Category Archives: Unsung Heroes

Unsung Heroes #186

“06880” has already saluted the COVID vaccinators as Unsung Heroes.

But a recent email got my attention. Susan Maya writes:

The hard working pharmacists at Walgreens are unsung heroes.

Rose Stillo and the pharmacists at Walgreens are busy vaccinating Westport, while still filling our prescriptions and answering our questions.

Staples High School Key Club members, wanted to say “thanks.” They put together goodie bags to thank them for all they have done over the past year.

Staples Key Club at Walgreens.

Which got me thinking. Why not give a shout-out to all the vaccinators again? And everyone else who has made it happen: the Westport Weston Health District, officials who have turned places like Walgreens, CVS, hospitals, college campuses — and the Staples High School fieldhouse (for educators) — into vaccination sites.

But let’s also thank the people like the Staples Key Club, who go out of their way to make people smile in these still-too-difficult days.

Unsung Heroes is not a finite category. There are more than enough people doing more than enough good things these days. So if you’ve given a vaccine, helped someone get one — in a group or individually — or simply made someone at a vaccine site smile: You are our Unsung Hero!

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

Unsung Heroes #185

In normal times, it takes a lot to make a school run smoothly.

These are not normal times.

Administrators, teachers, paraprofessionals, secretaries, nurses, custodians, cafeteria workers, coaches — they’ve gotten well-deserved shout-outs for helping Staples High School make it through COVID.

No one ever says anything about substitutes.

Well, social studies instructor Drew Coyne does. He calls Staples’ 7-person team — John Ogletree, Robert Baskin, Paula Marturano, Edward Groth, Matthew Jacowleff, Lisa Pulic and Claudia Lonkin — “the unsung heroes of this academic year.”

Maryann Garcia, the secretary who oversees the subs, agrees. “I always say, I have the best group of substitutes. They may have to cover 4 or 5 different teachers and class in one day. It is such a fluid situation — especially this year — and they always respond to last-minute directions.”

Staples High School substitute teachers (from left): Edward Groth, Matthew Jacowleff,  Paula Marturano, Lisa Pulie, Robert Baskin, John Ogletree. Missing: Claudia Lonkin. (Photo/Maryann Garcia)

The subs go far beyond covering a class. Coyne was quarantined at home in January, the day after insurrectionists took over the Capitol. Baskin brought his experience in Washington — he’d served as chief of staff to former Connecticut Representative Sam Gejdenson — to the conversation. He helped students process the event, and answered their questions.

“Bob wasn’t my substitute. He was my co-teacher,” Coyne says. “He brought insight and perspective to those days for me.”

English teacher Barb Robbins agrees. She cites Baskins 1-on-1 work since last March to provide support for a student. “It’s incredible,” she says. “He spends countless hours keeping the student focused.”

Ogletree also meets with a student on remote days, checking in as an important connection.

It’s easy to think of substitute teachers as stereotypes from movies, or wannabe teachers trying to prevent classroom mayhem.

Staples’ subs — and those in the 7 other district schools — are professionals. They’re well-educated, passionate and very talented men and women.

And they are — deservedly — this week’s “06880” Unsung Heroes.

Unsung Hero #184

Judge Edward R. Karazin, Jr. is one of 12 men and women to be inducted into the Connecticut Veterans Hall of Fame this year. 

That’s just the latest honor for the longtime Westporter (and 1957 Staples High School graduate). In her nominating letter to the Hall of Fame, his daughter Deborah Owens writes: 

My father and mother were married on May 8, 1965. The newlyweds expected to spend my father’s 2 years in the Army in Georgia at Fort Gordon, where my father would serve as a civil affairs officer.

The war in Vietnam changed all that. In November of 1965 he was sent to Vietnam for a 1-year tour of duty as a civil affairs officer working the Pacification Program in Quang Tin Province as a MACV advisor.

Edward Karazin in Vietnam …

He served with distinction, and upon discharge he was presented with the Bronze Star. The Vietnamese government also awarded him the Vietnamese Gallantry Cross.

After his return to he civilian world, my father immersed himself in his 2 other passions: the law and his family. He started his career in Westport, serving as an assistant prosecuting attorney for the State of Connecticut.

Over the next 2 decades he did trial work as an attorney, helping clients in civil cases and family law matters.

In the late ‘70s and early ‘80s VFW Post 399 on Riverside Avenue undertook major renovations. Improvements included new docks for boats on the river and a new brick addition. My father did much of the legal work pro bono. It included land use work with the town, review of contracts, and preparation and review of many other documents.

The VFW was so appreciative that he was given a lifetime VFW membership! As an aside, I had my “Sweet 16 Party” in the renovated party room.

In 1990 my father was nominated to a state Superior Court judgeship by Governor O’Neill. He accepted with honor, and served in that role until becoming a judge trial referee in 2010.

… and Ed Karazin today.

He has not only served justice traditionally, but has given his time to others in many additional ways. He has spoken on panels about law and justice, served on the Ethics Commission, led the Veterans Day ceremony at the courthouse and even come to my children’s schools to talk about law, military service and honor. He helped my son’s Cub Scout pack achieve a badge by telling them about the branches of the government and the importance of democracy.

As chief administrative judge, my father undertook the daunting task of opening the new courthouse in Stamford. Under his leadership, everything and everyone moved successfully from the old facility to the new one.

My father never tires of working, sharing stories, and engaging with others. Even now at 80, he continues to work as a judge trial referee in Stamford. (His court is temporarily closed due to COVID.) Last year he was honored by the Fairfield County Bar Association with the Robert J. Callahan Judiciary Award. It recognizes dedication to the highest professional ideals, and long-term conscientious service to the community as a judge.

My father was born the son of a home maintenance man who eventually ran his own small business on the Post Road, and a homemaker. He went all through the Westport school system, including Greens Farms Elementary School, Bedford Junior High and Staples.

Ed Karazin in uniform, on Veterans Day.

He was the first in his family to go to college. After earning a BA from Boston College in 1961, he headed straight to law school. He graduated from Fordham University in 1964. He was also commissioned a 2nd  lieutenant in the Army in 1961, which began his military career.

My brothers Edward and Michael and l went through the Westport public school system. We were fortunate to have our dad working locally so he could coach our Little League teams, play lawn darts, take us to BC football games, and host backyard barbeques for his Vietnam veteran buddies.

My father was a dedicated volunteer who helped shape our community. Our garage overflowed with equipment for the town’s baseball teams. His many, many volunteer positions (including Board of Finance), civic engagements, awards and organizational affiliations are important, but the bottom line is that my father was (and still is) busy, and the majority of what he did (and does) is for the good of others: his family, town, state and country.

My father’s community-minded spirit led me into a life of law and volunteerism as well. Both of my brothers are also active members of their communities, and all-around good citizens. After too many Sunday night dinners with “Grandpa” to count, both of my college-aged children are considering future lives of service as well.

Ed Karazin (far right) and his wife Rene (2nd from left), with chlldren and grandchildren.

My father’s favorite game — “What Would the Judge Do?” — helped my children develop critical thinking skills, and showed them there are always many sides to any given issue.

From his days as a young government lawyer and his service in Vietnam to his never-ending devotion to his family and community, my father, Judge Karazin, has served his country, his state, his community, and his society as a whole with honor, integrity and selflessness.

His story is one that would inspire others. It reflects highly upon the State of Connecticut, its public schools, and its people. Judge Karazin would be a wonderful addition to the Connecticut Veterans Hall of Fame.

Congratulations, Judge Edward Karazin, on your latest honors: Selection to the Connecticut Veterans Hall of Fame, and “06880” Unsung Hero of the Week!

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

Another family portrait.

Unsung Heroes #183

Last week’s Unsung Heroes were all the folks — young and old, family and friends and strangers — who help others schedule COVID vaccine appointments.

This week we honor the men and women who actually give the shots.

They include EMS volunteers, like Westporter Nicole Donovan. She was at the Lord & Taylor parking lot last weekend.

I was there getting my shot. I did not see her — or any other Westport EMS members. But I did see a slew of National Guard folks. The men and women were uniformly polite, well-organized, efficient — even fun.

During my 15-minute wait after the shot — making sure there was no allergic reaction — I bantered with a Guardsman. He’s a mortgage specialist by trade, but he’s worked full time in the Lord & Taylor lot for a couple of months. He appreciates the opportunity to help.

I sure appreciate his work, and that of every other National Guard member, EMT, doctor, nurse and other medical professional who is helping stem the pandemic’s tide.

It’s not easy. They come in contact with hundreds of folks a day, and that puts them at risk. But we would not be safe — and getting safer — every day without them. Thanks for their service!

National Guardsman at the Lord & Taylor vaccine site. (Photo/Dan Woog)

 

Unsung Heroes #182

Connecticut is one of America’s top states for vaccination rates.

Still, snagging an appointment is not easy. The website is tough to manage. Phone lines are overwhelmed.

It’s especially difficult for older residents, and those either technologically challenged or without access to technology.

Fortunately, many folks help.

Children — grown and teenagers — have gotten up early, stayed up late, and spent hours refreshing sites, then going through the many steps to secure a slot for their parents.

Neighbors have done the same. So have strangers, connected by a variety of organizations and Facebook groups.

Hartford Healthcare’s Keith Grant was among the first in Connecticut to receive a COVID-19 vaccine. Governor Ned Lamont looked on.

I’ve heard several stories of Westporters who have gone far out of their way to assist others.

They do it to help ease the pandemic for us all.

And they do it because it’s the right thing to do.

Which is why anyone who has helped anyone access the vaccine is this week’s Unsung Hero.

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

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Vaccination appointments can be made utilizing the following tools:

  • The Vaccine Administration Management System can be used to schedule appointments at multiple clinics across the state. Click here.
  • Call Connecticut’s COVID-19 Vaccine Appointment Assist Line: Open from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m., 7 days a week: 877-918-2224.
  • Hartford HealthCare: Multiple locations throughout the state, including large clinics in the Hartford area. Click here.
  • Yale New Haven Health: Multiple locations throughout the state, including large clinics in the New Haven area. Click here.
  • Stamford Health: 7 days a week at Stamford Hospital. Click here.

For the most up-to-date information on COVID-19 vaccination distribution plans in Connecticut, visit ct.gov/covidvaccine.

Unsung Heroes #181

Peggy Leyden Holda writes from South Easton, Massachusetts:

My mother (Rita Leyden) and I read with great interest your recent Roundup. You reported that the Westport Young Women’s League has distributed more than $4 million in grants since 1956.

Just a few days prior, I had unearthed a gem while going through the boxes (and boxes and boxes) of memorabilia recently relocated from Westport to Massachusetts, after Mom sold her Bradley Street home of 40 years.

Rita Leyden

Mom typed a draft of her President’s Report on onion skin (which remarkably withstood the test of time) for publication in the League’s 1976-1977 Annual Report. It chronicles the contributions of an extraordinary group of leaders who measurably enriched the lives of their neighbors. Their names read like a Who’s Who of Westport’s great families.

Mom and her WYWL friends were role models for the 14-year-old I was at the time. Through them I learned that women can do just about anything they set their minds to … and have fun while doing it.

As then, so now: The Westport Young Women’s League is proof positive that “in the big things of life we are as one.”

Peggy is right. Her mother’s report lists phenomenal accomplishments of a group of women. There’s Geri Lawrence, Katie Chase, Ellie Hoyt, Ginny Koscomb, Pat Shea, Cathy Ryan and many more.

Some are still around Westport. Mimi Greenlee — who “printed over 47,000 pieces on our Gestetner mimeo machine” — nonetheless always kept smiling. She still does, now as one of the movers behind the new Westport Book Shop.

One page of Rita Leyden’s president’s report mentions Mimi Greenlee — and many other women.

Sue Kane and Joyce Barnhart are still involved too, after a lifetime of volunteerism. Marianne Harrison is retired in North Carolina, where she leads a very active life.

All of which reminds us of the work that the Westport Young Woman’s League — and many similar organizations do — is both important, ongoing, and builds on the shoulders of many who came before.

Today we honor all those civic volunteers who give their time. And we also recognize that they would not be here, doing what they do, without the Unsung Heroes of yesterday.

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

Unsung Heroes #180

It’s budget time.

Every town department has submitted their requests to the 1st Selectman. He and his staff have crunched the numbers, asked them to trim some figures, then compiled it all into a 483-page document.

Now the Board of Finance steps up. They hold hearings next week. First comes the town budget; then education.

They’ll debate. They’ll vote. Then they’ll send their recommendations to the Representative Town Meeting.

There may be some intermediate steps — protests of some cuts, more back-and-forth, public input about what’s essential, what’s a frill, and whose ox is getting gored.

The town budget

But by mid-spring, Westport will have a budget. Everything from pencils to potholes will be funded. Our mill rate will be set.

And — despite perennial complaints about high taxes — just ask relatives and friends anywhere elsewhere in the tri-state are about their taxes. You’ll realize what we pay is pretty low, considering all we get. (Perhaps you can compare your taxes with others while watching the sunset at Compo, walking at Longshore, or waiting to pick up your kid at school.)

Those budgets and mill rates don’t fall from the sky. They involve plenty of planning, short- and long-range; plenty of scrutinizing; plenty of priorities.

And plenty of time. The budget process is months in the making. Much of it is tedious (and eye-straining). All of it is crucial.

Making a budget is the job of town employees. Passing it is the work of volunteers, on the Board of Education, Board of Finance, RTM and other bodies.

The education budget

It’s easy to say “my taxes are too high.” It’s easy to say “why do we need x, y or z?” (of course, your x, y and z is very different from mine).

It’s a lot tougher to study spreadsheet after spreadsheet, attend meeting after meeting, and cast difficult vote after difficult vote.

This week’s Unsung Heroes are all the women and men who make the process work. Westport would not be Westport without your service.

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

 

Unsung Heroes #179

This hasn’t been the worst winter.

But it hasn’t been the best. We’ve had several snowfalls, with a decent number of inches.

Each time, we’ve been out and about quickly.

Thanks to our plow guys.

Some work for the state Department of Transportation, or Westport Public Works. Others are private — employed by landscaping or other companies, or completely on their own.

All are crucial.

We seldom see them. We’re inside, drinking cocoa. Or asleep.

There’s a real art to clearing roads and driveways, efficiently and quickly. I can’t imagine what a mess I’d make if I tried. Very quickly, I’d need to be plowed out myself.

We never know how much we need our plow guys, until we do.

Thanks to all, for all you do, for all of us.

I just hope we don’t see you again until 2022.

PS: Want to give your own favorite snow plower a personal shout-out? Click “Comments” below.

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

 (Photo/Larry Untermeyer)

 

Unsung Hero #178

There are not a lot of car mechanics left in Westport.

Fortunately, the few who are left are great. “06880” has already hailed Vautrin Auto Service and J&J Car Care as Unsung Heroes.

This time it’s Tim Purcell of Christie’s Service, the longtime, throwback shop on Cross Highway.

Tim is so old school, he doesn’t have a website. He spends all his time instead serving grateful customers.

Christie’s 2-bay service station on Cross Highway, next to Christie’s store.

Jennifer Zorek-Pressman is one. She writes:

“I just had another wonderful experience with Tim Purcell at Christie’s. He is always helpful and caring when we have car issues.

While I was waiting for him to look at my broken light, he was on the phone  with what seemed like an older customer. She had received a letter about her car and wanted to bring to in, but it appeared to be a dealer recall.

“She was nervous about the weather, and wanted to make sure there was no scam. Tim offered to check out the letter — and take the car into the dealer for her. He was so kind and reassuring. We need more of that!”

That was one small example of Tim’s care and concern. There are many others. For example, Jennifer adds, “The other day, Tim helped remove all the snow from my car. He always looks out for all of us. He and his team always goes the extra mile.”

Tim owns the deli/market next door. Like his auto repair, it’s named for Christie Masiello. Tim worked hard to get a new tenant after Chef’s Table. He’s excited to welcome The Porch at Christie’s.

So this spring — or any time after — after you’re enjoyed lunch, baked goods or ice cream, wander over and say hi to Tim.

You never know when you’ll need him. But when you do, this week’s Unsung Hero always be there for you.

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

Unsung Heroes #177

Plenty of people say they have faith in Westport. It’s a good town, they note. We’ve adapted to the coronavirus, and we’ll be even stronger once the pandemic is past.

It’s another thing entirely to put your money where your mouth is. (Or more accurately, where our mouths ae.)

At least 9 restaurants — Don Memo, Walrus Alley, Manna Toast, Hudson Malone, Organic Krush, Outpost Pizza, Mexica, Basso and Capuli — have opened in the 10 months since COVID completely upended the dining experience.

California-Mediterranean fusion is on the menu at Capuli, in the former Westport Pizzeria Post Road East space.

Think of it: At a time of capacity limits, fears of indoor seating, concerns whether anyone would eat outside in winter, and economic upheaval — added to the uncertainty and stress of the restaurant industry in “normal” times — these men and women planted their flag (and their food) here.

They’ve put both their money and their trust in us. They’ve given us many great dining options (and provided employment for many others.) That’s impressive.

Joining the newcomers as Unsung Heroes are all the restaurant owners who are adapting, innovating, and otherwise making it through these very tough times.

Jeera Thai, Ignazio’s, Rizzuto’s, The Cottage, Bistro du Soleil, Via Sforza, Tutti’s, Black Duck, Little Barn, Romanacci’s, Kawa Ni, Layla’s Falafel, Viva’s — they, and so many more, continue to serve great meals (and serve all of us).

So let’s do our share. Eat in or outside if you’re comfortable; take out if you’re not (they deliver!). Buy gift cards, for yourself or others.

And of course: Tip well!

Jeera Thai, downtown across from Design Within Reach., is one of Westport’s most flavorful restaurants.