Category Archives: YMCA

Unsung Hero #7

Tom Lowrie is Westport’s Mr. Pickleball.

The 89-year-old retired architect is the man who pushed the Parks and Recreation Department to create a court for the quickly growing sport at Compo Beach in 2015.

A member of the Parks & Rec Racquets Advisory Committee, he’s now advocating for courts at the Doubleday complex behind Saugatuck Elementary School too. He is proud to be Westport’s ambassador to the USA Pickleball Association.

Tom Lowrie posed for the Westport Library’s “I geek…” campaign with — of course — pickleball gear. (Photo/Pam Einarsen)

But pickleball is not Lowrie’s only passion.

A longtime volunteer since moving to Westport in 1966, he was a charter member of the Sunrise Rotary Club. He received Rotary’s Service Award, and serves as the group’s unofficial historian. Though nearly a nonagenarian, he can be seen at every Sunrise Rotary event, doing the thankless work that helps them raise and distribute tens of thousands of dollars for good causes.

Tom Lowrie and a duck — a promotion for the Westport Sunrise Rotary’s Great Duck Race.

Lowrie’s contributions to Westport buildings include converting the downtown firehouse to the former Westport YMCA fitness center, and modifications to the Masonic Temple at the corner of the Post Road and Imperial Avenue.

Lowrie is also a longtime Westport Weston Family YMCA member. He’s also active with the Y’s Men. His pickleball and other activities — like golf at Longshore — help him say in great shape.

A Pittsburgh native, he graduated from Princeton University in 1950. He served in the Navy, earned his graduate degree from the Columbia University School of Architecture, and began working for Philip Johnson.

Lowrie married Jean Sammons. They raised 2 children here: Dave and Anne.

Most “06880” readers who know him will not believe Tom Lowrie is 89 years old. But all will agree he is a worthy honoree as this week’s “06880” Unsung Hero.

(Know of an unsung hero we should celebrate? Email details to dwoog@optonline.net)

In 2012, Tom Lowrie was runner-up in the Longshore Men’s Golf Association President’s Cup.

Passing The Olympic Torch To Bill Krumm

When Kevin Strong was a Westport YMCA Water Rat swimmer, coach Bill Krumm asked him to mentor a new team member. Both boys were 11 years old.

They forged a great friendship. Strong — a very talented swimmer — quickly brought his teammate to the Water Rats’ high athletic and personal standards.

Both swam at high level college programs. They were in each other’s weddings. Today, Strong — a Staples High School Class of 1988 graduate, now a pediatrician in northern Maine — calls Krumm’s request to help another boy “an opportunity I’ll never forget.”

Three years later, the Westport Y selected Strong as its representative to run with the Olympic torch on a 1/2-mile Fairfield County leg, from the East Coast to the 1984 Games in Los Angeles. He was chosen not only for his swim team accomplishments, but because of the way he lived the Y’s values.

Strong’s run came at night, in the pouring rain. The electric torch was lit. More than 3 decades later, he recalls how thrilling it all was.

Runners kept their torches. Each was also given a gorgeous mahogany case, inscribed with their name and date of the run.

For years, Strong kept his in the basement.

Bill Krumm

He told both stories last week at Christ & Holy Trinity Church, to an audience of 200 Water Rat alumni, Y friends and admirers of Krumm. They came from as far as Singapore to honor his memory. The longtime coach died suddenly in March, of a heart attack. He was 61 years old.

“Bill was a great technical coach,” Strong recalls. “But he was just as talented in helping kids get through that awkward 9- to 14-year-old stage.”

So — at the end of his 5-minute eulogy — Strong tied his 2 stories together. In a surprise, stunning move, he lifted up the Olympic torch he’d brought from Maine — and announced he was donating it to the Westport Y.

Then he asked everyone who knew Krumm to help choose an appropriate inscription.

Kevin Strong with his Olympic torch, at Christ & Holy Trinity Church.

Strong is not sure where the gift will be displayed. He hopes it’s somewhere near the trophy case, at the pool.

But he knows what it will do.

“I want that torch to inspire some 8-year-old kid to be the best swimmer and person he can be — just the way Bill inspired me, and helped me grow,” Strong says.

“I learned so much from him. Now I can give back to others, just like he did.”

Besides, he says, “That Olympic torch does a lot more good at the Westport Y than sitting in my basement.”

Bedford Square: Sneak Preview

Guests of Anthropologie and Amis restaurant enjoyed a sneak preview tonight of the new Bedford Square.

I’m not in the market for a wedding gown — or most of the rest of what Anthropologie sells. But plenty of folks will be. Judging by the creative and stylish way they’ve repurposed the old YMCA, the 40,000-square foot store will do exactly what an anchor tenant should: draw plenty of shoppers to the entire complex.

And based on what I’ve seen and tasted of Amis, it too will be an instant hit. It takes full advantage of its Church Lane/Post Road/interior alley location — it is a true “trattoria.”

We’ve endured noise, dirt, dust and disruption for 2 years. Now the fun begins!

The 2nd floor of Anthropologie. If the view across the Post Road looks familiar, it should: For 30 years, this was the cardio fitness center for the YMCA.

Amis Trattoria. The windows actually open. As soon as the weather warms up, the downtown street scene will be rejuvenated.

Bedford Square developer David Waldman (center) and lifestyle guru Mar Jennings are interviewed for a TV special. They’re standing in one of the alleyways. Restoration Hardware is visible in the background.

A fountain is the centerpiece of Bedford Square’s courtyard. Shops and restaurants will occupy the first 2 floors; rental apartments are on the 3rd.

Amis Trattoria occupies what was once the firehouse, and later became part of the YMCA (left). Bedford Square also includes the former site of the Y’s Weeks Pavilion (right), off Church Lane. Seabury Center is in the background.

Workout Weather

The view from the Westport Weston Family YMCA’s cardio fitness center is always interesting.

Today it was spectacular:

Click on or hover over to enlarge.

Those windows make working out almost fun!

YMCA Water Rats Mourn Bill Krumm

The Westport Weston Family YMCA — particularly its extended Water Rats family — was stunned to learn of the death of Bill Krumm.

The 61-year-old — who served as western zone sports development consultant for USA swimming, after retiring in 2007 after 27 years as Water Rats head coach — suffered a heart attack in San Diego on Friday night.

Tributes poured in from former swimmers and their parents. Many echoed the same words: “constant,” “kind,” “caring.” One woman said, “He created the kind of community you wanted your child to be in.”

Bob Knoebel — who hired him in 1980 — said, “Bill was incredibly organized and detail-oriented. We hosted some very complex events, with hundreds of swimmers. He was always there first, to make sure everything was in place to run a successful meet.”

bill-krumm

Bill Krumm

Knoebel gave Krumm his first Westport Y job, as coach of the 9-12-year-olds. But his talents were quickly apparent. Within 2 years, Knoebel made him head coach for the entire program. Many of his swimmers went on to set team, state and zone records.

On its website, the Y called Krumm “the anchor of our program.” It added:

Bill was an exacting coach with a stern façade, who got the best out of his swimmers.  Underneath that curmudgeon-like exterior, however, was a kind and gentle soul who had a great sense of humor and devoted his life to our team when he was its coach.

The Connecticut native graduated in 1977 from Southern Connecticut State University, where he was a nationally ranked swimmer and water polo player. He won the Robert B. Muir Award as New England’s top senior swimmer, and in 1995 was inducted into SCSU’s Sports Hall of Fame.

YMCA logoKrumm held many leadership positions as a volunteer in the swimming community. He was YMCA League President, a member of the USA Swimming Safety Education Committee, and was general chairman of Connecticut Swimming.

He relished his final consultant position with USA Swimming. From his home in Colorado Springs, he traveled throughout the west — including Alaska and Hawaii — advising swim clubs on best practices.

A celebration of his life is planned for this spring, in Westport.

Y Seeks Clarification Of “Membership Cap”

During the many long months years decades it took for the Y to move from downtown, I thought the result would be a traffic disaster.

I envisioned lines of cars backed up and down Wilton Road, all the way to the Post Road. I’ve seen bad traffic there; I could not imagine it wouldn’t get worse.

Well, the Y has been out there next to Exit 41 for more than 2 years. And — you could blow me over with a feather — the traffic is not only not worse. It may even be better.

Maybe the lights have been rejiggered. Maybe everyone hops onto the Merritt and gets off at Exit 42. Maybe everyone jogs there.

Whatever the case, the traffic apocalypse never happened.

And next Thursday (March 2, 7 p.m., Town Hall), the Planning & Zoning Commission may discuss a membership cap for the Y.

The (relatively) new Westport Weston Family YMCA.

The (relatively) new Westport Weston Family YMCA.

According to an email sent to members, in 2008 — when the Y sought approval to build — the P&Z established certain conditions. One was a “membership cap” of 8,000.

The Y says they’ll ask the P&Z to clarify that the 8,000 “pertains to individuals that are of driving age.”

That makes sense. The fire marshal should care how many people are in the building. The P&Z should concern itself with the number of cars.

The Y did not ask me to write this. They don’t know I’m doing it.

But as someone who spent years imagining gridlock — and hailed the cap when it was first announced — I might as well admit how wrong I was.

Debbie Stewart’s Indomitable Spirit

Nearly every Westport Y member knows Debbie Stewart.

She’s the woman with long dreads and boundless enthusiasm. She popped in and out of Zumba and cycling classes; chatted with employees and members, and lit up every corner of the building with her presence.

Now, Y staffer Midge Deverin has told her story.

It’s astonishing.

A Jamaica native, her mother died of breast cancer when Debbie was 6. Her father soon left her and 3 siblings alone. Debbie graduated from high school, moved to Florida, and became a certified nursing assistant.

She worked in Brooklyn and Connecticut. Soon she was hired as a caregiver for Libby Nevas. She and her husband Leo were noted Westport philanthropists.

Debbie quickly became an important part of the family. She never left Libby’s side, Midge writes. “They were inseparable; talking, laughing, enjoying each other’s company until the day Libby Nevas died while Debbie, her ‘angel,’ held her hand.”

Debbie Stewart (middle row, 2nd from right) and the Nevas family.

Debbie Stewart (middle row, 2nd from right) and the Nevas family.

Debbie planned to return to New York. But Leo — “strong, healthy and exceedingly independent” — asked Debbie to stay. She accompanied him to plays and concerts in New York, and meetings in California.

Debbie charmed “statesmen, ambassadors, authors,” Midge writes, “with her easy banter and informed opinions.”

Debbie Stewart and Leo Nevas.

Debbie Stewart and Leo Nevas.

Suddenly, in 2003 — while studying to become a dental assistant — Debbie underwent emergency surgery to remove a large brain tumor.

It continued to grow. She endured 2 more operations. The last, in 2009, resulted in debilitating side effects.

Debbie was left with short-term memory loss. Her brain is no longer aware of the entire left side of her body, or surroundings.

Throughout all her surgeries — and her “tremendous physical and emotional turmoil” — the Nevas family was there for her.

In May of 2009, Pat Pennant was hired as Leo’s housekeeper. She met Debbie, who needed round-the-clock nursing care.

A few months later, Leo died. His daughter, Jo-Ann Price, promised Pat that when Debbie was out of crisis, but needed a companion/caretaker, Pat would get the call.

Three years later, it came.

Pat Pennant and Debbie Stewart.

Pat Pennant and Debbie Stewart.

“Many might say that from that time till now, Debbie has led a compromised and limited life,” Midge writes. But anyone who’s had “the pleasure and honor of really knowing Debbie” knows otherwise.

Her “enthusiasm and joie de vivre” followed her everywhere: from volunteering 3 days a week at the Notre Dame Convalescent Home in Norwalk, to Compo Beach, the Levitt Pavilion, museums, dancing, trips to New York, shopping at TJ Maxx and Home Goods — and of course the Y.

A few weeks ago, however, Debbie’s inoperable tumor grew again. She is now virtually immobile.

The other day, Midge visited Debbie at her Westport home. She was propped up by Pat, but Debbie’s welcoming smile filled the room.

She asked Midge about her Y friends. They visit often.

In typical fashion, Midge writes, Debbie did not talk about her problems.

Instead, she told Midge, she’s determined to be back.

Meanwhile, Midge misses Debbie at the Y. She misses her shimmying down the hall. She misses her irrepressible energy. Most of all, she misses her unwavering spirit, which “stares at both life and death with a smile.”

(To read Midge Deverin’s full story about Debbie Stewart, click here.)

Midge Deverin and Debbie Stewart, not long ago.

Midge Deverin and Debbie Stewart, not long ago.

Changing Of The Guard

As he promised, David Waldman retained the facade of the old Westport YMCA Bedford building.

But as his Bedford Square project nears completion — it’s slated to open this spring — changes are evident.

(Photo/Lynn U. Miller)

(Photo/Lynn U. Miller)

After 94 years, the lintel no longer says “YMCA.”

Welcome to 2017.

The Y’s Very Special Swimmers

Special Olympics is a special program. Since its founding in 1968, the non-profit has transformed countless lives through sports. Nearly 5 million athletes in 169 countries — and over a million volunteers — participate each year.

But the Westport Weston Family YMCA‘s Special Olympics program is extra special.

It began just over a year ago, as a dream of Westporters Marshall and Johanna Kiev. Working with Y officials and members, it quickly grew to include a basketball program (13 special needs athletes and 13 partners practiced weekly, and competed at a Holiday Sports Classic). A track and field team will be added soon.

But it’s the swim program that’s really made waves.

Having fun with the Westport Y's Special Olympics swim program.

Having fun with the Westport Y’s Special Olympics swim program.

Two dozen youngsters, of varying physical and intellectual abilities, practice every Sunday — under the guidance of real, professional swim coaches. They’re one of the few Special Olympics teams anywhere that does that.

Barbara Bachuretz has spent 30 years training swimmers. Erin Ritz is a Westport Y Water Rat coach.

They’re backed by a corps of dedicated volunteers. The group includes former Amherst swimmer and water polo player Peter Nussbaum, and Hopkins School freshman Henry Fisher. Both live in Westport.

In June — proudly bearing the name Water Rats — 24 swimmers traveled to the Summer Special Olympics Games at Southern Connecticut State University. They were the only team there whose special needs youngsters swam all 4 laps of the relay. All other relay teams included unified partners.

The Water Rats Special Olympics team amassed over 30 medals. It was a great event for the entire group.

The Westport Weston Family YMCA Water Rat Special Olympics team (with coaches) (and friends!).

The Westport Weston Family YMCA Water Rat Special Olympics team (with coaches) (and friends!).

But individual stories stand out too.

Y senior program coordinator Jay Jaronko remembers a 14-year-old who was very nervous. Jay and his coaches assured him he could watch other swimmers before his race, to feel comfortable about the event.

But when they got to the meet, the boy was scheduled to race first. Casting aside his fears, he focused directly on his lane. He got in the water, stared straight ahead — and finished first by an astonishing half pool length.

Then he headed off with teammates to the concession stand. His amazed parents told Jaronko, “he’s never done that in his life.”

“I was hooked on Special Olympics before that,” Jaronko says. “But that was the point when I really, truly got it.”

Smiles all around on the Y's Special Olympics swim team.

Smiles all around at the Special Olympics swim meet.

Another story: After the Summer Games, a father told Jaronko that teammates would be at his son’s upcoming birthday party. That too was a first.

This year, Jaronko reports, that boy is swimming and playing water polo for his high school.

“We’re doing a lot more than just teaching kids to swim,” the program director says proudly.

Here’s something even more special: The entire Y Special Olympics program is free.

There’s no registration free, no charge for apparel — nothing. Even meals are covered.

The Y covers all the funds. The Kiev family has been great, throwing fundraising parties to help.

This year’s budget is $46,000.

The program is worth every penny.

(For more information on the Westport Y’s Special Olympics swim program, click here; call Jay Jaronko at 203-226-8983, or email jjaronko@westporty.org.  To read more about the Kievs and their daughter Chloe, click here.)

This is what the Westport Y's Special Olympics Water Rats program is all about. (Photos courtesy of Westport Weston Family YMCA)

This is what the Westport Y’s Special Olympics Water Rats program is all about. (Photos courtesy of Westport Weston Family YMCA)

 

Olympic Swimmer Hits The Y

Chad le Clos is a swimmer.

But not just any swimmer. The South African is an Olympic and Commonwealth Games champion. He’s ranked 1st in the world in the 50, 100 and 200 meter butterfly — and is the current world record holder in both the 100 and 200 meter butterfly

He heads soon to Windsor, Ontario for the FINA World Swimming Championships.

If he wins, he’s got the Westport Weston Family Y to thank.

For the past few days, he’s been training there. He has a connection with a Water Rat family, so the Wilton Road facility seemed a great fit.

Chad le Clos (in the water) with Westport Y Water Rat swimmers.

Chad le Clos (in the water) with Westport Y Water Rat swimmers.

This evening, he raced an exhibition 100 yard butterfly there.

Chad le Clos, on the Westport Y starting block.

Chad le Clos, on the Westport Y starting block.

Plenty of Water Rat swimmers, parents and alumni showed up to cheer him on.

Stop the presses: He won.

I'm no swim racing expert. But I'm sure that's a very, very good time.

I’m no swim racing expert. But I’m sure that’s a very, very good time.