Category Archives: Unsung Heroes

Unsung Hero #207

Scott Turkel raised his children in Weston. But to hundreds of Westport youngsters, he’s their beloved PAL football coach.

Michelle Titlebaum’s son Benji is a Staples High School senior. He started his career on Scott’s 3rd grade team.

His classmates — who knocked off Trumbull last Friday, with a thrilling last-minute interception — are a tight bunch. They’ve been inspired by Scott, who coached them for 2 years. He then spent the next several years coming to all their games — in plenty of sports besides football, too.

Scott Turkel, with a Westport PAL youth team.

His former players always hug him. They’ll do the same this Friday (September 17). Scott will be honored at 7 p.m., before the Wreckers’ home game against St. Joseph.

He’s had health issues. But he’ll be uplifted when he sees his former players again.

They’ll have a special gift for him. Back in 3rd grade, Scott gave his players bricks, as motivational gifts. Most of those players still have theirs.

This time, they’ll give them back to Scott. No matter what the score that night, they — and he — are winners.

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

Scott Turkel last month, at the wedding of a former player’s sister.

 

 

Unsung Heroes #206

Rob Earley and his family are recent arrivals in Westport.

But he knows an Unsung Hero when he sees one.

Last week — the day after Hurricane Ida unleashed 7 inches of rain on his new town — he sent along this photo:

Rob writes: “My kids just started at Saugatuck Elementary School. Unfortunately I don’t know this man’s name. I am so grateful that he was out there, up to his knees in water clearing drains at the school.

“The facilities staff probably don’t always get recognition. But I immediately thought of your site, and the town’s Unsung Heroes that you profile.”

Thanks, Rob. You nailed it. So to the Saugatuck staff member — and all the other facilities folks who dealt with drains, leaks, floods, branches, debris, and everything else in Ida’s wake — thank you.

And thanks too for all you do every day, in so many other ways, for all of us!

(If you’ve got a favorite school facilities employee, share his or her story in the “Comments” below. And do you know an Unsung Hero? Email dwoog@optonline.net)

Winslow Park Cleanup: The Sequel

Last Wednesday’s “Unsung Hero” feature highlighted the work of an older, unnamed man.

Quietly, consistently and anonymously, he’s been cleaning up Winslow Park for years. He picks up branches and trash. He removes invasive vines. He follows the mantra: “Leave this place better than you find it.”

A collage of Winslow Park’s cleanup projects. (Photos/Rita Corridon)

Readers quickly identified Winslow’s savior as Lowrie Gibb. A longtime Westporter — and the father of actress/singer/dancer Cynthia Gibb, a Staples graduate and founder of Triple Threat Academy — he was known to many for his long stewardship of town properties.

Wendy Crowther wrote:

He has been a park advocate since at least the late1990s when I first met him. He has quietly worked behind the scenes in all seasons at Winslow Park to tidy up the overgrowth that encroaches upon the pathways and chokes the trees. He is a good and humble man who does this just because he cares.

He’s also in amazing shape, despite his advancing age, because he works so hard not only in Winslow but also because he’s a runner, swimmer and skater – all using the Westport amenities he loves so much at Longshore and Compo Beach.

After the story ran, Jo Shields Sherman was at the dog park. Turns out, he knew nothing about the accolades.

Lowrie Gibb, with Goldie. (Photo/Jo Shields Sherman)

She writes:

Wendy’s description was spot-on wonderful of this very special man.

I read all the comments to him. He was totally humbled, in amazed and appreciative disbelief. He was so touched to hear what “06880” readers had to say. “No, no! Really?” he repeated.

He then mentioned that he has new thoughts and plans to discuss for improvements around town. Given his thoughtful take and naturalist’s eye for our special corner of the world and all he has done for it so far (far beyond the piling of twigs!), we could all benefit to listen, and listen well, to our own Lowrie Gibb.

In addition, Jo says, Lowrie created many of the trails in Winslow Park. He’s planted elm trees around town too.

Westport is a wonderful place, for many reasons. Lowrie Gibb is just one of them.

But why should he have to clean up alone? We all share in the beauty and wonder of our town.

Let’s all be a little like Lowrie Gibb. If you see something that needs cleaning, fixing or straightening: Do it yourself.

Lawrie Gibb is an inspiration. Now it’s up to us to follow his lead.

 

 

Unsung Heroes #205

A group of “06880” readers who ask for anonymity write:

We would like to nominate the founding members of the Westport Preservation Alliance as the Unsung Heroes of the Week, for their valiant efforts to preserve both the history and the open spaces of our beloved town.

We were ecstatic to see their activism recently in relation to Baron’s South. We are grateful for their tireless efforts. We watch, with great pride, the activism that they galvanize in our community.

Newcomers to Westport should know that it is thanks to the tireless efforts of  WPA members Morley Boyd, Wendy Crowther, Helen Garten and John Suggs that much of Westport’s natural beauty, as well as some of its historic treasures, remain protected.

The preservation of our Cribari Bridge and the prevention of its expansion and/or destruction, for example, is due in large part, to the WPA’s inexhaustible efforts. Without it, 18-wheelers might now be causing even worse traffic, cacophony, and air pollution in our otherwise idyllic town.

William F. Cribari Bridge. (Photo/Sam Levenson)

It is with great relief too that we watch the WPA step up to protect such sites as the Golden Shadows mansion and surrounding property (between South Compo and Imperial Ave.)

As we keep our eyes on the new Amazon development in the former Barnes & Noble plaza, we hope that the WPA will monitor potential subsidiary developments, and keep the area surrounding Greens Farms Elementary School safe for our children.

It is a tremendous honor for us to nominate Boyd, Crowther, Garten and Suggs for their tenacity and strength as they stand up in order to do right by our charming, beautiful, and relatively peaceful town.

Each of the founding members has an impressive resumé in his or her own right; the fact that these Westporters devote so much time and effort to keep our town unspoiled makes the WPA more than worthy of the Unsung Hero of the Week nomination. Thank you, Westport Preservation Alliance, for fighting the good fight for us all.

{PS. For those who don’t know the history of the WPA’s efforts in preserving the iconic Cribari Bridge, we encourage you to click here to read the detailed history of the WPA’s efforts.)

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

Unsung Heroes #204

Longtime Westport Library book sales volunteer Mimi Greenlee writes:

Our community is so happy now that the Westport Library is accepting book donations in the gray trailer in the upper parking lot (during library hours).

The first weeks were overwhelming. I want to give a round of applause for our volunteer team of 50 sorters and category managers.

By singling out one person, I hope “06880” readers see how much devotion and dedication is present in every one of our year-round volunteers.

Dan Delehanty was Westport’s town engineer from 1978 to 2008. In 2001 he became a volunteer for our Book Sales. He transported books and supplies from storage to our sales, sorted donated books, and was always available for any other jobs needed for Friends of the Library and the Library staff.

Dan Delehanty shows off his work. Note the time on the clock: 6 a.m. (Photo/Fred Caporizzo)

He loved putting on music and sorting books, usually in the very early morning or late at night. I was always amazed at what he had accomplished, and with such efficiency.

Dan moved to Maine in 2020 to be with family, yet this spring he came back to visit. Longtime friend and co-worker Fred Caporizzo suggested Dan come help in the Book Center for “nostalgia” reasons. That’s exactly what he did.

The 2 men were there at 6 a.m., sorting books for our Book Shop and the next book sale.  How about a round of applause for them — and everyone else on our team!

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

Unsung Hero #203

Alert — and nature-loving — “06880” reader Rita Corridon writes:

I don’t know know his name. But I see an older gentleman, who owns a little scruffy wired-haired dog at Winslow Park all the time.

During this past year I noticed that every time he was there he was “tidying” some fallen branches, or removing invasive vines from trees. I thought it was a little odd, and kept walking.

A few months ago I noticed how remarkably cleaned up the wooded areas looked — especially considering the number of storms that had hit Westport, and what a mess they make at Winslow. Then I realized it was probably all cleaned up by this one person!

A “cleanup collage” by Rita Corridon. “And this is only one path. There are many more!” she marvels.

I decided that the next time I spotted him I would say something — at least a thank you. When I finally saw him, I mentioned what an unbelievable job he was doing, and how nice the park looked.

He said he takes his dog to the park at least once a day, every day. That’s 365 days a year, so why not do a little cleanup each time?

I thanked him again, and went on with my walk.

It’s pretty impressive what one person doing a little work each day has accomplished. You should check it out yourself.

I’m pretty sure every single pile of branches neatly stacked throughout the park is his doing. Not to mention all the vines he has pulled off tress!

Dog owners at Winslow sometimes get a bad rap, even though it’s usually only a handful of irresponsible owners. I think it’s nice to shed the light on one person doing something really nice, for everyone in the community.

Absolutely, Rita. Our Unsung Hero this week is unnamed — but much admired and appreciated!

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

Unsung Hero #201

Last month, alert — and hungry — “06880” reader Marc Frankel drove by JR’s Deli & Grille.

He saw a “Closed” sign. He panicked.

Then he got close. With relief, he read the small print: The popular Riverside Avenue spot wasn’t closing for good. It was just taking a well-deserved couple of days off after 16 months of working tirelessly through the pandemic.

Eric Johnson

From the sign, Marc says, it sounded like owner Eric Johnson got married some time ago. He was so busy keeping Westport fed during COVID that he never had a chance to celebrate with his family and friends.

“If hw has been going full-speed for a year and a half without getting to celebrate his wedding, could I please nominate Eric Johnson at JR’s Deli as an Unsung Hero?” Marc asks.

Of course! And not only for Eric’s non-stop work during the pandemic, but for all he’s done, for all these years. Eric keeps Westport happily fed, and creates a congenial community while doing so.

Thanks, Eric. And thank you Marc, for noticing.

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

Unsung Hero #200

With big parties out during our past year of isolation, Westporters celebrated special occasions with big lawn signs.

In-person celebrations are back in. But the lawn sign trend continues.

After Wesporter Jodi Rosnick Ross created a “Mazal Tov” sign for her son’s bar mitzvah in May, she had an idea: spread congratulations to others.

The sign.

Through a local social media page on Facebook, Jodi offered her sign to anyone else with an upcoming celebration.

Responses poured in. Bonnie Marcus was the “winner.” But after her own event, she wanted to share the sign with as many people as possible. She suggested writing the name and date of each celebration on the back of the first letter, to show how many lives it’s touched.

The celebrations.

Since May the sign has been to 6 parties in Westport. Bonnie wants to keep the chain of congrats growing. It’s eco-friendly, she says, and a great way to build community.

(NOTE: “Mazal Tov” — an acknowledgment of good fortune — has already been used for graduations as well as bar mitzvahs. The sky’s the limit.)

The sign is already reserved for a celebration at the end of August. But who wants it next? Click “Comments” below. Bonnie will pass the “moving Mazal Tov” sign on to whoever needs it.

Unsung Hero #200

Rikki Gordon’s family has lived near Compo Beach for 4 generations.

Her grandparents bought a cottage in the early 1950s. Summers there — 6 family members crammed together, escaping New York City’s heat — were the happiest times of her life.

For the next 7 decades, she cherished that beach address — and the phone number that never changed.

After her parents died in 2008 and ’09, Rikki and her husband Allen Pack built a Nantucket-style home on the property. It was a new chapter, but a continuation of their beloved summer life. The phone number remained the same.

When COVID struck, Rikki — she’s a psychologist; he’s a psychiatrist — worked from Pacific Palisades, California. They rented out their Westport home.

When they returned this past June, Rikki was stunned at the tenant’s damage. Still, she consoled herself, they were all just “things.” They could be fixed.

Yet when she phoned Altice — Optimum’s parent company — to request a service appointment, they said she was calling from an unfamiliar number.

Rikki’s tenant had changed the phone number on her own, apparently as part of a promotion to get a lower rate than she was paying.

Realizing that her “227” number — actually, “CApital 7,” when that was the format — was gone devastated Rikki.

“That number belonged to my grandparents, my parents, my family,” she explains. It was part of her identity — and, of course, the way friends reached her. She started to cry.

Then she called Optimum, and was connected to a “wonderful, bright and thoughtful man named Mohamed.” Rikki told him about the damage to her home, but said the loss of her phone number meant far more.

“Mohamed understood the importance of family and history,” she says. He plunged right in.

Rikki Gordon’s “227” number dates back to these days.

For the next 3 hours, he wrote code to recreate her phone number. He enlisted a team of technology troubleshooters to help.

They — along with Mohamed’s expertise and dedication — worked a “small miracle.”

Throughout the ordeal, Rikki stayed in touch with Mohamed using neighbors Patricia McMahon and Matthew Levine’s landline.

Every 10 to 20 minutes he came on, with an update.

“Mohamed was not sure if this would work,” Rikki reports. “But I felt like he was a doctor doing delicate surgery, keeping me informed every step.

“This gentleman Mohamed was so kind, so dedicated to restoring my family’s link to friends and neighbors.”

After 3 “nail-biting, prayer-filled” hours, he had restored Rikki’s family history.

“He could have said, ‘sorry, the number is irretrievable.’ But he genuinely heard my distress, and devoted himself to helping. I cannot thank him enough. I want to acknowledge his work, and the fact that he cared about a stranger. Thank you, Mohamed!”

Done! Mohamed: You are our Unsung Heroes of the Week!

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

Unsung Heroes #199

In the best of times, we take librarians for granted.

These past 16 months have not been the best of times.

Through it all though, the Westport Library staff has been there for us.

Despite an ever-changing environment, with constantly shifting rules, they’ve:

  • Delivered an astonishing array of virtual programs
  • Got the Verso studios up and running
  • Answered our reference desk phone calls and emails
  • Provided curbside pickup — and home delivery for folks unable to get out
  • Quarantined newly returned books
  • … and did all that (and much, much more) with their usual efficiency, aplomb and smiles.

Even when it was closed to the public, the Westport Library staff worked behind the scenes — sometimes remotely — to serve the public.

Like air and water, we just kind of expect our Westport Library to be there for us.

They’ve had as tough a year as the rest of us. Thanks to Bill Harmer and his entire staff for all they do — and to alert and gracious “06880” reader Iain Bruce, for reminding us of the magic that happens every day, down by the river in one of Westport’s true crown jewels.

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