Category Archives: Unsung Heroes

Unsung Hero #26

Since 1948, Aitoro has been the place to go for refrigerators, washer-driers, TVs and other big-ticket home items. Just across the line in Norwalk, they’ve developed a passionate following in Westport (and the rest of Fairfield County).

Tony Aitoro — one of the current owners — loves selling appliances.

But just as much, he loves offering his store for good causes.

Since opening a big showroom in 2004, Tony has made that his mission. Nearly every Thursday night — as soon as customers leave — he hosts an event for a worthy cause.

Tony Aitoro

Clothes to Kids, STAR, Habitat for Humanity, the American Cancer Society, Cooking for Charity — nearly any non-profit that asks can use Aitoro’s great space for a fundraiser. If there’s food involved, caterers — or specialty chefs — take over the kitchen.

The cost of renting a hall can be huge. Thanks to Tony, that money is never spent.

Tony’s generosity extends beyond Thursday nights, of course. When Wakeman Town Farm was putting in a new kitchen this year, he gave them a great price.

“He loves this area. He loves the water, his family, his business, and helping charities,” says Eric Aitoro, Tony’s nephew.

And “06880” loves Tony Aitoro right back.

(Want to nominate an Unsung Hero? Email dwoog@optonline.net. Hat tip: Livia Feig)

 

Sam Singh’s 20 Years Of Service

Sure, our “Unsung Hero” feature runs on Wednesdays.

But Sam Singh’s last day of work was Friday. Tomorrow, he heads back to India.

After 19 years working at the Riverside Avenue Mobil — 12 hours a day, 6 days a week, holidays included — Sam deserves this shout-out while he’s still here.

Everyone — customers, cops on the corners, strangers who wander in off I-95 — loves Sam. “He’s extremely friendly and warm, with a great personality,” says owner Kevin Ancker.

And boy, does he work hard.

Sam Singh at the Riverside Avenue Mobil.

Sam just turned 40. He’s spent almost as much time in the US as he did in his native country.

Now he’s going home. He’s getting married there. And he’ll help his parents, who are getting older.

“They helped him out. Now it’s his turn to give back to them,” says Jim Donaher. The Gault executive is one of Sam’s biggest fans.

He also was part of a group that took Sam out to thank him — and celebrate — Thursday night. They hit the Duck, Viva’s and VFW.

Of course, Sam made it in to work at 6 the next morning.

And — working, chatting, and smiling — he stayed right to the end.

Thanks, Sam, for all you’ve done for Mobil, Saugatuck and Westport. Safe travels — come back soon!

Sam Singh (center) being toasted by grateful customers/friends, Thursday night at the Duck.

Unsung Heroes #25

Little things mean a lot.

Briana Walegir has lived in Westport for over 15 years. She owns a holistic heatlh coaching and personal training business.

The other day morning she was near home, stretching in the Rizzuto’s parking lot prior to her usual 6-mile run.

She saw an 18-wheel tractor-trailer — obviously from I-95 — that had turned right from Riverside. The driver was about to go over the William Cribari (aka Bridge Street) Bridge.

Uh-oh!

A man in the Bridge Square parking lot walked over to the rig. Briana decided to help too.

For 15 minutes, she stopped all the cars at the intersection. She cleared the remaining vehicles, allowing the driver to back — v-e-r-y slowly — into the Rizzuto lot, and be on his way.

Briana Walegir, on a beach run.

Crisis averted, Briana started her run. She thought to herself how lucky she was to have been there at that moment, and how nice it was that others jumped in too.

As she ran along Greens Farms Road, a woman pulled over. She thanked Briana, told her she’d done her good deed for the day, and asked her name so she could be nominated as an “06880” Unsung Hero.

“That made me feel so good,” Briana says. “But I try to help save people’s lives every day, through diet and exercise. That day was no different. It takes an army of wonderful people to make a beautiful community that we live in.”

(Click here for Briana’s website. To nominate an “Unsung Hero,” email dwoog@optonline.net. Hat tip: Teresa Turvey)

Unsung Heroes #24

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving.

All across Westport, families and friends will gather to enjoy this warm, nourishing and traditional American holiday.

Putting on such a celebration is a lot of work. But it’s nothing compared to what goes on at Saugatuck Congregational Church.

For 47 years, the handsome white building near the center of town has hosted a community Thanksgiving feast. (With a little help from Christ & Holy Trinity Church around the corner, after the fire a few years ago.)

It’s a free meal. All are welcome. And hundreds come.

Some are alone. Others prefer the company of a community. No one asks questions. They just gather together, and enjoy the day.

A small part of the Thanksgiving Community Feast.

The turkey-and-all-the-trimmings event goes like clockwork. After nearly half a century, the church has it down pat.

Yet it takes a village to throw a townwide feast.

Over 100 volunteers make it happen. Saugatuck Church members, congregants from every other religious institution, non-believers — all pitch in.

They donate food, decorate the hall, do kitchen prep, set up tables, check in guests, cook, carve, serve, oversee the buffet table, bus tables, wash dishes and (of course) clean up. Three of them play keyboard, drums and sax, just for kicks.

They provide rides to the church for those who can’t drive, and deliver meals to those who are homebound.

They work magic.

A few of the volunteers at a Saugatuck Church Community Thanksgiving Feast.

The name of the holiday is Thanksgiving. Many of the helpers at tomorrow’s feast work behind the scenes. They never hear thanks.

That’s not why they do it, of course. Still, it’s nice to know you’re appreciated.

Which is why all the hundreds of Community Thanksgiving Feast volunteers — past, present and future — are this week’s Unsung Heroes.

Thank you!

Unsung Hero #23

We don’t often think of Westport as a vocal, support-our-troops town.

Westporters are as patriotic as any Americans. We’ve got our share of veterans. But very few served after 9/11. The difficult, ongoing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are far from most of our minds.

Yet with tremendous energy, incredible organizing skills, plenty of passion — and the leadership qualities of the best generals in history — Adam Vengrow has put Westport on the military map.

He’s the driving force behind our great relationship with Catch a Lift. The national organization provides gym memberships and home equipment, fitness programs and motivational peer support to post-9/11 combat-wounded military personnel, aiding in their physical and mental recovery.

It’s an amazing group, accomplishing tremendous things. But Westport holds a special place in Catch a Lift’s heart.

Once a year, veterans come to town for a “fitness and knowledge boot camp”: strength and conditioning, yoga, spinning and more. Businesses like JoyrideCrossfit and Achieve that usually compete for customers join hands to help.

Also once a year — on Veterans Day — Adam organizes a fundraiser for Catch a Lift.

Last Saturday’s event was phenomenal. Birchwood Country Club was packed. A great cross-section of Westporters — veterans and those who never served; old and young; Republicans, Democrats and everyone else — joined together to help Catch a Lift.

Adam Vengrow (right) and Jeremiah Montell — a Marine and Navy veteran of Iran and Afghanistan — at Saturday’s Catch a Lift fundraiser.

The food and conversation were great. The silent auction was high-end. The video brought tears to all.

But the highlight of the evening was the veterans themselves. These young men and women talked about losing limbs, coming home to homelessness, battling obstacles from PTSD to losing custody of their child.

Yet they spoke too of triumphs: losing 100 pounds; entering and graduating from college; healing themselves, helping others — and regaining custody of that child.

Marine veteran Sarah Rudder lost her foot in an accident. Her story of fortitude inspired the packed crowd at Birchwood Country Club.

The fundraiser is just a part of their weekend in Westport. Earlier in the day, the Police Department hosted them for an intense workout. The day before, they’d talked to Staples athletes.

When they spoke so eloquently and passionately at Birchwood, the veterans made clear how much Westport meant to them. It was equally clear how much they meant to those of us in the audience.

Adam does not do this alone. He’s got a high-powered day job, and gets plenty of help from Andy Berman and batallions of other volunteers. (One woman called herself “part of Adam’s Army.”) He thanked them all on Saturday.

But the Westport/Catch a Lift connection would not be possible without Adam Vengrow. He shares something special with the brave men and women he brought to Birchwood on Saturday: He too is an Unsung Hero.

(If you know an Unsung Hero who should be recognized, email dwoog@optonline.net)

Unsung Hero #22

Last Friday, a man suffered cardiac arrest on the Norwalk LA Fitness basketball court.

Nancy Surace was working out nearby. When the Westport EMT heard the commotion, she swung into action.

As the man turned purple, she began CPR. Rhythmically, she pumped his chest and gave breaths.

“She was totally calm and confident,” reports Sheri Warshaw, who arrived as the event unfolded. “She was completely in control.”

Someone brought an AED. Nancy applied the pads, but no shock was needed. The man had a pulse. His color was returning.

As he regained consciousness, Nancy spoke quietly to the man.

Norwalk first responders arrived. When he was wheeled out, he smiled.

“Nancy single-handedly saved his life,” Sheri says with awe.

And then — as soon as the medics left — Nancy went right back to her workout.

There’s no doubt: Nancy Surace is our Unsung Hero of the Week.

Nancy Surace

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

Unsung Heroes #21

This week’s Unsung Heroes are obvious:

Sunday night’s storm was bad. At one point, nearly half of Westport was without electricity.

Did Eversource get your power back instantly? Were you the first house they hustled to?

Probably not. Even in Westport, not everyone can be #1.

But they had a lot to do. Most of the state was hit hard. The men and women who assessed damage, climbed buckets, even answered phones, were overwhelmed. They worked long hours, and did their best. We owe them our thanks.

Thanks too to all of Westport’s police, firefighters and other responders. Plus of course those invaluable public works crews, tree guys, and random folks who helped out, wherever and however they could.

Slowly, we’re getting back to normal.

Until the next storm hits.

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.