Category Archives: Unsung Heroes

Unsung Heroes #126

The other day, the Women’s Business Development Council honored 11 Connecticut business people with “Women Rising” awards.

Two are from Westport.

Suzanne Vita Palazzo

Suzanne Vita Palazzo — founder and owner of Upper Deck Fitness, in National Hall — has been here for a couple of years. This is her 2nd location (the first is in Stamford).

But she’s quickly become part of the community. Upper Deck has opened its doors for a variety of Post Road West community events, including a Women’s Wellness Day for cancer survivors.

Aarti Khosla has been serving Westport in many ways too, since 2012.

With a background in economics and international marketing, she worked for international corporations. Aarti opened her first company in her native India in 1991, then started a second business after coming to the US 3 years later.

Born with “foodie genes” and blessed with a mom who was an amazing cook, Aarti followed her passion to become an artisan chocolatier. Her initial inspiration came from a desire to use chocolate to showcase the rich diversity of Indian desserts, and “capture flavors from around the world, in the divine language of chocolate.”

She launched her business in 2012, selling through farmer’s markets, shows and holiday boutiques. In 2014 she opened Le Rouge Chocolates by Aarti at 190 Main Street.

Each piece of chocolate is made with fresh, top quality ingredients, and meticulously hand painted.

Aarti Khosla, in her red-and-black-themed chocolate shop.

She fills a great niche. She has been voted Best Chocolate Shop of Westport each year since, and Best of Gold Coast twice. She ships her creations all over the world.

But it’s in Westport that Aarti has really made her mark. She runs frequent promotions, earmarking a portion of sales to local and international causes — humanitarian, social justice and women’s issues, among them.

Westport is blessed with many female business owners. Today, “06880” follows the Women’s Business Development Council in hailing 2 special ones.

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

Unsung Heroes #125

Last weekend, the Westport Library held its annual holiday book and gift sale. As always, it was a smash.

The success of these sales — winter and summer — depends on generous donations of materials from the community.

Yet nothing would happen without volunteers. For the most recent event, 108 volunteers donated their time and energy. All worked hard.

But late Sunday afternoon, near closing time, the teen volunteers went above and beyond.

Henry Potter

The story starts with Henry Potter. He’s a project manager for Builders Beyond Borders, and for several years has overseen B3 teen volunteers at the book sales.

Through his own very high standard of working hard, Henry sets an excellent example for the group. He always does it with a smile.

During the recent Transformation Project, book donations were accepted in a temporary construction trailer on Jesup Green. The “drive up, drop off” experience was so positive for patrons, staff and volunteers that the library built a permanent annex in the Levitt parking lot, to accept and process donations.

For the past 2 months of construction, however, the library had to stop accepting contributions. Thanks to Henry and the teen volunteers though, the  new book donation annex will be open starting next Wednesday (December 4).

Mimi Greenlee, co-chair of the book sale, says, “We knew this was going to require a great deal of manpower, not only to move the items, but also to shelve the books in the correct categories. Henry happily agreed to set his team on this project.

“In 2 hours they accomplished what would have take us days. And they did it with smiling faces and great attitudes.”

Builders Beyond Borders volunteers get the donation annex ready.

B3 has done plenty of good work overseas. Last weekend, they helped out right in their own back yard.

(To nominate an Unsung Hero, email dwoog@optonline.net. Hat tip: Rachel Reese Pegnataro.)

Unsung Heroes #124

On Sunday, I left at 6:30 a.m. for a statewide soccer coaches’ meeting in Wethersfield.

First I snagged a coffee at Dunkin’ Donuts. Then I hit CVS, for the New York Times. (I read it online 6 days a week. For some reason, I still buy the dead-trees Sunday edition.)

It was early, so the woman behind the Dunkin’ register and the guy at CVS barely registered with me.

But as I drove north, I realized: They must have gotten up very early. They traveled here from wherever they lived (probably not Westport). They did all kinds of prep work. They served me efficiently and a smile, even though I scarcely made eye contact.

And they do that every single day.

Coffee with a smile!

I don’t know the name of the Dunkin’ woman, or the man at CVS. But I do know that they — and many others like them, at Starbuckses, gas stations, and plenty of other places around town — make our mornings much more tolerable.

So the next time you buy a coffee, bagel, newspaper, or anything else — especially if the sun is not yet up — thank the man or woman who hands it to you.

I know I will.

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

Unsung Hero #123

Oops!

This one almost slipped by us.

Earlier this month, Nell Newman was inducted into the Connecticut Women’s Hall of Fame.

The ecologist, conservationist, biologist, organic farmer — and founder of Newman’s Own Organics, and the Nell Newman Foundation — joins a long list of amazing Nutmeg State women, including Helen Keller, Marian Anderson, Clair Boothe Luce, Ella Grasso and Katherine Hepburn.

Nell Newman

Her work in organic food was inspired by her youth in Westport. When she learned that her favorite bird — the peregrine falcon — was headed toward extinction because of the pesticide DDT, she began studying ecology.

In 2014 Nell received the prestigious Rachel Carson Award from The National Audubon Society, for her environmental leadership.

Westport is justly proud of Nell’s parents, Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward. Both were active in a number of important causes, far beyond stage and screen.

We are proud now too that this Westport native is paying it forward. Congratulations, Nell, on your Hall of Fame honor!

(Hat tip: Kathie Motes Bennewitz)

Unsung Heroes #122

John Geroski is a proud World War II veteran, and longtime Westporter.

He’s now 96 years old, wheelchair bound and with vision problems. He lives near from downtown.

When Joe Watson — Westport Sunrise Rotary Hands-on Committee member — heard that John’s house needed work, the group swung into action.

Robert Hauck — Hands-on co-chair — contacted Bio Clean. Tom Homola said his company would do mold remediation — normally up to $10,000 — pro bono.

Up this weekend: yard clean-up. That will be handled by Sunrise Rotary, Gorham Avenue neighbors, and Kristen Alvanson of Habitat for Humanity.

John’s family — who do not live nearby — are grateful and appreciative for the good will and great work shown by neighbors and strangers.

“It means everything to my father to be able to live out his days at home, rather than in a nursing home,” his son Mark Gasiorowski says. “He certainly deserves it, after all he has been through.”

All who made this possible are this week’s Unsung Heroes.

And — for his service to our country, and all he’s done since then — John Geroski is our Unsung Hero too.

Unsung Hero #121

Shortly before completing his residency in New Haven, David Beck chatted with a colleague about next steps. The other man mentioned that Dr. Thomas Kantor was selling his practice in Westport.

That’s how Dr. Beck ended up here.

He’s now 92. Tomorrow — after 60 years in internal medicine — he retires.

The Bronx High School of Science graduate served for nearly 3 years in the Palau Islands as a Coast Guard pharmacy mate, during World War II. He headed to Long Island University, then earned his medical degree from Albany Medical College in 1954.

Dr. Beck helped start Norwalk Hospital’s dialysis unit. But most Westporters know him from his long practice in Westport.

Dr. David Beck (Photo/Laura King)

He spent his first 55 years at 44 Elm Street. Five years ago, when Bedford Square was built on that site, he moved to 175 Post Road West, across from Dragone Classic Motorworks.

Dr. Beck has seen some of his patients for half a century. Incredibly, a few are a decade older than he.

“He’s an old-fashioned doctor,” praises Laura King, his medical assistant for 17 years (and the only other person in his office).

“He’s a great listener. He spends 45 minutes with each patient, no matter what. I’m so blessed to have been with him for all these years.”

Dr. Beck is a quiet, modest man. He does not want a party, or any fuss made as he retires from his long, beloved profession.

So we’ll just call him an Unsung Hero, say thank you, wish him all the best, and leave it at that.

(Hat tip: Carl Leaman. To nominate an Unsung Hero, email dwoog@optonline.net)

Unsung Heroes #120

Election Day is near.

For local candidates, it’s the end of a long slog. They’ve created and mailed campaign literature, knocked on doors, and put up (and replaced) road signs.

For voters, it’s a quick but important chore. We head to oour polling place, fill in some circles, buy baked goods to support the PTA, and leave.

For poll workers though, it’s a work day.

The men and women who check voters in (and cross check their names), hand out and collect ballots, and make sure nothing improper happens, are important, if barely noticed, parts of the democratic process.

For many workers, sure, it’s a chance to see friends and meet strangers. Yes, they get paid. (Though probably not enough.)

Still, it’s tedious and repetitive.

So when you vote on November 5, thank every poll worker you see.

They get every vote for Unsung Heroes.

A soothingly familiar scene, year after year in Westport.

Unsung Heroes #119

The other day, I posted a story about a long, important RTM meeting. After 3 hours, our town’s legislative body voted narrowly — 18-16 — against a motion to ban recreational marijuana sales in Westport. (Such sales are not yet legal in Connecticut.)

That was typical of our Representative Town Meeting. Once a month they meet to debate and approve town and education budgets, and all town appropriations over $20,000; enact ordinances; review bonds, leases, sales and purhcases of town property; review zoning, recreation and other regulations, and oversee labor agreements with town and Board of Education employees.

They meet much more frequently in committees. Each member serves on several.

It’s time-consuming, arduous and thankless work. And every 2 years, RTM members must run for re-election.

Fortunately, serving on the body is not all work and no play. Last week, 23 members — along with the town clerk and RTM secretary — gathered for lunch at Tavern on Main.

Member Matthew Mandell — whose day job is executive director of the Westport Weston Chamber of Commerce — organized the event. It was a way for everyone to spend time together outside of Town Hall. (And yes, for the Chamber to promote Restaurant Week.)

The RTM lunch at Tavern on Main.

It was the middle of election season. But, Mandell says, “people enjoyed that we could all sit together. Political party means nothing to us” — the RTM is non-partisan.

“It was nice to just BS, and not discuss any issue coming before us, or even around town. The RTM has had some late nights recently. This was a good break.”

(Even though there was a quorum, no official notice was required. “Social gatherings do not constitute an illegal meeting — just fun,” explains town clerk Patty Strauss.)

“The RTM is a collegial bunch who volunteer a lot of time to the town,” Mandell notes.

So, to all 36 members — and all the others, running for a seat — thank you for all you do for Westport. You are our Unsung Heroes of the Week.

We hope you enjoyed your lunch. Now get back to work!

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

 

Unsung Hero Needs Help

In June, “0688o” featured Mario Viola as an Unsung Hero.

The Coleytown and Saugatuck Elementary School bus driver truly went “the extra mile.”

He loves “his” children. He decorates his bus for holidays, shows up for their concerts, and keeps everyone excited for school.

When a youngster was sick, Mario gave him his hat to make him feel better.

On the last day of school, the driver took everyone to Carvel — and treated!

Mario Viola, and a young friend.

Recently, as he and his wife rode a motorcycle, they were hit by a drunk driver.

Mario is recovering at home. Meanwhile, his medical bills mount. Parents have created a GoFundMe page to help.

Mario Viola has been there for our children. Now we can be there for him. (Click here to help.)

Mario Viola and his happy kids, at Carvel.

Unsung Hero #118

Little things mean a lot.

For many years, Gerry Cataldo has worked at the Senior Center. His is a thankless — and often unnoticed — job.

Gerry sets up each room for meetings, educational programs, games, lunches, exercise activities and more.

When he’s not moving partitions, tables, chairs, and sports equipment, he’s cleaning halls and restrooms. When he’s not doing that, he’s helping any way else he can.

Gerry Cataldo makes sure that everyone at the Senior Center has a ball. Or two.

Every day — Monday through Saturday — 30 to 50 different events take place at the Senior Center. Gerry makes sure that each one is ready to go.

When it’s done, he makes sure the next one follows smoothly.

Senior Center regulars and staff know they could not function without him. Gerry Cataldo is truly an Unsung Hero!

(Hat tip: Bob Weingarten. To nominate an Unsung Hero, email dwoog@optonline.net)