Normally, I would not post a story about a political fundraiser — even one whose goals (helping Democrats regain the Senate) I agree with.
But this has a neat little back story that makes it “06880”-worthy. (And yes, I’d do the same if there’s a similar tie-in for a Republican fundraiser.)
Steve Ruchefsky and Rondi Charleston own one of the most visible properties in Westport. Their handsome home — with gorgeous gardens and a wide lawn — sits on the corner of Evergreen and Myrtle Avenues, kitty-corner from Christ & Holy Trinity Episcopal Church.
A while ago, Steve and Rondi bought an 1870 barn. It belonged to their next door neighbor Estelle Margolis, and her late husband Manny. The new owners spent nearly 2 years restoring it, then repurposing it as an office for Steve.
It’s enjoying a wonderful new life, while honoring Westport’s historic roots.
Manny Margolis was similarly known for his devotion to America’s past and present. An attorney with a lifelong devotion to civil liberties and civil rights, he brought a draft refusal case all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court — and won.
As a member of Westport’s Planning and Zoning Commission, Manny was a strong advocate for low and moderate housing regulations.
Manny Margolis was a World War II veteran.
He and Estelle — his wife of 52 years — spent years at peace vigils in Westport. They began during the Vietnam War. For 6 years they stood together on the Post Road bridge, protesting the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. (Estelle still does.)
Manny was a staunch Democrat. Estelle still is. So, Steve and Rondi say, they’re thrilled to host an event this Sunday (September 18, 4 p.m.) that would have been dear to Manny’s progressive heart.
The fundraiser is for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. Senator Jon Tester of Montana — the organization’s chair — will attend; so will Connecticut Senator Richard Blumenthal, and Emily’s List president Stephanie Schriock.
Manny Margolis will be there in spirit.
(For information on Sunday’s fundraiser, email email@example.com)
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For some Westporters, Veterans Day is a holiday. For others, it’s business as usual.
No matter what today is, all of us — all Americans, really — should take time to reflect on the millions of men and women who, over the years, have sacrificed greatly to serve our nation, and the world.
Here are just a few of the many Westporters who deserve our deepest gratitude.
In March of 1944 Emanuel (“Manny”) Margolis turned 18. He was a student at the University of North Carolina, but lacked a deferment. Drafted into the Army, he was chosen as a candidate for Officer’s Training School, and taught Morse Code.
Sent to England as a forward observer radio operator, he carried a 100-pound radio on his back. He weighed just 118.
PFC Manny Margolis, age 18 in June 1944.
He went to France and Belgium, to the Rhine River. The Germans had blown up all but 1 bridge crossing — a railroad bridge near Remagen. Made of wood, it was not meant to handle heavy tanks and artillery. The Army sent 100 engineers to remove dynamite, and shore it up.
Manny was among the first in his unit to be sent over the bridge. Radio operators had to report back to artillery how far to set their cannon fire.
Manny was not far into the woods on the other side of the bridge when the Germans began firing. He lay down behind a tree, and was shot through the leg and kneecap. He asked to be sent back to his unit, but his war was over. It was March 17, 1945 — 1 day before his 18th birthday.
The Army got some tanks and artillery over the bridge, but it collapsed with 100 engineers working on the underside. Many were killed.
Luckily, Manny’s leg was not amputated. He had 3 major operations in England, and more after returning home in the spring of 1946. He was awarded a Purple Heart, went back to UNC and graduated in 1947.
Manny Margolis, at a Town Hall ceremony. (Photo/Craig Skinner)
Thanks to the GI Bill, Manny went to Harvard. He earned a master’s and Ph.D. in international law. He taught at the University of Connecticut, then was accepted at Yale Law School with 1 phone call (no LSATs or interviews).
Manny worked for civil rights and civil liberties for 55 years, and lived nearly all his adult life in Westport. He died in August of 2011, at 85 years old.
Stanley L. Englebardt landed on the beach at Normandy a couple of days after the initial assault. He saw action on the front line during the Battle of the Bulge. Initially a corpsman, he was put into infantry when the Germans broke through Allied lines in 1944. A longtime Westporter, he died this past March.
Stan Englebardt, age 18, soon after entering the Army.
Donald Snook was a B-17 pilot in the 369th Squadron of the 306th Bomb Group of the 8th Air Force. He was stationed at Thurleigh Air Force based north of Bedford, England during World War II. He flew 24 missions over Europe, and remained there with the Occupational Air Force until July 1946.
Don is now 91. He lives in Westport with his wife, Katherine.
Bob Beeby served in the South Pacific during peacetime, just after the Korean War.
As a naval aviator he flew an anti-submarine aircraft to hunt for typhoons. With technology less advanced than that in today’s Prius, he went through the walls of a typhoons 1,500 feet above sea level, directly into the eye. He took readings with a sextant, and radioed the storm location to the fleet, in case they had to relocate.
Aircraft were often damaged by storms. Pilots risked their lives on emergency landings. Bob was one of them.
He has lived in Westport for 50 years. He logged over a million air miles a year as CEO of the international division of a major corporation. He is generous in time and spirit, and a loving father and grandfather.
Byron Miller was a Special Forces radio operator in Vietnam. For the past 38 years, he’s been a psychotherapist in, and resident of, Westport.
Tom Feeley at Fort Benning Airborne School, 1962.
Robin “Bob” Custer Sr. graduated from technical school in 1965, with a degree in drafting. He then served in the Army, seeing combat duty with the 1st Infantry Division (the “Big Red One”) in Vietnam from 1967 to ’68.
For years, Bob has played a big role in Westport. He’s been the sexton at Greens Farms Congregational Church for over 20 years (giving students on the Jennings Trail Tour the church history), is quartermaster at VFW Post 399, and always marches in the Memorial Day Parade.
Bob Custer, standing amidst the flags he loves.
Jay Dirnberger served with the 1st Cavalry Division in South Vietnam, in 1968.
Kendall Gardiner Anderson was in Vietnam, with the U.S. Army
Kendall Gardiner Anderson’s husband, Lt. Cdr. Robert Gavin Stewart Anderson, served in Cyprus with Her Majesty’s Royal Navy. After moving to Westport and becoming a naturalized US citizen, he served on the Board of Finance and as second selectman.
And let’s not forget the Gilbertie family. John S. Gilbertie Sr. volunteered in World War I, and was awarded medals by the US, French and Italian governments for bravery.
He enlisted at 17 — just 12 years after emigrating from Italy — and served as a scout behind enemy lines in the Argonne forest, among other locations. He became a founding members of Westport’s Joseph J. Clinton VFW, was grand marshal of the Memorial Day parade, and helped organize Memorial Day ceremonies on Jesup Green for many years. His name is on the Doughboy statue on Veterans Green (with the Italian spelling, “Ghiliberti”).
John’s son Mario went to Korea. Anthony, who was younger, was a member of the Army National Guard.
Several grandchildren also served. Jay was in Vietnam, and was a member of the 1st crew of the aircraft carrier John F. Kennedy. Marty was in the Navy CBs during Vietnam. Tom joined the Air Force in the 1980s, while Peter was in the infantry then.
Trevor — a great-grandson — recently returned from Afghanistan, with the Army National Guard.
Thanks to all the Westport veterans we’ve mentioned — and the many, many others who also served proudly served us, over so many years.
The Westport Library has selected the book for January’s “WestportReads” townwide program.
It’s My Life in France, by Julia Child and Alex Prud’homme. As usual, there will be creative tie-ins beyond “book talks.” Things like cooking demonstrations, recipe sharing, and Westporters’ recollections of Child’s impact on their lives.
There will also be a discussion of the McCarthy-era blacklist.
The reason is that Child’s husband, Paul, was investigated for “anti-American activity.” None was found, and he was allowed to keep his job.
Manny Margolis was not so lucky.
In 1947, he was a World War II veteran studying at the all-white, all-male University of North Carolina. A group of black students working on a voter registration drive needed a place to sleep. Manny got a nearby church to donate their basement. Then he organized a group of veterans — in uniform — to stay up all night. They made sure the Ku Klux Klan did not attack the group.
Four years later, Margolis was a Ph.D. student in international law at Harvard. He wanted to work for the State Department. But his mentor told him there were no Jews there. So Margolis got a job teaching international law at the University of Connecticut. He quickly became a very popular, and highly respected, instructor.
But the House Un-American Activities Committee sent representatives to the UConn president. They handed him a list with 4 names. “Fire them,” they said.
Margolis decided to become a lawyer. He called Yale, and asked where he could take the LSATs. The man on the phone recognized his now-notorious name. “You’re Manny Margolis?” he asked. “You’re in!”
Margolis graduated from law school in 1956. He dedicated his life to defending the 1st Amendment, civil liberties and civil rights. In 1971 — while living in Westport — he argued (and won) a Supreme Court case on behalf of Timothy Breen, a Staples High School graduate who had lost his student deferment after protesting the Vietnam War.
Estelle Margolis — Manny’s widow — plans to tell his blacklisting story in January, as part of WestportReads.
The library hopes other Westporters will too. If you’ve got a tale to tell like Margolis’ — or Julia Child’s husband — email firstname.lastname@example.org.
It’s a “recipe” for a fascinating — and important — discussion.
Longtime Westport activist and civil rights advocate Manny Margolis was memorialized last weekend, in a service at the Westport Library.
After many touching tributes from family members, friends and admirers, his wife Estelle spoke eloquently and lovingly.
Three of her stories stand out.
Manny Margolis worked all his life in the law to protect the basic rights guaranteed to us in our constitution.
He took the case of a college student (from Westport) named Timothy Breen, who gave his draft card to Reverend William Sloane Coffin at an anti-war rally during the Vietnam war. Tim had a student deferment, but was immediately reclassified 1-A and told to report to the draft board in Bridgeport for induction into the Army. Manny won his case on the basis of the right of free speech.
A homeless man was arrested for murder in his “home” under the I-95 abutment in New Haven. His clothes were neatly wrapped in a couple of plastic bags. The police went through his bags without a warrant. Manny won his case on the basis of the right to privacy in his “home.”
In the spring of 1982 the Ku Klux Klan applied for a permit to march and rally in Meriden, Connecticut. They were denied. Manny fought for their rights of political speech, and they won the permit. Imperial Wizard Bill Wilkinson wrote Manny a wonderful letter that said in part:
I would like to thank you for the many hours of hard work on our behalf. Knowing that you almost certainly disagree with my beliefs, makes me even more humble in my thanks. I must admit, I have never had the concern or the rights of those who oppose me that you obviously possess, but you may rest assured that I have been feeling more and more sympathy for them …..my association with you has made me even more aware of the importance of allowing everyone free speech. Your dedication to your principles has truly touched me deeply.
I am not merely writing words on paper in writing this letter. It is coming from deep within me. I know that I will probably die a strong segregationist and anti-communist, but I have no hatred for any individual human being.
Wilkinson called Manny shortly after that letter arrived and said: “I didn’t know you were Jewish when you were defending us in Court! I am going to present a motion to the Board to allow Jews to join our organization!”
Estelle did not mention whether Wilkinson ever followed through. But it’s a story that Manny Margolis’ many, many admirers — everywhere on the political spectrum — could relish.
Manny Margolis — the longtime Westporter known for his devotion to civil liberties and underdogs, who died August 17 at 85 — will be remembered this Saturday (October 8), at a pair of special events.
Manny’s memory will 1st be honored at the 11 a.m. peace vigil on the Ruth Steinkraus Cohen Post Road bridge downtown. He was a longtime participant, dating back to the Vietnam vigil days at the old Town Hall.
At 11:30 a.m., the group will walk from the bridge to the Westport Library’s McManus Room. There, anyone who wishes to can speak about Manny.
Margolis family friend Sonny Fox — the veteran TV personality — will run the event.
There will be plenty of memories — but no food. Saturday is Yom Kippur, a traditional Jewish fast day.
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