Category Archives: Unsung Heroes

Unsung Hero #153

Laura Curley Pendergast writes:

David Waldman has been so kind to our Theater Camp 4 Kids Broadway Academy.

We were in a tough spot, because my studio — where we always do my summer camps — is closed because of COVID. There was no place to take the young actors who depend on these camps all summer.

David Waldman and friend.

David offered his beautiful Bedford Square courtyard. He was so kind and generous, and made all the young actors feel at home. (He even brought his new puppy, for the kids to see.)

One day, when rain was predicted, he even put up 2 tents. He wanted us to be outdoors, where it is much safer for children. (When thunder and lightning came, he let us all inside!)

I can’t thank him enough for giving our young actors an opportunity to thrive under our “new normal.” It has not been easy for anyone in the theater industry.

I know downtown is hurting economically. But David never asked for any money. He did this out of the kindness of his heart, and made us feel so welcome.

He saved the day. And he did it with such grace, gentlemanliness, humor and love for the next generation. He really deserves our praise!

This is why I love Westport. David is the kind of person who makes this such a great place!

Broadway Academy, at Bedford Square.

Unsung Hero #152

Alert — and overwhelmed with gratitude — “06880” reader Melissa Balmer writes:

The other day my 10-year-old daughter had a tooth extracted. She could only eat soft foods, so on the way home from the dentist — and the first time in over 3 months — I stopped at Trader Joe’s.

I bought mashed potatoes, soft pasta, yogurt and 2 large watermelons. At checkout my credit card was declined once, then twice.

I brought out a second card. It too was declined. Confusion turned to panic as I brought out a third card. Declined!

At that point Jared – I think he’s a manager – swooped in and said, “Maybe it’s the machine. Let’s try over here.” He tried once more, but it still did not work.

I checked my cash. I was $4 short.

Calmly and amazingly he said, “No problem. I’ll cover the $4.”

I protested that I was good for it. I could put a watermelon back or come back with more cash. But he had already cashed it out and smiled, handing me my receipt. He wished me a good day.

I was stunned. As we walked to the car my daughter said, ” What a nice man.” What a nice man indeed!

At home I fixed the credit card mix-up, and sent my husband over with a thank- you note and return of the loan to Jared.

Maybe this isn’t blog-worthy, given the protests and turmoil in our country. But it might be nice to celebrate such a wonderful neighbor in our community.

Jared saw a frazzled mom trying to buy her kid watermelon. He helped without a second thought, in the kindest manner I had ever seen. We’re lucky to have him in our community.

Unsung Hero #151

The other day, Maureen Belford retired.

An educator for over 43 years in the Catholic school system, she had a remarkable impact on students and families. She helped countless elementary and middle schoolers grow and learn.

Madeline Bayliss met Maureen when both were kindergartners at Assumption School in Westport. Years later, Maureen returned to teach there.

After 13 years at Assumption, she moved to St. Cecilia (now Catholic Academy of Stamford) in 1991. She taught 5th grade math, science and religion, and became assistant to the principal there. In that role she ran the after-school program, working with children while ensuring their safety and comfort.

Dr. Joann Borchetta, her principal for 24 years, calls Maureen “the best teacher I ever worked with….a mentor and a quiet leader.”

Among her many honors, Maureen received the Tim Russert Award. The Diocese of Bridgeport hosted a large banquet for her.

Maureen Belford (left), at a Washington ceremony honoring the Catholic Academy of Stamford as a Blue Ribbon School. Her principal, Dr. Joann Borchetta, is on the right. The award was presented by a Department of Education official.

Her principal added that Maureen could have been on the Weather Channel if she wanted. She brought meteorologists to visit class, and often took students outside for weather experiments.

In teaching religion, Borchetta said, Maureen embodied the school’s mission statement. She was a strong advocate of the school’s yearly Cultural Enrichment program.

Every year, Madeline says, she called Maureen a few days after school began. The educator had already assessed each child, figured out their personalities and how they learned, and knew how she would work with everyone individually and the class as a whole. She was passionate about inspiring lifelong learning.

She was also not afraid to try new technology. When the school installed SmartBoards, Maureen embraced them. She asked her students to help her learn. Her principal says “they loved her honesty and transparency.”

Middle school students often returned to visit Maureen. She boosted their confidence. Many of those relationships — and those with fellow teachers and parents — continue today.

Maureen Belford (left) acknowledges applause from 8th graders, at this year’s graduation ceremony.

“She is a treasure,” her principal says. “Parents say she was one of the best teachers their children ever had. She is firm but loving. Her students always felt secure and important in her classroom. She is one of those incredible people who are truly authentic, and cherish their faith, family and friends.

“Everyone should have a Maureen in their lives. Some of us did, and are blessed.”

A lifelong Westporter, Maureen remains an active Assumption parishioner. She chaired the Parish Council, and still serves as a Eucharist minister.

Because of COVID-19, Maureen’s retirement took place without public fanfare. But “06880” will not let it pass without this well-deserved, Unsung Hero shoutout!

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

Unsung Heroes #150

Last Labor Day weekend, a group of Saugatuck Yacht Club members helped save a life. They, and members of another club, found a man on his boat in Long Island Sound. He was non-responsive, and had no pulse.

They began CPR. They administered AED treatment. They sped him to medics on land. It was a true team effort.

At Stony Brook Hospital, they were told the man had a 6% chance of survival on land — but near 0% on water.

He made a full recovery.

Last week the United States Coast Guard Sector Long Island sound captain and commander came to Saugatuck Harbor Yacht Club. There was a physically distanced presentation to SHYC members Josh Stein and his wife, Dr. Elizabeth Nadal; Dr Robert Kloss, Rob Kloss (also an EMT), and Kevin, Brian and Kathleen Rooney.

Non-Saugatuck Harbor members honored included Doug Ewin, Gary Dayton, Heather Tearne and Alan Bertrand.

“Knowing life-saving aid is important on land or sea,” Stein says.

And “06880” is proud to know this group of Westporters, who knew exactly how to provide it.

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

Last week’s ceremony.

 

Unsung Heroes #149

Alert — and impressed — “06880” reader Melissa Waters writes:

Heroes come in varying degrees of nobility, courage and honor.

Though perhaps not “heroes” in the true definition of the word, as we near the end of the school year I’d like to nominate each and every one of the children in Westport.

They learned online since mid-March. Yet not only did these kids navigate a new way of education; they also learned a new way to navigate friendships, club activities, music lessons, and so much more.

Staples’ High School’s “We the People” team prepared for their national competition via Zoom. And they prepared well: They finished 5th in the US!

We asked them to pivot – and pivot quickly – to a “temporary” normal. So much of their daily life – and daily happiness – was canceled: play dates, sports, theater shows, field days, proms, moving up and graduation ceremonies, and more.

While I don’t know every kid in town, and it hasn’t been easy for some I’m sure, I’m guessing they all, in their own way, rose to the challenge and did the very best they could during this crazy time. I know I couldn’t have done what they’ve done.

So to all you students – especially our high school seniors – kudos!

Thank you for all the card games, the dishes you put into the dishwasher, the extra dog walks, the crazy hair lengths, your morning smiles, your evening silliness, and the hard work you’ve done online and as part of your families.

Now it’s time for you to enjoy the summer!

This would be a welcome sight.

Unsung Hero #148

On Sunday, Westport Police Chief Foti Koskinas delivered a brief but passionate speech.

Addressing a few hundred people on Jesup Green — a local response to the murder, a few days earlier, of George Floyd  — Koskinas read a statement condemning the Minneapolis police officers.

Then he went further. He apologized personally to the Floyd family, for the way their loved one was treated by police.

It was a defining moment, and drew sustained applause. But many in the crowd were not surprised. They were Westporters. They know their chief is honest, straightforward, a man of integrity and conscience.

The crowd the next day was less familiar with Koskinas.

Unlike Sunday’s protest, Monday’s took the Westport Police by surprise. But — led by Koskinas — they were ready. They acted professionally, providing an escort across the Post Road bridge, and watching quietly as several dozen massed in front of the police station.

Westport Police Chief Foti Koskinas helps the group cross Jesup Road.

Then — surrounded by the crowd — Koskinas spoke.

He talked of his personal disappointment in his law enforcement colleagues in Minnesota. “I marched with you,” the chief said. “This was not a publicity stunt.”

Some people jeered.

“I’m a first-generation immigrant. I came here not knowing a word of English,” Koskinas — who came to Long Lots School in 7th grade from Greece — said. “I was a minority.”

Chief Foti Koskinas with protesters, on Monday. (Photo/Lynn Untermeyer Miller)

The chief said he was devastated “by what happened in Minneapolis — by that officer, and 3 others who did not act.”

Koskinas — who at one time wanted to be a lawyer, but turned to law enforcement after taking a criminology course in college — added that he is even more devastated when the public is afraid of the police.

Someone interrupted him again. He continued, talking about systemic issues in American society. Koskinas cited our health system too. “Black people don’t get the same type of care” as white people,” he said.

This time, no one jeered or interrupted. Instead, the entire crowd cheered.

There are many ways to lead. Chief Foti Koskinas’ does so with both words and deeds.

In a week when some police departments are under scrutiny, our chief is our Unsung Hero.

(Hat tip for video and inspiration: Lynn Untermeyer Miller)

Westport Police Chief Fotios Koskinas (Photo/Dan Woog)

 

Unsung Heroes #147

Westport was one of the early hot spots, in America’s coronavirus crisis.

We weathered our turn in the national spotlight. And — out of the spotlight — most of us have done what we needed to, to get back to whatever is normal these days.

Slowly, we — and the rest of the state — are reopening. It did not happen by accident. There’s still a long road ahead.

But, if you …

  • Wear a mask
  • Keep your distance
  • Encourage your kids/family members/friends to do the same
  • Still do all these things as you venture out to newly opened stores and restaurants, because you …
  • Know all this is not just about you, but everyone else around …

… then you are our Unsung Heroes of the Week.

And if you don’t, you’re not.

Looking out for themselves, and others. (Photo/Bob Weingarten)

Unsung Hero #146

Alert — and grateful — “06880” reader Karin Kessler writes:

Tom from Cousins Carting as an unsung hero. I noticed recently he comes to my house for trash and recycling pickups later and later. I realized that with everyone staying at home during the pandemic, plus the amount of online items arriving in boxes, he must be overwhelmed.

I asked him about the amount of garbage he is dealing with. He just smiled, shook his head and rolled his eyes.

Tom of Cousins Carting.

He has to be exhausted. I know my trash has increased, especially recycling with all of the boxes. I can’t imagine what we would do without him. The lines at the transfer station would be backed up for miles. I truly appreciate his hard work.

Thanks, Karin. I’m sure Tom and Cousins Carting are not the only refuse workers whose loads — and hours — have increased enormously. Let’s give them all a hand (in more ways than one). I’m sure a few extra bucks would not hurt either.

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

Unsung Hero #145

Alert — and grateful — “06880” reader Bob Weingarten writes:

Although the entire staff at the Senior Center should be recognized for their support during the pandemic, I would like to recognize one individual who has assisted many of us seniors on how to participate in the new online Senior Center programs. While doing that, he has also called seniors just to chat and ask about our health.

When COVID-19 struck, the Senior Center made over 30 programs available online. They range from yoga, tai chi, qigong and exercise classes to French language, current events, religion class and studio art.

To take an online class a participant needs a computer, email address and internet access. But having those resources means nothing, unless you know how to use them.

Jason Wilson, in a Zoom meeting.

Jason joined the Center full time last July, as assistant program manager. He has made it his mission to help seniors — and instructors — learn new technology skills.

When I had a problem accessing Zoom for one of my wife’s classes, Jason helped. He remained online to make sure no one else had any problems.

We should all be thankful to the entire staff at the Senior Center, including director Susan Pfister  and program manager Holly Betts. The doors may be closed, by Jason is helpful — and the staff provides phone coverage Monday to Friday, 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

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

Unsung Heroes #144

Every medical professional today is a hero. Doctors, nurses, technicians and anyone else who dons protective equipment to help others in the face of this pandemic is owed our overwhelming, everlasting thanks.

Jessica Ryan wants to single out others, for their work long before — and now during — the current crisis.

Fourteen years ago — the day after completing a triathlon — a texting teenager hit her motorcycle. She had always been healthy, and had no primary care physician.

She lost her left foot, suffered a compound hip fracture and, in the years since, has had 9 bone infections. The last one was caught by blood work from Dr. David Baum. All the metal was removed, and she’s never felt better.

She met Dr. Baum shortly after her accident. “He hasn’t missed a thing,” Jessica says. “His instinct to check the most normal thing has been life-saving for me.”

Dr. David Baum

Dr. Baum was part of Internal Medical Associates. Dr. Robert Altbaum led the group with great wisdom and insight.

Three years ago he stayed on the 3rd floor at 333 Post Road West. His colleagues moved to the ground floor, where they established Concierge Physicians of Westport.

“These doctors make sure that one small thing doesn’t turn into, or is part of, something more serious,” Jessica says.

“The commitment of everyone in the office is amazing. They send out short, informative emails. Their tele-health system is incredible. Their recommendations for specialists are flawless. They stand next to you not just physically, but emotionally. I’ve never had better care in my life.”

She adds, “Dr. Baum or a nurse calls back within minutes. He has never rushed me off the phone. He never makes me feel like a hunch should be ignored.”

Jessica hails both Dr. Altbaum and the Concierge physicians: Dr. Baum, Dr. Jill Denowitz, Dr. Nina Karol and Dr. Robert Teltser.

At a time when Westporters take their health seriously, she wants everyone to know how well taken care of she feels. Done!

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