “detective collecting clues to solve the puzzle of earth’s climate history.

The paleoclimatologist’s work has immense real-life implications. Her reconstruction of sea levels over thousands of years can help predict future rises. In 2017, Rolling Stone magazine listed her among “25 People Shaping the Future in Tech, Science, Medicine, Activism and More.”

Dutton is not Westport’s first MacArthur genius. Photojournalist Lynsey Addario — a fellow 1991 Staples grad — received a fellowship in 2009.

(Click here for the stories of all 26 new MacArthur fellowship awardees. Hat tips: Sandee and Chuck Cole.)

 

Unsung Heroes #117

Alert “06880” reader — and Homes with Hope CEO — Jeff Wieser writes:

I was at the Gillespie Center community kitchen the other night. I often go at 5 p.m. to thank the volunteers. This generous group of Westporters and Westonites has served dinner there every night since 1989.

I went this time especially because Dolores (“DoDo”) Bacharach was serving with her friends from Assumption Church. She’s done that every month, since she and others formed the community kitchen in Save the Children’s offices around 1983.

It got me thinking that DoDo has done this community service quietly and loyally for all these years — and so have 500 or so volunteers every year since the kitchen started.

Generous family teams, groups of friends and business colleagues, groups from houses of worship and local clubs — all contribute their time, cooking expertise, and the food to serve 20-30 people every night.

Not only do they not ask for thanks, they usually enter and leave the Gillespie Center noticed only by those grateful souls whom they feed. Yet the diners are appreciative. DoDo once said that she loved cooking at Gillespie because “everyone is far more grateful than my family ever was!”

Assumption Church “Ladies of the Ladle” volunteers (from left): Michele Harding, Mary Welsch-Lehman, Katya Lebrija, Marilyn Moran, Dolores Bacharach.

Westport is unique among Fairfield County suburbs in having this sort of facility. Shelter residents get the chance to interact with caring neighbors, and local residents can teach our children and friends that this is not just a bubble of privilege in an enormously blessed community.

These Unsung Heroes — those 500 volunteers every year — quietly show a commitment to social justice and support of our neighbors that should be applauded.

We don’t get many chances: For the few volunteer appreciation events we’ve had, the turnout was light. Our volunteers don’t ask for thanks; they simply want to do what is right for some disadvantaged neighbors.

Chef Cecily Gans’ students prepare food for the Gillespie Center.

So I nominate volunteers from the following organizations who serve dinner at least monthly at Gillespie:

  • Staples High School culinary classes
  • The Service League of Boys (“SLOBs”)
  • National Charity League
  • Staples High National Honor Society
  • Elayne Prince & Friends
  • John Karrel & Friends
  • Wilton Friends Congregation
  • Christ & Holy Trinity Episcopal Church
  • Greens Farms Congregational Church
  • The Conservative Synagogue
  • United Methodist Church
  • Unitarian Church Youth Group
  • Norfield Church
  • Temple Israel
  • Emmanuel Church
  • Assumption Church
  • Saugatuck Congregational Church
  • Sunrise Rotary Club
  • Peter’s Weston Market
  • Zeta Phi Beta Sorority
  • Westport Rotary Club
  • Westport Young Woman’s League
  • Weston Kiwanis Club

… and all the families and friends who fill in throughout the year.

Westporters of all ages volunteer at the Gillespie Center.

 

Facing Up To A Swastika: Jesup Green Event Set For Today

Longtime Westport activist Darcy Hicks writes:

Tonight at 5 p.m., on Jesup Green, we will come together to define who we are as a community, in a struggling country.

Anti-Semitic incidents have been increasing in America at an alarming rate. The Anti-Defamation League says that in 2017, anti-Semitic incidents jumped 57% over the previous year, and 2018 showed the third-highest rate of incidents on record. This year is faring no better.

Westport — as we know from last week — is not immune.

The discovery of a swastika, carved into a bathroom wall, has challenged our community. The question is how we deal with that challenge.

We need to focus not on “who?” but “how?” How did the plague of hatred in this struggling nation manage to puncture our town? Whether the perpetrator was a white nationalist (unlikely), or looking for attention (more likely), the ball is in our court.

And all Westporters are on that court, whether we want to be there or not. Our response matters.

According to Steve Ginsburg, director of ADL Connecticut — and a Westport resident — “The measure of that school, or that community, is not what happened there, but how they respond to it, and what they did to try to prepare people and prevent it from happening.”

True to that statement, Westport schools have handled the incident swiftly and expertly, with the collaboration of the Westport Police, the ADL, and the support of our elected officials.

Education is always the key. But education should not be limited to school grounds and school hours.

How much do you know about your child’s understanding of the symbol of a swastika? How do they feel when they see one? Afraid? Numb? And are there other forms of intolerance — to race, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity — occurring in our kids’ lives? How can we help?

Tonight at 5 on Jesup Green, we come together as a community to learn from those who know how to begin answering these questions.

By this effort — not the hate crime — we will be measured.

(Speakers include Ginsburg; Lauren Francese, K-6 social coordinator, Westport Public Schools; Rev. John Morehouse, Unitarian Church of Westport, and Conor Pfeifer, Triangle Community Center. For more information, click here.)

Staples Class Of ’69 Rocks On

No reunions!

That’s my usual response when organizers ask me to publicize their upcoming or recent event. If I do one, I say, I’ll have to do them all. And — sorry, guys! — your reunion just isn’t that interesting to 99.99% of “06880”‘s daily readers.

But rules are made to be broken. And if any class has experience breaking rules, it’s the rockin’, rollin’ Staples High School class of 1969.

So here goes:

Last weekend, 131 no-longer-teenage-but-still-young-at-heart former Wreckers gathered for their 50th (!) reunion.

There were no cell phones — or selfies — back in 1969. In 2019, these reunion-goers make the most of theirs.

They were rebels, back in the day. But in 2019, they got a ton of help from all corners of the town they grew up in. Former — and still — class president Peter Krieg reports:

Assistant principal Rich Franzis was a tremendous help. He helped prep Krieg for his tour of the “new” school, worked with Geno Heiter to post 1969 visuals on the lobby TV screen, and enlisted head custodian Horace Lewis and one of Lewis’ staff to guide the group around.

Not far from a banner welcoming the Class of 2023 to the “new” Staples, the Class of 1969 gathered for a group photo.

The tour culminated in the library, where librarian Jen Cirino helped screen the “High School That Rocked” movie. The film depicts the amazing (Doors, Yardbirds, Cream, Sly & the Family Stone, Rascals, Animals, Beau Brummels) concerts that so many of those former Stapleites attended.

Producer Fred Cantor — the young (Class of ’71) producer — was there.

So was former social studies teacher and administrator Gordon Hall. Now in his 90s — and living in the same Westport home as then — he spoke to the returning alums.

“He was inspiring, knowledgeable and very funny,” Krieg reports. “His comments about retirement were not just appropriate; they were a teaching moment for us.”

Krieg is giving gifts to everyone who helped. Hall, for example, will receive a framed photo of his talk.

New Staples principal Stafford Thomas gets one too. (“He was keenly interested in ‘The High School That Rocked,'” Krieg says — even though he had not yet been born when those bands were hot.)

The way we were … or at least, the way we think we were, today.

Krieg gives a shout-out to Westport’s Parks & Recreation Department as well. They provided great help for the Saturday night Compo Beach party: tent permits, use of the Ned Dimes Marina, and passes for vehicles.

The marina building was decorated with professionally produced ’69 posters and memorabilia. Organizers raffled off 3 unique pieces of art. They’ll donate (appropriately) $1,969 of the proceeds to Staples Tuition Grants.

Of course, no reunion is complete with a party at the Black Duck. Pete Aitkin hosted a boisterous crew on Friday night.

“The support we got from the school, from one of our teachers, and the town was really special,” says Krieg.

“This was Westport at its best. It felt like the Westport of old. In some ways, Westport hasn’t changed at all.”

Neither have the members of Staples High School’s Class of 1969.

Even if they did graduate half a century ago.

It’s been 50 years. But some friendships never fade.