Tag Archives: Jim Marpe

Maker Faire Makes Its Mark

You can’t keep a good geek down.

Chilly temperatures and a light rain did not deter thousands of folks from descending on the Westport Library, Jesup Green and Bedford Square, for today’s 6th annual Maker Faire.

Every type of STEM creation was represented: robots, 3-D designs, flight simulators, submersibles and more.

The arts were there too: violinists, jewelry makers, sculptors…

And of course local organizations: the Y, Wakeman Town Farm and Rotary Club were among those showing their commitment to creativity and community.

In 6 short years, the Maker Faire has become one of the biggest events of the Westport year. Now all we need is some young guy or girl who can control the weather.

Which I’m sure we’ll see next spring.

Hand-made robots were a huge hit.

Christopher Crowe’s creations drew a crowd.

What better spot to hang out in than the Westport Library’s permanent Maker Space?

State Senators Toni Boucher (front) and Tony Hwang (right) joined 1st Selectman Jim Marpe (left) and Westport Library trustee Iain Bruce at the Maker Faire.

A father gives a hands-on wind tunnel demonstration to his daughter.

Westporter Charlie Wolgast — a professional pilot — checks out a flight simulator in Bedford Square.

Beware!

Jim Marpe Runs For Re-Election On His Record

Jim Marpe grew up in Canton, Ohio. After earning a BA from Case Western and an MBA from Wharton, he embarked on a career with Accenture that took him to Chicago and Copenhagen.

Transferred to New York in 1989, Marpe and his wife Mary Ellen were attracted to Westport by the quality of education, amenities like Compo, and the beauty of Longshore. They also appreciated the town’s arts heritage. A performance at the Westport Country Playhouse sealed the deal.

They joined New Neighbors. The very first person they met was from the country they’d just left: Denmark.

That story illustrates everything Marpe loves about Westport. It’s also a reason why — as he completes his first term as first selectman — he looks forward to running for re-election.

First Selectman Jim Marpe

When he ran 4 years ago, Marpe — who had retired from Accenture as a senior partner — believed he could use his business skills, his experiences on the Board of Education (interim chair and vice chair) and Town Plan Implementation Committee, as well as his leadership roles with the Westport Weston Family YMCA, Homes With Hope, Westport Rotary Club and Greens Farms Congregational Church, to help his town.

“I love this place as much as anyone here,” he says.

He cites his accomplishments: improving town finances; keeping property taxes flat; upgrading Compo and Longshore; beautifying downtown; promoting Westport as an attractive place for business; updating tax policies for senior citizens, and improving the Senior Center; creating a Commission on People with Disabilities, ensuring the town remains inclusive for all residents (and their families).

He’s running again, he says, because there is still work to do. “Hartford has placed problems in our laps. We’ve made great strides in creating a budget to address the lack of any significant revenue coming from the state, and any new bills or taxes we can try to mitigate.”

First Selectman Jim Marpe and Westport Library director Bill Harmer, at work in the first selectman’s office.

Marpe adds, “Hartford’s problems are huge. They won’t get solved in one year. We’ll have to keep our own financial house in order for many years. We’ve been conservative in dealing with town finances. We have to work even harder at that, so Westport continues to be an attractive place to stay in, or move to — one of the most active and exciting communities in the country.”

For example, the first selectman says, a public hearing next month will examine rehabilitating the Compo bathhouses in a way that is “acceptable to all, at a cost we can afford.” Similarly, while the Longshore golf course rehabilitation has made it one of the top 8 public courses in Connecticut, the Inn and other parts of the property can also be improved.

Marpe says he is in “total agreement” with his potential challenger, fellow Republican Mike Rea, about the need for continuous improvement. “That’s what I’ve built my professional career on,” Marpe notes. “We can never rest on our laurels. We have to keep what Westporters hold dear, and make sure this is a town we’re all proud of.”

Personally, he is proud of his administration’s non-partisan approach to problem-solving. Marpe says he has “staffed committees and given assignments to the best qualified people, regardless of party. That’s how Westporters like to address issues.”

Jim and Mary Ellen Marpe, with their daughter Samantha.

Second selectman Avi Kaner will not run for re-election, due to increased demands of running his family business. But he’ll chair Marpe’s campaign, and will continue to work on special projects.

Marpe lauds Kaner’s work, and is “thrilled” that Board of Finance member Jennifer Tooker joins his ticket. “With her background, which also includes the Board of Education, she understands the financial challenges, and the important impact education has in Westport.”

Third selectman Helen Garten was Marpe’s Democratic opponent in 2013. “We’ve worked together as a team,” he says. “All three selectmen play to our strengths. That’s helped make our administration a success.”

He looks back on the past 4 years with satisfaction. Little moments stand out: thank-you notes sent after he attended local events; Memorial Day parades and ceremonies that honor individual citizens, the town and our country as a whole.

Nearly 30 years after moving here, Marpe, his wife and his daughter Samantha — a product of the Westport school system — appreciate more than ever all that Westport is, and does.

Right now for instance, he’s preparing for a panel on April 1 about Syrian refugees.

“Not many communities this size would have that discussion,” he notes. “But in Westport, we have debates like this. Some of them are heated. But when they’re over, we all go to the Black Duck together.”

Jim and Mary Ellen Marpe outside the Black Duck, during last year’s Slice of Saugatuck.

(Democratic State Representative Jonathan Steinberg has set up an exploratory committee to examine a run for first selectman. He declined an interview, citing his state legislature commitments on the budget.)

Mike Rea Explores A First Selectman Run

Growing up on Evergreen Avenue, Mike Rea attended almost-in-his-back yard Bedford Elementary School.

His alma mater now serves as Town Hall. And Rea is trying to figure out whether he wants to work there full time.

He’s done many things since graduating from Staples High School in 1970. Rea helped found Festival Italiano, was a Parks and Recreation Commission chair, headed the Bedford Middle School building project, spent 12 years on the RTM, and now serves as vice chair of the Board of Finance.

He’s formed a committee to explore a run for first selectman. If he enters the race, he’ll challenge incumbent and fellow Republican Jim Marpe.

“For years, people have asked me to run,” Rea says. “I owe it to myself to see if the interest is out there now.”

Mike Rea (left) after his first Board of Finance victory. On the right is current 2nd selectman Avi Kaner.

A Bronx native who came to Westport at age 4, Rea has long been active in town. Soon after his Staples graduation, he opened Mr. Sandwich — a popular lunchtime restaurant — on Bay Street.

He attended Norwalk Community College at night. He married Carla, spent a brief time in real estate, and for the past 34 years has worked for Gen Re. He’s currently vice president of corporate services and global real estate.

His first political activism came before he was a teenager — for the Democrats. “Thelma Ezzes and Ruth Soloway got me to sell tickets for a JFK memorial concert,” he recalls. “Thelma always said I slipped through Democratic fingers.”

He later joined the Young Republicans, and became state national committeeman. He chaired the Republican Town Committee, and was a 2-time John McCain delegate at national conventions.

Mike Rea at the 1978 Republican state convention. In the background is longtime political leader Ed Capasse.

When Rea’s sons Michael and Alex were young, an earthquake devastated Italy. Rea was part of a Westport group that raised $250,000 to help, then brought 21 youngsters and their mayor from a small town to Westport.

The Sons of Italy rose from that group. They sponsored the Italian Festival, a summertime Saugatuck staple for over 25 years.

Mike Rea (left) with the Sons of Italy group, at an early Festival Italiano.

When his boys played sports, Rea got involved in a project to build more athletic fields. First Selectman Doug Wood appointed him to the Parks and Recreation Commission. Wood’s successor Joe Arcudi named Rea chair.

Under his direction, Parks and Rec helped develop Wakeman Park, renovated Ned Dimes Marina and brought a skating rink to Longshore.

Gene Cederbaum — a Democratic Board of Education member — recruited Rea to head up the Bedford Middle School building project. Rea and his group — including “fantastic volunteers” like Russ Blair, Howard Lathrop and Joe Renzulli — “brought new construction techniques and accounting principles, and combined them with state and local educational specs and budgets,” to produce a handsome school on a former Nike missile base.

Rea is proud that another Democrat — Wally Meyer — called him “Mr. On Time and Under Budget.”

In his 6 terms on the RTM, Rea chaired the Finance and Environmental Committees, and served on the Ethics Committee. “I really enjoyed the give-and-take from ‘the citizens’ podium,'” he says.

Mike and Carla Rea (2nd and 3rd from right), with their children and granddaughter.

He left the RTM to run for Board of Finance. Rea was elected twice, in 2011 and 2015, when he was the top Republican vote-getter in town.

So why might he challenge a fellow party member for the top spot?

“Why not?” he replies. “I wouldn’t run against Jim. I’d be running for Westport, and myself.”

His exploratory committee will examine whether issues like the condition of the beach, and finance and planning, are areas he could address.

“I’m a business guy, a facilitator, a project manager,” Rea says. “That’s my wheelhouse. It’s not a question of bad management now. It’s a question of, could I do better? When you commit large sums of expenditures to education, parks facilities and public works, you have to make sure you’re doing it right.”

Rea calls Marpe “a very capable, nice, down-to-earth guy. I really like him. He’s not doing the job wrong. I just think with my years in public service, and my skill set that augments the first selectman’s job, I might do better.”

Rea also says he’s friendly with Jonathan Steinberg, the Democratic state representative who is exploring his own run for first selectman.

Rea concludes, “I like people. I love Westport. I think I’d be good for the town. This is just the first step on a journey.”

That journey started decades ago at Bedford Elementary School on Myrtle Avenue. It may wind its way back there, in November.

(Tomorrow: Jim Marpe talks about his campaign for re-election.)

I Am More Than …

For a few weeks now, the Westport Arts Center has been asking folks what they are “more than.”

Men, women and kids, old-timers and newcomers, well-known and unknown, politicians and business professionals, artists and athletes, religious figures and atheists — more than 500 people have responded.

They say: “I am more than … a housewife … my bank account … bi-polar … gay … Jewish … a twin … middle-aged … my pretty clothes … a mailman … a bald guy … an immigrant … a nun.”

They say it graphically: with words and photos.

i-am-more-than-1

The images — dramatic and strong — were taken by Xenia Gross.

i-am-more-than-2

Last night, the WAC hosted an opening reception for those dozens of “As We Are” portraits, and hundreds more cards. They’re part of a larger “MORE Than Words” exhibit — dedicated to artistic expressions of gender, racial, religious, geopolitical and age inequality, along with the impact of bullying.

Guests at last night's Westport Arts Center opening reception viewed dozens of "I am more than ..." posters.

Guests at last night’s Westport Arts Center opening reception viewed dozens of “I am more than …” posters.

A picture is indeed worth more than 1,000 words.

Or 7.

i-am-more-than-3

The Westport Arts Center is located at 51 Riverside Avenue. The exhibition continues through March 11. Click here for more information. NOTE: A supporting event — a SlamJam featuring dance, music, rap, poetry, spoken word and song, performed by teens with something to say about empathy — is set for tomorrow (Sunday, January 29, 5 pm) at the Westport Country Playhouse. Click here for more information on that event.

Disabilities Commission: It’s Way More Than Ramps

The Americans With Disabilities Act — signed by President George H. W. Bush in 1990 — had many consequences.

Some were intended. Others were not.

It opened employment and educational opportunities for tens of millions of Americans with physical and emotional issues. Curb cuts and other design changes now benefit pregnant mothers, parents with youngsters and the elderly.

The ADA also impelled the state of Connecticut to create grants, allowing towns to fund initiatives studying the best ways to promote inclusion for people with disabilities.

In 2006, Westport and Wilton formed a task force. One recommendation was followed: Today our town has a designated official for disability issues (Sarah Heath, in Human Services).

One recommendation was not followed: the creation of a permanent commission.

Until now.

Jim Ross

Jim Ross

Earlier this month, 1st Selectman Jim Marpe announced appointments to Westport’s new Commission on People With Disabilities, which the RTM approved in July. Members include Marina Derman, Diane Johnson, Stacie Curran, LuAnn Giunta, Tom Holleman and Evan Levinson.

The chair is Jim Ross. A successful businessman, he’s also the former head of the Westport Citizens Transit Committee.

Ross is legally blind, and the father of 2 special needs children. “I live this every day,” he notes.

He became a voice for the disabled community in 2012, when  he helped pass legislation giving students access to epilepsy medicine when a school nurse is not present.

Along the way, he  met Human Services director Barbara Butler, who told Ross that the proposal for a town commission had never been implemented.

Ross went to work. Now — with Marpe’s help, and broad public support — it’s a reality.

Westport's former director of human services, Barbara Butler, is a longtime advocate for people with disabilities.

Westport’s former director of human services, Barbara Butler, is a longtime advocate for people with disabilities.

There’s a reason so many Westporters support the new commission. Twenty percent of the town’s population is directly affected by their own or a family member’s physical or intellectual disability. In a community like ours, that means all of us have neighbors, friends and fellow members of civic groups and congregations with disabilities.

“This is an exceptionally humbling opportunity,” Ross says of his post. “It’s a chance to take the ADA — a magnificent civil rights initiative — to the local  level.”

He notes that Westport — a “very socially aware town” — has already done good things. There are ramps everywhere. Compo Beach has a sand wheelchair. The Levitt Pavilion is quite accessible.

But, he adds, “this is about a lot more than ramps. It’s a 2-way conversation between people with disabilities, and the community as a whole. It’s a chance for businesses, organizations, the town and people to have a dialogue to create avenues, paths and bridges for everyone to come together.”

In many ways, Ross says, “people with disabilities are heroes. We can learn a lot about ourselves by including them, and letting them contribute to a more vigorous, dynamic environment. This is not about clubbing people over the head. It’s about everyone working together.”

Beach wheelchair sign

He mentions education, housing, transportation, recreation, employment, the arts and emergency preparedness as areas in which discussions involving people with disabilities can lead to “logistical and tactical benefits” for all Westporters.

He’s eager to get started. Ross calls the 7-member commission “a dynamite group. Everyone has a different area of expertise.”

The Commission on People With Disabilities will meet publicly the 3rd Thursday of every month. The 1st session is Thursday, January 19 (8:30 a.m.), at Town Hall.

Of course, it’s handicap accessible.

Westport Bids Tina Goodbye

Some wore suits or dresses. Others wore jeans and wool caps.

Some were politicians, social service workers, police officers and Westporters who live in very comfortable homes. Others live at the Gillespie Center.

Ushers from Homes With Hope showed down-on-their-luck folks to their seats. Clergy from 3 different congregations conducted the service. The 1st selectman gave a reading. So did a Westport police officer, who spent much of his own youth in shelters.

Over 150 people — some from as far away as Baltimore and Brattleboro — filled Christ & Holy Trinity Episcopal Church this afternoon, for a funeral service honoring a woman some never met.

tina-wessel-funeral-program

Tina Wessel died last month. A homeless woman with a pronounced limp, she was a longtime fixture in downtown Westport.

In her life on the streets — and in the shed near the Senior Center where her body was found — she touched many hearts.

“She gave a lot of people the finger. She dropped a lot of f-bombs,” one woman said. “But look at all these people. They saw beyond that.”

They did indeed. As one woman related in remarks after the service, Tina had another remarkable side. An hour after receiving a donation of food, Tina knocked on the agency’s door.

“Here’s what I don’t need,” she said, returning some of her goods. “Can you give it to somebody else?”

Photos of Tina Wessel, from the program today.

Photos of Tina Wessel, from the program today.

Rev. Peter Powell — who founded and served as the first CEO of Homes With Hope — delivered a powerful, challenging sermon.

“Tina touched many of us in ways that would probably surprise her,” he said.

He noted that many of the readings at the service mentioned bringing bread to the hungry, and giving homes to the homeless.

“She was a challenge to work with,” Rev. Powell acknowledged. “But Tina had a role in Westport — one that we all need to think about.”

Rev. Peter Powell before the funeral, flanked by 1st Selectman Jim Marpe and Rev. Jeffrey Ryder of Green's Farms Congregational Church.

Rev. Peter Powell (center) before the funeral, flanked by 1st Selectman Jim Marpe and Rev. Jeffrey Ryder of Green’s Farms Congregational Church.

He recalled similar Westporters whose funerals he officiated at  — though one had only 3 mourners. He told their stories, and mentioned them all by name. They may have been homeless, but they were not faceless or nameless.

“Tina died cold, sick, alone and homeless,” Rev. Powell said. She — and others like her — should be remembered not because they needed us, but because “we need them.”

The town of Westport, police and Homes With Hope tried to help, Rev. Powell continued. Westport — “an amazingly generous town” — does far more for its homeless citizens than virtually any other affluent suburb in the country.

Tina did not accept some of that help. “Her reasons make no sense to you. But they did to her,” Rev. Powell explained.

“It’s not enough to love prodigiously, if people are cold or alone. We admired her pluck, her nature, her independence. But we could not find a way to house her as she wished.”

Calling Tina “an apostle,” Rev. Powell said that she has enabled us to “discover ourselves.”

When the service ended, Tina’s ashes were honored outside, in the church courtyard. It’s in the midst of downtown, where she spent so much of the last years of her life.

Mourners stood outside, as Tina's ashes were honored in the heart of downtown.

Mourners stood outside, as Tina’s ashes were honored in the heart of downtown.

Then everyone — social service workers, police officers, Westporters in very comfortable homes, residents of the Gillespie Center, and anyone else who knew Tina (or wished they had) — gathered downstairs. They shared food and coffee together.

And they remembered Tina.

(Donations in Tina’s name may be made to Westport Animal Shelter Advocates or Homes With Hope.)

Photos of Tina and her brother Ludy -- when both were young -- were displayed on a board in the church's Branson Hall.

Photos of Tina and her brother Ludy — when both were young — were displayed on a board in the church’s Branson Hall.

The Waiting Is The Hardest Part

The scene tonight at Democratic headquarters …

(Photo/Eli Debenham)

(Photo/Eli Debenham)

… and Rizzuto’s, where Republican Town Committee treasurer Joe Sledge, First Selectman Jim Marpe, Second Selectman Avi Kaner and State Representative candidate Cathy Walsh peered at results:

republican-headquarters

(Photo/Chip Stephens)

76 Trombones, 5 Musicians, 2 Posters, 1 Painting

Exactly 70 years ago today — on October 19, 1946 — the Saturday Evening Post cover showed 5 high school band musicians.

As many “06880” readers know, Westport artist Stevan Dohanos used 5 Staples High School students as models. Seven decades later the painting hangs in Town Hall, right outside the first selectman’s office.

Westport illustrator Stevan Dohanos' 1946 Saturday Evening Post cover.

Westport illustrator Stevan Dohanos’ 1946 Saturday Evening Post cover.

In 2001, David Roth was in his 2nd year as director of Staples Players. To promote their production of “The Music Man,” Roth asked graphic arts teacher Alan Dodd to recreate the iconic artwork — this time using 5 actors from the upcoming show.

There’s one girl in the painting. Roth chose Samantha Marpe to pose. In “The Music Man,” Samantha played Zaneeta — River City’s mayor’s daughter. In an amazing coincidence, Samantha’s father — Jim Marpe — is now Westport’s first selectman (mayor).

The 2001 poster is also on the wall, next to Marpe’s office. Every day at work, he sees his daughter’s image.

Staples Players' 2001 poster.

Staples Players’ 2001 poster…

Fifteen years later, Players is once again staging “The Music Man.” Once again, Roth is using Dohanos’ painting as inspiration for the publicity poster.

There are some differences between the 2001 and 2016 versions, of course. Dodd has retired; this year’s photo was taken by co-director Kerry Long, and created by graphic arts instructor Carla Eichler.

A decade and a half after the first poster, she’s able to do much more with special effects. For example, in Dohanos’ original painting the football team was reflected in the sousaphone. That was tough to recreate in 2001, so the reflection showed only the 5 musicians.

This time, Eichler reflected Jacob Leaf — who plays Harold Hill, the “music man” — in the sousaphone.

...and the 2016 version.

…and the 2016 version.

Speaking of which: simply finding a brass sousaphone for Long to photograph was a herculean task. These days, they’re all fiberglass.

Roth put out a townwide call. Finally, he found one. It’s owned by Shari Levy. In another great coincidence, her son Jon was part of the quartet in the 2001 production. She lent it to Roth for the photo shoot — and the show.

Across America, people know “The Music Man” for its 76 trombones.

In Westport, it’s all about Stevan Dohanos — and David Roth’s — 5 musicians.

That’s no shipoopi.

(Staples Players present “The Music Man” on Friday and Saturday, November 11, 12, 18 and 19 at 7:30 p.m.; Sunday, November 13 and Saturday, November 19 at 3 p.m. Tickets go on sale this weekend at http://www.StaplesPlayers.com.)

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Lobster Fest!

A lovely late-summer day.

Beer and wine. Music. A huge crowd of friendly, sociable people, ready to mix, mingle, kick back and chill.

And of course about 3,000 lobsters, shipped in yesterday from Nova Scotia.

Those were the ingredients for today’s Lobster Fest.

In just 5 years, the Rotary Club event has become a major highlight on the Westport calendar.

It’s the biggest block party in town. It’s Compo and community at its best.

And — best of all — it raises about $75,000, which the Rotary Club plows right back into good causes locally, nationally and abroad.

If you weren’t there, you missed a fantastic party.

And some really amazing lobsters.

lobsterfest-fresh-lobsters

The stars of the show.

Rotary Board member Rick Benson claws State Representative Gail Lavielle.

Rotary Board member Rick Benson claws State Representative Gail Lavielle.

Homes With Hope CEO and Lobster Fest volunteer Jeff Wieser pours a beer for 1-year-old Andy Wolf. Her dad, Jim, looks on amused.

Homes With Hope CEO and Lobster Fest volunteer Jeff Wieser pours a beer for 1-year-old Andy Wolf. Her dad, Jim, looks on amused.

Nearby, a slightly older youngster explored the Beaver Beer car.

Nearby, a slightly older youngster explored the Beaver Beer car.

First Selectman Jim Marpe and his wife Mary Ellen were also Lobster Fest volunteers.

First Selectman Jim Marpe and his wife Mary Ellen were Lobster Fest volunteers.

As the sun set on Lobster Fest, no one wanted to leave.

The sun set on Lobster Fest, but no one wanted to leave.

At the end, not much remained of the 3,000 lobsters.

At the end, not much remained of the 3,000 lobsters.

Slicing Up Saugatuck

Today was hot and humid. But it’s never too hot for Saugatuck’s great Italian food, from places like Tutti’s and Tarantino’s.

Or Mexican (Viva’s, Cuatro Hermanos), Thai (Rainbow) or Japanese (Kawa Ni).

Every restaurant — including Dunkin’ Donuts — was represented at this afternoon’s Slice of Saugatuck.

So were stores, ranging from liquor (99 Bottles) to sports (Attic) to my favorite — not just in Saugatuck but all of Westport (Indulge by Mersene).

The 5th annual event was sponsored by the Westport Weston Chamber of Commerce. Funds benefit the Gillespie Center food pantry. Slice is nice!

The line to sample Julian's pizza ran past Parker Mansion.

The line to sample Julian’s pizza ran past Parker Mansion.

Tutti's served up -- among other favorites -- spicy chicken.

Tutti’s served up — among other favorites — a tasty chicken dish.

Al DiGuido's Saugatuck Sweets scooped ice cream, on the plaza.

Al DiGuido’s Saugatuck Sweets scooped ice cream, on the plaza.

Things were quieter on the river, where Downunder offered kayaks.

Things were quieter on the river, where Downunder offered kayaks.

Bands -- rock, acoustic, even Caribbean -- played throughout Saugatuck. This group had a prime spot, at Bridge Square.

Bands — rock, acoustic, even Caribbean — played throughout Saugatuck. This group had a prime spot, at Bridge Square.

First Selectman Jim Marpe and his wife Mary Ellen hung out at the Black Duck.

First Selectman Jim Marpe and his wife Mary Ellen hung out at the Black Duck.

Cuatro Hermanos added a sombrero their rice and beans.

Cuatro Hermanos added a sombrero to their rice and beans.

A tae kwan do demonstration livened up Railroad Place. Shattered boards lie on the left.

A tae kwan do demonstration enlivened Railroad Place. Shattered boards lie on the left.