Tag Archives: Irene Backalenick

Roundup: Candidates, Chores, Irene Backalenick …

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A sure sign of fall: Our yards and traffic islands sprout dozens of signs for political candidates.

If you’d like to base your chose on more than placards, pencil in next Tuesday (October 12, noon, Westport Library and streaming). The Westport Weston Chamber of Commerce and Library team up for a debate between the candidates vying for 1st selectman and 2nd selectmen: Jen Tooker and Andrea Moore (Republicans), Jonathan Steinberg and Candi Savin (Democrats), and TJ Elgin and Louis D’Onofrio (independents). Chamber director Matthew Mandell will moderate.

Click here for in-person tickets, and more information. It’s available on Cablevision Channel 79, and will also be archived.

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Another sign of autumn: As leaves fall and Westporters prepare for winter, many senior citizens need help.

The Department of Human Services hopes that seniors (in high school) — and juniors, sophomores and freshmen, plus middle schoolers — can help.

The DHS is compiling a list of students willing to help with outdoor chores. The suggested rate is $12 an hour.

Students interested in helping seniors (and earning money) should call 203-341-1050, or email humansrv@westportct.gov. Seniors needing assistance should also call 203-341-1050.

Need help bagging leaves? Human Services have kids for hire.

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Irene Backalenick turned 100 in August.

The former New York Times theater critic celebrated by publishing 143 of her reviews of Broadway and Off-Broadway productions.

The collection spans the last 11 years of her career (2004 to 2015). Her final Broadway review was “Hamilton.”

Click here to order “In the Theater World.”

Irene Backalenick

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Caryl Beatus is one of “06880”‘s most avid readers — and frequent, insightful contributors.

She’s also a longtime golfer. Yesterday the Longshore Women’s Golf Association honored the founding (and 61-year) member, at the annual event named for her.

Caryl hit the ceremonial first shot. Fore!

Caryl Beatus was — as the golf cart says — Longshore’s “Queen for a Day.” (Photo/Mark Farrell)

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Bill Taibe is CRAzy.

Or at least, the owner of The Whelk, Don Memo and Kawa Ni is the 2021 Restaurateur of the Year, according to the Connecticut Restaurant Association. The organization — “CRA” — will present it’s “CRAzy Award” on December 6.

Taibe was chosen by a panel of more than 2 dozen food writers, critics, social media influencers and bloggers.

Meanwhile, the public can vote for other honors. Among the nominees: Taibe’s own Don Memo (Newcomer of the Year), and OKO (Restaurant of the Year, Fairfield and Litchfield Counties). Click here to see all nominations, and cast a ballot.

Bill Taibe

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For the second time this year, a Staples High School swim and dive team record fell.

The meet with Westhill came down to the final event. The 400 meter freestyle relay would determine the outcome. The Wreckers won in 4:10.46, earning the very tight 93-92 win.

The record-setting swim came from freshman Annam Olasewere. Her 26.15 time in the 50 meter free beat her previous record of 26.48, set just last week. She also won the 100 meter free.

The Wreckers are now 3-2. They’re in action next on Friday, vs. Greenwich (4 p.m., Staples).

Annam Olasewere (far left) earlier this month, with her 400 meter freestyle relay team (from left): Ayaan Olasewere , Ella Alpert, Jessica Qi,

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Susan Fehlinger is the Westport Book Shop’s guest artist this month. She’s an oil painter. The exhibit includes 12 coastal paintings. It’s open during business hours, at the popular used bookstore on Jesup Green.

Susan Fehlinger, at the Westport Book Shop.

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Halloween comes a day early to the Westport Country Playhouse.

The historic theater presents “Spectres and Spirits” — an original, 30-minute radio play – on October 30 (12 p.m., WSHU-FM).

It’s the work of frequent Playhouse collaborator (and macabre-minded) Richard R. Henry. John Gromada contributes clever sound design. To learn more and listen, click here.

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The other day, “Westport … Naturally” featured a monarch butterfly being eaten by a praying mantis.

Here’s one that lived:

(Photo/Tammy Barry)

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And finally … Long before Bob Marley, Peter Tosh and Jimmy Cliff, Millie Small put Jamaica on the musical map. She was born today in 1947. She died May 5, 2020, at 72.

Happy 100th, Irene Backalenick!

Five years ago, “06880” saluted Irene Backalenick.

The noted Westport writer — a longtime New York Times journalist who, after earning a Ph.D. in theater history, became a well-regarded theater reviewer — had just embarked on a successful new career as a poet.

She was 95 years old.

Today, Irene turns 100.

Irene Backalenick

Like anyone who reaches the century mark, she’s had a varied, interesting life. A Providence native who worked as a secretary after high school, then 5 years later was accepted without any college prep at Brown University, and graduated summa cum laude, she has never stopped engaging with words, or the world. 

After moving from her home of decades in Greens Farms to the Watermark at 3030 Park in Bridgeport, Irene jumped into her new community. She and another former journalist started a writers’ workshop. That led to her poetry — and publication in a number of outlets.

At 100, Irene is in strong physical and mental health. She decided, because of COVID, to forgo a big party.

Her son Paul — also a writer — and his wife Karen will be there, though. He’ll show her a copy of his latest project: a collection of her theater reviews, in a self-published book.

In 1956, when this photo was taken, Irene Backalenick (lower right) — shown with her sister-in-law Theda Frank (left) and niece Wendy — was 35 years old.

Recently, the Watermark asked Irene to interview new residents for their in-house publication. Among them: a group of nuns.

Years ago, Irene interviewed a woman from that order. That nun has died, but Irene remembers her fondly.

Those are the kinds of things that a 100-year-old woman experiences.

Happy birthday, Irene. Here’s to many more years of health, happiness — and poetry.

Irene Backalenick

 

Unsung Heroes #29

As Westport turns the page on a new year, it’s fitting to honor 2 longtime residents who show us — every day — that age is only a number.

Ted Diamond turned 100 in July. An Army Air Corps combat navigator with the 15th Air Force, he flew 50 World War II missions over highly secured military installations across Europe, often leading a group of 28 B-17s.

Two years ago — on his 98th birthday — he received France’s highest medal: the insignia of Chevalier (knight) of the Legion of Honor.

The award — established by Napoleon in 1802 — acknowledged Diamond’s enduring contribution to the success of Operation Dragoon, a military campaign to free the nation from Nazi domination.

Ted Diamond, at this year’s Memorial Day ceremony.

He has spent the last 62 years in Westport. In addition to 3 terms as 2nd selectman, he was an RTM member, and volunteered on numerous town committees, commissions and boards.

In 2007, Diamond served as grand marshal of Westport’s Memorial Day parade. He has attended nearly every one since moving here — and already looks forward to next May.

Irene Backalenick had a long career as a New York Times journalist. Then — after earning a Ph.D. in theater history — she became a noted theater reviewer.

In her 90s she turned to poetry. She’s published many times, and has fans in far-flung places.

She and a tight-knit group of 5 women — including longtime Westport writer Gloria Sugarman — meet regularly, in a writers’ workshop.

Irene Backalenick

Irene posts some of her poems on Facebook. Others are on her personal blog.

Ted and Irene have added much to Westport, for so many years. Their countless friends wish them another year filled with good health, great happiness, love and joy.

(To nominate an Unsung Hero, email dwoog@optonline.net)

Irene Backalenick: Our 95-Year-Young Poet

Grandma Moses took up painting at age 78. Compared to Irene Backalenick, she was just a kid.

Irene is a poet, not a painter. But after a long career as a journalist — she wrote for the New York Times, then became a noted theater reviewer — the longtime Westport resident penned her first poem just a couple of years ago.

She’s 95.

Irene has been published many times. She has fans in far-flung places. Poetry, she says, has become one of the most important parts of her life.

Irene — a Providence native who worked as a secretary after high school, then 5 years later was accepted without any college prep at Brown University, and graduated summa cum laude — never thought about poetry until she moved to the Watermark at 3030 Park in Bridgeport. She found the retirement community to be exciting, vibrant and fulfilling.

She and another former journalist decided to start a writers’ workshop. They found an inspiring teacher, Regina Krummel of Norwalk.

The small group of 5 women — including former Westport writer Gloria Sugarman — meet regularly, and dine together even more often.

Irene Backalenick

Irene Backalenick

Regina pushed Irene to spread beyond the interview-type stories she’d always written. Irene tried her hand at a few poems.

A new career was born.

All bustle, bag, bravura
She arrives upon the scene
With stethoscope, suppositories
And mountains of good will
She grips the fragile patient
Reviews his vital parts
She mumbles, notes, equivocates
Fills the room with bluster
Writes down her precious thoughts
Then offers false assurance
And beamingly departs

Some of her first poems were written after her husband Bill died in June of 2015.

The art form was “like a release,” she says. Poetry gives her “a chance to be absolutely honest about my life.” She writes compellingly of “regrets — things I should have done, and things I shouldn’t have.” Her poems include things she never told anyone.

Irene’s poems are short. But they pour out of her. When she wakes at 2 a.m. with a phrase floating in her head she goes to her computer, and writes.

Friends and lovers
Treasures stored away
In the attic of my mind
Ancient friends and lovers
Neatly stacked in boxes
Or tossed about with random
Upon the attic floor.

Jerry, detonated long ago
On the beach at Normandy
And Lise of suburban days
With judgments wise and foolish
And David of my college years
Who found me in the bookstacks

A shaft of light stabs the pane
Brings them sharply into focus
I open boxes, dust them off
Friends and lovers once again.

Irene has been published in journals — online and print. She posts on her own blog, Awakening Poems. Altogether, she’s written about 175 poems.

In the autumn of her life, Irene Backalenick has become a prolific poet.

In the autumn of her life, Irene Backalenick has become a prolific poet.

Some of her best feedback comes from Facebook. The 95-year-old likes the immediacy, ease and intimacy of instant comments.

Irene has done presentations at the Watermark and Stratford Library. She thinks it’s important for poets to read their own work. “I’m very conscious of tempo and beat,” she says. “I want to hit the reader unexpectedly.”

Dementia nibbles away
At corners of the brain.
Rounding off sharp edges
Like hungry mice
With small sharp teeth
Steadily, relentlessly,
Devouring the tasty feast.

Nine months ago, she collapsed in an elevator. The diagnosis: irregular heartbeat. She got a pacemaker, was put on medication, and now feels much better.

The incident slowed her writing — but not for long. Thanks to the Watermark and her poetry, Irene says, “I have a new life.”

(That new life includes modeling. Recently, Chico produced a fashion show at her residence. She walked the runway.)

Irene asks if I’ve ever written poetry.

No, I say. My mind does not work that way.

“Maybe you can do it in your old age,” she encourages.

Just like she does. Although any writer or poet can certainly come up with a better word than “old” to describe Irene Backalenick.

(Click here for Irene Backalenick’s blog.)