Tag Archives: First Night

Remembering Barbara Pearson-Rac

Barbara Pearson Rac died last night, after a long battle with cancer.

Most remembrances of noted Westporters use the words of family members, friends and admirers. Sometimes I post a previous “06880” story about them.

Today it’s fitting to memorialize the founder and longtime director of Westport’s First Night celebration — and ditto for Make a Difference Day — with her own words.

Six months ago, when Barbara moved from Westport, I was honored to post her farewell to the town she loved. Below is my introduction, followed by her thoughts.

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After nearly 30 years in Westport, Barbara Pearson-Rac is leaving.

She has made a difference here in so many ways. That’s literal: Make a Difference Day was one of her wonderful projects.

So was First Night. For 2 decades, our town rang in New Year’s with a host of fun activities. Hundreds of volunteers made it work. But none of it would have been possible without Barbara’s prodigious passion, energy and talent.

Soon, Barbara will leave this town she has done so much for. She’s been diagnosed with stage 4 pancreatic cancer. As she explains below, she’ll spend precious time with her daughter and family.

Westport owes an enormous debt to Barbara Pearson-Rac. She’s done so much for us, for so long. Godspeed, Barbara, from the town that loves you just as much as you’ve loved us.

Dear Westporters,

In the early 1990s, my family moved to Westport. We visited many towns in Fairfield County, but were always drawn back here. We sensed this welcoming and inclusive town would be ideal to raise our elementary school age daughter.

Barbara Pearson-Rac

As a product of the ’60s, I experienced the assassinations of John F. Kennedy, Bobby Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr. These tragedies led to a conscious decision to devote myself to community service. I realized I couldn’t move mountains but any impact, no matter how small, was my goal.

Shortly after we settled in Westport, I participated in the ADL World of Difference program. The outgrowth of my experience became Westport’s Make a Difference Day.

We mobilized adults and children to work on projects for non-for-profit organizations. We went beyond our town borders to help people in need across Fairfield County. This day of volunteering in October grew every year. It was so successful that in our 10th year we received national recognition for our work.

During 2020, due to COVID we had to scale back dramatically, but we were able to help where we could. I am so proud of our many Westporters who have made this event an integral part of our town culture.

First Night, our town New Year’s Eve party, was designed to bring our community together to share in a joyous entertainment event and strengthen ties. I ran the event for many years with a dedicated board and many community volunteers. Together we enjoyed music, fun for all ages, and the beginning of a new year.

The evening always ended at Jesup Green. Everyone gathered around a bonfire watching the fireworks. The happiness in everyone’s faces kept me and the board active in this endeavor for over 20 years, until it was no longer financially feasible. But it was our gift to the town.

John Videler’s drone captured 2016’s First Night fireworks over Westport.

Now I am on a new journey. I have to say goodbye to my beloved Westport and all the wonderful friends I’ve made over the years.

I have been diagnosed with stage 4 pancreatic cancer. Soon my husband and I will move to Pennsylvania to be close to my daughter, son-in-law and 2 small grandsons. I want to spend as much time with them as I have left.

Do not feel sorry for me, though. Diagnosed in August, I have responded to chemotherapy better than the doctors ever expected. I remain active, with 3 yoga classes a week, working on my 5th novel (it’s almost completed), participating in virtual author talks, serving on the Senior Center board, and in Zoom with my friends.

I may have cancer, but my life goes on. I hope I’ve been a role model for my daughter on how best to cope when life throws you a curveball.

So with sadness I say goodbye to Westport, all my friends and colleagues, and the opportunities it has given me.

Barbara Pearson-Rac Says Goodbye

After nearly 30 years in Westport, Barbara Pearson-Rac is leaving.

She has made a difference here in so many ways. That’s literal: Make a Difference Day was one of her wonderful projects.

So was First Night. For 2 decades, our town rang in New Year’s with a host of fun activities. Hundreds of volunteers made it work. But none of it would have been possible without Barbara’s prodigious passion, energy and talent.

Soon, Barbara will leave this town she has done so much for. She’s been diagnosed with stage 4 pancreatic cancer. As she explains below, she’ll spend precious time with her daughter and family.

Westport owes an enormous debt to Barbara Pearson-Rac. She’s done so much for us, for so long. Godspeed, Barbara, from the town that loves you just as much as you’ve loved us.

Dear Westporters,

In the early 1990s, my family moved to Westport. We visited many towns in Fairfield County, but were always drawn back here. We sensed this welcoming and inclusive town would be ideal to raise our elementary school age daughter.

Barbara Pearson-Rac

As a product of the ’60s, I experienced the assassinations of John F. Kennedy, Bobby Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr. These tragedies led to a conscious decision to devote myself to community service. I realized I couldn’t move mountains but any impact, no matter how small, was my goal.

Shortly after we settled in Westport, I participated in the ADL World of Difference program. The outgrowth of my experience became Westport’s Make a Difference Day.

We mobilized adults and children to work on projects for non-for-profit organizations. We went beyond our town borders to help people in need across Fairfield County. This day of volunteering in October grew every year. It was so successful that in our 10th year we received national recognition for our work.

During 2020, due to COVID we had to scale back dramatically, but we were able to help where we could. I am so proud of our many Westporters who have made this event an integral part of our town culture.

First Night, our town New Year’s Eve party, was designed to bring our community together to share in a joyous entertainment event and strengthen ties. I ran the event for many years with a dedicated board and many community volunteers. Together we enjoyed music, fun for all ages, and the beginning of a new year.

The evening always ended at Jesup Green. Everyone gathered around a bonfire watching the fireworks. The happiness in everyone’s faces kept me and the board active in this endeavor for over 20 years, until it was no longer financially feasible. But it was our gift to the town.

John Videler’s drone captured 2016’s First Night fireworks over Westport.

Now I am on a new journey. I have to say goodbye to my beloved Westport and all the wonderful friends I’ve made over the years.

I have been diagnosed with stage 4 pancreatic cancer. Soon my husband and I will move to Pennsylvania to be close to my daughter, son-in-law and 2 small grandsons. I want to spend as much time with them as I have left.

Do not feel sorry for me, though. Diagnosed in August, I have responded to chemotherapy better than the doctors ever expected. I remain active, with 3 yoga classes a week, working on my 5th novel (it’s almost completed), participating in virtual author talks, serving on the Senior Center board, and in Zoom with my friends.

I may have cancer, but my life goes on. I hope I’ve been a role model for my daughter on how best to cope when life throws you a curveball.

So with sadness I say goodbye to Westport, all my friends and colleagues, and the opportunities it has given me.

Friday Flashback #173

After more than 2 decades of “First Night”s, Tuesday marks the 2nd New Year’s Eve without the long tradition.

It ended last year. Several factors — including fewer volunteers, decreasing corporate sponsors and dropping attendance — led to the end of the family-friendly, alcohol-free event.

In a few years, First Night will join other season celebrations — Festival Italiano, anyone? — in the “remember when?” category.

For now, here’s a fond look back at First Nights past:

Horse-drawn sleighs roamed downtown. Photo/Dan Woog)

Fireworks over the Saugatuck (Drone photo/John Videler for Videler Photography)

A mother wrangles her young son at the Saugatuck Elementary School bounce house. (Photo/Dan Woog)

The Westport Astronomical Society hauled out some serious telescopes. (Photo/Dan Woog)

And, for good measure, let’s remember the Christmas crane that towered over Westport just 4 years ago, during the construction of Bedford Square.

(Photo/Wendy Cusick)

 

First Night Forecast

(Button design by Miggs Burroughs)

For the 2nd straight year, First Night might get slammed by bad weather.  Last year it was snow; this year could bring sleet and freezing rain.

A town-wide, evening-long celebration is a great idea.  But First Night might have better odds by moving to summer — say, July 1 — and rebranding itself as 182nd Night.

Nah.  Thunderstorms.

And a few disgruntled Westporters would demand their money back.

‘First Night’ In Jeopardy

What the economy did not do to First Night Westport-Weston, Mother Nature might.

First Night Westport-WestonLast New Year’s Eve’s wind and cold — along with advisories to stay off the road — sharply curtailed attendance at the 15th annual townwide celebration.  Ticket sales were down a bit — but the terrible weather delivered the real devastating punch.

The loss of revenue means last year’s event might be the last.

As spring arrives, First Night executive director Denise Torv is looking ahead to winter.

“It’s one of the few community events that attracts people of all ages — including teens,” she says. “And unlike a lot of other New Year’s Eve activities, this one is alcohol-free.”

Torv knows that all non-profits are hurting.  But, she says, First Night is different.

Fireworks in winter -- a tradition endangered, along with First Night

Fireworks in winter -- a tradition endangered, along with First Night

“It brings the entire community together — friends, families, neighbors, visitors — to welcome the new year in.”

Fortunately, Torv says, First Night’s budget is “comparatively small.”  It will take only a “modest contribution” from the community to continue.

But, she says, Westporters must decide if they want the tradition to last.  And they must decide now.

How will Torv know if Westport wants a 16th First Night?  Click the “Comments” section at the top or bottom of this story.  Or email firstnight@westportct.gov.

(Click here for the official First Night Westport-Weston web site.)