Tag Archives: Keep America Beautiful

Roundup: Fitness, Virtual Slice, Trash, More

When is downtown Westport not an outdoor shopping mall?

When it turns into a Fitness & Wellness Expo.

That was the scene yesterday. Pure Barre, JoyRide, Row House and Athleta sponsored outdoor classes on Main Street. Vendors like Restore Cryo, Fleet Feet and New England Hemp Farm helped educate consumers. Church Lane merchants added wellness specials.

Everyone wore masks. And if they didn’t have one, the Westport Downtown Merchants Association — sponsors of the intriguing event — gave them one.

Work it!

Among the participants: 2nd Selectwoman Jen Tooker and Police Chief Foti Koskinas, in the photo below:

Yesterday would have been the 9th annual Slice of Saugatuck. It got squashed by the coronavirus — but the Westport Weston Chamber of Commerce did the next best thing.

They produced a video, showing the shops, restaurants and people who make up that vibrant community. Whether you’re a newcomer, old-timer or long-gone Westporter, check below for a 6-minute stroll through Saugatuck.

One more Chamber note: They’ve added a 2nd “Supper & Soul” socially distanced tailgate show featuring Terrapin: A Grateful Dead Experience (Friday, October 2; 7 p.m.). Tickets go on sale Monday at 10 a.m.; click here.

Westporter Helen Lowman is president and CEO of Keep America Beautiful. Next Sunday — September 20 — her organization hosts its 2nd annual TrashDash. The goal is for people to create cleaner streets, parks, and waterfronts by “plogging” (picking up litter while jogging).

It will be held officially at Mill River Park in Stamford (the city where Keep America Beautiful is headquartered) — but anyone can join in their own community, wherever it is. Just grab a bag and gloves and pick up litte. You don’t even have to jog!

Click here for more information.

The Westport River Dancers performed at the Rowing Club yesterday. It was a cancer fundraiser for Norwalk Hospital’s Row for Recovery.

Check out these dancing queens (and one king): Debra Montner, Hilary Solder, Eva Grant-Rawiszer, Suzanne Harvey, Jill Alcott Ferreday and Michael Chait. All are Westporters — and they met their $10,000 goal!

And finally … Toots Hibbert, who introduced reggae to the world — died Friday in Jamaica. He was believed to be 77, and was reported to have suffered from COVID-like symptoms. He and his group — Toots and the Maytals — had international hits like this:

Gail Cunningham Coen Keeps Westport (And America) Beautiful

Gail Cunningham Coen knows a thing or two about keeping things beautiful.

Things like Compo Beach. Westport. America.

Growing up on Soundview Drive — in a house that withstood the 1938 hurricane — she learned carpentry, fishing and beach improvement from her grandfather, Frank Bosco. One of the founders of the Compo Beach Improvement Association in 1928, he passed along his love for the area’s ever-changing landscape to his granddaughter.

From the age of 9, Gail was the neighborhood gardener. Summer renters did not know how (or want) to take care of their yards. So she mowed, trimmed hedges, and “transplanted” flowers between different lawns.

Gail also made money selling clams (a penny apiece) and fish ($1 each). The price included cleaning.

Gail Cunningham Coen, in her Soundview Drive home. It's been in the family for nearly a century.

Gail Cunningham Coen, in her Soundview Drive home. It’s been in her family for nearly a century.

She went to Saugatuck Elementary School, Bedford Junior High and Staples (where she was president of the marching band). After eloping with her husband Terry on Christmas Eve, and earning a bachelor’s of music at Hartt, Gail taught piano.

But playing “Jingle Bells” during a Christmas commercial shoot for Chase Bank one hot August afternoon at Supreme Court justice Abe Fortas’ estate on Minuteman Hill — it’s a long story — got her hired by Promotion Development Corporation, across from the old Fable Funeral Home on Post Road West.

One of her assignments was running spring break for Anheuser-Busch, which sounds like a really good gig for a young woman. After stints with Glendinning, Reach Marketing and MasterCard — as vice president of global promotions and sponsorships — Gail landed a job at Keep America Beautiful.

She began work at the non-profit — the largest community improvement organization in the country — on January 4, 1999, almost exactly 15 years ago. It was, coincidentally, the day Iron Eyes Cody — “the Crying Indian” — died.

Among Gail’s many contributions to Keep America Beautiful, the Great American Cleanup stands out. She brought it to cities like New York, Los Angeles, Detroit, New Orleans and Las Vegas.

Gail was awed by the strength and wisdom of the local leaders she met. She was particularly impressed by what she saw on the Gulf Coast, following Hurricane Katrina. She was in the trenches — sleeping on a wet mattress, eating MREs thrown from army trucks — and watched admiringly as residents of Mississippi and Louisiana replanted their communities.

Gail met mayors all along the coast. She calls them “strong, loyal public servants.” She remains friendly with many of them.

The Gulf Coast drew Gail in. She’d never been there, but quickly appreciated its beauty, its hardy residents, and — of course — its music. Some of the best Keep America Beautiful rebuilding ceremonies featured marching bands and gospel choirs.

During a nor'easter, Gail Cunningham Coen welcomed Waveland. Mississippi mayor Tommy Longo to her Compo Beach home. They forged a strong friendship in the months following Hurricane Katrina.

During a nor’easter, Gail Cunningham Coen welcomed Waveland, Mississippi mayor Tommy Longo to her Compo Beach home. They forged a strong friendship in the months following Hurricane Katrina.

Gail has aided her home town too, of course. Even before joining KBA, she helped transform Compo Beach. During 15 years as president of the Improvement Association — the group her grandfather helped found — she worked with Joe Palmieri on a “traffic and beautification” effort. From the Minuteman statue to Soundview, plantings and speed humps slow drivers — and calm them.

There are now planters on Main Street, police headquarters, Town Hall and Assumption Church, among many other places.

“Beauty is contagious,” Gail says. “It’s not about 150 signs telling people to slow down. What works is plantings, which people can enjoy.”

Gail’s 15 years at Keep America Beautiful flew by. Now, she says, it’s time for a new challenge.

In the years since her piano teaching days, Gail has worked with community groups, corporations and non-profits. The next step, she says, is “putting it all together, somehow.”

She’s thinking globally. She’s excited to figure out what’s next.

Whatever it is, Gail Cunningham Coen is sure to do one more beautiful job.


Westport And The Gulf

As senior vice president of Keep America Beautiful — and managing director of its signature program, the Great American Cleanup — Westporter Gail Cunningham Coen is intimately familiar with the Gulf Coast.  She spent time there following Katrina; she’s made many friends, and even hosted a Mississippi mayor in her Compo Beach home.

Gail Cunningham Coen enjoying a boat ride with Mayor Chipper McDermott of Pass Christian, Mississippi. Note the huge, clean wake behind them.

Now Gail is back on the Gulf Coast.  After 5 public space restoration and beautification projects in Mississippi Gulf during the last 5 years, she’s embarked on a new challenge:  helping her beloved shoreline communities recover from an almost incomprehensible tragedy.

Which includes spreading the word that the BP oil spill is, in many ways, not like the media has portrayed.

“The oil has so far stayed way out in the Gulf,” she told “06880” this weekend.

“The beaches in Mississippi are clear, clean and beautiful.  The Mississippi Sound looks and feels much like Long Island Sound.  It has tides and clear, warm water, broad beaches and soft sand.”

Keep America Beautiful has provided Glad trash bags to its affiliates along the entire coast — all the way to Florida — for beach cleanup before any possible oil landfall (making flotsam and jetsam easier to handle if it does occur).

Fishermen have been hired for up to $5,000 per boat — per day — to guard the booms and look for oil.  Early each evening, they return to harbor in armada-like fashion.

“The seafood in the area can’t be beat,” Gail said.  “The people are warm, friendly, very hospitable — and so sincere.”  Gail encourages anyone who has not been there to visit, and see how great it is to vacation and live.

However, she added:  “Louisiana has been the 1st and main victim of this disaster.  That story is so sad.”

She arrived in New Orleans April 22.  It was the end of the Great American Cleanup Earth Day extravaganza in Times Square, with Miss America, New York VIPs and Broadway stars.

The oil rig had exploded 2 days earlier — and sank on Earth Day.  Gail drove south from the airport, through wonderful-smelling bayou under a half-moon sky.

She had never been to Grand Isle — nor had she heard of it.  Invited to attend the annual Small Gulf Coast Cities Mayors’ Conference, she looked forward to meeting folks whose communities benefited from her organization’s post-Katrina efforts.

Though the conference was upbeat, it was overshadowed by uncertainty about what lay ahead.  Grande Isle fishing camps — restored from hurricane damage, now elevated, attractive and modern — were filled with residents eagerly awaiting the busy season of sports enthusiasts and seafood lovers.

Beaches were pristine; the water sparkled, and pelicans soared in the breezy sky.  Important business discussions were mixed with feasts of jambalaya, gumbo, crayfish and rice and beans.  Wonderful conversations took place in swinging chairs — seating 4-6 people each — suspended from the underside of a building.

Gail had to leave later for meetings in New Orleans.  Her heart had been won long ago by the Gulf Coast; in the days that followed, it broke each day as she watched the disaster on TV.

Now, Gail is glad to be back in the area.  She’s touching base with her many friends, and is trying to lift spirits in small ways.  She is helping Keep America Beautiful share best practices with state leaders.

On Sunday she took a boat ride with the mayor of Pass Christian and his wife.  They looked around — and enjoyed a beautiful Gulf day.

“Take care of Compo Beach for me until I return,” she said.  “And please keep these people in your thoughts.”

Keeping America Beautiful

The wind roared yesterday afternoon at Compo.  The waves had whitecaps; sand blew sideways across the beach.  It was a weird way to welcome Tommy Longo to Westport.

It was his 1st time in Connecticut, but Tommy — Mayor Longo, that is; he’s the 3-term leader of Waveland, Mississippi — is no stranger to high winds and frothy waters.  Nearly 3 years ago his town was obliterated by Hurricane Katrina.

The mayor’s trip is a thank-you of sorts.  His host — Gail Cunningham Coen, whose Soundview Drive home offers a breathtaking view of the beach, whether fine weather or foul — is senior vice president of Keep America Beautiful.  Last year she masterminded her organization’s “Great American Cleanup” in Waveland.

Tomorrow Gail emcees a noontime event in Times Square.  Top New York City and federal government officials will be there; so will the cast of “Wicked,” Miss America — and Mayor Longo.  All will appear on enormous Jumbotrons at the crossroads of the world.  The mayor won’t be in Kansas — I mean, Mississippi — anymore.

Gail Cunningham Coen and Mayor Tommy Longo

Gail Cunningham Coen and Mayor Tommy Longo

He loves his town, but he’s happy to spread the word about Keep America Beautiful’s spectacular public-private partnership.  “We lost 95 percent of our homes, thousands of trees, flowers — even our insects,” he said Monday.  “Keep America Beautiful made it feel like home again.”

“After Katrina there were no birds, no sounds at all,” Gail noted.  “It was so eerie.  It was so wonderful to be able to help rebuild.”

“We’re flourishing now,” the mayor said.  “When the first oak trees sprouted, it was the start of a new beginning.  Then the volunteers came in.  Now when people drive down the road, they don’t see emptiness.  They see a beautiful, thriving community.”

Gail (who grew up on Soundview) enjoyed showing the beach to Tommy (whose boyhood Waveland home is a few steps from the  Gulf of Mexico).

“We’re so many miles away, but our towns are connected by living next to the water,” she said.

“Westport’s not Waveland, but I feel at home here,” the mayor added.  “It’s beautiful.  It reminds me of Waveland, pre-Katrina.”