The noted Westport writer — a longtime New York Times journalist who, after earning a Ph.D. in theater history, became a well-regarded theater reviewer — had just embarked on a successful new career as a poet.
She was 95 years old.
Today, Irene turns 100.
Like anyone who reaches the century mark, she’s had a varied, interesting life. A Providence native who worked as a secretary after high school, then 5 years later was accepted without any college prep at Brown University, and graduated summa cum laude, she has never stopped engaging with words, or the world.
After moving from her home of decades in Greens Farms to the Watermark at 3030 Park in Bridgeport, Irene jumped into her new community. She and another former journalist started a writers’ workshop. That led to her poetry — and publication in a number of outlets.
At 100, Irene is in strong physical and mental health. She decided, because of COVID, to forgo a big party.
Her son Paul — also a writer — and his wife Karen will be there, though. He’ll show her a copy of his latest project: a collection of her theater reviews, in a self-published book.
In 1956, when this photo was taken, Irene Backalenick (lower right) — shown with her sister-in-law Theda Frank (left) and niece Wendy — was 35 years old.
Recently, the Watermark asked Irene to interview new residents for their in-house publication. Among them: a group of nuns.
Years ago, Irene interviewed a woman from that order. That nun has died, but Irene remembers her fondly.
Those are the kinds of things that a 100-year-old woman experiences.
Happy birthday, Irene. Here’s to many more years of health, happiness — and poetry.
The Westport Downtown Merchants Association’s 2nd “Art About Town” project includes works from Artists Collective of Westport members. They’re exhibited in the windows and on the walls of many downtown retails — for viewing and purchase.
Art About Town runs in conjunction with the WDMA’s “Art+ Downtown Thursday Nights.” Galleries stay open from 5 to 8 p.m. So do many of the stores showcasing the “About Town” art.
Bonus feature: Many of the artists are there with their work on Thursdays, chatting with customers. Tomorrow they’ll be at Amy Simon, Pop’TArt, Sorelle, Artistex, Catherine H, Don Memo, Fred Sip & Shop, Franny’s Farmacy, Nic & Zoe, Savannah Bee, Savvy + Grace and West, on Post Road East, Main Street and Church Lane.
In addition Manna Toast offers 1/2 off on bottles of wine (5 to 7 p.m.), and Rye Ridge Deli will stay open till 8. Masks and social distancing are mandatory for Art About Town!
Upcoming Senior Center events:
Bingo: Thursday, August 20 (1:15 to 2 p.m.). Virtual Bingo — with prizes! — is offered the 1st and 3rd Thursdays of each month. If you don’t have internet, you can call in from home. If you can’t print cards, the Senior Center will help. Pre-registration is required (203-341-5099). There’s also an $8 lunch for Westport residents — delivered (with 4 Bingo cards) to your home.
Pet Chat: Friday, August 21 (10:30 to 11:30 a.m.). Share pet stories; hear guest speakers. Click here for Zoom ID; password is 4C1Q0H.
Summer Concert Series: Friday, August 28, 1:30 to 2:15 p.m.: Pianist Irwin Lebish discusses and plays selections from “The Great American Songbook.” Click here for the Zoom link. Friday, September 4, 1:30 to 2 p.m.: Violinist and Westport native Healther “L’il Mama” Hardy — daughter of Friends board member Judy Hardy — entertains on Facebook Live and Zoom (click here for that link).
Fall Prevention program: (Tuesday, September 1, 10 to 11 a.m.). Carli Lee Spinola — injury prevention coordinator at Norwalk Hospital — teaches how to prevent slips and falls. Click here for the Zoom link.
Labor Day Drive-Thru BBQ and Online Concert: Seniors and guests can order a BBQ lunch to go; pickup is at the Senior Center on Friday, September 4, 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Socially distance in the parking lot, and enjoy the meal! $8; ordering deadline is September 1. Call 203-341-5099.
Questions? Call 203-341-5099, or email email@example.com.
“Young Shoots” — the Westport Farmers’ Market’s deliciously named youth photo contest — has extended its deadline.
Youngsters ages 8 to 18 have until August 24 to submit photos. This year, because of COVID, they must be taken at home. The goal is to show images of the produce, flowers and prepared foods they and their families buy — and how it looks in their kitchens and dining rooms.
First place winners in each category receive $100; runners-up get $50. All photos will be on display at Sugar & Olives in Norwalk.
Last Friday, Ariana Napier delivered 424 pounds of food to Bridgeport Rescue Mission. This brings her Westport’s total donations to 1,819 pounds of food and personal care items donated. In other words: Donors are just 181 pounds away from reaching 1 ton!
BRM continues to provide twice as many meals and three times as many grocery bags as before the pandemic. The most needed items include:
Canned beans (all types)
Canned meats (beef stew, chili, etc.)
Peanut butter and jelly (plastic)
Snacks (granola bars, power bars, etc.)
Donations can be dropped off at bins in Ariana’s driveway (14 Jennings Court, off Bayberry Lane near Long Lots).
Rebecca Mace reports that the Panera Bread location on Post Road East near the Southport line — shut for several weeks — is once again open.
Yesterday she spotted baked goods on the shelves, someone going in, and a guy eating a salad next to the window.
The Panera Bread near the Southport line.
1968 Staples High School graduate Paul Backalenick has just published his second book. He says, “A good mystery can be a good distraction in these trying times.”
Carrie’s Secret takes place in a psychiatric hospital in the 1980s, as a suburban couple struggles to understand and help their threatened daughter.
The Kindle version of Carrie’s Secrets is just $2.99 on Amazon — and it’s free for Kindle Unlimited member. The paperback is $13.99. Click here for more on Paul Backalenick.
And finally … last night’s Remarkable Theater movie was “The Sting.” In 1973, the film — starring Westport’s own Paul Newman — gave new life to Scott Joplin’s rags.
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