Tag Archives: Rick Benson

No Bull! Westporters Run At Pamplona

Rick Benson, Jack Fanning, Drew Murphy and Rod Smith met in 1988. All had toddlers. They — the adults, that is — helped plan and build the Compo Beach playground.

It was dangerous work. Not the physical labor — just getting it approved was tough. There was significant opposition: It will ruin the vista! Teenagers will hang out there, drinking and having sex! It will attract out-of-towners!

But they — and others — persisted. Today the beach playground is one of our town’s great attractions.

The men have remained friends ever since. This year, they decided to do something even scarier than building that playground.

They would run with the bulls at Pamplona.

The bulls at Pamplona.

If you’ve been living under a rock all these years — or hanging out at a playground — and never heard of that bizarre ritual, it’s this:

Every year, for 9 days during the Feast of Saint Fermin, over 1,000 people join 6 bulls (and 6 herding steers) in the narrow, winding medieval streets of the Spanish town.

The men — and the runners are nearly all male (go figure) — try not to get gored or (yes) killed in the 2-minute race to a large bull ring. Once inside, there’s even more chasing — and being chased by — the bulls.

What could be more fun?!

RB and Rick Benson in the Plaza del Toro bull ring, Pamplona.

The Westporters were joined by others: Benson’s son RB, Fanning’s son Mikey and Smith’s son Tyler; Joey Laurita and his cousin Bryan.

All have Westport connections.

They spent 3 days in Pamplona. They watched one day from the balcony of La Perla — the same hotel where Ernest Hemingway stayed, when he wrote “The Sun Also Rises.” The 1926 novel lifted an obscure Spanish ritual into a worldwide phenomenon.

All ran at least one day with the bulls.

(From left): RB Benson, Joey Laurita, Mike Fanning, Joey’s cousin Bryan and Tyler Smith. They all look relieved — and alive.

“It’s not as scary as it’s sometimes portrayed,” Rick Benson reports.

However, he notes, “Some people are definitely less cautious than we were.”

The craziest folks are in front of the bulls, or near their horns. The Westport contingent ran alongside the 1,500-pound animals.

Which is why they’re back home today, able to tell this great tale.

(PS: Rick Benson does not know what everyone else’s next adventure is. But this fall, he heads to Africa. He’s spent the past months raising funds with Rotary Clubs throughout the state. In Kenya, he’ll help oversee a $135,000 school renovation. In Nigeria, it’s a $120,000 water sanitation project. Both are a long way from Pamplona — and the Compo Beach playground.)

Running with the bulls sure gives you an appetite. The Westport contingent dined well.

Rick Benson To The Rescue

Two days ago, I posted a piece about the missing Rotary Club sign on Wilton Road. I described Rick Benson — the member helping replace it — as “the guy you call on whenever something needs doing.”

I wasn’t kidding.

Almost instantly, I got an email from Claire England, operations director at Greens Farms Church.

She said:

Last week one of the 4 finials on the steeple blew down during that gusty wind.

Thanks to Rick, it’s now safe again. He removed the rotten finials. We’ll cap the spots where they stood while we consider whether/how to replace them. The church looks as beautiful as ever.

I was very glad to see Rick and the crew working with him safely back on the ground at the end of it. Definitive proof that being a church trustee is not just a desk job.

Rick Benson (right) in action.

That’s not the first time the steeple needed attention. In the mid-1800s — when the church was already 150 years old — it fell.

In 1950, a hurricane that killed 2 Westporters toppled it again. The steeple spent 2 months on the front lawn, before being hoisted back into place.

Of course, back then Rick Benson was not around to help.

Then again, there was no YouTube either:

(Hat tip: Kara Sullivan)

Have You Seen The Rotary Club Sign?

For as long as the Red Barn has been on Wilton Road — maybe longer — a sign for the Rotary Club of Westport stood on the side of the road.

Made of handsome cast iron, with a blue background, it noted when and where the club met.

Rick Benson — longtime Rotary member, and the guy you call on whenever something needs doing — had the chains replaced in 1994, and the sign repainted.

The Rotary Club sign. (Photo and artwork/Lynn U. Miller)

The club is ready to put up new signs at 7 prominent gateways to Westport. One will be at the (former) Red Barn site.

Much to their surprise, members discovered recently that the old sign is gone. All that’s left is a vine-encrusted metal post.

Rick canvassed club members. He called a few folks who might have picked it up for themselves. He checked with the Westport Historical Society.

Because he’s that kind of guy, he even had the area scanned with a metal detector.

Nada.

The missing sign, on Wilton Road.

So he’s asking “06880” for help. If you — or anyone you know — has intel on the whereabouts of the Rotary Club’s old sign, email Rick: ben3rb@aol.com.

Or — for complete confidentiality — contact “06880” (dwoog@optonline.net). I’ll get the sign back to Rick, no questions asked.

FUN FACT: The Westport Rotary Club turns 100 on March 7, 2024. That makes it more than a decade older than the Merritt Parkway, whose Exit 41 is near the old (and new) sign.

Lobster Fest!

A lovely late-summer day.

Beer and wine. Music. A huge crowd of friendly, sociable people, ready to mix, mingle, kick back and chill.

And of course about 3,000 lobsters, shipped in yesterday from Nova Scotia.

Those were the ingredients for today’s Lobster Fest.

In just 5 years, the Rotary Club event has become a major highlight on the Westport calendar.

It’s the biggest block party in town. It’s Compo and community at its best.

And — best of all — it raises about $75,000, which the Rotary Club plows right back into good causes locally, nationally and abroad.

If you weren’t there, you missed a fantastic party.

And some really amazing lobsters.

lobsterfest-fresh-lobsters

The stars of the show.

Rotary Board member Rick Benson claws State Representative Gail Lavielle.

Rotary Board member Rick Benson claws State Representative Gail Lavielle.

Homes With Hope CEO and Lobster Fest volunteer Jeff Wieser pours a beer for 1-year-old Andy Wolf. Her dad, Jim, looks on amused.

Homes With Hope CEO and Lobster Fest volunteer Jeff Wieser pours a beer for 1-year-old Andy Wolf. Her dad, Jim, looks on amused.

Nearby, a slightly older youngster explored the Beaver Beer car.

Nearby, a slightly older youngster explored the Beaver Beer car.

First Selectman Jim Marpe and his wife Mary Ellen were also Lobster Fest volunteers.

First Selectman Jim Marpe and his wife Mary Ellen were Lobster Fest volunteers.

As the sun set on Lobster Fest, no one wanted to leave.

The sun set on Lobster Fest, but no one wanted to leave.

At the end, not much remained of the 3,000 lobsters.

At the end, not much remained of the 3,000 lobsters.

Psssst … Anyone Want A Dock?

Alert “06880” reader Rick Benson spotted this 20′ x 4′ section of dock last weekend, washed up on Old Mill Beach:

Dock

As of this morning, Rick says, it was still there. Be sure to check your waterfront, to see if you are missing a dock.

Barn Raising

Last winter, many Westporters — including “06880” — worried that the demolition of the North Avenue barn near the corner of Long Lots meant that one more town icon had bitten the dust.

Rick Benson didn’t let that happen.

Carefully and lovingly, the local builder is recreating the old barn.  It looks the same — if not better — on the outside.  Inside, there are plenty of improvements.

The new North Avenue barn.

Thanks, Rick, for proving that not every old structure must give way to a bigger, more bloated one.