Connecticut’s statewide school mask mandate expires February 15. Pressure is growing on Governor Lamont to end it immediately — and for legislators not to extend it, when they vote February 10.
If the state mandate expires, local school districts could implement their own policies.
Local “Mask Choice” groups sprang up earlier in towns like Fairfield, Wilton and Darien. In the past couple of days, “Mask Choice Westport signs” appeared in front yards and public spaces.
A sign near the Ruth Steinkraus Cohen Bridge downtown … (Photo submitted by “WestportParents06880@Gmail.com”)
On social media, the handle is @MaskChoiceWestport. As of last night, an Instagram account with that name had posted 31 times — mostly links to news stories, opinion pieces and videos — and had 463 followers.
A reader told “06880”: “Parents are sending letters to Lamont, state representatives, the Board of Education, our superintendent, the Connecticut Teachers Association, and anyone else who would listen. This is the hot topic of all the parents I know right now.”
Statewide, 86% of 16- and 17-year-olds, and 79% of those 12 to 15 have received at least one COVID vaccine dose. The figure for 5- to 11-year-olds is 44%.
Cases have dropped sharply in Fairfield County since their mid-January Omicron peak.
… and the Sherwood Island Connector. (Photo/Seth Schachter)
Superintendent of Schools Thomas Scarice notes that the topic has caused “a great deal of division in both the public health and medical community, as well as in the school community.” The district “will continue to receive guidance from our local health district, medical advisor and the state Department of Public Health,” he says.
At the outset of the pandemic and the beginning of the 2020-2021 school year, the district took a very conservative approach to our learning models and mitigating measures.
Since last January, we have learned a great deal and provided increased access to programs and services within the guidance we have been provided. Not only have we remained fully open, including extracurricular programs, we have consistently peeled back layers of mitigation when the opportunities have presented themselves. I anticipate that we will take the same approach with universal masking based on the guidance we receive.
“06880” attempted to speak with a spokesperson for “MaskChoiceWestport.” However, contact information was not immediately available.
Connecticut has introduced its version of a “digital vaccine passport.” Residents who click on their COVID-19 vaccination records through the state immunization database, CT WiZ (click here), can then get a “SMART Health Card” to save on their smartphone photo roll, or in an app like the iPhone Wallet.
The “card” includes a QR code that uses the same standard as New York, California and Canada.
This is the busiest time of year for Staples’ Orphenians.
The elite high school a cappella group has spent weeks singing holiday music. They visit civic clubs, elderly residents and Christmas tree lightings. Earlier this month, they entertained a large crowd at the “06880” Stroll.
They return downtown on Thursday, with a twist: alumni.
Former Orphenians are invited to join current members for an hour-long meander along Main Street and environs.
The group gathers shortly before 6:30 p.m. this Thursday (December 23), near the entrance to Starbucks in Parker Harding Plaza.
Groupies are welcome to tag along and listen, too.
The Orphenians entertained at this month’s Town Hall holiday tree lighting. (Photo/Dan Woog)
It’s Christmas Day. You’ve opened the presents, put all the stuff that needs assembling together, and gone to CVS for batteries. You’ve had lunch, and an egg nog or two.
At 3:06 p.m. — that’s right, just after the news — tune in to WSHU-FM. Westport Country Playhouse Radio Theater reprises last year’s clever audio play, “A Merry Little Christmas Carol.”
Missed it on Christmas? Tune in the next day — Sunday, December 26, also 3:06 p.m. — for a rebroadcast.
Pro tip: You don’t have to listen on radio. “A Merry Little Christmas Carol” is available now through January 2 at the Playhouse website — click here.
“A Merry Little Christmas Carol” is written and directed by Mark Shanahan, adapted from his play of the same name, and based on “A Christmas Carol” by Charles Dickens. Shanahan is curator of Playhouse Radio Theater, and also curates the Playhouse Script in Hand playreading series.
“With the remarkable Paxton Whitehead as Scrooge, Dickens’ masterpiece charges us to recall that we are all responsible for the wellbeing of our brothers and sisters—an idea which rings true now more than ever,” Shanahan says.
“Our merry little audio play invites those who cannot be with us in person at the theater to close their eyes and imagine they are once again nestled into their cozy red seats at the Playhouse, experiencing a remarkable story filled with laughter, tears, and holiday cheer.”
Speaking of the Playhouse: A promo is out for next month’s PBS specials: “Stars on Stage from Westport Country Playhouse.”
The shows — set for 3 consecutive Fridays (January 7, 14 and 21, all at 9 p.m.), featuring Broadway stars Gavin Creel, Shoshana Bean and Brandon Victor Dixon — will put our historic theater squarely in the national spotlight.
They were filmed in September, before live audiences.
David Ader shot today’s “Westport … Naturally” image.
He explains: “Turin has its shroud. On Woodside Avenue, we have the bird.
“These photos are of a haunting outline of a bird on a picture window, a good 20 feet off the ground. I noticed this and thought it was the lingering remains of something my kids had put up years before, but it wasn’t a sticker’s residual on the inside.
“I suspect this was from a bird that smashed into the window and left, somehow, this image. I ran outside to see if a dead or stunned bird lay below on the driveway, but there was nothing, not even a feather.
“I’d like to believe it’s a sign of something — perhaps an angel’s wings, or a symbol of peace?
“Or, worst case, that we’re all flying straight into a wall!”
As Westporters scramble to get COVID vaccine booster shots — because we’ve all had the first 2 shots already, right??!1 — the town Department of Human Services says that appointments can be made through the Vaccine Administration Management System (VAMS).
You can also check out Achorn Pharmacy (click here).
Walgreens’ website says that appointments are booked for the foreseeable future. However, I’ve heard reports of people walking in and getting jabbed.
I got my booster at the New Canaan Pharmacy. It’s a walk-in site, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. I got there at 10:15, and had a 40-minute wait.
To share your experience with other vaccine spots, click “Comments” below.
Following the shootings at Oxford High School, the Staples music staff contacted their colleagues there, offering to help.
The Michigan school replied: “The Oxford High School Performing Arts Staff is overwhelmed with the offers of support for our programs during this time. As of right now, we don’t have any ‘concrete’ needs, but our students need to know that they are supported and loved. The best way that we think we can deliver that message is through music.”
Attached to the email was music for the school fight song and alma mater.
Staples’ Symphonic Band, Symphonic Orchestra, and combined Choirs were in the midst of rehearsing for this weekend’s Candlelight Concerts. Still, teachers found time to put together a performance, and a message of support to share with Oxford and other school communities around the country.
Click here, for the gift of 180 Staples musicians — and their teachers — to their fellow students and staff at Oxford High. (Hat tip: Former media teacher Jim Honeycutt, who produced the video.)
The other day, “06880” passed along the Hackett family’s request for new and gently used sports equipment. This is the second year the Westporters have collected it, then passed it along to underserved kids through the Leveling the Field non-profit.
On Thursday night, Leveling the Field picked up a huge truckload of gear. They collected more than last year — and they thank everyone who helped make this a happy holiday for so many sports-loving youngsters.
From left: Max Levitt, Leveling the Playing Field founder; Alex, Daisy and Chloe Hackett.
Yesterday’s second COVID vaccine clinic for 5-to-11-year-olds was another hit.
Kids and their parents poured into the Staples High School fieldhouse, for their second dose. Westport Weston Health District, school district and Westport Community Emergency Response Team personnel handled the crowd efficiently. Youngsters were excited to receive another jab. (Their parents were too.)
One protester stood near the entrance. Whitney Krueger (photo below) held signs reflecting her belief that not enough information has been provided about the vaccine.
He heads any list of great Westporters — and not just because his last name is first.
A World War II veteran and Westport resident since the 1950s, he’s had a long, distinguished career serving our town, in politics and many other ways. In 2018, Larry was the Memorial Day grand marshal.
He’s also the author of 4 books about his beloved home state, North Dakota.
Larry’s wife, his beloved Martha, died in October 2020. She was 90. They had been married for 66 years.
I know all of Westport joins me in wishing Larry Aasen a wonderful 99th birthday!
Larry Aasen, with his books. (Photo and hat tip/Dave Matlow)
Chris Robison — noted musician, teacher, gay rights activist and a longtime Westporter — died this week. He was 73.
Born Harold Alton Meyer in Wellesley, Massachusetts, Chris made his mark in the New York City rock ‘n’ roll scene of the 1970s as a member of the New York Dolls, Elephant’s Memory, Steam and Stumblebunny. He was also a music teacher here for over 30 years.
Chris recorded with John Lennon, Keith Richards, Papa John Phillips and Gene Simmons.
With Elephant’s Memory he toured with Aerosmith, Rare Earth and Billy Preston, and played a Circle Line tourist boat gig — hosted by the Hell’s Angels — with Bo Diddley and Jerry Garcia.
The New York Dolls toured Japan with Jeff Beck and Felix Pappalardi. A crowd of 55,000 jammed Tokyo Baseball Stadium to hear them play. Click here for a longer “06880” story on Chris’ musical exploits.
His family says, “His relentless passion for artistic expression and civil rights will be treasured for years to come.”
Chris is survived by sons Dexter Scott of Brooklyn and Tiger Robison of Laramie, Wyoming; sisters Laurel Meyer of Wellesley, Wendy Woodfield and Marilee Meyer of Cambridge, Massachusetts; brother Bruce Meyer of Camden, Maine, and 3 grandchildren.
A memorial service is set for this Tuesday (December 7) at MoCA Westport, from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.
And finally … Chris Robison led quite a life (see his obituary above). We honor him here with these videos.
He was not in “Steam” when they recorded their signature (and only) hit (in Bridgeport). The band did not even exist; “Steam” was just studio musicians.
But the label wanted a tour. Chris joined the group that played 28 states, in a grueling 3-week tour of 1-night stands, TV shows and festivals. They shared the bill with Bob Seger and MC5, among others. “Steam” played all original material; the only obligation was to start and end each set with …
His next gig — with Elephant’s Memory — included this 1974 song:
Then it was on to the New York Dolls. They were a key influence on later punk, new wave and glam metal groups like the Ramones, Blondie and Talking Heads.
Later Chris formed his own band, Stumblebunny, which toured the UK and Germany with the Hollies.
Marley Brown is an enthusiastic, creative junior at Staples High School. Her most recent project: designing a holiday tree ornament to commemorate the development and distribution of COVID vaccines. It can hang for years to come, a reminder of the trials and triumphs of the global pandemic.
She and her family spend nights and weekends sticking labels on vials, stuffing plastic baubles, and tying ribbon to create the cute decorations. They are available with Pfizer, Moderna or generic labels.
Marley has already sold hundreds of ornaments all across North America, via Etsy, Facebook and Amazon.
She’s earning money. But she’s paying it forward. Marley donates some of her profits to the Ehlers Danlos Society. She and her mother suffer from the genetic connective tissue disease, which makes her joints prone to injuries and dislocations.
Click here to purchase ornaments — and help find a treatment for EDS.
I stopped reading the New York Times story about a California spiritual adviser who receives messages from the dead after the 3rd paragraph (when I learned she charges $1,111 an hour — she “likes the synchronicity”).
But several “06880” readers read on. They learned — deep in the story — that Carissa Schumacher — the high-priced medium to stars like Jennifer Aniston, Uma Thurman and Andie MacDowell — was raised in Westport.
She was a member of Staples High School’s Class of 2000 (and earned All-FCIAC status as a cheerleader). She went on to Brown University, where she majored in cognitive neuroscience.
After learning of our high school (and college) connection, I re-read the article. It’s actually pretty interesting. Click here to see.
Caarissa Schumacher meditates in the Elfin Forest. (Photo/Michelle Groskopf for the New York Times)
The Westport Farmers’ Market is all about shopping local. So it’s natural for them to hold a special Holiday Artist Market this Saturday (December 4, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., Gilbertie’s Herbs & Garden Center.
“Local artisans don’t experience supply chain issues the way big box stores do,” notes Lori Cochran-Dougall, executive director of the Farmers’ Market. “If there was ever a year to spend, support and give local, this is it.”
The Artist Market takes place in 3 open-air greenhouses, and features a wide array of one-of-a-kind handcrafted gift ideas. Food trucks will be on hand too.
Longtime Westporter John Washburn died peacefully at his home recently. He was 91.
He was born in Pittsburgh to Dr. Stephen and Lois Fellows Washburn, both educators. He received his BS in industrial management from Carnegie Tech (now Carnegie Mellon) in 1952.
One week after graduation he married his high school sweetheart, Olga Dukewich. They moved to Cleveland, where John started his career with Standard Oil of Ohio.
They brought their young family to Westport in 1968, when John joined Xerox Education Group in Stamford as a vice president. Over the course of his career John held senior executive positions with Xerox, Scovill, Mott and GenRad.
In retirement, John served on the board of directors of Physicians Health Services, and as a consultant to the Eastern Companies. He spent many hours dedicated to his beloved Westport community, including as treasurer of both Greens Farms Church and the Westport Historical Society, as a member of the Westport Schools Building Planning Committee and the Westport Conservation Commission, and as a volunteer with the Y’s Men, Westport Library, and at the polls on election days.
John’s greatest joy and accomplishment was his family. He was a devoted husband, father and grandfather who enjoyed life. John loved to sail and kayak in the waters around Westport. He played tennis and golf, swam, and took daily walks in his neighborhood.
He especially loved traveling with Olga to Europe and Asia, and visiting their children and grandchildren. For years John and Olga hosted a spring gathering for their children and grandchildren in Sanibel, Florida.
John is survived by his wife of 69 years, Olga; their children Pamela Washburn (David Boyers) of Los Altos, California, Janice Trentacosti (Charlie) of Austin, Texas; John S. Washburn of Carmel, Indiana, and grandchildren Michelle, Michael, Jordan, JB, Julia, Anabelle and Sophia. He is also survived by his sister Carolyn Shields of Staunton, Virginia, brother Alan of Monterey, California, and many nieces and nephews.
Services were held at Greens Farms Church. Donations in John’s memory can be made to Westport EMS.
2003 Staples High School graduate Jesse Levin owns the Readiness Collective — an emergency training club and outfitter in Norwalk. Earlier, he opened a pop-up shop in Bedford Square.
After the chilling news from Afghanistan, Jesse turned the Collective into am ad hoc volunteer emergency operations center, to facilitate emergency evacuation efforts.
We have turned our training club, The Readiness Collective into an ad hoc volunteer emergency coordination operations center to facilitate efforts under way for emergency evacuations in Afghanistan.
Professional logistics and disaster response experts on site help guide volunteers on how to contribute. They’re tied in with working groups on the ground, and assisting from abroad.
Recent efforts include the expatriation of 20 targeted Afghan nationals and their families to Uganda, critical medical advice provided to parents of a young girl injured by a tear gas canister and unable to reach medical help, and the development of overland evacuation plans for wide distribution.
Jesse’s Collective needs help and support. “Just bring a computer and a willingness to dig in,” he says.
Offices are in the SoNo Collection (just off I-95 Exit 15 in Norwalk, Level II0. Questions? Email email@example.com, or call 203-275-7297.
The Connecticut Department of Public Health, Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference and many youth sports organizations are urging all athletes 12 years and older to get vaccinated against COVID.
It’s the best way, officials say, to ensure a healthy, safe and uninterrupted fall season. The organizations suggest that sports groups host and sponsor mobile or other vaccine clinics, to reach students.
They note one major reason to get a shot: people who have been vaccinated do not need to quarantine if exposed to a COVID case, if they are asymptomatic.
The popular 1,800-acre Weston preserve — The Nature Conservancy’s largest in Connecticut — closed in the spring of 2020, in the early days of the pandemic. It was overwhelmed with visitors, many of whom parked illegally, brought dogs or stayed past dark.
As of last Sunday, the woodlands, wetlands and rock ledges are open from sunrise to 5 p.m. Click here for more information. (Hat tip: Weston Today)
Speaking still of nature: ButtARfly is inelegantly named.
But it’s a great program, bringing butterflies from the Smithsonian’s Open Access collections to life on a computer screen. Users can learn about butterfly species, add them to a virtual shadow box, and release them into an augmented reality experience for desktop and mobile. There are even different sounds for each specimen.
The Department of Media Arts & Technology at New Mexico Highlands University helped develop the initiative — with the help of 1984 Staples High School graduate Lauren Addario, as audio advisor and content developer.
And finally … our musical interlude usually celebrates birthdays, anniversaries and upbeat events from years gone by. After all, there aren’t too many downer songs about bad things in history. (Okay — “Eve of Destruction.”)
But today is the 47th anniversary of the day 3 civil rights workers — Michael Schwerner, Andrew Goodman and James Chaney — were found dead in Mississippi. They had disappeared 43 days earlier.
So — at the risk of alienating all my friends from that state — I present Phil Ochs:
Mark your calendars for September 18. Its fall benefit — “The Art of Jazz” — features silent and live auctions, and live music by Grammy Award-winning tenor saxophonist Wayne Escoffery. Guests will be entertained by DJ Mo.
The live auction is hosted by Westporter Dave Briggs, former CNN, NBC Sports and Fox News anchor.
Can’t be there? Bidding opens September 4 for the silent auction, with plenty of items from Westport businesses (and more).
Tickets go on sale to MoCA members July 28, and the general public August 4. Click here for details.
Speaking of parties: The Levitt Pavilion is hardly a secret. Westporters flock there all summer, for over 50 nights of all kinds of entertainment.
But the covered patio at the top of the amphitheater is one of the town’s hidden jewels. Many days, it’s a great place to congregate and picnic before the show (and away from whatever heat or rain might mar the evening).
Other times, it’s a perfect place for a party. Businesses use it to thank their customers and clients. Organizations use it to show off what they do. Individuals book it for celebrations.
Last night, the Westport Weston Chamber of Commerce celebrated its 90th birthday there.
The next time you see a group underneath the Levitt roof happily eating, drinking and chatting, think ahead. Yours could be there too.
Westport Weston Chamber of Commerce director Matthew Mandell welcomes members and friends to the Levitt Pavilion party last night.
Excitement is building in the Staples High School auditorium. The curtain rises this Thursday (and Friday, and twice on Saturday) for the first Staples Players live production in 14 months.
David Ives’ “Words Words Words … and Music” is a truly funny series of mini-plays (with 2 mini-musicals to boot). But even though each audience is limited to only 300 seats, tickets remain.
It it because the show is unfamiliar? Perhaps there’s residual pandemic fear (click here to see the precautions taken). Maybe audiences have forgotten just how professional-quality Players’ acting and music are.
Whatever the reason: The program needs community support. For 63 years, that support has sustained Players, and allowed it to thrive,
Westport cherishes the high school acting troupe. But Westporters may not realize how important it is for all 300 tickets to sell out for each show (Thursday, Friday and Saturday, May 20, 21 and 22 at 7:30 p.m., and May 22 at 2 p.m.).
“Words Words Words … and Music” is laugh-out-loud funny — and very family-friendly. Young audiences, in fact, are the future of Players. They’ve missed a year of shows, so this is the perfect time to bring them back.
Click here for tickets and more information. See you at the show!
Sophie Rossman, Benny Zack and Samanath Webster in “Words Words Words.” Fully vaccinated actors will perform in clear visors. (Photo/Kerry Long)
Here’s the back story, courtesy of Erika Brunwasser:
“Few stop, many ‘pause,’ and a bunch fly through without even pausing.
“I have 2 little girls, ages 2 and 5. It’s scary and unacceptable. I called the police several times and asked about a flashing light, a speed bump and a sign to monitor speed. I’ve been told none of these are possible.
“They promised me that someone would monitor the area. This happened less a handful of times. The other day I sat in my front yard screaming at people, and realized I needed a better plan.
“I brought in the help of my next-door neighbor, artist Lilie Fortino (who was raised in Westport) to make a sign. We put it up Saturday evening. It made an immediate difference. Everyone has stopped (if only to glance at the beautiful sign — that’s fine with me). It worked.”
It shouldn’t take a sign and a stop sign to get drivers to stop roaring through residential neighborhoods (or anywhere else).
But if that’s what it takes — we’ll take it.
Lilie Fortino and her 1-year-old. Erika Brunwasser and her children. SLOW DOWN!
Speaking of yesterday’s Roundup: It also included mention that Sarah “Fergie” Ferguson would read The Sly Fox of the Mind — a children’s book by Westporters Brooke Olstein and Lee Scharfstein — on her YouTube channel, “Story Time with Fergie and Friends.”
Click below to watch. It’s a wonderful book — made even greater when read in the Queen’s English.
Speaking of books: Financial journalist and author Michael Lewis will be interviewed by noted former New York Times writer Lisa Belkin.
Lewis’s newest book, The Premonition: A Pandemic Story follows 3 main characters – a biochemist, public health worker and federal employee – as they confront COVID, and find that the response from the US government is woefully inadequate.
The event is June 15 (7 p.m.). Click here to register.
The Westport Woman’s Club’s 6th annual Art Show this Saturday and Sunday (May 22-23, 2 to 6 p.m.) features an all-star list of 14 area artists. They include Nina Bentley, Amy Bock, Trace Burroughs, Susan Fehlinger, Judith Orseck Katz, Tom Kretsch, Susan Leggitt, Kerry Long, Michael Ledner, Carole McClintock, Bernard Perry, Jon Puzzuoli, Katherine Ross and Jo Titsworth.
Plus light snacks and wine, of course. It would not be an art show without them.
Everyone at Staples High School knows Laura Blair. She runs the copy machine room, and is a tireless fan of Wreckers sports teams.
She’s also one of STAR’s greatest fundraiser. For years she has participated in the non-profit’s annual Sherwood Island walk. Funds help serve hundreds of area people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.
This year’s STAR Walk is virtual. But Laura is working as hard as ever. So far her team has raised over $6,000 — more than half of her $12,000 goal.
“Stars” are just $1 each. Click here to help. To learn more about STAR Lighting the Way, click here.
So Homes with Hope — the umbrella organization for the Gillespie Center, and a much-utilized Community Kitchen — is running a food drive. It’s this Saturday (May 1, 1 to 4 p.m., Gillespie Center, behind Barnes & Noble and Don Memo on Jesup Road).
It’s contactless: Just pull your car up, and pop the trunk.
The most needed items: canned meats (chicken, tuna, salmon, Spam); cold and hot cereals; canned soups and stews; peanut butter and jelly; mayonnaise; pasta sauce, canned vegetables.
In addition, Homes with Hope’s Community Kitchen program is gratefully accepting prepared lunches and dinners, 7 days aw eek. To become a Community Kitchen volunteer, click here. Click here for volunteer guidelines.
NOTE: During COVID, the Gillespie Center and Hoskins Place buildings are closed to the public. Staff serves all meals to shelter guests.
The Westport Library’s thought-provoking WestportREADS programming continues with virtual events this spring.
Tuesday, May 4 (7 p.m.): Ty Seidule discusses his new book, Robert E. Lee and Me: A Southerner’s Reckoning with the Myth of the Lost Cause, with Maggie Mudd. He describes how he confronted the racist legacy at the core of his identity, and challenges the persistent myths of the Lost Cause. Click here for information, and to register.
Wednesdays, May 5 and 19, June 2 (7 to 8:30 p.m.): Me and White Supremacy: The Challenge Continues. Small group discussions on Layla Saad’s groundbreaking book. Click here for information, and to register.
Thursday, May 6 (7 p.m.).: The Untold Story of Emmett Louis Till. The Library hosts a virtual screening of Keith A. Beauchamp’s documentary, followed by a conversation with Beauchamp and the film’s producer, Steven Laitmon. Click here for information, and to register.
Saturday, May 8 (7 p.m.): Beechwood Arts presents the 2nd AMPLIFY Festival at the Westport Library. Black artists present music, song, and theatrical works. Click here for information, and to register.
Tuesday, June 1 (12:30 p.m.): In her book, We Need New Stories: The Myths that Subvert Freedom, Nesrine Malik examines 6 political myths used to deflect and discredit demands for social justice with Catherine Lewis. Click here for information, and to register.
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