Category Archives: Unsung Heroes

Unsung Hero #78

The other day, a woman came into Ryan Meserole’s store.

He owns Quentin Row — formerly Suited.co, a men’s custom clothing shop on Railroad Place — so she wasn’t looking to buy.

In fact, she was crying.

Through her tears, she told Ryan that Sarah Kennedy had been her best friend.

Sarah Kennedy

Sarah was the owner of Cellar Workshop — a much-loved custom jewelry store that previously occupied the space opposite the train station.

The woman was upset that Ryan had changed the interior. It was all she had left to remember Sarah by.

Ryan chatted with her for an hour. As she got ready to leave, he said he had something that might cheer her up.

In the back of the building — where store owners and staff park — a sign said “Reserved for Sarah Kennedy.” Ryan got a screwdriver, took down the sign, and gave it to the woman.

Her tears turned from grief to joy.

Ryan says, “I realized then that I didn’t just lease any old space for a suit shop, in any old town. Westport is filled with legacies. Even though the signs on many buildings have changed, it’s up to local shopkeepers to share the stories of the past. I feel privileged to know and pass on the history of Railroad Place, and of Sara.”

So this week’s Unsung Hero is Ryan Meserole, and the many other local businesspeople like him — men and women who understand that being local storeowners means a lot more than just selling suits and jewelry.

It means you take something from this town. And then you give it back.

Ryan Meserole, with an apt saying on the wall of his store.

Unsung Hero #76

Compo Center Barber Shop is a throwback.

It’s not a salon. Not a “coiffeur.”

It’s exactly what its name says: a barber shop.

And it’s been that way for nearly 60 years.

Tommy Ghianuly

Tommy Ghianuly was one of the first tenants when Compo Shopping Center opened up. Just out of the service, the Bridgeport native was in the right place at the right time.

Westport was booming. Artists, lawyers, commuters — all needed haircuts.

So did their kids.

Tommy was good. He loved to talk, and his customers loved their conversations.

Compo Barbers prospered. Through every trend — crew cuts, long hair, feathered hair, fades, back to short hair — Tommy adapted.

Times changed. He added female barbers. He had to get rid of his shoeshine guys.

The kids of Tommy’s first customers grew up. They married, moved back, and brought their own kids. Now he’s cutting the hair of their kids.

He saw so many stores in the shopping center come and go. McLellan’s. Lenette’s. Westport Record & Tape. Zaro’s. The Ice Cream Parlor.

Yet Compo Barbers — and Gold’s — are still there. And still growing strong.

Compo Center Barber Shop is one of the last vestiges of old Westport. You hear it in the casual conversations that take place in the waiting area. You see it in the warm, loving way Tommy greets all his customers — the ones who have come for 50 years, and the ones who just moved here last week.

You see the old Westport on the walls, too. For decades, Tommy has collected vintage photos. They show it all: the original Main Street. Horse-drawn trolleys. A long-ago blizzard that shut down the trains.

It’s a collection the Westport Historical Society would be proud to own.

Tommy Ghinauly and his rotary phone. On the wall behind him are some of his many historical photos — and those of several generations of customers, posing together.

Above the photos sits a speaker. The music  — curated by longtime customer Dennis Jackson — is classic. There’s Ella Fitzgerald, Louis Armstrong, Tony Bennett. The other day, Frank Sinatra sang “My Way.”

Since 1959, Tommy Ghianuly has been doing it his way. That makes him our Unsung Hero of the Week.

If not the Month, Year or even Decade.

(Hat tip: Chip Stephens)

Unsung Heroes #75

It takes a village to raise a child.

It also takes a village to distribute extra donuts, far and wide.

I’ve written before about Food Rescue US. That’s the amazing, app-based organization that enlists volunteers — whenever it’s convenient — to deliver extra food from restaurants, grocers, bakeries and caterers to soup kitchens, food pantries and other hunger relief organizations.

In fact, last April director Nicole Straight was our Unsung Hero #42.

But man does not live by fruits and vegetables alone.

A while ago, alert “06880” reader Marjorie Almansi asked Max Kupperberg — a Staples High School graduate, and Donut Crazy employee — what that very popular train station breakfast-and-more place did with their leftovers.

He quickly put her in touch with owner Joan Tuckman. Just as quickly, they got Food Rescue involved. Now — every day — those donuts find happy donated homes.

Donated donuts — especially Donut Crazy’s amazing varieties — bring smiles to everyone’s faces.

Three times a week, Latisha Williams brings them to Jettie S. Tisdale Elementary School in Bridgeport. She teaches 7th grade social studies there, and says that teachers she never knew before are all friendly to her now.

The donuts go to Westport’s Gillespie Center a few times a week too.

Marjorie often brings them to the custodians at Staples High School. If there are extras, she’ll give them to anyone else she sees.

So — on the eve of Thanksgiving — today’s Unsung Heroes are once again the wonderful Food Rescue US volunteers, and all the participants like Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods.

Plus director Nicole Straight, Donut Crazy, Latisha Williams and Marjori Almansi.

Those donuts are crazy!

Unsung Hero #74

Pamela Einarsen moved to Westport 26 years ago. She was pregnant with her first child. She and her husband Paul raised 2 boys here.

A former oncology nurse, Pam switched careers in 1998. She started a photography business in her home. With Paul by her side, and sons Connor and Carson as assistants, it’s grown to 2 studios. Clients adore her wonderful eye and attention to detail, and return year after year.

Pamela Einarsen loves photographing children and families. 

As she did in her oncology work, Pam connects with people. She learns their stories, then tells them through photographs. She is creative, warm and loving.

Pam Einarsen is also giving. Every year, she donates her time and talents to worthy organizations and causes: A Better Chance of Westport. Staples Tuition Grants. Al’s Angels. The Westport Library. Near & Far Aid. Westport Animal Shelter Advocates.

Pam has photographed many local favorites, like Paul Newman, Michel Nischan, Maxine Bleiweis and Bill Derry. Her A-list of celebrities includes Alan Alda, Salman Rushdie and Deepak Chopra.

For the Westport Library’s “I Geek…” series, Pamela Einarsen photographed Miggs Burroughs wearing a t-shirt with the Westport flag he designed. 

Fellow photographer Katherine Bruan — who nominated Pam as this week’s Unsung Hero — says, “I’ve never met anyone who enjoys her work more. Every new client brings a new experience and a new story. Pam comes back from her shoots exhilarated, every single time. She appreciates life, and loves connecting with people so she can document their stories.

“Pam uses her photography to help people chronicle their lives and experiences. She captures the moments that matter, and sees everyone as beautiful and necesssary. Her photographs are priceless. It’s a gift to love your work as much as she does.”

For her 20 years photographing Westporters — and giving back to us all, through so much superb pro bono work — Pam Einarsen is this week’s Unsung Hero.

Picture that!

Pamela Einarsen

Unsung Heroes #73

It’s a stretch to call the cast of Staples Players “unsung.” They’ve won tons of awards, and the hearts of every audience that’s seen any show.

Besides, you can’t call a troupe that puts on musicals “unsung.”

The Players’ fall mainstage — “Legally Blonde,” this week and next — will be one more smash in a 60-year history of successes. Ticket sales were so brisk, they’ve already added another performance. (Click here for available seats.)

But shows like this are true team efforts. Players could not do what they do without the help of their technical crew — sets, lighting, costumes — as well as pit musicians, publicity, and everyone else who makes a production go.

Plus parent volunteers.

And of course, directors David Roth and Kerry Long.

Some of the Staples Players cast and crew get plenty of praise. Others toil unnoticed backstage, in the wings, on the catwalks or elsewhere.

All are our Unsung — and Sung — Heroes of the Week.

Georgia Wright, Justin Dusenbury, Kelley Schutte and Tomaso Scotti could not do what they do in “Legally Blonde” without the help of hundreds of others. (Photo/Kerry Long)

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

Unsung Heroes #72

When you and I go to the polls next Tuesday*, we’ll zip in and out of there in a few minutes.

It’s a wonderful ritual: We exercise a right countless Americans have fought and died for. We buy coffee and cookies to support the PTA. Then we’re gone, to take care of our usual business.

But Election Day doesn’t just happen.

It works like clockwork** only because of the hard work of dozens of men and women.

We see some of them: the poll workers — Democrats and Republicans — who spend 14 hours sitting at a table, methodically checking (and double-checking) every voter who comes in.

A soothingly familiar scene, year after year in Westport.

They solve problems. They thank us for voting. And they do it thoroughly, professionally, and with great good humor.

Their own spouse might come in. The routine does not vary. “ID, please,” they say.

They’re aided by ballot watchers. It’s mind numbing. They stare intently as voter after voter walks up, pushes a ballot into the machine, and leaves.

Some folks need help. Others need reassurance that their vote will be counted. Hour after after, the ballot watchers are there.

Of course, the backbone of the operation is the Registrar of Voters office. There’s a ton of work that goes on behind the scenes. Republicans and Democrats work side by side to make it happen.

Registrars of both parties work together to enroll new voters.

So next Tuesday, when you vote***, take an extra second or two to thank all the often-anonymous, always-conscientious, vitally important people who make it happen.

You might even buy them a coffee or cookie.

* You are voting, right?!

** In Westport, anyway

*** Polls are open from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m.!

Unsung Hero #71

Last Saturday was a big day for Erica Titlebaum — though she did not know it.

Jacob Elson was going to ask her to marry him.

He’d worked hard to create a special setting, at Sherwood Island State Park. The weather was glorious.

Jacob had planned everything out — including the photographer. He asked his father to hide nearby. But it was tough to coordinate that part.

At 5 p.m. — half an hour before Erica’s mom Michelle was going to show up — she had a flash of inspiration: Call Jerri Graham.

Michelle had met the talented photographer — just once. She knew her mostly through Facebook. But she called, and asked if Jerri could run over to Sherwood Island and get some photos of her daughter being proposed to.

By 5:20 Jerri was hiding in the bushes — and taking amazing shots.

Jacob Elson and Erica Titlebaum, moments after their engagement. (Photo/Jerri Graham Photography)

“What a community!” Michelle says. “I had no relationship with Jerri. I just knew she takes great pictures. But she ran out of her house to help me, at the very last minute.”

Yet Jerri is not our only Unsung Hero.

From Sherwood Island, Michelle headed to Layla’s Falafel. She’d ordered food for people coming back to her house to celebrate.

As she paid, she mentioned happily that her daughter had just gotten engaged.

The man behind the counter told her to wait. Despite a line of customers he turned around, filled many more containers with food, and sent Michelle on her way.

With a hug.

“Despite everything we hear, Westport still has a small-town feel,” Michelle says. “I love it here!”

And we love her story.

Thanks, Jerri Graham. Thanks, Layla’s.

And mazel tov to Erica and Jacob!

Unsung Hero #70

In the aftermath of last week’s torrential downpour, alert — and grateful — “06880” reader Lee Feldman writes:

Tonight, I left the gym at the Saugatuck Rowing Club to find my car with a dead battery. Though several folks there offered to help, no one had jumper cables.

I decided to walk over to the Bridge Mobil service station on Riverside Avenue. My expectations were low, since I knew the garage was closed.

When I explained the situation to the night attendant, he told me all the mechanics were off duty. But he offered to call the manager, Johnny (I apologize for not knowing his last name.)

Again, I thought he would tell me that couldn’t help until they opened in the morning.

Instead, Johnny showed up a few minutes later with a jumper battery in hand. He drove over to the SRC and got my car started.

Bridge Mobil, on Riverside Avenue.

When we weren’t sure whether it would keep running, he offered to follow me home, in case I needed another jump along the way.

And when we got there, he refused to accept any payment. He just advised me to have the alternator on my car checked.

With all the anger and ugliness that seems pervasive these days, people like Johnny are a reminder of our better selves. I hope you can recognize him as an Unsung Hero. I intend to patronize his business, and encourage others to do the same.

Done — with joy and gratitude!

Unsung Heroes #69

The other day, alert “06880” reader Melissa Shein nominated several women as Unsung Heroes. For 4 years they’ve volunteered with her at Bridgeport’s Cesar Batalla School. Together, they’ve helped a 9-year-old learn to read.

The boy was born at 24 weeks, weighing just over 1 pound. His twin brother is blind, but learns with ease. This youngster — who loves to play and learn — has shown language and learning difficulties, not easy solved.

He’s made good use of the resources provided. But more is needed. Melissa fears he’ll fall through the cracks. He’s already begun to doubt what he can achieve.

Westport women have joined to help this Cesar Batalla School student.

“Given his level of determination, receptivity to instruction and genuine love of learning, it is easy to imagine him developing academic and personal resiliency in a supportive, academically rigorous environment that addresses his specific needs and unique learning style,” she says.

So she went to work. Marjorie Almansi provided many contacts of people to do evaluations, to help get him into the Southport School for students with language learning differences.

Jill Greenberg did that full evaluation free of charge. She put the boy’s mother in touch with numerous resources. Robin Hellman did a full occupational therapy evaluation, and offered support.

The Southport School tentatively agreed to take him. The group — including other volunteers like Gwen Cohen and Sherri Gordon — is working on making that happen now.

Melissa and the other women are determined to turn around the life of one young Bridgeport boy. They deserve our Unsung Hero accolades — and awe.

Unsung Heroes #68

This week’s edition of “Unsung Heroes” comes courtesy of several Coleytown Middle School parents. They do not want to be named, because they say they speak for many families. They write:

Two weeks ago the administrators, teachers, paras, nurses, custodians, counselors, food service employees and secretaries at Coleytown Middle School began to deal with a crisis. Staff and students reported illnesses, leading to a temporary closing of the school. It quickly morphed into a relocation.

Change can be challenging. But in the face of great change the adults at CMS have shown tremendous flexibility, leadership, and support for the children and families of the Coleytown community.

Familiar, smiling faces greet Coleytown students at Bedford and Staples every day.

As Westport superintendent of schools Dr. Colleen Palmer recently said, “A school is not just the building. A school is the staff. A school is the counselors, the administrators. It’s all the caring adults.”

CMS families sent our children off to different schools — Bedford Middle for 6th and 7th graders, Staples High School for 8th graders. Knowing they were heading to the caring adults they have come to know calmed nerves.

Knowing they were heading to caring communities eased minds too. Hearing that the world language teachers at SHS moved classrooms, that the BMS nurses and secretaries made space for the CMS nurses and secretaries proved that, at the end of the day, we are Westport Public Schools. Separate buildings may divide us physically, but not in spirit. 


Coleytown Middle School security guard Terry Morgan is always ready with a smile and fist bump. That has not changed, despite moving to new digs at Staples High.

Parents and students alike wonder about extra-curricular activities. There is great optimism that they will continue. CMS principal Kris Szabo said that clubs and activity advisers will communicate with families and students regarding schedules and locations.

Coleytown Company’s production of “The Lion King” had already begun meeting. They were entering auditions and rehearsals when the shutdown and move were announced.

Director Ben Frimmer and company manager Sarah Webster wasted no time getting things up and running after the move. The production is scheduled to open as planned. “I think it’s important to try to provide the students in our community as much normalcy as possible in light of the upheaval they’re going through,” Mr. Frimmer said.

Sarah Webster and Ben Frimmer are making sure the Coleytown Company 6th graders can jump right back into “The Lion King.” Other extracurricular activities will start soon.

The crackerjack team of custodians, led by Joe DiPalma, has been spread out, still caring for CMS while assisting at BMS and SHS. Their dedication and busy-ness makes it hard to pin them down for a photo, but families are singing their praises for their dedication to the community.

School is about learning — and one of the things we are all learning is resilience. To handle adversity and the unexpected with grace and without compromise is one of the most valuable skills a person can have in life. The adults of Coleytown Middle School have always modeled these skills for our children, but never more so than now.

This modeling is evident in high school students asking 8th graders they know how things are going. At BMS, students look out for the “new” kids in their hallways, pointing the way to classrooms when needed.

People in town have begun referring to the BMS building as Westport Middle School, and the 8th grade wing at Staples as “The Academy.” Whatever the future holds, we are thankful to all — especially to all the Coleytown Middle School staff. They have not skipped a beat.

Honorable mentions are in order for the caring adults at Bedford and Staples who have opened their doors and spaces to Coleytown Middle School, the bus drivers who shepherd our kids to their new spaces, and the myriad others behind the scenes who may have escaped mention here — but who care no less for our children and their ability to learn in a safe, supportive environment.


And — in the aftermath of last night’s powerful near-tornado storm — here is a Bonus Unsung Hero story. It comes courtesy of Brian and Lisa Power:

I’d like to nominate Alex Ducruet as an Unsung Hero this week. Last night during the severe rainstorm, my car stalled in a flooded area a half mile from our home.

As my husband and I tried to quickly figure out the best thing to do, we received a knock on our car window from a neighbor, Alex Ducruet. We had never met Alex, but he quickly became our hero!

He not only offered to help, but did so gladly. He went above and beyond by helping my husband push our car the half mile up a hill to our home. My husband said this was one of the most physically grueling things he’s ever done (and he recently finished his first Ironman Race!). He said there was no way he could have done this without Alex’s help.

We were so grateful for Alex’s assistance in our time of need, and couldn’t thank him enough. His response to us was simple: “I’m a neighbor. This is what we do.”

When my husband and I insisted we wanted to do something to show our gratitude, his only request was that we spread the word about his business. So: When your windows need washing, please contact Alex Ducruet at Gold Coast Window Washers. No doubt Alex will go above and beyond for you — just like he did for us.

A thousand thanks to Alex Ducruet for being our hero!