Tag Archives: John Brandt

Roundup: Viet Vets, Swimming, Sports …

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It may have been lost in the run-up to Thanksgiving.

It shouldn’t be.

Earlier this week, John Brandt moderated a fascinating discussion with 4 Vietnam War veterans. Part of the Westport Library’s Oral History Project, it delved deep into the experiences of the quartet — all Westporters — and what it all means today.

Panelists included retired Army veterans Capt. Jay Dirnberger, Sgt. Preston Koster, Sgt. Bud Siegel, and retired Navy Lt. JG Tucker Mays. Click below to watch.

Missed it? No problem. Click below to watch.

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The broken record of Staples High School swim and dive team broken records continues.

The girls finished their season in style last weekend, with 4 state open record- breaking performances.

Freshman Annam Olasewere once again dominated the 50 and 100 yard freestyle events, with state open record times of 22.58 and 50.21. The 200 free relay team of Jessica Qi, Ella Alpert, Ayaan Olasewere and Annam Olasewere recorded a record 1:35.94. In addition, their record-breaking 3:27.46 in the 400 free relay qualifies them for All-American status.

Other outstanding swims came from Jessica Qi (4th in the 100 free, 8th in the 200 free). Divers Kate Whittaker and Mia Guster finished 13th and 17th respectively. Freshman Ayaan Olasewere was 12th in the 50 free and 13th in the 100 free, while senior captain Ella Alpert placed 10th in the 100 fly.

From left: Annam Olasewere, Jessica Qi, Ella Alpertm Ayaan Olasewere.

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Speaking of sports: A new tradition began on Thanksgiving Day.

A bunch of fathers — all relatively new to Westport — reserved PJ Romano Field behind Saugatuck Elementary School for the first-ever “Westport Dadz Turkey Bowl.”

Cones were set, football flags arranged, and teams picked. A good time was had by all. Even a few hamstring pulls could not keep these guys from smiling, and enjoying the rest of their holiday weekend.

(Photo/Josh Stern)

Meanwhile, a much older tradition — the Staples boys soccer Turkey Bowl — took place at Wakeman Field.

Over 60 current and past players worked up an appetite. There were alumni from as far as California and Texas, and as far back as Staples’ Class of 1975. Guys who just finished their college season showed their stuff. So did everyone else.

There were plenty of alumni spectators too. And the weather was perfect too.

The 2021 Staples soccer Turkey Bowl. (Photo/Barry Guiduli)

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Longtime Westporter Vermelle Miro died recently, at 88. Her funeral is set for today (Saturday, November 27, 11 a.m., St. Luke Church).

The Greenwich native had a variety of hobbies, interests and careers. She worked at Vogue magazine before opening the Westport Country Day Preschool in the 1970s.

“Mel” became a realtor in Westport in the 1980s, and enjoyed a successful career until she retired close to 40 years later.

She was a member of the Westport Young Woman’s League and Westport Rotary Club, along with many other civic groups.

Mel traveled around the world, learning about different cultures and viewing famous pieces of art. She was a talented artist as well.

Her family says, “Mel had a unique ability to connect with people on a deep level, providing a safe haven for her community of friends and acquaintances. She was a magnet to others, always willing to lend an ear to those who needed it. But er greatest joy came from her children and grandchildren.”

Mel is survived by her children, Donald (Kim Healy); son-in-law Chris Healy; grandchildren Ryan, Tyler and Brittany Healy, and grandson-in-law Steve Geiges. She was predeceased by her husband Donald Miro and her long-time partner, Patrick Mitchell.

In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the Alzheimer’s Association.

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On this holiday weekend — when all of us are stuffed — photographer Lou Weinberg says of this “Westport … Naturally” photo from Lansdowne Condominiums: “Hey, everybody’s gotta eat.”

(Photo/Lou Weinberg)

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And finally … Stephen Sondheim died yesterday, in Litchfield County. The legendary Broadway composer was 91.

The New York Times calls him an “intellectually rigorous artist who perpetually sought new creative paths … the theater’s most revered and influential composer-lyricist of the last half of the 20th century, if not its most popular.” Click here for Sondheim’s full obituary.

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.

Staples Orchestra Plays Boston Symphony Hall

Earlier this month, the Staples High School chamber orchestra took a field trip to Boston.

They enjoyed a master class with a Boston Symphony Orchestra bassist. They heard the BSO play.

Then they took to that historic stage — with its amazing sound — themselves.

Professional photographer (and Staples parent) Melani Lust accompanied the young musicians. Media instructor Jim Honeycutt took her wonderful images, adding music and comments from orchestra director Adele Valovich and several students. James Naughton recorded a prologue.

The result is a short but wonderful video journey, powerfully showing the magic of music.

Valovich says she has 3 roles as an educator: teach musical skills; instill love and respect for her material, and plant a seed for a lifetime love of the arts.

Watch the video below. See the smiles. Listen to the music.

The future of our arts is in good hands.

“It’s All About The Music”

There were many highlights at this weekend’s 75th anniversary Candlelight Concert

Scores of alumni traveled from across the country to honor the music that meant so much to them, so many years ago.

Candlelight logoWorld renowned musician David Ohanian (son of Candlelight founder John Ohanian) and former choral director Alice Lipson guest-conducted the “Hallelujah Chorus.”

The fruits of hours of donated labor — searchable digitized recordings from as far back as 1953, scanned photos, souvenir programs — were on display in the lobby.

But one of the coolest surprises came right at the start of each show. The lights dimmed — and instead of the “Sing We Noel” processional, audiences were treated to a 9-minute video.

Created and produced by John Brandt — a 1961 Staples High School grad who sang for George Weigle back in the day — it honors the long legacy of Candlelight.

But it does much more than that too. In a series of clips and brief interviews, it offers a powerful argument for the importance of arts in education. Generations of Westport students have become better, stronger, richer people thanks to the school system’s music program. This stunning video is a tribute to the men and women — and the town — that gave them that gift.

A Holiday Toast To (And From) Jr’s

John Brandt has been in Westport long enough to see a lot of changes. But some things never do. That’s why the Staples Class of 1961 grad was glad to send this report along:

From time to time, a vestige of the old Westport bubbles to the surface. Tonight was one of those times.

Jr’s Deli and Grill on Riverside Avenue has been a Westport fixture since the 1970s. That’s when Junior Bieling and his wife, Bedford Junior High School teacher, the former Carol Digisi, opened a great little breakfast and lunch spot.

Jrs - sign

Their nephew, Jeff Arciola, took over the business when they retired. He’s now handed it off to the current “chef,” Eric Johnson, and his “sous chef,” Joe. The ambiance hasn’t changed, nor has the clientele. It remains one of the warmest places in town.

Last night Eric invited his regulars, their families and friends, and anyone who loves great food and company to a holiday open house to celebrate the season and the continuation of a Westport tradition. We gathered to renew our commitment to one another and to the town we love.

The air was festive, the food and drink were terrific, but the company — commuters and contractors, lawyers and landscapers, retirees and working stiffs of every stripe — was a cross-section of what Westport was, is and will be. It’s friends and neighbors supporting one of the great places on Earth: our town.

Compo Beach Plan Gets Rocky Reception

A member of the Compo Beach Master Plan Committee called last April’s public meeting — where opposition to new proposals, particularly perimeter parking, surfaced strongly — a “flash mob.”

Last night’s meeting at Town Hall — the 1st time the Parks and Recreation Commission reviewed the plan — was far less contentious. Citizens waited patiently through the consultants’ presentation of conceptual — not final — ideas, and a few commissioners’ questions, before speaking.

But when they spoke, they voiced a number of concerns.

As First Selectman Jim Marpe noted, Compo is used in “an amazing number of ways, and in common.” He spoke of the importance of investing in, upgrading and improving areas of the beach “where it makes sense.”

Compo Beach: a town jewel, beloved by all.

Compo Beach: a town jewel, beloved by all.

Introducing 2 plans — Options A and B — Consultants AKRF and Lothrop Associates expressed the hope that “everyone will like everything,” but cautioned, “no one will like everything.”

They sure didn’t.

Both plans show:

  • a new entrance across from Bradley Street, with permit pass-checking deeper into the beach than now exists
  • a driving loop around the beach, with perimeter pathways for walkers, joggers and bikers
  • an extended boardwalk, toward the cannons
  • exercise stations
  • upgraded bathrooms, lockers and Joey’s
  • redesigned marina promenade
  • unobstructed parking spaces
  • new trees
  • improved facilities (including a bathroom) on South Beach
  • a central lawn for picnics and special events, like Lobsterfest
  • new walkways along Soundview Drive and Compo Beach Road.

Option A pushes all parking back from the beach. Option B removes some of that, but allows some parking similar to what now exists on South Beach.

Both plans remove 200 to 300 parking spaces from the current number, which is around 1900.

Parking is one of the most contentious parts of the 2 beach proposals.

Parking is one of the most contentious parts of the 2 beach proposals.

Parks & Rec chair Charlie Haberstroh allowed youngsters to speak first. Several spoke eloquently and passionately of the need to retain the skate park. It does not appear in the current plans, but Parks & Rec director Stuart McCarthy said room could be made for it.

Then came comments from older folks. An early question covered costs. New buildings would run approximately $4 million; site work would be another $4 million. (Paving alone — included in site work — is about $2 million.)

Speakers zeroed in on specific concerns: Bradley Street will become more congested. The amount of asphalt and concrete that would be added to what are now “pervious” parking lots. The number of kayak racks that would be lost (none, McCarthy said).

Among the comments:

“You’re sacrificing 200 to 400 parking spaces for lawn and shrubs.”

“Parking and views are there 365 days a year. Traffic problems, they’re only 40 days or so.”

“I don’t understand all the talk about safety. The Sound is more dangerous than the beach.”

John Brandt referred back to an earlier speech. “You don’t fracture a gem,” the longtime Westporter said. “You polish it. We need to find a way to polish this gem.”

Compo Beach: a true town gem.

Compo Beach is a true town gem.

As Compo Beach Master Plan committee chair Andy Moss noted, plenty of dialogue and debate lie ahead. The Compo Beach proposals — which are still only design concepts — must still make their way through the Recreation Commission. Then comes the Planning and Zoning Commission, the selectmen, back to Parks & Rec, back to P&Z, and finally to the town’s funding bodies (Board of Finance and RTM).

Meanwhile, Westporters will continue to debate what they want — and don’t — for the town’s crown jewel.

The dialogue began last night. It can continue here. Click “Comments” — but please, be civil. Debate ideas; don’t castigate people. And use your full, real name.