Category Archives: Westport life

Westport Bids Tina Goodbye

Some wore suits or dresses. Others wore jeans and wool caps.

Some were politicians, social service workers, police officers and Westporters who live in very comfortable homes. Others live at the Gillespie Center.

Ushers from Homes With Hope showed down-on-their-luck folks to their seats. Clergy from 3 different congregations conducted the service. The 1st selectman gave a reading. So did a Westport police officer, who spent much of his own youth in shelters.

Over 150 people — some from as far away as Baltimore and Brattleboro — filled Christ & Holy Trinity Episcopal Church this afternoon, for a funeral service honoring a woman some never met.

tina-wessel-funeral-program

Tina Wessel died last month. A homeless woman with a pronounced limp, she was a longtime fixture in downtown Westport.

In her life on the streets — and in the shed near the Senior Center where her body was found — she touched many hearts.

“She gave a lot of people the finger. She dropped a lot of f-bombs,” one woman said. “But look at all these people. They saw beyond that.”

They did indeed. As one woman related in remarks after the service, Tina had another remarkable side. An hour after receiving a donation of food, Tina knocked on the agency’s door.

“Here’s what I don’t need,” she said, returning some of her goods. “Can you give it to somebody else?”

Photos of Tina Wessel, from the program today.

Photos of Tina Wessel, from the program today.

Rev. Peter Powell — who founded and served as the first CEO of Homes With Hope — delivered a powerful, challenging sermon.

“Tina touched many of us in ways that would probably surprise her,” he said.

He noted that many of the readings at the service mentioned bringing bread to the hungry, and giving homes to the homeless.

“She was a challenge to work with,” Rev. Powell acknowledged. “But Tina had a role in Westport — one that we all need to think about.”

Rev. Peter Powell before the funeral, flanked by 1st Selectman Jim Marpe and Rev. Jeffrey Ryder of Green's Farms Congregational Church.

Rev. Peter Powell (center) before the funeral, flanked by 1st Selectman Jim Marpe and Rev. Jeffrey Ryder of Green’s Farms Congregational Church.

He recalled similar Westporters whose funerals he officiated at  — though one had only 3 mourners. He told their stories, and mentioned them all by name. They may have been homeless, but they were not faceless or nameless.

“Tina died cold, sick, alone and homeless,” Rev. Powell said. She — and others like her — should be remembered not because they needed us, but because “we need them.”

The town of Westport, police and Homes With Hope tried to help, Rev. Powell continued. Westport — “an amazingly generous town” — does far more for its homeless citizens than virtually any other affluent suburb in the country.

Tina did not accept some of that help. “Her reasons make no sense to you. But they did to her,” Rev. Powell explained.

“It’s not enough to love prodigiously, if people are cold or alone. We admired her pluck, her nature, her independence. But we could not find a way to house her as she wished.”

Calling Tina “an apostle,” Rev. Powell said that she has enabled us to “discover ourselves.”

When the service ended, Tina’s ashes were honored outside, in the church courtyard. It’s in the midst of downtown, where she spent so much of the last years of her life.

Mourners stood outside, as Tina's ashes were honored in the heart of downtown.

Mourners stood outside, as Tina’s ashes were honored in the heart of downtown.

Then everyone — social service workers, police officers, Westporters in very comfortable homes, residents of the Gillespie Center, and anyone else who knew Tina (or wished they had) — gathered downstairs. They shared food and coffee together.

And they remembered Tina.

(Donations in Tina’s name may be made to Westport Animal Shelter Advocates or Homes With Hope.)

Photos of Tina and her brother Ludy -- when both were young -- were displayed on a board in the church's Branson Hall.

Photos of Tina and her brother Ludy — when both were young — were displayed on a board in the church’s Branson Hall.

Tina’s Cat

Following the sad death of Tina Wessel — the homeless woman well known by nearly every Westporter — many “06880” commenters expressed concern for her beloved cat.

Third selectman Helen Garten reports that — thanks to great work by the Westport Police Department and Animal Control — the cat was found, and is safe.

Schulhof Animal Hospital is temporarily boarding Tina’s pet.

Westport Animal Shelter Advocates is soliciting donations for the cat’s medical examination and care. President Julie Loparo writes:

WASA thanks the Westport Police Department, particularly Chief Foti Koskinas; Animal Control officer Gina Gambino; Dorrie Harris, co-founder of TAILS; the staff of the Senior Center, particularly Tom Saviano, and the staff of Schulhof Animal Hospital for working together to humanely “trap” and provide care for Tina Wessel’s cat.

Westport Animal Shelter Advocates

The cat is calmly waiting in his/her crate for an exam. It is wonderful to live in a town with the compassion to want to do right by one of its long-term residents. This joint effort ensures that Ms. Wessel’s cat won’t be left to fend for itself.

WASA, with the kind assistance of the Schulhof staff, will oversee the cat’s care. When the time comes, it will secure a home for Ms. Wessel’s friend and furry family member.

If you would like to assist WASA with this effort, please visit www.westportwasa.org and click “Donate.” Please note on the form that you are donating in memory of “Tina’s cat.”  WASA is a 501c3 organization.

Many Westporters want to do something to honor Tina’s memory. This is one way to help.

tina-wessen-cat

Tina’s cat. (Photo courtesy of Westport Police Department)

Be Careful Out There!

“06880” has addressed this topic before. But with the holiday season here — and traffic increasing dramatically* — it’s worth mentioning again. A reader writes:

On Saturday afternoon, I thought I made the right call walking to and from Playhouse Square. It’s 10 minutes in nice weather — what could happen?

Unfortunately, the lady in the Mercedes SUV who drove right into me ruined that idea. I had the right of way. She just yelled “I couldn’t see you!” and sped off.

pedestrian-and-car-accidentThankfully I just have a minor scrape. Somehow I wasn’t injured, despite getting intimate with the grill of her car. Not that she stopped to see how I was doing or anything…

I didn’t get her license plate. It all happened in 4 seconds. A friend thinks I should make a statement to the police in case there was a traffic cam (I doubt it).

I strongly feel Westport should take notice of the insane effect of so many tiny parking lots, and people going 75 mph on the Post Road. It’s gotten so bad! I used to feel safe walking this town (or driving). Not anymore.

*Hard to believe, but true.

Giving Thanks

Thank you.

Thank you to Westport, for being — despite the ease and frequency with which we/I often knock it — a wonderful, warm, creative, arts-supporting, involved and ever-evolving community.

Thank you to all who make it so. As Westport prepares for the future — with new retail and residential developments on both sides of the river downtown, and in Saugatuck; with bridge repairs in various states of discussion and (in)action, and many more changes in store — we are not all on the same page. But in our own way, each of us wants what is best for our town. And, thankfully, we are nowhere near as dysfunctional as Washington.

Thank you to the people I spend so much time with: Westport’s teenagers. You are smart, passionate, compassionate and clever. You work far harder than I did when I was at Staples. You’ve got far more pressures on you than I had. Yet you handle it all with maturity and poise (most of the time). And you do it with plenty of smiles.

Thank you to the readers of “06880.” You are never without opinions, information and feedback. You feed me ideas and photos. You read my words at 5 a.m., noon and midnight. And when I tell you sorry, I can’t post a story about your lost cat/upcoming book signing/daughter’s lemonade stand, you (for the most part) understand.

Those are my thanks, this Thanksgiving day 2016. I’d love to hear yours. And — more importantly — so would everyone else in this great “06880” community. Just click “Comments” below.

Thank you!

I am thankful I live in a beautiful town. I am also thankful I'm not a turkey.

I am thankful I live in a beautiful town. I am also thankful I’m not a turkey.

Whipping Up A Community Thanksgiving Feast

After 46 years, you’d think the people organizing our annual Thanksgiving Day Community Feast would have their stuff together.

They do.

But in an attempt to make a fantastic event even better, they’ve added a few tweaks.

As usual, the meal — hosted by Saugatuck Congregational Church, in collaboration with Temple Israel, the United Methodist Church and Unitarian Church — takes place from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Thanksgiving Day.

As always, anyone looking to enjoy (and share) a holiday meal is welcome. There is no charge.

Last year, over 325 folks feasted together. The menu includes turkey, stuffing, baked and sweet potatoes, Brussels sprouts, carrots and pies — all donated by local merchants and caterers. There’s live entertainment too.

A small part of the Thanksgiving Community Feast.

A small part of the Thanksgiving Community Feast.

Saugatuck Nursery School makes napkin rings. Coleytown Middle School bakes holiday breads. Temple Israel decorates place mats and banners. The Westport Garden Club provides fruit centerpieces for every table.

More than 150 volunteers — some from the religious institutions involved, others not — make it happen. They shop, prep, cook, serve and clean up.

Those volunteers are key. And that’s where one of the tweaks will make this feast the best ever.

Two volunteer shifts have been added for Wednesday, November 23: the day before Thanksgiving. That allows people with commitments on the holiday to help out too. The shifts start at 2:30 and 4 p.m., and run 90 minutes each.

Also new: head chef Raquel Rivers-Pablo. She epitomizes the volunteer spirit of the Community Feast.

Cehf Raquel Rivers-Pablo

Chef Raquel Rivers-Pablo

Classically trained at restaurants like Le Bernardin, she’s been recognized for her volunteer work with City Harvest, and attended the launch of Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move! campaign at the White House. Chef Raquel has taught cooking and nutrition classes, and been lead chef at the West Side Campaign Against Hunger.

Now, she provides cooking education as part of the Urban Eats Culinary Training Program, and at food pantries, community meal sites, senior centers and Green Village Initiative community gardens.

Chef Raquel’s goal is to spread her love for food with as many people as possible. With all of Westport’s help, she’ll do exactly that next week.

(There are still spots available to help with the Community Feast. Click here to volunteer.)

Halloween House

Among the many Westport homes decorated and lit up for Halloween last night, this one on Juniper Road stood out.

halloween-house-juniper-road

(Photo/Peter Tulupman)

But there’s another reason — besides the striking, New York Mets-themed colors — that caught photographer Peter Tulupman’s eye.

He says there was a keg outside, for parents.

 

Be The Voice. #StopSuicide.

An alert “06880” reader writes:

On Sunday I attended my first “Out of the Darkness” event. Over 550 people went to Sherwood Island, for an important cause: raising awareness of, and preventing, suicide.

Suicide is the 4th leading cause of death in adults, and the 2nd leading cause in children.

Over the past year here, many of us have been affected by the loss of someone we know, by their own hand. Included in this list is a teenager, and a police officer.

Sherwood Island State Park, last Sunday. (Photo/Oliva Schoen)

Sherwood Island State Park, last Sunday. 

After the recent suicides in Westport, I was impacted personally and strongly. I suffer from deep depressive episodes, during which I cannot see through the dark forest.

My episodes last 1 to 2 weeks at a time. But the severity increased over the last few years. Finally I could not take the pain and suffering any longer.

A couple of months ago, I attempted suicide, by overdosing on medication. I landed in the hospital. Fortunately, I survived.

Many do not.

It’s hard to deal with the reality that I tried to kill myself. The reason I did not succeed is because someone saw the signs, and called 911. That saved my life.

Fast forward several weeks. I stood with hundreds of other people here in Westport, shining a light on this important cause.

Everyone was there for a different reason. Some lost loved ones to suicide; others lost friends or colleagues. Some suffer with depression, and need the support of those around them.

Some actually attempted suicide, but survived.

You may be aware of someone right now in your life who is suffering, and in so much pain that they want to take their own life.

Be the voice! #stopsuicide

Ask. Call. Help. Support. Love.

Because On A Beautiful Fall Day, It’s Important To Park As Close To The Nail Salon As Possible

An alert — and irate — “06880” reader writes:

Here is a photo I took in the Barnes & Noble parking lot.

barnes-and-noble-parking-lot-october-2016

No, that is  not a handicapped permit hanging from the Jeep’s rear view mirror — it’s just a parking permit for somewhere.

I saw the woman park there, in the middle of the busy entrance. She was about 35 years old. She walked over to the nail salon. There were plenty of spots a few rows down.

I watched appalled with my 2 boys in tow (10 and 5). I drove to a parking spot not far away. I got out of my car, walked over to hers and took the photo.

This was a teachable moment for my kids. I explained the difference between doing the right thing, and breaking the law for your own convenience!

Attempted Break-Ins Jolt Town

An alert — and concerned — “06880” reader writes:

Your “feel-good” story about Minute Men Cleaner’s return of money contrasted with the not-so-feel-good story of an attempted break in at my residence last Friday — which apparently is not an isolated incident. I share with you the story, hoping that readers will be careful to observe any suspicious activity and contact the police with any information.

Last Friday early afternoon, I left my house for 2 hours, then returned to Greens Farms.  All seemed normal.

I let my dog out, and noticed wood on the ground. Then I saw fresh wood on the door molding. My first inclination was that an animal did this.

I quickly realized though that someone (or a group of people) had tried breaking into our house while I was gone. I called the police. When they came, they said a number of other houses were hit around the same time.

They took photos, info, etc., and mentioned we were lucky to have a deadbolt on our door.  They said the crow bar that was apparently used was no match for the deadbolt.

A deadbolt helped deter the burglars. Here's what the door frame looked like afterward.

A deadbolt helped deter the burglars. Here’s what the door frame looked like afterward.

Hopefully our dog also started to bark. We do have a house alarm. It was activated but not triggered, since the intruders failed to enter.

This whole experience is very unsettling. My family has lived in 3 houses in Westport for 6 years. I have been married for almost 20 years, and have never had anyone attempt to break in to any of our homes.

We know we are fortunate not to deal with a break-in during the middle of the night, or even during the day. However, this left us feeling very violated and frustrated.

Westport PoliceNeedless to say, my children were surprised to see police when they got home from elementary school. I explained what happened. My son was more excited than scared, and couldn’t wait to bring this to “share” come Monday.

My 7 year old reacted very differently. She said, “I feel sick and scared.” I did everything to reassure her she is safe, and that the police will work on capturing the criminals.

When I told friends in the area what had happened, a woman told this story:

One morning last week, 2 youths rang my doorbell. I thought they were selling magazines. My dog was going crazy, so I didn’t open it wide or talk long.

They said they were looking for an address. I tried to help, but they hustled off.  For some reason it felt ‘off’ to me all weekend. It was weird that they didn’t say ‘thanks,’ and one of the guys was really smiley, like he knew he was being deceptive.

I closed the door and thought, which is unlike me, that these guys were casing the house, that I was grateful to have been home, and also to have my dog going crazy at them.

As I finished typing this, I just found out that a number of police cars were out in my neighborhood today, near the Post Road. Was it another attempted break-in?

Sad that we have to say and do this — but please be alert and lock your doors. Set your alarms if you have them.  Please call the police if you see anything.  Hopefully whoever is doing this will be caught.

P.S. A shout-out to local company Jake the Locksmith. They came to our house  the same day to see if the integrity of the door was compromised. Great service!


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Weekend Routine That Is Anything But

We all have weekends routines — the rituals we perform every Saturday or Sunday. We don’t think about them; we just do them. But they define us — and our town — more than we realize.

Alert “06880” reader Carter Wiseman shares his:

Most Saturday mornings, I visit People’s Bank on the Post Road at North Compo. Victoria and Nikki know my name. They don’t ask if I need my balance, because I view it online.

Trader Joe's - 1Next, I head across the street to Trader Joe’s. I check out avocados and more with Trude, whose bow-hunting father (I learned) pulled out her tooth by attaching it to an arrow.

From there it’s on to Westport Hardware. Dave once advised me on a cheap snake, so I did not have to call an $80-an-hour plumber to clear a bathroom drain.

I end my Saturday morning with a trip up the Post Road, to Liberty Army & Navy. I chat with Eve, the owner, who took over the store from her brother Bob (with whom I bonded over tales of the Viet Nam era. I had a cushy intelligence job with the Army in Germany; Bob was in the Air Force at Khe Sanh.)

My final stop is next door, at Castle Wines. I always look forward to seeing Kathleen, who has an advanced degree in oenology but nevertheless recommends an inexpensive Malbec.

What’s your weekend routine? Where do you go, who do you see, and why do you like it? Click “Comments” to share!