Category Archives: Westport life

Giving Thanks, For …

Today is the day nearly every Westporter is supposed to have power.

Of course, we are all supposed to wear masks, maintain social distance, and walk facing traffic too. So I’m not holding my breath.

But as someone who did get the juice back Saturday afternoon, I know the feeling of flipping a switch, and watching lights actually come on.

Not to mention the joy of a hot shower, a cold freezer, a phone that shows 4 bars and a computer that connects to the internet.

A crew from Canada connects us to the world. (Photo/Doerte Inett)

Of all of those things, I think that last one — being able to send emails, read the news, and post to “06880” without a jury-rigged tin cup and wire — is the most important to me. It may say something about my values, or life in Westport in 2020, but of all the things I can’t live without, connectivity tops the list.

What about you? What did you miss most in the long days after Isaias? What was the first thing you did after all those lights, appliances and things you never realized need electricity clicked on?

What did you learn — about yourself, your family and your town — over the past week?

Click “Comments” to share. It’s easy, now that we are back to normal.

Or as normal as things get, in this year we will never forget.

The ADA In Westport: 30 Years Of Progress

Thirty years ago this week, President George H.W. Bush signed the Americans With Disabilities Act into law.

It was a monumental achievement. The ADA prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability in employment, state and local government, public accommodations, transportation and more.

Its effects have been both intended (curb cuts make things easier for wheelchair users; closed captioning aids people with hearing loss) and unintended (those same curb cuts help anyone pushing a stroller or wheeling luggage; closed captions are great for TVs in noisy spots like restaurants and bars.

In Westport — as in the rest of the nation — the ADA has made building access easier. At Compo Beach, Mobi-Mats intended to ease the trek across sand to the Sound for people with mobility problems has been a boon to anyone hauling a cooler (or young kids).

Compo Beach Mobi-Mat. (Photo/Patti Brill)

The new bathrooms at South Beach are a welcome relief to many. So are the walkways that now lead from the pavilion all the way to the kayak launch.

Jim Ross — chair of Westport’s Commission on People With Disabilities — notes a few other important local initiatives.

The Remarkable Theater‘s drive-in movies have brought joy and life to Westport during this entertainment-starved COVID summer. But the theater has another, equally important mission: to create meaningful employment for the disability community. That visibility may be another legacy of the ADA.

The confidential Voluntary Registry — managed by Westport’s Department of Human Services, in conjunction with the Police Department — enables individuals with disabilities, and their families or caregivers, to register medical and living arrangements, so it can be known during a police or fire emergency.

Town officials and disability leaders are working to secure independent housing facilities on town-owned property.

An “Employment is for Everyone” initiative is in its early stages. Ross’ commission is working with the Westport Weston Chamber of Commerce and Westport Downtown Merchants Association to help people with disabilities find employment here — and help Westport businesses better serve the disability community.

When a beach wheelchair was delivered more than 10 years ago, then-Parks & Rec director Stuart McCarthy gave Rotary president Irwin Lebish a ride.

It is estimated that up to 1 in 5 Americans have some sort of disability. Have you, a relative or friend been impacted by the ADA? How does Westport compare to other places, in terms of accessibility and accommodations? Are there areas where Westport can do better? Click “Comments” below.

(For more on the 30th anniversary of the ADA, click here. Hat tips: Diane Johnson and Elaine Daignault.)

[OPINION] Drivers, Bikers, Joggers, Strollers: Be Careful!

Peter Blau is a marketing consultant. He grew up in Westport, lives in Weston, and bikes often. He writes:

I’ve been out cycling a lot recently. So have lots of other people. And way more pedestrians too, than before COVID.

Trouble is, traffic is back with a vengeance now that retail and recreation is reopening. It’s only a matter of time before someone gets killed or seriously hurt. Here are some of the most dangerous things I see:

Drivers approach a biker, pedestrian or even a pedestrian/stroller duo, and swerve across the yellow line without slowing down. Sometimes they’re actually accelerating to “make it” before the oncoming car passes. I have seen near misses, and fear that someday one of these drivers will swerve back into his lane and kill whoever is walking or cycling by.

Pedestrians who walk well into the roadway, with their back to car and cycle traffic, sometimes while distracted by operating their mobile device. Or pedestrians who use the road when there’s a sidewalk available.

That was the case in a near-miss between my bike and a jogger in the road on Hillspoint just north of the beach. The guy yelled at me to “watch out!”” even though I could not swerve away from him, because a car was passing. My only choice was to brake, but he could have easily moved onto the sidewalk, or the grassy verge in between.

Group cyclists riding 2 or more abreast so they can converse more easily. This prompts unnecessarily wide swerving by cars. When there’s lots of oncoming traffic, it forces drivers to move at a snail’s pace, sometimes provoking angry motorists into an aggressive driving maneuver.

Now that COVID is less of a worry around here, we all need to focus on sharing the road safely. Remember: Let’s be careful out there!

Police: Property Crimes On The Rise

The Westport Police Department says;

As the COVID-19 quarantines and associated restrictions have gradually eased in Connecticut, you may have noticed an increase in daily vehicular traffic throughout Fairfield County.

Unfortunately, traffic is not all that seems to be on the rise. What has been the most striking to the Westport Police Department is a marked increase in property crimes.

Comparing an approximately 40-day period from late May to early July in 2019 and 2020, statistics indicate an upward trend.

Within this period in 2019, the department investigated 3 stolen motor vehicle complaints. In 2020 we have investigated a total of 10 within the same time period, while an 11th stolen vehicle from another jurisdiction was recovered here.

In every case, the stolen vehicle was left unlocked with keys inside overnight. Some of these vehicles were recovered in other jurisdictions, but many remain unaccounted for.

Almost always closely tied to motor vehicle thefts are burglaries of parked and unoccupied vehicles in driveways.

In the specified time frame in 2019, the department handled 5 incidents of motor vehicles being entered/burglarized. In 2020 we handled 11 of these types of incidents in that same time frame.

In all recent cases, the vehicles were left unlocked. In multiple cases, wallets containing credit cards were stolen and subsequently used to make  purchases.  The actual numbers of these types of incidents are assumed to be higher than as reported, as many residents do not notify police in situations where vehicles were entered but nothing of any significant value appears to have been taken.

In this sample period in 2019, the department investigated 3 burglary complaints (2 commercial, 1 residentail).  In this same stretch of time in 2020 we have investigated 6 residential burglaries, 4 of which included forced entry.  The most brazen was perpetrated in the overnight hours while the home was occupied and the residents asleep. Entry was gained through an unlocked door.

Footage from a Nest camera last weekend shows a burglar casing out an an Old Hill area home.

In 2019, the department responded to 1 shoplifting incident within this timeframe. In the same period in 2020, we have responded to 8 such complaints.

Please let this data serve as a stark reminder that property crimes and theft seem to be trending upward in Westport.  Again, this is a small sample in time of slightly more than a month, but it merits careful attention.

Measures are being taken by the department to stop or slow this trend.  Preventative measures such as locking doors, arming alarms and securing valuables, coupled with the vigilance of our officers, is the key to safeguarding our neighborhoods.

If you observe suspicious activity in your neighborhood, please don’t delay in contacting us. Maintaining public safety and security is only possible through a continued partnership with the residents we proudly serve.

No one knows your neighborhood better than you do. The information and feedback provided by our community is vital to our crime prevention efforts and overall effectiveness as a law enforcement agency.

Moving To Town, In The Midst Of COVID

MaryLou Roels is used to moving.

In 35 years of marriage the Chicago native has lived in Dallas, back to Chicago, Phoenix and — from 2000 to 2020 — Seattle.

Her husband Chuck manages assets for computer resales. She’s taught psychology, sociology and classical flute; been a realtor; started a non-profit that provides clothes for people entering the job market, and served as Washington director for the Sarcoma Foundation of America.

Along the way, she raised 3 children. They’re now scattered around the country.

So when a recruiter called Chuck and offered him a job with an East Coast hedge fund, he and MaryLou said “sure!”

They figured theirs would be a normal goodbye, to friends and colleagues they’d grown close to over their 20 years in the Pacific Northwest.

But they lived in Redmond. They bordered Kirkland: ground zero for the first coronavirus outbreak in the US. When MaryLou, Chuck and their cat got in their car to drive east, they left in the midst of a pandemic.

MaryLou and Chuck Roels, leaving their Washington home …

Of course, the full crisis had not yet hit much of America. By Montana, MaryLou says, most people said, “Wear a mask? What are you talking about?!” She went to the gym for the first time in a month.

It was the same all across the country.

By the time the couple reached their new home though — Westport — “it was like the first day in Seattle.” Our town was in the throes of COVID-19. Dozens of Westporters had been infected. Twenty or so had died.

MaryLou and Chuck had brought plenty of masks and hand sanitizers. They were in short supply.

The couple was used to moving to a new, unfamiliar place. Yet they’d never done it when that new place was unfamiliar even to longtime residents. Everything here was shut down.

… and arriving in Westport.

“We read ‘06880’ to get a sense of the town,” MaryLou says. “But every story was about what used to be.”

She walked Compo Beach alone. She loved it. But she had the place to herself.

Slowly though, the town has been opening up. Just as slowly, MaryLou is discovering what Westport really is like. She likens it to a child making sense of the world.

She enjoys learning the town’s history. She marvels at the stone walls, deer and foxes (and was fascinated to find the F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald connection. She looks forward to going to Italian restaurants.

Life in the Connecticut suburbs. (Photo/MaryLou Roels)

She and Chuck meet neighbors on walks. They ask if they’re “the new people. Everyone is so nice. They say hello. It’s nothing like the ‘Seattle freeze.'”

That’s as far as it goes, however. “We can’t really do much socializing,” MaryLou observes. “There are not really any barbecues.”

Still, MaryLou says, “I love Westport! I know that’s odd, because I don’t have anything to do yet. I’m sure I’ll have a project soon.”

That was our conversation last week. The next day, she emailed me with news.

MaryLou had already landed a job. She joins an educational firm, discussing the online K-12 model with superintendents, curriculum directors and other personnel.

She’ll work from home. So she’ll still have plenty of time to walk at the beach and around her neighborhood. She’ll watch the wildlife, and sample our restaurants.

Welcome to Westport, MaryLou and Chuck! There really is a lot going on here — even with the pandemic. Enjoy!

Marpe’s Message: Holiday Is More Than Fireworks

1st Selectman Jim Marpe says:

Today is the day that most of us would be preparing food and drink, joining friends, and enjoying the ultimate Westport experience of our Annual July 4th fireworks at Compo Beach.

Many of you would typically continue that celebration through the holiday weekend and into the upcoming week. Unfortunately this year, we can’t gather as we typically do to celebrate our nation’s independence.

Although COVID has restricted our ability to gather, we can’t forget that the July 4th holiday is more than fireworks, parties, and picnics. Instead, it can serve as an opportunity to reflect and re-direct the energy we may have spent in those celebratory rituals.

This year let’s be innovative in how we celebrate with close family and friends, staying at home and enjoying each other’s company. Consider taking the time to acknowledge that all of our brothers and sisters, no matter their race, creed, color, religion, sexual orientation or gender expression, deserve the same independence we cherish in Westport.

While there are those who continue to struggle, we must learn from the mistakes of the past, and move forward in a concrete, firm, resolute manner to make the positive changes in our community that reflect the current conditions of this 2020 world.

Town departments, health and safety officials, and local community volunteers and leaders continue to coordinate and advance the deliberate phased reopening plans. This insures that the difficult decisions that minimized and contained the virus were not in vain. Westport is on the right track, moving forward, cautiously and carefully, but with resilience and hope.

I encourage you to continue this positivity and show your community spirit by engaging in the #ilovewestport campaign. Please check out #Ilovewestport; let us know why you love Westport and how you will commit to making a difference during these changing times.

Personally, I plan to show that “I Love Westport” by committing to wearing a mask out of respect for all my fellow Westporters, by promoting policies that ensure social distancing, by prioritizing health and safety during reopening, and by supporting our local businesses. And I commit to engaging in ongoing dialogue that will make all our residents, visitors and businesses feel safe and welcome in Westport.

Let’s celebrate this holiday with hope, imagination and a sense of community. Whether speaking about phased and gradual implementation for reopening, to the difficult but necessary discussions about racism and policing, we are a community of resilience, a community of love and hope, and a community of history with the means to affect true change in how we govern and interact. I look forward to gathering once again in the near future, with all the necessary steps to keep us safe and healthy, to celebrate our strength and fortitude, and to celebrate our independence.

Thank you, Westport, for your continued cooperation and patience. We are in this together and we will get out of it together – stronger than ever before. I hope that you have a healthy, happy, and innovative Fourth of July holiday. Please enjoy yourselves and continue to be safe.

(Photo by Lynn U. Miller)

jUNe Day Is Busting Out All Over (Online)

This weekend, flags from dozens of nations will fly on the Ruth Steinkraus Cohen Bridge.

It’s Westport’s traditional welcome to hundreds of United Nations diplomats, staff and their families.

(Photo/Jeff Simon)

But that’s the only part of this year’s celebration that will be traditional.

For 55 years, the last Saturday in June has been the date for Westport to host the world. Guests arrive at the train station. After breakfast at Saugatuck Elementary School and a couple of (thankfully) brief speeches, they fan out around town with hosts.

They shop, swim, play golf and soccer, tour Earthplace, eat — you know, just a typical day here.

The pandemic — literally, a “worldwide epidemic” — made the 56th annual jUNe Day an in-person unreality.

But the UN is all about problem-solving. So is the UN Association of Southwest Connecticut.

So tomorrow (Saturday, June 27, 7 to 8 p.m.), jUNe Day goes virtual.

The Zoom affair includes greetings from the Secretary General, Senators Murphy and Blumenthal, Congressman Himes and 1st Selectman Marpe.

Then the fun begins. There’s an interactive quiz, with international, UN and Connecticut questions

Famed actor/Weston resident Jim Naughton — a longtime UN advocate — researched, wrote and delivers a compelling case for international engagement.

Westport’s Sylvia Corrigan and 2020 Weston High graduate Morno Burns-Min sing “We Are the World.”

Broadway and opera star Kelli O’Hara of Westport riffs, and ’20 Staples grad Charlie Fitzpatrick describes how his UN Association senior internship prepared him for life.

There’s something for everyone. And the UNASWCT hosts — who worked as hard on the Zoom meeting as they did organizing the previous 55 events — hope the entire town takes part.

Click here to join the fun. And click on the video below, to see just what jUNe Day means to some of the many longtime volunteers.

Roundup: July 4th House Decorating Contest; #FridayFlowers; More


There will be no 4th of July fireworks this year. But you can still show your patriotism — and win tickets to the 2021 show.

Westport’s Parks & Recreation Department and Westport PAL — the sponsors of what is usually our town’s biggest party — are collaborating on the first-ever “4th of July House Decorating Contest.”

They encourage residents to decorate the side of your house most visible from the street, showing off the themes of “patriotism” and “America.”

Click here to register, so your house can be judged (on July 2). There are 1st, 2nd and 3rd prizes.

BONUS: The winning houses will be featured on “06880” too!

Showing the flag, on Hillspoint Road.


Surprise!

The Westport Downtown Merchants Association is honoring Staples High School’s graduating seniors with a special tribute: banners, flying high.

Every 12th grader’s name — all 443 — is on one of the 39 handsome, Staples-blue pennants. They were a surprise until yesterday. Now everyone can see them, on Main Street, Elm Street and Church Lane.

One more great reason to head downtown!

Nicole and Victoria Caiati, with “their” banner.


The Westport Garden Club’s #FridayFlowers campaign brought them this week to St. Luke Church. There was special meaning for their volunteer efforts: The club’s monthly meetings — open to the public — are held in the church’s Community Room.


Westport Garden Club member Louise Demakis (left) with Sister Maureen in the garden at St. Luke Church. (Photo/ Kelle Ruden)


On Thursday, Aly Sivinski graduates from Staples High School. Since her first half-marathon 2 years ago, it was her dream to run in the New York City Marathon.

COVID-19 made that impossible this fall. But with time on her hands now, she decided to run her own half-marathon around here. She spent the past 8 weeks training, and will run her half on June 21.

Aly says, “Due to recent events in our society and the continued perpetuation of systemic racism, I have to decide to use my run to raise money for Black Lives Matter and the Connecticut Bail Fund.”

She hopes for either a flat donation of $13.10 (for the 13.1 miles), or a pledge of a any amount per mile. Click here to help.

Aly Sivinski


And finally … powerful, thought-provogking words from Depeche Mode:

Bill Vornkahl’s Memorial Day: The Sequel

This might have been a lonely Memorial Day for Bill Vornkahl.

As “06880” reported this morning, the 90-year-old Korean War veteran recently lost his wife of 65 years.

And this year — for the first time in the 50 years he has organized Westport’s annual parade and tribute to fallen service members — the entire event was canceled, due to COVID.

But his family arranged a socially distanced cookout in the driveway of his Cross Highway home.

And in mid-morning — just like every year at Town Hall — Vornkahl heard “The Star-Spangled Banner” and “Taps.”

Nick Rossi sings the national anthem.

The national anthem was sung stirringly by Nick Rossi. The 2019 Staples High School graduate — now a student at Boston College — is a veteran of Veteran’s Green. He played and sang at last year’s ceremony.

The mournful brass notes were sounded by Sam Atlas. The 2018 Staples grad is a trumpet major at the Oberlin Conservatory of Music, where she plays in the orchestra, wind ensemble and chamber groups.

Sam Atlas plays “Taps.”

It was a fitting tribute for the man who is Westport’s “Mr. Memorial Day.” And he responded as any soldier would:

(Photos/Janine Scotti)

Memorial Day 2020

Around this time every year, I post photos from that day’s Memorial Day parade.

The collection shows so much of what makes Westport a community: a parade filled with kids and parents, cops and soldiers and fife-and-drummers; a meaningful ceremony on aptly named Veteran’s Green; flags, fun and a history-themed Y’s Men float that always wins the grand prize.

This year’s Memorial Day is different. A global pandemic — the worst since influenza ravaged the planet during World War I — has forced us apart. There will be no Little Leaguers (or Little League) today. There are no big parties. There’s no a grand marshal, no reflective speech, no moving, mournful “Taps.”

Next year we’ll again come together to honor our war heroes, and celebrate our history. In the meantime, let’s reflect on the meaning of today.

And look back on Memorial Days in Westport, from the past.

(Photo/Carminei Picarello)

The 2019 Bedford and Coleytown Middle School bands, (Photo/Sarah Tamm)

The reviewing stand. Last year’s grand marshal Nick Zeoli is at far right. (Photo/Dan Woog)

A Myrtle Avenue home honors the holiday. (Photo/Dan Woog)

Ed Vebell was one of Westport’s honored — and few remaining — World War II veterans. He served as the 2016 grand marshal.

Westport’s state champion 10-and-under softball team, and the 12-and-under runners-up, in 2016.

The dougbhoy statue in Veterans Green honors World War I service members. (Photo/Ted Horowitz)

RTM member Andrew Colabella

Longtime parade organizer Bill Vornkahl talks with a veteran. (Photo/Kat Soren)

Alex Merton is captivated by a fife and drum corps. (Photo/Fred Cantor)

A Staples High School bugler plays “Taps.”

Troop 39 Boy Scouts lead the Pledge of Allegiance. In 2016, rain forced the ceremony indoors, at Town Hall.

.2015. (Photo/John Hartwell)

(Photo/Pam Romano-Gorman)

Staples High School band, 1971,

1st Selectman Herb Baldwin (far right) during a Memorial Day parade, in the late 1960s or early ’70s. Also in front, from left: John Davis Lodge, a Westporter, former governor of Connecticut and ambassador to Spain Argentina and Switzerland; U.S. Congressman Stewart McKinney.

A scene from 1962. The young man in front with the camera is future 1st Selectman (and CBS news correspondent, and WestportNow publisher) Gordon Joseloff. He ws covering the event for the Westport Town Crier newspaper.

Girl Scouts, 1955.

Leonard H. Gault driving fire truck in a 1920s parade, by Willowbrook Cemetery.

Bonus feature: One of the best Veteran’s Day speeches ever was Howard Munce’s. In 2008, the grand marshal said:

(Hat tip: Ellen Naftalin)