Category Archives: Unsung Heroes

Unsung Hero #70

In the aftermath of last week’s torrential downpour, alert — and grateful — “06880” reader Lee Feldman writes:

Tonight, I left the gym at the Saugatuck Rowing Club to find my car with a dead battery. Though several folks there offered to help, no one had jumper cables.

I decided to walk over to the Bridge Mobil service station on Riverside Avenue. My expectations were low, since I knew the garage was closed.

When I explained the situation to the night attendant, he told me all the mechanics were off duty. But he offered to call the manager, Johnny (I apologize for not knowing his last name.)

Again, I thought he would tell me that couldn’t help until they opened in the morning.

Instead, Johnny showed up a few minutes later with a jumper battery in hand. He drove over to the SRC and got my car started.

Bridge Mobil, on Riverside Avenue.

When we weren’t sure whether it would keep running, he offered to follow me home, in case I needed another jump along the way.

And when we got there, he refused to accept any payment. He just advised me to have the alternator on my car checked.

With all the anger and ugliness that seems pervasive these days, people like Johnny are a reminder of our better selves. I hope you can recognize him as an Unsung Hero. I intend to patronize his business, and encourage others to do the same.

Done — with joy and gratitude!

Unsung Heroes #69

The other day, alert “06880” reader Melissa Shein nominated several women as Unsung Heroes. For 4 years they’ve volunteered with her at Bridgeport’s Cesar Batalla School. Together, they’ve helped a 9-year-old learn to read.

The boy was born at 24 weeks, weighing just over 1 pound. His twin brother is blind, but learns with ease. This youngster — who loves to play and learn — has shown language and learning difficulties, not easy solved.

He’s made good use of the resources provided. But more is needed. Melissa fears he’ll fall through the cracks. He’s already begun to doubt what he can achieve.

Westport women have joined to help this Cesar Batalla School student.

“Given his level of determination, receptivity to instruction and genuine love of learning, it is easy to imagine him developing academic and personal resiliency in a supportive, academically rigorous environment that addresses his specific needs and unique learning style,” she says.

So she went to work. Marjorie Almansi provided many contacts of people to do evaluations, to help get him into the Southport School for students with language learning differences.

Jill Greenberg did that full evaluation free of charge. She put the boy’s mother in touch with numerous resources. Robin Hellman did a full occupational therapy evaluation, and offered support.

The Southport School tentatively agreed to take him. The group — including other volunteers like Gwen Cohen and Sherri Gordon — is working on making that happen now.

Melissa and the other women are determined to turn around the life of one young Bridgeport boy. They deserve our Unsung Hero accolades — and awe.

Unsung Heroes #68

This week’s edition of “Unsung Heroes” comes courtesy of several Coleytown Middle School parents. They do not want to be named, because they say they speak for many families. They write:

Two weeks ago the administrators, teachers, paras, nurses, custodians, counselors, food service employees and secretaries at Coleytown Middle School began to deal with a crisis. Staff and students reported illnesses, leading to a temporary closing of the school. It quickly morphed into a relocation.

Change can be challenging. But in the face of great change the adults at CMS have shown tremendous flexibility, leadership, and support for the children and families of the Coleytown community.

Familiar, smiling faces greet Coleytown students at Bedford and Staples every day.

As Westport superintendent of schools Dr. Colleen Palmer recently said, “A school is not just the building. A school is the staff. A school is the counselors, the administrators. It’s all the caring adults.”

CMS families sent our children off to different schools — Bedford Middle for 6th and 7th graders, Staples High School for 8th graders. Knowing they were heading to the caring adults they have come to know calmed nerves.

Knowing they were heading to caring communities eased minds too. Hearing that the world language teachers at SHS moved classrooms, that the BMS nurses and secretaries made space for the CMS nurses and secretaries proved that, at the end of the day, we are Westport Public Schools. Separate buildings may divide us physically, but not in spirit. 


Coleytown Middle School security guard Terry Morgan is always ready with a smile and fist bump. That has not changed, despite moving to new digs at Staples High.

Parents and students alike wonder about extra-curricular activities. There is great optimism that they will continue. CMS principal Kris Szabo said that clubs and activity advisers will communicate with families and students regarding schedules and locations.

Coleytown Company’s production of “The Lion King” had already begun meeting. They were entering auditions and rehearsals when the shutdown and move were announced.

Director Ben Frimmer and company manager Sarah Webster wasted no time getting things up and running after the move. The production is scheduled to open as planned. “I think it’s important to try to provide the students in our community as much normalcy as possible in light of the upheaval they’re going through,” Mr. Frimmer said.

Sarah Webster and Ben Frimmer are making sure the Coleytown Company 6th graders can jump right back into “The Lion King.” Other extracurricular activities will start soon.

The crackerjack team of custodians, led by Joe DiPalma, has been spread out, still caring for CMS while assisting at BMS and SHS. Their dedication and busy-ness makes it hard to pin them down for a photo, but families are singing their praises for their dedication to the community.

School is about learning — and one of the things we are all learning is resilience. To handle adversity and the unexpected with grace and without compromise is one of the most valuable skills a person can have in life. The adults of Coleytown Middle School have always modeled these skills for our children, but never more so than now.

This modeling is evident in high school students asking 8th graders they know how things are going. At BMS, students look out for the “new” kids in their hallways, pointing the way to classrooms when needed.

People in town have begun referring to the BMS building as Westport Middle School, and the 8th grade wing at Staples as “The Academy.” Whatever the future holds, we are thankful to all — especially to all the Coleytown Middle School staff. They have not skipped a beat.

Honorable mentions are in order for the caring adults at Bedford and Staples who have opened their doors and spaces to Coleytown Middle School, the bus drivers who shepherd our kids to their new spaces, and the myriad others behind the scenes who may have escaped mention here — but who care no less for our children and their ability to learn in a safe, supportive environment.


And — in the aftermath of last night’s powerful near-tornado storm — here is a Bonus Unsung Hero story. It comes courtesy of Brian and Lisa Power:

I’d like to nominate Alex Ducruet as an Unsung Hero this week. Last night during the severe rainstorm, my car stalled in a flooded area a half mile from our home.

As my husband and I tried to quickly figure out the best thing to do, we received a knock on our car window from a neighbor, Alex Ducruet. We had never met Alex, but he quickly became our hero!

He not only offered to help, but did so gladly. He went above and beyond by helping my husband push our car the half mile up a hill to our home. My husband said this was one of the most physically grueling things he’s ever done (and he recently finished his first Ironman Race!). He said there was no way he could have done this without Alex’s help.

We were so grateful for Alex’s assistance in our time of need, and couldn’t thank him enough. His response to us was simple: “I’m a neighbor. This is what we do.”

When my husband and I insisted we wanted to do something to show our gratitude, his only request was that we spread the word about his business. So: When your windows need washing, please contact Alex Ducruet at Gold Coast Window Washers. No doubt Alex will go above and beyond for you — just like he did for us.

A thousand thanks to Alex Ducruet for being our hero!

Unsung Heroes: Special Edition

Wednesday is the day of the week when “06880” honors Unsung Heroes.

I posted an already-written story earlier today. But yesterday’s flash floods produced many other heroes, from police, fire and EMS, to tow truck operators who rescued stranded motorists, to neighbors who provided shelter and sump pumps, to teenagers who cleared blocked roads.

Karin Kessler — owner of Backspace, the funky typewriter store behind Little Barn — has her own heroes. She writes:

We are making lemonade…

Unfortunately, yesterday’s insane rain flooded our storage area. Fortunately, I had 2 students — heroes — who moved quickly and helped me lug 50+ typewriters into our main space and out of harm’s way.

The remainder of the typewriters are still in storage but were hoisted onto racks.

Thank God we were here and able to manage the situation before any damage was done.

Congratulations and thanks, Mimi Zauls and Shay Buchanan!

4 of Karin Kessler’s many typewriters — saved!

And this just in, from Ani Rockwell:

I wanted to write to let you know about someone who, for me, was an unsung hero.

During last night’s torrential downpour I was hauling buckets of water up out of my basement, trying to keep even more water from pouring into my basement.

My husband was in Manhattan. He had called Gary Brown of GB Plumbing to see if there was anything he could do. From a plumbing perspective there was nothing.

But instead of charging a call-out fee and leaving for the next job, he spent a good hour with me and my 9-year-old son (who had also come out to help haul buckets of water away from the basement), carrying and pouring out buckets of water. When he left he refused to take any payment.

This is not the first time he has refused payment for a call-out when he has come to examine an issue and determined it was not plumbing. He really is a decent guy, and at a time when you hear so much about the less friendly and neighborly people in town it is beyond wonderful to know that people like Gary are here.

For me and my son who spent 2 hours hauling out buckets of water he really was a hero. Sharing the load made it so much easier to bear. I hope you are able to give him a mention in your column so that he knows what he did was truly appreciated. Thank you.

Done! And if you’ve got any more heroes to add to the list — click “Comments” below.

 

Unsung Heroes #67

It’s hard to come up with new ideas for a 6-year-old’s birthday party. But Dylan Rosen has had great interactions with Westport police officers. So on a whim, his father Frank asked the Westport Police Department if his son and friends could get a tour of the station.

The WPD said, “sure!”

But as 17 boys and their parents walked in to police headquarters, Rosen had doubts. “Who drew the short straw?” he wondered.

Officers Daniel Paz and John Margnelli did. But for them and their guests, it was anything but a chore.

“They could not have been any warmer or more genuine,” Rosen reports. “They completely overextended themselves.”

Officer Daniel Paz lets Rosen “ride” a police motorcycle.

First, Paz — who served 2 deployments in Iraq — told the kids, “You can’t come in this police station without a badge.” Then he handed he one a sticker badge.

He showed the group everything from dispatch and the detective bureau to the garage with police bikes, tactical defensive gear and holding cells (the boys and girls remarked on the lack of privacy and televisions, and noted there would not be much to do in there).

Paz and Margnelli — who was a homicide detective, SWAT operator and community police officer in Florida before coming to Connecticut — ended the tour by showing a police motorcycle and car.

There was no talk or evidence of weapons anywhere with the kids.

Away from the children though, parents saw the gear officers use in a SWAT situation, and the heavily armored vests and helmets needed to stop an AR-15 round.

What was most impressive, Rosen says, was “the kindness of our officers, and the lengths they went to to give each child (and adult) an opportunity to ask questions. They never ran out of patience.”

At the end of the tour, Paz and Margnelli learned the group was headed next to Westport Pizzeria. So they gave the youngsters an escort.

“The kids were skipping the whole way there!” Rosen says.

The start of a police escort to Westport Pizzeria.

“It’s important that our children know these are real super-heroes,” he adds. “These are the brave people we call on every day. They leave their homes and families, to come to work and protect ours.”

Thanks, Daniel Paz and John Margnelli, for going above and beyond a few days ago for an admiring group of 6-year-olds — and for all of us, 24/7/365.

Unsung Heroes #66

Hundreds of Westporters enjoyed lobsters (and more) at last weekend’s annual Lobsterfest.

Hundreds more pack downtown every June for the Great Duck Race.

A few take advantage of a specialized wheelchair, to enjoy the sand and shore at Compo Beach.

All are events sponsored — and projects supported — by Westport’s 2 Rotary clubs.

One meets Tuesdays at noon, at Christ & Holy Trinity Church’s Branson Hall.

The Sunrise Rotary meets Fridays at 7:30 a.m., at the Westport Inn.

Both clubs are filled with busy Westporters, who nonetheless give astonishing amounts of time and energy to raise tons of money. Then they give it all away, to help people in town, across Connecticut, elsewhere in the US and around the world.

I am a huge fan of both the Sunrise and noontime Rotary Clubs. But I admit: I have a hard time keeping them apart.

No matter. Rotarians in both groups put aside their friendly (I think) rivalry, to support each other’s good works — and Rotary International in general.

You may have no idea that so much good comes out of so much hard work, by so many neighbors.

That’s why Westport’s 2 Rotary Clubs are this week’s Unsung Heroes.

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

Unsung Hero #65

“Dogcatcher” is often used as a putdown.

“I wouldn’t vote for him for dogcatcher,” someone says. Or, “It doesn’t matter if you’re a CEO or a dogcatcher.”

But where would Westport be without our dogcatcher? Or — more appropriately — our animal control officer?

Elizabeth DeVoll nominates Joe Saporare for Hero of the Day.

The other day, she was gardening with her 15-year-old, “somewhat senile” dog Quinn. Suddenly, she noticed he had slipped out of his collar. Quinn — who is never far from Elizabeth’s side — was gone.

Quinn

Frantically, she searched the neighborhood. Then she called Joe.

He said he’d just picked Quinn up. The dog was safe and sound at the Animal Control Center, on Elaine Road off South Compo near the boat launch.

Elizabeth rushed down. Quinn was relaxing comfortably. Joe told her he’d gotten a call about a dog wandering busy Newtown Turnpike. The officer was there within minutes.

Elizabeth has met Joe several times before — when she found lost dogs. “He always is kind, and on the ball, when he reunites lost pups to their human parents,” she says.

Joe Saponare, with Quinn.

“Funny how in cartoons, we always think of the dogcatcher as a bad guy,” she adds. “Joe is definitely a very good boy!”

And, happily, our Unsung Hero this week.

Unsung Heroes #64

Last month, the Perseid Meteor Shower filled the sky. It was an awe-inspiring sight.

It was even better to see — and understand — the show with the help of experts from the Westport Astronomical Society.

Volunteers were on hand — as they have been, at least once a week for 40 years — at the Rolnick Observatory on Bayberry lane.

A Norwalk resident was one of those who took advantage of the experts. “They were special,” she says.

Two were at the telescope inside the dome. Two more were on the platform. They talked about the night sky. They answered questions. They gently quizzed the children who were there.

Last year, the Westport Astronomical Society hosted hundreds of people for an eclipse.(Photo/Frank Rosen)

Their new admirer says, “they were so generous with their time. They were so knowledgeable. They welcomed every question from anyone, without pretension. They did not laugh or snicker when someone said something potentially silly.”

She adds, “They have made the Rolnick Observatory accessible to anyone, even if they’re disabled.”

Heroes come in many forms. The Norwalker nominates the members of the Westport Astronomical Society as Unsung Heroes. They certainly are this week’s “stars”!

(To visit the Westport Astronomical Society’s superb website, click here. To nominate an Unsung Hero, email dwoog@optonline.net)

Unsung Heroes #63

The other day, as a Westport woman was leaving Whole Foods — her favorite store — she realized her watch was missing.

It was a cherished gift from her late husband. He died a couple of years ago, and she still misses him terribly.

Perhaps it was in the car? No.

Maybe it was back inside? No again.

Her last hope was that she’d forgotten to wear the watch that morning, and it was still at home.

It was not. She sat down, and cried.

The Westport Whole Foods shopping plaza. (Photo/Brooke Emery Scharfstein)

But something impelled her to drive back to Whole Foods. Anxiously, she asked, “did anyone find a watch?”

“Was it gold and Gucci?” the employee replied.

“Yes!” the Westporter said.

The Whole Foods worker unlocked a drawer. The watch was there, safe and secure.

The woman learned that two Whole Foods customer service employees — Sabrina and Lyncia — had found the watch, and turned it in.

“They were angels who came into my life,” she says.

(From left): Sabrina, Andres and Lyncia.

She wanted to do something for the 2 angels. Andres of the store leadership team said no; he’d take care of them himself. “These are the type of people we hire,” he told her.

The Westport woman — still smiling and grateful, days later — says, “Every time I wear my watch, I see their faces. And I think of the goodness and honesty that is all around us.”

Thank you, Sabrina, Lyncia and Andres, for brightening one customer’s day.

And all the rest of ours, too.

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

Unsung Hero #62

If you see a monarch butterfly around town — at the Community Garden next to Long Lots Elementary School, Wakeman Town Farm or anyplace else — you’ll marvel at its beauty and grace.

You should also thank Alice Ely.

Alice Ely

The Westporter is a garden coach. She gardens “with you, not for you,” her website says. “Whether you are just beginning, want to take your skills to the next level, branch out or troubleshoot, I’m happy to help.”

She is a master gardener and a compost maven. But she holds a special place in her heart for monarchs.

Alice’s inspiration, design and transplanting skills helped create the butterfly garden at the Community Garden, across from the compost area.

That garden is now a registered monarch way station. Filled with milkweed and pollinator plants, it is flourishing.

Inspired Community Garden members help plant, water and maintain it.

Alice was also a driving force behind the habitat at WTF, and 2 others on Cross Highway. Beyond providing monarchs with homes, she helps ensure them a pathway of habitats on their migratory routes.

There’s a lot more to that than just planting milkweed and “letting nature do its thing,” Alice notes. It’s painstaking work — but it pays off in gorgeous, environmentally crucial ways.

A monarch butterfly, at the Westport Community Garden.

Monarch butterflies — and the rest of nature that they nurture — can’t thank Alice Ely.

But “06880” readers can. Which is why she is this week’s Unsung Hero.

(Do you know an Unsung Hero? Send nominations to: dwoog@optonline.net)