Category Archives: Unsung Heroes

Unsung Heroes #61

I’m not sure why summer lasts only 3 days, while winter drags on for 27 months, but once again one of our favorite seasons races to a close.

And once again we’ve been served wonderfully well by our Compo Beach, Longshore and Burying Hill lifeguards.

Despite their red outfits, high perches and occasional whistles, they tend to blend in with the sand and sea scenery.

Yet without them, we would not have the wonderful summer(s) we do.

(Photo/Amy Schneider)

Thankfully, their real emergencies are very few. But — in addition to training incessantly for them — our lifeguards also

  • Keep overzealous swimmers from straying into danger, and over-aggressive boats at bay
  • Handle routine scrapes, bruises and stings with care and kindness
  • Quickly summon the pros for more dangerous medical issues
  • Reunite lost kids with parents (and, during the fireworks, lost spouses with each other)
  • Answer tons of questions, from difficult to ridiculous (“yes, Joey’s is open now”)
  • Educate beach-goers about jellyfish and horseshoe crabs
  • Post thought-provoking Quotes of the Day
  • Pick up more garbage than you realize.

I’m sure I’ve missed many of other things our lifeguards do. Because — like the list above — they do them quietly, efficiently and (way too often) thanklessly.

Plus they’re out there, rain or shine.

So, to head guard Heidi List Murphy and her fantastic Parks & Recreation crew: thank you! You are always — but especially this week — our Unsung Heroes.

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

Unsung Hero #60

Andrew Colabella is a big fan of Lizzy Feeley.

No — make that a HUGE fan.

He writes:

Lizzy demonstrates the qualities of a true leader, and an ability to make others smile while positively affecting their lives.

She started her tireless efforts on holidays and weekends with St. Luke’s Youth Group and Grace Community Church in 8th grade.

She volunteered to clean up the yard of a family who recently lost their father. She felt fulfilled, and vowed to continue.

When Lizzy entered Staples she spent weekends, holidays and nights through St. Luke’s and Grace Community Church working on many different projects.

Lizzy Feeley

But Lizzy wanted to do more — to break the bubble, go beyond Westport into the  real world and help those not as fortunate. She lights up those in a dark and low place, stuck and in need of help.

Lizzy started at the Bridgeport Rescue Mission, serving hot meals to the homeless and helping put together a plan to serve people in its rehabilitation program. She also volunteered with “Kid Power,” tutoring 1st graders.

Lizzy has made a strong impact on over 100 youths and adults — those in need of help, who felt lonely and not special. Lizzy paid it forward, and then some.

Lizzy also joined the Tim Tebow Foundation, focused mostly on people with special needs. For the past 2 years Lizzy volunteered at the “Night To Shine” prom, doing teenagers’ hair and makeup, allowing them to enjoy a special event.

Lizzy graduated early, to get a head start on her degree in comprehensive special education at Norwalk Community College. She is ahead of schedule to enter the University of Connecticut, where she will earn her bachelors degree before turning 21.

As an RTM member, I had the pleasure of meeting Lizzy at a Board of Education meeting on a cold Monday night. She had midterms the the next day, but spoke on behalf of 5 girls. She was protecting the vulnerable, and advocating for those who could not defend themselves after being ostracized by peers.

I have never met a young teenager like Lizzy, who turned into a young adult with such dedication, perseverance, passion, creativity and integrity,

Lizzy has given back since 8th grade. Now let’s give her the push to do more — and give recognition of her many hundred hours of community service to her town and the entire county.

Done! Congratulations, Lizzy Feeley — you’re this week’s Unsung Hero!

Unsung Hero #59

Whenever Cindy Mindell stops by the transfer station, she hopes Bart “Bud” Valiante is there.

The array of trash choices — recyclables, household, electronics, metals, bulbs and batteries, etc. — is dizzying.

But, Cindy, says, “Bud is always cheerful, professional and helpful. He offers to carry stuff from my car, walks me to the correct disposal area, and explains why a particular material or item is or is not recyclable.

“He even puts my conscience at ease and expands my eco-knowledge by describing how non-recyclables are repurposed through burning at a waste-to-energy power plant.”

Bart “Bud” Valiante, helping at the transfer station as always. (Photo/Cindy Mindell)

That’s not all. The other day, Cindy told Bud that she was sleep-deprived and panicking because she was in the middle of a move.

He offered to haul items to Goodwill and the transfer station at no cost. He said he’s always happy to help a neighbor in need — and regularly does things like that before and after work.

Cindy did not take Bud up on his kind offer.

But, she says, “No matter how busy he might be when I arrive, he always stops to answer my questions and make sure that I put everything in its proper place.

“For that, for his dedication to his job and the environment, and his generosity of time and spirit, he is definitely an Unsung Hero.”

Unsung Hero #58

There are Unsung Heroes.

And then there is Joanne Heller.

Her long list of important, hands-on activities includes:

  • Co-president of A Better Chance of Westport
  • Past president of the Westport Young Woman’s League; executive board member for 9 years; director of their Minute Man Road Race
  • Ran the Mad Hatter Tea Party for Bethel Recovery Center for many years
  • National Charity League board member
  • Veteran PTA member; creator of school directories on MobileArq
  • Staples Tuition Grants member
  • Volunteer at Bridgeport’s Read School
  • Coordinator of the Compo Beach playground renovation project
  • Westport Garden Club member
  • Former Girl Scout leader
  • Former communications head of Staples Service League of Boys (SLOBS).

Joanne did much of this while also working at ADP. She and her husband Grant have 3 children, who have kept her busy since leaving the paid work force in 2002. She’s about to become a grandmother.

Which means this week’s Unsung Hero will have a whole new generation of activities to lend her talent, energy and time to.

Joanne Heller

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

Unsung Heroes #57

Last week’s Westport Library Book Sale went off without a hitch.

Thousands of visitors bought tens of thousands of books. And CDs, DVDs, even LPs.

The library earned thousands of dollars. Even yesterday — when everything was free (contributions gladly accepted!) — the library earned something just as important: grateful good will.

One scene from last weekend’s Book Sale.

But as easy as it all seemed — hundreds of volunteers hauling boxes, posting signs, pointing patrons in the right direction, smilingly totaling up purchases, answering idiotic questions (“Do you have …?”), handling setup, security and cleanup; volumes sorted superbly into categories from Art to Zoology; no problems despite the loss of the library space itself during the Transformation process — none of it would be possible without a few great leaders.

Mimi Greenlee and Dick Lowenstein are the Book Sale co-chairs.

Suzy Hooper and Heli Stagg have full-time library roles, in addition to their Book Sale duties.

They lead with inspiration — and by example. They give new (and literal) meaning to the phrase “heavy lifting.”

This is not the only Westport Library Book sale, either. There are others, in winter and spring. None would happen without the many volunteers — and these 4 at the helm.

(From left) Heli Stagg, Suzy Hooper, Mimi Greenlee and Dick Lowenstein yesterday. They don’t even look tired! (Photo/John Karrel)

We hope Mimi, Dick, Suzy and Heli enjoy being this week’s Unsung Heroes.

But they probably won’t see it. They’re finishing up last weekend’s book sale.

And starting work on the next.

(Hat tip: John Karrel. Want to nominate an Unsung Hero? email dwoog@optonline.net)

Unsung Hero #56

Mildred Hardy did not want to be featured on “06880.”

But several customers walking into Minute Men Cleaners saw us talking, and gave encouragement. “You deserve it!” one said.

She sure does.

Millie — as she is universally and lovingly known — has been with the Riverside Avenue company for 47 years. She has been its backbone forever.

This was not her first Westport job. The Jamaica native was working for a family on South Compo Road. But she saw an ad for a presser. She was hired — and started work the same day.

That was March 3, 1971. Her boss is now the son of the former owner. She enjoys working for him — and interacting with customers. “They’re great,” Millie says. “They’re all my friends.”

Millie Hardy

She’s done dry cleaning, and run the machines. Now she works at the counter, where countless customers appreciate her warm smile and kind words.

Millie lives next door. In a part of town known for commuting — and at a business with many commuter customers — she’s got the shortest commute of all.

And one of biggest fan bases of anyone, anywhere.

Thanks, Millie, for 47 years of loyal, devoted service to Minute Men Cleaners, and Westport. You’re a true Unsung Hero!

(Hat tip: Patricia McMahon)

Unsung Heroes #54

Another summer has begun.

That means another year of fun at Compo Beach. And another season of Parks and Recreation Department employees picking up all our garbage, making sure we’ll have the best possible time at one of the most beautiful spots in town.

It’s a tough job most days. They do it cheerfully, morning, afternoon and into the evening.

But nothing compares to the fireworks.

That’s crunch time. They prepare ahead. They work hard all day and night, even as the pyrotechnics explode overhead.

Then their real work begins.

The moment the last firework fades, 15,000 folks head for their cars. They leave behind a phenomenal amount of stuff.

Coolers. Folding chairs. Tables. Umbrellas.

Plus tons — literally — of uneaten food, along with the usual cans, bottles, suntan lotion, bug spray, beach balls, footballs, pails, shovels, flip flops, magazines, newspapers, and whatever else someone needs for a day at the beach.

The scene at 11 p.m. is like a war zone, or natural disaster.

Yet by dawn the next morning, Compo is completely normal.

Garbage cans are empty. The seawall is clean. The sand has been groomed.

It happens overnight. But it doesn’t just happen.

Parks & Rec crews work incredibly hard — in the dark — to get the beach ready for another day of enjoyment.

No one sees them. No one thanks them. It’s their job, after all.

But they do it incredibly well.

For that reason, they’re our Unsung Heroes of this almost-fireworks week.

And if you really want to give them a hand, take all your crap home with you Monday night.

Unsung Hero #53

Last week, Staples Tuition Grants handed out over $300,000 in scholarships to more than 100 graduating seniors, and high school alums already in college.

It was a warm, wonderful evening — a celebration of very hard work by the recipients, as well as all who make the grants possible.

But the highlight may have been the keynote speech, by Dr. Albert Beasley.

Speaking without notes — and without missing a beat — the 90-plus-year-old retired pediatrician talked about the importance of STG, and what it means to him personally. One of the oldest named awards — initiated 45 years ago — honors his late wife and fellow pediatrician, Dr. Jean Beasley.

After the Staples Tuition Grants ceremony, pediatrician Dr. Albert Beasley and his wife Janet (3rd and 4th from left) posed with 4 former patients (from left): Nicole Greenberg Donovan, Dan Woog, Dan Donovan and Lynn Untermeyer Miller. (Photo/Paddy Donovan)

In his 65 years in Westport, Al Beasley has watched the town grow from a small artists’ colony, through the baby boom, into a suburb filled with businessmen and Wall Street executives.

But he has seen it all through a unique perspective, and with a background different from most people who live here. He shared some of that last week too, in his low-key but inspiring way.

Al’s grandfather, a Harvard-educated Boston attorney, helped found the NAACP.  Al’s father also went to Harvard – and became a doctor.  His mother graduated from Radcliffe. Those were proud accomplishments, in an era when educational opportunities for black men and women were limited.

Al’s parents wanted him to have a well-rounded education. He got one, at the Walden School and Columbia  College. He married a high school friend, Jean.  Both earned medical degrees – Al from New York University. Both became pediatricians.

As a captain in the Air Force during the Korean War – based in Houston — Al first experienced overt prejudice. But he persevered, and in 1953 the Beasleys moved to Westport. He wanted his children to experience the same freedom he’d found at the Walden School. The Beasleys rented a home on 11 acres, for $90 a month. They were one of only 5 or so black families in town.

They bought land from a fellow physician, Mal Beinfield. The Beasleys had trouble getting a mortgage – the banks’ excuse was “they did not like contemporary dwellings.” But Westport Bank & Trust Company president Einar Anderson said to the Beasleys’ request for $20,000: “There’s no problem.  Let us know when you want it.”

Four years ago at the Staples Tuition Grants ceremony, Dr. Al Beasley posed with Megumi Asada, a graduating senior who received the Dr. Jean Beasley Memorial Award. Megumi was considering a career in medicine.

In addition to his professional accomplishments – private practice as a pediatrician; co-founder of Willows Pediatrics; associate clinical professor of pediatrics at Yale School of Medicine, and an emeritus staff member at Norwalk Hospital – Al immersed himself in community work.

He was a pediatrician for the Intercommunity Camp; a member of the Selectman’s Committee for Youth and Human Services; a board of directors member for the United Way; member of the scholar selection committee of A Better Chance of Westport; trustee of Earthplace, where he organized the Green Earth series on  health and the environment.

Al’s wife Jean died in 1973.  Six years later he married Janet, a native of Berlin and a survivor of a concentration camp in Czechoslovakia.

Al says:  “When Jean and I moved to Westport in 1953, it was a magical town. It opened its arms to us, welcomed us, and made us feel special.”

Al adds:  “My birth certificate said ‘colored.’  Then the preferred term changed to ‘Negro.’  Later it was ‘black,’ then ‘African American.’  I am a man of color, but I like to be accepted for what I have to offer.  The town has done exactly that.”

Looking back on his career, Al says,“I’m an activist.  I tried to give my utmost to the community, and I think the community appreciates that.  This is a wonderful town.  I thank everyone who entrusted their most precious commodities – their infants, their children and their young people – to me.”

And we thank Dr. Al Beasley, this week’s Unsung — but Very Deserving — Longtime Hero.

Unsung Heroes #52

In 2012, Sam and Sharon Carpenter helped supervise a Builders Beyond Borders trip to Nagarote, Nicaragua.

The longtime Westporters fell in love with the community of Sonrisa de Dios (“Smile of God”), and vowed to continue serving it.

They’ve returned every year since. Each year, they bring at least 20 family members and friends to share the experience.

Sam and Sharon Carpenter

Working with NicaPhoto — a support agency whose board Sam joined in 2013, and now serves as chair — and with special help from Westport Rotary, the Carpenters have helped build 4 classrooms, 3 latrines, a playground, sidewalks and garden at an elementary school; rebuild homes after an earthquake; and construct walls, classrooms and more at another site.

Beyond building, Sam and Sharon join others on the trip as they play and dance with the children.

Sharon Carpenter and her friends.

It’s one thing to spend a week on a service trip. It’s another to return to the same community, year after year. That shows special care and commitment. It also builds lifelong solidarity and friendship.

A longtime fellow volunteer cites the Carpenters’ “incredibly big hearts, generosity, love for their fellow man, enthusiasm in the face of challenge, and always their love.”

In 2013, Ronnie Maher — another volunteer — had dinner with Sam, Sharon and the mayor of Nagarote. The mayor asked Sam why he was there.

“I’ve been very fortunate in my life,” he replied simply. “I can give back, so I do.”

Sam Carpenter, hard at work.

Nagarote knows and loves Sam and Sharon Carpenter. Many Westporters know and love them too — but may be unaware of their long and strong commitment to this Nicaraguan community.

That’s why they’re this week’s Unsung, but very worthy, Heroes.

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

Unsung Hero #51

Last month, scores of admirers from 2 churches joined to honor Sister Maureen Fleming.

Sister Maureen Fleming

The occasion was 60 years of religious service. And what service the energetic 79-year-old nun has provided!

First at Assumption, then at St. Luke, Sister Maureen has run many ministries, and all of the funerals.

Her official title is coordinator of pastoral outreach. But she does much, much more.

Nanette Buziak toasted her by saying:

Thank you for enriching our lives in so many ways. You are a good friend and confidante to us all, as we face various points along our spiritual journeys.

From hosting Seder dinners before first communion, to running our Harvest Fair and annual raffle; from leading Mosaics and New Horizons, as well as our parish outreach ministry, you truly live your faith. You exemplify 60 years of religious life better than anyone we know.

She is an advocate for women’s and children’s rights, education and the fight against poverty. As an NGO registered with the United Nations she participates in lectures and conferences dealing with  women’s and children’s justice issues, especially human trafficking.

From 1995 to 2005 Sister Maureen was director of Caroline House, the literacy center for immigrant women in Bridgeport that was started by her order.

Two years ago, Fairfield University honored Sister Maureen with an honorary doctorate.

Oh, yeah: She met Pope Francis in Washington, DC. She knows all the good people.

And now Westport knows all about this week’s Unsung Hero.