Category Archives: Unsung Heroes

Unsung Hero #175

Every Tuesday and Friday, Tony Puccetti’s wait by the window. When Scott — their regular collector for Malone’s Refuse Service — arrives, they wave excitedly. He always waves back.

Roman’s 3rd birthday was last Tuesday. Earlier, Tony and his wife spoke to “Mr. Scott.” They said they’d leave balloons by their driveway. Could he grab them and honk his horn? It would make Roman’s birthday — because he wanted his theme to be “Garbage Truck.”

Mr. Scott did that — and a lot more.

He brought Roman a gift. He led him by the hand to the back of the truck. Then he lifted Roman up, so he could help compact the trash. (Click below for the video.)

It was the best birthday Roman could imagine.

Thanks, Mr. Scott. You’re Roman’s — and ours — Unsung Hero of the week.

 

Unsung Hero #174

Bob Weingarten nominates Carol Leahy as this week’s Unsung Hero. He writes:

For 22 years Carol Leahy has served Westport. She started as a part-time employee in the selectman’s office, then in 1990 was named full-time Historic District Commission administrator and certified local government coordinator. She retired in 2018.

Prior to those posts, she was active in the League of Women Voters, including board service of for a number of years.

In her role as Historic District Administrator, she helped countless Westport homeowners understand preservation issues for their homes.

Carol Leahy

She obtained funding for preservation projects from the state. She also assisted the Historic District Commission by setting up agendas for monthly meetings, notifying homeowners, providing town reference material and documenting meetings for public review.

Leahy created the annual preservation award program, which recognizes owners of residential and commercial properties who demonstrate outstanding efforts to protect the historic character of exterior structures. She helped the HDC with the awards presentation, preparation of award narratives, and the annual display of house award photographs.

Among her many achievements, she helped restore the Minute Man Memorial.

Leahy is a lifetime Connecticut resident. She moved to Westport in 1972 and raised her 2 children, Wendy and Michael, here.

After she retired, HDC members decided to fund a Westport Museum for History & Culture plaque to honor her contribution to the town. The ceremony was held recently via Zoom.

1st Selectman Jim Marpe says Leahy “played a critical role in organizing and structuring the work of the Historic District Commission. Her knowledge and understanding of the grant funding and historic designation opportunities made her the go-to person for Westport residents looking for support in designating historic properties. Her positive and professional demeanor created a calming presence in all her Town Hall interactions.”

Last year, Leahy received the Janet Jainschcigg Award from the Connecticut Trust for Historic Preservation. At the ceremony, State Senator Tony Hwang said Leahy “made history come alive, working with both developers and owners of historic properties.”

(Do you know an unsung hero? Email nominations: dwoog@optonline.net)

Unsung Hero #173

Michael Burns — president of Westport Volunteer Emergency Medical Service — could nominate many folks as Unsung Heroes.

But he’s chosen one: paramedic Kevin Doherty. Michael writes:

Beyond Kevin’s regular duties, he puts in a great deal of effort teaching people at EMS the basics and advanced skills of a paramedic.

But in addition to Kevin’s day-to-day duties on the ambulance, he has been the infection control officer for Westport’s 3 emergency services for nearly 10 years.

During the pandemic, Kevin’s ICO responsibility has expanded to include all town employees. He is effectively on call 24/7.

Kevin Doherty

He has taken on an especially critical role as co-safety officer for the town’s Emergency Operations Center Command Group. Kevin is responsible for not only tracking and advising any sick employees in town, but also working with the selectmen’s office and town department heads, setting policies ensuring the safety of all employees.

He is also responsible for 1-on-1 instruction with each new or returning EMS member in COVID-specific safety (for example, fit-testing N95s, and the safe donning and doffing of all PPE) and equipment decontamination procedures.

Kevin selects and procures (with the town’s Logistics, Purchasing, and Finance Departmenets) all COVID-related PPE and supplies.

During all this, he has continued to function as lead advisor for the Youth Corps

He goes above and beyond the call of duty in so many ways. Kevin is on top of it all. That’s why he is so respected and loved by everyone he works with at EMS.

He does a hell of a job.  And he is just a nice guy!

(To nominate an Unsung Hero, email dwoog@optonline.net)

Unsung Heroes #172

RTM member Lauren Karpf writes:

Over 55 years ago, Velma and Garson Heller moved with their children to Westport. They have been giving back to the town ever since.

Velma was elected to the Representative Town Meeting 20 years ago — as a write-in candidate. She has been an RTM member ever since. Her committee work included Education, Public Protection, Long Range Planning, Ordinance and Employee Compensation. 

Velma Heller

She chaired the Education Committee for 9 years, served as deputy moderator for 4 years, and been RTM moderator since 2017. Wrangling 36 members — and working with nearly ever other town board and official — is as difficult as it is thankless. Velma has done it with grace, tact and intelligence.

A gifted educator, Velma spent over 30 years in the Westport school system as a classroom teacher, reading specialist, vice principal, principal, irector of curriculum and staff development, and director of supervision and evaluation.

She then joined Sacred Heart University as a student teacher supervisor and adjunct professor. She worked for 15 years as a full-time faculty member in the Graduate Education Program, where she ran the program leading student teachers.

Velma has dedicated her career to teaching, advising, and helping others better themselves. She continues to do so. She has a natural gift for guiding new and longstanding members alike through their journey on the RTM. She is a sounding board to discuss difficult matters, and truly helps us achieve success. Velma has impacted so many of our youth, but also so many of us.

Garson Heller

Garson graduated from Yale with a degree in chemical engineering. After graduation, joined Mobil as a chemical engineer. He moved to Data Dimensions, where he helped implement a computer system for United Press International.  He moved to Securities Industry Automation Corporation for the rest of his engineering and computing career, before retiring in 2002 as the senior director of computer acquisitions.

Garson has an inspiring record of service to our town too. He served on the RTM for 14 years. He has been a member of the Board of Assessment Appeals since 1983 — 37 years! He is also involved in numerous organizations, including Y’s Men.

The Hellers passed their love of public service on to their children. Their son Grant spent 4 years on the RTM.

And the family is committed to public education. All 3 children went through the public schools. Three of their Velma and Garson’s grandchildren are in the Westport system right now.

Quietly, efficiently and lovingly, Velma and Garson Heller have helped  Westport grow and thrive. They are true Unsung Heroes — and have been, for over half a century.

(To nominate an Unsung Hero, email dwoog@optonline.net)

Unsung Hero #171

Don O’Day chairs the Coleytown Middle School Building Committee. For the past 2 years, he has overseen the school’s renovation, after closure due to mold.

Sloan O’Connell-Jamali — parent of 3 boys — writes:

I don’t know Don O’Day personally. But I would like to nominate him for Unsung Hero recognition, as we close out 2020.

Don O’Day

Earlier this month he handed off the Coleytown Middle School building to the Board of Education. As my 6th grader excitedly waits to walk through the doors of CMS for the first time on Jan 4, there is no doubt in my mind that we have Don O’Day (and his amazing team) to thank.

He has been the ultimate public servant, volunteering his leadership, time and abilities over the past 2 years to help bring our CMS building back to life.

I can only imagine the countless hours of work, meetings, Zoom calls and spreadsheets he has had to devote to getting this job done — during a pandemic nonetheless.

I am personally grateful to have had his constant Facebook updates, which kept us all in the loop and were totally transparent.

We are so lucky to have someone like Don in our community. His volunteerism is inspiring and he has changed our Westport community for the better.

What an inspired nomination, Sloan — and so true. Don O’Day has truly modeled what it means to juggle the often-competing demands of town officials, school administrators, parents, students and other residents — all while keeping the needs of children front and center.

Thank you, Don. We all look forward to the reopening of Coleytown Middle School early next month. For that, you are absolutely this week’s Unsung Hero!

(To nominate an Unsung Hero, email dwoog@optonline.net)

Unsung Heroes #170

Growing up in Westport, Jordan Schur spent plenty of time at the Westport Weston Family YMCA.

He still lives here. Now he’s a father. Jordan writes:

I want to express thanks and gratitude for the YMCA staff in the before/after- school childcare programs.

The pandemic has brought challenges to every family. For a 2-parent working household like ours, the Y has been a lifesaver. Let me highlight what an amazing resource they have been.

Westport’s elementary schools meet 2 hours and 45 minutes of in-school teaching each day, either morning or afternoon.

This leaves a lot of unaccounted-for hours, including kids’ “specials” (gym, art, music, Spanish) and homework.

This is just one area where the YMCA has been incredible. The staff helps kids log into their computers to do their specials, and provides them with materials and assistance.

The staff also helps kids with their homework in fun and creative ways, like turning sight words into artistic clouds that my wife and I would never have thought of even in normal times.

The Westport Y’s childcare program includes school help …

Then there are great extracurricular activities like swimming. The staff ensures they are there on time, as well as helping with lunches, the bus routine of getting to and from school, and countless other things they do every day that parents never hear about.

Heading into the school year, we had concerns about how our daughter would keep up with her work, and how she could participate in daily “specials” without a parent to help her.

The YMCA stepped up, figured it out, and has been beyond accommodating.  Their responsiveness to concerns is a model for any customer service business, and their attention to each child’s individual needs is refreshing.

With adjustments to the pool because of the latest COVID outbreak, the staff has taken special notice that there is less time for our daughter to get ready to swim. They ensure she is changed prior to her “special,” so she can get to her lesson on time.

Little things like that allow my wife and I to do our work, without having to sit distracted and concerned about how our daughter is managing.

And taking children for full Wednesdays when school is not in session, as well as school holidays, is a great solution to the constant juggling act of kid logistics.

… and fun, in the new gymnastics studio.

So thank you to the whole YMCA team. I would highlight individuals, but I know how big a team it is to make everything described above come true. I don’t want to leave anyone out.

We are grateful for the role you have filled in our community. With so much uncertainty about the future, having a daily rock like your team is beyond reassuring.

(Do you know an Unsung Hero? Email dwoog@optonline.net)

Unsung Heroes #169

As Marty Fox and Patsy Cimarosa step down as directors of the Westport Transit District, Peter Gold steps up to nominate them as Unsung Heroes of the Week. Last week, he addressed his fellow RTM members:

I want to thank Marty and Patsy for their many years of dedicated service to the Westport Transit District.

Marty Fox (Photo/Ellen Graff)

When I first approached Marty about serving as a director almost 5 years ago, he foolishly believed me when I said the job would not be too time consuming. He signed on for an initial 4-year hitch.

Patsy, the former executive director of the Westport Housing Authority, also signed on, with a primary concern for protecting the Transit District’s door-to-door services for the elderly and people with disabilities.

Together they put in untold hours over the past 4 1/2 years, overseeing the normal day-to-day operation of the Transit System, developing annual budgets and shepherding them through the approval process, setting a high bar with their many accomplishments on behalf of the Transit District and the town.

Here is a list of only a few of their many accomplishments:

  • They changed the process of dispatching vehicles for door-to-door service within Westport, achieving savings of $100,000 per year.

 

  • They worked with the Norwalk Transit District, which operates the buses for the Westport Transit District, to develop better financial information and ridership reports for analysis and decision-making.

 

  • They completed 2 Transit District townwide surveys, which achieved high participation rates of 1,500 and 1,700 responses and provided valuable information on citizen attitudes, awareness of the Transit District’s services, demographics and train usage information

  • They worked with Human Services to evaluate alternative delivery models for door-to-door services. As part of this effort, they developed two RFPs and then evaluated the responses. This process showed that continuation of the current arrangements with Norwalk Transit District is best for Westport

 

  • Implemented the myStop app which allowed riders to track locations of shuttles, and developed instructions for using the app tailored to Westport residents.

 

  • They successfully applied for continuation of a state matching grant program for door-to-door services in Westport, resulting in $31,600 in annual grants for 2017, ’18, ’19 and ’20.

 

  • Worked with other groups in 2017 to ascertain the density of people around WTD routes, and unserved or underserved areas of town. This analysis confirmed that the Transit District’s fixed route structure was reasonable, given the available resources. The area served by commuter shuttles has recently been expanded to nearly the entire town, with the recent change from the fixed route system to the new Wheels2U Westport micro-transit model.

 

  • Worked with Rob Feakins, an award-winning advertising executive, to develop several comprehensive integrated marketing programs promoting the WTD, the myStop app, and most recently the new micro-transit system. The programs consisted of emails to railroad parking permit holders, people on the permit waiting list, and Parks & Rec email lists, cards and posters at train stations, Saugatuck coffee shops, the library, real estate agencies and other locations in town, and ads in the Chamber of Commerce directory and on WesrtportNow.com.  .

 

  • Most recently and most significantly, they developed and rolled out the new Wheels2U micro-transit program. It changes the old, fixed route system of commuter shuttles to an on-demand, door-to-train platform service covering nearly the entire town and more trains during peak commuting hours than the fixed route system it replaces. Since the Wheels2U vehicles travel only where commuters need to go it will be more environmentally friendly, result in shorter commutes to and from the station for many commuters, and lower operating costs for the WTD.

 

Patsy Cimarosa

As the end of their terms approached last January, with no new directors to take their places as COVID descended on us all, Marty and Patsy graciously agreed to stay on to continue to supervise the rollout of Wheels2U. Now that Wheels2U has been successfully launched, they want to finally move on.

I’ve worked closely with Marty and Patsy over the past 4 1/2 years. It has been a true pleasure to watch their professionalism, skill and devotion to their tasks.

Congratulations, Marty and Patty. You are true heroes — to commuters, and everyone else in town!

Unsung Heroes #168

Even before COVID, it was our mantra: “Buy local.”

Since the pandemic, we’ve paid even more attention to the importance of supporting the men and women who — against ever-more daunting odds — make this town go.

They stock stuff we need. They employ our kids and grandparents. They support every school and civic fundraiser. They answer our calls. They know our names.

And — this is really cool — they support each other. I posted this story last weekend, but it might have gotten lost over the holiday. So here it is again:

There’s a new Christmas tree on Main Street, right next to the old Tavern on Main restaurant. But it’s more than just a handsome holiday sight.

Annette Norton — owner of the nearby Savvy + Grace gift shop — works with the Ralphola Taylor Charity, a YMCA community center serving low-income Bridgeport children. They earn points for good behavior during after-school activities, then redeem those points at the center’s Holiday Store by buying presents for their families.

Annette Norton and the Christmas tree, near Savvy + Grace.

In return for purchasing a gift for the Ralphola Taylor Charity, Annette will personalize a white dove ornament with the donor’s name, and hang it on the tree.

Gifts can be bought 3 ways:

  • At Savvy + Grace (next to the former Tavern on Main restaurant)
  • Online (at checkout, just choose free delivery to the charity)
  • Purchase something from any other local store, then drop it off at Savvy + Grace. What a great way to support all Westport merchants, and kids in Bridgeport.

Donations are accepted now through Monday, December 7.

How great that Annette wants you to purchase a gift at any local store. And how wonderful that she’s a local merchant.

Which is why Annette Norton — and all Westport business owners, struggling but still giving in this holiday season — are this week’s Unsung Heroes.

(Do you know an Unsung Hero? Email dwoog@optonline.net)

Unsung Heroes #167

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving.

Odds are your celebration will be smaller than usual. You’ll miss loved ones, friends, and the random strangers who sometimes make it to your table.

It’s our first COVID Thanksgiving, thanks to some guy in China who ate a bat last year.

But if this year looks different, much remains the same. Turkey, stuffing, pies, getting stuffed — that stuff doesn’t take a holiday, just because we’re quarantined, locked down and nasal swabbed up the wazoo.

And of course, all those turkeys, stuffingses and pies don’t magically fall from the sky. This is the time of year when caterers are kings (and queens).

Catering, 2020-style.

It hasn’t been easy. Caterers have done the pandemic pivot. They’re cooking for smaller groups. They’re finding new ways to operate, from the kitchen to delivery. Some regular customers have said “sorry — not this year.”

Perhaps you brought a prepared dinner from a gourmet outlet, like Mystic Market or Garelick & Herbs. They too have had a rough time. They’ve pared back hours, addressed customers’ concerns, dealt with suppliers who have  coronavirus issues at their own farms and factories.

If you’re having dinner out — and some restaurants are open tomorrow — you know the entire industry has taken a hit. Owners are doing whatever they can for their customers, and their creativity knows no bounds. This has been an astonishingly tough 8 months — and what’s traditionally the slowest time of year is not far away.

So this week’s Unsung Heroes are everyone who has anything to do with providing tomorrow’s dinner. If you helped put a turkey, stuffing or pie on our table: We know it wasn’t easy.

But when we sit down at Thanksgiving to give thanks, we’ll be thanking you too.

Tomorrow’s meal

Unsung Hero #166

We’re closing in on 9 months since the pandemic first struck Westport.

It’s almost time for a kid conceived those first nights — after schools, the library, the Y and Town Hall closed — to be born.

In that time, Westporters have:

  • Sewed and distributed masks
  • Collected food for pantries here and throughout Fairfield County
  • Painted inspiring messages on posters, sheets and rocks
  • Supported their children in the difficult, ever-changing world of remote and hybrid learning — and supported their children’s teachers too
  • Gone out of their way to support (and appreciate) local merchants and restaurants
  • Provided a host of entertainment opportunities, from a pop-up theater to socially distanced concerts and virtual galas
  • Delivered groceries, medicines and supplies to locked-down, quarantined neighbors, friends and strangers
  • Done countless other things, large and small, to make life a little better for all.

The next few weeks — months? — may be the toughest of all.

The weather is turning cold. We’re spending more time indoors — the most dangerous spot for transmission. We’re suffering from mask fatigue, social distancing fatigue, Zoom fatigue. We’ll miss so many holiday traditions, so much fun.

This might be the darkest winter of our lives. But we’re here. We’ve made it through nearly 9 months, when in the beginning we didn’t know if we could make it to April.

So here’s to us. We — all of Westport — are this week’s Unsung Heroes.

Enjoy the honor. But don’t forget: Wear a mask.