Tag Archives: Joe Schachter

Minuteman Yacht Club Welcomes All

Half a century ago, Joe Schachter bought a boat. He, his wife Irma and their young kids loved leaving their slip at Longshore, and heading out on the Sound.

Except when they couldn’t get out, because the basin was silted over. In fact, the only time that worked was half tide or more.

A few similarly disgruntled boat owners started talking. They realized their individual complaints to town officials went nowhere.

Meanwhile, over at Compo, there wasn’t even a real “marina” at all. Boats were tied to buoys. After a day on the water, boaters blew air horns, then waited for a tender to fetch them from the gas dock. On busy days, it took an hour.

They formed a group, to advocate for all Westport boaters. They named themselves the Minuteman Yacht Club.

Irma and Joe Schachter

It took 30 years, but they finally got action. Twenty years after that, Schachter — now 94 years old — is still involved.

And, in a measure of how far the Minuteman Yacht Club has come, one very important town official — 1st Selectman Jim Marpe — attends many of the group’s events.

The organization’s efforts paid off in the renovation of Ned Dimes Marina at Compo Beach. A gangway — to walk to boats — replaced the old blow-your-horn-and-wait-for-a-lift system. Both it and Longshore were dredged, dramatically increasing their capacities.

Compo now has “one of the best marina set-ups of any town on Long Island Sound,” Schachter says proudly.

Ned Dimes Marina.

He should know. After a career change from advertising, he developed a concrete flotation system that completed 400 projects around the East Coast. Compo was his last major one.

But — like so much else in Westport life — boating has changed in the 50 years Schachter has been involved.

Whether its clubs Minuteman or Kiwanis, “it’s hard today to keep them going,” says Barbara Gross.

She should know. A Westonite who does not own a boat — she’s a kayaker who loves the Sound, Cockenoe and nearby islands — she enjoys Minuteman Yacht Club for its social events.

The calendar is filled: Commissioning Day party, post-race parties, clambake, reggae party, commodore’s reception, change-of-watch dinner, even a winter holiday party.

“There’s a real camaraderie, a fun spirit,” Gross says.

She hopes families with young children will consider joining Minuteman Yacht Club. “It’s important to give kids a taste of boating,” she says. “And this is a great way for parents to have fun with them. You don’t even need to own a boat.”

It’s a good way too, she says, to introduce youngsters to the wonders of Long Island Sound.

And maybe they will grow up to be — like herself, Schachter and many others — the voice of sailboat and powerboat owners, all over town.

(For more information on Minuteman Yacht Club, click here.)

[OPINION] Town Should Not Forget Cockenoe Fight

The first moon landing. Woodstock. Chappaquiddick. The Mets.

All year long, Americans have celebrated the 50th anniversary of historic evenets.

Locally, 1969 was an important year too. But most Westporters have forgotten a battle that — if lost — would have irrevocably changed this town.

Joe Schachter still remembers the fight to save Cockenoe Island from becoming the site of a nuclear power plant. (You read that right. Click here for full details.)

Joe — a member of the “Cockenoe 50th Commemorative” group, along with Betty Lou Cummings, Miggs Burroughs and Jo Fox Brosious (honorary) — writes:

1969 marked the end of a townwide, all-consuming effort to stop installation of an industrial-size nuclear power plant on Cockenoe Island. The huge, 14-story complex — just a mile or so off Compo Beach — would have transformed our pristine view; stopped access to the island’s trails, beaches and boating anchorages, and forever altered this part of Long Island Sound.

A rendering of what might have been.

The 2-year “Save Cockenoe Island” battle “involved more residents in a local action than ever before– or since,” says Jo Fox Brosious, then-editor of the Westport News. Her leadership, editorials and articles led the battle.

Victory meant that families who might have considered leaving Westport if the nuclear plant had been built did not have to make that choice. Nor did thousands who moved to Westport since, but might not even have considered it, had the plant been erected.

That critical 1967-69 effort followed an earlier battle by Westporters that took place about 250 years ago, and also shaped today’s Westport. Note these parallels:

  • In 1777, Westport farmers rose up as “Minutemen” to battle British efforts to stop formation of the new republic that, centuries later, provides today’s envied way of life.
  • In 1967 Westport residents rose up again, to battle an ominous nuclear presence on Cockenoe — avoiding a specter that could have decimated our way of life.
  • The 1777 British troops who burned their way up to Danbury were engaged by Minutemen as they returned to their waiting ships, seen anchored from Compo Beach.
  • The 1967 Westporters stopped a potentially despoiled view from Compo Beach, and prevented loss of access to Cockenoe’s swimming, clamming and fishing grounds.
  • Today’s residents see reminders of our patriots’ 1777 battles as we pass the Minuteman Monument, or see a pair of cannons on South Beach — each commemorating an event about 250 years ago.

But our town has yet to officially recognize an existential episode of only 50 years ago by designating even one similar lasting object to commemorate this critical achievement.

Indeed, most Westporters under age 60 don’t have even one first-hand memory of an all-out battle that preserved the character of our precious community.

To prevent this clash from disappearing from the pages of our town’s history, members of the 1967-69 “Save Cockenoe Island” original leadership commemorated that battle every 10th anniversary year with events, press releases and boat parades, right through to the 40th in 2009.

2019 is its 50th commemorative year. Those remaining few who were part of that pivotal battle will not be around much longer to remind youngsters and newcomers how their predecessors protected this community for them.

Now we leave it to them to preserve the sparkle of this historic contribution to our town’s brilliantly shining light.

Cockenoe Island was saved, in perpetuity.

“Save Cockenoe Now”: Still Relevant, 50 Years On

2017 marks the 50th anniversary of some significant events.

1967 was the Summer of Love. Martin Luther King spoke out against the Vietnam War. “Race riots” consumed Detroit, Newark and other cities.

Meanwhile, here in Westport, we debated whether building a 14-story nuclear power plant a mile off Compo Beach was a good idea.

The story is remembered by many — and unknown to many more. It starts with United Illuminating, the statewide utility that in 1965 secretly bought Cockenoe Island, a popular spot for boaters and fishermen.

Cockenoe Island, off Compo Beach. In 1967, it almost became the site of a nuclear power plant.

Another key player was Jo Fox Brosious, editor of the fledgling Westport News. She crusaded tirelessly against the idea.

It was not easy. Although plenty of Westporters opposed the plan, the more established Town Crier was all-in. What a boon for the tax base, the paper said.

Brosious helped rally a coalition of common citizens, conservationists, fishermen, attorneys, Senators Abraham Ribicoff and Lowell Weicker, and Congressman Stewart McKinney.

Local artists Walter and Naiad Einsel created a memorable (and very 1967-ish) poster with the group’s rallying cry:

Under pressure — with national coverage in the New York Times and Sports Illustrated, and thanks to the threat of a bill in the Connecticut legislature that would curb eminent domain requests of power companies — UI agreed to sell Cockenoe.

To the town of Westport.

The deal was struck in 1967. The purchase price was $200,000. When the contract finally closed 2 years later, the Westport News headline read: “Cockenoe Island Safe in Sound.”

Memorabilia saved by Jo Fox includes news clippings, a bumper sticker, a photo of Jo on Cockenoe, and another shot of her speaking in Hartford, as sunlight streams directly on her.

That’s the bare-bones, SparkNotes version. You can read more by clicking here.

Or — this being 2017 (not 1967) — you can watch a YouTube video about it.

The 9-minute mini-documentary comes courtesy of Julianna Shmaruk. A Staples High School sophomore, she created it for a National History Day competition.

The contest theme was “Taking a Stand” — which is exactly what Westporters did.

Julianna tracked down old newspaper clippings. She interviewed 91-year-old Joe Schachter (a boater involved in the battle), and got vintage home movie footage from Ed Stalling (a then 11-year-old who wrote a postcard decrying the sale).

Julianna’s video offers vivid evidence that — as Stalling says — “the people can win.” And that newspapers can rally public opinion.

Those lessons are just as important today as they were half a century ago.

To see Julianna’s video, click below:

Beth El Honors Joe And Irma Schachter

Joe Schachter served as last year’s Memorial Day parade grand marshal.

Before that, he helped found the Minuteman Yacht Club. As “the voice of boaters,” they pushed the town to improve the Longshore and Compo marinas. First Selectman John Kemish appointed him to the town’s 1st Boating Advisory Committee too.

Schachter also helped form the Norwalk Oyster Festival and Commuter Action Committee. As a member of the statewide Rail Advisory Task Force, he served 3 governors.

During World War II he took enemy fire on the Wilkes Barre cruiser in Tokyo Bay, and along the Manchurian border.

After the war he spent 30 years in advertising in Hartford and New York, on accounts like Ford and Eastman Kodak.

Joe Schachter

He then embarked on an entirely new 2nd career, introducing floating concrete docks to the Northeast — and as far as Greenland and Bermuda. For 20 years he worked on projects for the Coast Guard and Army Corps of Engineers. He’s most proud of his 400th installation: the one at Compo Beach.

Many years before all that, Schachter was a 13-year-old bar mitzvah boy at Congregation Beth El in Norwalk. After all his work and travels — including Alaska and Antarctica — when Joe and his wife Carol moved back to the area and settled in Westport, they joined that same synagogue.

She died in 1964, leaving 3 young boys — who themselves had their bar mitzvahs at Beth El.

Schachter remarried. He and his wife Irma brought the congregation into the 20th century, when Beth El first recognized women in the prayer quorum, and later on the pulpit.

The couple helped raised funds, and even did some of the physical work, during a major expansion of the East Avenue building in the 1980s.

Irma and Joe Schachter

In 2014 — 89 years young — Schachter created Beth El’s new marketing campaign and print presence. For weeks he climbed ladders, hung signs on the building, and worked on details small (font and color) and large (what each generation seeks in a Jewish community). Irma was always by his side.

The couple still attends almost every Friday night service. Always, the temple says, they have “a kind word, a thought of encouragement, and a generous smile. They are living legends, quietly and graciously waiting their turn for a cookie or a cup of grape juice.”

On Sunday, April 2 (5 p.m.) Congregation Beth El honors Joe and Irma Schachter at their spring gala. There will be music, dancing, food, laughter and reminiscing.

Most of all, their many friends and admirers say, “there will be a spirit of joy. And there will be community.”

(For more information on the gala honoring Joe and Irma Schachter, click here.)

Weather Or Not: Memorial Day 2016

The threatened heavy rain never materialized. But the forecast moved today’s Memorial Day ceremony into Town Hall.

An overflow crowd jammed Town Hall, for the Memorial Day celebration. It was powerful, impactful — and for everyone there, from World War II veterans to youngsters born in the 21st century — very, very important.

(All photos by Dan Woog unless otherwise noted.)

Memorial Day - Town Hall flag - 2016

92-year-old Leonard Everett Fisher -- a former grand marshal -- wears his World War Ii uniform proudly.

92-year-old Leonard Everett Fisher — a former grand marshal — wears his World War Ii uniform proudly.

Troop 39 Boy Scouts lead the Pledge of Allegiance.

Troop 39 Boy Scouts lead the Pledge of Allegiance.

Grand marshal Joe Schachter -- a 90-year-old World War II vet -- poses with a patriotic fan. (Photo/Doris Ghitelman)

Grand marshal Joe Schachter — a 90-year-old World War II vet — poses with a patriotic fan. (Photo/Doris Ghitelman)

Grand marshal Joe Schachter asked all the veterans in the auditorium to stand. Two former comrades shook hands.

Grand marshal Joe Schachter asked all the veterans in the auditorium to stand. Bob Satter and Sam Brody delightedly shook hands.

The color guard stands stock still, at attention.

The color guard stands at attention.

A Vietnam veteran takes in the ceremony.

An Army veteran takes in the ceremony.

Bill Vornkahl has been organizing Westport's Memorial Day parade for 46 years. That's about 40 years longer than these fife and drum corps members have been alive.

Bill Vornkahl has organized Westport’s Memorial Day parade for 46 years. That’s several decades longer than these fife and drum corps members have been alive.

Navy veteran John Brandt stands as the Staples High School band plays "Anchors Aweigh"...

Navy veteran John Brandt stands as the Staples High School band plays “Anchors Aweigh”…

...and an Army veteran does the same for "The Caisson Song."

…and Army veteran Sam Brody does the same for “The Caisson Song.”

A Vietnam veteran stands silently in the Town Hall lobby. (Photo/Doris Ghitelman)

A Vietnam veteran stands silently. (Photo/Doris Ghitelman)

Many organizations worked for days on their floats. The parade cancellation was disappointing — but here’s a chance for “06880” readers to see what they missed:

The Westport Woman's Club float included Miggs Burroughs as George Washington (or is it Yankee Doodle?). (Photo/courtesy of Dorothy Curran)

The Westport Woman’s Club float included Miggs Burroughs as George Washington (or is it Yankee Doodle?). (Photo/courtesy of Dorothy Curran)

Westport's state champion 10-and-under softball team, and the 12-and-under runnersup, were all set to march (well, ride).

Westport’s state champion 10-and-under softball team, and the 12-and-under runnersup, were all set to march (well, ride). (Photo/courtesy of Steve Axthelm)

The Y's Men usually win the float competition. This year's theme was "Tomb of the Unknowns." (Photo/courtesy of John Brandt)

The Y’s Men usually win the float competition. This year’s theme was “Tomb of the Unknowns.” (Photo/courtesy of John Brandt)

Finally, if you really missed this year’s parade — take a look at this one video. It’s from 2005, courtesy of Doug Harrison.

Joe Schachter: Memorial Day Grand Marshal

America’s living link to World War II veterans is rapidly diminishing. Nearly 500 servicemen and women from that conflict die every day.

Yet when Joe Schachter rises Monday to deliver Westport’s Memorial Day address, he will stand steady. The 90-year-old’s voice will be strong.

Schachter — the grand marshal of this year’s parade — is living proof of the power of an active, full life.

The South Norwalk native graduated from Norwalk High in 1943. There were plenty of empty seats at the ceremony; many classmates had gone off to war.

Joe Schachter

Joe Schachter

Schachter — who loved the water since childhood, when he fished in a rowboat with his dad and was a Sea Scout — had already enlisted in the Navy. He trained at Trinity College in Hartford (which had been turned into a naval installation), then finished midshipman school at Cornell.

He served — and took enemy fire — on the Wilkes Barre cruiser in Tokyo Bay, and along the Manchurian border.

After the war Schachter returned to Trinity, graduating in December 1947. He spent 30 years in advertising, in Hartford and New York, on accounts like Ford and Eastman Kodak, and moved to Westport to raise a family.

Long Island Sound was always an important part of his life. In the late 1960s Longshore’s E.R. Strait Marina was silted so badly, he and other boaters could get in and out only at mid or high tide.

Schachter helped form the Minuteman Yacht Club. As “the voice of boaters,” they pushed the town to improve the Longshore and Compo marinas. First Selectman John Kemish appointed him to the town’s 1st Boating Advisory Committee too.

The Compo marina — now named for former Board of Finance chair Ned Dimes — includes some of Schachter’s own docks. In the mid-1970s he learned of a new type of construction — using floating concrete, instead of rickety wood — and embarked on a 2nd career.

The Ned Dimes Marina at Compo Beach now includes Joe Schachter's concrete docks.

The Ned Dimes Marina at Compo Beach utilizes Joe Schachter’s concrete docks.

His Norwalk-based Concrete Flotation Systems company introduced floating concrete docks to the Northeast — and as far as Greenland and Bermuda. For 20 years he worked on projects for the Coast Guard and Army Corps of Engineers. He’s most proud of his 400th installation: the one at Compo.

The grand marshal — who has lived in the same house for 50 years, not far from Compo Beach — is well known too for his volunteer efforts with the Saugatuck River Power Squadron. “Safety on the water is important,” he says. “You can’t just buy a boat and go out on the Sound.”

Schachter was also an active member of the Norwalk Seaport Association. He helped start the Oyster Festival, and served as chair of the Maritime  Center’s marketing committee.

Off the water, Schachter spent several decades advocating for rail passengers. He helped found the Commuter Action Committee. As a member of the statewide Rail Advisory Task Force, he served 3 governors.

Schachter is honored to be named grand marshal of the Memorial Day parade. He follows in the footsteps of good friends like fellow WWII vets Barry McCabe, Leonard Everett Fisher and Neil Croarkin.

The World War II memorial on Veteran's Green, across from Westport Town Hall, includes Liberty J. Tremonte's name.

The World War II memorial on Veteran’s Green, across from Westport Town Hall.

A few days ago, he was still writing his speech. “It’s easy to stand up and say a few platitudes,” he noted. “I want to do more than that.”

After Monday’s ceremony, he may join many other Westporters in a Memorial Day tradition: a trip to Compo Beach.

“I’m so pleased to drive by, and see how it serves people,” he says.

Just as Joe Schachter has served his town — and his country — for so many years, in so many ways.

(The Memorial Day parade steps off on Monday [May 30], 9 a.m. at Saugatuck Elementary School. The Veteran’s Green ceremony at which Joe Schachter will speak begins immediately after the parade, approximately 10:30 a.m.)