Tag Archives: Mimi Greenlee

Random Acts Of Kindness (Again)

Back in 1993, a little book called “Random Acts of Kindness” took the nation by storm.

Filled with examples of small things that brought big smiles — including kind acts by Coleytown Elementary School youngsters — it sparked a national movement. (And a cottage industry of books, over the next 30 years.)

In 1995, Westport PTA Council president Mimi Greenlee and 2nd Selectwoman Betty Lou Cummings co-chaired “Random Acts of Kindness Day” in Westport. First Selectman Joe Arcudi made it official.

All across town, kids collected mittens for people in need. The local Red Cross offered free CPR courses. The Westport Library waived fines for late books.

The Westport News’ Arnie Green noted a few other possible ways for Westporters to celebrate the day:

You are a pedestrian attempting the crossing at the Post Road and Main Street. The Mercedes bearing down on you stops well before the crosswalk you are in. The driver smiles and gives you a full-hand wave.

A usual, a UPS truck is parked beyond the last parking spot in the middle row at Brooks Corner, making it difficult for you to exit. The UPS driver appears and says, “Let me get this out of your way right now, and I’m sorry to have blocked you.”

The teenager, wearing a baseball cap backwards, and driving a modified Jeep, is cruising Main Street at what may be faster than the speed limit. You step off the curb. He slams his brakes to stop just short of you. He leaps from the Jeep and says, Boy, was I dumb to drive that fast. Please excuse me for scaring you.”

Not much has changed in 27 years, that’s for sure.

Whether 1995 or 2002, traffic has not gotten better on Main Street and in Brooks Corner. Time for kindness!

But 27 years later, both Mimi Greenlee and Betty Lou Cummings are alive and well. And very active in town.

In fact, on Wednesday Mimi emailed me all the information I’ve cited above. That was a very random act of kindness.

She did it because yesterday — February 17 — was the anniversary of Westport’s 1995 Act of Kindness Day.

I couldn’t get the story posted in time. That wasn’t very kind, I know. But the date doesn’t matter. It’s the thought that counts.

And the thought is a good one.

Just 2 years ago, random acts of kindness were all the rage. As the pandemic roared into town, Westporters delivered meals (and scarce toilet paper) to people who could not (or would not) leave their homes.

Others sewed masks, hung signs with encouraging slogans for first responders, and did thousands of other very random acts of kindness.

Today, only the rage remains. We are at each other’s throats over everything from mask wearing and vaccines to driving and parking. The Post Road and Brooks Corner are as gruesome as ever.

So — in as kindly a tone as I can muster — I wonder: Is it time for another Random Acts of Kindness Day?

Or maybe even an entire Week or Month this time.

If you think that’s a good idea, click “Comments” below. You might offer a few suggestions of kind acts yourself.

Of course, if you think it’s ridiculous, feel free to call me a soft, coddling !@#$%^&*. It’s a free country.

At least for a while.

PS: In 1995, I wrote in my Westport News “Woog’s World” column:The US Congress took time out from its important work of slashing welfare benefits, attacking Medicaid and declaring war on immigrants, homeless people and abortion doctors to declare all of next week Random Acts of Kindness Week.”

Not very kind, I know. But that too shows how little we’ve changed since the last millennium.

Unsung Heroes #204

Longtime Westport Library book sales volunteer Mimi Greenlee writes:

Our community is so happy now that the Westport Library is accepting book donations in the gray trailer in the upper parking lot (during library hours).

The first weeks were overwhelming. I want to give a round of applause for our volunteer team of 50 sorters and category managers.

By singling out one person, I hope “06880” readers see how much devotion and dedication is present in every one of our year-round volunteers.

Dan Delehanty was Westport’s town engineer from 1978 to 2008. In 2001 he became a volunteer for our Book Sales. He transported books and supplies from storage to our sales, sorted donated books, and was always available for any other jobs needed for Friends of the Library and the Library staff.

Dan Delehanty shows off his work. Note the time on the clock: 6 a.m. (Photo/Fred Caporizzo)

He loved putting on music and sorting books, usually in the very early morning or late at night. I was always amazed at what he had accomplished, and with such efficiency.

Dan moved to Maine in 2020 to be with family, yet this spring he came back to visit. Longtime friend and co-worker Fred Caporizzo suggested Dan come help in the Book Center for “nostalgia” reasons. That’s exactly what he did.

The 2 men were there at 6 a.m., sorting books for our Book Shop and the next book sale.  How about a round of applause for them — and everyone else on our team!

(Do you know an Unsung Hero? Email dwoog@optonline.net)

Unsung Heroes #181

Peggy Leyden Holda writes from South Easton, Massachusetts:

My mother (Rita Leyden) and I read with great interest your recent Roundup. You reported that the Westport Young Women’s League has distributed more than $4 million in grants since 1956.

Just a few days prior, I had unearthed a gem while going through the boxes (and boxes and boxes) of memorabilia recently relocated from Westport to Massachusetts, after Mom sold her Bradley Street home of 40 years.

Rita Leyden

Mom typed a draft of her President’s Report on onion skin (which remarkably withstood the test of time) for publication in the League’s 1976-1977 Annual Report. It chronicles the contributions of an extraordinary group of leaders who measurably enriched the lives of their neighbors. Their names read like a Who’s Who of Westport’s great families.

Mom and her WYWL friends were role models for the 14-year-old I was at the time. Through them I learned that women can do just about anything they set their minds to … and have fun while doing it.

As then, so now: The Westport Young Women’s League is proof positive that “in the big things of life we are as one.”

Peggy is right. Her mother’s report lists phenomenal accomplishments of a group of women. There’s Geri Lawrence, Katie Chase, Ellie Hoyt, Ginny Koscomb, Pat Shea, Cathy Ryan and many more.

Some are still around Westport. Mimi Greenlee — who “printed over 47,000 pieces on our Gestetner mimeo machine” — nonetheless always kept smiling. She still does, now as one of the movers behind the new Westport Book Shop.

One page of Rita Leyden’s president’s report mentions Mimi Greenlee — and many other women.

Sue Kane and Joyce Barnhart are still involved too, after a lifetime of volunteerism. Marianne Harrison is retired in North Carolina, where she leads a very active life.

All of which reminds us of the work that the Westport Young Woman’s League — and many similar organizations do — is both important, ongoing, and builds on the shoulders of many who came before.

Today we honor all those civic volunteers who give their time. And we also recognize that they would not be here, doing what they do, without the Unsung Heroes of yesterday.

(Do you know an Unsung Hero? Email dwoog@optonline.net)

Move Over, Barnes & Noble. Another Bookstore Is Opening Downtown.

It’s been years since downtown Westport had a bookstore.

Next month, Barnes & Noble opens in the former Restoration Hardware.

This Thursday, a second bookstore opens right around the corner.

It’s smaller. It will sell only used books. But its story is huge.

The Westport Book Shop is a partnership between the Westport Library and Westport Book Sales, the non-profit with 2 important missions: They raise funds for the library by running its book sales, and they hire adults with disabilities.

For nearly 3 decades, the Summer Book Sale has been a beloved ritual on Jesup Green. So it’s fitting that the Westport Book Shop will be located between Green & Tonic and the new Basso restaurant (formerly Matsu Sushi).

In other words: It’s directly across Jesup Green from the library.

The new home of the Westport Book Shop.

The new venture — believed to be Westport’s first-ever used bookstore — came together quickly. The idea began in the spring, but the right space — a former art gallery — was not available until last month. Final town approval came on Friday.

The 5,000 or so books, in over 40 categories, come from donations to the annual book sales. There’s also a large selection of vinyl records, audio books, CDs and DVDs.

(In addition to the ginormous summer one, there are other book sales throughout the year. However, they’re on hold during COVID.)

The view from inside the Westport Book Shop, across Jesup Green to the library.

Books cover all major categories: fiction, non-fiction, biography, children’s, you name it.

“We’ll be talking to customers and ask what they especially want,” says Mimi Greenlee. The longtime volunteer will continue to work with Westport Book Sales on this project, with fellow members Jocelyn Barandiaran, Linda Hopper, Dick Lowenstein, Sharuna Mahesh and Deb Poulley​. Jennifer Bangser is the Library’s liaison.

The Book Shop also features the Drew Friedman Art Place. Miggs Burroughs will curate rotating exhibits of area artists.

Hours are Thursdays and Fridays, 3 to 6 p.m.; weekends, noon to 5 p.m. COVID restrictions apply.

Mimi Greenlee inspects a book n the children’s section.

Founding donors include The Drew Friedman Community Arts Center, Eileen Lavigne Flug, Dan Levinson, Jeffrey Mayer and Nancy Diamond, Jocelyn and Walter Barandiaran, Linda Monteiro-Hopper and Scott Hopper, Robin and Brad Berggren, Rebecca L. Ciota, The Kail Family, The Michael M. Wiseman and Helen A. Garten Charitable Foundation, Abilis Community Foundation, The Betty R. and Ralph Sheffer Foundation, Craig Rebecca Schiavone, Westport Sunrise Rotary, Rita Allen Foundation, and Berchem Moses PC. Local law firm Verrill donated most of the bookcases.

For more information, email info@westportbooksales.org.

Library Book Sales: A Bold New Venture

The Westport Library book sales are a wonderful Westport tradition.

Every July — and, in a smaller form, spring — thousands of book-lovers find countless treasures. And it’s not only books (in every category imaginable). CDs, DVDs, even sheet music are also on sale.

After more than 2 decades, the sales are taking a new step forward. Today the library announced the launch of Westport Book Sale Ventures.

The new entity has a dual mission: raising funds to support the library, while providing meaningful employment for adults with disabilities.

Starting next month, the Westport Library book sales will be operated by Westport Book Sale Ventures, Inc. — an independent 501(c)(3) non-profit.

A typical summer Westport Library Book Sale scene.

“The book sales are a beloved community tradition that provide essential support for Library programming,” says executive director Bill Harmer. “The sales are powered by a dedicated team of volunteers, and tens of thousands of book donations from our generous community.

“Facilitating meaningful employment opportunities for individuals with disabilities is squarely aligned with the Library’s mission to strengthen our community, motivate engagement and serve diverse constituencies, and we are incredibly proud to launch this new initiative.”

The new venture is coordinated by Jocelyn Barandiaran, Sharuna Mahesh and Linda Monteiro-Hopper, Westport residents with a passion for the Library and the expanded book sale mission.

Mimi Greenlee and Dick Lowenstein — who have led book sales for 2 decades — will provide guidance.

Dick Lowenstein, Mimi Greenlee and Suzy Hooper — longtime Book Sale stalwarts. (Photo/John Karrel)

Barandiaran notes, “The unemployment rate for Americans with disabilities is twice as high as the rate for people with no disabilities. For many young adults with disabilities there is a significant gap following high school, when individuals no longer have the support of the public education system’s transition services, and their social networks disburse.

“We hope this new venture will provide transferable job skills and opportunities for community engagement, and motivate our community and our businesses to be ever more inclusive of people with disabilities.”

The Annex, which was installed in the upper lot to receive book donations, will continue to function in the same way. Donations may be made at any time during the Library’s operating hours.

The first Book Sale Event managed by the new venture is set for Friday, March 13 through Sunday, March 15, in the Library Forum of the Westport Library. To learn more about Westport Book Sale Ventures, click here.

Unsung Heroes #125

Last weekend, the Westport Library held its annual holiday book and gift sale. As always, it was a smash.

The success of these sales — winter and summer — depends on generous donations of materials from the community.

Yet nothing would happen without volunteers. For the most recent event, 108 volunteers donated their time and energy. All worked hard.

But late Sunday afternoon, near closing time, the teen volunteers went above and beyond.

Henry Potter

The story starts with Henry Potter. He’s a project manager for Builders Beyond Borders, and for several years has overseen B3 teen volunteers at the book sales.

Through his own very high standard of working hard, Henry sets an excellent example for the group. He always does it with a smile.

During the recent Transformation Project, book donations were accepted in a temporary construction trailer on Jesup Green. The “drive up, drop off” experience was so positive for patrons, staff and volunteers that the library built a permanent annex in the Levitt parking lot, to accept and process donations.

For the past 2 months of construction, however, the library had to stop accepting contributions. Thanks to Henry and the teen volunteers though, the  new book donation annex will be open starting next Wednesday (December 4).

Mimi Greenlee, co-chair of the book sale, says, “We knew this was going to require a great deal of manpower, not only to move the items, but also to shelve the books in the correct categories. Henry happily agreed to set his team on this project.

“In 2 hours they accomplished what would have take us days. And they did it with smiling faces and great attitudes.”

Builders Beyond Borders volunteers get the donation annex ready.

B3 has done plenty of good work overseas. Last weekend, they helped out right in their own back yard.

(To nominate an Unsung Hero, email dwoog@optonline.net. Hat tip: Rachel Reese Pegnataro.)

Unsung Heroes #57

Last week’s Westport Library Book Sale went off without a hitch.

Thousands of visitors bought tens of thousands of books. And CDs, DVDs, even LPs.

The library earned thousands of dollars. Even yesterday — when everything was free (contributions gladly accepted!) — the library earned something just as important: grateful good will.

One scene from last weekend’s Book Sale.

But as easy as it all seemed — hundreds of volunteers hauling boxes, posting signs, pointing patrons in the right direction, smilingly totaling up purchases, answering idiotic questions (“Do you have …?”), handling setup, security and cleanup; volumes sorted superbly into categories from Art to Zoology; no problems despite the loss of the library space itself during the Transformation process — none of it would be possible without a few great leaders.

Mimi Greenlee and Dick Lowenstein are the Book Sale co-chairs.

Suzy Hooper and Heli Stagg have full-time library roles, in addition to their Book Sale duties.

They lead with inspiration — and by example. They give new (and literal) meaning to the phrase “heavy lifting.”

This is not the only Westport Library Book sale, either. There are others, in winter and spring. None would happen without the many volunteers — and these 4 at the helm.

(From left) Heli Stagg, Suzy Hooper, Mimi Greenlee and Dick Lowenstein yesterday. They don’t even look tired! (Photo/John Karrel)

We hope Mimi, Dick, Suzy and Heli enjoy being this week’s Unsung Heroes.

But they probably won’t see it. They’re finishing up last weekend’s book sale.

And starting work on the next.

(Hat tip: John Karrel. Want to nominate an Unsung Hero? email dwoog@optonline.net)

It Takes A Village To Make A Book Sale

It takes a village to raise a child.

And it takes a small city — well, 300 to 400 people anyway — to run the Westport Library’s annual Book Sale.

The tents are already up for the July 15-18 event. That’s done professionally.

A typical scene at the Westport Library Book Sale. (Photo/Westport Library)

But nearly everything else — hauling boxes, unboxing books, shelving, signage, on-site help, line control, security, checkout, cleanup and takedown — is done by volunteers.

They converge on Jesup Green from all corners of town (and beyond). They come in all shapes and sizes (and ages). They represent the Y’s Men, Staples Service League of Boys, National Charity League, the Gillespie Center and a local addiction recovery house.

Some are giving back to their community. Some are performing court-ordered community service. Some love the library, or books in general. Some welcome a chance to socialize.

All are welcome.

One of the book sale’s many volunteers.

Mimi Greenlee is the longtime c0-chair of the Book Sale. She’s also one of those uber-volunteers who epitomize the saying, “If you need something done, ask a busy person.”

Since moving here in 1971 with her husband Chuck, Mimi has raised 4 kids; taught at Burr Farms Elementary School; served with the Westport Young Woman’s League, United Way, Westport Soccer Association and a slew of PTAs, and run the Westport Downtown Merchants Association art show.

Still, the Book Sale is special. It’s a true community event, with that huge volunteer/collaborative component.

“It’s like a puzzle. I love watching the pieces come together,” Mimi says. “And every piece is a person.”

Nothing ever rattles Mimi Greenlee — not even the controlled chaos of the Westport Library Book Sale.

As the book sale grew — from one tiny table in the McManus Room, to an outdoor tent, to the many tents now on Jesup Green — so did the need for help.

Suzy Hooper gets the volunteers for the 9 days it takes to set up, run and take down the event.

There’s a job for everyone. Some of it is very physical. (“Those Y’s Men put me to shame,” Mimi marvels.)

Some can be done sitting down — even in a wheelchair.

Mimi, Suzy and the library staff have it all down to a science. Last year, it took just one hour from the end of the sale Tuesday, until everything was packed away.

“We get everyone,” Mimi says. There’s a man from New Canaan who arranges his travel schedule every year to do this. There are people who volunteered when they were living in the homeless shelter just across the way. Now they’ve got housing, but they still want to help.”

Mimi invites everyone to the book sale. It starts Saturday, July 15 (9 a.m. to 5 p.m.); continues Sunday, July 16 (10 a.m. to 5 p.m.), Monday, July 17 (9 a.m. to 5 p.m., half-price day), and ends Tuesday, July 18 (9 a.m. to 1 p.m.; everything is free, but contributions are welcome).

And if you’d like to volunteer on the sale days — or help with the book sorting process throughout the year — just email shooper@westportlibrary.org, or click here.

Sunday By The River

The jury is out.

Not on the art — the judges’ decisions come later — but on the 38th annual Westport Arts Festival itself.

It’s been held on the river edge of Parker Harding Plaza and adjacent Gorham Island for a couple of years now.  Before that, it was held in the middle of Main Street.

Some artists like the new location.  A cooling breeze blows off the river, and the setting is much more scenic than before.

Other artists — not so much.  They say there’s less foot traffic, less energy, and lower sales.

Of course, you can also blame the economy.

Or the gorgeous weather that sends folks scurrying to the beach, not the business district.

Judge for yourself.  Both the site, and the art displayed there.

A photographer -- and potential customer -- takes a shot of some intriguing art.

Intriguing sculptures line Gorham Island.

This is not a sculpture. It’s a living statue. I’m sure this guy was much happier standing by the river — not the middle of Main Street — for hours on end.

A youngster finds artwork less interesting than a large tree, stuck in the middle of the Saugatuck River.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the Post Road, the ever-smiling Mimi Greenlee oversees the controlled chaos that is the Westport Public Library's summer book sale.

In Defense Of Dealers

It’s a tradition almost as old as the Westport Library Book Sale itself:

Complaining about the dealers who camp out in line, swarm the tents and scoop up hundreds, even thousands, of books, while You and I just try to find the perfect paperback.

But there’s another side to the story.  Don’t judge a book by its cover, say library officials.

The “dealers” — who include second-hand resellers, rare book collectors and non-profit agencies — are an important part of the event.  Friends of the Library makes over $100,000 from the book sale.  That money pays for a wide variety of programs, special events and collections.

Without the dealers’ bulk purchases, there’s no way the Friends would reach 6 figures.  In fact, they account for nearly 50 percent of total sales.

All is calm before the Westport Library book sale. It's a different scene Saturday morning.

The dealers come from all over the East Coast, says Mimi Greenlee, the longtime and indefatigable book sale chair.  Some own stores; others sell on the internet.

They come to 3 big Connecticut sales:  Westport, Pequot in Southport, and CH Booth in Newtown.  Ours is particularly attractive, Mimi says, because of the high quality of books.  “They know the type of community Westport is — and the great type of donations we receive.”

But the dealers are not always attractive to “regular” book sale-goers.  There were 450 people waiting outside when the tent flaps opened last year.  Many were dealers.  They race through on Day One — and keep coming, especially on half-price Mondays  and everything-free Tuesdays.

Greenlee knows the dealers don’t have a 5-star reputation.  “Some people think they get in the way, block the aisles and just take as many books as they can.”

That’s why, she says, there are rules against “scooping of shelves.”

That’s also why the book sale has staked out a special area in the back of the tents, where dealers can go through the piles of books they picked up on their first pass.  Volunteers restock those unwanted books quickly.

“Dealers are very important to our sale,” Greenlee emphasizes.  “But we also work hard to manage them, so they don’t impact you and me.”

And, she notes:  “If you go to a used bookstore, or shop on Amazon for a low price, where do you think those books came from?”

In fact, she adds, “what they do is no different from what the library book sale does.  Both of us collect used books, and resell them.”

Oh, yeah:  Not all the dealers are in it for themselves.  Some of those guys (and gals) with the biggest boxes represent non-profits.  They send what they’ve collected to Africa, Asia, Russia — and prisons here in the US.

Over 17 years, the Westport Library book sale has exploded.  It started as a tiny indoors event.  Then there was one small tent outside.  Now there are 5 tents on Jesup Green — and overflow in the McManus Room.

The book sale starts this Saturday (July 16, 9 a.m.), and runs through Tuesday.

Don’t worry.  There’s enough for everyone.

And if you happen to be looking for a special volume, and can’t find it — hey, there’s always used book stores, and the internet.

(Ever wanted to see a YouTube video of the book sale?  Click below.)