Category Archives: Unsung Heroes

Unsung Heroes #82

Not long ago, Horacio Ballesteros had a rapidly deflating tire.

The Staples High School Spanish teacher was on his way to work. He got off I-95, looking for a place that would patch it.

Slowly, he drove to garages and auto repair shops. First in Bridgeport, then Fairfield: nothing.

The places that were open didn’t do it. The places that did, were not open.

Finally, in Westport, he struck gold. Vautrin Auto Service — next to Goodwill — does not officially open until 7:30. But they were happy to help.

Horacio limped in at 7:05 a.m. By 7:30 he was at Staples — ready for his first class.

Hmmm….first class. What a coincidence! That’s exactly how every Westporter who has had the pleasure of being helped at Vautrin would describe this week’s Unsung Heroes, too.

Vautrin Auto Service works magic on many cars. This is not Horacio Ballesteros’.

 

 

Unsung Heroes #81

Another holiday season has come and gone. Now we get ready to slog through January.

Fortunately, holiday lights still shine all over Westport. And none are brighter — or more beloved than the William F. Cribari Bridge.

We don’t know what its future holds. But this year — as it has for the past decade or so — the Saugatuck River span sparkles each night. It’s beautiful, peaceful and heart-warming.

The William F. Cribari Bridge, in all its holiday glory. (Photo/JD Dworkow)

It doesn’t just happen. The Cribari Bridge lights are a gift of Al’s Angels. And that organization is a true gift to the town.

Created and nurtured by Al DiGuido, his wife Chris and friends, Al’s Angels helps children who battle cancer and rare blood diseases. As their families face severe financial hardship, the Angels help.

They do it quietly and efficiently — and big time. This year alone, they provided over 3,200 holiday meals, and 15,000 toys.

It’s a labor of love for Al and his angels. Many Westporters pitch in, with money and time. They pack meal bins and wrap toys.

And they string those lights.

The twinkling Cribari bridge brings joy to all who cross it. But, Al says, it’s also a symbol that we all are called to be a “light” in the world of others.

This week, Al’s Angels are our Unsung Heroes. They truly light up our lives.

(To learn more about Al’s Angels, click here. To nominate an Unsung Hero, email dwoog@optonline.net)

 

Unsung Heroes #80

On Monday night, the frenzy of holiday preparations was over.

Gifts were bought and wrapped. Trees were trimmed. Even the stockings had been hung by the chimney (with care).

Christmas Eve was a time to relax.

Unless you were working.

Home for the holidays? Not everyone.

Police officers, firefighters, EMTs — all were on call, on duty, away from their families. For many who serve in Westport, those families live quite a ways away.

Doctors, nurses, technicians and orderlies were working too. And all those people employed in nursing homes.

Plus cooks, wait staff and dishwashers, at restaurants that offered a Christmas Eve meal.

Of course, clergy and church staff were on the clock as well.

Some of those same folks worked yesterday — Christmas — itself.

And it’s all repeated next Monday, on New Year’s Eve. (Except for the religious services.)

Of course, there will be more restaurants and bars open.

Those trains don’t run themselves.

Not to mention everyone working on Metro-North, for the revelers going to Times Square.

Trust me, the return trip is not one you sign up for.

So to all everyone who was on the job Christmas Eve, or Christmas day. And all those who will work New Year’s Eve:

Thanks for being there for us. We don’t always thank you — or even know who you are.

You’re all this week’s Unsung Heroes, for sure.

Unsung Hero #79

The other day, alert — and compassionate — “06880” reader Elaine Marino sent me an email.

Earlier that morning, she said, she dropped off her husband at the Greens Farms train station.

Elaine noticed a woman who had just gotten off the train. She began walking, and turned left on Greens Farms Road, toward Morningside Drive.

Green’s Farms train station.

Elaine pulled over and asked, “Can I give you a ride?” The woman gladly got in the car.

Elaine drove her to a house on a side street, just past the Sherwood Island Connector. Her name was Maria, and she was very grateful.

That was not the first time Elaine gave a ride to someone walking from the train station. For the past several years she’s done it for people who are household staff — nannies, cleaners, gardeners —  who don’t have a ride from the train to their destination.

Elaine Marino

“I have met lovely people this way,” Elaine says. “I have never felt unsafe. It gives me a good feeling to help someone — especially in below-freezing temperatures. It would be great if even more people did this.”

Elaine did not expect me to name her this week’s Unsung Hero. She just wanted more Westporters to be aware of needs like this in our midst — and to reach out and help those who need it.

I’m sure she’s not the only one who has done something like this.

But I’m also sure there are many more — like me — who have not.

Thanks, Elaine, for stopping, and caring. And for reminding us all to do the same.

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.!