Category Archives: Unsung Heroes

Unsung Heroes #119

The other day, I posted a story about a long, important RTM meeting. After 3 hours, our town’s legislative body voted narrowly — 18-16 — against a motion to ban recreational marijuana sales in Westport. (Such sales are not yet legal in Connecticut.)

That was typical of our Representative Town Meeting. Once a month they meet to debate and approve town and education budgets, and all town appropriations over $20,000; enact ordinances; review bonds, leases, sales and purhcases of town property; review zoning, recreation and other regulations, and oversee labor agreements with town and Board of Education employees.

They meet much more frequently in committees. Each member serves on several.

It’s time-consuming, arduous and thankless work. And every 2 years, RTM members must run for re-election.

Fortunately, serving on the body is not all work and no play. Last week, 23 members — along with the town clerk and RTM secretary — gathered for lunch at Tavern on Main.

Member Matthew Mandell — whose day job is executive director of the Westport Weston Chamber of Commerce — organized the event. It was a way for everyone to spend time together outside of Town Hall. (And yes, for the Chamber to promote Restaurant Week.)

The RTM lunch at Tavern on Main.

It was the middle of election season. But, Mandell says, “people enjoyed that we could all sit together. Political party means nothing to us” — the RTM is non-partisan.

“It was nice to just BS, and not discuss any issue coming before us, or even around town. The RTM has had some late nights recently. This was a good break.”

(Even though there was a quorum, no official notice was required. “Social gatherings do not constitute an illegal meeting — just fun,” explains town clerk Patty Strauss.)

“The RTM is a collegial bunch who volunteer a lot of time to the town,” Mandell notes.

So, to all 36 members — and all the others, running for a seat — thank you for all you do for Westport. You are our Unsung Heroes of the Week.

We hope you enjoyed your lunch. Now get back to work!

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

 

Unsung Hero Needs Help

In June, “0688o” featured Mario Viola as an Unsung Hero.

The Coleytown and Saugatuck Elementary School bus driver truly went “the extra mile.”

He loves “his” children. He decorates his bus for holidays, shows up for their concerts, and keeps everyone excited for school.

When a youngster was sick, Mario gave him his hat to make him feel better.

On the last day of school, the driver took everyone to Carvel — and treated!

Mario Viola, and a young friend.

Recently, as he and his wife rode a motorcycle, they were hit by a drunk driver.

Mario is recovering at home. Meanwhile, his medical bills mount. Parents have created a GoFundMe page to help.

Mario Viola has been there for our children. Now we can be there for him. (Click here to help.)

Mario Viola and his happy kids, at Carvel.

Unsung Hero #118

Little things mean a lot.

For many years, Gerry Cataldo has worked at the Senior Center. His is a thankless — and often unnoticed — job.

Gerry sets up each room for meetings, educational programs, games, lunches, exercise activities and more.

When he’s not moving partitions, tables, chairs, and sports equipment, he’s cleaning halls and restrooms. When he’s not doing that, he’s helping any way else he can.

Gerry Cataldo makes sure that everyone at the Senior Center has a ball. Or two.

Every day — Monday through Saturday — 30 to 50 different events take place at the Senior Center. Gerry makes sure that each one is ready to go.

When it’s done, he makes sure the next one follows smoothly.

Senior Center regulars and staff know they could not function without him. Gerry Cataldo is truly an Unsung Hero!

(Hat tip: Bob Weingarten. To nominate an Unsung Hero, email dwoog@optonline.net)

Unsung Heroes #117

Alert “06880” reader — and very talented graphic designer/artist/ arts supporter/amazing civic volunteer — Miggs Burroughs writes:

The Drew Friedman Community Arts Center sponsored free art classes last spring and summer for middle school kids in town. They were developed and run by local artist Katherine Ross and her daughter Rebecca.

Randy Herbertson — president of the Westport Downtown Merchants Association — hosted the classes at his Visual Brand office on Church Lane.

The most recent class project was a collaborative mural. It was conceived and executed by the students, based on the idea to “Shop Local.” That’s been a mantra of (among others) David Waldman, who developed Bedford Square across the street on Church Lane. Each youngster created a different letter.

When Waldman saw the mural, he asked to display it in Bedford Square. It now hangs in the window of #11.

It’s very satisfying to have some of Westport’s biggest players come together to support art, created by some of our youngest talents.

Rebecca Ross, David Waldman and “Shop Local” art.

Unsung Hero #116

Jeff Seaver runs Seaver Interactive, a web design and digital marketing firm in Saugatuck. He’s been friends, and worked with, Pete Romano — a Saugatuck native — for 7 years. Jeff writes:

Walking around town with Pete Romano is like going for a stroll with the mayor: folks say hello everywhere he goes. Pete’s well known not just for his expertise in running Landtech — an engineering and environmental firm on Riverside Avenue — but also for his community service. His reputation spans generations.

His father, PJ Romano, grew up in Westport. He was a PAL volunteer for almost 50 years. The athletic field behind Saugatuck Elementary School is named for him, honoring his role in developing PAL’s football, baseball, wrestling and other programs, including the ice rink at Longshore.

Pete’s mom, Joan Romano, still volunteers with PAL. That spirit continues, as Pete maintains a strong family tradition of service.

Pete played baseball and football at Staples High School. His mom recalls that Pete “would knock a player down, but then afterward, stop to help pick them up.”

Working with his longtime friend and partner at Saugatuck Sweets, Al DiGuido, Pete is one of the forces behind DiGuido’s legendary Al’s Angels charity. Last year, Pete helped organize and oversee over 2,500 holiday meals to help those in need.

Pete Romano (left) with his mother Joan, and Al DiGuido, at Saugatuck Sweets.

Al DiGuido said, “I have never thought of Pete Romano as a hero. I doubt he regards himself that way. He just has a tireless passion for doing the heavy lifting for those in need, which inspires me and so many others.

“Pete doesn’t seem to need or want the spotlight. He’s not looking for trophies, awards or accolades. I think he does this because its in his DNA. His family has always been committed to doing all they could to help the community. Some are content to sit on the sidelines, but Pete gets his hands dirty doing the hard work that is truly needed.”

But Pete has a superhero alter ego. Every Christmas he plays Santa Claus. He arrives on a Westport Police patrol boat at Saugatuck Center, lighting the tree and entertaining kids.

Here comes Pete — er, Santa Claus!

His good works could fill a book. They include being a major contributor to the renovation of the Westport Weston Family YMCA, and helping sponsor events for the American Cancer Society, Project Return, ElderHouse, Operation Hope,  Westport Rotary, Little League Softball, plus many other local causes.

Bill Mitchell has been a pal of Pete’s for many years. They support many of the same causes, including Operation Hope and Project Runway. Bill notes, “Pete and his family have been a gift to our community.”

Steve Smith, Westport’s building inspector, said, “Pete Romano is a successful community leader who is generous and always willing to help out a community cause. He has given his time to our town unselfishly — and always with his characteristically great sense of humor.”

Phil Cerrone, an architect who has partnered in a number of efforts with Pete’s firm, said, “Pete is one of the most caring and considerate people I know. He can always be relied on to help a friend in need. Just as important, he can also be counted on to supply top quality food and drink!”

One of Pete’s most treasured causes is Wakeman Town Farm. Pete often joins with his friend, architect Peter Wormser, scooping ice cream at the Farm’s special events. 

Pete Romano and Peter Wormser, at Wakeman Town Farm.

Pete always has time for Westport schools. He and his firm helped create the night lights at the Staples High School football field, the fields at Bedford Middle School, and the Loeffler Field terrace (granite seating on the soccer field hill).

He is a generous supporter of Staples sports teams, Staples Players and middle school theater productions, the Staples robotics team, and more.

Pete’s firm collaborates with Gault Energy on many projects. Gault family members are effusive in their praise. Ginger Gault and Jimmy Donaher say, “He has keen insight to go along with a big heart, and on top of everything else, he’s hysterically funny. Pete is the complete package.”

He is especially proud of his 2 daughters. They went through the Westport School System, and are now smart, vibrant, strong women. Pete said, “They got the best public education one could dream of. How do you ever repay that debt?”

Pete Romano

Pete celebrated a birthday recently. As with many hard-working and generous folks, one of the hardest challenge is figuring out what to give them.

What do you give a man like Pete Romano who does not have everything, but gives everything?

The only answer is: love and genuine appreciation for all that he does.

 

Unsung Heroes #115

Among the nearly 3,000 victims of 9/11, 161 were from Connecticut.

Two lived in Westport: Jonathan Uman and Bradley Vadas. Brothers Keith and Scott Coleman grew up here. All worked at the World Trade Center.

They were sons, fathers and brothers. They had much of their lives still ahead of them.

They may not be “heroes” in the traditional sense. They simply went to work one morning, and were killed minutes later in random, brutal and senseless acts of terror.

But they were heroes to their spouses, girlfriends, parents, siblings and friends. They were good men, good sons, good fathers and good brothers.

We remember them today. And every day.

The Sherwood Island State Park 9/11 Memorial honors the 161 Connecticut residents killed 18 years ago today. (Photo/David Squires)

Unsung Hero #114

Plenty of youth coaches deserve shout-outs. They work tirelessly on behalf of their sport. They pass on their knowledge and passion to young athletes.

Many times those youngsters include their own children. When their kids grow up — or stop playing — the coaches move on.

Jeb Backus was coaching long before his own children, Tripp and Jillian, played. He’ll coach long after too.

Jeb Backus

Jeb is a head coach for Westport travel baseball and softball. He’s also the head junior varsity softball coach at Staples High School, and serves Westport Little League as director of field operations.

He was a longtime player too. And a very good one.

Now Jeb is getting some long-overdue recognition. He’s been named to the Connecticut ASA Softball Hall of Fame.

Jeb started playing softball for the legendary Sonny’s team at 16. He was already a star baseball and football player at Staples High School. He continued with Sonny’s while at Flagler College, on a baseball scholarship. In 1987, he earned college All-America honors. In 2004, Jeb was named to Flager’s new Athletic Hall of Fame.

Jeb helped Sonny’s win 5 state championships. He pitched in 4 title games, and went 13-for-14 while driving in 17 runs.

Jeb then starred for other teams, at the national level. He added 5 more state championships at the Over-35 level.

Jeb Backus in action.

Jeb finished his 25-year softball career with a .625-plus batting average, and over 900 pitching wins. His teams earned more than 40 local crowns, and qualified for 19 national tournaments.

As a coach, his work with young players is legendary. Many former players, parents and friends look forward to honoring Jeb at the dinner (Sunday, October 13, Costa Azzurra restaurant, Milford, 4 p.m.). For ticket information, call 203-876-0078 or email lisa.dilullo@aol.com.

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

Unsung Heroes #113

Another day, another lineup of cars at Westport Wash & Wax.

And for the popular Post Road East business, that means another day of helping the community.

Every organization in town, it seems, benefits from owners Scott and Laila Tiefenthaler’s generosity. Need proof? While waiting for your vehicle, read the letters of thanks that fill the bulletin board. (You won’t have time for all of them. But you’ll get the idea.)

One of the most grateful recipients is Homes With Hope. Over the past 18 years, the local housing service has received nearly $100,000 from the car wash.

Homes With Hope CEO and president Jeff Wieser (in jacket) with (front, from left) Laila, Scottt and Craig Tiefenthaler, plus dedicated employees, at one of the many “Good Neighbor” ceremonies.

This Friday (August 30) is Westport Wash & Wax’s 19th annual Good Neighbor Day. Once again, the Tiefenthalers will donate  100% — you read that right — of the day’s car wash proceeds to Homes with Hope.

Many businesses generously donate a percentage of sales, to plenty of organizations. But it’s extraordinary for one company to so consistently donate all proceeds from a full day’s sales.

And to help nearly every other cause that asks, in some way, shape or form.

Scott and Laila Tiefenthaler — and their entire hard-working, friendly and efficient crew — are the sparkling recipients of this week’s Unsung Heroes award.

Unsung Heroes #112

As summer winds down, this week’s Unsung Heroes is a no-brainer.

Everyone — and there’s a ton — who made this year’s Compo, Burying Hill and Old Mill Beach and Longshore experiences so wonderful: Take a bow!

If you are a:

  • Parks & Recreation maintenance worker, who cleans up our messes so conscientiously and professionally
  • Parks & Rec gate attendant, who waves us in, collects our fees and deals so smilingly with a not-always-smiling public
  • Parks & Rec Department staffer or Commission member, who helped shepherd the new improvements (South Beach sidewalk and bathroom, new tables and grills) through from conception to completion
  • Lifeguard, who keeps us safe, provides first aid, reunites lost kids with panicked parents, and endured a few very boring days in the chair watching the water when the beaches were closed (special shout-out to directors Heidi List Murphy and Danilo Sierra)

  • Marina worker (and of course Westport Police marine unit member), who do so much good stuff the public seldom sees
  • Joey Romeo or part of his youthful “By the Shore” staff at Compo and Longshore, who serve great food and never get mad even when we have no idea what to order despite standing in line for 10 minutes thinking about it

(Photo/Betsy P. Kahn)

  • Longshore golf course, tennis court or pool attendant, who we see every day, in all kinds of weather and seldom even nod to
  • Early-morning employee like Drew Grega, who grooms the beach so well and unobtrusively we never even know you’re there …

Thank you, thank you, thank you.

It would not have been a wonderful Westport summer without you.

PS: I hope I haven’t forgotten anyone. If I have — aaargh! Just add those Unsung Heroes in the “Comments” section.

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

Unsung Hero #111

Ruth Sherman walks the walk.

Literally.

Every day for 50 years — in all kinds of weather* — Ruth has walked from Hillspoint Road to the top of Compo Hill.

She recently returned from Spain, where she completed the 100-mile El Camino spiritual trek.

For the 79-year-old longtime Westporter, it was no big deal.

Ruth Sherman

Yet Ruth’s walks are only part of her daily routine. Since the 1960s, she’s taught exercise and fitness at the Westport Weston Family Y. Right now she’s with the Arthritis Foundation Family aquatic program.

When the Senior Center opened, she began teaching there too.

Many class members are younger — often much younger — than Ruth. But they struggle to keep pace.

When she’s not walking or leading classes, Ruth bikes. Of course, her rides are for good causes.

Since last century, she’s raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for the Dana Farber Cancer Institute, in the Pan-Mass Challenge. She was not always alone: Sometimes she was joined by her husband Larry, 4 children, in-laws and friends. Her group was called Ruthie’s Riding Rascals.

You’ve probably seen Ruth Sherman around town. The next time you see her, say hello — and congratulate her for being this week’s Unsung Hero.

But you’ll have to be in pretty good shape to catch up.

*And in Westport, you know what that means.

(Hat tip: Richard Fogel)