Earlier this year, WestportNow celebrated its 15th anniversary.
Since 2003 the site has provided readers with political news, police reports, coverage of community events like library talks and fundraisers, obituaries, photos of sunrises and sunsets, and the immensely popular “Teardown of the Day.”
The founder, editor and publisher is Gordon Joseloff. He gave up his editor’s post between 2005 and 2013 — that’s when he served 2 terms as the town’s 1st selectman — but he’s been back at the helm ever since.
Gordon Joseloff (Photo/Lynn Untermeyer Miller)
Joseloff’s journalistic chops are real. He worked for UPI. Then, during 16 years at CBS News, he rose from a writer for Walter Cronkite and Dan Rather to correspondent, senior producer and bureau chief in New York, Moscow and Tokyo.
Joseloff covered the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, the downing of Korean Air Lines flight 007, the assassination of India Prime Minister Indira Gandhi (for which he won an Emmy Award in 1984), the Bhopal gas leak, and the overthrow of Philippines President Fernando Marcos.
And he’s a Westport native. His family’s roots run deep: They owned downtown property including the Fine Arts Theater, a very popular spot for over 8 decades. (Today it’s Restoration Hardware.)
Joseloff was a teenage reporter for the Westport Town Crier, and helped create the predecessor of Staples’ WWPT radio station, broadcasting at Compo Beach.
Prior to running for first selectman, Joseloff served 14 years on the Representative Town Meeting (RTM) — 10 of them as moderator.
A member of Westport Rotary and an honorary member of the Westport Historical Society advisory council, Joseloff is also a volunteer firefighter, and a former Emergency Medical Technician.
Congratulations on 15 years to WestportNow — and thanks to Gordon Joseloff, its founder, guiding light, and this week’s Unsung Hero.
Hundreds of current Westporters, former Westprters and work-in-or-pass-through Westporters streamed downtown today.
They joined employees, former employees and family members of Lee Papageorge at Oscar’s, the Main Street deli/gathering place/home away from home he’s owned since 1971.
Lee is hospitalized, battling lung cancer. Today is Oscar’s last day; it closes tomorrow.
One longtime customer said, “It was a place where millionaires sat next to homeless people. And no one knew the difference. Lee treated them all the same.”
As the large crowd honored the history and heritage of Oscar’s — and the man who, for more than 4 decades has made it a warm welcoming and wonderful place — it was clear that, in a town not known for agreeing on much, one thing is certain:
Main Street will never be the same.
A typical scene, seen for the last time.
For decades, this mural has depicted a group of 1970s-era regulars. Lee Papageorge is on the left.
Westport’s movers and shakers have long gathered at Oscar’s. This morning, former 1st selectman and WestportNow publisher Gordon Joseloff chatted with town arts curator Kathie Motes Bennewitz.
Oscar’s was a regular gathering place for many other Westporters too.
Ali Papageorge — Lee’s daughter — sported an Oscar’s t-shirt.
A paper plate on the back of the barber chair where Lee regularly sits read, “Reserved for our king.”
I thought I was done posting photos of past Memorial Day parades. Yesterday’s images (click here and here) covered 50 years, and provided tons of memories.
But this one — particularly the back story — is too good to pass up.
Three years ago Gordon Joseloff saw a box of 35mm slides for sale on eBay. They were labeled “1962 parade in Westport.”
The WestportNow founder — and former 1st selectman — calls himself “a sucker for Westport nostalgia.” He bid $9.99, and won. The prize: Nice shots of the Memorial Day parade.
Imagine his amazement when one of the slides was of Joseloff himself. There he was — 17 years old, smack in the center of the frame.
Still in high school, Joseloff was taking pictures for the Westport Town Crier. He worked that summer — and the next — as a reporter/photographer. (And went on to a storied 2-decade career as a journalist in London, Moscow, Tokyo and other world capitals for UPI and CBS News.)
Perhaps the only thing more remarkable than that story of discovering himself in a photo, is the line of veterans (or perhaps active duty National Guardsmen) behind Joseloff. In 1962, they seemed to go on forever.
That’s what the winning bidder (out of 3) paid for a recent authentic autograph recently, on eBay. (Plus $4.30 shipping.)
This was not on an official document, signed when he was 1st Selectman (or, before that, RTM moderator). It had nothing to do with WestportNow, his popular town news site, which is online (so there’s of course nothing to sign).
No — Joseloff’s auctioned signature was on a 1979 letter he sent, on official CBS News letterhead, while serving as Moscow bureau chief. Mr. Henry J. Lohrengel of Kansas City apparently mailed Joseloff some photos; this letter was a polite thank-you in reply.
There’s no word on why the letter was saved, or how it ended up in Worcester, Massachusetts, with the current owner. Or, for that matter, why he (or she) decided to put it up for bid now.
That $9.50 bid may sound low. (Another political leader, George Washington, fetched $9.8 million, at Sotheby’s.)
On the other hand, a postcard signed by H. V. Kaltenborn — a very famous radio commentator (like the Chicago Tribune, he called Dewey the presidential winner in 1948 over Truman) — is currently being auctioned on eBay.
65 years ago, Westport replaced its “town meeting” form of government with a “Representative Town Meeting” (RTM).
Ann Sheffer used that anniversary as the theme of her invocation at last night’s session. As Westport prepares to celebrate Independence Day — and America’s special democracy — Ann’s remarks are very instructive.
When Velma Heller asked if I would give the invocation tonight, she suggested I talk a bit about the history of the RTM and its relevance today… because the 500 or so people who have served over the years embody the traditions and values of our town.
Ann Sheffer, at last night’s RTM meeting. (Photo/Dave Matlow)
I am one of a number of Westport families with multiple family members who served on the RTM. My father was on the RTM from 1953 until 1969, and served as moderator from 1959 to 1969. I was on the RTM from 1993 to 2005, as was my husband Bill Scheffler. That makes us one of 11 sets of married couples who have served on the RTM (though not necessarily at the same time).
But more importantly, I realized that July 16 marks the 65th anniversary of the date in 1949 when the citizens of Westport approved the change from a town meeting to a Representative Town Meeting – which made us one of only 7 towns in Connecticut to have this form of government. We are the only fully non-partisan one.
In 1999, in honor of the 50th anniversary of the RTM, we published a history of this body (it’s available here). Here are a few details that show how the RTM has evolved.
In 1949, there were 124 candidates for 26 seats. But only 4 women were elected that first year. Today, both the moderator and deputy moderator are women, a first for the RTM.
Each member was to represent 250 citizens (today it’s about 700). One commentator observed that it was “as democratic as Congress and twice as personal.”
There were notable votes over the years. My favorite, with my father presiding, was the 1972 resolution asking President Nixon to withdraw from Vietnam. It passed, 17-15. There were also many, many evenings, often until 3 am, spent debating the education budget, sewers, and, of course, dog leash laws.
In essence, the history of the RTM is the history of the Town. We were reminded of that in recent months, when we lost 2 of the most notable members: Allen Raymond (the 4th Moderator) and Bill Meyer, who gave many an impassioned speech from this lectern.
I was going to add David Royce, but I remembered he was never a member of the RTM — just a wonderful gadfly who was actually arrested during one of his protests.
There are traditions that I hope you will learn about and continue. For example, RTM Rules of Procedure call for the “first right-hand seat of the left-hand section as you face the Moderator” to be left empty as a memorial to Maclear Jacoby, one of the original members, and to all deceased RTM members.
I want to leave you with the words that Gordon Joseloff wrote when he was elected moderator of the RTM in 1995:
“May those who serve in this body, and hold the responsibility for our Town, be
Respectful of our past
Confident of our present
Bold about our future.”
Ann nailed it. Happy anniversary, RTM — and happy Independence Day, Westport!
Pat Scully wasn’t looking for a new job. But on that day 32 years ago, when 2nd selectman Barbara Butler — like Pat, a Parent/Child Center board member — said that the selectman’s office had an opening, Pat figured, why not?
She’d been an administrative assistant in private industry for nearly 15 years. Her current job was with General Datacomm in Danbury. With a young son at Kings Highway Elementary School, the much shorter commute was appealing.
After all, Pat lived within walking distance of Town Hall.
She began work there in 1981 as administrative secretary to First Selectman Bill Seiden. She continued with his successors: Marty Hauhuth, Doug Wood and Joe Arcudi.
Diane Farrell promoted her to office manager. That’s been Pat’s title for the past 16 years. She ran the 5-person selectman’s office — then watched as, with downsizing, it shrunk to 2.
Gordon Joseloff will be Pat Scully’s last 1st selectman. She retires Friday, after 32 years organizing 6 chief executives’ calendars, handling their correspondence and — especially — handling complaints.
Pat Scully (rear) has served 6 first selectmen. She will not be there for incoming 1st selectman Jim Marpe (right) and 2nd selectman Avi Kaner. But she greeted them warmly the day after their election. (Photo courtesy of WestportNow.com)
Complaints are a huge part of a 1st selectman’s work. But they couldn’t do it without Pat.
“I know where to send everything,” she says proudly. And no, it’s not the trash basket (or, these days, the “delete” button).
Each 1st selectman is different. Some are hands-on; others, hands-off. Hauhuth wanted to preserve open space. Farrell — the “Brown Bag Lunch” lady — was known for constituent services. Joseloff has been very concerned with public safety.
From her perch at Town Hall, Pat has seen plenty of changes. “There is much less of a mom-and-pop atmosphere,” she says. But the Little League parade last August brought some of that feeling back. “It was so home-grown and wonderful,” she notes. “I had tears in my eyes.”
Pat Scully with Hardie Gramatky’s painting of families at Compo Beach. It’s hung above her desk for 20 years.
When she lived in Westport, Pat was involved in town affairs far beyond her job. She spent many years on boards of the Saugatuck Congregational Church.
Her 1st husband died 20 years ago. She raised her son as a single parent. Now she lives in the Valley. She’s remarried, with a 3-month-old granddaughter. Pat looks forward to seeing her more often.
This is a good time to retire, she says — “for me, for my husband, and for the town. There’s a change in administrations” — Jim Marpe will be sworn in Monday as 1st selectman — “and new blood is coming in.”
Pat has spent several months training her successor, Eileen Francis.
While she won’t miss the drive to work, she will miss everyone in Town Hall.
“They’re wonderful,” Pat says. “I hope Westporters realize how great they all are.”
Just as I hope everyone who has ever had business in Town Hall realizes how blessed we are to have had her in the selectman’s office, for 32 fantastic years.
I wasn’t at last Friday’s meeting about the Kemper-Gunn House, and its possible move from 35 Church Lane to the Elm Street parking lot.
Don Bergmann, an RTM member who serves on its Planning & Zoning Committee, was. For a while.
But he walked out — protesting what he called First Selectman Gordon Joseloff’s “indecisiveness” — and said he would not longer work on the project.
The other meeting participants — Joseloff, members of his staff, RTM P&Z Committee chair Matthew Mandell, Historic District Commission chair Francis Henkels, and State Representative Jonathan Steinberg — stayed.
35 Church Lane — also known as the Kemper-Gunn House.
In a press release, Bergmann said he was “frustrated by the lack of support of the project by the First Selectman, including an unwillingness to go on record in support of, and actively work for, the success of the project.”
According to Bergmann, the house will be moved across the street to the Baldwin lot, with all costs borne by Bedford Square Associates (the firm redeveloping Church Lane). “Once moved, the house will be renovated by a developer and then made available for commercial rentals, including obligations to provide for ‘mom and pop’ occupancies and to exclude ‘chain’ stores,” Bergmann says. He adds:
The Town will lease a portion of the Baldwin parking lot for the new site and will receive payments under that lease. The Town will also benefit by the real estate taxes that will result from the change of use of the site from parking to an historic commercial usage. The Town will not take title to the Kemper-Gunn house and will have no responsibility for the renovation….
The Kemper-Gunn house will be preserved, the new site on Elm Street is part of a transitional zone that “softens” the shift from downtown commercial to residential structures and our Town will receive lease payments and additional tax revenues.
Bergmann “loves the project,” his press release says, and he hopes to continue working on it.
However, he notes,
the efforts to date to get the First Selectman to support, drive and take ‘ownership’ of the project have been unsuccessful. Hopefully, the public and others will now convince the First Selectman to take the leadership which this project demands. Without that leadership, the Kemper-Gunn house may go the way of the wrecking ball.
First Selectman Gordon Joseloff was asked yesterday morning to comment. He did not respond.
However, at last night’s Board of Finance meeting — where several Westporters and RTM members spoke in favor of moving the house — Joseloff was less than enthusiastic.
“There’s some concern that the town, even if we lock in all the ifs, ands and buts in the lease, there is some potential exposure to the town for taking care of this house down the line,” Joseloff said, according to the Westport News.
Who knew, for example, that swimming and lifeguarding would help propel Kathie Bennewitz — 35 years later — to her new position as Westport’s 1st-ever town curator?
Yet that’s what happened, after Kathie Motes moved to Westport in the summer of 1978 — just before her senior year at a new school, Staples High.
Kathie joined the swim team, took art classes, and befriended Ellise Fuchs, whose father Bernie was a world-famous illustrator. Kathie posed for him, pretending to receive a medal for an Olympic scene.
At Princeton, she majored in art history. “I’m not a fine artist,” she claims. “But I love the process, and the way art reflects who we are.”
One summer, lifeguarding at Compo, she met Scott Bennewitz. He was a beach security guard — and a fellow Princetonian.
They married, and lived in Dallas, Minneapolis and Holland. She’d earned a masters in art history. Everywhere they moved, she worked in museums.
She also was appointed tri-chair of the Permanent Art Collection, and served on the Westport Arts Advisory Committee. The 2 organizations gave her a broad perspective on the arts here.
So, when a group of people — including Ann Sheffer, David Rubinstein, Leslie Greene, Carole Erger-Fass and Joan Miller — floated the idea of a town curator, she was intrigued.
So was First Selectman Gordon Joseloff. “We already have a town historian, Allen Raymond,” Kathie notes. “This is a natural counterpoint.”
The doughboy statue on Veteran’s Green is part of Westport’s art and sculpture collection.
In her new post, she’s responsible for advising the town on the care of its art and sculpture collection. Westport owns several hundred works of art, displayed in Town Hall, the Senior Center, Parks & Rec headquarters — even the Fire Department. Statues include the Minuteman and Doughboy on Veterans Green.
Kathie will also serve as liaison to the 1,100-piece Permanent Art Collection, and the Westport Library, with its own murals, paintings and illustrations.
“So many other communities lose their treasures,” she says. “But thanks to Burt and Ann Chernow, and so many others, we have ours. They’ve created a platform we can spring off of, and do even more.”
That “more” includes plenty. Kathie envisions self-guided tours of the schools’ collections. A “museum on the street,” with Howard Munce’s Remarkable Book Shop work displayed outside that old store (most recently Talbots). Robert Lambdin’s “Battle of Compo” mounted near the cannons.
She’ll be involved in the rehanging of art at Town Hall — something last done in 1976.
Kathie would also like to open up hard-to-see parts of the town’s art collection — like the amazing fire station mural — to the public.
“Pageant of Juvenile Literature” — a 1934 work by Robert Lambdin — hangs in the Westport Library’s Great Hall. This is part of that mural.
She is eager to get started. But she won’t be alone.
“I’m a team player. I enjoy working with people in groups. We need everyone’s help.”
Among those helping: Marie-Neloise Egipto, a Staples senior who will do her spring internship with the Permanent Art Collection.
“I’m honored to serve the town,” Kathie says. “This is different from the other positions I’ve held. It really validates all the decades of work done by the Mollies, the Eves and the Anns who have advocated for, and celebrated, our arts community and legacy.
“Very few communities have the public, school and library collections that we do. Westport should be very, very proud.”
Just as we all should be proud that Kathie Bennewitz is our 1st-ever “town curator.”
In February, Niki Boulas — owner of Elvira’s Deli near Old Mill Beach — emailed the first selectman’s office.
She said that after Hurricane Sandy, there’s been lots of construction in the area. Recently, she noticed a big impact from food trucks. She wondered what could be done.
Pat Scully replied:
All food trucks are required to have a health permit. Food trucks that park on town-owned property are also required to obtain a town vendor’s permit.
However food trucks on private property are not required to obtain a town permit (just a health permit). There are no local zoning laws regulating food trucks. Therefore if the food trucks you mention are located on private property construction sites, the town does not have any jurisdiction to ban them from operation.
The food permit costs $10. There is an additional fee of $25 for each vehicle used.
Yet the town’s “Vendor’s Permit/Door-to-Door Solicitors” regulations also say:
Vendors are not allowed to compete directly with established retail operations anywhere in the Town of Westport. For example, ice cream vendors may not operate in the main business areas of Westport or in close proximity to outlying stores which sell ice cream.
While “directly” and “close proximity” are not great legal terms, the food trucks are clearly on town — not private — property. Niki took this photo yesterday, in “close proximity” on Hillspoint Road:
On Friday, Elvira’s placed a petition on their counter. It reads:
As many of you are aware, there have been many food trucks coming into our area from out of town. These trucks have had a significant negative impact on our business.
Their fees to the town are minimal. There is no way for Elvira’s, as a small mom and pop business, to compete with their prices as our overhead costs are greater, and we are a Westport taxpayer.
For over a month now we have been dealing with town officials and our First Selectman, and we have gotten nowhere. As a local business serving the community for the last 16 years, we find this situation to be unfair. Now we need your help by signing our petition to ban or restrict them from our Compo Beach area. Thank you!
Bedford 8th graders Bryce Reiner and Billy Hutchison are big — and loyal — Elvira’s customers.
As of yesterday afternoon — despite 98% of Westport being away for school vacation — nearly 200 customers had signed. The names included some heavy hitters in town.
Elvira’s has many fans. It’s been an anchor of the Old Mill community — during Hurricane Sandy, sure, but before as well.
And long before the invasion of the (perhaps illegal) food trucks.
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!)