Tag Archives: Jack Backiel

Roundup: Sustainable Gifts, Used Sports Equipment, Cavalry Road Bridge …

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Love giving gifts? Hate giving gifts that are energy-inefficient, non-recyclable or otherwise wasteful?

Check out Sustainable Westport’s first-ever Gift Guide.

Heavy on products made or sourced locally, and/or sold by area merchants, it’s a much-needed resource.

And, Sustainable Westport adds: “Some of the best (and most meaningful) sustainable gifts are ones that you make yourself (art or pottery, knitting, baking, building) or include giving of your time (attending local theater performances or sporting events with family and friends or giving lessons in one of your particular skill sets).

Local blogger and sustainably-minded mother Julia Dzafic of Lemonstripes created the guide. Click here to see. Let’s hope she sustains it for years to come.

Screen shot of the Sustainable Gift Guide.

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Last year, the Hackett family collected a truck full of new and gently used sports and playground equipment, from generous donors. It was distributed to youngsters who needed it by Leveling the Playing Field, a non-profit organization.

Leveling the Playing Field. The non-profit seemed perfect.

They’re at it again.

Chloe — a Staples High School junior, and an athlete — and her family are at The Granola Bar today and tomorrow (Saturday and Sunday), from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.).

Cleats, field hockey sticks, lacrosse equipment, bats, hockey skates, footballs, softball gloves — it will all make a difference. Click here for a full list of acceptable and non-acceptable items.

Chloe Hackett (organizer) and Max Levitt (Founder of Leveling the Playjng Field) with last year’s donations.

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Speaking of sports: I am very proud of the on-field accomplishments of the Staples High School boys soccer team I coach.

I’m just as proud of what they achieve off it.

For the 19th time in 21 years — and the 16th season in a row — the Wrecker boys soccer team has achieved Academic All-American status. United Soccer Coaches honors go to squads with a team GPA of 3.25 or higher. The 2020 side was just announced. Their team GPA was a mind-boggling 3.57.

The award is given for the previous year’s team. All indications are that the 2021 squad will earn the boys soccer team’s 20th award.

The 2020 Staples boys soccer team: Academic All-Americans. (Photo/Drew Douglas)

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Bad news for residents of northwest Westport.

The long-running Cavalry Road bridge replacement will take even longer to finish.

The project “has suffered delays related to various aspects of the construction that are beyond the towns’ control,” Westport and Weston officials announce.

“The contractor experienced complications associated with installing the proposed bridge deep foundations. This required additional testing, to ensure the proposed bridge is adequately supported.

“In addition, the process of installing large prefabricated concrete girders has taken longer than expected. The bridge is located on a rural local road and installing the girders with the least amount of impacts to the residents and the regulated waterway is a high priority.”

The current 2-span bridge is being replaced with a single, longer structure. It will provide “more hydraulic conveyance, and reduce future maintenance needs.”

Westport and Weston officials apologized for the delay, and thanked residents for their patience.

Cavalry Road bridge (Photo courtesy of Weston Today)

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If there’s an upcoming holiday — and there definitely is right now — then Winslow Park Animal Hospital has it covered.

Check out their decorations, when you’re stuck at the Post Road light between Playhouse Square and North Compo. It will bring a smile to even the Grinchiest face.

The Winslow Park Animal Hospital display. (Photo/Molly Alger)

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Avid “06880” reader Jack Backiel enjoyed yesterday’s Friday Flashback: a photo of town directories, the long-ago source for data on all Westport residents and businesses.

And I do mean “all.”

Jack sent along this photo of one page, from the 1950s. Check out the third Taylor from the top. Yes, that’s the actress we know better as “Liz.”

Jack has written in the Comments section of his family’s long history in Westport. He sent along one directory page from the 1920s, and this from the ’50. There sure were a batch of Backiels here then.

Town directories can be found today in the Westport Library.

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A Photo Challenge from a couple of weeks ago brought a follow-up report from an “06880” reader.

The image showed a “North Pole Post” mailbox. It’s on Wright Street, though few readers knew it.

Nearby resident Anne Reilly provides the back story. She says the box “just showed up on the tree before Christmas last year … hmmm.

“The letters seem to go into the box and then disappear. Children believe they are magically sent directly to Santa  in the North Pole.”

She asked 2 children what happens to them. One said: “I think that they get scooped up by your elves, and your elves bring them to the north pole like Bam”

The other added, “The elves come get them every night and give them to the reindeer or the UPS man to take up to Santa.”

Sssshhhhhh….

The Wright Street Santa mailbox.(Photo/Gabriela Bockhaus)

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Today’s serene Sherwood Island “Westport … Naturally” shot comes courtesy of Maureen Salko:

(Photo/Marleen Salko)

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And finally … hey hey, they were the Monkees.

Michael Nesmith — the “quiet, cerebral, sardonic, contemplative” member of that ’60s TV-turned-true band — died yesterday of heart failure. He was 78.

Nesmith was sometimes called the only true musician in the group. He went on to a successful video career after the Monkees’ 2-year TV run ended. Click here for a full obituary. (Hat tip: Amy Schneider)

Friday Flashback #138

One of my earliest childhood memories — I  was just 3 or 4 — is from a grocery store on Main Street.

My mother leaned down, pointed to a woman standing nearby and said, “Danny, remember this. That’s Helen Keller.”

Helen Keller

It’s an urban (suburban) myth that Helen Keller lived in Westport. Her house — “Arcan Ridge” — was actually on Redding Road in Easton, near the corner of Route 136.

But 136 is called also called Westport Road in Easton. And when the remarkable deaf-blind author, political activist and lecturer died in 1968, at 87, the New York Times datelined the story “Westport, Conn.” — and said she died “in her home here.” (Click here to see.)

That error was picked up by publications around the world. It persists today.

Helen Keller moved to Easton in 1936. But she had a Westport post office box. And — as my long-ago memory attests, and those of other longtime residents affirm — she and her companions did much of their shopping here.

Staples High School Class of 1965 member Jack Backiel has a special connection. His aunt relative Agnes Pazdan took care of Helen Keller.

And in 1944, she signed her autobiography The World I Live In to her this way:

(Do you have a Helen Keller memory? Click “Comments” below.)

Jack Backiel: Westport’s Man In Washington

Jack Backiel left Westport a while ago. A member of Staples High School’s Class of 1965 who ended up graduating from private school — and the son of the owners of our local bowling alley and driving range — he’s now retired, living in Florida.

He still loves his hometown though, and comments frequently on “06880.”

He’s also a frequent visitor to Washington. If there’s a political hearing to attend, or a protest to join, Jack is there.

In March he flew north for the March for our Lives. Several students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland — the site of a mass shooting the month before, not far from Jack’s home — shared his flight.

The next month, he was there when Mark Zuckerberg testified before Congress about Facebook’s privacy issues. Jack was interviewed by BBC, for a report that aired in Britain.

Jack Backiel, on camera.

During Paul Manafort’s trial, he met the defendant’s attorney and Fox News’ Peter Doocy as they awaited the verdict.

A couple of days ago, Jack was at Brett Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court hearing. He waited in line for 2 hours, to be seated for 20 minutes. Several protesters interrupted the event, with one man carried out by police “like a bag of potatoes.”

Though Jack’s “sense of history” drives his recent visits to Washington, it’s not a new undertaking.

In 1974, he was seated right behind Connie Chung as the House Judiciary Committee considered impeaching President Nixon.

Bowling With The Backiels

In 1917 John S. Backiel bought 7 acres of land on the dirt-filled Post Road, near Maple Avenue. He paid $5,000.

The Backiels farmed the property until 1954. That year his sons John and Stanley, and the young men’s brother-in-law, opened up Westport Golf Range. There was a driving range, and miniature golf course. (Today it’s the site of Regent’s Park condominiums.)

According to Jack Backiel, his grandfather — John S. — said that selling a bucket of golf balls was just like selling a basket of tomatoes. Except you got both the basket and the tomatoes back, to sell them again the next day.

Jack was just 7 years old in September 1954, but he remembers opening day. Trick shot artist Paul Hahn wrapped a club (actually a hose) around his body, then swung it and hit a ball off the mouth of his wife, as she lay on the ground.

The golf range “was my whole life as a kid,” Jack recalls.

In October 1958, the Backiels opened a bowling alley — only the 2nd 10-pin alley in the state. Economics favored recreation over farming.

John, Adolph and Stanley Backiel, inside Westport Lanes.

There were 8 owners: John S. Backiel’s children. Daily management was the responsibility of 3: John, Stanley and Adolf. The site is what is now Pier 1.

Business boomed. With lines out the door, the original 16 lanes soon expanded to 32. Soon, the Backiels added a pool room downstairs, and the Club 300 bar.

In the early years John Hersey — author of Hiroshima, and a former member of Westport’s Board of Education — bowled there several times a week.

Next door, when Mickey Rooney — acting at the Westport Country Playhouse — would hit buckets of balls at the golf range. Then he’d hang around for a couple of hours, talking to women and giving impromptu “golf lessons” to whoever listened.

Those recollections — and many more — come from Jack Backiel, John’s son and John S.’s grandson.

Jack says, “Our family was definitely on the cutting edge of bowling, as the new wave of family recreation began in the United States.” Bowling leagues thrived, from 1960 through the mid-’80s. Local businesses sponsored teams, advertising their names on the back of shirts.

The bowling alley stationery showed the building’s 1950’s-style facade.

In the fall of 1961, Westport Lanes was on “Candid Camera.” The last 2 lanes were rigged so that thin piano wires ran under the pins. When a couple came to bowl, they were assigned those lanes.

“The guy would bowl his regular score, but every time the woman got up, a mechanic in back would pull a lever. The piano wires moved just enough so all the pins fell down, no matter where she threw the ball.

“The poor guy out on a date would bowl his 125 game,” Jack continues. “His date would roll a 288. The hidden camera focused on his expression as she got strike after strike after strike.”

Paul Gambaccini — the “Professor of Pop,” and one of the most famous radio and TV music personalities in the UK — grew up not far from Westport Lanes. Earlier this year, in a Financial Times profile, he related the pinpoint accuracy of bowling to his precision cuing record.

And he recalled his earliest bowling days.

It was that period of the suburbanisation of America when an indispensible part of every new town was the bowling alley. It’s broken my heart to see bowling go downhill. Now it’s a sort of retro, kitsch thing. Nixon, for all his faults, was a bowler. He had a bowling alley in the basement of the White House.

One night in 1972, while the lanes were being refinished with a flammable coat of lacquer, they went up in flames. The cause was spontaneous combustion, Jack says, and the intense heat twisted steel.

A year later, the rebuilt Westport Lanes opened again.

Frances Lee at the Westport Golf Range, next door to Westport Lanes.

The bowling alley remained a kingpin of local recreation until 1984. Jack’s father — the youngest owner — was already in his 60s. The property was their nest egg. They sold the lanes and adjacent golf range for $6.8 million.

Two of the original owners are still alive. One aunt is 95; the other just turned 101.

“There wasn’t much entertainment in Westport back then, especially for kids,” Jack recalls. “We were it.”

That entertainment resonated with countless people. To this day, Jack says — even in retirement in Florida — when someone hears he’s from Westport, and that his family owned the bowling alley and golf range, they remember it.

And then they tell him stories about their favorite times there.

(Jack Backiel would love to hear more memories of the golf range and bowling alley. Click “Comments,” or email him: jjbackiel@aol.com.)