Category Archives: YMCA

Seniors, Y Tussle Over Silver Sneakers

Silver Sneakers is an insurance benefit included in more than 65 Medicare health plans. For a fee to a for-profit company called Healthways, seniors can visit fitness and wellness centers. Medicare and private insurers call it “preventive medicine.”

Silver Sneakers logoOver 13,000 participating locations nationwide offer all basic amenities, plus group exercise classes geared specifically toward “active older adults.”

The Westport Weston Family Y is not one of those locations. According to alert — and angry — “06880” reader David Meth, every other Y in Fairfield County is.

Meth provided the names of over a dozen seniors who would like our Y to include Silver Sneakers as part of its membership program, and introduce more  programs specifically for seniors.

Meth believes the Westport Y views older members as not a good business model.

He says that CEO Pat Riemersma told him a program like Silver Sneakers would bring in too many seniors. Part of the reason, he says, is that Riemersma told him of an agreement with the Planning and Zoning Commission that limits the total number of members. Meth says that Riemersma said the Y “needs to understand the trend before signing this type of agreement” (like Silver Sneakers).

A "First Friday" koffee klatch, organized by the Y's Aqua Fitness group.

A “First Friday” koffee klatch, organized by the Y’s Aqua Fitness group.

Feeling that seniors are less valued than younger families, Meth combed the Y’s website looking for senior programs. He found a “gratuitous” photo on the mission statement page, of seniors having lunch. There also is a senior aquatics program.

Of course, Riemersma told him, seniors are invited to participate in classes and programs open to all Y members.

“Yes, get on the same floor with 20-30-year-olds and try to keep up,” Meth replies.

“That’s it. Not another program dedicated to seniors: no fitness programs, no yoga, Pilates, weightlifting, walks in the beautiful woods, etc., just to name a few that are absent. Not even a link or page for seniors to direct them to the one program available.”

Meth is upset too about the special monthly fee of $57 for seniors. He says that is “double the price of any other local fitness center.”

YMCA logoRiemersma replies: “Silver Sneakers is not a business model recognized by the national YMCA. It’s run by a for-profit entity. Seniors pay a fee to Healthways, and Ys get reimbursed based on the number of visits by an individual. We are a cost-driven organization.”

Regarding Meth’s assertion about the P&Z stipulation, Riemersma says, “We are limited to the number of members, but it has nothing to do with seniors. We want to stay within the agreement.”

She says that financial assistance is available to everyone — including seniors who cannot afford the reduced rate.

A seated yoga class, at the Westport Weston Family YMCA.

A seated yoga class, at the Westport Weston Family YMCA.

Riemersma vigorously denies Meth’s assertion that the Y does not value seniors.

“We serve all members, regardless of age,” she says. She cites programs like Senior Fridays, pickleball and chair aerobics, while pledging to do a better job of publicizing senior offerings on the website.

And, she says, “many members are actually offended by the phrase ‘active older seniors.'”

She says she would love to have a face-to-face or phone conversation about this with Meth.

He counters that he will communicate only by email.

Y Special Olympic Swimmers Splash To Success

Just 6 months ago, “06880” announced that the Westport Weston Family YMCA was forming a Special Olympics swim team.

The group came together quicker than Michael Phelps churns through pools.

This weekend, 16 athletes travel to Hamden and New Haven, to compete in Connecticut’s Special Olympic Games.

Their ages range from 10 to 18. Some need assistance to swim 15 meters. Others race on their own for 50 meters.

All have a fantastic time. All practice once a week. And all are supported by a wonderful team of coaches and volunteers.

Good luck to all. Of course, they — and the Y — are already winners.

Westport YMCA senior program director Jay Jaronko (2nd from left), and Special Olympics athletes, coaches and volunteers.

Westport YMCA senior program director Jay Jaronko (2nd from left), and Special Olympics athletes, coaches and volunteers.

(Hat tip: Marshall Kiev)

Y I Was Wrong

For years  — during the decade-long rumble over the Westport Weston Family YMCA‘s proposed move — I stood firmly in the stay-home camp.

I was convinced the Y belonged where it had been for 8 decades: downtown. Losing such a vital organization, I thought, would be as mortal a blow to Main Street as the closing of the Fine Arts movie theaters had been a few years earlier.

I dreaded the traffic jams I “knew” would clog Wilton Road. I freaked out about cars backed up all the way to Kings Highway, all hours of the day.

I thought the Mahackeno property — wooded, beautiful, on the banks of the Saugatuck River — would be cut, leveled, ruined forever.

I was convinced the Y should stay downtown -- its home since 1923.

I was convinced the Y should stay downtown — its home since 1923.

The new Y has been open for a year and a half. And guess what?

I love it.

The building is as beautiful as a Y can be. It complements the woods. Inside, it’s bright, airy and welcoming. The views from the fitness center are stunning. The halls are wide. Even the locker rooms — the major design mistake — have been improved.

Traffic is no problem. In fact, the new location — snuggled up against Merritt Parkway exit 41 — has goosed membership nicely. Plenty of new users don’t live in Westport or Weston. They’re commuters, popping in and out on their way to or from work. It’s great to have them (and their membership dollars).

As for downtown: Bedford Square will add more to downtown than the Y did (at least, in its later years). The retail/residential complex promises to bring new folks, new life — even new traffic patterns and perspectives — to a somewhat tired, but still vital, part of Westport.

The view from the Y's fitness center is pretty spectacular.

The view from the Y’s fitness center is pretty spectacular.

No, the Y did not put me up to this. They have no idea I’m writing it.

I just thought about how wrong I’d been the other day, when I finished my workout, walked past the new cafe and kids’ club, outside by the blooming trees and bushes, into the spacious parking lot. The old Y had none of that.

So yeah, I was totally, completely wrong. My bad.

Now how about you?

If there’s a Westport issue or controversy that today — in retrospect — you’ve changed your tune about, click “Comments” to share.

I can’t be the only guy in town who ever made a mistake.

2016 Art Show Roots Reach Waaaaay Back

As signs go, the ones advertising this weekend’s art show may not be the most artistic:

Art show sign

So Westporters may be forgiven for not realizing that for several reasons, this year’s event is special.

For one, it’s dedicated to Howard Munce and his wife Gerry, a longtime WWC member and community volunteer.

When Howard died recently at 100, his place as one of Westport’s foremost artists was secure.

Howard’s roots here date back to the Great Depression. At that time, Westport supposedly had the largest per capita population of unemployed professional artists in the country.

Many were married to Woman’s Club members. To help, the WWC held art shows in Bedford House, the 2nd floor of the downtown YMCA.

Howard was no starving artist. He went on to great fame. But he showed his appreciation for the Woman’s Club by participating in art shows through the 1980s, long after the organization moved to its 44 Imperial Avenue home.

In 2007 — when the WWC celebrated its centennial — Howard designed the logo.

Gerry and Howard Munce. This weekend's Westport Woman's Club art show is dedicated to them.

Gerry and Howard Munce. This weekend’s Westport Woman’s Club art show is dedicated to them.

Howard and Gerry were friends with another civic-minded local family, the Burroughses. Bernie (an artist) and his wife Esta (of Remarkable Book Shop fame) raised 2 artist sons, Miggs and Trace.

This weekend’s art show — curated by Miggs — will be held in the Woman’s Club’s new Bedford Hall. It’s a few steps — and many years — away from the Y’s old “Bedford House.”

The Westport Woman’s Club art show venue has changed, since the Depression.

Howard Munce — for the first time since then — won’t be there this year.

But the show itself hasn’t changed much. It’s still fun, and still an important fundraiser.

And Howard and Gerry will be there for sure, in Westport arts colony spirit.

Bo Did Westport

Westport’s musical history is well noted.

Mark Smollin wrote a book about all the 1960s bands that played at Staples: the Doors, Cream, Yardbirds, Animals and many, many more.

Linda Eastman — before she was McCartney — photographed Jeff Beck in the high school choral room.

A video of Steve Tallerico — before he was Steve Tyler — plays in an endless loop at the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame. In it, he talks about the incredible influence this town had on his musical career.

But before the Byrds, Peter Frampton and Sly and the Family Stone played here — and all the rest — there was a different kind of teenage music. And Westport was at the center of it then, too.

Michael Friedman today, in his Weston home.

Michael Friedman today, in his Weston home.

Michael Friedman was there. Now 72, he’s had several intriguing careers. He’s been an antiques dealer, and a restaurant owner.

He produced “Hello, It’s Me,” and managed Todd Rundgren and Kris Kristofferson — as well as (with Albert Grossman) the careers of Bob Dylan, Janis Joplin, The Band, Odetta, and Peter Paul & Mary. He did publicity for the Dave Clark 5 and Herman’s Hermits.

But even before that — when he was a student at Long Lots Junior High, and a member of Staples High’s Class of 1961 — Friedman was part of Westport’s thriving music scene.

In 1958 — as a “self-taught, left-handed, not-so-great drummer” — he joined saxophonist Rick Del Vecchio and guitarist/singer Mike Youngman in a group called the Schemers. Friedman calls them “Westport’s 1st garage band.”

They were young. But the 4th member was even younger. Barry Tashian brought great guitar chops — and an amazing voice, and plenty of showmanship — to the foursome.

Bo Diddley was heard in Westport.

Bo Diddley was heard in Westport.

The Schemers covered songs by hot artists like Chuck Berry and Bo Diddley. They knew Diddley especially well: He played in Westport “a number of times,” Friedman says. They were dance shows, at places like the YMCA.

Once, Diddley’s drummer was too drunk to perform. Friedman took his spot.

Another act that came to Westport was Harvey and the Moonglows (“Sincerely”). Once again, the drummer drank too much. Once again, Friedman stepped in.

Only one local band was bigger than the Schemers. Bridgeport’s Dick Grass and the Hoppers — featuring 350-pound lead singer Bobby Lindsay — had a regional hit with “Mr. John Law.”

A few years later, Tashian went on to far great fame. With fellow Westporter Bill Briggs — and 2 Boston University classmates — the Remains took Boston by storm. They toured with the Beatles, appeared on “Ed Sullivan” and “Hullabaloo,” and were (in the words of Jon Landau) “how you told a stranger about rock ‘n’ roll.”

Unfortunately, the Remains broke up. But that’s another story.

Westporters and Remains Barry Tashian (left) and Bill Briggs flank Staples music director John Ohanian in 1966.

Westporters Barry Tashian (left) and Bill Briggs of the Remains flank Staples music director John Ohanian in 1966.

Tashian was not the only Friedman-era Stapleite to go on to musical fame. Mike Borchetta brought musical acts to Westport while still in high school. One was Dave Baby Cortez (“The Happy Organ”).

Borchetta later became a noted music promoter — first in Los Angeles, then Nashville. He went on to start his own label — and discovered a 16-year-old Taylor Swift.

Don Law was another Staples musical mover and shaker. His father — also named Don — was “Mr. Nashville.” He produced Johnny Horton’s “Battle of New Orleans,”Marty Robbins’ “El Paso” and Jimmy Dean’s “Big Bad John,” as well as many Johnny Cash records.

His son — Friedman’s friend — was a Boston-based promoter. The Boston Globe says Law “virtually controlled the live music scene throughout New England for almost four decades.”

And who can forget Rusty Ford, who went on to play bass with the psychedelic, theremin-heavy, influential but now forgotten Lothar and the Hand People? Ford and his wife Karen have lived in Westport since 1992.

Lothar and the Hand People. i'm not sure which one is Rusty Ford.

Lothar and the Hand People. Rusty Ford is 2nd from left in this photo by Richard Avedon.

Friedman’s own career took a couple of detours. He sold Americana and folk art, and owned the Ash Creek Saloons in Fairfield and Norwalk, along with Darien’s Goose restaurant.

But music was always his first love.

“I’ve had a fun life,” he says, sitting in his Weston home. He’s surrounded by memorabilia, like an acetate from the Beatles’ recording of “Help!”, a 1948 snare drum head signed by Levon Helm, and a photo he took of Janis Joplin just before she performed for a few thousand Hell’s Angels.

Yet of everything he’s done — including dating Linda Eastman — “the Barry and Bo Diddley years were the best. There’s nothing better than playing in a rock ‘n’ roll band.”

Michael Friedman knew Levon Helm when he was in the Hawks -- the band that preceded The Band. The drum head says: "Michael. You & me brother. They wouldn't believe us if we told it. Love & respect, Levon. Sept. '09."

Michael Friedman knew Levon Helm when he was in the Hawks — the band that preceded The Band. The drum head says: “Michael. You & me brother. They wouldn’t believe us if we told it. Love & respects, Levon Helm. Sept. ’09.”

 

Youth Groups’ Hoops

A bunch of Catholics and Jews walked onto a basketball court.

No, it’s not the start of a joke.

It’s what happened last night, at the Westport YMCA.

Full Court for Kindness — an “interfaith basketball tournament” — pitted Staples students (and a few middle schoolers) from Assumption Church, the Conservative Synagogue, St. Luke Church and Temple Israel in a round-robin format. Players came from their respective youth groups.

Play ball!

Play ball!

The event honored Chris Lanni, a Staples High School freshman (and St. Luke’s youth group member) who died last year. A moment of silence was held before the first whistle. All proceeds went to the Make-a-Wish Foundation.

The victorious team came from the Conservative Synagogue (with the help of a couple of Israeli Emissaries ringers).

Really though, everyone there was a winner.

(Hat tip: Andres Marmelo)

Staples Squash Team’s Growth May Be Walled In

For years, the Gym at Southport Athletic — originally the Southport Racquet Club, then the Southport Athletic Club — was one of the only places around here to play squash. Its 4 courts became even more precious when the Westport Y built its facility at Mahackeno. The old building downtown had 3 courts. The new one has none.

But the game has enjoyed steady local growth. And that growth is spurred by young players.

They like its fast pace, tactical complexity and physical challenge. It doesn’t hurt that colleges are adding teams — and look favorably upon applicants who play squash.

This year, Staples High School formed boys and girls squads. The athletic department pays for buses. Students and parents raised money for a coach (Atilla Agh), and court time. They joined nearby teams like Fairfield Ludlowe High and Greens Farms Academy that also train there.

Playing against those schools, and others including Darien, New Canaan, Rye, St. Luke’s and Hopkins, the Wreckers have done well.

Staples' girls squash team. (Photo/Stacy Bass)

Staples’ girls squash team. (Photo/Stacy Bass)

But word on the Post Road is that the Gym at Southport Athletic may be removing its courts, to add space for other activities. That would leave Staples’ program out in the cold.

Though the Y is the obvious choice as a site for new courts, it won’t happen soon — if ever. Any decision about what to do with its newly purchased Red Barn property is far off.

Parents and players have worked hard to grow their sport. But they fear for its future.

The ball may soon be out of their court.

 

Snow Day: Afternoon Views

By noon, the snow had moved on. The quick storm dropped 8 inches of heavy, beautiful stuff. It was a photographer’s delight.

The sun peeks through on Meadow View. (Photo/Krystof Bondar)

The sun peeks through on Meadow View. (Photo/Krystof Bondar)

iFloat was open for relaxation. This was the view from the 2nd floor of Main Street, shot by owner David Conneely.

These trees in front of Vineyard Vines on Main Street come courtesy of iFloat owner David Conneely.

Dayle Brownstein enjoyed this painting-like view, from the comfort of inside.

Dayle Brownstein enjoyed this painting-like scene, from the comfort of indoors.

Sadie romps outside. (Photo/Karen Abramson)

A little snow does not stop Sadie from fetching. (Photo/Karen Abramson)

Emily, Michael and Luke Bernier have a great time. Who says yellow snow is bad?! (Photo/Anne Bernier)

Emily, Michael and Luke Bernier have a great time. Who says yellow snow is bad?! (Photo/Anne Bernier)

Bella Sabino, Georgia Graham, Sienna Peck and Evan Sabino enjoying the snow at Winslow Park today. (Photo/Lisa Sabino)

Bella Sabino, Georgia Graham, Sienna Peck and Evan Sabino enjoying the snow at Winslow Park today. (Photo/Lisa Sabino)

Snow-covered Compo Hill, as seen from across the Sherwood Mill Pond by David Squires.

Snow-covered Compo Hill, as seen from across the Sherwood Mill Pond by David Squires.

Attendance at the Y's fitness center was low -- but members who made it to work out also enjoyed this scenery. (Photo/Dan Woog)

Attendance at the Y’s fitness center was low — but members who worked out also enjoyed this Camp Mahackeno scenery. (Photo/Dan Woog)

Westport was wonderfully wintry. This shot is from Partrick Lane. (Photo/Martin Gitlin)

Westport was wonderfully wintry. This shot is from Partrick Lane. (Photo/Martin Gitlin)

Special Olympics Swimming Makes A Splash

Marshall and Johanna Kiev do not see the glass as half full. The Westport couple find it overflowing.

When their daughter Chloe broke her arm playing on the monkey bars at Coleytown Elementary School, the Kievs spearheaded a drive for a better playground.

Chloe Kiev, after a recent horse show.

Chloe Kiev, after a recent horse show.

To help Chloe — who has Williams Syndrome, a genetic disorder that includes heart problems and developmental delays — enjoy activities with friends and classmates, Marshall and Johanna worked with the Westport school system to add Special Olympics Unified Sports to its already very successful Staples High School project. Unified Sports teams include youngsters with and without disabilities. A full elementary program begins this winter.

At the same time, the Kievs approached the Westport Weston Family Y about a more traditional Special Olympics program. They loved the idea.

The result: Registration for the Y’s new swim offering begins Monday (November 30).

Youth ages 8 to 21 years old will learn or improve their swimming abilities. They’ll compete on a team. In June, they’ll join the Special Olympics Summer Games in New Haven.

Westport Y logoSpecial Olympics Swimming will run year-round. Eight-week sessions begin in January, with sessions each Sunday at 3:30 p.m. Practices will be age- and ability-coordinated, coordinated by a certified swim coach and volunteer assistants.

The Kievs led a fundraising effort — a Halloween party — with many generous attendees. So there’s no cost to participants. The Y will help cover any additional funds.

The entire Kiev family is thrilled about the new program — but no one more than Chloe. “I’m so excited to swim and win medals and have my friends come and watch me,” she says.

(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 Chloe’s Williams Syndrome, click here.)

Eddie, Chloe and Ben Kiev.

Eddie, Chloe and Ben Kiev.

UPDATE: Y Purchases Red Barn

Confirming a rumor that has circulated for months, the Westport Weston Family Y announced this morning that they have purchased the Red Barn property.

Update: “06880” reported this morning that earlier this year, the Y denied buying the property. CEO Pat Riemersma says that “whenever talking about the Red Barn, we have indicated no comment because of a confidentiality agreement in the purchase agreement.”

Early this afternoon, she said that the sale became official late Friday afternoon. She added that the purchase agreement pre-dated her arrival as CEO. She assumed that role on June 8.

The landmark Wilton Road site abuts the Y’s new Mahackeno campus.

The 3.2 acre parcel purchased by the Y includes the restaurant building and a separate house. It was owned by members of the Nistico family, who operated the Red Barn Restaurant from 1983 until July 2015.

Lining up for a sale of Red Barn items and artifacts, last June.

Lining up for a sale of Red Barn items and artifacts, last June.

“This is a unique opportunity for our YMCA — a long-term investment that allows us to preserve neighborhood values and, ultimately, utilize the property for the benefit of our members and the community we have served since 1923,” said Y CEO Pat Riemersma.

The Y’s announcement added:

The volunteer leaders who govern the Family YMCA, a charitable nonprofit organization, are in the process of developing a plan that will provide guidance as to the future use of the property. The Y has established a Limited Liability Company, known as 290 Wilton Road LLC, as part of the transaction.

Unsubstantiated rumors over the past many months have offered many potential reasons for the Y’s purchase of the property, including additional parking, use for its preschool, and to tie its septic system in with the Red Barn sewer line.

YMCA logo