Category Archives: Unsung Heroes

Unsung Heroes #131

The other day, Saugatuck Rowing Club marketing director Diana Kuen noticed there are a lot of kids in the youth program — but very few teachers.

She figured one reason might be cost.

That’s an easy solve. So now the Riverside Avenue facility — which includes a state-of-the-art fitness center — offers half-price off memberships.

But Kuen did not stop there. She realized there are other town employees to honor too. So the Saugatuck Rowing Club offer is extended to Westport police officers, firefighters, EMTs and other first responders.

Best of all: This is not a one-shot, take-advantage-of-the-January-slump kind of deal. It’s good all the time, all year long.

The Saugatuck Rowing Club wins plenty of trophies on the water. Now they’re winners on land too.

Saugatuck Rowing Club (Drone photo/Ward French)

Unsung Hero #130

Joseph Pontoriero is a Staples High School freshman. Nearly every day, he passes VFW Joseph J. Clinton Post 399 on Riverside Avenue. His grandfather is a Vietnam War veteran who meets friends every Thursday for lunch and camaraderie.

For Veterans Day, Joseph wanted to see the events VFW had scheduled. He was amazed to find the organization had no website.

Many youngsters would say, “too bad.” Joseph said, “I’ll create one!”

Joseph Pontoriero

VFW officials were happy to have him — and his many years of programming experience. Joseph spent hours designing a custom site. Now he spends hours more maintaining it.

“He exceeds our expectations every time,” says Post 399 quartermaster Phil Delgado.

“Joe is not content to use a drag-and-drop template. He’s dedicated and determined. He writes and customizes everything manually, and helps drive visitors to our website.”

The site includes photos; news about coat and blood drives, support of a medical dog project, holiday parties and more; a calendar with upcoming events; the dining room menu; sign-ups for the e-newsletter — even a biography of the post’s namesake, Pvt. Joseph J. Clinton.

Joseph makes time for the VFW alongside many other activities. He’s been a junior board member of Westport Maker Faire (now Maker Faire Connecticut) for 4 years. As a Westport Library MakerSpace volunteer, he’s helped teach people of all ages how to 3D print. In his spare time, he enjoys playing golf — and the bagpipes.

Veterans of many conflicts are grateful for Joseph’s service to VFW Post 399. Now the rest of Westport can honor this Unsung Hero too. Just click here — vfw399ct.org — and enjoy!

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

VFW Joseph J. Clinton Post 399, on Riverside Avenue.

Unsung Heroes #129

At 5:45 p.m. a few days before Christmas — with everyone rushing home or finishing errands — a Westport woman’s Volvo SUV broke down in the middle of Canal Street. It blocked traffic. She could not even put it in neutral.

But instead of getting mad, many Westporters helped.

One was a mechanic. Another was a woman, who parked on the side and showed “incredible kindness.”

The Westport Police were “amazing — as always.” she says. One officer even drove her home.

These seem like such little gestures. To her — stressed out and worried — they were huge.

“Thank you to all the kind-hearted people who stopped,” she says.

“Your smiles, kind words and willingness to help a stranger brightened a very cold night.”

Unsung Heroes #129

To all “06880” readers who celebrate today: Merry Christmas!

By now the gifts have been opened. Friends may be stopping by. Soon it’s time for a holiday lunch or dinner. It’s the most wonderful time of the year!

Even if you don’t celebrate, today is relaxing. Our entire country hits the pause button. There’s little to do beyond chill. Maybe head to a movie, and Chinese food …

Aha! 

Some folks are indeed working.

The greeters, servers, bussers, dishwashers and cooks at that restaurant — Chinese or otherwise — where you eat today. The ticket and concession people at the movie theater.

“Merry Christmas! What would you like?”

The clerks and cashiers at CVS and Walgreens, where you head frantically for batteries. Your Uber, Lyft or taxi driver, if you need them to get there.

Employees at McDonald’s, Dunkin’ Donuts and Starbucks, because, well, America.

And of course our police, firefighters, EMTs, and hospital staff, because while you and I enjoy ourselves, emergencies don’t take holidays.

Some people are working because they’ve been told to. Some are working because they have to make a few more bucks. Some are working because they’re taking a co-worker’s shift. Some are working because they’re lonely, or have nothing else to do.

But why they’re working doesn’t really matter.

They’re on the job, and you’re not.

So anyone who works today — anywhere, for any reason — is our Unsung Hero.

Thank you. And Merry Christmas!

 

Unsung Heroes #128

This week’s Unsung Heroes choice is a no-brainer.

I was thinking of it. But alert “06880” reader Adam Stolpen put it best in these words:

I ran into a UPS delivery driver yesterday afternoon. He was making a local delivery.

He’d started his route in the morning. It was 3 p.m. — and he still had 90 more stops to go.

He said during the holidays he generally makes more than 300 stops a day. That’s about twice what he does  the rest of the year.

And we thought everything was all done once we clicked on Amazon Prime…

Of course, it’s not just UPS. This week’s Unsung Heroes also work for FedEx, the post office, and any other business in the business of shipping.

So the next time you’re tempted to toot at the UPS guy for double parking, or the FedEx driver for blocking the sidewalk, remember: That could be your gift in the back of the truck.

PS: Big props to to all those folks at the UPS store who box your packages; the people at local shops who mail your presents for you, and anyone else who does all that delivery work you never seen. 

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

Unsung Heroes #127

I’ve had great service at Fetzer Tire — the shop just over the Westport line, in Southport. They’ve gone above and beyond — quickly, efficiently and professionally.

I’m not the only one.

Jessica Bleiman Hill writes:

Just wanted to give a shout-out to Fetzer Tire. They are so honest and lovely. This is the 2nd time I’ve gone to corroborate the “safety issue” our dealership tried to sell me on.

Instead of paying over $1,000, I took my car to Fetzer. They charged me nothing, and told me I have at least 10,000 miles before I need any brake work.

If you are looking for a place for service, definitely check them out.

It shouldn’t be news when a business says “we don’t want your business.”

But of course, it’s the right thing to do.

And it ensures that when we do need someone’s business, they’ll get it.

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

Unsung Heroes #126

The other day, the Women’s Business Development Council honored 11 Connecticut business people with “Women Rising” awards.

Two are from Westport.

Suzanne Vita Palazzo

Suzanne Vita Palazzo — founder and owner of Upper Deck Fitness, in National Hall — has been here for a couple of years. This is her 2nd location (the first is in Stamford).

But she’s quickly become part of the community. Upper Deck has opened its doors for a variety of Post Road West community events, including a Women’s Wellness Day for cancer survivors.

Aarti Khosla has been serving Westport in many ways too, since 2012.

With a background in economics and international marketing, she worked for international corporations. Aarti opened her first company in her native India in 1991, then started a second business after coming to the US 3 years later.

Born with “foodie genes” and blessed with a mom who was an amazing cook, Aarti followed her passion to become an artisan chocolatier. Her initial inspiration came from a desire to use chocolate to showcase the rich diversity of Indian desserts, and “capture flavors from around the world, in the divine language of chocolate.”

She launched her business in 2012, selling through farmer’s markets, shows and holiday boutiques. In 2014 she opened Le Rouge Chocolates by Aarti at 190 Main Street.

Each piece of chocolate is made with fresh, top quality ingredients, and meticulously hand painted.

Aarti Khosla, in her red-and-black-themed chocolate shop.

She fills a great niche. She has been voted Best Chocolate Shop of Westport each year since, and Best of Gold Coast twice. She ships her creations all over the world.

But it’s in Westport that Aarti has really made her mark. She runs frequent promotions, earmarking a portion of sales to local and international causes — humanitarian, social justice and women’s issues, among them.

Westport is blessed with many female business owners. Today, “06880” follows the Women’s Business Development Council in hailing 2 special ones.

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

Unsung Heroes #125

Last weekend, the Westport Library held its annual holiday book and gift sale. As always, it was a smash.

The success of these sales — winter and summer — depends on generous donations of materials from the community.

Yet nothing would happen without volunteers. For the most recent event, 108 volunteers donated their time and energy. All worked hard.

But late Sunday afternoon, near closing time, the teen volunteers went above and beyond.

Henry Potter

The story starts with Henry Potter. He’s a project manager for Builders Beyond Borders, and for several years has overseen B3 teen volunteers at the book sales.

Through his own very high standard of working hard, Henry sets an excellent example for the group. He always does it with a smile.

During the recent Transformation Project, book donations were accepted in a temporary construction trailer on Jesup Green. The “drive up, drop off” experience was so positive for patrons, staff and volunteers that the library built a permanent annex in the Levitt parking lot, to accept and process donations.

For the past 2 months of construction, however, the library had to stop accepting contributions. Thanks to Henry and the teen volunteers though, the  new book donation annex will be open starting next Wednesday (December 4).

Mimi Greenlee, co-chair of the book sale, says, “We knew this was going to require a great deal of manpower, not only to move the items, but also to shelve the books in the correct categories. Henry happily agreed to set his team on this project.

“In 2 hours they accomplished what would have take us days. And they did it with smiling faces and great attitudes.”

Builders Beyond Borders volunteers get the donation annex ready.

B3 has done plenty of good work overseas. Last weekend, they helped out right in their own back yard.

(To nominate an Unsung Hero, email dwoog@optonline.net. Hat tip: Rachel Reese Pegnataro.)

Unsung Heroes #124

On Sunday, I left at 6:30 a.m. for a statewide soccer coaches’ meeting in Wethersfield.

First I snagged a coffee at Dunkin’ Donuts. Then I hit CVS, for the New York Times. (I read it online 6 days a week. For some reason, I still buy the dead-trees Sunday edition.)

It was early, so the woman behind the Dunkin’ register and the guy at CVS barely registered with me.

But as I drove north, I realized: They must have gotten up very early. They traveled here from wherever they lived (probably not Westport). They did all kinds of prep work. They served me efficiently and a smile, even though I scarcely made eye contact.

And they do that every single day.

Coffee with a smile!

I don’t know the name of the Dunkin’ woman, or the man at CVS. But I do know that they — and many others like them, at Starbuckses, gas stations, and plenty of other places around town — make our mornings much more tolerable.

So the next time you buy a coffee, bagel, newspaper, or anything else — especially if the sun is not yet up — thank the man or woman who hands it to you.

I know I will.

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

Unsung Hero #123

Oops!

This one almost slipped by us.

Earlier this month, Nell Newman was inducted into the Connecticut Women’s Hall of Fame.

The ecologist, conservationist, biologist, organic farmer — and founder of Newman’s Own Organics, and the Nell Newman Foundation — joins a long list of amazing Nutmeg State women, including Helen Keller, Marian Anderson, Clair Boothe Luce, Ella Grasso and Katherine Hepburn.

Nell Newman

Her work in organic food was inspired by her youth in Westport. When she learned that her favorite bird — the peregrine falcon — was headed toward extinction because of the pesticide DDT, she began studying ecology.

In 2014 Nell received the prestigious Rachel Carson Award from The National Audubon Society, for her environmental leadership.

Westport is justly proud of Nell’s parents, Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward. Both were active in a number of important causes, far beyond stage and screen.

We are proud now too that this Westport native is paying it forward. Congratulations, Nell, on your Hall of Fame honor!

(Hat tip: Kathie Motes Bennewitz)