Tag Archives: Larry Aasen

Roundup: Horace Lewis Funeral, Skating, Trash …

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Services will be held this Saturday (January 8) for Horace Lewis. The beloved head custodian at Staples High School — and before that at Coleytown Middle School — died last month of complications from COVID, following a stroke. He was 62 years old.

The family will receive visitors from 10 to 11 a.m. at Kingdom Life Christian Church, 597 Naugatuck Avenue in Milford. The funeral service follows, at 11 a.m. Interment will be at Union Cemetery in Stratford.

Horace Lewis

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Larry Aasen’s family has sent along his official obituary. Here are more details, on one of Westport’s most remarkable residents:

Larry Aasen died on Sunday, January 2, at Norwalk Hospital. He was 99 years old. The cause of death was complications of COVID-19.

Larry and his wife Martha married in 1954. They moved to Westport in 1963. Martha died in October 2020, at 90.

Larry was born in a log house on a farm near Gardner, ND, on December 5, 1922, during a heavy snowstorm. There was no electricity, running water or central heating. His grandparents were immigrants from Norway.

He attended North Dakota State University from 1941 to 1943, then entered the U.S. Army. Larry rose to sergeant in the 13th Airborne Division. After training in North Carolina, he was sent to France during World War II. His job was cryptographer, encoding and decoding secret messages. His division had 20-person gliders. Their mission was to drop behind enemy lines and destroy anything of value.

One year after his 1946 discharge, Larry received a journalism degree from the University of North Dakota. He added a master’s degree in public relations from Boston University in 1949.

Larry moved to New York, where he began his career as a journalist for McGraw-Hill trade publications. He spent 14 years with New York Life Insurance, rising to vice president of public relations, then 20 years with the Better Vision Institute on campaigns urging Americans to get their eyes checked.

He was active in Westport’s civic life. He served 17 years on the Representative Town Meeting (RTM). Other volunteer activities include the Democratic Town Committee, Y’s Men and Rotary Club. He was an active member of the Saugatuck Congregational Church. In 2018, he served as grand marshal of the town’s Memorial Day parade

He wrote 4 books about his beloved North Dakota, including “North Dakota 100 Years Ago,” “Images of North Dakota” and “North Dakota Postcards 1900-1930.” “North Dakotans Never Give Up” was written when he was 97 years old.

Larry is survived by his children, David and Susan; son-in-law David Rutkin, and extended family members in North Dakota and Minnesota.

Because of the pandemic, there will be no funeral at this time. A memorial service will be held in the spring. His family requests that no flowers or gifts be sent to the Aasen residence. Instead, memorial gifts may be sent to Saugatuck Congregational Church (click here, or send to 245 Post Road East, Westport, CT 06880).

Memorial Day 2018 grand marshal Larry Aasen and his wife Martha. (Photo/Ted Horowitz)

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This week’s weather is great for skating, at one of  Westport’s 2 rinks.

That’s right. In addition to the Westport PAL Rink at Longshore, there’s another not far from downtown.

However, this one is private.

Josh Fass passed his love of hockey to his kids. Carter — a junior at Staples High School — plays on the boys varsity team. Lexie is a freshman; she skates for the Staples/Stamford co-op girls team. (The oldest is studying molecular and cellular biology in California.)

Creating a rink on their front lawn was a passion project last year, and a saving grace during the long COVID winter. The virus is still here — but thankfully, the rink is back.

The Fass family rink. (Photo/Mark Mathias)

A Westporter writes:

My husband and I have been doing a daily walk around our neighborhood. We see things that — well, shouldn’t be there.

So the other day we took a couple of bags with us. In just 20 minutes around the corner and back, we filled them (see photo below). We picked up something almost every 10 yards.

So here’s my “food (garbage) for thought”: Why does this happen in one of the wealthiest and most highly educated places in the country — in front of million dollar homes? I’m sure we wouldn’t see this on their living room floors.

In days to come, we’ll bring bigger bags. And maybe a truck, for the barbecue grill someone threw away.

A small portion of all the garbage collected.

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On Monday, “06880” reported on the cache of unopened tin cans Wendy Crowther found in a decaying Baron’s South tree.

Several readers speculated they might have been left there by a homeless person.

Wendy returned, and examined the labels. The oldest “Best By” date was February 28, 2017. Others were dated as late as 2022. A plastic jar of unopened peanut butter that rolled downhill from the rest had a “Best By” date of 2023.

Such dates dates typically range from 1 to 3 years, Wendy says. It’s hard to know who stashed the cans, and when. But, she adds, “No matter who, it’s a reminder that someone’s next meal may depend on the secrecy and integrity of a tree cavity, even here in Westport.”

Canned goods, in and near a Baron’s South tree. (Photo/Wendy Crowther)

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The Westport Book Shop starts the new year off with a different kind of Artist of the Month. Literary and visual artist Diane Meyer Lowman — our town’s poet laureate — offers 9 original haiku. Superimposed on a photo taken by Diane in Westport or close by, they’ll be exhibited in the store through January 31.

Lowman is a poet, author and essayist (click here to read). Her memoir Nothing But Blue was published in 2018. Shortly thereafter, she received her M.A. in Shakespeare Studies from the University of Birmingham.

Diane Meyer Lowman with her haiku, at the Westport Book Shop.

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Sarah Bloom Raskin is the leading candidate for vice chair of supervision at the Federal Reserve.

According to Axios, “By settling on Raskin, a former deputy Treasury secretary, for the powerful bank regulator position, [President] Biden is giving progressive senators like Elizabeth Warren a policy and personnel win on a position about which they care deeply.”

Raskin — a law professor at Duke University — served as a Federal Reserve governor before joining the Treasury Department under President Obama. She is married to Congressman Jamie Raskin of Maryland.

Why is this “06880”-worthy? She is the daughter of longtime Westporter Arlene Bloom and her late husband, Herb. (Hat tips: Mary Condon and Sheila Weiss)

Sarah Bloom Raskin

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Gulls are a constant summer presence at Compo Beach.

Unlike other birds, they don’t fly south for the winter. They’re still here, enjoying — like human non-snowbirds — the solitude of the shore.

Amy Schneider snapped this “Westprot … Naturally” photo yesterday:

(Photo/Amy Schneider)

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And finally … in honor of Amy Schneider’s photo (above), we present below:

 

Westport 2022: We Stand On The Shoulders Of Giants

What a way to start the new year.

In less than 48 hours, Westporters learned of the deaths of 4 neighbors.

Larry Aasen, Dick Berkowitz, Akiko Ikeda and Nick Rossi — all passed away over the past few days.

Three were in their 90s. One was 81.

Three spent most of their adult lives here. One moved here just 3 years ago.

All added immeasurably to Westport.

Larry Aasen was an avid and proud Democrat. He contributed to his party — but he reached across this aisle on the non-partisan Representative Town Meeting (RTM). With friends of all political persuasions, he pitched in enthusiastically to do whatever needed doing with the Y’s Men, Rotary Club, Saugatuck Congregational Church and more.

Dick Berkowitz was an attorney who touched nearly every facet of Westport life. He was elected to the RTM and Planning & Zoning Commission; was president of the Kiwanis Club and Birchwood Country Club; served on the boards of Staples Tuition Grants and Temple Israel; helped found what is now the Youth Commission, and coached basketball, football and baseball.

Clockwise from upper left: Dick Berkowitz, Larry Aasen, Nick Rossi, Akiko Ikeda (Dick Berkowitz photo/Ted Horowitz)

Akiko Ikeda made her mark with the elderly. She served in a variety of positions at the Senior Center, helping build it from the ground up. But she also chaired Community Nursery School board for over 15 years, and was president of Church Women United too.

Nick Rossi lived here for only 3 years; he moved in with his son’s family after his wife died. But he immediately became a beloved presence at the Senior Center, and his grandchildren’s arts and sports performances. Last spring, the World War II veteran was grand marshal of the Memorial Day parade.

All led remarkable, productive and fulfilling lives. If you haven’t yet read their full stories, click the links above.

But let’s reflect too on what they gave to Westport — and what their legacy means to us today.

Dick Berkowitz was 29 when he helped form Westport’s youth commission. For the next 55 years, he did whatever he could to make our town a better place.

Larry Aasen, Akiko Ikeda and Nick Rossi kept making Westport better well into their 90s.

As we begin a new year, we’re a town in transition. Over the past 2 years, our ranks have swelled with newcomers. Many are young families, leaving cities for different lives. They chose this community because it is a community.

We are blessed with superb schools, wonderful arts and recreational facilities, an astonishing library, and vibrant organizations serving every interest imaginable.

But we need many more Larry Aasens, Dick Berkowitzes, Akiko Ikedas and Nick Rossis to sustain them.

And sustain us.

Whether you knew some or all of these remarkable individuals, or never heard their names, the challenge is the same: Honor their legacy by doing what you can to make Westport better.

As they proved, you’re never too young — or old — to start.

Remembering Larry Aasen

Larry Aasen — one of Westport’s oldest, most beloved residents, and a man who with his late wife Martha contributed immeasurably to the town in countless ways — died this morning at Norwalk Hospital. He was 99 years old.

Martha died in October 2020, age 90. An improbable couple — he was from North Dakota; she was from Mississippi — they prodded and nurtured this town, both politically and civically. They moved here in 1963, and lived here until their deaths.

The family will issue a more complete obituary soon, along with information on memorial donations. A memorial service will be held this spring. They request that no flowers or gifts be sent to the Aasen residence.

In 2018 — when Larry served as grand marshal of the Memorial Day parade — I wrote this:

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“This is incredible. I’m 95. At my age, you don’t get many awards.”

That’s Larry Aasen’s reaction to being named grand marshal of the 2018 Memorial Day parade.

The World War II airborne sergeant — and 55-year Westport resident — will ride the route from Riverside Avenue down the Post Road, and up Myrtle Avenue to Veterans Green, on Monday, May 28. There, he’ll give the keynote address.

Aasen — and many other Westporters — hope the 3rd time’s the charm. The 2 previous Memorial Day parades have been canceled due to weather. The grand marshals delivered their addresses in the Town Hall auditorium.

Larry Aasen, at last year’s Memorial Day parade.

Aasen has a lot to talk about.

He was born in a log cabin in the middle of a North Dakota snowstorm. There was no electricity, running water, central heating — not even a bathroom.

Aasen rose to sergeant in the 13th Airborne. After training in North Carolina, he was sent to France. His division had 20-person gliders, with no protection. The mission was to drop behind enemy lines, and destroy anything of value. Gliders had a 70% casualty rate, Aasen says.

His job was cryptographer, encoding and decoding secret messages. He had a security clearance from the FBI.

After his discharge in 1946, Aasen earned a journalism degree from the University of North Dakota. He headed east, for a master’s at Boston University.

Aasen moved to New York, “to seek my fortune.” He spent 14 years with New York Life Insurance, rising to vice president of public relations, then 20 years with the Better Vision Institute on campaigns urging Americans to get their eyes checked. Aasen worked with Bob Hope, Muhammad Ali and other celebrities on those projects. (He’s also met 6 US presidents.)

When they posed for this photo, President Obama said to Larry Aasen, “let’s put the rose (Martha Aasen) between 2 thorns.”

In 1963, he, his wife Martha and their young children moved to Westport. “We needed more room than a New York apartment,” he explains. “There were a lot of media people here, and they loved it.”

He and Martha live in the same Ellery Lane house they bought over half a century ago. He calls it “the best investment we ever made.”

Aasen served 17 years on the Representative Town Meeting (RTM). His other volunteer activities include the Democratic Town Committee, Y’s Men, Rotary Club and Saugatuck Congregational Church.

Larry and Martha Aasen have not missed a Memorial Day parade in 54 years. This year, he’ll have a special role in it.

A well-deserved honor for one of Westport’s favorite 95-year-olds.

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There’s this story too, from when Larry turned 95 years young in 2017:

On December 5, Larry Aasen turns 95 years young.

As the big day nears, he’s going through scrapbooks and albums. Recently, in the Ellery Lane home he and his wife Martha have lived in for 54 years, Aasen recalled some intriguing stories.

He was born in 1922, in a log cabin in the middle of a North Dakota snowstorm. There was no electricity, running water, central heating — not even a bathroom.

When he got to New York City in 1949, he heard about a Times Square “gag writers school.” The $5 tuition was put into a hat, at the beginning of class.

Aasen went on to work for the Better Vision Institute. Its mission was to encourage regular eye exams.

The organization used celebrities in its ads. Because he had eye problems, Bob Hope did radio and TV ads for free. Toward the end of the comedian’s career, Aasen did a fundraiser with him in Miami. He was tired and weak. But when the spotlight hit him, he did a jig, picked up his violin and performed well.

Bob Hope (left) and Larry Aasen (right).

One day, a friend gave Aasen Muhammad Ali’s phone number. Aasen told the boxing champ the BVI wanted to use his photo on a poster. Ali, however, was more concerned about how Aasen had gotten his number.

Aasen explained that the poster would read, “Your fists can’t hit what your eyes can’t see!” Ali yelled “Okay!” — then slammed down the receiver.

Aasen and his wife are political junkies. In his long life, he’s met 6 presidents.

In 1950, while working as a writer/photographer for the Journal of Accountancy in New York, he was assigned to take photos of CPAs at the Waldorf Astoria. Hurrying over, he knocked down a frail old man. When he got up, Herbert Hoover gave Aasen a stern look and said, “Watch where you are going!”

Five years later, in Kansas City, Aasen learned where Harry Truman parked his car for his daily walk to work. Sure enough, at 8:15 a.m. he drove up.

It was snowing hard. The former president was all alone. Aasen asked if he could walk along. Truman smiled, and asked Aasen where he was from.

He said North Dakota, and that his wife was from Mississippi. The two men talked about those states’ senators, as well as the Hayes/Tilden “stolen” election of 1876. Then, after a firm handshake, Truman bounded up the office steps.

Martha and Larry Aasen.

In 1960, Martha’s father was a Mississippi delegate to the Democratic convention. The state shared a “very poor hotel” with the Wyoming delegation. Though they were small, and seemingly unimportant at the end of the roll call, candidate John F. Kennedy arrived at the hotel to meet them.

Kennedy jumped out of a car, and shook Aasen’s hand. That night, Wyoming’s votes gave Kennedy the Democratic nomination for president.

Ronald Reagan, Aasen says, was even better looking than his photos. Martha and he first met him at a motel in San Mateo in 1963, after a Rotary speech. The actor invited a group to his suite. He told jokes, in a disarming way.

The Aasens saw Reagan other times too, when he promoted the “GE Theater Show.”

In 1975, Aasen was in Atlanta. Jimmy Carter walked down a hotel hall, put out his hand, introduced himself and said he was running for president. He invited Aasen to a speech.

That night he spoke quietly, describing his plans for the country. Aasen thought it was too bad that such a “intelligent, decent man” might never be president. Of course, he laughs, “Carter didn’t know that.”

Larry and Martha Aasen, and then-1st Selectwoman Diane Farrell Goss greet President Clinton. His helicopter landed at Sherwood Island State Park.

Bill and Hillary Clinton visited Westport often, usually to meet donors. Aasen says he often forgets how tall the president is, and how he is “always in motion. He has that skill of connecting with his audience — and he will not let them go.” Clinton loves to talk — “which is why he is always late.”

As for Barack Obama: Once, leaving a stage, he posed for a photo with the Aasens. “Let’s put the rose between the 2 thorns,” Obama suggested.

President Obama and Larry Aasen flank “the rose”: Martha Aasen.

Happy upcoming 95th birthday, Larry Aasen. Here’s hoping you meet many more presidents — and have many more stories — in the years to come.

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And this, from June of 2019 … because as much as Larry Aasen loved Westport, he never forgot his North Dakota roots.

Larry Aasen has just written his 4th book about North Dakota.

That may be a world record.

“Very few people write books about North Dakota,” the Peace Garden State native and longtime Westporter says modestly.

“Then again, very few people live in North Dakota, period.”

At 96 years old, Aasen still has all his wits — and his wit.

So I should note here: Very few 96-year-olds write books, period.

Aasen’s oeuvre includes “North Dakota 100 Years Ago,” “Images of North Dakota” and “North Dakota Postcards 1900-1930.” The postcards are fascinating — some are from his parents’ collection (they corresponded that way when they were courting, and lived 30 miles apart) — and so are the photos his mother took using a new-fangled camera (they were sent to Minneapolis to be developed, and arrived back 3 weeks later).

Larry Aasen has written 4 books. All focus on North Dakota.

His latest book — “North Dakotans Never Give Up” — goes beyond images, postcards and history. It’s a personal memoir, weaving together Aasen’s youth in the still-pioneer state with the inspiring story of residents who overcame great adversity, and achieved big things.

(Eric Sevareid, Lawrence Welk and Peggy Lee, to name 3.)

“The Depression was a terrible time,” Aasen says of his youth. “Many young people in North Dakota today have no idea. There were grasshoppers, drought — you name it.”

Those North Dakotans who never gave up survived by raising cows, turkeys, chickens and pigs. They made their own food. They built chairs and benches out of wood they chopped. They were self-sufficient. They had to be.

“Winters were tough,” he says. “Kids really did walk to school in the snow.”

He was one of those kids. And he’d go to school after milking cows. “We smelled. The town kids teased us,” he recalls.

Larry Aasen’s garage is filled with North Dakota — and political — memorabilia.

Aasen’s grandparents were certainly tough. All 4 lived into their 80s. Their stories form an important part of the new book.

“Weak people died,” Aasen says. His grandparents never went to the hospital. They didn’t even have medical care.

“It cost $1 for the doctor to come to the farm. That was too expensive.” He doesn’t remember ever seeing medicine in the house — “except maybe cough syrup.”

His mother kept a diary, which he still has. “She would talk about whatever happened that day,” Aasen says. “‘Today an airplane flew over the farm.’ ‘We butchered a pig.’ ‘Hoover was elected president.’ There were a lot of bank robberies too.”

Larry Aasen’s mother’s 1929 diary (left), and 2 pages from 1937.

Aasen is an assiduous researcher. He spent 9 months writing the most recent volume — and did all the layout too. (His son-in-law got it copy-ready.)

“I’m 96, but I’m too busy to be a senior citizen,” Aasen — whose Mississippi-born wife Martha, 89, is equally active — says.

Aasen’s books sell well — and all over the country. They’re bought by libraries, universities, people who live in North Dakota, and those who have left.

They’re reviewed regularly in publications like the Bismarck Tribune, Grand Forks Herald and Forum of Fargo.

Aasen promotes his books himself, partly through direct mail. After 4 volumes, he’s built up a robust mailing list. (Robust by North Dakota standards, anyway.)

He used to go back every year. His trips now are less frequent.

“I had 31 cousins there. Now there’s 1,” Aasen says. “My classmates, my Army mates — they’re all gone.”

Memorial Day 2018 grand marshal Larry Aasen and his wife Martha. (Photo/Ted Horowitz)

Larry and Martha Aasen moved to Westport in 1963. They’ve been involved in town life — too many activities to count — ever since.

But nearly 6 decades later — after nearly a century on the planet — Larry Aasen still loves his home state. And he’s proud to honor the people he grew up with there.

“A lot of people today, if they can’t get a job they sit around feeling sorry for themselves,” he says.

“In North Dakota, you couldn’t do that. You’d starve.

“You had to be tough, and figure things out.”

Like his book title says: North Dakotans Never Give Up.

Roundup: Holiday Stroll, Kids’ Vaccine, Larry Aasen …

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New merchants are signing up every day for “06880”s first-ever Holiday Stroll.

It’s next Saturday (December 11), 4 to 7 p.m., downtown.

Staples’ elite Orphenians will sing. Don Memo will provide hot apple cider, on their patio. There’s face painting for kids, and an ugly sweater contest for everyone.

Santa will hang out by Savvy + Grace. He’ll pose for photos with kids, who can also drop off self-addressed letters to him. They’ll be mailed back, with a personal note.

Among the special shopping offerings:

  • 20% off at Allison Daniel Designs (Sconset Square) and WEST.
  • Free topaz or pyrite crystal at Age of Reason.
  • Something special from Franny’s Farmacy.
  • Garlic knots at Joe’s Pizza.
  • Silk mask giveaway at Calico.
  • Spend $150-$250, get 10% off. Spend $250-$500, get 15% off. Spend $500 or more, get 20% off at Kerri Rosenthal.
  • Sorelle Gallery offers festive beverages to sip while browsing artwork, plus a giveaway. Sign up for their email list and select a free print, while supplies last.
  • A free gift to children who stop by The Toy Post between 4 and 6 p.m. Saturday (they close at 6).
  • Buy one, get 1/2 off of Whip Salon brand products
  • 20% off all holiday items at Westport Book Shop.
  • Adult holiday beverages and 10% off a full-price purchase to anyone mentioning the “06880” blog at Nic + Zoe.
  • Hot chocolate at Le Rouge ChocolatesRye Ridge Deli and Winfield Street Coffee.
  • Hot chocolate and holiday treats at The Fred Shop.
  • 1 free health and wellness coaching session from Dark Horse Health and Wellness (Playhouse Square; stop by or call 203-349-5597).

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Meanwhile, earlier next Saturday — from 10:30 a.m. to noon — Westport Book Shop sponsors its own first-ever Winter Family Fest. It’s on Jesup Green, right across from our favorite used book store.

Kids will enjoy snowflake-themed crafts, games and story reading (indoors!). There’s hot chocolate and goodies for all too, courtesy of The Porch @ Christie’s.

The Family Fest takes place on Jesup Green, across from Westport Book Shop.

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Yesterday’s second COVID vaccine clinic for 5-to-11-year-olds was another hit.

Kids and their parents poured into the Staples High School fieldhouse, for their second dose. Westport Weston Health District, school district and Westport Community Emergency Response Team personnel handled the crowd efficiently. Youngsters were excited to receive another jab. (Their parents were too.)

One protester stood near the entrance. Whitney Krueger (photo below) held signs reflecting her belief that not enough information has been provided about the vaccine.

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Today is Larry Aasen’s 99th birthday.

He heads any list of great Westporters — and not just because his last name is first.

A World War II veteran and Westport resident since the 1950s, he’s had a long, distinguished career serving our town, in politics and many other ways. In 2018, Larry was the Memorial Day grand marshal.

He’s also the author of 4 books about his beloved home state, North Dakota.

Larry’s wife, his beloved Martha, died in October 2020. She was 90. They had been married for 66 years.

I know all of Westport joins me in wishing Larry Aasen a wonderful 99th birthday!

Larry Aasen, with his books. (Photo and hat tip/Dave Matlow)

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The inaugural Chris Frantz Emerging Artists concert — produced by the Westport Library and Westport Weston Chamber of Commerce — was a hit.

Last night, 200 music lovers enjoyed Lulu Lewis and The Problem with Kids. The next concert will be announced soon.

The Problem with Kids, at the Westport Library’s Trefz Forum last night.

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For 2 months, Netflix has been filming “Mr. Harrigan’s Phone,” all around the area. The Stephen King thriller stars Donald Sutherland and Jaeden Martell.

The most recent site was Sherwood Island State Park, by the old stables. Intrigued beach-goers spotted tents, trailers and lights near the wood last week.

Preparing to shoot “Mr. Harrigan’s Phone.”

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“Extraterrestrial Life: Are We the Sharpest Cookies in the Jar?”

That’s the provocative title of the Westport Astronomical Society’s next virtual lecture. Harvard professor Avi Loeb speaks via Zoom (click here) and YouTube (click here) on December 21 (8 p.m.).

PS: No one know the answer. But I do know this: If we were the smartest beings in the universe, we wouldn’t have to ask.

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Chris Robison — noted musician, teacher, gay rights activist and a longtime Westporter — died this week. He was 73.

Born Harold Alton Meyer in Wellesley, Massachusetts, Chris made his mark in the New York City rock ‘n’ roll scene of the 1970s as a member of the New York Dolls, Elephant’s Memory, Steam and Stumblebunny. He was also a music teacher here for over 30 years.

Chris recorded with John Lennon, Keith Richards, Papa John Phillips and Gene Simmons.

With Elephant’s Memory he toured with Aerosmith, Rare Earth and Billy Preston, and played a Circle Line tourist boat gig — hosted by the Hell’s Angels — with Bo Diddley and Jerry Garcia.

The New York Dolls toured Japan with Jeff Beck and Felix Pappalardi. A crowd of 55,000 jammed Tokyo Baseball Stadium to hear them play. Click here for a longer “06880” story on Chris’ musical exploits.

His family says, “His relentless passion for artistic expression and civil rights will be treasured for years to come.”

Chris is survived by sons Dexter Scott of Brooklyn and Tiger Robison of Laramie, Wyoming; sisters Laurel Meyer of Wellesley, Wendy Woodfield and Marilee Meyer of Cambridge, Massachusetts; brother Bruce Meyer of Camden, Maine, and 3 grandchildren.

A memorial service is set for this Tuesday (December 7) at MoCA Westport, from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Chris Robison

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If every business was as well landscaped as Tiger Bowl — well, they’d all be featured on our “Westport … Naturally” page!

(Photo/Ellen Wentworth)

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And finally … Chris Robison led quite a life (see his obituary above). We honor him here with these videos.

He was not in “Steam” when they recorded their signature (and only) hit (in Bridgeport). The band did not even exist; “Steam” was just studio musicians.

But the label wanted a tour. Chris joined the group that played 28 states, in a  grueling 3-week tour of 1-night stands, TV shows and festivals. They shared the bill with Bob Seger and MC5, among others. “Steam” played all original material; the only obligation was to start and end each set with …

His next gig — with Elephant’s Memory — included this 1974 song:

Then it was on to the New York Dolls. They were a key influence on later punk, new wave and glam metal groups like the Ramones, Blondie and Talking Heads.

Later Chris formed his own band, Stumblebunny, which toured the UK and Germany with the Hollies.

He recorded solo, too.

Thanks for the music and the memories, Chris!

Roundup: Garage Renovation, Mike Krysiuk, Larry Aasen, More


Want to celebrate New Year’s at home, but worried about asking guests inside? And no fire pit or hot tub outside to gather round?

Take a page from Claudine Rossman’s book. She and her family converted their Saugatuck Shores garage into a “lodge.” On Christmas Eve a small family group gathered — tested, masked, socially distant, and with the door opened as much as it needed to be.

It’s a great idea. But if you want to do the same for tonight, get busy. This project looks like it took a while.

Claudine Rossman’s garage before …

… and after.


In 1974, Mike Krysiuk was having a great senior year at Staples High School. He played baseball, and worked at Mario’s. But a devastating automobile accident left him with a traumatic brain injury and many broken bones.

He’s well known in his home town, for the motivational talks he gives and the 25 years he’s spent working in Town Hall.

Now Mike has written The Big One: Miracles Happen when You Shoot for the Sun, about his youth in Westport.

He shares insight about his astonishing comeback from the unimaginable, fueled by dogged determination and a dream.

His co-author — award-winning writer Julia Bobkoff — is the co-founder of Westport’s Christmas Lake Creative writing workshop.

The Fairfield University Bookstore host Mike’s virtual book launch on January 14 (7 p.m.); click here for the link. To purchase The Big One, click here.

Mike Krysiuk


Meanwhile, Larry Aasen has just compiled his 9th book — at 98 years old.

The latest effort from the indefatigable, longtime Westporter — who has also authored a possible world record 4 books about his native North Dakota — is Stolen Jokes and Swiped Cartoons.

With illustrations by the late, beloved Westport illustrator Howard Munce, the booklet has gags like this: “A 90-year-old man was complaining. He said, ‘My eyesight is not very good, and I can’t hear too much. Thank God I can still drive a car.'”

To order, email aasenm@aol.com, or call 203-227-6126.


Westporters can’t get enough of this end-of-the-year Full Cold Moon. Jeanine Esposito shares these great shots:

Over the Cribari Bridge …

… and the Saugatuck River (Photos/Jeanine Esposito)


Marcelle Smart — one of a corps of young teachers at Staples High School in the mid- and late-1960s — died recently December 21, from vascular dementia. She was 77 years old.

The French instructor then moved to New Hampshire with her husband, Staples graduate “Doc” Hagen, and raised 2 children. 

Former colleague Jeff Lea remembered her as “very bright, and student-centered.” She graduated from the University of Michigan, and earned a master’s in teaching at Johns Hopkins.

Donations in her memory may be to the Special Friends program at The Worship Place, 811 Sun City Boulevard, Georgetown, TX 78633.

Marcelle Smart, in the Staples High School 1969 yearbook.

And finally … for generations of American’s, it’s not New Year’s without “Auld Lang Syne.”

And it’s not “Auld Lang Syne” without Guy Lombardo and his Royal Canadians.

The orchestra played almost half a century of New Year’s Eves, first on radio — from the Roosevelt Grill in New York in 1928 — and beginning in 1956 on television, first from the Waldorf Astoria and then Times Square. Lombardo died in 1977, but his band continued playing on CBS for 2 more years.

“Auld Lang Syne” is a poem written by Robert Burns in 1788, and set to the tune of a traditional Scottish folk song.

 

Remembering Martha Aasen

Westport lost one of its most beloved residents yesterday. Martha Aasen — who with her husband Larry was a force in local and state Democratic politics for decades, but who also worked tirelessly for a variety of bipartisan civic causes — died yesterday in Norwalk Hospital of complications from a fall last weekend. She was 90 years old.

The Mississippi native and her North Dakota-born husband were a powerful pair. His politics came from the populism of the prairie; hers were sparked by President Franklin D. Roosevelt, and the injustices she saw growing up in the segregated South.

After graduating from the University of Mississippi, she worked for McGraw Hill. Her editor, Larry Aasen, became her husband. They married in 1953, and moved to Westport a decade later. They raised their children David and Susan on Ellery Lane.

Memorial Day 2018 grand marshal Larry Aasen and his wife Martha. (Photo/Ted Horowitz)

Martha Aasen later worked in public relations for the United Nations, and for International Executive Service Corps in Stamford.

Her long service to the Westport Democratic Women earned her its coveted Silver Donkey Award. The Yellow Dog Democrat Award is named in her honor.She was proud of meeting a host of politicians, including Presidents Bill Clinton and  Barack Obama, when they came to town.

The Westport Democratic Town Committee says:

Martha was ever-present, inspirational, and loved by all who had the honor to serve alongside her. She rarely missed an event, and always volunteered to help our candidates in any way she could.

We all learned so much from her sharing her experiences. She was a pleasure to talk to – always smiling, full of interesting stories, and offering words of wisdom and encouragement. She will be sorely missed by so many in Westport, but none more than those of us who had the opportunity to spend time with her on the DTC.

But politics was not all Martha did. She founded the Y’s Women in 1990. She held numerous positions various town boards, including president of the Westport Library Board of Trustees.

She was an active member of the Senior Center, and served on the board that was responsible its recent expansion.

The Sunrise Rotary Club presented Martha with its Paul Harris Award. for “service above self.”

Information on services has not yet been released.


In August 2012 — right before the Democratic National Convention  — I posted this story about Martha and Larry Aasen.

In 1960, Martha Aasen was living in California. The Democratic National Convention was held in Los Angeles.

Martha came from a family of avid Democrats. Her father was a convention delegate from their native Mississippi. Her brother wangled a job as a driver for Stuart Symington, one of several men still jostling for the nomination.

Martha and her husband Larry got a room with the Mississippi delegation, in a rundown Spanish-style hotel on the outskirts of L.A. They had just checked in when another candidate appeared. It was John F. Kennedy, on his way to meet the Wyoming delegation at the same “crummy hotel.”

Martha walked up to the Massachusetts senator. He took her hand, and looked straight at her. Half a century later, she remembers his “unbelievable charisma.”

Kennedy’s visit paid off. On the night of the roll call, Wyoming’s 15 votes gave him the nomination over his closest rival, Texas senator Lyndon B. Johnson.

Though longtime Westporters Martha and Larry Aasen have been active in Democratic politics — and attending conventions — ever since, 1960 was not their first. Four years earlier, one of Larry’s North Dakota Republican friends got them into the Republican convention at San Francisco’s Cow Palace. They watched as President Eisenhower and Vice President Nixon were renominated.

Fannie Lou Hamer faces the Democratic credentials committee.

In 1964 the Aasens were in Atlantic City. Martha’s mother was a Mississippi delegate. That year, the biracial Freedom Democratic Party challenged the seating of the state’s all-white delegation. Fannie Lou Hamer gave a rousing speech. The governor urged his white delegation to walk out. Most did. Martha’s mother was one of the 3 or 4 who did not.

Forty years later, in 2004, Martha was a delegate at the Boston convention.  Connecticut was seated next to Mississippi. Thousands of delegates — of all races — paid tribute to the work of Fannie Lou Hamer, and other brave people who fought for civil rights.

The Boston convention also featured an electrifying keynote speech by Illinois legislator Barack Obama. “Everyone there knew we were hearing someone special,” Martha recalls.

When they posed for this photo in 2016, President Obama said to Larry Aasen, “let’s put the rose (Martha Aasen) between 2 thorns.”

Martha was in Denver 4 years ago, when Obama was nominated for president.

She’d been back in Los Angeles in 2000, too. That was one of the few times  Connecticut had good seats. They were seated right in front, next to Tennessee. The reason, of course: Al Gore’s running made was Joe Lieberman.

Martha missed the 1968 Chicago convention — perhaps the most famous of all — as well as the others before 2000. She was working for the United Nations, and could not be actively involved in domestic politics.

Now 82, she looks forward to the upcoming Charlotte convention. The event has changed since the JFK days — more security, less spontaneity, and the nominee is known in advance — but they’re still exciting.

“It’s more of a pep rally,” Martha says. “You hear speeches, and realize why you believe so strongly in what you do. You go home energized, eager to support your candidate.”

And who knows? Some day, once again, a candidate may come calling on Connecticut. Just as John F. Kennedy did with Wyoming back when he needed a few more votes, wherever they were.

Larry and Martha Aasen, and then-1st Selectwoman Diane Farrell Goss greeted then- President Clinton. His helicopter landed at Sherwood Island State Park.

Larry Aasen: “North Dakotans Never Give Up”

Larry Aasen has just written his 4th book about North Dakota.

That may be a world record.

“Very few people write books about North Dakota,” the Peace Garden State native and longtime Westporter says modestly.

“Then again, very few people live in North Dakota, period.”

At 96 years old, Aasen still has all his wits — and his wit.

So I should note here: Very few 96-year-olds write books, period.

Aasen’s oeuvre includes “North Dakota 100 Years Ago,” “Images of North Dakota” and “North Dakota Postcards 1900-1930.” The postcards are fascinating — some are from his parents’ collection (they corresponded that way when they were courting, and lived 30 miles apart) — and so are the photos his mother took using a new-fangled camera (they were sent to Minneapolis to be developed, and arrived back 3 weeks later).

Larry Aasen has written 4 books. All focus on North Dakota.

His latest book — “North Dakotans Never Give Up” — goes beyond images, postcards and history. It’s a personal memoir, weaving together Aasen’s youth in the still-pioneer state with the inspiring story of residents who overcame great adversity, and achieved big things.

(Eric Sevareid, Lawrence Welk and Peggy Lee, to name 3.)

“The Depression was a terrible time,” Aasen says of his youth. “Many young people in North Dakota today have no idea. There were grasshoppers, drought — you name it.”

Those North Dakotans who never gave up survived by raising cows, turkeys, chickens and pigs. They made their own food. They built chairs and benches out of wood they chopped. They were self-sufficient. They had to be.

“Winters were tough,” he says. “Kids really did walk to school in the snow.”

He was one of those kids. And he’d go to school after milking cows. “We smelled. The town kids teased us,” he recalls.

Larry Aasen’s garage is filled with North Dakota — and political — memorabilia.

Aasen’s grandparents were certainly tough. All 4 lived into their 80s. Their stories form an important part of the new book.

“Weak people died,” Aasen says. His grandparents never went to the hospital. They didn’t even have medical care.

“It cost $1 for the doctor to come to the farm. That was too expensive.” He doesn’t remember ever seeing medicine in the house — “except maybe cough syrup.”

His mother kept a diary, which he still has. “She would talk about whatever happened that day,” Aasen says. “‘Today an airplane flew over the farm.’ ‘We butchered a pig.’ ‘Hoover was elected president.’ There were a lot of bank robberies too.”

Larry Aasen’s mother’s 1929 diary (left), and 2 pages from 1937.

Aasen is an assiduous researcher. He spent 9 months writing the most recent volume — and did all the layout too. (His son-in-law got it copy-ready.)

“I’m 96, but I’m too busy to be a senior citizen,” Aasen — whose Mississippi-born wife Martha, 89, is equally active — says.

Aasen’s books sell well — and all over the country. They’re bought by libraries, universities, people who live in North Dakota, and those who have left.

They’re reviewed regularly in publications like the Bismarck Tribune, Grand Forks Herald and Forum of Fargo.

Aasen promotes his books himself, partly through direct mail. After 4 volumes, he’s built up a robust mailing list. (Robust by North Dakota standards, anyway.)

He used to go back every year. His trips now are less frequent.

“I had 31 cousins there. Now there’s 1,” Aasen says. “My classmates, my Army mates — they’re all gone.”

Memorial Day 2018 grand marshal Larry Aasen and his wife Martha. (Photo/Ted Horowitz)

Larry and Martha Aasen moved to Westport in 1963. They’ve been involved in town life — too many activities to count — ever since.

But nearly 6 decades later — after nearly a century on the planet — Larry Aasen still loves his home state. And he’s proud to honor the people he grew up with there.

“A lot of people today, if they can’t get a job they sit around feeling sorry for themselves,” he says.

“In North Dakota, you couldn’t do that. You’d starve.

“You had to be tough, and figure things out.”

Like his book title says: North Dakotans Never Give Up.

(To buy a copy of Aasen’s book, email aasenm@aol.com, or call 203-227-6126.)

Larry Aasen Leads Memorial Day Parade

“This is incredible. I’m 95. At my age, you don’t get many awards.”

That’s Larry Aasen’s reaction to being named grand marshal of the 2018 Memorial Day parade.

The World War II airborne sergeant — and 55-year Westport resident — will ride the route from Riverside Avenue down the Post Road, and up Myrtle Avenue to Veterans Green, on Monday, May 28. There, he’ll give the keynote address.

Aasen — and many other Westporters — hope the 3rd time’s the charm. The 2 previous Memorial Day parades have been canceled due to weather. The grand marshals delivered their addresses in the Town Hall auditorium.

Larry Aasen, at last year’s Memorial Day parade.

Aasen has a lot to talk about.

He was born in a log cabin in the middle of a North Dakota snowstorm. There was no electricity, running water, central heating — not even a bathroom.

Aasen rose to sergeant in the 13th Airborne. After training in North Carolina, he was sent to France. His division had 20-person gliders, with no protection. The mission was to drop behind enemy lines, and destroy anything of value. Gliders had a 70% casualty rate, Aasen says.

His job was cryptographer, encoding and decoding secret messages. He had a security clearance from the FBI.

After his discharge in 1946, Aasen earned a journalism degree from the University of North Dakota. He headed east, for a master’s at Boston University.

Aasen moved to New York, “to seek my fortune.” He spent 14 years with New York Life Insurance, rising to vice president of public relations, then 20 years with the Better Vision Institute on campaigns urging Americans to get their eyes checked. Aasen worked with Bob Hope, Muhammad Ali and other celebrities on those projects. (He’s also met 6 US presidents.)

When they posed for this photo, President Obama said to Larry Aasen, “let’s put the rose (Martha Aasen) between 2 thorns.”

In 1963, he, his wife Martha and their young children moved to Westport. “We needed more room than a New York apartment,” he explains. “There were a lot of media people here, and they loved it.”

He and Martha live in the same Ellery Lane house they bought over half a century ago. He calls it “the best investment we ever made.”

Aasen served 17 years on the Representative Town Meeting (RTM). His other volunteer activities include the Democratic Town Committee, Y’s Men, Rotary Club and Saugatuck Congregational Church.

Larry and Martha Aasen have not missed a Memorial Day parade in 54 years. This year, he’ll have a special role in it.

A well-deserved honor for one of Westport’s favorite 95-year-olds.

Larry Aasen: 95 Years, 6 Presidents, Bob Hope And Muhammad Ali

On December 5, Larry Aasen turns 95 years young.

As the big day nears, he’s going through scrapbooks and albums. Recently, in the Ellery Lane home he and his wife Martha have lived in for 54 years, Aasen recalled some intriguing stories.

He was born in 1922, in a log cabin in the middle of a North Dakota snowstorm. There was no electricity, running water, central heating — not even a bathroom.

When he got to New York City in 1949, he heard about a Times Square “gag writers school.” The $5 tuition was put into a hat, at the beginning of class.

Aasen went on to work for the Better Vision Institute. Its mission was to encourage regular eye exams.

The organization used celebrities in its ads. Because he had eye problems, Bob Hope did radio and TV ads for free. Toward the end of the comedian’s career, Aasen did a fundraiser with him in Miami. He was tired and weak. But when the spotlight hit him, he did a jig, picked up his violin and performed well.

Bob Hope (left) and Larry Aasen (right).

One day, a friend gave Aasen Muhammad Ali’s phone number. Aasen told the boxing champ the BVI wanted to use his photo on a poster. Ali, however, was more concerned about how Aasen had gotten his number.

Aasen explained that the poster would read, “Your fists can’t hit what your eyes can’t see!” Ali yelled “Okay!” — then slammed down the receiver.

Aasen and his wife are political junkies. In his long life, he’s met 6 presidents.

In 1950, while working as a writer/photographer for the Journal of Accountancy in New York, he was assigned to take photos of CPAs at the Waldorf Astoria. Hurrying over, he knocked down a frail old man. When he got up, Herbert Hoover gave Aasen a stern look and said, “Watch where you are going!”

Five years later, in Kansas City, Aasen learned where Harry Truman parked his car for his daily walk to work. Sure enough, at 8:15 a.m. he drove up.

It was snowing hard. The former president was all alone. Aasen asked if he could walk along. Truman smiled, and asked Aasen where he was from.

He said North Dakota, and that his wife was from Mississippi. The two men talked about those states’ senators, as well as the Hayes/Tilden “stolen” election of 1876. Then, after a firm handshake, Truman bounded up the office steps.

Martha and Larry Aasen.

In 1960, Martha’s father was a Mississippi delegate to the Democratic convention. The state shared a “very poor hotel” with the Wyoming delegation. Though they were small, and seemingly unimportant at the end of the roll call, candidate John F. Kennedy arrived at the hotel to meet them.

Kennedy jumped out of a car, and shook Aasen’s hand. That night, Wyoming’s votes gave Kennedy the Democratic nomination for president.

Ronald Reagan, Aasen says, was even better looking than his photos. Martha and he first met him at a motel in San Mateo in 1963, after a Rotary speech. The actor invited a group to his suite. He told jokes, in a disarming way.

The Aasens saw Reagan other times too, when he promoted the “GE Theater Show.”

In 1975, Aasen was in Atlanta. Jimmy Carter walked down a hotel hall, put out his hand, introduced himself and said he was running for president. He invited Aasen to a speech.

That night he spoke quietly, describing his plans for the country. Aasen thought it was too bad that such a “intelligent, decent man” might never be president. Of course, he laughs, “Carter didn’t know that.”

Larry and Martha Aasen, and then-1st Selectwoman Diane Farrell Goss greet President Clinton. His helicopter landed at Sherwood Island State Park.

Bill and Hillary Clinton visited Westport often, usually to meet donors. Aasen says he often forgets how tall the president is, and how he is “always in motion. He has that skill of connecting with his audience — and he will not let them go.” Clinton loves to talk — “which is why he is always late.”

As for Barack Obama: Once, leaving a stage, he posed for a photo with the Aasens. “Let’s put the rose between the 2 thorns,” Obama suggested.

President Obama and Larry Aasen flank “the rose”: Martha Aasen.

Happy upcoming 95th birthday, Larry Aasen. Here’s hoping you meet many more presidents — and have many more stories — in the years to come.

Larry Aasen Buttons Up

In 1928, Larry Aasen’s father returned home to North Dakota from the national Democratic convention. He brought his young son an Al Smith pencil.

The souvenir is long gone. But Aasen — in his 90s, and a longtime Westporter who with his fellow politcally activist wife Martha has attended “many” national and state conventions — amassed over 2,000 other buttons, posters and assorted mementos.

Aasen mounted some in wooden frames. He donates others — worth at least $15 each to collectors — to local non-profits, to sell at silent auctions. They raise $100 to $150, he says.

Though Aasen is an avid Democrat — and his collection skews that way — his collection is non-partisan. His Republican memorabilia dates back to Wendell Willkie. He trades for some of them. Others come from his many GOP friends.

jfk-posterStarting tomorrow (Wednesday, September 21), his favorites will be on view at the Westport Library’s lower-level Riverwalk display case. They include a Woodrow Wilson button, and posters for FDR and JFK. The exhibit runs through (of course) Election Day.

An opening reception is set for Thursday, September 29 (6 p.m., McManus Room).

Aasen will be there. He’ll tell stories about his buttons — and his political life.

Like this one. In the 1950s, he was in Kansas City on business. He found out where Harry Truman often parked, to walk to his office. Sure enough, early in the morning, the former president drove through heavy snow, got out and prepared to walk.

There were no Secret Service agents around. Aasen asked if he could walk too.

Martha and Larry Aasen.

Martha and Larry Aasen.

They talked about politics, including Aasen’s native North Dakota and Martha’s Mississippi.

Somehow the discussion turned to the disputed presidential election of 1876. As Truman recounted how — 80 years earlier — Rutherford B. Hayes beat out Samuel Tilden, Aasen says, “he really got worked up.”

There’s no question who Aasen is voting for this Election Day. He’s met Hillary Clinton many times, he says, going back at least 20 years.

“People don’t realize how many times she’s been in Westport for fundraising,” Aasen says.

At the opening reception next week, maybe he’ll pair his “I’m With Her” button with one that says “We Want Willkie.”

wendell-willkie-button