Remembering Chuck Berry

I only saw Chuck Berry perform live once.

It was in 2002, at the Levitt Pavilion’s annual fundraiser.

He was on a double bill with Little Richard.

Neither was very good. Both were well past their sell-by dates.

Chuck Berry — who died yesterday at 90 — was already 75.

Yet looking back, it’s very impressive that he was still performing — and still doing a (modified) version of his famed “duck walk.”

And how cool that I — and the rest of Westport — could see one of the true legends (and founders) of rock ‘n’ roll, right in our back yard.

That’s my only live memory of Chuck Berry.

But this is “06880,” where “Westport meets the world.” Our town is probably filled with people who played or recorded with, went into business with, or otherwise knew Chuck Berry well. (Weston too: I’m thinking of you, Keith Richards.)

Click “Comments” below, to share your memories.

PS: Roll over, Beethoven! And tell Tchaikovsky the news.

[UPDATE — CORRECT VERSION] Westport Women On The Move

I posted the wrong version of this story earlier today — and omitted photos. The correct date of the march is next Sunday — March 26. Here is the version with photos. My apologies!

It seems like decades. But it’s only been a few weeks since the beginning of the Trump administration.

That’s when Darcy Hicks was getting tired of her worldly concerns being confined to Facebook feeds.

She knew a few others. Soon, 10 friends assembled in her Westport home, to write postcards to politicans.

That grew to a group of 40 Westporters. All said the same thing: How can we be more active?

A couple of days later, “06880”‘s Friday Flashback highlighted Kathie Motes Bennewitz’s story about the Equal Franchise League. Way back in 1913, women demanded suffrage — and marched — right here in Westport.

As Darcy’s postcard group grew into (yes) a Facebook page — DefenDemocracy of CT — a few members reacted with nostalgia. As they met in kitchens, they shared stories of their own pasts as activists, and the role of Westport and Connecticut in activism.

Lauren Soloff, Lisa Bowman and Darcy Hicks, all actively engaged.

Lauren Soloff Malowitz — Darcy’s neighbor when she moved back here 23 years ago — had marched for women’s right to choose. Lisa Bowman — who drove to Pennsylvania with Darcy 8 years ago, to knock on doors during Barack Obama’s first presidential run — had grown up marching with her parents, against nuclear weapons.

Nita Prasad had been very active as a Berkeley student. She helped shut down the San Francisco Bay Bridge after the Rodney King verdict, and raised funds for Oxfam.

Darcy Hicks (front right) demanded that Smith College divest from South Africa — and made the cover of this Newsweek campus publication.

As a student herself, Darcy helped take over the Smith College administration building, until trustees divested from the apartheid regime in South Africa.

The women are still active, in a variety of ways.

Nita — a professor of world history at Quinnipiac University — helps mobilize students and faculty in support of the national popular vote project.

After a long career in broadcasting, Lisa has been a fundraiser for the Democratic State Central Committee and the Hole in the Wall Gang Camp.

Lauren, a lawyer, fundraises for Homes With Hope. Darcy teaches children in Bridgeport and New Haven in Visual Literacy, an arts and language skills program she developed at Yale.

Darcy’s group wondered what their own kids — and others — who are so addicted to social media were learning about activism and social engagement. They decided that if a group of Westport women could march in 1913 — despite what must have been formidable obstacles — then they could do the same.

So on Sunday, March 26, a “CT on the Move March to Defend Democracy — One Small State, One Big Voice” march is set for downtown Westport. It begins at noon at Jesup Green, and ends at Veterans Green. Senator Chris Murphy is the keynote speaker.

“The idea is to celebrate Westport’s history of fighting for change,” Darcy says.

“Westport has often lived up to Connecticut’s ‘Constitution State’ nickname. From our revolutionary history to the examples we set advocating for abolition, women’s rights, civil rights and more, we are a community that does not stay quiet when we want change.”

This is more than a political rally, Darcy explains. “Really, it’s a reminder to all of us that we are part of a very special community — one that is fortunate, but that cares for those who aren’t. That is patriotism.”

Since first publicizing the march, Darcy’s group has joined with many others, new and established: Indivisible, Love in Action, 203 Action, Pantsuit Nation CT, the Westport Democratic Town Committee, and Staples High School’s Young Democrats and Social Activism clubs.

Darcy and her band of once-and-future activists are excited to be back in action.

They’re even more excited that younger folks — like Staples senior Lulu Stracher — are joining them.

“This is one generation showing a younger one that real change needs to happen outside of social media,” Darcy says.

“Engagement lives on. We look forward to passing the torch!”

(For more information, click here or email darcyhicksdtt@gmail.com)

Lauren Soloff at a Planned Parenthood rally, back in the day. She’s third from the left (not counting President Reagan), standing next to Vice President Bush.

[UPDATE — CORRECT VERSION] Westport Women On The Move

I posted the wrong version of this story earlier today — and omitted photos. The correct date of the march is next Sunday — March 26. Here is the version with photos. My apologies!

It seems like decades. But it’s only been a few weeks since the beginning of the Trump administration.

That’s when Darcy Hicks was getting tired of her worldly concerns being confined to Facebook feeds.

She knew a few others. Soon, 10 friends assembled in her Westport home, to write postcards to politicans.

That grew to a group of 40 Westporters. All said the same thing: How can we be more active?

A couple of days later, “06880”‘s Friday Flashback highlighted Kathie Motes Bennewitz’s story about the Equal Franchise League. Way back in 1913, women demanded suffrage — and marched — right here in Westport.

As Darcy’s postcard group grew into (yes) a Facebook page — DefenDemocracy of CT — a few members reacted with nostalgia. As they met in kitchens, they shared stories of their own pasts as activists, and the role of Westport and Connecticut in activism.

Lauren Soloff, Lisa Bowman and Darcy Hicks, all actively engaged.

Lauren Soloff Malowitz — Darcy’s neighbor when she moved back here 23 years ago — had marched for women’s right to choose. Lisa Bowman — who drove to Pennsylvania with Darcy 8 years ago, to knock on doors during Barack Obama’s first presidential run — had grown up marching with her parents, against nuclear weapons.

Nita Prasad had been very active as a Berkeley student. She helped shut down the San Francisco Bay Bridge after the Rodney King verdict, and raised funds for Oxfam.

Darcy Hicks (front right) demanded that Smith College divest from South Africa — and made the cover of this Newsweek campus publication.

As a student herself, Darcy helped take over the Smith College administration building, until trustees divested from the apartheid regime in South Africa.

The women are still active, in a variety of ways.

Nita — a professor of world history at Quinnipiac University — helps mobilize students and faculty in support of the national popular vote project.

After a long career in broadcasting, Lisa has been a fundraiser for the Democratic State Central Committee and the Hole in the Wall Gang Camp.

Lauren, a lawyer, fundraises for Homes With Hope. Darcy teaches children in Bridgeport and New Haven in Visual Literacy, an arts and language skills program she developed at Yale.

Darcy’s group wondered what their own kids — and others — who are so addicted to social media were learning about activism and social engagement. They decided that if a group of Westport women could march in 1913 — despite what must have been formidable obstacles — then they could do the same.

So on Sunday, March 26, a “CT on the Move March to Defend Democracy — One Small State, One Big Voice” march is set for downtown Westport. It begins at noon at Jesup Green, and ends at Veterans Green. Senator Chris Murphy is the keynote speaker.

“The idea is to celebrate Westport’s history of fighting for change,” Darcy says.

“Westport has often lived up to Connecticut’s ‘Constitution State’ nickname. From our revolutionary history to the examples we set advocating for abolition, women’s rights, civil rights and more, we are a community that does not stay quiet when we want change.”

This is more than a political rally, Darcy explains. “Really, it’s a reminder to all of us that we are part of a very special community — one that is fortunate, but that cares for those who aren’t. That is patriotism.”

Since first publicizing the march, Darcy’s group has joined with many others, new and established: Indivisible, Love in Action, 203 Action, Pantsuit Nation CT, the Westport Democratic Town Committee, and Staples High School’s Young Democrats and Social Activism clubs.

Darcy and her band of once-and-future activists are excited to be back in action.

They’re even more excited that younger folks — like Staples senior Lulu Stracher — are joining them.

“This is one generation showing a younger one that real change needs to happen outside of social media,” Darcy says.

“Engagement lives on. We look forward to passing the torch!”

(For more information, click here or email darcyhicksdtt@gmail.com)

Lauren Soloff at a Planned Parenthood rally, back in the day. She’s third from the left (not counting President Reagan), standing next to Vice President Bush.

Historic Building Few Westporters Know About Is Saved

It’s ironic: Though no one in Westport stops at stop signs, they were invented by a Westporter.

So were pedestrian crosswalks, traffic circles, 1-way streets, taxi stands and pedestrian safety islands.

All were the brainchild of William Phelps Eno. And for many years, his worldwide traffic institute was headquartered on Saugatuck Avenue.

We pass by the handsome, 11,000-square foot brick and stone 1938 building near the Norwalk line without knowing its history.

That history came quite close to being obliterated — much like pedestrians were, before Eno came along.

The Eno Foundation building on Saugatuck Avenue.

The building and land were on the market. LandTech — Pete Romano’s engineering and design firm situated 2 minutes away (without traffic) on Riverside Avenue — designed a standard suburban use of the land. Their plan knocked down the Eno building, and subdivided the 4+ acres of land into 4 contorted 1-acre lots, with less than half an acre of open space.

But then they applied the open space subdivision regulations. That gave them 3 lots of 1/2 acre each — perfect for homes of 3,000 square feet, designed for empty nesters.

Using a section of the Planning & Zoning regulations for historic structures — offering relief from coverage, setbacks and non-conformities — LandTech preserved the Eno building on a full acre lot, with nearly 1.5 acres of open space.

On Thursday night, the P&Z considered the plan. After hearing comments from commissioners, approval seems likely.

Let’s hope they give it the green light.

LandTech’s plans for the Eno property. The foundation building is on the right, with a circular driveway in front. Click on or hover over to enlarge.

 

Westport Links With America’s Oldest Synagogue

You wouldn’t think that a recent “06880” story on an antique New York City map would lead to a Westport connection with the oldest synagogue in North America.

Then again, you wouldn’t figure that Luis Gomez was Jewish.

The piece focused on Westporter Robert Augustyn, and a 1740 map his company acquired. It was the first to show that synagogue, on Manhattan’s Mill Street.

Benjamin Gomes, great-grandson of Luis Moses Gomez.

Robert Jacobs quickly responded. He and his cousin Joel Treisman — both Westporters — are direct descendants of Luis Moses Gomez. The Sephardic Jewish immigrant, whose parents escaped the Spanish Inquisition, led the drive to finance and construct Shearith Israel — that first-ever New York congregation, founded in the late 1680s — and served as its first parnas (president).

But Jacobs’ story goes much deeper.

He is not a religious person. Yet in 1973, his family got a call from the owner of a house in Marlboro, New York. He was selling his property, which originally belonged to a direct Jacobs ancestor: Gomez.

In 1714, he had purchased 1,000 acres near Newburgh, New York. Later, with his sons Jacob and Daniel, he bought 3,000 more.

Gomez built a fieldstone blockhouse to conduct trade and maintain provisions in the Mid-Hudson region.

“Everyone thinks of the early settlers in this region as Dutch and English,” Jacobs says. “But there were some very important Jewish settlers too.” Gomez arrived in New York City in 1703.

Jacobs adds, “Jewish immigrants were not just the Ashkenazis and Russians of the late 1800s. Sephardic Jews were here too.”

They were world traders. Gomez’ family was involved in chocolate, potash, furs and other commodities. They also quarried limestone, milled timber — and donated funds to rebuild New York’s Trinity Church steeple.

Jacobs was just 27 when the Gomez house went on the market. He called his cousin, Treisman.

Robert Jacobs and Joel Treisman.

As they researched its history, they learned that Gomez was not the only fascinating character. During its 300 years, “Gomez Mill House” served as home to Revolutionary patriot Wolfert Ecker; 19th-century gentleman farmer and conservationist William Henry Armstrong; artisan and historian Dard Hunter, and 20th-century suffragette Martha Gruening.

Six years after buying the property, Jacobs’ family created a non-profit. In 1984 the Gomez Foundation purchased the Mill House, and established it as a public museum.

The Gomez Mill House today.

The house is being preserved as as a significant national museum. The oldest standing Jewish dwelling in North America, it’s on the National Register of Historic Places.

Jacobs’ foundation also offers programs about the contributions of former Mill House owners to the multicultural history of the Hudson River Valley. Over 1,000 children tour the museum each year.

Today, Jacobs says, “Freedom, tolerance and opportunity is one of the missions of Gomez Mill House.” The foundation’s work seems particularly timely today.

One of the lovingly restored rooms in the Gomez Mill House.

Jacobs and Treisman serve on the board. They’re joined by fellow Westporter Andrée Aelion Brooks. The former New York Times writer — an expert on Jewish history — lectures frequently for the foundation.

Not many people — even Jews — know about Luis Moses Gomez.

But Robert Jacobs, Joel Treisman and their family have spent 40 years getting to know their ancestor. The story they share is fascinating.

And Gomez Mill House is just an hour and a half away.

(For more information on Gomez Mill House, click here.)

Friday Flashback #31

Protests are nothing new in Westport. As noted a few Friday Flashbacks ago, they date back to at least 1913, when women of the Equal Franchise League participated in Suffrage Week activities.

Perhaps none were bigger though than the rallies against the Vietnam War. There were several, culminating in a National Moratorium Day march on October 15, 1969.

Over 1200 Staples students — joined by some from the 3 junior highs — marched from the high school tennis courts, down North Avenue and Long Lots Road, all the way to the steps of the YMCA.

The long line of marchers headed downtown. The A&P is now the firehouse; the Esso gas station is a Phillips 66. (Photo/Adrian Hlynka)

They carried American flags and wore buttons saying “Peace Now” and “Hell No, We Won’t Go.” Along the way, pro-war students threw eggs at the marchers.

There were adults downtown too, to hear speeches (including one from Iowa Senator Harold Hughes).

More of the enormous downtown crowd. The former Max’s Art Supplies is on the extreme left; what is now Tiffany is on the far right. (Photo/Adrian Hlynka)

It took 4 more years. But in 1973 a peace treaty was signed. Two years later, the last Americans were evacuated from the US Embassy roof.

A portion of the crowd — primarily Staples students — protesting the Viet Nam war in 1969. (Photo/Adrian Hlynka)

A Staples student states his case. (Photo/Adrian Hlynka)

A portion of the crowd in front of the Y. The Fine Arts Theater (now Restoration Hardware) was showing “Alice’s Restaurant” and “Medium Cool.” Police stood on the roof next door. (Photo/Adrian Hlynka)

The crowd was predominantly — though not entirely — made up of Staples students. (Photo/Adrian Hlynka)

Rabbi Byron Rubenstein of Temple Israel addresses the crowd from the steps of the Y. (Photo/Adrian Hlynka)

Building Bridges, From Staples To Syria

Kion Bruno’s mother — eye surgeon Dr.  Aryan Shayegani — is a 1st-generation Iranian American.

Neighbors on their road here in Westport include a 1st-generation Palestinian neurosurgeon, a Pakistani man, and a family that hosted Iraqi refugees.

“They’re all pillars of society,” Kion says. “And they’re all Middle Eastern.”

Kion Bruno

At Staples High School — where the 11th grader is a varsity tennis player, and founder of the squash team — he hears occasional terrorist “jokes.”

“With the current presidential administration, there’s been a definite increase in xenophobia,” Kion says. “We need to bridge the gap.”

He’s doing his part. Along with several others, Kion started a Building Bridges club at Staples. Already they’ve brought in a few speakers: Iranian American women, to talk about their lives in Iran (very similar to the US, Kion says); Palestinian neurosurgeon Dr. Khalid Abbed, who grew up very poor and whose son now goes to Staples, and Tarek Alasil, a Syrian refugee training to be an ophthalmologist.

The group also arranged a Skype call with teenagers in Iran.

Now they’re reaching out to audiences beyond Staples. On Saturday, April 1 (3 p.m., Staples auditorium), Building Bridges will sponsor a screening of “Salam Neighbor.”

It’s directed by Greens Farms Academy graduates Zach Ingrasci and Chris Temple, who lived in a Syrian refugee camp. The film provides an intimate look at that horrific humanitarian crisis.

Congressman Jim Himes will be featured in the panel discussion that follows the screening, along with First Selectman Jim Marpe.

Other panelists include a Syrian refugee, being hosted in Westport; Ali Majeed, an Iraqi refugee who was hosted here and is now training to be a dentist; Claudia Connor, president and CEO of the International Institute of Connecticut resettlement program; John McGeehan of Westport Interfaith Refugee Settlement, and Megan Laney, a Westport native studying in Syria who was evacuated when the war began.

Senator Chris Murphy is sending a personalized video.

The suggested donation is $10. All proceeds benefit local and international refugee agencies and charities.

“Our community has the choice to stand by passively,” Kion says. “Or we can unite, and act to make a difference.”

He and his organization of teenagers have already built a bridge to the Middle East. Now the rest of us must cross it.

 

Walking In A Winter Wonderland

Click on or hover over to enlarge. (Photo/Lynn U. Miller)

Unfortunately, it’s not Christmas.

It’s 4 days before spring.

And we could get 3 to 5 inches of snow on Saturday!

Time To Make The Donuts

Crazy about donuts?

Donut Crazy is here!

The 4th store in the small chain — replacing Steam on the eastbound side of the train station — was expected to open October 1. Finally, the big day has arrived.

Ribbon-cutting is set for 11 a.m. tomorrow. Right now, there’s a soft opening.

As in glazed, powdered, coconut, Bavarian creme…

A young customer is one of the first to enjoy Donut Crazy. (Photo/John Karrel)

 

Inside A Large Circle Of Friends

Freida Hecht is passionate about the power of friendship. With 11 kids of her own, she knows the importance of children laughing, playing and just being kids together.

She also knows that youngsters with special needs often have limited social lives. They may not belong to sports teams or school clubs. They’re seldom included in play dates.

Thirteen years ago Frieda — who teaches adult education, runs a Hebrew school, is a community activist and, oh yeah, has 11 kids of her own — matched Westport 2nd selectman Shelley Kassen’s daughter with a young special needs girl. They planned one afternoon together.

circle-of-friends-logoThe day went well. Both wanted to continue.

Word spread. Freida matched more children with autism and disabilities with teenagers who wanted to be friends. The circle spread.

Today, the group has a very appropriate name: Circle of Friends. More than 150 teens — in Westport, Weston, Wilton, Norwalk, Easton, as far as Ridgefield — spend at least one weekend a month with their special needs friends. Circle of Friends clubs support the effort at Staples and Weston Highs.

Their time together includes the usual things friends do: Baking cookies. Playing games. Bowling.

Friendship means fun.

Friendship means fun.

“Friendship does not need special training,” Freida notes. “Just an open heart.”

Circle of Friends opens many hearts. After the first meeting between one new volunteer and her young friend, Freida called the mother for feedback.

The woman said she peeked in, and saw her daughter laughing loudly.

“I’ve never heard her laugh before,” the mother said.

The connections last beyond weekends. Another woman said her child always sat alone at lunch. Now she eats with the “cool kids.”

The students who join get as much out of the Circle as their friends. “Teenagers want truly meaningful volunteer opportunities,” Freida says. “This builds their self-esteem and confidence too.”

PJ & Jonathan Ross

PJ & Jonathan Ross

On April 2 (the Inn at Longshore, 5 p.m.), Circle of Friends celebrates 13 years — and the current 150 volunteers — with an “Evening of Recognition” fundraiser. Westporters Jonathan and PJ Ross — whose 2 children participate — will be honored.

Three siblings will also speak. Their topic is “the art of friendship: passing the torch.”

In 2008, Jillian Pecoriello was matched with a 3-year-old boy. Three years later, when she graduated from Staples, she asked her brother Scott to continue the tradition.

When he graduated, he made sure his younger brother Justin kept the friendship alive.

During school and summer vacations, Jillian and Scott hang out with their friend. They’ve become part of his family.

Jillian, Scott and Justin Pecioriello, with their young friend.

Jillian, Justin and Scott Pecioriello, with their young friend.

Justin graduates from Staples this year. But he’s already made sure that Ethan Gross — a current freshman — will spend the next 3 years with their friend.

The Pecoriellos’ parents — Andrea and Bill — are past Circle of Friends honorees. Now, they’re spearheading a Circle campaign to create a baker to employ adults with disabilities.

“Their family’s entire foundation is one of giving and sharing. They’re infused with goodness,” Freida says.

She believes that friendship is “a basic necessity of the human condition.”

For 13 years, she’s made sure that Fairfield County’s circle of friends is big, wide, and very loving.

(For more information about the Circle of Friends’ “Evening of Recognition,” click here.)