Category Archives: Unsung Heroes

Unsung Hero #88

Little things mean a lot.

This year, Greens Farms Elementary School is performing its first play: “The Lion King.”

Director/producer Laura Pendergast — a GFS parent — and teachers Ellen Hardy and Suzanne Sherman Propp have prepared for months for this week’s show.

Dozens of school hours, plenty of work at home, and countless contributions from parent volunteers have gone into the production.

A crucial full-cast rehearsal was scheduled for last Saturday. Then, disaster struck. In anticipation of snow, all Westport school activities for that day were canceled.

Finding space for 70 children seemed impossible. Realizing that Town Hall auditorium might be an option, GFS parent Danielle Dobin called 1st Selectman Jim Marpe.

Rev. Jeffrey Rider

It was not available. But Marpe suggested she contact Greens Farms Congregational Church, and ask about using the Fellowship Hall.

It was Friday evening. Danielle called Rev. Jeff Rider. She did not know him at all — they’d never met or spoken.

He said he’d check the calendar. Soon, he said the space was free — and that GFS was more than welcome to use it.

The location — smack in the middle of the Greens Farms neighborhood — was very convenient. The room was perfect. The cost was free.

And on Monday — when Westport schools were closed because of the overnight storm — Greens Farms Church opened its doors again, for another rehearsal.

Speaking for the entire GFS community, and citing his flexibility and generosity, Danielle nominates Rev. Rider as “06880”‘s Unsung Hero this week.

As she notes: “Thanks to Rev. Jeff, we went from stressed out to Hakuna Matata in no time flat.”

(Do you know an Unsung Hero? Send nominations to dwoog@optonline.net)

The show must go on: Rehearsing in the Greens Farms Church Fellowship Hall.

Unsung Heroes #87

Today’s Unsung Heroes might seem an unusual pick.

This winter has been remarkably snow-free (knocking on every piece of wood I can find — especially for tonight). We’ve been hit with only a few flakes — and scarcely seen a plow.

Westporters have a fraught relationship with our plow guys. We desperately need them, and a good, reliable one is solid gold.

But we pay a lot for their services. As much as we like them, we sure don’t want to see them.

A rare sight this winter.

Think of it from their perspectives, though. This has been a winter of lost wages.

So, for all the private plow guys: Hang in there. We hope you’re doing okay.

And for the town and state employees, who do amazing (and thankless) work in every storm too: We’re glad you worked on other projects this winter!

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

Unsung Heroes #86

A few weeks ago we honored Vautrin Auto Service as our Unsung Hero.

Turns out there’s another Unsung Hero almost directly across the street. Alert — and very satisfied — reader Charmian Valante writes: 

My daily read of “06880” helps me feel a little bit closer to the town I love. Last year, as you highlighted the closing of some of my favorite businesses — Crossroads Hardware, Christie’s Country Store, Commuter Cafe — I thought about my own shopping behavior, and how I could do more to support the remaining stores that are so vital to our community.

Cooper’s Auto Parts in Westfair Center is at the top of my list. I hope you might adding them to your Unsung Hero list.

Sandy, who runs the store, has uncanny ability to know exactly what part is needed for your. Then he takes the time to talk me through the installation process.

 

On Yelp he has a legion of fans who treasure his advice and guidance as much as I do. The reviews include:

  • “These are the nicest most accommodating, most helpful guys who an old auto nerd could ever hope to do deal with.”
  • “Coop knows parts and problems always willing to sell you only what you need to get the job done.”
  • “This is what an auto parts store should be.”
  • “They are the Car Talk guys of Westport.”

When my daughter’s friend’s tail light went out, I went to Cooper’s to get a replacement bulb. Sandy immediately knew the halogen light needed for her 2007 Camry. He gave me a box so I wouldn’t touch the bulb, and explained to me how the oils on my hand could transfer to the bulb and crack it when we installed.

On other occasions, he has come out of his shop to look at a windshield wiper, top off fluids, and help me remove bumper sticker residue (insisting on using his sample of Goo Gone Automotive rather than me buying a bottle).

I am always surprised how many Westporters don’t know about Cooper’s, considering how long they’ve been serving Westporters. Thank you for considering this.

Consider it done. Cooper’s Auto Parts: You’re our Unsung Heroes of the Week!

Unsung Hero #85

Yvonne O’Kane’s dog barked frantically at 1 a.m. last month. She woke up, looked in the back of her Old Hill area home for deer, then took him outside to do his duty.

A few hours later, her husband went outside. Yvonne’s Mercedes convertible was gone.

The police arrived within 3 minutes. A great officer, Rachel Baron  — “lovely, compassionate and professional” — took the information. She described the work of crime gangs in Waterbury and Newark.

Because Yvonne’s checkbook and credit cards had been in the car, the officer told her to call her bank and card companies to freeze her accounts.

That morning, Yvonne headed to the police station to provide more information. Detective Phil Restieri was “awesome,” she says.

Detective Phil Restieri

He already had information: Her car had crossed the George Washington Bridge at 4 a.m. Someone had tried to use her credit card at Starbucks and McDonald’s in Newark. He gave her more advice on how to handle her lost items, and deal with her insurance company.

Phil told her that her car might be headed for a container ship. He was working with law enforcement contacts on the docks. “Everyone was already alerted,” Yvonne says.

Phil was calm, and reassuring. “His diligence and confidence gave me confidence,” Yvonne says.

Whenever she checked in, he had time for her. He — and the department — “really stayed on the case,” she adds. “No one ever made me feel like an idiot.”

After 3 weeks, Phil called. Yvonne’s car had been found, on the side of a Newark street.

He explained that stolen cars are often left on roadsides — or moved from garage to garage — until an order comes in from operatives for that particular make or model.

But Phil’s work was not done. He told Yvonne that he’d already arranged to have her vehicle towed to a safe place.

Yvonne got Westport Center Services to bring the car back from New Jersey. They delivered it to a service center in Bridgeport.

Yvonne was hesitant to go there at night. She worried there might be a weapon in the car. So — long after his shift was over — Phil met her in Bridgeport.

“It was awesome to have a police officer there,” Yvonne says. “He couldn’t have been nicer. And he said if I needed anything else, to just call.”

Phil Restieri — and all his colleagues at the Westport Police Department — are Yvonne O’Kane’s Unsung Heroes.

But here’s the thing: This is the kind of thing they do all day, every day.  We don’t hear about stories like this, unless they impact us. Or unless someone like Yvonne tells us.

So: If you’ve got a Westport Police Unsung Heroes story to share, click “Comments” below.

(Want to nominate your own Unsung Hero? Email dwoog@optonline.net) 

Unsung Heroes #86

A few weeks ago, Katherine Bruan’s son was in a serious automobile accident. Ever since, her days have been filled with whatever a mom can do to help.

When he was still in the hospital, Katherine got an email from the Westport Library. She had 2 overdue books.

Both had been in the car. When it caught fire, they were destroyed. Katherine said she’d pay for both of them.

Immediately, the library replied: There was no charge.

The library is here for the community, the email said. She did not need one extra thing to worry about.

Take care of your son, the library added. And if you need anything from us, please call.

After the accident, many Westporters have reached out to help Katherine and her son. She is grateful to all.

But that one email was particularly special.

Any library is an institution. How nice that ours also has a heart.

 

Unsung Heroes #85

An Alzheimer’s Caregiver Support Group meets the second Thursday of every month at the Westport Senior Center. A volunteer writes:

Today as I left our meeting, I was struck with a profound sense of admiration for the strength and courage that each of the caregivers around the table exhibit time and time again.

These men and women give of themselves constantly, with no expectation of anything in return. They go above and beyond to make sure their loved ones are cared for physically, emotionally, socially and spiritually.

It is a thankless job. Burnout is common.

Every day we are surrounded by these unsung heroes. They tackle the responsibilities of their own lives, careers and families, while patiently and lovingly coordinating an array of services, appointments and support for their loved ones.

These caregivers show so much love and commitment to others. They too deserve a little love from the rest of us.

So true! If you are a caregiver — for Alzheimer’s, a family member or loved one suffering from cancer or any other illness, or a child who needs constant, consistent help — take a second, and take a bow. You are our Unsung Heroes of the Week.

Unsung Hero #84

Ana Rogers grew up in Westport. For the past 11 years she’s owned a dog-walking business. Something happened at Winslow Park a few weeks ago that she thought deserved mention on “06880.” It sure does! Ana writes:

I was on my last walk of the day, with 5 of my most well-behaved dogs. Winslow Park was almost empty.

I bumped into Mike Greenberg and his German shepherd, Luna. Mike grew up in Westport, and designs and builds beautiful houses. (He’s not to be confused with the other Mike Greenberg, the sports broadcaster and writer, whose dog I happened to be walking.)

Mike the builder and I don’t know each other well. But he’s good friends of a friend of mine. We decided to do a loop around the trails together.

It was a cold day. The dogs were frisky and playful.

German shepherds — and labs, and every other kind of dog — love Winslow Park. (Photo/Tracy Porosoff)

Halfway around the loop, a golden retriever I was walking ran from behind me, and clipped my right side. My feet went out from under me, and I put out my right arm to break my fall.

The impact jammed all my weight into my elbow. I knew right away something was terribly wrong.

The dogs also sensed it. One licked my face as I lay on the ground.

Mike tried to help me up several times, but I felt like I was going to faint. This went on for 20 minutes. No one passed us the entire time.

Finally, I was able to stand. Mike helped me back to my car. He suggested I call the owners to come pick up their dogs. But no one was home.

Mike Greenberg

Mike realized he could not leave me there. I was in shock, and unable to drive. So he loaded the dogs in my car, and added his to the group.

We dropped the 5 dogs off: one by Clinton Avenue, then over to Marion Road, then toward the beach on Grove Point.

When the last dog was dropped off, Mike took me to Norwalk Hospital. I had 2 broken bones in my elbow. I’m in a splint for 6 weeks, then physical therapy.

I know Mike had other plans that afternoon — I heard him cancel some appointments.

The entire ordeal took a few hours.  But the entire time Mike was cheerful, trying to distract me from my pain and distress.

I don’t know what I would have done if Mike Greenberg hadn’t been there. He was my guardian angel — and  my unsung hero.

Unsung Heroes #83

The Westport PAL Rink at Longshore doesn’t get a lot of press.

But every winter for over 20 years — quietly, efficiently, and very, very joyfully — the outdoor skating center just a few feet from Long Island Sound has provided thousands of kids and adults of all abilities (and none) with hours of good fun, and a lifetime of memories.

It’s not easy keeping an ice rink going — especially one without a roof. There’s ice to groom (and remove snow from). There’s the weather — sometimes too cold, sometimes too warm.

There are schedules to make (and adhere to), lessons to give, parties to help out with, reckless teenagers and worried parents to tend to.

The Westport Rink at Longshore. (Photo/Michael Winser)

I can’t imagine how the PAL Rink staff does it. But they do — and they do it in a way that makes it all seem easy. They smile often, extend helping hands when needed, and create a warm environment on even the coldest nights.

So to longtime manager Tony Lantier and his loyal, hard-working and often-overlooked crew: Thank you! You are our deeply appreciated yet Unsung Heroes of the week.

Manager Tony Lantier, at his rink.

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)