Category Archives: YMCA

Remembering Janet Beasley

Janet Beasley — the wife of Dr. Albert Beasley, and a longtime Westport resident and volunteer — died Saturday, after a long battle with cancer. She was 82 years old.

Janet was a staunch protector of wildlife, through Earthplace and other organizations. She was an avid member of the Westport Weston Family Y, where she loved swimming.

Janet and Dr. Albert Beasley

She was also a Holocaust survivor, who spoke out about the horrors she endured.  She participated in Stephen Spielberg’s project to collect testimony from survivors.

In 2013, the Connecticut Jewish Ledger profiled her. The story said:

Nearly 200 years ago, in 1826, the Jewish community of Berlin, Germany opened a school for boys, moving to a newly constructed building at 27 Grosse Hamburger Strasse in 1862. The school would thrive for 80 years, until the Nazis transformed the site into a deportation center for the city’s Jews from 1942 to 1945. After the war, under East German authority, the building was used as a vocational school.

By 1993, the city’s Jewish population had grown enough to re-establish a Jewish high school. After extensive renovation, the building opened again, this time as the Jewish High School. From 27 students in its inaugural year, the school now boasts nearly 300 students of all faiths, ranging from middle school (grades 5-7) and high school (grades 8-13). The curriculum comprises both Judaic and secular studies, with Jewish holiday observances and kosher lunch regular parts of student life.

This year, on the occasion of its 20th anniversary, the Jewish High School published a book tracing its history. Included among the articles is a story about a special visit to Westport in 2009.

In 2006, Westport resident and German-Jewish Holocaust survivor Janet Beasley donated wartime artifacts, documents, and photos to Jewish Museum Berlin. She was invited by the museum to lead workshops for two groups of German high school students on her experiences as a Jew surviving in Hitler’s Berlin. The first group comprised 13th-grade art students from the Jewish High School, led by teacher Sabine Thomasius.

Janet Beasley

In November of 2006, a workshop took place in the Archives of the Jewish Museum Berlin, where students in my art course met with Janet Beasley. Janet grew up in Berlin, the child of a Jewish mother and a non-Jewish father, and as an 8-year-old was deported to Theresienstadt with her mother. The personal memories which Janet Beasley shared with great candor and intimacy led to the creation of paintings and collages during the lessons in the classroom. These were exhibited in the Jewish Community Center Berlin during the summer of 2007.

Janet Beasley was so touched by the students’ pictures that she arranged for an exhibit in her hometown, Westport, Connecticut.

Through this exhibit and reports in the newspapers, many people in her area learned for the first time about the details of this chapter of her life story.

We were invited to the opening of the exhibit in Westport and along with the exhibit opening, we had a tight schedule of meetings arranged and supported by Aubrey Pomerance [chief archivist, Jewish Museum Berlin], Janet Beasley, [Westport artist and German-Jewish Holocaust survivor] Steffi Friedman, and the host families. We had the opportunity to meet with and have lively conversations with students from totally different social spheres as well as with youth groups from a Jewish congregation [Kulanu Stamford]. In particular, the youths in Connecticut wanted to know how Jewish life in Germany is shaped now. The program included conversations with witnesses to history as well as visits to artists in their studios and a trip to New York.

The students’ paintings, depicting incidents from Beasley’s childhood in Berlin and in Theresienstadt, were combined with artists’ statements and copies of the archival materials Beasley donated to the museum, into “Memories of a Childhood Lost,” an exhibit shown at Earthplace in Westport in April 2008.

Janet Beasley gave interviews about her experiences during the Holocaust. This is a still image taken from one.

Janet Beasley’s story is a unique one. She was born Jutta Grybski in Berlin in 1935, the child of Käthe, a Jew, and Hans, a Catholic. Jutta’s parents divorced when she was three, when Hans wanted to serve in the German army. He remarried three years later and had a son.

As long as Hans stayed alive, Jutta, Käthe and Käthe’s parents were safe, though they were rounded up every month or so and taken to Nazi collection centers, only to be released a few hours later or the next day.

In 1941, Jutta’s maternal grandfather, a decorated World War I veteran, was taken to Sachsenhausen concentration camp and shot to death. Two years later, her grandmother died in Auschwitz or on the way there.

In 1944, Hans was killed in action and Jutta and Käthe were taken to Thereisenstadt, where they spent nine months before the camp was liberated. They returned to Berlin and lived with Hans’s father, then emigrated to the Lower East Side of Manhattan in 1946. Jutta changed her name to Janet, partly because Americans didn’t know how to pronounce Jutta, partly because children had taunted her with the nickname “Jutta-Jüde,” “Jutta-Jew.” She moved to Norwalk in 1964 and to Westport in 1973, the same year she returned to Berlin for the first time since emigrating. Her mother died at the Jewish Home for the Elderly in Fairfield in 1992. Janet is married to Dr. Albert Beasley, a longtime Westport pediatrician.

“What is really weird for me is that, when the Nazis closed the school, it became a collection center for Jews before their deportation and my mother and I were sent to the concentration camp from there,” Beasley says. “I had an idea that that was the place but wasn’t sure until I read in the book’s index that it was indeed used for that purpose. It stirred some very vivid memories.”

(Click here for the Connecticut Jewish Ledger story. Hat tip: Bob Knoebel)

YMCA To Expand Bedford Facility, Enhance Camp Mahackeno

In 2014, the Westport Weston Family Y opened its new Bedford Family Center, off Wilton Road.

It was big, beautiful, modern, bright and airy.

It also lacked gymnastics, and a child care center.

The Westport Weston Family YMCA’s Bedford Family Center.

Four years later, the Y is ready to embark on a 2nd phase of construction. Highlights include bringing the gymnastics program back from Norwalk, increasing space for programs like yoga, and enhancing facilities and amenities at nearby Camp Mahackeno.

Today, the Y reveals the specifics in a series of member meetings in the Schine Room. Two were held this morning. One began a few minutes ago. A 4th is set for 6:30 tonight.

According to CEO Pat Riemersma, a 22,000-square foot, 2-story addition will connect to the current “Kids Club” part of the current building (facing the main parking lot).

The upper level will include space for gymnastics, and a bigger “Kid’s Club.”

An architect’s drawing of the proposed Bedford Family Center upper level expansion.

The lower level will allow expansion of popular programs like group exercise, spinning, dance and youth services.

The addition is within the previously approved 107,000-square foot footprint, Riemersma says.

The project includes 70 more parking spaces. However, the Y will not seek a change to its current membership cap, or increase the day camp cap of 360 children.

Camp Mahackeno — just south of the Bedford Family Center — will see a new pool and splash pad; new poolhouse; re-grading of the athletic field; relocated archery range; 2 new giant slides (tucked into existing grading and vegetation); expanded playground, with equipment for older children; improvements to the outdoor amphitheater, and a refurbished and winterized Beck Lodge.

Plans for the Westport Weston Family YMCA’s Bedford Family Center expansion, and renovations at Camp Mahackeno. New construction and areas of enhancement are marked in yellow.

The facility addition and camp improvements are slated to begin in September 2019. Camp Mahackeno is expected to open on time in June 2020. The building addition is planned for completion in September 2020.

Total cost of the project is $25 million. Funding will come from various sources, including the capital campaign, endowment and bank financing, Riemersma says.

Arborcide? You Decide.

It took just a couple of days.

Last week, huge machines swept onto the south side of the Merritt Parkway at Exit 41. Loudly, insistently, they demolished dozens of trees.

Suddenly, the tranquil buffer separating the highway from the Westport Weston Family Y was gone. In its place were brush, wood chips, and an open view of traffic whizzing by.

Y employees were aghast. One said, “They took everything. There was even a hawk’s nest there.”

The Department of Transportation has every right to do what they did. It’s their land. In recent years, at least 2 people have been killed on the Merritt by falling trees.

Still, the speed and ferocity of the project was stunning. This is the same DOT that took about 23 centuries to replace a tiny Merritt Parkway bridge at North Avenue.

Meanwhile, folks on the north side, and east and west of the clear cutting — actual homeowners, not YMCA patrons and employees —  wonder who’s next.

Pic Of The Day #455

Tight parking at the YMCA (Photo/Kenzie Healy)

Color War For A Cause

For many Westport youngsters, summer camp is a rite of passage. They spend weeks in the woods, doing fun stuff and forming lifelong friendships in an environment far different from suburbia.

A few spend only 1 week at Experience Camp. But for them — and the 550 boys and girls ages 9 to 16, who attend one of 4 sites in New York, California and Georgia — it is a profound, even life-changing, time.

Experience Camp is for youngsters who have lost a parent or sibling.

Most of the time is spent in typical camp activities — swimming, arts and crafts, campfires.

But with the guidance of licensed clinicians, campers find opportunities to share their life stories with kids who are just like them. They learn that grief, isolation and loss is not theirs alone.

A week at Experience Camp is filled with fun.

Experience Camp is directed by Westporters Jon and Sara Deren. It’s headquartered right here in Westport.

The national organization has kept a low profile in town. But on May 20 Experience Camp holds its first-ever fundraiser. Money raised will keep camp free, for every youngster who attends.

The “Day of Champions” is set for Camp Mahackeno — a perfect choice for this camp-like color war/field day. Twenty teams of 10 to 15 people each (kindergarten through adult) compete in sponge races, an obstacle course, toothpick pickup contest with oven mitts, archery and others activities.

Points are awarded for spirit, fundraising, cheering and more. It will be a day of laughter and fun.

Of course, it’s bittersweet. Many members of the planning committee lost a parent, sibling or spouse at an early age.

Rory Murray’s husband was killed in the Twin Towers on September 11, 2001. Their daughter Aly was 5 months old.

Five years later, she attended Camp Better Days. The 1-week program on Lake George brought together scores of children of 9/11 victims.

Enjoying life at Camp Better Days.

Aly went back the next year. And the next, and next.

She’s now a Staples High School junior. She’ll head back this summer, for the final time. The friends she’s made there — the youngest group that began at the camp — head to college next year. Camp Better Days has served its purpose, and will close in August.

“This has become her family,” Rory says. “It’s a safe haven, where they can be and say anything. Aly moves heaven and earth to go there.”

As she thought about the end of Camp Better Days, Rory learned about Experience Camp. Immediately, she volunteered to help.

“The Day of Champions will help provide all the wonderful things Aly had,” Rory says.

“For kids who lost a sibling or parent, having a place to go is magical. There’s implicit trust, and lots of love. Realizing you’re not alone, that you’ve got other people to lean on, cry and laugh with, is so powerful. This 1-week escape is a gift for these children, and their families.”

Rory and Aly Murray

Rory, Aly and her family will be one of the 20 teams participating in the Day of Champions. Many slots are already filled.

But there’s still room for a few teams. So be a champion! It’s a “camp experience” that’s even sweeter than a s’more.

(The Day of Champions is set for Sunday, May 20, 9 to 11 a.m., at Camp Mahackeno behind the Westport Weston Family YMCA. To register a team, or for more information, click here. To donate without participating, click here.)

Pics Of The Day #343

Bald is beautiful.

It also raises money to fight childhood cancer.

For the 3rd year in row, the Westport Weston Family YMCA hosted a fundraiser yesterday for the St. Baldrick Foundation. Over 80 men, women and children raised pledges — and paid themselves — to have their heads shaved.

They honored Brent McCreesh, who was diagnosed with neuroblastoma in 2004. Since then, Team Brent has raised over $4.5 million.

And they’ve done it one lock — well, many — at a time.

(Photos/Denise Hotch and Dana McCreesh)

 

“Full Court Kindness”: Every Team Is A Champion

The suicide of a local student a few years ago was tragic.

But out of that darkness came some wonderful light.

The young man’s friends decided that a great way to honor his memory was with a round-robin basketball tournament.

Like any tournament, every player wants to win.  But the organizers also promote the values of kindness, tolerance and fellowship.

“Full Court Kindness” an inter-faith event. Teams come from 4 Westport houses of worship: Church of the Assumption, Temple Israel, St. Luke and the Conservative Synagogue.

One of last year’s Full Court Kindness teams …

All proceeds go to 3 charities, chosen by the teen captains:

The tournament is set for this Sunday (6:30 to 8:30 p.m., Westport Weston Family YMCA).

There’s a $5 admission fee (though of course you can give more). Full Court gear will be on sale.

I’m not sure which team will score the most points. But I know who will win.

Everyone.

(For more information, or to contribute, contact Michele Harding, Assumption Church youth minister, assumptionyouth98@gmail.com, 203-222-8486.)

… and another.

Photo Challenge #162

If you’ve ever been to the Westport Weston Family Y, last week’s photo challenge was a slam dunk.

Ed Simek’s photo showed the cow that sits on the flat roof. You see it from the spinning room, and by the stairs leading down to the pool, fitness center and locker rooms. (Click here for the photo.)

Ben Berkley, Lynn Wilson, Elizabeth Fry, Ann Bernier, Jalna Jaeger, Karen Kim, Art Schoeller, Martin Gitlin, Rick Benson, Kathy Fagan and Eva Lopez Reyman all recognized the cow.

They should. It’s been there since the new Y opened.

Which raises a few questions:

Where did it come from? Who decided to put a cow on the roof? In other words, Why, Y?

If you know the back story, click “Comments” below. And if you know where to find this week’s photo challenge, do the same.

(Photo/Ben Berkley)

 

Stop (Or Start) The Presses: Staples Swimmers Sink Greenwich!

The Staples High School boys swim team is making quite a splash this winter.

But — at least in the local media — they haven’t even caused a ripple.

What a shame.

Last week, the Wreckers beat Greenwich.

The last time that happened was 1979 — nearly 40 years ago. And the time before that — Staples’ only other swimming win over the Cardinals — came in 1970. That day, the water in the small Westport YMCA pool was so murky, no one could see the turns.

The 2018 Staples High School swimming and diving team. (All photos by Andy McNab)

How good is Greenwich? Under coach Terry Lowe, they’ve won 34 state open championships, and 24 class LL (extra large school) crowns. They’ve also won captured a mind-boggling 46 FCIAC titles, over the past 47 seasons.

They make the Yankees and Celtics of the 20th century — or, more recently, the Patriots — look like the early New York Mets.

Coach Jeff Bonaccorso

Yet last week, Staples out-swam the Cards. In fact, they drowned them. The final score was 110-76.

It was quite a victory for the Wreckers. And for first-year coach Jeff Bonaccorso.

That’s right. This is his rookie season with this high school team.

He took over after Frisk Driscoll moved to Fairfield University. Of course, Bonaccorso is hardly a fish out of water. He’s aquatics director at the Westport Weston Family Y — and in the fall, coaches the Ridgefield High girls squad.

The Staples/Westport Y connection is strong. Many Wreckers grew up in the Water Rats program, directed by the legendary Ellen Johnston. Most continue to compete on both teams — even during the high school season.

Scott Adler

That’s true for Staples 2 captains, Josiah Tarrant and Scott Adler. They began swimming almost before they could walk. Pool water courses through their veins — and they race through their lanes faster than everyone else.

Still, both were a bit apprehensive when Driscoll left.

“I never thought we’d see another coach like Frisk,” Adler says. “But Jeff exceeded everyone’s expectations.”

The two men have very different styles. Driscoll always had a set lineup. Bonaccorso makes changes based on whoever the other team puts in the water. Plus, Adler says, “he’s super-competitive and a great motivator.”

Entering the season, the captains had high hopes. They finished 3rd at last year’s FCIACs — and graduated only a few, non-scoring seniors.

Still, admits Adler, despite their confidence they were “not sure about Greenwich and Ridgefield.”

Two weeks before the Cardinal meet, Staples met the Tigers — a team with 5 great swimmers, including 2 Olympic trial hopefuls. What Adler calls “the most exciting and closest dual meet of my life” — with an “insanely loud” home crowd — came down to the final relay.

Ridgefield won. But by placing 2nd and 3rd, the Wreckers amassed enough points to eke out a 94-92 victory.

Josiah Tarrant in action. He swims the 50 free, 100 butterfly, and anchors the 200 medley and free relays.

Then came Greenwich.

Again at home — with more packed, roaring fans, including the girls’ team — Staples took down the state’s most legendary swimming power.

How did they do it?

“Hard work,” says Tarrant. “I know it’s a cliche. But we’re in the pool from 5:30 to 7 in the morning before school, a few days a week. Then we’re in again, from 3 to 5 every day.”

Their rigorous practice schedule — and all the coaching, from Johnston, Driscoll and Bonaccorso — are paying off.

Josiah Tarrant

“Everyone thinks swimming is an individual sport,” Tarrant notes. “At the club level, it is. But on the high school pool deck, there’s so much camaraderie.

“It’s not just about the fastest guy. The 5th guy gets a point, and every point matters.

“We constantly push each other in practice. We always cheer for each other. These are my brothers.”

“It’s nice to see a direct connection between hard work and the end result,” Adler adds. “You really see it come to fruition.

But Tarrant and Adler are not basking in the glow of their press clippings. (Whoops — sorry. There weren’t any.)

“This is only the beginning,” Tarrant notes. “The championships are what really matter.”

The FCIAC meet is February 27-March 1 — at Greenwich. Hey, why not?!

Then come the state LL and open championships.

Scott Adler gets ready for the start of his backstroke race.

It won’t be easy upending Greenwich in the post-season. The Cardinals have a ton of swimmers — they brought 2 busloads to the dual meet — and numbers count.

But one thing is certain. When the record board that hangs over the Staples pool is updated in March, nearly every event will now include a 2018 swimmer.

You may not read about the Wreckers’ accomplishments elsewhere.

But this year’s team has written a new chapter in the history books.

(For more on the Staples swim team, click here.)

The Staples girls swimming and diving team provided great support at the Greenwich meet.

Photo Challenge #161

Three “06880” readers thought it looked like the old YMCA pool.

They were close. But last week’s photo challenge showed tile that was uncovered when 36 Elm Street was torn down. (Click here for the photo.)

That’s the downtown building a few feet away from the Y. Most recently, it housed Villa del Sol restaurant.

The demolition was part of a land swap between the town and David Waldman — the Bedford Square developer who took the photo challenge image.

David said his photo showed the floor of “the original Brasserie St. Germaine — I think.” Was that the first restaurant? I don’t know. I do remember Werner’s, which occupied that spot for many years.

Chip Stephens was the only “06880” reader to identify “the remains of Villa del Sol.” Perhaps he recalls Werner’s too — or Brasserie St. Germaine.

Now, chew on this week’s photo challenge:

(Photo/Ed Simek)

If you know where you’d find this guy, click “Comments” below.