Pat Riemersma — the Westport Weston Family YMCA’s CEO who saw the organization through expansion, the renovation of Camp Mahackeno and its ongoing response to COVID-19 — will leave her post this spring. She plans to pursue other opportunities.
The Y says:
“Pat has played an instrumental role to strengthen the foundation of our community here in Westport and Weston and has a career of service spanning 30-plus years doing the same,” said Westport Weston Family YMCA’s Board President Jonathan Manela. “We are grateful for all she has done for our organization.”
Riemersma was hired as CEO in June 2015. Her career with the Y organization spans more than 3 decades.
Riemersma arrived at the Westport Weston Family YMCA shortly after it opened its new state-of-the-art facility, the Bedford Family Center, on the grounds of the Y’s Camp Mahackeno property in fall 2014. It moved from its downtown Westport location where it had been operating since founder E.T. Bedford built and dedicated the Tudor-style building in 1923.
The late Ruth Bedford, E.T. Bedford’s granddaughter, bequeathed $50 million to the Y in June 2014 with the vision to help ensure the long-term viability of the Family YMCA and its ability to serve the community.
In fall 2019, construction began on an addition to the Bedford Family Center, as well as on enhancements to Camp Mahackeno. The Camp Mahackeno renovation was completed on time for the 2020 summer season; the new gymnastics facility and wellness center expansion were finished in fall 2020. Riemersma oversaw the $28 million project and brought it in on time and under budget.
Westport Weston Family Y CEO Pat Riemersma at Camp Mahackeno last summer.
Riemersma’s legacy at the Westport Weston YMCA no doubt will endure well beyond her tenure, as those who admire her achievements can attest.
“Pat will long be remembered for her excellent leadership through Phase II of our recent expansion project, which culminated in a revitalized Camp Mahackeno for kids and families to enjoy for decades to come,” said John McKinney, chair of the board of trustees and great-great-grandson of E.T. Bedford.
Like many Westporters, Yulee Aronson’s family orders a lot of takeout food.
Environmentally conscious, he hates throwing away single-use containers. So he researched companies that offer reusable ones.
He found several. The closest — DeliverZero — is in Brooklyn. They provide containers to restaurants, for takeout or delivery. Diners can return them to the delivery person the next time they order from a participating restaurant, or drop them off themselves. A list of DeliverZero restaurants is on their website.
Yulee asked the owner what it would take to bring his service to Westport. He said, “5 participating restaurants.”
So: How about it, Westport? If you’re a restaurant owner, do you want in? If you’re a diner, would you ask your favorite owners to join?
If so, email firstname.lastname@example.org. We’ll let you know when we’re ready to start!
Before cheering for Ali Marpet — and digging into wings and nachos — consider doing a tough workout. You’ll feel good. And you’ll help a great cause.
The workout is a 6-minute pullup bar hang or 6-minute plank, followed by either a half-mile run and 30 pushups, or 2 rounds of 75 jumping jacks, 35 mountain climbers, 15 pushups and 7 burpees. There are other options too.
The cause — after registering ($25 per person, or $40 if you want a t-shirt) is Catch a Lift. The national organization — which has a strong Westport presence, thanks to Adam Vengrow and Andy Berman — helps thousands of post-9/11 combat-wounded veterans regain mental and physical health through gym memberships, home gym equipment, personalized fitness and nutrition programs, and a peer support network.
Lynsey Addario’s compelling New York Times photos of COVID’s very real effects on very real people in the UK has caught the eye of CNN.
The 1991 Staples High School graduate (and Pulitzer Prize winner, and MacArthur fellow) was interviewed by Rosemary Church. It’s a sobering look at her work — and at the lives and deaths of a few of the millions impacted by the pandemic. Click here (not below — that’s a screenshot) to see.
For 171 years — from tough times during the Civil War, through its heydays under Mayor P.T. Barnum and as a major manufacturing city, and into its decline as opportunities and resources moved elsewhere — LifeBridge has been an anchor for Bridgeport’s most vulnerable residents.
Over more than a century and a half, the agency has evolved. It began as a Ladies Relief Society, was renamed the Bridgeport Orphan Asylum, became Woodfield Children’s Village and then Family Services of Woodfield. In 2015, it was renamed LifeBridge Community Services.
During more than 25 years in Westport, Howard Greene has seen the disparity between his neighbors here, and those less than 10 miles away.
One in every 3 Bridgeport children lives in poverty. The largest city in the state is the 5th poorest; its unemployment rate of almost 12% is twice that of the rest of Connecticut. Over 11% of youth ages 18-24 do not graduate from high school.
Greene’s involvement with LifeBridge spans many years. Now board chair, he hopes to spread the word about the many programs and resources the organization offers.
Before the pandemic, he hosted a reception at Wakeman Town Farm with CEO Alan Mathis.
Howard Greene, LifeBridge board chair.
They described LifeBridge’s efforts to help disadvantaged youth ages 11-14. For example, their Urban Scholars Program offers art, music, martial arts, robotics, dance, science and math instruction and projects led by professionals in their fields. There is personal tutoring too.
The free programs run for 3 hours after school. LifeBridge also sponsors a 2-month full-day summer camp.
Funding comes from private donations, as well as local foundations like Newman’s Own, the Westport Weston Family YMCA’s Bedford Social Responsibility Fund, and Near & Far Aid.
Robotics is one of Lifebridge Urban Scholars Program’s many opportunities.
LifeBridge also provides behavioral health services, with nurses, counselors, social workers, therapists and addiction specialists working in areas like domestic violence, adolescent wellness, substance abuse and family therapy.
A community closet provides clothing and personal care items, while the WorkSkills programs prepares people 18 years and older for jobs in today’s economy.
Many Westporters have not heard of LifeBridge. Thanks to the work of Howard Greene and others, many Bridgeporters have. For them, it is a true bridge toward a better life.
(To learn more about LifeBridge, including how to volunteer and donate, click here.)
This month, Anthropologie is decorated for the holidays. Even — especially? — in these COVID times, the old Tudor building looks inviting and warm.
But for most of its life, the handsome structure at Westport’s major downtown intersection was the YMCA.
Built by E.T. Bedford in 1923 to replace the Westport Hotel, the new Y featured reading and writing rooms, pool tables and bowling alleys.
A year later — during what seems to be late fall or early spring — this is what the YMCA looked like.
(Photo courtesy of Seth Schachter)
There was plenty of parking. A small sign at the top of the photo warned trolley conductors to go slowly.
The Y did not occupy the entire building. The far eastern portion — the section closest to Church Lane — housed Westport’s downtown fire department. If you click on or hover over the image to enlarge it, you can see the bay doors.
Judging by this photo, fire trucks had no problem roaring through downtown traffic en route to calls.
Growing up in Westport, Jordan Schur spent plenty of time at the Westport Weston Family YMCA.
He still lives here. Now he’s a father. Jordan writes:
I want to express thanks and gratitude for the YMCA staff in the before/after- school childcare programs.
The pandemic has brought challenges to every family. For a 2-parent working household like ours, the Y has been a lifesaver. Let me highlight what an amazing resource they have been.
Westport’s elementary schools meet 2 hours and 45 minutes of in-school teaching each day, either morning or afternoon.
This leaves a lot of unaccounted-for hours, including kids’ “specials” (gym, art, music, Spanish) and homework.
This is just one area where the YMCA has been incredible. The staff helps kids log into their computers to do their specials, and provides them with materials and assistance.
The staff also helps kids with their homework in fun and creative ways, like turning sight words into artistic clouds that my wife and I would never have thought of even in normal times.
The Westport Y’s childcare program includes school help …
Then there are great extracurricular activities like swimming. The staff ensures they are there on time, as well as helping with lunches, the bus routine of getting to and from school, and countless other things they do every day that parents never hear about.
Heading into the school year, we had concerns about how our daughter would keep up with her work, and how she could participate in daily “specials” without a parent to help her.
The YMCA stepped up, figured it out, and has been beyond accommodating. Their responsiveness to concerns is a model for any customer service business, and their attention to each child’s individual needs is refreshing.
With adjustments to the pool because of the latest COVID outbreak, the staff has taken special notice that there is less time for our daughter to get ready to swim. They ensure she is changed prior to her “special,” so she can get to her lesson on time.
Little things like that allow my wife and I to do our work, without having to sit distracted and concerned about how our daughter is managing.
And taking children for full Wednesdays when school is not in session, as well as school holidays, is a great solution to the constant juggling act of kid logistics.
… and fun, in the new gymnastics studio.
So thank you to the whole YMCA team. I would highlight individuals, but I know how big a team it is to make everything described above come true. I don’t want to leave anyone out.
We are grateful for the role you have filled in our community. With so much uncertainty about the future, having a daily rock like your team is beyond reassuring.
(Do you know an Unsung Hero? Email email@example.com)
Looking around, it’s easy to see the casualties of COVID. At the height of the holiday season, stores and restaurants lack the familiar buzz. Its been that way for months.
Less visible — but no less dramatic — are the economic effects on others.
Like personal trainers.
Before the pandemic, Amy France had a thriving business. A competitive runner growing up in Ridgefield and an elite racer who also spent 15 years as a senior executive assistant for hedge funds, she pivoted in 2008 to a career in fitness.
After certification, she worked as a Saugatuck Rowing Club trainer for 4 years, then moved to the Westport Weston Family YMCA.
Before the pandemic, Amy France (center, blue shirt) ran a popular Run Club at the Westport Y.
Before COVID, she had up to 70 clients. Young female athletes, men and women in their 80s, and everyone in between — all enjoyed personalized sessions.
The Y closed in March. France taught herself Zoom, and trained clients remotely. Some lacked home weights, so she took some from her basement gym, and put them in her mailbox for pickup.
When the Y reopened, only half her clients returned. She trained them in person; others. via Zoom.
When the weather was nice, Amy France trained clients outdoors.
The Y follows strict protocols. Everyone entering the building is screened. There are strict limits on numbers; appropriate distance is maintained; masks must always be worn, and training equipment is constantly cleaned.
Adhering to all those protocols — and moving between live and Zoom sessions — is physically and mentally exhausting.
Yet her work is important, France says. Deprived of regular workouts, clients have gained up to 30 pounds. Emotionally, they’re depressed.
As the number of cases continues to rise, physical and mental health are more important than ever, she notes.
“You can’t store up fitness to be called on later. Somehow we have to persevere and maintain fitness, no matter the obstacles.”
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 firstname.lastname@example.org, 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?
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.
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.
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 email@example.com,
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 firstname.lastname@example.org
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).
And finally … “06880,” Pete Seeger and Arlo Guthrie wish you a Happy Labor Day!
Click here to help support “06880” via credit card or PayPal. Any amount is welcome — and appreciated! Reader contributions keep this blog going. (Alternate methods: Please send a check to: Dan Woog, 301 Post Road East, Westport, CT 06880. Or use Venmo: @DanWoog06880. Thanks!)