Category Archives: Unsung Heroes

Unsung Hero #195

A grateful group of Saugatuck Elementary School parents writes:

We are incredibly lucky to have the best teachers here in Westport. Our schools are filled with smart, creative educators who not only teach, but inspire our kids every day.

It would be hard to stand out in a crowd of teachers that already lives so far above the standard. Yet when Peter von Euler announced his retirement this spring, it became clear that he has done just that. Reactions were universal: dismay from parents who still have kids at Saugatuck El, and gratitude from the students (and their parents) who were already taught by him.

Peter von Euler

Mr. von Euler has taught in Westport for 36 years. He began with 4th grade at Long Lots and Kings Highway Elementary Schools, before settling into his 5th grade classroom at Saugatuck  in 2002.

He has remained in that classroom, aptly nicknamed the FIvE HIvE (creative punctuation of his initials intended), ever since.

When he announced his retirement, SES parents and teachers sent out a call to former students and colleagues of Mr. von Euler’s, asking them to submit notes to be compiled as a retirement gift.

The letters came pouring in — over 100 pages’ worth. Current students, former students now in middle and high school, and grown adults all responded to the call. The themes were universal: Peter von Euler was creative, funny and obviously, memorable. He pushed kids to be their best, yet had a way of making every student feel seen and understood.

One student from his 5th grade class of 2017 said:

You understand that every student learns differently but deserves a full chance just the same. You nurtured everyone’s special abilities and gave us the appropriate pushes to get out of our comfort zones. Years after I left your class I wondered if you had had super powers.

Many of his former students recalled his “read alouds,” the homemade Valentine’s mailboxes his students make every year, and the custom awards his students create for one another at the end of year — a project that encourages his students to see the best in each other.

A happy class, with Mr. von Euler (rear) on Field Day.

When the pandemic struck, like all teachers, Mr. von Euler was forced to pivot. But he did so with calm and creativity. On the first day of remote learning last spring, he sent his students an email that included great advice.

“First, take care of yourself. Do all of the things that keep you healthy and happy. Second, take care of your mind. Read…A LOT. Think about what you’re reading and write it down somewhere. Send me a letter. I promise I’ll write back. Third, look for ways to be constructive and positive. Start a project that you’ve wanted to start. Build something. Draw something.

Fourth, try really hard to avoid doing things that just kill time. I think there are ways to make this time have some value. Let’s see if the FIvE HIvE can still do great things, even when we’re away from the hive. -Mr. vE

One of his “Pandemic Class” parents submitted this to the memory book:

We had both the privilege and fear of being vulnerable with you about our struggles in returning to “normal,” just as you were vulnerable with us on Day One of a year where we knew we were going to need each other in new and unusual ways. You set the tone for a year of doing our best as humans, not just students, parents and teachers.

Learning remotely, with Mr. von Euler.

Perhaps one of the most “fun facts” about Peter von Euler’s classroom years is that despite it being an elementary school classroom, it served as the birthplace for a marriage! Vibeke Borgia wrote:

It’s hard to believe it’s been 35 years since I was in your 4th grade class. What might be even harder to believe is that 2 little 10-year-olds in your class fell in love, got married, moved 6 times, endured several career changes, traveled the world, had four amazing children, and will celebrate their 20th wedding anniversary this September. I’m not sure if the sparks flew in 4th grade, but I sure am glad you were our teacher.

Peter von Euler’s retirement is a true loss for Westport schools and future students. But it’s a gain to his family — wife Nancy, daughter Sarah and dog Farley — with whom he now intends to spend more time.

In 1993, Mr. von Euler was interviewed for a New York Times “Back to School” article. The columnist wrote, “Mr. von Euler said he wanted to be a good teacher, like those special few he had as a young person or those he sees around him each day.”

Mission accomplished.

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

 

 

 

 

Unsung Hero #194

Last weekend’s LGBT Pride celebration on Jesup Green was a fantastic community event.

Singers sang upbeat, positive songs. Staples students held signs, held hands, and spoke with strength and clarity about how it feels to be openly gay. Young kids had their faces and nails painted. Same-sex couples embraced. A gay father held his 2-year-old son, as First Selectman Jim Marpe read a ringing proclamation.

Meanwhile – for the first time ever – a rainbow flag flew over Westport’s old, venerable and very beautiful Jesup Green.

None of it would have been possible without Brian McGunagle.

Brian McGunagle and his son Henry, with First Selectman Jim Marpe at last Saturday’s LGBTQ Pride celebration at Jesup Green. The town’s leader read a proclamation — and wore a rainbow tie. (Photo/Kerry Long)

From a germ of an idea last fall — what would it mean to have an LGBTQ organization in Westport? — he created, in less time than it takes to birth a baby, a townwide celebration of pride and joy.

But that’s not all.

Brian’s vision, leadership and boots-on-the-ground work were the impetus for the lighting of the Ruth Steinkraus Cohen Bridge this entire month. Lawn signs that are sprouting everywhere. The summer-long  “Merchants of Pride” promotions.

And much more.

Brian did not do it all alone, of course. Dozens of folks helped: his friends, oldtime Westporters and newcomers, straight and gay parents, and an astonishingly creative, active, visionary and fun crew of Staples High School students (inspired by biology teacher and Gender Sexuality Alliance advisor Kayla Iannetta).

But Brian was the driving force. He brought everyone together, oversaw countless Zoom meetings, did the grunt work, and moved mountains to make it happen.

He did it all too while holding down a fulltime job. And studying for the Episcopal priesthood.

John F. Kennedy said that victory has a thousand fathers (and defeat is an orphan). Brian McGunagle — proud gay father of 2-year-old Henry — is this week’s Unsung Hero.

And — hey, why not, since this is June — let’s call him Father of the Year too!

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

Unsung Heroes #193

When COVID struck in March 2020, the Westport Weston Family YMCA shut down.

It reopened — very tentatively — 3 months later. Every area and program — fitness center, yoga, gymnastics, childcare — had rules. The staff followed them diligently.

The strictest regulations were in the pool. Swimmers had to sign up online 3 days ahead of time. Slots were limited to 45 minutes or an hour; there were restrictions too on the number of swimmers per lane.

In between each 45- or 60-minute session, surfaces — benches, hooks for towels, even handrails — had to be wiped down.

I’m a swimmer. For the past year, those daily workouts have been my physical — and mental — salvation.

I’ve watched the Y lifeguard in action, every day. They’ve been outstanding.

They’re diligent with their cleaning. They’re warm and welcoming to every swimmer. They’ve been patient, kind and helpful.

They helped create a nice community at the pool, at a time we desperately needed one.

A small part of the big Westport Y pool. The lifeguards have it all covered.

Yesterday, the swimming restrictions were lifted. The pool is (almost) back to normal.

Today, I give a shoutout to the Westport Y lifeguards. To Brian and his crew: Thank you. You’re “06880”‘s Heroes of the Week.

And you earned it without having to save anyone.

SPECIAL CITATION: Here’s a shout-out to the Y’s member services team too. Whether greeting guests at the front desk, working behind the scenes to solve a problem (the reservations system was sometimes glitchy), or helping someone make sense of the constantly changing regulations, they’ve been outstanding too.

And they never stopped smiling.

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

Unsung Heroes #192

Heroes come in many forms. Some of them are larger than life. Some do dramatic things. Others do their thing behind the scenes, invisible to most. They may not change lives. But to the people they impact, their work is huge.

Today, Pat Blaufuss singles out some of her heroes:

The members of the Westport Country Playhouse box office staff have been real troupers. In the past year they have handled nearly 3,000 season ticket holders through postponements and revisions, ticket exchanges, credits and refunds, on-demand access orientation and more. They are the front lines of what we do.

In March 2020, the start of the season was postponed from April until July, with fewer productions. All season ticket holders had to be contacted, and their season packages adjusted accordingly.

In April, Playhouse management realized that postponing until July 2020 was unrealistic. The pandemic made a season impossible. It was postponed until 2021.

Box office staff again contacted all patrons. Some donated their 2020 season tickets. For other patrons, the box office processed credits for 2021 or refunds.

The box office staff were furloughed for the second half of 2020. Some returned late in the year; others in early 2021.

From left: Jake Krasniewicz, Josh Sinclair, Selena Dillon. (Photo/Beth Huisking) 

With the pandemic continuing into 2021, and following guidelines from theater artists’ unions, the state and the science, the 2021 season plan was revised as an online experience. The box office staff again reached out to all patrons, converting their tickets into on-demand virtual access or credits for the 2022 season.

Since transitioning to a virtual season, the box office staff has worked with patrons to make sure they are able to access the 2021 season digital content.

No one outside the Playhouse office sees what they do. To Pat Blaufuss, they are heroes.

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

Unsung Heroes #191

Pippa Bell Ader is a longtime advocate for sustainability. She writes:

Gilberto Reis, who manages Westport’s transfer station recycling station, has been invaluable to the Food Scrap Recycling Program.

He exchanges full toters for empty ones. He’s also the one who gently reminds recyclers that plastic bags can’t go in the recycling containers, or directs a newbie to the various recycling stations.

Gilberto Reis, at his post. (Photo/Dawn Sullivan)

Very occasionally he has to remove non-organic material that ends up in the bright green food scrap recycling toter, using his long handled reacher. He is always pleasant and — judging by the crinkle in his eyes and tone of his voice, despite his mask — probably smiling.

That is no small feat, after a long day of politely reminding people how to recycle correctly.

One day someone gave Gilberto a sign that said “You’re Amazing.”  The Zero Food Waste Challenge team could not have said it better!!

Gilberto and his sign: This week’s “06880” Unsung Hero.

PS: The Zero Food Waste Challenge team also like to thank Bob. Whenever he sees a Zero Food Waste Challenge volunteer coming to do a shift at the transfer station, he goes into the scale house,  gets out the sample food scrap recycling starter kit and flyers for us, and says hello. It’s nice to be welcomed!

Unsung Hero #190

The other day, Katherine Calise posted a question on social media. She needed someone to clean her grill.

Steve Carpentieri responded: A. Morales & Son. In addition to grills, they clean dryer, heater and air conditioning vents and ducts.

Miguel Morales came right over. He checked out the grill — and said it did not need cleaning.

Miguel Morales

“It’s so unusual these days to come across such a wonderful, honest person,” Kathleen says.

She’s not the only one who thinks that. When she posted about her experience on the same Facebook page, many others chimed in with praise. He’s well known — and well-liked — for good reason.

Last year, Chris and Eva Trefz wrote on the Morales website:

Mr. Morales came today to clean our outdoor grill that hasn’t been thoroughly cleaned in 15 years. To our astonishment it looks brand new! What a gifted man Mr. Morales is. We will have him on our list of handyman and service people for sure. We recommend him wholeheartedly to anyone looking for help. Thank you Mr. Morales. Great job!

Miguel could easily have pocketed a check for doing unneeded work. But that’s not the way he rolls. And that’s why Miguel Morales is our Unsung Hero of the Week.

But if you think you need your grill cleaned — or any other dryer, heating or AC work — email amoralesandson@yahoo.com, or call 203-583-2465.

Unsung Hero #189

Once again, the Westport Farmers’ Market has transitioned from its winter indoor season to the 6-month outdoor one. Executive director Lori Cochran-Dougall celebrates by nominating a stalwart support as “06880”’s Unsung Hero of the Week. She writes:

Becoming a legend takes devotion.

When I embarked on my early days at the Farmers’ Market, I kept hearing about a legendary farmer. I heard about Sal Gilbertie’s books, his knowledge of organics, his family business in Westport, his devotion to his church, and his community involvement in Easton and Westport with agriculture.

Each time his name was mentioned, it came with a compliment and admiration.

Sal Gilbertie, in the field.

When I met Sal, we formed a friendship that has lasted over a decade. He always has a quick, warm smile and a hug for people dear to him.

Though I want to say ours is a special friendship, the reality is that Sal makes everyone feel as if they are special to him.

For me, he has supported my desire to help local farmers and small mom-and-pop businesses. When I was new and didn’t know anyone — and I wasn’t a farmer myself — he took time to introduce me to other farmers. He put his seal of approval on my efforts.

After my successful first summer at the Westport Farmers’ Market, I had an idea. One weekend that fall, Sal and I went to an agricultural event. I saw his beautiful old truck with the Gilbertie’s Herb Garden logo.

I asked, “What would you think about the Farmers’ Market renting a greenhouse at Gilbertie’s and opening a winter market?” Without hesitation he said, “Sure!”

One thing I love about farmers in general: Their word is their bond. Sal is a great example of this type of honor. His willingness to help people, to believe in them, and his desire to support his community gave us a home for the past 10 years. It is a winter event haven for many Westporters.

Speaking of Gilbertie’s Herbs & Garden Center on Sylvan Lane: It turns 100 years old in 2022!

Year after year, this family-owned business continues to grow. They’ve watched farmland turn to houses and businesses come and go, yet they have survived (and thrived) in the same location.

Sal Gilbertie

With Sal at the helm, they reinvented their business as demands have changed. It is exciting to think about celebrating this family, this man and this business as a community.

Sal now spends most of his time in Easton. He continues to farm organically, and recently embarked on a micro-greens business at the state-of-the-art facility he created there.

I am jealous of his energy, which comes from love. He loves what he does. He loves the land. He loves his family and the business they created. With that kind of love, energy is boundless.

Sal is devoted to his faith. If you attend his church on Easter or most holidays, you’ll find the altar covered in flowers. Sal is the reason it brims with greenery. He carries truckloads of plants inside, and places each one himself.

Each morning as I head to work or get the kids to school, I see Sal’s car in the parking lot for morning Mass.

There are many more stories I could share about this man who has been such a great friend to me and the Westport Farmers’ Market. With the type of devotion Sal has, he is truly a legend – and in this case, an Unsung Hero.

One more shot of our Unsung Hero.

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

Unsung Heroes #188

The other day, David and Arlene Squires brought their 3 1/2-year-old grandson Grayson to the Greens Farms fire station.

Like many youngsters, he loves firefighters and trucks. His grandparents live right across Muddy Brook from the station, so when he is in Westport Grayson hears the sirens and sees the flashing lights.

Though the visit was unannounced, the crew went all out for their guests. They were thrilled to see Grayson dressed in uniform.

Grayson with his dad, grandmother and firefighter Tim Izzo. (Photo/David Squires)

David reports that the trucks are shiny, the helmets are heavy — and there were no Dalmatians.

Grayson was shy when he met his heroes. And that’s what they are — whether in action, or making a young boy’s day in between calls.

Unsung Heroes #187

Uh oh. “06880” missed National Public Safety Telecommunications Week.

The town of Westport did not, though. As posted on their Instagram, 1st Selectman Jim Marpe and 2nd Selectwoman Jennifer Tooker visited the police and fire departments last week — and brought gifts.

(Photo courtesy of Town of Westport)

As the town noted: “Dispatchers are the first line of the Police, EMS and Fire departments. They are voices behind every call for help that we never see but only hear. They work tirelessly to protect department members and residents of Westport. This week we celebrate our heroes with the headsets!”

“06880” adds our thanks to these men and women who work 24/7/365. It’s a stressful job, which they do with incredible poise, professionalism and compassion.

So to last week’s pizzas, we add this week’s Unsung Heroes honors. Thank you all!

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)