Category Archives: Unsung Heroes

Unsung Heroes #20

Many Westporters know them only if there’s a problem.

Compo overcrowded? Call the Parks and Recreation Commission.

Issue with your new deck? Call the Zoning Board of Appeals.

Aquarion building a huge water tower nearby? Call your RTM member.

“They” are the men and women who volunteer for our town boards and commissions. In addition to the above, there’s the Board of Finance, Board of Education, Planning and Zoning Commission and more.

(Photo by Cathy Zuraw/Connecticut Post)

They spend countless hours reading reports, fielding emails and phone calls, and attending meetings (and meetings and meetings).

They get criticized for taking stands, taking votes, and not taking votes.

They even put up (and take down) their own road signs.

And they do it for no pay.

Zero. Nada.

That’s why they’re called volunteers.

They seldom get thanked. Even during election season, we seldom think of the enormous sacrifices our volunteer town officials make to make Westport the wonderful place it is.

That’s why everyone who runs for public office — Democrats, Republicans and independents; men and women; lawyers, business executives, stay-at-home parents and retirees; winners and losers — are this week’s Unsung Heroes.

You’ve got our “vote” of thanks!

(Want to nominate your own Unsung Hero? Email dwoog@optonline.net)

 

Unsung Hero #19

If you were in Westport at any time from the 1950s through 2003, chances are good there are photos on your mantel, and in your scrapbook, by Bob Satter.

A noted portrait photographer, he shared a studio next to the Green’s Farms post office with George Cardozo. His work included plenty of famous Westporters — but he made everyone he photographed, no matter how ordinary, feel important.

They looked great, too.

Bob Satter

Satter — a generous, gentle man who is now 93 years young — mentored many photographers. The best of them learned his tricks of entertaining clients during shoots. The more relaxed they were, the better the photos.

He melded his vocation and avocation in the name of his 28-foot sailboat: “On Location.”

A proud veteran, Satter was named grand marshal of Westport’s 2014 Memorial Day parade. He volunteered in 1942, and served as a radio operator in World War II. He flew 25 missions as war raged in Europe. Satter was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross and 2 battle stars, and the Air Medal with 3 Oak Leaf Clusters follow.

2014 Memorial Day parage grand marshal Bob Satter.

He lost much of his hearing during the war, and became an expert lip reader.

Bob and his wife Jean had 2 sons, Keith and Blair. She died last spring.

Bob and Jean Satter with their children, Blair and Keith, in the 1960s.

Every Westporter of a certain age knew Bob Satter.

Now every “06880” reader does.

(Hat tip: Carmine Picarello. If you’d like to nominate an Unsung Hero, email dwoog@optonline.net)

Unsung Hero #18

In 2004, Susan Gold joined the Westport Historical Society as education director. She became executive director in 2007.

After 10 years, she’s leaving that post. Her legacy is an organization that does great work, has made an important mark in town — and is filled with her friends and admirers.

History and non-profits are just 2 of Gold’s passions.

The Ithaca College grad (with master’s from Cornell University) is an avid swimmer, hiker and kayaker. (She’s probably the reason the WHS sponsored a kayak tour out to Cockenoe Island.)

Gold has run 14 marathons — including a personal best of 3:09 in the prestigious New York event. She’s won numerous age group races, at a variety of distances.

WHS board member Leigh Gage calls Gold “a bundle of energy. She gets up at 5 a.m.  to run and do qigong. Many evenings after work, she teaches yoga or qigong.” Many of her classes are free — she asks only for donations to the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society.

Susan Gold, in a typical pose.

A Rotarian, Sue volunteers often at events like Lobsterfest. (That figures: She’s a pescatarian — and an avid Westport Farmers’ Market greens shopper. She usually returns to the office with gifts for the staff.)

Historical Society directors will miss the annual January luncheon. Gold cooked a vegan meal for the entire board. It was one more way to give back.

Past president Joan Andrews calls Gold “dedicated, resourceful, and a tireless promoter of all things related to WHS — especially children’s programs, fundraising events and exhibits. She has served us as our gracious and smiling face to the community, and will be sorely missed by us all.”

Former president Ed Gerber adds, “Very effectively, Susan told me of the work of the WHS, and how she thought I could help based on my enthusiasm for history and historic preservation. She reeled me in, and I thank her for it!”

Gold’s daughter Rachel has 2 children. They live in Washington. She looks forward in retirement to visiting them often.

She has another daughter, Hannah — and her son David lives in Central America. She’ll visit both too.

Susan Gold may soon be WHS “history.” But — like the most important parts of who we are — she will be well remembered.

Unsung Hero #17

If you’ve been in Westport for any length of time, you’ve probably heard — and met — Jo Fuchs Luscombe.

She’s been involved in every aspect of life here — politics, education, community service. If it needs doing, Jo has done it.

But how many people know her back story?

A Dallas native, she was just a year old when her father — an oilman — moved the family to Venezuela. Jo grew up speaking Spanish — and gaining an important, real-world view of life.

She went to boarding school and college in Texas, headed to Katherine Gibbs secretarial school, got married at 19 and had a child at 20.

Jo Fuchs Luscombe

Her husband was in oil too, so they headed to Libya. Jo learned Italian there, and was once more immersed in a very different culture.

In 1969, the family moved back to the US. Her boys were 13 and 10.

In her mid-30s, Jo and her husband divorced. Encouraged by Rev. Dana Forrest Kennedy, she threw herself into every aspect Christ & Holy Trinity Church. She became president of the Women’s Guild, served on the vestry, and ran fundraisers.

She got interested too in the Westport Historical Society. Jo was a driving force behind the acquisition and restoration of Wheeler House — owned at the time by her church — as the organization’s headquarters.

In 1980, Jo was asked to fill out an unexpired term on the Zoning Board of Appeals. Public speaking did not come easily. But — as with everything else in her life — she worked to master it.

She won a full term on her own, then was appointed to the vacant post of 3rd selectman.

In 1986, Jo headed up her friend and fellow Westporter Julie Belaga’s campaign for governor.

Jo’s next step was the state House of Representatives. She served 5 terms — from 1987 to ’97 — and rose to Republican minority whip.

Retirement from state politics did not slow her down. As a member of Westport’s School Building Committee, she helped oversee 5 major construction and renovation projects (including the new Staples High School).

Jo Fuchs Luscombe (Photo courtesy of Westport Woman’s Club)

Remarriage did not slow her down either. Jo has been president of the Westport Woman’s Club (where she helped run major events like the art show), and is active in Westport Rotary, Greens Farms Garden club, and countless others.

As a longtime Westport Family YMCA board member, she helped shepherd the new building on its long, torturous journey from downtown to Mahackeno.

Her husband John says there is one reason she accomplishes so much: “She doesn’t sleep.”

There’s one more thing: Jo Fuchs Luscombe is one of the nicest, most always-smiling people you’ll ever meet.

Congratulations, Jo. And thanks from all of us, for all you’ve done in so many ways.

(Hat tip: Bobbie Herman)

Unsung Hero #16

A couple of Sundays ago, Julie Gannon was canning tomatoes.

Hours later — at 6 p.m. — she had 18 jars lined up. They were sterilized, prepped — but she had run out of tomatoes.

She texted Lloyd Allen. The owner of Double L Market quickly replied. He had 2 boxes left. She could pick them up the next day.

Immediately though, he texted back again. He wanted to know if Julie was in the middle of canning.

When she said yes, Lloyd said he knew what that was like. He offered to drive to the store from Wilton, and open up.

At 7 p.m. he was there — with a huge smile.

Lloyd Allen, with his familiar smile.

Over and over, she thanked him profusely. Each time, Lloyd said he was glad to help.

“He’s always so positive and helpful,” Julie says of the popular farm stand owner.

“He has amazing products, and homemade soups, sauces and tamales. When you shop at Double L, you always feel like you’re dealing with a friend.

“Lloyd always tries to help in any way he can. That’s special and rare. I love Lloyd!”

“06880” does too. That’s why Lloyd Allen is this week’s Unsung Hero!

(To nominate an unsung hero, email dwoog@optonline.net)

Lloyd Allen, outside his Double L Market on the Post Road.

Unsung Hero #15

Another summer ends, just like the 56 before it. Dozens of youngsters go back to school with a skill they never had. Thanks to the Longshore Sailing School, they know how to sail. They’re confident on the water — and that confidence extends off it too.

Plenty of adults who never thought they could steer a sailboat went through the school’s courses too.

John Kantor no longer runs Longshore Sailing School. But he was part of it for nearly 50 years. And it still bears his imprint.

Kieran O’Keefe is one of many grateful sailors. That’s why he nominated Kantor as this week’s Unsung Hero.

John Kantor

For almost 5 decades — quietly, efficiently, improving what worked and always changing with the times — Kantor built Longshore Sailing School into the largest such youth program in the country.

In retrospect, getting rejected as a caddy — and hired by the then-nascent town sailing school — was karma.  Kantor grew up on Owenoke — just across Gray’s Creek from Longshore.

“I clammed at low tide, and sailed and raced at high tide,” he recalls.

When the town of Westport bought the failing Longshore Country Club in 1960, it had no idea how to run  a water program.

Kantor got on board in 1965. The rest is history.

With several hundred young students each year — and a program run out of constantly collapsing cabanas near the pool — Kantor made a proposal.  He’d buy a new fleet — at his own expense — provided he could keep any profit.

If there was a loss, he’d absorb it himself.

First selectman Jacqueline Heneage agreed — provided he put his name on the sailing school.

Longshore Sailing School today. (Photo copyright/Stefen Turner)

The program grew exponentially, to 2,000 pupils a summer.

When the program outgrew its makeshift building — but the town was reluctant to pay for a new one — Kantor formed the non-profit Friends of Longshore Sailing School.  Former employees funded a 2-story, $400,000 structure.  The school now has 5 classrooms, plenty of storage space, and an actual office.

Those employees have kept in close contact with Kantor. He mentored them —  — and watched them grow — from high school to college and beyond.

Four couples met at Longshore Sailing School, and got married.

Odds are, their kids will end up learning how to sail there — at John Kantor’s legacy — too.

(PS: John Kantor’s influence extends far beyond Westport. The Bitter End Yacht Club in Virgin Gorda modeled its sailing school on Longshore’s. According to Westporter Ali Hokin, “John, Longshore Sailing School and The Boat Locker were integral to the success of the sailing program and boats available to guests. The resort was devastated by Hurricane Irma. A relief effort is going on now, in this magical but currently suffering part of paradise.” To help employees, their families and the surrounding community, click here.)

Unsung Hero #14

As a new school year begins, it’s appropriate that this week’s Unsung Hero is a former teacher.

Generations of Staples High School students revered Gerry Kuroghlian. For nearly 40 years, “Dr. K” — his doctorate was from the University of Illinois, with an undergrad degree from the University of Virginia — taught Westport teenagers how to write, how to think, and how to act.

Dr. Gerry Kuroghlian

His challenging classes like “Myth and Bible” were as demanding as college-level courses. But he never forgot that he was working with still-unformed boys and girls. His greatest delight came from helping mold them into active, concerned citizens of the world.

Kuroghlian was totally invested in the life of Staples. If there was a play, concert or athletic event, he was there.

He never missed an Eagle Scout ceremony, celebratory dinner or parent’s funeral either.

When Kuroghlian retired in 2008, some people wondered how he’d fill his days.

They needn’t have worried.

Kuroghlian quickly became one of Mercy Learning Center‘s most active volunteers.

He taught ESL at the heralded Bridgeport women’s literacy and life-skills center. His new students — women from Mexico, Bangladesh and all points in between — loved him.

He returned the admiration.

“These are heroic people,” Kuroghlian says admiringly. “They’re moms, housekeepers, breadwinners — they do it all. They’ve got multi-tasking down to a science.

Kuroghlian calls these women “the best students I’ve ever had. They get up, get their kids ready for school, catch a city bus, and arrive promptly by 9 a.m.

“No one is ever late. No one ever has not done the homework,” he says admiringly. “They’re motivated to learn, and they’re completely unafraid to ask questions if they don’t understand something. They’re amazing.”

After class, the women work on computers. They also go on field trips. When Kuroghlian took them to a library, they learned how to get library cards for their kids.

Kuroghlian is equally involved at Kolbe Cathedral High School. He spends most afternoons at the Bridgeport private school, as a tutor, SAT and ACT advisor, and college application essay guide. Thanks in part to his help, virtually every graduate for nearly a decade has gone on to college.

Gerry Kuroghlian works with a Kolbe Cathedral senior on his college essay.

At Kolbe, Kuroghlian organizes cultural field trips to Fairfield University and New York City. Just as he did at Staples, he attends sports events, chaperones the prom, and continually shares his philosophy that it is the responsibility of each individual to make a difference.

He also arranged for over 1,000 books to be donated to the library.

In his spare time (!), Kuroghlian works with national education organizations, cancer and diabetes groups, the Westport Library and United Church of Christ.

Nearly 10 years after “retiring,” Dr. K. shows no signs of slowing down.

Why should he? He’s continuing the work he loves: Showing teenagers how to make their mark on the world, by doing it himself.

(To nominate an unsung hero, email dwoog@optonline.net. Hat tip: Lynn U. Miller)

Unsung Hero #13

You’ve seen the signs around town, wherever his crew is at work: “William Evans Painting.”

But — as good and professional as he is — Bill Evans is much more than a house painter.

His true passion is gathering goods, food, clothing, furniture and more for people in need.

Bill heads CT Quest for Peace — an organization that contributes time, resources, and financial aid to a dozen missions in Nicaragua. They include schools, a trade learning center, medical facilities, a maternity hospital, a burn center and an orphanage.

Bill ensures that (literally) tons of needed supplies are sent to Central America. He also supports nutrition programs, has started scholarship programs, and contributes to loan programs.

Bill Evans

Bill brings his collected goods to a warehouse in Bridgeport, where he sorts them. He travels to Nicaragua twice a year to interact with local communities and organizations, identify new areas of need, and plan for the distribution of his resources. 

But it’s not just Nicaragua. The longtime Westporter collects and repairs wheelchairs and walkers for people in Somalia.

Bill also helps local folks. Recently, he provided furniture and clothes to a refugee family. He delivered it personally — and helped set everything up.

Bill relies on many volunteers to help. He pays people — those who need the money — for their efforts.

In 2012 Bill received Fairfield Prep’s St. Ignatius Alumni Award, presented to graduates for their accomplishments and commitment to justice.

Bill Evans grew up in Stamford. He graduated from Worcester Polytechnical Institute with a bachelor’s in chemical engineering.

He carried on the painting business (currently William Evans Painting) that he and his brothers started to help pay their tuitions to Prep and college. He and his wife Joyce have 4 children: Bryan, Abby, Tim and Molly.

Thanks, Bill, for helping make the world a better place — and all of us, better people.

(Hat tip: Julie Shapiro. To nominate an unsung hero, email dwoog@optonline.net)

Unsung Hero #12

I’d never heard of Brooks Sumberg.

I don’t know how I missed him. Sure, he’s low-key. But boy, has he done plenty.

In 2008, the retired Westport businessman founded Harvest Now. He wanted to encourage local organizations like correctional facilities, religious institutions and schools to fight hunger and improve health by planting, growing and donating food from their own grounds to local shelters and food banks.

The Fairfield County project quickly expanded to 18 states. Harvest Now has donated over 300,000 pounds of fresh produce grown by its partners —including 143,000 pounds last year alone.

Brooks Sumberg

Today, Harvest Now primarily partners with correctional facilities. They develop grow-to-donate programs, while providing fresh food for their own cafeterias. Inmates form healthy habits, train for job opportunities, and find pride and therapeutic outlet through gardening.

In addition to Harvest Now, Sumberg has been involved with re-entry programming through Family ReEntry. The Connecticut organization sponsors classes for parolees on job seeking and interviewing skills.

He also founded the Connecticut Bike Project. It’s brought over 3,000 bicycles to needy children, parolees, and new immigrants in and around Bridgeport. Catholic Charities honored Brooks with the St. Augustine Medal for his work with the group.

In Westport, he’s been quite helpful to the Gillespie Center.

Sumberg graduated from Kent State University in 1972, with a degree in history. Last year, he received its Distinguished Citizen Award. Before beginning his business career, he spent 2 years with the Peace Corps in Tunisia, building and renovating wells.

I do not know Brooks Sumberg. But I do know this: He’s exactly what one of Westport’s Unsung Heroes should be.

(Hat tip: Ted Horowitz. To nominate an unsung hero, email dwoog@optonline.net)

Unsung Hero #11

Lois Schine has done many things in her long life.

A mechanical engineer at a time when nearly all her peers were men, she helped found the Society of Women Engineers.

She served 18 years on Westport’s Representative Town Meeting (RTM). She chaired our Human Services Commission, and was a member of 1st Selectman Diane Farrell’s Land Use Committee.

Today she’s an active member of the Westport Downtown Master Plan Committee, and a Friend of the Senior Center.

But of all she’s done, Schine says her “crowning accomplishment” is helping the town keep Winslow Park as open space.

Lois Schine

Following its days as the Westport Sanitarium — and after B. Altman abandoned its plans to build a department store there — the 32-acre site of woods and meadows just north of downtown was owned by perfume executive Walter Langer von Langendorff (aka “the baron”).

First selectman Jacqueline Heneage asked the baron if the town could buy the land. Schine’s husband Leonard — a noted attorney and judge — negotiated with the owner.

The baron backed away, offended by the town’s “low” offer of $2.38 million. Schine planned to return to the issue in a while. But he died — and so did the baron.

The baron left several wills. It appeared his land would be tied up in court — then sold, to satisfy his various estate obligations.

In 1987 the RTM voted 26-8 to condemn the land. Citizens opposed to the deal brought a referendum. Lois Schine, Joanne Leaman and Ellie Solovay helped spur a “yes” vote. By 54-46%, Westporters chose to move ahead with eminent domain.

The purchase price was $9.42 million. But no one in town knew what to do with the property.

Schine worried it would be used for buildings, or some other intense activity. She asked town attorney Ken Bernhard how to designate the land as “open space.”

Winslow Park draws visitors with dogs …

He said there was no such zoning regulation in town. He suggested she run for the RTM, so the body could pass a resolution asking the Planning & Zoning Commission to create that designation.

She did. She won. And — with Ellie Lowenstein at the P&Z helm — officials created an “open space” zone for passive recreation.

“Longshore, Compo, all the pocket parks — none of them had open space designations,” Schine recalls.

Today they do. So does the baron’s other property — the 22 acres across the Post Road, between Compo Road South and Imperial Avenue.

… and sleds.

“Some people say Winslow is ‘only a dog park,'” Schine notes.

“But it’s a park in the middle of town.”

And — had it not been for Lois Schine, and many others — that middle of town might look very different today.