Category Archives: Unsung Heroes

Unsung Hero #36

On Super Bowl Sunday, alert “06880” reader Beth Saunders asked her husband to run to Whole Foods for cilantro. (You know: guacamole.)

He had just played squash. Not until he left the store did he notice his wallet had fallen out of his gym pants.

He headed back inside. Someone had already turned it in — with $500 still inside.

He told Beth the story. She peppered him with questions.

“Who do you think was so kind? An employee? A shopper? A woman? Didn’t you ask? Who was at the desk? And who carries $500 in their wallet?”

There were still no answers.

So, Beth says, “I’m just throwing out a ‘thank you’ to the universe.”

We don’t know who this week’s Unsung Hero is. But as John Wooden said, “The true test of a man’s character is what he does when no one is looking.”

Or she.

Unsung Hero #35

Happy Valentine’s Day!

There’s a lot to love in Westport. At the top of anyone’s list should be Le Rouge by Aarti.

Aarti Khosla — owner of the luscious handmade chocolate shop on Main Street — is always looking for ways to give back to the community. Last year she raised nearly $10,000 for hurricane relief, children’s cancer research and various charities.

This year, she’s reprising her “Give a Little Love” chocolate heart campaign.

The idea is simple: Buy a selected item, and 10% of the proceeds go to a different charity — every month throughout the year.

“Give a Little Love” with these chocolates.

Included are one-of-a-kind hand-painted chocolate portraits, champagne truffles (for her), bourbon and ale truffles (for him), hand-painted heart puzzles, moulded chocolate purses and cars, open truffle flowers, preserved rose truffles and ganache cake — and anything for sale in Le Rouge’s red heart box.

There’s a lot to love about Aarti.

On Valentine’s Day, and every other one.

(Le Rouge by Aarti is at 190 Main Street, beneath the former Sally’s Place.)

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

Unsung Hero #34

Audrey Sparre joined Homes with Hope — known then as the Interfaith Housing Association — in 1999. She was one of their first professionally trained case managers.

Audrey initially managed men at the Gillespie Center shelter, and the adjacent Hoskins Place women’s shelter. She grew with the agency.

As Homes With Hope built permanent supportive housing, she added responsibilities. Working first at Christ & Holy Trinity Episcopal Church, then at the permanent headquarters on Richmondville Avenue, she supervised the HwH counseling staff (currently 10 professionals).

For the last decade, Audrey has overseen all programs, and all program directors, at Homes with Hope. Her title is VP and chief operating officer.

While she appeared at nearly all their functions since 1999 — and was a regular at Castles in the Sand, Stand Up for Homes With Hope, Project Return lunches and “Summer Night” parties — Audrey kept a low profile. She preferred hands-on care of clients.

In her early years, Audrey Sparre attended an Interfaith Housing Association event with a younger Jim Marpe.

On February 16, Audrey — a longtime Westporter — retires. It’s a huge loss for Homes With Hope — and Westport.

“She represents the best of what this community is all about,” says president and CEO Jeff Wieser.

“She raised her daughter here, nurtured many people in her various roles at HwH, She’s been the glue that makes our social work function efficiently and effectively. She has kept our clients, staff and community safe and caring.”

Audrey’s retirement will be interesting. She has property in upstate New York, where she hopes to pursue her equestrian activities. (She’s a member of St. Lawrence University’s Athletic Hall of Fame!) And, Wieser adds, she’ll raise yaks.

The other day — in the midst of intense activity at the Gillespie Center — Audrey looked around and said, “I can’t believe I’m leaving all this!”

Homes with Hope can’t believe she’s going either. This week’s Unsung Hero will be sorely missed.

Unsung Heroes #33

It’s the middle of winter. The weather will get worse before it gets better. The flu season is the most deadly since the pandemic of 1918, or something like that. Everyone in town is sneezy and grumpy.

It’s time for a smile.

That’s what you — and everyone else — gets the moment we walk into Trader Joe’s.

It doesn’t matter if there’s no one in line, or the entire town has descended to buy milk, bread and eggs because an inch of snow is forecast.

It doesn’t matter if it’s 9 a.m., midday or seconds before closing.

The staff at Trader Joe’s is astonishingly — and always — upbeat, helpful, friendly, genuinely interested, and (a retail rarity for sure) efficient.

They smile when they ring you up. They smile when they tell you those berries look bad, and ring the bell so someone else can fetch better ones. They smile as you fumble through your change, then tell you to forget those pennies — no problem!

They smile when people grab the daily samples, without so much as a “thank you.” They smile as they corral shopping carts outside in the freezing cold, because too many people are too lazy to return them themselves.

They even smile when you complain about the parking lot, over which they have absolutely no control and hate as much as you do.

Everyone has his or her favorite Trader Joe’s guy or girl. But really, they’re all special.

Which is why everyone who works at the Westport Trader Joe’s is this week’s Unsung Hero.

Unsung Heroes #32

If they wave us through, we love ’em.

If they put up a gloved hand to stop us, we hate ’em. Especially if they stop us just as we get there.

Or if we’re in even more of a rush than usual.

A typical North Avenue scene.

But Westport’s traffic cops deserve our thanks. They’re this week’s Unsung Heroes.

In the words of alert — and grateful — “06880” reader Lauren Barnett, who nominated them:

“They assist with, and add calm and order to, the madness and mayhem of parents and teenage drivers outside Staples High and Bedford Middle School at dawn, and in the frigid cold, each day.”

Lauren gives a shout-out too to “those officers who stand out in the cold night by the bridge and Rizzuto’s to direct anxious commuters safely home from the evening trains in Saugatuck.

“I wish I knew their names. We all should.”

Interestingly, the William F. Cribari Bridge (noted above) is named for a much loved — and very theatrical — traffic cop. He owned that well-traveled corner for years. Each day, he brought order, grace — even humor — to it.

Bill Cribari, at work (and play). (Photo courtesy of Paul Ehrismann)

That’s the thing: We may love them, tolerate them, or curse them.

But when they’re not there, we sure miss them.

(Want to nominate an Unsung Hero? Email dwoog@optonline.net)

 

Unsung Hero #31

Mitchell Lester has worn glasses for 58 years.

For several months, he knew it was time to get his eyes re-checked. (Not being able to see anything was a clue.)

The day before New Year’s Eve, his (very old) glasses slid off his face, onto the floor.

Mitchell called Specs. Owner Chris Cannella was all set to close his Post Road East shop for the day. But he said “come on over”; he’d see what he could do.

Specs is on Post Road East, a few doors down from Patagonia.

No surprise: The frames needed soldering. They’d have to be sent out. By the time they were ready Mitchell would be away, enjoying a tropical vacation. (If he could see what he was doing.)

Oh well.

But the next morning — Sunday, December 31 — Mitchell’s phone rang. Chris called — Mitchell thinks he tracked him down through that long-ago purchase —  and said, “Come on down.”

Chris thought he had frames he could fit the still-usable lenses into. Mitchell headed over.

But the frames were too big for the lenses.

So Chris found some smaller frames. He spent an hour cutting the lenses down to size. Then he told Mitchell to keep them until he got his eyes re-checked.

Mitchell Lester’s new specs.

At that point, Chris will pick out new frames.

At Specs, of course.

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

Unsung Heroes #30

Brrrrrr!!!!!

Recent polar temperatures set records, for lows and lengths. And if they didn’t, it was cold comfort — they were close enough.

In the sub-zero midst, alert “06880” reader Scott Brodie sent this suggestion for Unsung Heroes: the folks at our local energy companies — like Hoffman and Gault — who worked overtime to keep so many home heating systems up and toasty.

Local oil companies provide great, cheerful service — even when the weather isn’t as gorgeous as in this shot.

Scott should know. The other day, his mother Esther noticed her house felt a bit chilly.

The furnace was not cycling on — even though the thermostat crept below the set point. She checked the tank monitor on her tank. There was plenty of oil.

Esther called Hoffman. She was told she was “3rd in line.”

Just an hour or so later — at 8:30 p.m. — a repairman knocked on her door. He quickly identified the problem: A thermostat wire had come loose. Within minutes, the problem was fixed.

On his way out, he even straightened out a glitch in Esther’s cable TV service.

“Warm thanks are clearly in order,” Scott says.

For sure. It’s service Westporters have come to expect from local companies like Hoffman and Gault.

But it’s service we should never take for granted. And always be grateful for.

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

Unsung Hero #29

More than 40 years ago, Boston welcomed the new year with a “First Night” celebration. The city was filled with activities: music performances, comedians, kids’ stuff, ice carving. It was fun, family-friendly and fresh.

In the years that followed, communities around the country organized their own First Nights. They were great ways to ring in the new year.

They were also a ton of work. Gradually, most First Nights fell by the wayside.

But not Westport’s. For 22 years, residents — and anyone else who wants to wander by — have flocked downtown on December 31.

We’ve enjoyed carriage rides and bounce houses; dance recitals and sword swallowers; Rock & Roll Hall of Fame musicians and classical pianists; comedy troupes and model train displays. We’ve gazed at the stars through telescopes, warmed ourselves by bonfires, and watched fireworks light the sky. (Unless, of course, the river freezes and the barge can’t get near the bridge.)

First Night Westport would not be possible without volunteers. For over 2 decades, Westporters of all ages have helped make it happen.

But none of it would be possible without Barbara Pearson-Rac. She’s the longtime president of the board of directors of First Night Westport — but even that title does not encompass what she does. She oversees — and rolls up her sleeves for — booking, scheduling, promoting, food, volunteers, on and on and on. Quite simply, without Barbara, there would be no First Night.

In her spare time, she’s chair and founder of Westport’s Make A Difference Day, and vice president of the Breast Cancer Survival Center.

Plus, she’s a published author (“On Track: A Diana Jeffries Mystery”).

Barbara Pearson-Rac — shown here at Town Hall, overseeing the 2015 First Night — is the mastermind behind Westport’s First Night.

I hope Barbara does not see that she is this week’s Unsung Hero. I hope she is taking a well-deserved rest, preferably on some warm tropical island.

But I doubt it.

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

 

Unsung Hero #28

Everyone knows Patty Kondub. And everyone loves Patty Kondub.

But she’s one of those people who everyone kind of takes for granted.

We shouldn’t. Which is why Patty Kondub is this week’s Unsung Hero.

Patty is many things. A 1981 Staples High School graduate — and proud University of Connecticut alum — she’s worked for the Westport Weston Family Y for 30 years.

Members flock to her Aquafit classes. She works hard at researching and preparing lessons. But she always welcomes members with a smile, then makes every class fun. One day she’ll wear a costume; the next day she’ll announce a game.

Patty Kondub, in her Aquafit Halloween costume.

When someone is sick, she brings a card for the class to sign. She sings “Happy Birthday” (a lot!). Whenever she sees a news story about a class member — a new book they’ve written, a promotion, or just a brief mention — she tells everyone (and posts its on the bulletin board).

As soon as Ellen Gilbertson joined Aquafit — because of a stress fracture in her foot — Patty called her doctor, so she could design the best workout. If someone is laid up at home, Patty visits (and brings food)

Every day she picks out great music, which puts everyone in a great mood. (For Halloween it was “Monster Mash.” For the Olympics, elections and many other events, she finds something appropriate. On St. Patrick’s Day, she’s got an Irish playlist — and an Irish quiz.)

Patty is no slouch. Her Aquafit students work hard. But she’s such a good teacher, they don’t even realize they’re getting a fantastic workout.

A motivational message from Patty Kondub. (Photo/Barbara Wiederecht)

Her classes get together outside the Y, to celebrate special events. (Ask about her vegetarian chili!)

Colleague Ruth Sherman says, “Patty works so hard to make aging fun. They say our community is getting younger every day, and for this we thank Patty.”

Gilbertson adds, “She goes above and beyond any teacher I’ve ever known, in so many ways.”

Sandra Long says, “Whether it’s your first class or you’ve come for 20 years, Patty knows your name and helps you. She looks out for everyone — it doesn’t even have to be related to the pool. She does whatever she can to help anyone at the Y who’s in need.”

Elsewhere at the Y, Patty helps coordinate indoor triathlons and special needs swim instruction.

Patty Kondub offers hydration tips.

Out of the water, Patty helped organize the Spin Odyssey that over 15 years raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for cancer research. Some of her Aquafit fans were involved.

In her spare time (!), Patty is the much-loved coach of the Staples girls golf team. She’s a past president of the Longshore Women’s Golf Association.

And on Saturday mornings, she teaches a class for cancer survivors at CT Challenge.

Patty Kondub always has a smile on her face. The next time you see her, smile back — and congratulate our latest Unsung Hero.

BONUS FUN FACTAs a field hockey player, Patty was part of the first University of Connecticut team to win a national championship — in any sport.

(Do you know an Unsung Hero? To nominate him or her, email dwoog@optonline.net)

Unsung Hero #27

Every school in Westport is filled with Unsung Heroes: its custodians. Dozens of men and women work day and night. They clean floors, empty trash, move equipment and do countless other tasks so that our kids can learn — and our teachers can teach — in the cleanest, nicest and best environments possible.

I could single out many Westport custodians as this week’s Unsung Hero. I’m focusing on Jose Alvarez — but he stands for all of them.

Jose begins work at Staples High School at 5 p.m. His domain is the first floor — including the main office wing. It’s the most visible part of the school, and the pride he takes in making it shine is palpable.

He stayed late one night, because there were scuff marks he was still working to remove. That’s a regular occurrence: He won’t leave until his area is perfect.

He washes coffee mugs on administrators’ desks. They don’t want him to, but he insists.

Jose Alvarez

Jose is Colombian. He learned English by listening to lessons on headphones, as he worked.

One of his proudest moments was the day he became an American citizen. He’d studied hard for the test. Principal John Dodig arranged for a cake, and a small ceremony. Jose beamed with pride.

“He’s grateful for everything,” says current principal James D’Amico. “And we’re grateful for him. People come in, and can’t believe how clean and shiny the building looks.”

Staples head custodian Horace Lewis — an Unsung Hero himself — says Jose “never takes a day off. He’s always here, and always does his job so well.”

When he does have a vacation, Jose travels. He’s been to Israel and Italy. Of course, he returns to Colombia whenever he can.

But then it’s back to Westport. There is a school to take care of, and Jose is proud to do it.

(Hat tip: Karen Romano)