Tag Archives: Ruth Steinkraus Cohen

Friday Flashback #198

Had it not been for COVID-19, tomorrow would have been jUNe Day here. Dozens of United Nations guests would have enjoyed a day in Westport — including an impressive display of flags from their native countries on the Post Road bridge.

jUNe Day 2015, on the Ruth Steinkraus Cohen Bridge. (Photo/Jeff Simon)

That’s the same bridge where, earlier this month, hundreds of people massed in support of Black Lives Matter, and to protest the death of George Floyd. 

The 2 events are related. The Post Road bridge — with both its flags, and its role as the cherished spot for political demonstrations — is named in honor of Ruth Steinkraus Cohen. A remarkable Westporter (and former secretary to Eleanor Roosevelt), she dedicated her life to social justice, world peace — and music. 

The scene on the Ruth Steinkraus Cohen Bridge, several years ago.

With jUNe Day canceled, and political protests fresh in our minds, it’s time to learn a bit more about Ruth Steinkraus Cohen. Staples High School Class of 1981 graduate Laurie Cameron writes:

Back in the day I met a true Westport treasure: my piano teacher, Ruth Steinkraus-Cohen. She would have been 100 on June 8. She was also the grandmother of my friend and classmate Adam Weisman.

Ruth was a generous, warm person who made music and kindness. Learning piano from her was a great education; she made sure I knew Hadyn, Chopin, Brahms and Vivaldi in addition to Mozart, Beethoven and Bach. I learned about Vienna and the Music festival from her.

My brother Byl was the musician in our family. I had no gift for music, but I returned each week for almost 9 years. I was so fascinated by her travels, her art, her bookcase, her antique harpsichord, and hearing about the many jobs she had when she was not being a piano teacher.

My favorite time of the week was the hour that I waited for my brother Andy to finish his piano lesson, when I could stare at the paintings, books and sculptures in Mrs. Cohen’s living room.

Her colorful holiday parties were also our piano recitals. After each student performed, Ruth and her husband Herbert played a duet: she on the piano, he on violin. Their music was rich and melodious, but the joy on their faces was the true lesson for us.

Sometimes when Ruth could see me growing restless at the piano, she took me for a walk in her garden. It had a brick path that looked like the yellow brick road through the woods behind her house. It was so thrilling to me that I sometimes snuck out while waiting for Andy’s lesson to end, and ran down its wooden steps.

Ruth Steinkraus Cohen (center) joins famed singer Marian Anderson (2nd from left) at a concert by young Suzanne Sherman, at Bedford Elementary School.

During her time running the UN Hospitality Committee, Ruth placed over 50,000 people into American homes for cultural exchanges. My family learned about habits and traditions of people from other cultures from those we hosted, thanks to Ruth. She was a great humanitarian with a desire to bring the world together, and bridge gaps between cultures.

When I came back to Westport after being away for over 15 years, visiting Ruth was an important stop for me. Even in her late 70s she was warm, joyful and busy making the world better for those who needed it.

I feel privileged to have known Ruth and to have learned so much from her. Her knowledge, openness, love of music, energy and patience were great sources of inspiration to me. She would be so proud to know that a bridge bearing her name is used to support people fighting for peace, civil rights and equal justice.

(To learn more about Ruth Steinkraus Cohen, click here for her New York Times obituary.)

“Honk Against Hate” Fills Downtown Bridge

For decades, the Ruth Steinkraus Cohen Bridge — the Post Road span named for Westport’s tireless UN and peace advocate — has been the site of social justice protests.

This afternoon, several dozen folks of all ages thronged the bridge. In the aftermath of yesterday’s horrific anti-black, anti-Semitic, Nazi-infused demonstration and murder in Charlottesville, the group had a united message: Hate has no place here.

“Honk against hate!” they chanted.

Many drivers obliged.

As they did, the protesters cheered and smiled.

Then they chanted even louder.

jUNe Day: When Westport Welcomes The World

It’s one of the longest-running, most enjoyable, most visible — and yet least remarked upon and little noticed — events in Westport.

For more than half a century in early summer, our town has welcomed guests from the United Nations. It’s called jUNe Day — clever, no? — and the 2017 version takes place this coming Saturday (June 24).

Over 300 folks — ambassador types, embassy and headquarters workers, and their families — arrive at the train station. (Whether they come from a 1st or 3rd world nation, they’ve probably never seen anything quite like Metro-North.)

On jUNe Day, the Ruth Steinkraus Cohen Bridge brims with flags from around the world. Cohen originated jUNe Day in 1965. (Photo/Jeff Simon)

Having overcome that initial hurdle, they’re shuttled to Saugatuck Elementary School for a 10:30 a.m. welcome.

The UN is known for speechifying, but these are short. Then comes the real fun: a tennis tournament and golf at Longshore, tours of Earthplace, a visit to Wakeman Town Farm — you get the idea.

There’s a soccer match between a UN team and the Westport Knights men’s side. It’s not the World Cup, but some years tensions are nearly as high.

Many guests head straight to Compo, or the Longshore pool. They shop. They enjoy Westport.

Sometimes we forget what a day in “the country” can do. Many UN folks and their families don’t get many chances to leave New York.  jUNe Day is an opportunity for them to do just that — and for us to show off our town.

We may not be a “typical” American town. But this is our chance to offer typical American hospitality.

Volunteers are needed to serve breakfast and lunch, help out at Longshore, and clean up. “Tour guides” on buses are also needed. If interested, call 203-526-3275, or email andreasusa@yahoo.com.

Or just give a big hello on Saturday to anyone wearing jUNe Day hats, and an orange bracelet.

jUNe Day Busts Out

For the 51st summer, Westport welcomed United Nations diplomats, staff members and their families. Our jUNe Day guests enjoyed soccer, swimming, tennis, and visits to spots like Earthplace and downtown.

Every year on jUNe Day, flags of visitors’ nations replace the American flags on the Post Road’s Ruth Steinkraus Cohen Bridge.

So who was Ruth Steinkraus Cohen?

The founder and — for many years — guiding spirit behind the annual event.

There could be no better tribute — and no finer day for our guests.

(PhotoCharlie Colasurdo)

(PhotoCharlie Colasurdo)

jUNe Day Busted Out All Over

The weather was cloudy and chilly. A number of potential guests were home celebrating Ramadan.

But Westport’s 50th annual jUNe Day drew nearly 200 United Nations workers and their families to Westport today.

Assistant Secretary-General Carole Wainaina of Kenya and 1st Selectman Jim Marpe traded welcomes at Saugatuck Elementary School. But this was nothing like a General Assembly meeting.

A  little music and a few munchies later, everyone was off: to downtown, Longshore, Compo, Earthplace, Wakeman Town Farm and all points in between.

No translation was needed — beyond the word “fun.”

Flags from around the world replace the Stars and Stripes on jUNe Day. Too bad there was no breeze to flutter them. (Photo/Jim Chillington)

Flags from around the world replace the Stars and Stripes on jUNe Day. Too bad there was no breeze to flutter them. (Photo/Jim Chillington)

No matter where you're from, if you're a little kid it's all about the food. (Photo/Adam Stolpen)

No matter where you’re from, if you’re a little kid it’s all about the food. (Photo/Adam Stolpen)

Visitors from Peru, Spain, Portugal, the Philippines and enljoyed a tour of Wakeman Town Farm, including an expanded chicken coop, productive beehive, and edible marigolds that protect the borders of the gardens from insects.

Visitors from Peru, Spain, Portugal, the Philippines and more enjoyed a tour of Wakeman Town Farm — including an expanded chicken coop, productive beehive, and edible marigolds that protect the gardens from insects. (Photo/Elizabeth Beller)

A pair of Olympians got into the spirit. William Steinkraus Cohen -- brother of jUNe Day founder Ruth Steinkraus Cohen --

A pair of Olympians got into the spirit. Bill Steinkraus — brother of jUNe Day founder Ruth Steinkraus Cohen — was an equestrian in 6 Olympics. He won 1 individual gold medal, and 2 silvers and a bronze as a team member. Ann Marie Flynn of Westport was a high jumper in the 1956 Olympics in Melbourne.  (Photo/Adam Stolpen)

For 50 years, Westport soccer teams have taken on their UN counterparts. This trophy is a recent addition to the rivalry. (Photo/Adam Stolpen)

For 50 years, Westport soccer teams have taken on their UN counterparts. This trophy is a recent addition to the rivalry. (Photo/Adam Stolpen)

Having A Tea Party

I despise the Tea Party movement.  I think it is negative, simplistic, and dangerous for our country.

But this is an all-purpose blog.  So I’ll pass along this information, and let my “06880” readers decide if they want to go:

Westport Tea is sponsoring a “Rally for America” today (11 a.m.-noon) in downtown Westport.

It’s billed as a “pre-election day gathering for all citizen-voters who believe in responsible government and true representation and accountability by those elected.  The rally will bring attention to the importance of voting by citizens concerned with restoring fiscal and political balance to the U.S. Congress and the CT General Assembly.”

The site of the rally is the Ruth Steinkraus Cohen Memorial Bridge.  For nearly 50 years, Ruth Steinkraus Cohen was a tireless advocate for the United Nations, and a volunteer for world peace.

The Tea Party movement verges close to nativism.  The irony of rallying on a bridge named for a woman who believed in globalism is spectacular.

Is this a great country or what?

The Tea Party -- and all Westporters -- enjoy watching American flags fly on the Ruth Steinkraus Cohen Memorial Bridge. (Photo by Lynn U. Miller)

jUNe Day Is Busting Out All Over

For a 45-year tradition, jUNe Day still manages to fly under the radar.

Each year on the last Saturday in jUNe June, up t0 350 United Nations people travel to Westport.  Officially, the event promotes “world peace and international understanding…reinforced through friendship, both for the visitors and their hosts.”

In reality it’s a chance for UN staffers, spouses and kids to escape New York City on a (usually sultry) Saturday, and enjoy a few hours of swimming, tennis, golf, soccer, shopping and whatnot.

This Saturday’s date has special significance — it’s the 60th anniversary of the signing of the United Nations Charter — but that’s really immaterial.  jUNe Day is not about an institution; it’s about the people who work there, and a beachside town that happens to be on a train line an hour away.

For over 4 decades, a small cadre of volunteers has made jUNe Day an important date on the UN calendar.  They make sure flags fly proudly on the Ruth Steinkraus Cohen Memorial Bridge (the name honors a woman who, for years, spearheaded jUNe Day).  They meet guests at the mercifully quick welcoming breakfast; provide hospitality at every venue, and do all the behind-the-scenes chores that make something like this run smoothly.

There are not a lot of them — most Westporters have as much connection with jUNe Day as they do with the UN generally, which is not much — but, quietly and effectively, they have cemented a tie between our town and the global organization that endures.

It’s an honor to welcome UN guests here.  Every Westporter should delight in the chance to show visitors from Mexico, Malta, Mali — and every other corner of earth — what life in a typical American small town is like.

What?  We’re not really typical?

Sssssshhhhh — they don’t need to know.

(To volunteer on jUNe Day, call Barbara Jay:  203-226-1710.  For more information, contact Michaela MacColl at 203-227-9461, or Bill Hass at 203-454-7685.)