Category Archives: Unsung Heroes

Unsung Heroes #134

Alert — and grateful — “06880” reader Susan Ross writes:

My unsung heros are the guys at J & J Auto. They are simply the nicest people in Westport.

They have given us years of honest kindness and helpful assistance.

They say with a smile, “don’t worry about coming in all the time so we can add air to your tires. Lots of people do!“

Once I phoned them from a college tour road trip. Our car was making noise. The local garage insisted we needed a new transmission pronto before getting on the road, or our family wouldn’t be safe.

J & J told us it sounded okay to drive home. When we got back they checked it out. Only a minor tweak was needed.

J & J Car Care on Post Road East. It’s between ASF and Pane e Bene.

Another time my son slammed the garage door, crushing my license plate. They hammered it out, reattached it in the pouring rain. They charged nothing, because “things happen.”

Now they are keeping bees behind the garage, and jars of delicious warm honey under the desk. That’s a story in itself.

(J & J Car Care Center is at 1590 Post Road East, across from the Westport Inn. To nominate an Unsung Hero, email dwoog@optonline.net)

Unsung Heroes #133

Alert “06880” reader Bob Weingarten writes:

Each morning while on a coffee run I drive by Greens Farms Elementary School. I see the same person holding a stop sign to control traffic, and ensure the safety of children crossing the street.

This has been going on for years. It is a tribute to our school system, and the Westport Police Department that controls the program.

The other day I stopped and talk to the crossing guard. Jerry Meehan told me he had been doing this for nearly 8 years.

Jerry Meehan at work …

He had just helped Case and Jasper get to school. Jerry normally chats with moms and dads after assisting children. Today he also gave a dog a little treat.

The old adage for mail carriers applies to them, though modified slightly: “Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers (school guards) from the swift completion of their appointed rounds (tasks).”

Every day the guards protect our children for 2 hours before the opening of school, and 2 hours after it ends. Jerry works from 7:05 to 9 a.m., and 2 to 4 p.m.

The program is run by Lieutenant Jill Cabana of the Westport Police. There are 6 crossing guards, and 1 alternate. All have been working for at least 3 years, except Brienna Meier who started this fall.

… which also includes chatting with parents, and giving a dog a treat. (Photo/Bob Weingarten)

“They all do wonderful jobs,” Cabana says. “They are at school crossings on sunny days and inclement weather. The guards are another set of eyes and ears for us, making sure that everyone get to their destination in one piece.

“They are polite. They chitchat with moms, dads and kids, and are really unsung heroes.  They deserve recognition.”

Let’s recognize them by name:

  • Jerry Meehan (Greens Farms Elementary School, at Morningside Drive South)
  • Richard Space (Kings Highway Elementary School at Post Road West and Burr Road)
  • William Wanat (Long Lots Elementary School at Maple Avenue North and Hyde Lane)
  • Joan Lasprogato (Long Lots Elementary School at Hyde Lane and Long Lots Road)
  • Mary DelFlorio (Coleytown Elementary School at North Avenue and Easton Road)
  • Brienna Meier (Kings Highway Elementary School at Post Road West and Lincoln Street)
  • Kathryn O’Reardon (alternate).

Westport’s children, parents, teachers — and drivers: Thank you all!

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

Unsung Hero #132

It might sound strange to call Bill Mitchell an Unsung Hero.

The public face of Mitchells of Westport — son of founders Ed and Norma, brother of Jack, father and uncle of the 3rd generation to lead 8 upscale men’s and women’s stores, on the East and West Coasts — his generosity is boundless.

He and the entire Mitchell family open their stores, their checkbooks and their hearts to a breathtaking variety of organizations and causes. Very quietly too, they help countless individuals, in any kind of need.

They’ve been honored often (though not enough) for all they do. But this Saturday (January 25, 6:30 p.m.), a special event will be particularly meaningful.

The Conservative Synagogue of Westport holds a “funraiser” — and Bill Mitchell is the guest of honor.

Bill Mitchell

The reason dates back 25 years. Founders were trying to get permission to build a synagogue on Hillspoint Road. Though near the Post Road, the zoning was residential. Some neighbors opposed the plan.

Unsolicited, Bill stood up at several meetings. He’s not Jewish — his family has long been associated with the Saugatuck Congregational Church, and he’s a longtime supporter of various Catholic charities — but he talked about the importance of the synagogue.

After he spoke, the Planning & Zoning Commission passed the proposal. Unanimously.

Bill’s support of The Conservative Synagogue did not stop there. On the High Holidays, he opens Mitchells’ parking lot to congregants.

He and Rabbi Jeremy Wiederhorn have become great friends. It’s a good bet that when the rabbi offers “mazel tov” on Saturday, Bill will not be at a loss for words.

In Hebrew.

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)