Category Archives: Staples HS

Remembering Rachel Doran

Two weeks ago, “06880” reported on Rachel Doran’s battle.

The rising senior at Cornell University  — 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 — was in critical condition.

In July she was diagnosed with Stevens Johnson Syndrome and Toxic Epidermal Necrolysis, a rare reaction to common medications that resulted in severe burns to 95% of her body. She then developed Adult Respiratory Distress Syndrome — another rare and life-threatening syndrome.

Rachel Doran

Last night — surrounded by her family — Rachel died peacefully. Her family said:

 True to Rachel’s spirit and with the same fervor she had for everything she took on, she fought the most difficult health issues with tenacity and grace.

At this time Alan, Lisa and Ellie ask that you keep Rachel’s memory close to your hearts as arrangements are made to celebrate her amazing life. Her beauty, kindness, style and wit were second to none. We will cherish the light she brought to so many people along the way.

Services will be held Wednesday (August 22, Temple Israel), at a time to be determined.

Jeff Scher’s Amazing, Graceful Video

In 2015, a man killed 9 men and women at a Charleston church.

In the midst of his powerful eulogy, President Obama sang “Amazing Grace.” Zoe Mulford wrote a song about that moment. Joan Baez recorded it.

Now Jeff Scher has brought that inspiring song about death and hope to life.

The 1972 Staples High School graduate is a filmmaker and animator. He’s now back in Westport, working in a Cross Highway studio a few steps from his house.

Scher has carved out a compelling niche. His hundreds of drawings in “The Number on Great-Grandpa’s Arm” helped earn the HBO documentary about a Holocaust survivor a place in the permanent display of the Museum of Jewish Heritage in New York.

Jeff Scher

He created the official video for Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young’s “Teach Your Children.” Bob Dylan and Paul Simon hired him to make holiday videos. A short film about summer and water — “L’eau Life” — features many Westport scenes.

But right now, his Obama/Baez is creating the biggest buzz.

Scher’s hundreds of hand-drawn watercolor and pastel images draw viewers in to a story they already know.

The challenge, the artist says, was to convey the intense emotion of the president’s eulogy — but in the end, Baez’s song was about someone else singing a different song. It’s also about murder.

Fortunately, Scher says, the tune is “beautifully written, with a clear narrative. It opens slowly, pulls you in, and has an incredible emotional arc.”

And, he notes, “Somehow Obama, with his humble singing voice, turned grief into grace. With humility, compassion, and a 200-year-old hymn, he made us feel that the evil deeds of a sick individual could not shake the bonds of our common humanity.”

He saw his job as “framing” Mulford’s song, rather than “illustrating” it. “I did not want to get in the way of the lyrics,” he explains.

He told the Atlantic, which premiered the video: “I wanted the scenes to feel like they were blooming from the white of the paper, like a photograph in a developer or a memory emerging from a cloud.”

The song and video are called “The President Sang Amazing Grace.”

Thanks to Zoe Mulford, Joan Baez — and Jeff Scher — the result is both amazing and graceful.

Kerry McGrath: 30 Years In Immigration Law

Growing up in Westport, Kerry McGrath had 2 main influences.

There was her Catholic faith. Assumption Church, she says, provided a strong foundation in social justice.

And there was also Jewish culture. “Tikkun olam,” she explains easily, embodies the concept of repairing the world, and doing good for others.

“My family and I had so many Jewish friends,” she says. “That was instilled in me as well.”

McGrath had the “good fortune” to spend plenty of time with Manny and Estelle Margolis. He was a lifelong civil rights and civil liberties advocate who died in 2011. She continues to crusade for social justice — including maintaining vigils on the Ruth Steinkraus Cohen Bridge.

“Their focus and passion made a big impression on a very impressionable teenager,” McGrath recalls.

Kerry McGrath

Though she went through the Westport school system, she did not graduate from Staples High School. Her parents moved to New Jersey when she was in 10th grade (and “thankfully moved back 4 years later”).

After graduating from Duke University and New York University Law School, McGrath has focused on immigrants. Fourteen years ago, she opened her own firm. She continues to work on immigration law.

McGrath’s first job gave her her first exposure to the special needs of immigrants. Working with teenagers and young people at Covenant House, she realized that many ended up on the streets of New York after fleeing violence in Central America. Others were sent to the US by their parents from around the world, in hopes of making money.

That experience opened her eyes to the many complex layers of teen homelessness and world affairs. She moved to Guatemala, to work and learn Spanish.

Then, at the Atlanta Legal Aid Society, she started an immigration rights project. At her next job — Amnesty International — McGrath looked at the biggest picture: “the world forces causing oppression, and violations of human rights.”

After working in Washington, she returned to Atlanta and joined Catholic Charities. Her clients were all detainees.

“That was so hard emotionally,” she says. But it inspired her, when she opened her solo office, to concentration on immigration issues.

Many clients are landscapers, roofers and house cleaners. She works with them on family petitions and Dreamer status. Some are victims of crimes, including domestic violence.

Since President Trump’s inauguration, she says, things have changed dramatically. In the past, someone who overstayed a visa, married a US citizen and was put in removal proceedings could have the case terminated by Homeland Security, in order to pursue a green card.

Now, McGrath says, “discretion has been eliminated.”

She understand that this is a controversial issue. “Violating the law is wrong,” she says. “But the consequences far exceed what’s been done. The effects can be felt on children and spouses. And often these are people who are contributing a lot to this country.

“It’s very complicated. Immigration issues are not black and white.”

She also knows that some Americans think immigrants get “special treatment.” However, she notes, “you can’t just come to the US and apply for citizenship right away. Even children of legal residents have to wait a long time.”

One client fled civil war in El Salvador in 1990. She received her green card a couple of months ago — 28 years later.

The president, she fears, is “trying to minimize both illegal and legal immigration. This is not just about a wall to keep people out. It’s about preventing permanent residents from becoming citizens. And preventing others from coming here legally, on temporary status.”

McGrath points to another often-overlooked aspect of immigration.

“I don’t think people realize why Central Americans come to the US. Our illegal drug use fuels violence in Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador. If we stop consuming, gangs would not have the money or power to conduct all that violence. We’ve created the push out of those countries to the US.’

She connects her work back to Westport. The schools and town gave her the education and skills for her work.

Westport also taught her “how lucky and privileged” she is. It was here — from her church, and her Jewish friends — that she first heard the saying, “To whom much is given, much is expected.”

And where, she says, she also learned: “There but for the grace of God go I.”

Orphenians Bring Down The (Opera) House

Last month, the Staples High School Orphenians traveled to Australia. The elite singing group performed at the Sydney Opera House.

The teenagers are home now, but they’re still talking about it in Westport. I imagine they are in Sydney too.

But you didn’t have to be Down Under to hear their remarkable voices. Here, thanks to the wonders of YouTube, is a video of the entire concert.

The Orphenians’ individual performance — directed by Luke Rosenberg — begins at 23:49.

The combined choirs’ performance, including several other schools — directed by Craig Hella Johnson, one of the most popular conductors in any hemisphere — starts around 55:00. Staples’ rising senior Georgia Wright is featured at 1:45:30.

The Orphenian girls are in the second 2 rows, on both ends. The boys are behind them, in black ties.

(Hat tip: Kerry Foley)

Saugatuck Rowers Win At Worlds

Alert “06880” reader and proud Saugatuck Rowing Club supporter Debbie McGinley reports from Racice, Czech Republic:

Today — thanks to great help from Saugatuck Rowing Club competitors — Team USA finished at the top of the medal count at the World Rowing Junior Championships.

Six SRC athletes were on the U-19 teams — including 4 from Westport.

Kelsey McGinley, captured gold in women’s (non-coxed) 4-. Harry Burke won silver (men’s 8+), as did Alin Pasa (coxswain, women’s 8+). Noelle Amlicke brings home a bronze (women’s 4+).

Alin Pasa (bottom right) and teammates celebrate their silver medal.

McGinley, Burke and Pasa graduated from Staples High School in June. Amlicke is a rising senior.

This was the 3rd world championships for McGinley and Burke. Both medaled in their previous 2 competitions.

The fun of the event is seeing many countries coming together, from Belarus and Romania to China, Australia and South Africa. Fans are decked out in national swag, with flags of all colors flying.

The McGinley family — includinig parents and grandparents — traveled to the Czech Republic to cheer on Kelsey and her fellow rowers.

Unsung Hero #60

Andrew Colabella is a big fan of Lizzy Feeley.

No — make that a HUGE fan.

He writes:

Lizzy demonstrates the qualities of a true leader, and an ability to make others smile while positively affecting their lives.

She started her tireless efforts on holidays and weekends with St. Luke’s Youth Group and Grace Community Church in 8th grade.

She volunteered to clean up the yard of a family who recently lost their father. She felt fulfilled, and vowed to continue.

When Lizzy entered Staples she spent weekends, holidays and nights through St. Luke’s and Grace Community Church working on many different projects.

Lizzy Feeley

But Lizzy wanted to do more — to break the bubble, go beyond Westport into the  real world and help those not as fortunate. She lights up those in a dark and low place, stuck and in need of help.

Lizzy started at the Bridgeport Rescue Mission, serving hot meals to the homeless and helping put together a plan to serve people in its rehabilitation program. She also volunteered with “Kid Power,” tutoring 1st graders.

Lizzy has made a strong impact on over 100 youths and adults — those in need of help, who felt lonely and not special. Lizzy paid it forward, and then some.

Lizzy also joined the Tim Tebow Foundation, focused mostly on people with special needs. For the past 2 years Lizzy volunteered at the “Night To Shine” prom, doing teenagers’ hair and makeup, allowing them to enjoy a special event.

Lizzy graduated early, to get a head start on her degree in comprehensive special education at Norwalk Community College. She is ahead of schedule to enter the University of Connecticut, where she will earn her bachelors degree before turning 21.

As an RTM member, I had the pleasure of meeting Lizzy at a Board of Education meeting on a cold Monday night. She had midterms the the next day, but spoke on behalf of 5 girls. She was protecting the vulnerable, and advocating for those who could not defend themselves after being ostracized by peers.

I have never met a young teenager like Lizzy, who turned into a young adult with such dedication, perseverance, passion, creativity and integrity,

Lizzy has given back since 8th grade. Now let’s give her the push to do more — and give recognition of her many hundred hours of community service to her town and the entire county.

Done! Congratulations, Lizzy Feeley — you’re this week’s Unsung Hero!

Heather Grahame: ALS Triathlon Champ

If you missed your most recent issue of the Helena Independent Record, here’s a story worth noting.

The Montana paper reports that Heather Grahame is one of the top female triathletes in the nation in her age group. AT 63, she recently finished 4th in the 60-64 division at the International Triathlon Union World Championships in Denmark.

Amazingly, she’s done the very grueling event for only 6 years.

Grahame entered her first triathlon because she’s always been a competitor. Four years later her brother Tom was diagnosed with ALS. Now she uses triathlons as fundraisers.

Heather Grahame in action.

Grahame’s been an athlete all her life. As a member of Staples High School’s Class of 1973, she captained the field hockey team. She played 2 more years at Mount Holyoke College, then transferred to Stanford University.

While there, she looked for a summer job that paid well and involved adventure. She leveraged her experience as a Compo Beach lifeguard to teach swimming, water safety and first aid in rural Aleut and Eskimo villages. The state of Alaska funded the program, to combat a high drowning rate.

She’d get dropped off by a small bush plane on a gravel airstrip. She had to find a place to sleep and a pond, then start an education program. Grahame showed different degrees of burns by roasting marshmallows, and used walrus bones to demonstrate how to stabilize human injuries.

She loved the challenges, the mountains and the Bering Sea. Stanford did not start until late September, so when the program ended she worked in a cannery (earning enough money to cover much of her tuition), and backpacked in Denali National Park.

After graduating from the University of Oregon law school, Grahame moved to Anchorage. The economy was booming. Support for education, arts and trail systems were strong. Her daughters enjoyed a public school with 2 teachers per classroom, 2 Spanish immersion programs, and one in Japanese.

Grahame focused on public utility law. With so many complicated rural utility issue, she had plenty of work.

Heather Grahame (Photo courtesy of Helena Independent Record)

In 2010 she moved to Helena to become general counsel for NorthWestern Energy, a publicly traded utility serving Montana, Yellowstone National Park, Nebraska and much of South Dakota. Later, she added the title of vice president in charge of regulatory and federal government affairs.

She’s on the road a lot. But she finds time to train for triathlons. Though she began when she was 56, it’s a natural for her.

In the 1980s, Grahame competed in bicycle racing on the US Women’s Circuit. She trained at the Olympic Center, and in 1988 finished 6th at the Olympic trials.

She and her family then became competitive sled dog racers. Her top international finish — 6th — came at the 2000 Women’s World Championships.

As for triathlons — well, okay. Grahame actually did a full Ironman. That’s a 2.4-mile swim, a 112-mile bike ride, and a 26.2-mile run.

But when she learned that Team Challenge ALS was participating in the 2017 New York City Triathlon, she signed up. She raised over $3,500 for the ALS Association.

“Racing is a completely different experience, and far more satisfying, when you can use it as a means to help others,” Grahame says.

She also raises funds by logging her workouts with her phone’s Charity App. Miles earn dollars donated by various businesses.

A typical sight, on a typical Heather Grahame training ride.

Grahame does not get back to Westport often. But she looks forward to attending the next Compo lifeguard reunion.

For one thing, her time on the Compo chair helped get her to Alaska — and paved the way for the many fulfilling athletic endeavors that followed.

For another, those long-ago Westport guards have contributed to her ALS fundraising efforts.

“The generosity of the human spirit is amazing,” Grahame says. “The support has come from many people I haven’t seen since I was 18. I cannot thank them enough.”

(To contribute to Heather Grahame’s fundraising efforts, click here. To read the full Helena Independent Record story, click here.)

Rachel Doran’s Journey

This month, Rachel Doran should be completing a summer internship in New York. She should be looking forward to her senior year at Cornell University, as a fashion design major with a minor in business.

Instead, the 2015 Staples High School graduate — 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 — is in critical condition at Columbia Presbyterian Hospital’s Center for Acute Respiratory Failure and ECMO Program.

Last month Rachel was diagnosed with Stevens Johnson Syndrome and Toxic Epidermal Necrolysis, a rare reaction to common medications that resulted in severe burns to 95% of her body.

Rachel Doran

She was treated at Bridgeport Hospital’s Connecticut Burn Center for 2 weeks, before being transferred to New York for the treatment of Adult Respiratory Distress Syndrome — another rare and life-threatening syndrome. She is in the ICU, on a special lung protocol called ECMO and dialysis.

Her skin is slowly beginning to heal. But Rachel has a collapsed lung and renal failure. She is being kept as comfortable as possible, and is supported by a superb hospital staff.

Rachel’s family has been by her side for 3 weeks — and faces a long road. She could be at Columbia Presbyterian for months.

Her parents are staying in a New York hotel, while their extended family tries to maintain a sense of normalcy for Rachel’s sister Ellie in Westport.

Between hospital bills, the hotel and loss of wages, the financial ramifications will be vast. Friends created a GoFundMe page to lighten the load.

Everyone who knows Rachel calls her “amazing.” Now is the time for Westport to offer her and her family some amazing help.

Click here to contribute to the Dorans’ GoFundMe page.

Westport Celebrates The Legendary Laddie

Dozens of former Staples High School runners — along with friends and fans from the Westport road race series and Pequot Runners — came from as far as California today to honor Laddie Lawrence, and his 50 years of coaching.

It was supposed to be a surprise. But when you’ve touched as many lives as Laddie, the secret was bound to get out.

Still, it was a wonderful and emotional afternoon. In half a century as the town’s running guru — including not only Staples cross country, indoor and outdoor track, and the summer and fall races, but also Thursday evening age group meets — Laddie has created a community of runners of all ages and abilities.

Former Staples teammates from his Class of 1964 were there. So were rival coaches — and Paul Lane, the former Staples coach who first introduced him to track. Parents came too. But most of all, there were runners, present and (recent and distant) past.

Laddie’s Staples classmate, artist Miggs Burroughs, gave him a special gift: this lenticular photo of him, back in high school and today.

He’s won an insane number of championships. His athletes have become All-Americans, and earned college scholarships. But today was a time for everyone, of every speed, to gather together and say “thanks” to a mentor and friend.

Best of all: This was not goodbye. Laddie is not retiring.

Actually, knowing him, he’ll coach another 50 years.

Laddie Lawrence: forever young, and forever loved.

Mia And Jack: Broadway In Bryant Park

The Staples High School-to-Broadway pipeline is well-established, and longer running than any hit show.

So it was no surprise to see 2007 graduate Mia Gentile on stage yesterday at Bryant Park. The “Kinky Boots” star was part of the weekly free outdoor concert series, in the heart of Manhattan.

What made her performance special was the photographer shooting it. Jack Bowman — a Staples Players star 8 years after Mia — was on assignment for TheaterMania.

Mia Gentile performs songs from “Kinky Boots.” (Photo/Jack Bowman for TheaterMania)

I’m sure there were other Westporters in the audience — perhaps even onstage.

And I know there are many other Mias and Jacks, waiting in the middle and elementary school wings.

(For all of Jack Bowman’s Broadway in Bryant Park photos, click here.)