For his 50th birthday, Steve Ruchefsky figured he’d whip up a nice feast for a few friends.
That quickly evolved into an invitation to Bill Taibe. He’s an even better cook than Steve — who is, after all, a lawyer who now manages private investments, while Bill at the time owned Le Farm and was about to open The Whelk. So 5 years ago the backyard of Steve and his wife Rondi Charleston’s handsome Evergreen Avenue home was transformed into the setting for a killer 5-course meal.
Steve — who considers himself lucky, with a “wonderful wife, great daughter and amazing friends” — capped the occasion by announcing a $1 million gift to the Hole in the Wall Gang Camp.
He knew Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward through serving on the Westport Country Playhouse board. Steve’s donation allowed the camp in upstate Connecticut — which “creates fun and friendship for seriously ill children and their families” — to build a residence for doctors and their own families. “Steve’s Station” made it easier for them to stay longer — and their kids to enjoy the facility too.
It was a wonderful gesture. But that was only the start of Steve’s post-50 life.
“I had 2 ephipanies,” he says, 5 years later. “I grew up in Rockaway Beach. I didn’t have a lot. So I knew I wanted to help people.”
Steve Ruchefsky and Rondi Charleston in their wine cellar.
At the same time, he adds, “I wanted to do more than writing a check. I wanted to have fun with my guy friends.”
He rounded up 6 of them. All felt blessed to live here. All had spent the first part of their lives building careers and families, then seeing their children off to college. All had plenty of energy, and the desire to make time in their busy lives for others.
The result: “Go50.” (It stands for “Guys Over 50.”)
Those men — now 13 — are all at least 50 years old, and eager to “get out of our bubble, get dirty, and get going to do good.”
Many names are familiar: Tom Cope, John Engelhart, Jim Hardy, Barry Leskin, Matthew Maddox, Vinny Mullineaux, Jim Naughton, John Porio, John Seigenthaler, David Tetenbaum, Doug Weber and Steven Wolff.
Their first project was at the Hole in the Wall Gang Camp. The boathouse was crammed with boats, canoes, fishing rods. Nothing was organized.
Nine “Go50” guys headed north in a van. They emptied, cleaned, sorted and painted. They got rid of old equipment. Campers, counselors and administrators loved what they’d done.
Go50 guys, after cleaning the Hole in the Wall Gang Camp boathouse.
Energized, the “Go50” gang tackled the Burroughs Community Center in Bridgeport. They painted and renovated a conference room, bringing new life to the building.
Then they wondered how they could do more than some one-off projects.
“None of us served in the military,” Steve says. “We were spared from the draft, and could start our careers when we were young. We decided we wanted to give back to people who did serve in the armed forces.”
Just off I-95 in Bridgeport is Homes for the Brave. The non-profit provides housing, vocational training, job placement, mental health and addiction services, and life skills coaching to help individuals — especially veterans, many of whom have been in prison or have addiction issues — leave homelessness behind.
Steve committed “Go50” to an ongoing relationship. They’ll prepare meals, clean the grounds, and help where and however they can.
Homes for the Brave helps veterans in many ways.
That’s one story. It’s a great one.
Then Steve heard about Homes for the Brave’s newest project.
Created by Peter Van Heerden — former executive director of the Westport Arts Center, now head of Fairfield University’s Quick Center — along with Westport artist Nina Bentley, it’s a show in which people living at the Homes tell their stories.
The performance is called “War Stories.” But they’re really “life stories.”
Notes posted at a recent “War Stories” rehearsal.
Steve has seen rehearsals. “These are not actors or writers. They’re men and women who have served our country. Life has been hard for them.
“They’re not Gold Star veterans who came home to parades. They’re vets who for the most part joined up to get away from trouble. But they came back and found themselves in trouble again.”
A recent preview in Hartford earned a standing ovation.
Steve wants to get the word out about upcoming performances at the Quick Center (Friday and Saturday, March 31 and April 1 — click here for more details; click here for tickets).
Steve Ruchefsky (center) at a “War Stories” rehearsal.
Learning about “War Stories” has inspired Steve to do even more with “Go50.”
“We have a great time together. We get a lot done, and we laugh a lot,” he says.
One thing they laugh about is that they’re all over 50, yet they’re “gang members.”
But what a gang!