Category Archives: Westport life

Westport Firefighter: “Every Neighborhood Deserves To Be Safe”

Some of us look at Westport’s new, large homes and say “oh no!”

Others say “aaah!”

Nick Marsan sees them and thinks “uh oh!”

He’s a Westport firefighter. He knows that — with their open floor plan — new construction burns faster than old.

He also knows that — with just 2 men assigned to one engine in both the Greens Farms and Coleytown fire stations — the situation is dire.

Two men, one engine at the Greens Farms fire station.

Marsan is also president of Westport Uniformed Firefighters IAFF Local 1081.

So he’s decided to speak out.

“Family safety is our number one priority,” he says. “Unfortunately, we’ve reached a point where we can no longer protect you in the way you deserve.”

A 2-person engine crew has limited responses, Marsan says. They can choose to rescue a trapped family member — no easy task, in a large house. Or they can attempt to extinguish the fire.

Marsan says national standards recommend 4 firefighters per engine, to safely battle a house fire in a 2,200 square foot residence.

Westport’s average home size is 5,500 square feet, Marsan notes. He’s asking for only 3 firefighters.

The issue dates back to 2007, he says. Town officials agreed then to 3 firefighters per truck.

But the recession hit. Faced with budget choices, politicians pulled back to 2 per truck — and changed post-retirement benefits for new hires.

The new pension plan will save Westport $40 million over the next 20 years, Marsan says.

So, he believes, “now is the time to put 3 people  on every truck, in every station. The savings are there.”

Every Westporter, he adds — regardless of where in town they live — “deserves a safe and effective response.”

The Westport Fire Department “will continue to do a very professional and dedicated job,” Marsan says.

“We just want as much safety as possible — for Westporters, ourselves, and our own families.”


(Photo/Kelley Spearen)

Yes, this is a handicap spot outside Fresh Market.

No, there was no handicap placard on the rear view mirror or dash.

Yes, this was the way the car was parked — for at least 15 minutes.

Yes, that certainly is an ironic license plate.

Fireworks Tickets On Sale Now!

No one snoozes during Westport’s Independence Day fireworks.

But if you snooze too long now, you’ll have a tough time seeing them at Compo Beach.

Parking at Compo for the 62nd annual fireworks — which, in true Westport tradition, are blasted off a barge not on July 4th but, this year, on Monday July 2 — is by ticket only.

Sales — which began today — are limited, and on a first-come, first-serve basis. Once they sell out, shuttle passes from Longshore are available for purchase.

Tickets are available at Westport Police Department headquarters (50 Jesup Road), and the Parks and Recreation office (in Longshore, near the first tee).

The price is $35 per car (pack ’em in!). Before you bitch and moan: Proceeds go to Westport PAL, to support many programs — and thousands of kids.

And before you complain that the fireworks are sponsored by Melissa & Doug — the international (and locally owned) toy company — remember that because of them, PAL does not have to shell out money for all those firework shells.

Absolutely worth $35!

Memorial Day 2018: The Ceremony

After today’s parade — after all the police, firefighters and EMTs marched past; after all the Little Leaguers, Suzuki violinists and Y gymnasts romped by; after the Y’s Men’s perennial award-winning float brought tears to the eyes — several hundred Westporters headed to Veterans Green.

There — across from Town Hall, surrounded by the doughboy statue, monuments to war dead, and a flag at half-staff — the real meaning of “Memorial” Day took place.

With patriotic songs, insightful remarks, the laying of a wreath, a 21-gun salute and mournful “Taps,” we paid tribute to the men and women who gave the ultimate sacrifice. They are the reason we are here today.

Three veterans remember.

Staff sergeant Eric Rios.

First Selectman Jim Marpe acknowledges (from left) parade organizer Bill Vornkahl, grand marshal Larry Aasen, his wife Martha Aasen, and 101-year old veteran Ted Diamond.

Part of the large crowd at Veterans Green

Grand marshal Larry Aasen spoke about the horrors of war. In addition to his own experiences with the 13th Airborne Division, he spoke about his uncle’s death by mustard gas in World War I, and his brother who saw the concentration camps of World War II. “We all pray for peace,” Aasen said. (Photo/Ted Horowitz)

Parade organizer Bill Vornkahl (right) talks with a longtime Westporter. (Photo/Kat Soren)

Another veteran reflects. (Photo/Doris Ghitelman)

The doughboy statue in Veterans Green (Photo/Ted Horowitz)

A Staples High School bugler plays “Taps.”

Memorial Day 2018: The Parade!

For the first time in 3 years, Westport’s Memorial Day parade was on.

It was cloudy and cool — but no one cared. One of our town’s greatest traditions took place again. From Riverside Avenue, over the bridge, up the Post Road and across Myrtle Avenue, it was a beautiful red-white-and-blue day!

Grand marshal Larry Aasen and his wife Martha (Photo/Ted Horowitz)

Mike Calise loves a parade (Photo/Maria Calise O’Herron)

Milissa Pianka was shown in yesterday’s “06880” 1981 parade video as a baby, on the steps of Assumption Church. She’s there today 37 years later (far right) witih her husband, 3 kids and other relatives. (Photo/Billy Nistico)

A classic car heads up Riverside Drive (Photo/Ted Horowitz)

Town officials (Photo/Gerald Romano)

One of the many creative floats (Photo/Dan Woog)

Longtime Westporter John Freeman is 94 years old. He fought at the Battle of the Bulge. (Photo/Dan Woog)

Not everyone walks (Photo/Carolyn McPhee)

What’s a parade without a vintage fire truck? (Photo/David Squires)

Jim Marpe poses with veterans (Photo/Ted Horowitz)

Suzuki violinists entertain the crowd (Photo/Doris Ghitelman)

Indefatigable patriot Miggs Burroughs … (Photo/Ted Horowitz)

… and indefatigable former 2nd selectman Betty Lou Cummings (Photo/Doris Ghitelman)

This vehicle has a very young driver (Photo/Jodi Harris)

The reviewing stand in front of Town Hall (Photo/dan Woog)

Man’s best friend celebrates too (Photo/Doris Ghitelman)

More Memories: 1981 Memorial Day Parade

In December 1980, Tom Leyden bought a video camera.

He was one of the first Westporters to tape kids’ sports, school shows and other events.

An early effort — taken from the Assumption Church steps — was the 1981 Memorial Day parade.

Leyden’s son had just won a trivia contest on WMMM’s morning show. The prize: a chance to ride with host John LaBarca, in the back of a groovy convertible.

Leyden captured that moment — and the rest of the parade too.

It’s all here: former Governor John D. Lodge and all the town bigwigs; the Staples High School, and Long Lots, Coleytown and Bedford Junior High bands; WWPT sports broadcasters, Little Leaguers, Scouts, Indian Guides, the Westport Historical Society — even Big Bird.

There are many gems. Right at the beginning, for instance, we see Bill Cribari — the man the Saugatuck River bridge is named after — strutting proudly along.

Westport’s Memorial Day parade is timeless. After 37 years, so much in this video looks familiar.

Except for one thing: Everyone actually watches the parade.

There’s not one cell phone to be seen.


Going To The Parade? Send Photos!

The Memorial Day parade is one of Westport’s favorite town events.

Everyone has a favorite spot to watch from. Everyone has a favorite band, float or marcher to photograph.

But why share them only with a few hundred dear pals, casual acquaintances and random how’d-they-get-on-my-list Facebook “friends”?

On Monday — weather permitting — let all of Westport see “your” Memorial Day parade. Send a few (not all!) of your photos to “06880” (email:

The deadline is 1 p.m. Please include brief identification, if needed, and of course your own name.

I’ll post some (not all!) in the afternoon.

And be creative! We want special photos, for our special parade.

Westport celebrates Memorial Day in many ways. Here’s one shot from the parade route.

Unsung Hero #49

On Monday, Westport celebrates Memorial Day.

We do it with one of the town’s most popular and beloved events of the year: a fun, wonderful and wide-ranging parade, followed by a solemn yet uplifting ceremony across from Town Hall.

It’s a huge undertaking. Hundreds of town employees and volunteers pitch in to make it all work. It seems effortless, but it’s anything but.

None of it would happen, though, without the leadership of Bill Vornkahl.

This will be the Westporter’s 49th year at the helm. When he started in 1970, the parade may have included Spanish-American War veterans. Today there are only a few who served in World War II.

Vornhkahl — now 88 years old — is a Korean War vet. He spent 14 months on the island of Hokkaido, Japan, working as a high-speed radio operator in the 1st Cavalry Division.

In 2013, he was inducted into the Connecticut Veterans Hall of Fame.

Bill Vornkahl

Vornkahl has been a member of the Westport Veterans Council even longer than he’s run the parade: 57 years.

From 1996 to ’99 he was treasurer of Westport’s War Monument Committee, helping place memorials to various wars on Veterans Green.

He joined the Greens Farms Volunteer Fire Company in 1950. He’s served as secretary/treasurer of both that company and Saugatuck Hose Company #4, and as president of the Westport Volunteer Fire Company from 1973 to ’93.

He coached Little League for more than 20 years, and for over a decade was part of the Staples High School football sideline crew.

Vornkahl has dedicated his life to Westport. Of all he’s done, the Memorial Day parade is his special passion. He makes sure it all happens flawlessly.

In 2015, Bill Vornkahl and 3 Girl Scout Daisies recited the Pledge of Allegiance.

Of course, the one thing he can’t control is the weather. The last 2 years, predictions of rain have canceled the parade, and moved the ceremonies indoors.

You may have seen him inside Town Hall, introducing the color guard, bands and speakers.

This Monday, we all hope he’ll be outdoors on Veterans Green, doing the same.

He’ll be busy — as he has been every Memorial Day since 1970. So now is the best time to thank him for all he does.

Veterans usually don’t like honors. But Bill Vornkahl is a true Unsung Hero.

Most Entitled Parking Ever?

Sometimes, “06880” readers find a way to excuse an “entitled parking” photo.

The brake slipped. There was no one else nearby. It was raining.

I can’t imagine any way anyone can defend this parking job though, in Colonial Green.

It’s deliberate. It’s aggressive.

(Photo/Breno Donatti)

And — of course — there was no handicap permit.

Larry Aasen Leads Memorial Day Parade

“This is incredible. I’m 95. At my age, you don’t get many awards.”

That’s Larry Aasen’s reaction to being named grand marshal of the 2018 Memorial Day parade.

The World War II airborne sergeant — and 55-year Westport resident — will ride the route from Riverside Avenue down the Post Road, and up Myrtle Avenue to Veterans Green, on Monday, May 28. There, he’ll give the keynote address.

Aasen — and many other Westporters — hope the 3rd time’s the charm. The 2 previous Memorial Day parades have been canceled due to weather. The grand marshals delivered their addresses in the Town Hall auditorium.

Larry Aasen, at last year’s Memorial Day parade.

Aasen has a lot to talk about.

He was born in a log cabin in the middle of a North Dakota snowstorm. There was no electricity, running water, central heating — not even a bathroom.

Aasen rose to sergeant in the 13th Airborne. After training in North Carolina, he was sent to France. His division had 20-person gliders, with no protection. The mission was to drop behind enemy lines, and destroy anything of value. Gliders had a 70% casualty rate, Aasen says.

His job was cryptographer, encoding and decoding secret messages. He had a security clearance from the FBI.

After his discharge in 1946, Aasen earned a journalism degree from the University of North Dakota. He headed east, for a master’s at Boston University.

Aasen moved to New York, “to seek my fortune.” He spent 14 years with New York Life Insurance, rising to vice president of public relations, then 20 years with the Better Vision Institute on campaigns urging Americans to get their eyes checked. Aasen worked with Bob Hope, Muhammad Ali and other celebrities on those projects. (He’s also met 6 US presidents.)

When they posed for this photo, President Obama said to Larry Aasen, “let’s put the rose (Martha Aasen) between 2 thorns.”

In 1963, he, his wife Martha and their young children moved to Westport. “We needed more room than a New York apartment,” he explains. “There were a lot of media people here, and they loved it.”

He and Martha live in the same Ellery Lane house they bought over half a century ago. He calls it “the best investment we ever made.”

Aasen served 17 years on the Representative Town Meeting (RTM). His other volunteer activities include the Democratic Town Committee, Y’s Men, Rotary Club and Saugatuck Congregational Church.

Larry and Martha Aasen have not missed a Memorial Day parade in 54 years. This year, he’ll have a special role in it.

A well-deserved honor for one of Westport’s favorite 95-year-olds.