Category Archives: YMCA

Roundup: Toy Drive, Y Pool, More


If it’s Thanksgiving, it must be time for the Westport Police Department’s annual Toy Ddrive.

Local union 2080 and the Westport Police Benevolent Association are sponsoring the event. Each year, thousands of toys are distributed to underprivileged children throughout Fairfield County, and at Bridgeport and St. Vincent’s Hospitals.

Westport police officers will accept new, unopened and unwrapped toys at the ASF parking lot (1560 Post Road East) on the first 2 Saturdays and Sundays in December (5, 6, 12 and 13), from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

In addition, collection boxes will be set up now through December 14 at:

  • Age of Reason, 9 Post Road West
  • ASF Sports & Outdoors ,1560 Post Road East
  • Awesome Toys and Gifts, 429 Post Road East
  • The Toy Post, 180 Post Road East

Questions? Email anowinski@westportct.gov, or call 203-341-6000.

What a great gift for a kid!


Swimming at the Y has been my COVID happy place. Nothing like a pool-ful of chlorine to keep the coronavirus at bay.

No longer. The Westport Weston Family Y announced yesterday that effective immediately, both the lap and warm pools will be shut down indefinitely.

The decision was based on updated guidelines from the governor’s office. Under those rules, only 4 swimmers could be allowed at any time.

The wellness center, gymnastics center, group fitness classes and school-age childcare programs remain open.

The Westport Y pool will look like this for a while.


And finally … c’mon! You didn’t really expect anything different today, did you?

Remembering Matt Johnson

Matt Johnson — longtime executive director of the Westport Weston Family YMCA, and the man who over 40 years brought it from a small institution into one of the town’s most robust organizations — died Wednesday on Cape Cod. He was 91.

Amy Sanborn passed along the sad news — and a very in-depth piece from the Westport Y blog, in 2014. The Y at that time was still downtown, where Bedford Square is now. The story said:

Matt Johnson came to our Y in 1952 as a fresh-faced college grad from upstate Connecticut. He started as a supervisor of the Y’s youth and adult physical programs, taking on more responsibility over the following 2 decades. In 1970 he was named executive director, a position he filled with great accomplishment until his retirement in 1989. The longtime Weston resident remains an active part of our Y family to this day….

It’s safe to say that no other Y staffer presided over more change at our Y over more years than Matt Johnson. Matt was instrumental in bringing sports and recreational opportunities to Weston youth, efforts that ultimately led to our Y serving all our Weston neighbors as the “Westport/Weston YMCA.”

Matt Johnson (standing) with (from left) YMCA president George Dammon, CBS News anchor (and Weston resident) Douglas Edwards, and 1st Selectman John Kemish.

Matt also oversaw the greatest development of our Y facility since its opening a half-century before: the construction of the Weeks Pavilion in the 1970s, which gave our Y its Stauffer Pool, racquet courts, men’s and women’s health centers, locker rooms and an indoor track ….

Matt then laid the groundwork for the next phase of our Y’s evolution at our downtown facility: the conversion of the town’s central firehouse into a 2-level Fitness Center that to this day boasts the original brass pole used by generations of local firefighters.

After recalling Matt’s encounters with guest speaker Jackie Robinson, and Westport actors Bette Davis and Paul Newman (an avid YMCA badminton player), the story continues:

When hot-rodding became popular, the Y rolled right along. As Matt recalls, “Bill Etch, who was a volunteer leader, had an interest in cars and with some friends formed a club called the ‘Downshifters,’ which met every Friday at the Y.”

“When the club became too big for the Y rooms, they began to meet at Camp Mahackeno, where they set up shop in the unheated pavilion. There were 30 or so young men in the club, including a young Michael Douglas, and they’d take apart cars, put ‘em back together and then participate in regional events with their cars.”

Matt and his late wife Fran raised their 4 children in Weston, and were instrumental in helping develop the community’s recreation programs and establishing Weston’s enduring connection to our Y ,…

As far back as the 1950s, Y leaders realized the need for more space to hold its many popular programs and activities, and shortly after Matt took the helm of the Y in 1970, he helped spur the most ambitious expansion of the Y to date.

The most critical need at the time was, simply, “more water.” As you can see from photos of the time, Staples High School swimmers used the 4-lane, 20-yard long Brophy Pool (then 4- to 10-feet deep) as their home pool. Imagine the scraped chins, or worse!

The original Brophy pool — used by Staples High School for practices and home swim meets.

Matt helped coach the Staples team, including a young swimmer named Bob Knoebel. Another swimmer, Mike Krein, was instrumental in forming the Y’s Water Rat swim team, holding practices both in the Brophy Pool and, during summers in the ‘60s, at Longshore Club Park. At the time Longshore’s pool was saltwater, flushed regularly, but evidently not often enough. The Y’s swim team name derives from the trespassing rodents the kids would sometimes encounter during their early-morning swims.

The Y’a voard and volunteer leaders set a 5-year goal that included building a new facility with a larger pool….

The addition of the Stauffer Pool and Weeks Pavilion in 1977 (named for the retired geologist who was a major donor) was followed by the conversion in 1984 of the town’s central firehouse into the Y’s fitness center.

Matt Johnson (center) at a 2011 Westport Y function, flanked by (from left) then trustee chair Pete Wolgast and Jim Marpe, past Y trustee chair and now Westport First Selectman,

Longtime Y member Larry Aasen, who has known Matt since 1963, says, “For Matt, it wasn’t just about running the Y; it’s about serving the community. And whether his task was raising money for an expansion or doing the dishes after a potluck dinner, you could always count on him.”

Indeed, Matt Johnson has played a major role in building up our Y over the past 60 years. But more than that, he’s left his mark as a community builder – of Westport, Weston and of all the separate communities of swimmers, gymnasts and program participants that make our Y all that it is today.

(Click here to make contributions in Matt Johnson’s name, to the Westport Weston Family YMCA.)

The upper gym at the Westport YMCA was named for Matt Johnson in 1999.

Roundup: Kneads Opens, School Begins, More

If you thought Saugatuck “kneads” something to replace Garelick & Herbs: You’re in luck.

“Kneads” — a bakery, cafe and mill — opened Saturday, across from Saugatuck Sweets. Chef Daniel Moreno offers breakfast, soups, salads, sandwiches, pastries, coffee, tea — and of course breads (sourdough, baguette, fig cranberry walnut, brioche …).

He focuses on local products. There’s bacon and ham from Fleischer’s next door. Moreno has partnered too with chef Bill Taibe of The Whelk across the street, as well as the Westport Farmer’ market and Wakeman Town Farm.

If your mouth is watering though, you’ll have to wait. Kneads is closed Monday and Tuesday. It’s open Wednesday through Friday 7 a.m. to 3 p.m., and Saturday and Sunday 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Click here for more info, from Stephanie Webster’s great CTbites.


Here’s something you haven’t seen in nearly 6 months.

But tomorrow — for the first time since mid-March — school buses will prowl the streets of Westport. It will almost feel good to get stuck behind one again.

The other day, this driver practiced turning from Thomas Road onto Imperial Avenue.

(Photo/Christie Stanger)


Trevor Freeland was a member of the first all-Black team to reach the top ranks of American youth swimming (chronicled in the 2007 movie “Pride”). As the first Black swimmer to compete in the ACC, he helped the University of Virginia win the 1st of 16 league titles.

One of the few Black executives to run a major Wall Street trading desk, he has committed his life to challenging and breaking down barriers. He attributes his success to the work ethic and life skills he learned in the pool.

This Saturday (September 12, 9:30 a.m., Camp Mahackeno outdoor amphitheater), he’ll talk about “Excellence is a Habit: How Do You Shatter Racial Barriers, Win Championships, and Build a Life of Success?”

A limited number of spots are open to Y members who are not non-Water Rat swimmers, and their families. To register, or for questions, email ejohnston@westporty.org,

Trevor Freeland


Tomorrow (Tuesday, September 8, 7:30 p.m.), the Democratic Women of Westport are sponsoring a virtual discussion with Connecticut Attorney General William Tong. He’ll discuss immigration issues.

To register and receive a link, email dww06880@gmail.com

State Attorney General William Tong.


Dick Festa — longtime owner of the Party Barn store, first on Main Street and then in Playhouse Square — died last week in Florida. He was 87.

Dick spent many years on the Westport YMCA’s board of directors. He was also an avid squash and badminton player there.

He is survived by 4 children, 4 grandchildren, a great-granddaughter and his sister.

There will be no calling hours, due to COVID-19. A memorial service will take place at a future date. For Dick’s full obituary, click here.


Alert “06880” reader Tommy Magro tells us that this year, Good Humor celebrates its 100th anniversary.

He spotted this classic scene yesterday, on Soundview Drive. He’s to 100 more years of Toasted Almonds (or whatever your favorite happens to be).

(Photo/Tommy Magro)


And finally … “06880,” Pete Seeger and Arlo Guthrie wish you a Happy Labor Day!

YMCA Adds Morning Child Care

For many families, a new item has been added to the back-to-school list of pens, notebooks and snacks: child care.

As Westport rolls out its hybrid schedule, working parents — whether outside the home, or in — seek options for new times.

For decades, the Westport Weston Family YMCA has offered a great after-school program. Now it adds morning child care.

Students in the program will be transported to and from Coleytown, Greens Farms, Kings Highway, Long Lots and Saugatuck Elementary School. The newly expanded Y has enough room to keep kids in small, socially distanced groups.

The Y’s Bedford Family Center expansion.

“The Y has served the community for more than 97 years, during which we have made it through many challenging times together. The COVID-19 pandemic will not be any different,” says CEO Pat Riemersma.

“After 10 weeks running Camp Mahackeno and seeing first-hand how essential it was for the campers after the spring closures, we knew we needed to offer a program to help families navigate this difficult time, “says Y camp and family services director Jesse Kanaple.

Safety measures include

  • Daily temperature and health screening for staff and participants.
  • Mandatory mask wearing for staff and children (youngsters will have “mask breaks”).
  • Enhanced cleaning of space and equipment.
  • Enhanced focus on personal hygiene

Lunch and snack must be provided by parents or guardians. Financial assistance for the program is available. For more information and registration, email jkanaple@westporty.org, or call 203-226-8981.

Just as at Camp Mahakeno, youngsters in the Wetport YMCA child care program will wear masks.

New Westporters Offer Energy, Excitement

On March 11, our world changed.

COVID had lurked here for a while. But that day, schools closed. Stores, restaurants, the library and Y followed quickly. In a head-spinning 24 hours, the entire town shut down.

Every Westporter had a multitude of fears. We worried about interrupted educations, job losses, wiped-out savings. We wondered how to juggle childcare and eldercare. We had no idea how or where to shop for groceries. We hoarded toilet paper. We thought we might, literally, die.

A few industries flourished. Most suffered greatly.

Real estate professionals bunkered in. With buyers and sellers confined to their homes, open houses canceled and the entire Northeast locked down, they imagined they’d never sell another property.

To everyone’s amazement, the market sizzled. First came rentals; sales followed soon. Buyers purchased houses sight unseen. Sellers juggled multiple offers, above the asking price. In a world gone crazy, the real estate market was truly insane.

Some of those newcomers have been here since spring. Others arrive every day. Almost unnoticed — kind of like the coronavirus, but in a good way — they snuck up on us.

They haven’t taken over our town. But all these new arrivals will inevitably change it.

As a native Westporter, I am truly happy and excited

In a thoroughly unscientific sampling, it seems that nearly every new homeowner comes from Manhattan or Brooklyn. Some had already thought about moving to the ‘burbs; the virus sped up their plans. Others had no intention of leaving New York.

During a pandemic, the advantages of city living take a back seat …

But here they are. They bring youth, energy, fresh eyes and young kids to our town. They are smart, talented and creative. They are diverse and intriguing.

They want to take advantage of the best that Westport offers. They love what they’ve seen so far — and they haven’t even seen us at our best.

They want to contribute something to their new community, too. With so many of them working from their (new) home offices, they’ll have time to give back. All we have to do is let them know what’s possible, and invite them in.

… to amenities like space and grass.

If you’re a newcomer, get involved!

When social distancing restrictions are lifted, the Westport Library’s Forum will once again be a community hub.

The Westport world is your oyster.

And we’ve got plenty of them. Find them at a restaurant (and discover your favorite eating places). Learn about the Saugatuck River by kayak, paddle boat and rowing vessel (Westport Paddle Club, Saugatuck Rowing Club, Sea Kayak. Work out at the (soon to be expanded) Westport Weston Family YMCA. Spin at Joyride or Soulcycle. Jog or bike on the roads (be careful!).

Fun at the Westport Paddleboard Club

I’ve left out thousands of ways for newcomers to get the most out of their new home — and contribute to it. Feel free to add your own; click “Comments” below.

Our new arrivals will add new ways to this list, too. They’ll bring new ideas, create new organizations, take our town in new directions.

This is a wonderful time for our town. Out of the bleakness of a pandemic has come an opportunity for reinvention, growth and progress.

Our realtors have done their part. Now it’s up to all of us — the Westporters who have been here awhile, and those who have just joined us — to do the rest.

Mahackeno: An Old Camp For A New Age

Mahackeno — the Westport Weston Family YMCA camp just south of the Bedford Center — has a long, storied history.

It’s as old as the Merritt Parkway. And as new as the work currently be done there, not far from the Saugatuck River site.

The Y opened its camp in 1938. Six years later they were offered 30 acres of land — including the site of the present camp.

Enjoying the Saugatuck River, at Camp Mahackeno back in the day.

F.T. Bedford — son of the Y’s founder, Edward T. Bedford — said his family’s trust would pay half the price, provided the town ponied up the other half.

Within a few weeks, Westporters pledged their portion:  $10,000.

In March of 1945, the Y took possession of the property. That summer, 72 boys attended “Camp Bedford.” One of the highlights: a rope swing, dangling from the nearby Merritt Parkway.

A year later — at F.T. Bedford’s request — the name was changed to “Mahackeno.” That honored “Mahackemo” (with an “m”), a sachem (chief) of the Norwalke Indian tribe who in 1639 met Roger Ludlowe and traded land between the Saugatuck and Norwalk Rivers — including that very spot — for wampum and other goods.

Over the years, Camp Mahackeno grew. It added girls, a pool and other amenities. It (reluctantly) packed away the rope swing (and an enormous military-style float that it’s a miracle no one ever drowned underneath.

Summer Camp has been part of growing up for decades. In 1953, Westport artist Stevan Dohanos used Camp Mahackeno for this Saturday Evening Post cover.

This year, Mahackeno opened its new, now 34-acre facility. After a year of construction there’s a new amphitheater,  archery range, climbing walls, 2 slides and 5 rainy-day pavilions.

A counselor gives an assist at a new climbing wall.

The basketball court, Beck Lodge and swimming pool have been renovated (with a new splash pad too). Playing fields were leveled.

The refurbished pool. Y members can register to swim for one hour slots on weekends.

Every tree of 8 calipers or more has been replaced by 2 new trees. Oh, yeah: the port-a-potties are shielded too.

Westport Weston Family Y CEO Pat Riemersma checks out one of several new wood chip paths.

250 or so boys and girls attend one or more of 9 week-long sessions. This being a pandemic, they remain in strict groups of 10, with the same (masked) counselor all week.

Scroll down for some photos of Camp Mahackeno, 2020. It’s not 1938 — but then again, what is?

Between canoe sessions, a counselor sanitizes railings.

Gaga is a ground-level form of dodgeball.

Two new slides are a huge hit.

The new amphitheater seats 360 campers and staff members.

No camp is complete without an archery range.

The newly renovated basketball court gets plenty of action.

Rainy day pavilions: shelter from the storm.

The all-new playground.

A classic camp scene.

PPP: Lifeline Loans For Westport Businesses, Organizations

COVID-19 wreaked havoc on nearly every segment of the economy.

Without the Paycheck Protection Program, it would have been far worse.

The PPP provided a lifeline for companies, non-profits and other employers. Loans offered an incentive to keep workers on the payroll. The Small Business Administration will forgive loans if certain employee retention criteria are met, and the funds are used for eligible expenses.

Newly released information shows 137 recipients in Westport, of loans of $150,000 or more.

They cover a broad range: construction firms, healthcare providers, attorneys, restaurants, retail stores, a tutoring service, fitness and sports centers, architects, public relations firms, dry cleaners, car dealers, childcare services and more.

Three religious institutions are on the list. So is the Pierrepont School, and non-profits like Earthplace, the Westport Weston Family YMCA, Westport Country Playhouse and Westport Library.

BioSig Technologies got a PPP loan. As “06880” reported in April, the Wilton Road firm is working on oral treatments for the coronavirus.

Click here to see the full Westport list.

On Monday, the PPP is once again accepting loan applications. The deadline is August 8. Click here for information.

(Hat tip: Paul Delano)

Sakura is one of 137 local businesses helped by the Paycheck Protection Program.

Roundup: Farmers’ Market; Inspirational Swimmer; Compo Barber Shop; More


Another big step on the road to return:

Starting this Thursday (July 9), the Westport Farmers’ Market is open for regular shopping.

The decision — made “after careful consideration and due diligence through state and local officials” — means that every week from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., the Imperial Avenue lot will be will fill once again with “your beloved farmers, bakers, cheese mongers and more.”

A number of adaptations will ensure safety for customers and vendors. Masks must be worn at all times. There is single-direction traffic while shopping (one way in, one way out). There will be hand sanitizer stations, social distancing and “lots of fresh air.”

Just like old times, musicians will play.

Executive director Lori Cochran realizes that not everyone will come. So pre-order, touch-free, selected-time-slot pickups continue.

“We realize that healthy food is one of the best ways to heal your body and keep your immune system strong,” Lori says. “Our immune-compromised shoppers need safe access to our product. We are committed to bringing it to them while allowing others to participate in the day-of model.”

A select number of slots are available for Thursday pickups, from 9 to 10 a.m. For details, click here.


With the goal of opening dialogue and expanding awareness of the realities of racial challenges, the Westport Weston Family YMCA is sponsoring an intriguing conversation.

The guest is Trevor Freeland. A member of the first all-Black team to reach the top ranks of American youth swimming (chronicled in the 2007 movie “Pride”), he went on to a stellar career at the University of Virginia. As the first Black swimmer to compete in the ACC, he helped the Cavaliers win the 1st of 16 league titles.

One of the few Black executives to run a major Wall Street trading desk, he has committed his life to challenging and breaking down barriers. He attributes his success to the work ethic and life skills he learned in the pool.

The event is this Saturday (July 11, Camp Mahackeno outdoor amphitheater). There are 2 sessions: 9: 15 a.m. and 10:45 a.m. A limited number of spots are open to Y members who are not non-Water Rat swimmers, and their families; Y members can click here to register.

Trevor Freeland


Doug Fierro spotted this yesterday, in a dumpster behind Compo Shopping Center.

“Another victim of COVID,” he writes. “A sad day for Westport.”


This morning at the Gillespie Center, Sunrise Rotary donated $5,000 to Homes With Hope.

The funds will purchase farm-to-table meals for homeless shelter residents, from caterer Alison Milwe-Grace. The donation is particularly important now, because Gillespie’s regular volunteers are unable to help personally. (Sunrise Rotary members are some of those regulars: they serve meals on the first Saturday of every month.)


Savannah Bee has added items to its curbside delivery.

Along with their line of immune boosters (saw palmetto and local new England honey, bee pollen, royal jelly and healing anti-bacterial propolis spray), they now offer an elderberry elixir hand-crafted in Atlanta with their famed honey. It’s filled with adaptogenic jerbs and immune-boosting botanicals.

Click here, then call Julie (203-856-5149) or email julie@savannahbee.com.


Yesterday, a reader reported that Panera Bread’s “customer care” team told her the Westport location would reopen today.

#fakenews.

A reader who drove by there today reports, “they remain quite closed. The sign in their window still says ‘Location Temporarily Closed.” The location does not pop up on their website when you search 06880 either.”

If anyone knows what’s cooking, let us know!

The Panera Bread near the Southport line.


And finally … I have no idea who comes up with these things, but supposedly on this date in 1550, chocolate was “thought to have been introduced to Europe.” Today also marks a year and a day since the tribute concert to Westport’s favorite blues/rocker, Charlie Karp.

To celebrate, here’s a link to Charlie Karp’s 1973 album, named after his band at the time: White Chocolate.

Roundup: Y Reopens; SportsPal; More


The Westport Weston Family YMCA reopened today, more than 3 months after it closed.

Members were thrilled to return. And staff — including popular Aquafit instructor Patty Kondub (below) — were thrilled to see them.


When the coronavirus struck, 2018 Staples graduate Zach Feinstein helped create Urlist: a home delivery shopping service.

Over 200 orders later, there’s a new concern beyond groceries. With camps closed and other activities curtailed, Zach — a former Staples High basketball and lacrosse player, now majoring in communications at the University of Maryland — has developed a new app: SportsPal.

it connects college and high school athletes throughout the tri-state region with younger athletes, for personal sports training or helping achieve an active lifestyle. Zach makes sure to select athletes who can not only teach, but also mentor and support youngsters.

For more information, click here or check out @sportspaltraining on Instagram.

Zach Feinstein


And finally … Teenear refuses to live her life in fear. Hear, hear!

Y Reopens June 22. Very, Very Slowly.

The Westport Weston Family YMCA will reopen Monday, June 22.

But don’t expect to waltz right in, socialize, work out, and hang out. In an email sent this evening to members, CEO Pat Riemersma described a “gradual reopening with modified access to facility amenities.”

Hours of operation are Monday through Friday, 6 a.m. to 7 p.m; Saturday and Sunday, 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. That provides access to the Wellness Center (cardio, strength and free weights); indoor and outdoor pools, plus group fitness classes and personal training (inside and outside). Reservations are required for the entire facility.

During the next phase (date TBA), there will be a limited Kids Club, limited lobby seating, and additional classes.

The Westport Weston Family YMCA has been shut since March 12.

What’s not available? The locker rooms (restroom use only), showers, steam rooms, saunas, water fountains, cafe, as well as yoga mats, stretch bands and other rubberized equipment (though members can bring their own).

All members will be required to sign a waiver before using the facility. They will also have their temperature checked, and be asked screening questions.

Members must bring and wear masks or cloth face coverings, unless precluded by a medical condition. Members do not need to wear a mask while engaged in physical activity — if 12 feet of distance can be maintained. Members much clean all equipment before and after use.

If you’re a glass-half-empty person, you see a lot of restrictions. If you see the glass as half-full — or miss your pool, treadmill, instructor or Y friends, or are worried about an expanding waistline or disappearing muscle tone — you take whatever good news you can get.

(For more information on the Westport Weston Family Y, click here.)

‌ ‌ ‌