The Staples High School Music Department celebrated the holiday season last night with its 82nd annual Candlelight Concert.
It was stunning.
The choral symphonic and jazz ensembles awed the full auditorium with their voices and musicianship. The program — from the traditional, lovely “Sing We Noel” through the stunning “Nutcracker Suite,” rousing “Jubilate Deo” and clever production number, to the powerful “Home Alone Suite” and rousing “Hallelujah Chorus” finale — was both proof that our town’s young artists are very alive, quite well (and superbly well-trained), and that even in times of uncertainty and division, all can be right in Westport.
Thanks to all who produced and participated in last night’s Candlelight. Two more (sold-out) concerts continue today.
The “Sing We Noel” processional. (Photo/Lynn Untermeyer Miller)
Did you know that black plastic can’t be recycled?*
So what can you do?
Bring your washed, clean, black plastic takeout food containers (and matching lids) to the Westport Farmers’ Market the next 2 Thursdays (December 22 and 29, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., Gilbertie’s Herbs & Garden Center, 7 Sylvan Lane).
Food containers will be used by Fridgeport Outdoor Food Pantry to repackage large trays of donated prepared foods into smaller portions for people facing food insecurity. Many recipients reuse the containers many times over.
The event is co-sponsored by Sustainable Westport and Food Rescue CT
*Why can’t black plastic be recycled? Optical sorting systems used to sort recycling cannot identify it as “plastic.” When black plastic is placed incorrectly with other items it contaminates the overall recycling stream reducing its value. In addition, black plastic has a hazardous level of toxins that increase in the recycling center. So whenever you can: Refuse or reuse black plastic!
The bar for our Entitled Parkers feature is extremely high. Usually, someone hogging 2 spaces won’t make the cut. “06880” readers demand something even more egregious: 3 spaces perhaps, or a vehicle completely covering a sidewalk.
But this Very Important Person takes today’s (Trader Joe’s) cake.
He — and you know it’s a guy —
Takes not just 2 spots, but they’re both handicap reserved.
Westport Sunrise Rotary’s guest speaker yesterday was Lexi Shereshewsky.
Founder and Executive Director of the Azraq Education and Community Fund (formerly The Syria Fund) — a non-profit providing education programs and hands-on humanitarian aid to Syrian refugees and other vulnerable families living in Jordan — she’s no stranger to the group. Sunrise Rotary is a longtime supporter.
Lexi Shereshewsky and Rick Jaffe, past president of Westport Sunrise Rotary.
“My wife and I moved to Westport about a year and a half ago, and fell deeply in love with Westport.
“I am an avid hiker, but have mostly struck out finding good hikes with great views. I’ve been through Devil’s Den, Lake Windwing and Bennett’s Preserve, but still feel like I haven’t fully figured it out.
“Can you ask your readers for suggestions? With fall coming, this is a great time to go hiking.”
Readers: Please help Thayer (and every other new resident/avid hiker). Click “Comments” below, and tell us your favorite trails.
Devil’s Den. Where else can Thayer hike this fall? (Photo/Claudia Sherwood Servidio)
“Driving around, I constantly see trucks stringing up new wiring on telephone poles. I wonder, given that there are only 3 companies (I believe) delivering cable services around here, are all of those fat wires still active?
“I asked one of the crews if they ever take down obsolete wires. The answer was that they have no clue. I suspect there are a lot of derelict wires, and taking them down is a cost the companies do not want to incur.
“Only the very top wires on the poles are actually power lines, and they are comparatively thin. It’s really unsightly wire pollution, and it’s getting worse all the time.”
Utility wires near Westport. Some may actually be in use. (Photo/Mike Brennecke)
Wynston Browne — the non-speaking autistic rising Staples High School senior, whose ability to communicate using a simple board device inspired and thrilled Westporters this summer — returns to The Porch @ Christie’s today (Monday, August 29, 12:45 to 2 p.m.).
During his visit earlier this month, he used his letter board to speak with customers. He answered questions about his life, in a session that was as gratifying for them as it was for him.
Wynston looks forward to meeting new friends again today, at the popular Cross Highway gathering spot.
Wynston and Elisa Feinman, at work with his spelling board.
I don’t care if you are from out of town. The sign is pretty clear: “Boat Launch Ramp/No Parking.” For extra clarity it’s paved, while all the cars around it are parked on grass.
But this Masshole didn’t care.
David Meth reports: “The driver took a photo of the sky while standing near the sign. She opened the back door, took out her folding chair and walked to another part of the beach. I was on my way out. I told one of the guys at the entrance.”
José Feliciano’s buoyant, jangly tune is 51 years old. Now — just in time for Navidad — a documentary about the life and music of the longtime Weston resident will be screened just a couple of miles away.
The Norwalk Film Festival will screen “Behind This Guitar” on Saturday, December 18 (7:30 p.m.) at the Wall Street Theatre. The movie follows Feliciano’s journey from growing up blind in Puerto Rico, to his 9 Grammy Awards and international acclaim. Click here for details and ticket information.
But several other Westporters were big contributors too. Hats off to Judy and Scott Phares, Eunice and David Bigelow, Kate and Bob Devlin, Joyce Hergenhan, Anna Czekaj-Farber, Mary Ellen and Jim Marpe, Christian J. and Eva Trefz, and Stacy and Howard Bass.
The show will go on — thanks to some very generous neighbors!
(From left): Shoshana Bean, Brandon Victor Dixon, Gavin Creel: stars of “Stars on Stage.”
If your property has or is adjacent to wetlands, a watercourse or a pond, all residents and contractors should “call before you dig.” If you’re unsure whether the property contains wetlands, call the Conservation Department: 203-341-1170.
The last year has seen an increase in violations. resulting in unpermitted building, cutting, clearing and filling of wetlands.
Violations cause owners having to cease work, appear at public meetings, pay fines and post bonds. Violations are also part of the public record.
It helps if he or she loves the New York Knicks. But a fan of any team — or any sport — can appreciate the passion of Fred Cantor. The 1971 Staples High School graduate and longtime “06880” contributor recently wrote Fred From Fresh Meadows.
It’s a loving account of the ups and downs of fandom, sure. There’s another reason to buy it though: All proceeds go to the John Starks Foundation. The Stamford-based nonprofit helps high school students afford college.
Angelo “Cookup” Veno — a true son of Saugatuck — died earlier this month, after a long and happy life.
Born in Saugatuck in 1928 to Louis and Mary Veno, he went through the Westport public school system. After school each day, Angelo manually set pins at the bowling alley downtown.
He was a 3-sport athlete at Staples High School, starring in football, basketball and baseball. After graduating in 1946 he played semi-pro football with the Westport Advertisers, and basketball with the Saugatuck Veterans, Westport YMCA and Clam Box 5.
Angelo also took up boxing, and had a 12-2 record as a pro. In 1986 he earned a Sportsman of Westport award.
In 1951 Angelo joined the Navy. He served for 4 years on the USS Howard D. Crow as an engineer. He joined the fleet’s boxing team, and lost only one fight.
Following his service he came back to Westport and helped coach the Westport PAL football team. He and his first wife, Judith Lissberger, had 2 children, Timothy and Belinda. Both remember their trips to New York Giants’ exhibition games in Pittsburgh, then straight to the Feast of San Gennaro in Little Italy for dinner.
Angelo married Theresa Karutz in 1984, a former Miss Atlantic City winner. He enjoyed spending time with his stepsons Wallace and William Karutz.
Angelo had a long and successful career in the world of construction as president and CEO of his company, AJ Veno Construction. He started the business as a window replacement company, and grew it into a full-fledged construction company. He built corporate buildings and residential homes for many years.
Angelo made friends and made people everywhere, from the local pizza restaurant to nurses caring for him. He loved spending time at Compo Beach, with friends or alone feeding birds.
Angelo is survived by his brother Joe and sister Theresa (Richard Valentine). He was predeceased by his sister Ida Lockwood. He is also survived by his children, Timothy Veno (partner Gwen Purcell) and Belinda (Richard Benincasa); grandchildren Richard (Nora Benincasa), Ryan (Noelle Benincasa) and Morgan Benincasa; many cousins, nieces and nephews, and his recent great-grandchild, Ryan Casey Benincasa.
A funeral is set for Monday (December 13, 10 a.m., Assumption Church) for a Mass of Christian Burial. Interment with full military honors will follow in Assumption Cemetery on Greens Farms Road. The family will receive friends in the Harding Funeral Home on Sunday (December 12, 2 to 6 p.m.) Click here to leave online condolences.
As Election Day looms, lawns and traffic islands will be filled with political signs. And the Westport Police Department will field complaints about the removal of them.
The WPD says:
“Residents and visitors are advised against taking it upon themselves to remove signs that do not belong to them, from either public or private property.
“The enforcement of the town’s rules is the responsibility of the town of Westport, not that of private citizens. The removal of signs from public or private property by someone not authorized to do so by the town, or by the owner of the sign, may constitute theft. Entering onto private property to remove signs may also constitute trespassing. Both of these acts can ultimately result in an arrest.
Town property includes traffic islands and road rights of way. It is not advisable to place signs on State of Connecticut property (including rights of way and islands along Routes 1, 136, 57, 33, and the Sherwood Island Connector, or on the exit or entrance ramps of I-95 or the Merritt Parkway) as the state may remove them.
In addition, signs may not be placed on school property without permission of the superintendent’s office, nor may they be put inside Compo Beach or Longshore, Town Hall, or on trees or utility poles. Signs my not interfere with traffic visiblity.
Signs on private property cannot extend beyond the property line or into the town right-of-way. They should be removed within 2 days after the election.
A recent “06880” story on the death of Hal Holbrook noted his 1959 Halloween appearance — as Mark Twain, of course — at Staples High.
I wrote: “The school had just opened its modern North Avenue campus. The PTA had an active arts program, bringing musicians, dancers and actors to the new auditorium stage. Hal Holbrook might have been the most famous name of all.”
Staples High School auditorium in its first year: 1959.
He sure had competition. As John Kelley notes, in those early days of the new high school, Ottilie Kaufman — who lived right next to the south entrance — organized and produced a one-of-a-kind, first-ever performing arts series at Staples that included (in addition to Holbrook) the Weavers, Marcel Marceau, Ferrante and Teicher, Odetta, Sir John Gielgud , Andrés Segovia and others.
Segovia — a world-renowned Spanish classical guitarist — died in 1987, at 94. But his legacy — and his visit here — lives on.
Soon after another legendary Latin musician — José Feliciano — turned 75 last year, our Weston neighbor received a gift: Segovia’s footstool.
Autographed. And from that March 1960 Staples concert.
A page from the 1960 Performing Arts series program.
The back story: Prior to his show, Segovia came to the Kaufmans’ home next door to the high school. He warmed up in the living room using that footstool. Many classical guitarists do that; it supports the instrument, as they play seated.
Growing up in Spanish Harlem in the 1950s, Feliciano was highly influenced by the skills and intrigue of Segovia’s delicate flamenco style.
The antique stool sat in the Kaufman family’s attics for decades — first on North Avenue, then at Ottilie and Zenn’s son Roger’s house. A guitarist, singer and founder of Old School Music’s concerts, promotions and events, he’s as famous locally as Feliciano and Segovia are internationally.
The stool seemed a fitting present for Feliciano, who always sits when he plays. Now the “Feliz Navidad” and “Light my Fire” Latin/jazz/blues/soul/rock musician is sitting pretty with Segovia’s stool in hand — er, under foot.
From left: local drummer Tyger MacNeal, Jose Feliciano and Roger Kaufman, with Andres Segovia’s footstool. The 75th birthday presentation was at Sakura.
In the fall of 1970, José Feliciano needed one more song to round out his upcoming Christmas album.
It took just 15 minutes to bang out a tune. The lyrics were simple yet warm; the melody, joyful and catchy. When he added a jangly cuatro to his guitar — and recorded it in just one take — he had a smash.
Fifty years later, “Feliz Navidad” remains one of the greatest holiday songs of all time.
It’s a worldwide classic, right up there with Bing Crosby’s “White Christmas” and Nat King Cole’s “Christmas Song.” Of course, José’s tune is a lot livelier than those chestnuts.
Now, as it reaches the half-century mark, “Feliz Navidad” is enjoying renewed attention.
Last month, José released a revamped version. It includes nearly every genre imaginable. The 30 artists from 9 countries include Lin-Manuel Miranda, Jason Mraz, Gloria Gaynor, Styx, Sam Moore, CNCO, Isabela Merced, Shaggy, Jon Secada, Rachael Ray, Big & Rich and Los Temerarios.
Michael Bolton sings too. But that’s not the only local connection to Feliz’s 50th.
A global livestream concert is set for this Sunday (December 20, 7 p.m.). Feliciano will be joined by Andrés Cepeda, Austin Jenckes, Haley Reinhart and Kalsey Kulyk.
José Feliciano is a longtime Weston resident. Assumption Church parishioners know him from his Christmas Eve entertainment there; Westport Y members see him working out at the gym.
Jose Feliciano and his wife Susan, at home in Weston. (Photo/Dorothy Hong for Wall Street Journal)
In a normal year, José would be performing all over the world. He’s spent previous Decembers everywhere from South America to the Vatican. (He also sang “Feliz” one summer in China. The audience joined happily in.)
In 2020, the pandemic kept him home. So he worked on many 50th anniversary projects — not just the livestream, but books (in English and Spanish), an animated film, merchandise like a stuffed bear and t-shirts, and more.
José and his son Jonnie spent Labor Day weekend in their home studio, recording answers to questions that people might ask Alexa about Jose.
This has been another active month. The other day — accompanied by Jonnie on drums, and his other son Michael on bass — José appeared on Jimmy Fallon. It too was taped at Factory Underground.
He’s also been on CBS’ “Sunday Morning” and Telemundo. He gave interviews to the New Yorker, Billboard and the AP, among many others.
“Feliz Navidad” is “simple and joy-filled,” José says. Its long-running popularity has been “a blessing” for him and his family.
The other 7 billion people on the planet appreciate it just as much. So, from José Feliciano’s Weston home, to the rest of the globe:
Feliz Navidad Próspero año y felicidad!
Click here for tickets to Jose Feliciano’s December 20 livestream. Click here for the link to the 50th anniversary recording on Amazon Music. Click here for all 50th anniversary information.
FUN FACT #1: “Feliz Navidad” has been recorded by everyone from the Three Tenors to the Wiggles. But Feliciano’s favorite versions are the videos sent in by fans, singing it themselves.
FUN FACT #2: “Feliz Navidad” is #10 on this week’s Billboard Hot 100 chart. (Hat tip: Mike Pryor)
A very creative director. He developed the E*Trade Baby, made a short film with Ron Howard that shortlisted at the Oscars, and won an Emmy for his work on Canon. These days, the Westporter heads his own creative consultancy, Sauce.
Halper’s daughter Reya sure inherited his creative genes.
Last year at Christmas, the Saugatuck Elementary School student picked up their black goldendoodle’s paw. Reya began singing: “Feliz Navidog.”
Halper asked about her take on our Weston neighbor Jose Feliciano’s lovable holiday anthem. “That’s Santa’s dog,” Reya replied.
The creative director’s creative brain kicked in. Reya loves to read! What a great idea for a children’s book!
Ari and Reya Halper, and their goldendoodle.
Most people would leave it there. Halper — and his daughter — are not most people.
Over the next several weeks they wrote several drafts. It was fun. And, they realized, they had a salable product.
As they searched for a publisher — and Halper stresses this was a collaborative effort, with Reya providing plenty of input — they realized how big and unwieldy the children’s book world is.
They eventually discovered a children’s self-publishing group. The control and speed of that option appealed to them. Halper went to a writer’s workshop, educating himself on the ins and outs (aka the challenges and perils) of self-publishing.
There were many.
One was finding help. They found one through Reedsy, an online site matching authors with professionals.
“She was great,” Halper reports. “I wanted the book to be very Dr. Seuss-ish. Anapestic tetrameter is very regimented. She really held me to meter.”
The next task was finding an illustrator. Halper and Reyna settled on a woman who clearly understood the concept.
She lives in Mumbai. Fortunately, the internet shrinks the world. Unfortunately, the time difference made their collaboration less than instantaneous.
In July — just as the project neared its end — someone asked Halper if Rudolph was in the public domain. The world-famous reindeer was a central character in “Feliz Navidog.”
Turns out there are still 7 years left in Rudolph’s copyright. Turns out also though that Rudolph’s management is controlled by Character Arts. The company is based right next door in Wilton.
Aha! Halper thought. What an in!
He told them his tale. It was the middle of the pandemic; people were looking for a feel-good story. He added some personal details. How about licensing the rights to Rudolph?
Halper got “a categorial ‘no.'”
Christmas was coming (at least, in the book publishing world). What to do?
Fortunately, every other character in the book — Santa, Mrs. Claus, the 8 non-Rudolph reindeer — are all fair game.
Halper and Reya devised a new hook. They rewrote the book. The illustrator redid 10 of the book’s 40 pages. Just like Rudolph’s guided sleigh ride, everything worked out in the end.
Of course, it still was not easy. Normally a book like this would be printed overseas. But COVID complicated matters. Printing was done in the US — at a higher cost.
The hardcover version should be available any day. The paperback and e-book versions are live now, on Amazon.
Oh, yeah: The plot. It’s Christmas, and Pittsburgh is covered in a terrible fog. Even worse, the reindeer all get sick and can’t fly. When all hope seems lost, Feliz Navidog — Santa’s pet — raises his paw to help.
The book’s lesson is all about overcoming obstacles. The father-daughter author team sure did.
Here’s wishing them much success.
And, of course, Feliz Navidad.
(To order “Feliz Navidog: The Story of How Santa’s Pet Dog Saved Christmas — click here. To learn more, click here. Hat tip: Jerri Graham)
Every year, Westport’s Sunrise Rotary raises nearly $100,000 from 2 events: The Duck Race, and a wine tasting gala.
Eighty percent of the proceeds are donated to organizations that serve the health, hunger, safety and education needs of adults and children from Stamford to New Haven. The other 20% funds disease prevention, health, peace promotion, education and economic development across the globe.
COVID -19 forced the cancellation of both fundraisers.
To partially fill the gap — and provide safe, fun activities that may also attract new members — Sunrise members collaborated with the Remarkable Theater. They showed “School of Rock” on the Imperial Avenue parking lot screen. The famous yellow duck — and a duckling — were there, welcoming movie-goers.
More events are planned. To learn more about membership, email
firstname.lastname@example.org. To support charitable giving, send a check to
Westport Sunrise Rotary, PO Box 43, Westport, CT 06881-0043.
Nothing is wrong. The convertible’s driver adjusted its hydraulics, for a comfortable viewing spot at the Remarkable Drive-In.
As a Staples High School student, Dylan Diamond made frequent appearances on “06880.”
At 15, he built an app that allowed classmates to view their schedules and grades — then rolled it out nationally, with hundreds of thousands of downloads.
He followed up with apps that helped skiers find buddies on the slope, and let users book everything from babysitters and yardwork to concert tickets.
Now Inc. has taken notice. He and Wharton School classmate Max Baron have gone all-in on Saturn, a calendar app.
Inc. says “they are working to build community around the calendar in high schools, with a big vision fueling them: to own the time layer of the internet.”
To hear Inc.’s podcast — in which the two discuss “why retention is social, how living together has given the co-founders an ‘always on’ mindset, and what they learned from their early work experience at Tesla and Havas” — click here. (Hat tip: John Dodig)
Dylan Diamond, in San Francisco. While still a Staples High School student, he scored a coveted invitation to Facebook’s F8 conference.
How bad are the wildfires out west?
Peter Gold notes that Connecticut has 3.548 million acres. As of Saturday, over 3.2 million acres have burned in California this fire season alone. In addition, 900,000 acres burned in Oregon, and over 600,000 more in Washington.
“It’s hard to imagine an area almost one-and-a-half times the size of Connecticut burned in just 3 states,” he says.
Battling a blaze in California.
Jane Mansbridge is a professor of political leadership and values at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government.
A recent Harvard Gazette story traces her “jagged trajectory” from her youth in Weston, and years at Staples High School (Class of 1957) to her current role as one of the world’s leading scholars of democratic theory.
She loved growing up in a small town. But, she says, she was bullied in Weston and at Staples for being “bookish and a smart girl.”
Realizing that not everyone liked the kind of person she was, or the values she held may have contributed to her later drive to find out more about people who were not like her, she says.
Click here for the full story. (Hat tip: A. David Wunsch)
Jane Mansbridge (Photo/Stephanie Mitchell for Harvard staff)
The porgies are in! This was the scene yesterday, at Sherwood Island State Park. Of course, fishermen always observe social distance.
And finally … On this day in 1814, Francis Scott Key watched a British bombardment of Maryland during the War of 1812. Inspired by the sight of an American flag still flying at daybreak, he wrote a poem. “The Defence of Fort M’Henry” was later set to music. In 1931 “The Star-Spangled Banner” became our national anthem. One of the most famous versions was sung by our wonderful neighbor, Weston’s Jose Feliciano, before Game 5 of the 1968 World Series in Detroit. It was controversial at the time; no one had ever delivered such a non-traditional rendition.
His performance nearly ended his career. But 42 years later — in 2010 — he was invited back to Detroit, to perform it again. This time, the crowd roared.
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