Tag Archives: Paul Gambaccini

Roundup: Ned Lamont, Emergency Prep, Queen Elizabeth …

Last week, the Y’s Men of Westport and Weston hosted gubernatorial candidate Bob Stefanowski at the Westport Library.

Yesterday, it was Ned Lamont’s turn.

Former 1st Selectman Jim Marpe moderated the discussion. Asked about affordable housing, the Democratic incumbent said that local communities need to take the lead.

Traffic is a problem in the state, Lamont said — and entrance/exit ramps on highways are the source of the greatest congestion. He also noted that train bridges were not build for high-speed rail traffic, and cause slowdowns.

With unemployment very low in Connecticut, Lamont said there is a job for everyone who wants one. Though recession headwinds are ahead, he said, the state is in good shape.

The governor also noted that Connecticut has the largest unfunded pension debt in the country. However, he said, his administration has reduced interest debt, saving $400 million in interest payments.

Lamont also recalled that he met his wife Annie in Westport. (Reporting by Dave Matlow)

Governor Ned Lamont and former 1st Selectman Jim Marpe, at yesterday’s Y’s Men event at the Westport Library. (Photo/Dave Matlow)

=======================================================

Last night’s storm knocked out power to 239 customers in the Old Mill Beach area. This morning, Eversource’s map showed no outages remaining.

====================================================

Dozens of rescue vehicles — helicopters, tanks, ambulances, you name it — converged on Sherwood Island State Park yesterday.

Fortunately, it was just a drill.

Local and regional authorities and incident management teams shared knowledge, and demonstrated technology for Connecticut politicians and other services. The event was organized by the state Division of Emergency Management and Homeland Security, for the 14-town area.

!st Selectwoman Jen Tooker and Deputy Fire Chief Nick Marsan represented Westport.

Among the activities:

This bomb squad robot has X-ray vision, and can shoot projectiles.

=======================================================

There was plenty of pomp yesterday, when Queen Elizabeth II was laid to rest.

There was also plenty of music.

Staples High School Class of 1966 graduate Paul Gambaccini is a longtime music journalist. Based in London, he also hosts of “Her Majesty’s Music” on the BBC.

Gambaccini was interviewed by NPR, about the songs that “inspired and defined” the late queen. Click here to listen. (Hat tip: Mary Ann Meyer)

Paul Gambaccini

=======================================================

Pumpkin spice lattes and muffins have been here since around Independence Day.

Now it’s time for “Fall Pumpkin Centerpieces.”

That’s the title of a session at Wakeman Town Farm (October 4, 6:30 p.m.). Chryse Terrill will instruct attendees on how to create a fall harvest centerpiece inside a pumpkin. Some materials will be harvested from WTF’s gardens.

Of course, everyone can take home their work of art. Click here to register.

A pumpkin centerpiece.

==================================================

This Thursday’s Jazz at the Post (September 22, 7 and 8:30 p.m. shows, 6:30 p.m. dinner, 465 Riverside Avenue, $10 cover) is a feast for local music lovers.

“Jazz Rabbi” Greg Wall brings world-class Gospel pianist, choir director, bandleader — and local legend — Chris Coogan to VFW Joseph J. Clinton Post 399.

The musicians met almost 10 years ago. They share a deep spiritual attachment to American music that digs deep into its roots, and extends up from there.

Joining in are John Mobilio and Jim Royle, both longtime rhythm-mates of Coogans.

Reservations are strongly suggested: JazzatthePost@gmail.com.

Greg Wall and Chris Coogan

====================================================

Saturday’s Westport Country Playhouse gala — the first in-person benefit in 3 years — lived up to its hype.

Broadway star Renée Elise Goldsberry (Angelica Schuyler in “Hamilton”) headlined the event, with a high-energy concert of Broadway pop and soul music, backed by a 7-piece band.

Attendees also enjoyed a pre-show cocktail party, live auction and after-party with a DJ and dancing.

Renee Elise Goldsberry and her band, at the Playhouse. (Photo/Coppola Photography)

======================================================

The other day, Peter Marks complained about “visual pollution” in Westport.

Yesterday, he sent along this example, at the Compo Road South/Post Road traffic island:

(Photo/Peter Marks)

He’s particularly concerned about signs advertising upcoming events that stay up long after they’re over.

Of course, the political season has just begun. We’ll see more — not fewer — signs everywhere, in the weeks ahead.

=======================================================

Former Westporter Ellen Wisser died Friday in Norwalk. She was 92.

The Brooklyn native attended the American Academy of Dramatic Arts with classmates and friends Grace Kelly and Vince Edwards. At Brooklyn College she met her future husband and lifetime love, Allen Wisser, who had already performed with the Broadway show “Showboat”‘s national tour.

After they married Ellen taught at James Madison High School in Brooklyn.

Ellen and Allen moved their young family to Westport in 1960. Ellen continued commuting to Brooklyn, then began teaching English, speech and drama at Harding High School in Bridgeport. She also produced and directed the annual school play, influencing the lives of many teachers and students, who continued to stay in touch for decades.

Ellen was active in the Bridgeport, Connecticut and National Educational Associations. She ran for the NEA presidency in 1976.  She was an advocate of the women’s liberation movement at the local and national levels.

Ellen changed careers in her 50’s, attending Bridgeport Law (now the Quinnipiac School of Law). She then practiced family and worker’s compensation law until age 88. Ellen recently survived 3 different types of cancer, forcing her retirement, and defeated unbeatable odds.

She was predeceased by her husband, grandson Tyler Wisser and brother Marvin Borenstein. She is survived by her children, Dr. Jamie R. Wisser (Natalie), Kerry M. Wisser (Debbie), R. Ilise Gold (Fritz Heilbron); grandchildren Davin Gold, Alanna Dayton, Evan Wisser, Caitlyn Wisser, Ryan Wisser; great grandchildren Jack, Sam and Beck Dayton, Claire and Penelope Wisser; sister-in-law Gladys Floch, many nieces, nephews and cousins.

Funeral services will be held today (Tuesday, September 20, 1 p.m., Abraham L. Green & Son Funeral Home, Fairfield), with interment following at Temple Israel Cemetery in Norwalk.

Memorial contributions may be made to the Connecticut Education Foundation – Children’s Fund.

Ellen Wisser

====================================================

Roger Ratchford died earlier this month, at 88. He was a teacher, golf coach, and advocate for people with disabilities.

The Norwalk native was raised mostly by his mother, with the help of the large Hungarian side of his family. Though she died when he was 13, Roger went on to become valedictorian of his class at Fairfield Prep. To supplement a tuition scholarship to the College of the Holy Cross, he worked afternoon shifts at Worcester Quilting Company.

After graduating he returned to Prep to teach Latin, classical Greek, French and English, and coach the golf team for 40 years. He was inducted into the Prep Athletic Hall of Fame, was named National High School Golf Coach of the Year, and held a national record for wins.

Roger was also one of the first to bring American high school students to the French Alps for homestays with French families. He strongly felt that immersion was the best way to master a language.

Until the end of his life, heh could recite by memory passages from Homer’s “Odyssey” — in the original Greek. He was proud of his work helping the nuns at the Convent of St. Birgitta in the proper pronunciation of Latin chants.

But Roger felt his greatest legacy was improving opportunities for people with disabilities. Inspired by his son Mike, he and his wife Gail became actively involved in the growth of STAR, Inc.

He lobbied for the closure of Mansfield Training Center in 1993, and advocated for a shift to group homes and the full integration of people with disabilities into the community. Two-time president of STAR, he was named Volunteer of the Year by the ARC of CT in 1988.

He was a walking encyclopedia of Norwalk history, and was proud of the Ratchfords’ long legacy in this town, from the Ratchford Hotel & Saloon in the first part of the 20th century, to his Aunt Helen’s tenure as a teacher at Norwalk High.

Roger was predeceased by his wife. He is survived by 3 children and 1 grandchild. His family is indebted to Dorrean, Sharon Mack, and her staff for their loving care during hospice. 

A funeral mass will be held on Thursday (September 22, 2 pm, St. Mary’s Church, Norwalk. A Celebration of Life will be held at Fairfield Prep some time in October. In lieu of flowers, please send donations to STAR Lighting the Way.

Gail and Roger Ratchford

=======================================================

Michael Szeto describes today’s “Westport … Naturally”photo:

“We are infested with deer in Westport, since they lack natural predators and we are not allowed to hunt them. A herd of 5 or 6 deer constantly roams through my backyard.

“But yesterday was a first for me. I saw 2 bucks butting heads in my back yard, apparently fighting for territorial dominance. They don’t seem to realize that I own the land, not them.”

(Photo/Michael Szeto)

=======================================================

And finally … to honor the Queen (and Paul Gambaccini — story above), here is the quintessential British song:

 

Eric Clapton, Jimmy Page Return To Westport For Levitt Fundraiser

Back in the day, Jimmy Page played at Staples High School. He had just replaced Eric Clapton, when the Yardbirds made their first-ever American appearance in Westport.

Clapton made it to the Staples stage a few months later, playing with Cream. It was one more in the now-legendary late-1960s series of concerts here in town.

Both musicians — now in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame — are still touring. And they’ll be the latest in the list of special artists (including Willie Nelson, Roberta Flack, John Fogerty and many more) who have played at the Levitt Pavilion’s annual fundraiser. This year’s concert is set for Sunday, June 30.

The Clapton and Page concert — called “Cream of the Yardbirds” — came about because of another collaboration.

Dick Sandhaus and Paul Gambaccini were Staples students who managed to book fantastic acts (also including the Doors and Rascals) for the Staples stage.

Both have gone on to noted careers. Sandhaus produced much larger concerts, and now works in the fields of technology and marketing. Gambaccini became one of England’s most famous music critics and personalities.

Several months ago, they reminisced about their teenage concert-promoting days. Both regretted never seeing Clapton and Page play together at Staples. With their connections, they realized, they could make it happen — over 50 years later.

Now they have.

Tickets are not yet on sale. To be placed on an email list for notification when they do, click here.

50 Years Ago, Staples’ Computer Made A Memorable Match

In the 1960s, Staples High School was in the forefront of social change.

Students could take “Experimental English.” On an open campus, they came and went as they pleased. Bands like the Doors, Cream and Yardbirds played in the auditorium.

Staples was also one of the first schools anywhere to hold a “Computer Dance.” After teenagers answered 50 questions, an “electronic computer” matched them with their “perfect” partners.

Staples may also be the first place where a “Computer Dance” actually led to a marriage.

This weekend, Collin and Sherida Stewart enjoyed their 50th high school reunion. In June, they celebrated their 46th anniversary.

None of it would have been possible without that new-fangled computer.

And the desperate financial straits of the Staples Student Organization.

The “Computer Dance” was page 1 news in the Staples High School newspaper “Inklings.” Student government president Paul Gambaccini is shown supposedly filling out the match questionnaire.

Back in the spring of 1966, the student government needed money. SSO card sales were low; gate receipts from football and basketball games were “bitterly disappointing,” said the school paper Inklings.

What better fundraiser  than a “computer dance”?

Students replied to questions about their own looks, intelligence, activities, cars, favorite school subjects, TV-watching habits, movies, and time spent on the phone. Then they answered the same questions about their ideal match.

Part of “ideal partner” questionnaire. Even though a computer did the matching, students answered the questions by hand.

Sherida Bowlin was a relative newcomer to Westport. She entered Long Lots Junior High School in 9th grade, when her dad’s employer transferred him from Kansas to New York.

Collin Stewart was even newer to town. Amoco moved his father from Houston to New York in the winter of 1966 — the middle of 11th grade.

In fact, he was not yet at Staples when he filled out the computer questionnaire. His dad — already here — heard about the dance from a new acquaintance at the United Methodist Church.

Realizing it was a great way for his son to meet people, he called Collin. Together on a long-distance call, they filled out the questionnaire.

The 2 juniors did not know each other. But they were matched together at the dance — despite a computer glitch that rendered the boy’s name as “Stewart Collin.”

Collin Stewart and Sherida Bowlin at the junior prom.

They shared “maybe 1 or 2 dances,” Sherida recalls. Neither remembers if there was a live band, or records.

Their friendship grew quickly — though more at their shared Methodist Church than Staples.

Their 1st real date was the junior prom.

Soon they were going steady. They continued all through the next year. By senior prom, they were a well-established couple.

Within days after graduation however, both families moved. Sherida’s went to the West Coast; Collin’s to London.

But they’d figured out a way to stay together. Collin was going to the Colorado School of Mines. His father and uncle both graduated from there — and he wanted to major in geological engineering.

Sherida headed to the University of Colorado — just 20 miles away.

In June 1971 they got married in Lebo, Kansas — her grandparents’ hometown.

Mr. and Mrs. Stewart, on their wedding day.

Collin’s job as a mining engineer took them all over the West. They lived in Colorado, Wyoming and Nevada. They love the outdoor lifestyle.

They’re now in Farmington, New Mexico, in the heart of the gorgeous Four Corners. They have 2 sons, and 3 grandchildren.

“We remain each other’s best friends,” Sherida says.

Collin earned a master’s degree before their kids were born. After he retired, he went back to Colorado School of Mines for a Ph.D. As of last December, he is Dr. Stewart.

Sherida taught 1st and 3rd grades, then preschool working with special needs children. Now she’s turned to inspirational romance writing. She’s won a few contests. (With her 50-year relationship, she knows a bit about romance.)

Sherida and Collin Stewart, in a recent selfie.

Collin came back to Westport just once, a couple of years after graduating. Until this weekend, Sherida had never been back.

Both looked forward to returning here. After all, had it not been for that “electronic computer,” the previous half-century of their lives might have turned out very, very differently.

Take that, Tinder!

(Hat tip: Fred Cantor)

Bowling With The Backiels

In 1917 John S. Backiel bought 7 acres of land on the dirt-filled Post Road, near Maple Avenue. He paid $5,000.

The Backiels farmed the property until 1954. That year his sons John and Stanley, and the young men’s brother-in-law, opened up Westport Golf Range. There was a driving range, and miniature golf course. (Today it’s the site of Regent’s Park condominiums.)

According to Jack Backiel, his grandfather — John S. — said that selling a bucket of golf balls was just like selling a basket of tomatoes. Except you got both the basket and the tomatoes back, to sell them again the next day.

Jack was just 7 years old in September 1954, but he remembers opening day. Trick shot artist Paul Hahn wrapped a club (actually a hose) around his body, then swung it and hit a ball off the mouth of his wife, as she lay on the ground.

The golf range “was my whole life as a kid,” Jack recalls.

In October 1958, the Backiels opened a bowling alley — only the 2nd 10-pin alley in the state. Economics favored recreation over farming.

John, Adolph and Stanley Backiel, inside Westport Lanes.

There were 8 owners: John S. Backiel’s children. Daily management was the responsibility of 3: John, Stanley and Adolf. The site is what is now Pier 1.

Business boomed. With lines out the door, the original 16 lanes soon expanded to 32. Soon, the Backiels added a pool room downstairs, and the Club 300 bar.

In the early years John Hersey — author of Hiroshima, and a former member of Westport’s Board of Education — bowled there several times a week.

Next door, when Mickey Rooney — acting at the Westport Country Playhouse — would hit buckets of balls at the golf range. Then he’d hang around for a couple of hours, talking to women and giving impromptu “golf lessons” to whoever listened.

Those recollections — and many more — come from Jack Backiel, John’s son and John S.’s grandson.

Jack says, “Our family was definitely on the cutting edge of bowling, as the new wave of family recreation began in the United States.” Bowling leagues thrived, from 1960 through the mid-’80s. Local businesses sponsored teams, advertising their names on the back of shirts.

The bowling alley stationery showed the building’s 1950’s-style facade.

In the fall of 1961, Westport Lanes was on “Candid Camera.” The last 2 lanes were rigged so that thin piano wires ran under the pins. When a couple came to bowl, they were assigned those lanes.

“The guy would bowl his regular score, but every time the woman got up, a mechanic in back would pull a lever. The piano wires moved just enough so all the pins fell down, no matter where she threw the ball.

“The poor guy out on a date would bowl his 125 game,” Jack continues. “His date would roll a 288. The hidden camera focused on his expression as she got strike after strike after strike.”

Paul Gambaccini — the “Professor of Pop,” and one of the most famous radio and TV music personalities in the UK — grew up not far from Westport Lanes. Earlier this year, in a Financial Times profile, he related the pinpoint accuracy of bowling to his precision cuing record.

And he recalled his earliest bowling days.

It was that period of the suburbanisation of America when an indispensible part of every new town was the bowling alley. It’s broken my heart to see bowling go downhill. Now it’s a sort of retro, kitsch thing. Nixon, for all his faults, was a bowler. He had a bowling alley in the basement of the White House.

One night in 1972, while the lanes were being refinished with a flammable coat of lacquer, they went up in flames. The cause was spontaneous combustion, Jack says, and the intense heat twisted steel.

A year later, the rebuilt Westport Lanes opened again.

Frances Lee at the Westport Golf Range, next door to Westport Lanes.

The bowling alley remained a kingpin of local recreation until 1984. Jack’s father — the youngest owner — was already in his 60s. The property was their nest egg. They sold the lanes and adjacent golf range for $6.8 million.

Two of the original owners are still alive. One aunt is 95; the other just turned 101.

“There wasn’t much entertainment in Westport back then, especially for kids,” Jack recalls. “We were it.”

That entertainment resonated with countless people. To this day, Jack says — even in retirement in Florida — when someone hears he’s from Westport, and that his family owned the bowling alley and golf range, they remember it.

And then they tell him stories about their favorite times there.

(Jack Backiel would love to hear more memories of the golf range and bowling alley. Click “Comments,” or email him: jjbackiel@aol.com.)