Tag Archives: Sarah Herz

86 Cross Highway: Another Preservation Success Story

There’s something about Cross Highway. For some reason, it’s become the epicenter of preservation in Westport.

“06880” has chronicled the stories of #93, the former home of noted artist George Hand Wright; #108, an 1805 dwelling that may have been built by a free black man; #113, where several outbuildings included one of the first gas stations in Westport, and — most recently — #180, a 2.9-acre property with a 1728 saltbox and 1790s-era barn.

All were saved from almost certain destruction by owners who loved the history, charm and livability of those homes — and found ways to save them.

Meet the latest addition to the Cross Highway saga: #86.

Eight years ago, Bill and Sarah Dransfield moved to Westport. They left Manhattan for the usual reasons: schools. Their 1st child was entering kindergarten. The couple are both teachers — he’s at The Allen-Stevenson School on the Upper East Side, she’s a fitness instructor (now with Total Training & Endurance) — they could not afford New York’s astronomical tuitions.

They rented on Long Lots Lane. They painted, cleaned up the yard — and watched as nearly every home nearby turned into a teardown.

Sarah and Bill Dransfield, on the property they now own.

Sarah and Bill Dransfield, on the property they now own.

This past spring, they learned their own rental home would soon be torn down too. They began looking for one to buy.

It was not easy. They had a limited budget. They wanted to stay in the Bedford/ Long Lots district, where their 2 kids were in school.

And they really wanted an older house. “One with character and charm,” Sarah explains.

They were outbid on a Roseville Road farmhouse. November 1 — the day they had to be out of their rental — loomed.

While Sarah was looking at a place on Main Street — she was literally inside the house — a friend who lives on Victoria Lane sent a text. Her neighbor’s house had just come on the market. “It’s a gem,” the friend said.

Sarah’s realtor quickly replied: “It’s out of your price range.”

But she agreed to show it to Sarah. The moment she walked in the door, Sarah says, “I knew this was it. It’s exactly what we wanted. I cried!”

A springtime view of 86 Cross Highway, as seen from the road.

A springtime view of 86 Cross Highway, as seen from the long driveway. The house is set back from the road.

She particularly loved the 2 fireplaces, and the office overflowing with books and papers. “I realized how much the owner had enjoyed being there,” Sarah says.

The house was built in 1910. Since 1962, it was owned by Sarah and Steve Herz. She too was an educator — a longtime and much-loved English teacher at Bedford and Staples, who died 2 years ago — while he earned renown in a 2nd career as a poet.

When Bill saw the home, he noted a problem with the ceiling: The house had a flat roof. But the couple saw plenty of potential. “The inside just needs to be loved again,” Sarah says.

They wrote a letter to the Herz children, who were selling the home. The Dransfields said they were both teachers, and wanted to raise their children in a home that had so obviously meant so much to Sarah and Steve Herz’s children, Mark and Kate.

“They got it,” Sarah Dransfield says. “They know it’s hard for teachers to live in Westport.”

They agreed on a price. The buyers’ landlord allowed them to stay in their rental property until mid-December.

On December 19, the new owners moved in. Bill cut down a small fir in the yard, for their Christmas tree.

A rear view of 86 Cross Highway.

A rear view of 86 Cross Highway.

There’s a lot of work to be done. The Dransfields will put in a sloped roof. They hope to expose some of the old beams in the kitchen. They’ve found some old photos, and plan to bring back the landscaping as it was when the Herzes bought the house.

Sarah and Bill are thrilled to own their first home. They’re even happier that it’s the type they always coveted: an older one, with character and charm.

Sitting in their new kitchen, they talk about the home next door. It’s a teardown — and it looms over that stretch of Cross Highway, which has managed nonetheless to maintain several older properties.

“Not everyone can move into a ready-made home,” Sarah says. “And not everyone wants to.”

For now, the streetscape of Cross Highway remains less changed than many others in Westport.

Those who care about preservation can thank Ed Gerber (#93), Jeff Porter and Rachel Ember (#108), the Ronemus family (#113) and Mark Yurkiw and Wendy Van Wie (#180) for that.

And — though #86 sits back a bit from the road — we can now add Bill and Sarah Dransfield to the list.

With, of course, an assist from Steve and Sarah Herz, and their kids.

Maggie Kneip’s Amazing Journey: Now Everyone Knows

In the 1980s, life was good for Maggie Kneip. Her handsome husband was a rising star at the Wall Street Journal. They were raising a 3-year-old daughter and newborn son in hip Hoboken. She had great friends, and a loving family.

Suddenly, within 9 months, her husband was dead of AIDS.

Then her real ordeal began.

Over the next 3 decades Maggie’s story became a symbol of perseverance, growth and triumph. It’s also a story with plenty of Westport connections.

Last month, she shared it with the world.

Now Everyone Will Know: The Perfect Husband, His Shattering Secret, My Rediscovered Life was published on December 1 — World AIDS Day. Exploring themes of sexuality, love, humanity,  the damaging nature of family secrets and the power of truth, it’s an important book for all Westporters — even without the local ties.

Maggie Kneip and John Andrew.

Maggie Kneip and John Andrew.

Maggie writes with unflinching honesty and great grace about her life before and after her husband, John Andrew — Brown University graduate, dynamic personality, great lover — was diagnosed with what in those days was a devastating, stigmatizing death sentence.

She describes her growing realization of the hidden life he led as a closeted gay man, and her reaction when she learns of his diagnosis — just weeks after the birth of their 2nd child: “I had to see him. I had to kill him.”

But Maggie set aside her anger, and tried passionately to keep her husband alive. Caring for 2 youngsters and a husband dying a gruesome death seems a herculean task. It was made even harder by her fears that she and her children were also infected — and the revulsive reactions of a few “friends.”

John died in March of 1991, age 36. Maggie felt angry, betrayed, traumatized, heartbroken and desolate.

Maggie Kneip and her children, in June 1991. Her husband had died 3 months earlier.

Maggie Kneip and her children, in June 1991. Her husband had died 3 months earlier.

John’s brother Robert — who lived in Westport — mourned him one way. Maggie was different. She needed to protect her children. They learned never to tell anyone how their father died.

Hoping for a new start, Maggie got a job in publishing. She moved to the Upper East Side. A few years later at work she met a great woman, who lived in Westport.

She decided to leave her small New York apartment for a “perfect turn-of-the-century, walk-to-town, fixer-upper, below-budget saltbox” in Westport.

Her friend introduced her to a circle of “unfettered, insouciant and creative women.” Maggie helped form a book club, with women she grew close to.

Maggie Kneip (Photo/David Dreyfuss)

Maggie Kneip (Photo/David Dreyfuss)

But she avoided all mention of John. She walled herself off from her kids’ friends’ parents, avoiding conversations and even friendships.

Her husband still haunted her dreams. As her son got older, he looked more and more like  his father. But as Maggie’s children went through Staples — successful and active — they did not want to talk about him.

Maggie lost her publishing job. She became an empty nester. It was not until her kids — separately, at their college graduations — surprised her by saying they’d been thinking about their dad, that she decided it was time to tell her story.

So she wrote. And set herself free.

In a writing class at the 92nd Street Y, Maggie met a published author who’d grown up in Westport. Melissa Kirsch was moved by Maggie, and encouraged her to turn her short pieces into a memoir.

Maggie was also inspired by Sarah Herz. The former Westport teacher — a national expert in children’s literature, who died last year — became one of her mentors.

Sarah Herz and Maggie Kneip at Westport's Blue Lemon restaurant.

Sarah Herz and Maggie Kneip at Westport’s Blue Lemon restaurant.

Finding a publisher was not easy. “AIDS is over,” she heard. And, “We don’t know how to market this.” As well as: “This woman is angry.”

She’s not. Her writing is insightful, honest and strong. But with no publisher willing to take a chance, Maggie self-published.

The result is a remarkable book. Yet as powerful as it is for readers, Maggie’s memoir has also meant a great deal to her.

Today, Maggie senses a subtle shift in her approach to people. “I’m engaging more. And I’m less judgmental of others,” she says.

She’s become more involved at Temple Israel. She joined a women’s group, something inconceivable a few years ago.

“I think I’m more easy to talk to now,” Maggie says. “I’m happier.”

Maggie Kneip book cover

Maggie praises her beloved book group for being part of the Westport that helped her grow. As members talked about their lives — including the ups and downs in their own marriages — she realized that keeping a secret kept her from connecting with others.

Her book — with an afterword from former Westporter and noted psychologist Dale Atkins — has been well received. “People appreciate my honesty,” Maggie says. “They say it reminds them of that AIDS era, and the people they’ve lost.” She’s been surprised by how many readers are spouses in mixed-orientation marriages.

Now Everyone Will Know acknowledges the power of secrets, and provides a portrait in courage for moving beyond fear and shame.

Maggie’s husband John lived a hidden life. Now she’s come out of her own closet — as the wife of a gay spouse, and the widow of an AIDS victim.

She — along with her children, John’s friends from Brown, and Wall Street Journal colleagues — participate each year in the New York AIDS Walk. They raise funds for this still-awful disease.

And, finally, they talk about John.

(For more information, or to buy Now Everyone Will Know, click on www.maggiekneip.com. Hat tip: Lori Andrews) 

Remembering Sarah Herz

Sarah Herz — a gifted, demanding yet beloved English teacher at Bedford and Coleytown Middle Schools, and Staples High, who made a national mark as a pioneering advocate for young adult literature — died Thursday at home, after a long battle with cancer. She was 83.

Sarah was an avid supporter of the arts; a swimmer, traveler, longtime feminist and active League of Women Voters member.

Her friend and colleague, former Staples English instructor Dr. Gerry Kuroghlian, offers this tribute: 

Mythological goddesses are eternal. But those born of man pass away.

Sarah Herz

Sarah Herz

Perhaps bringing up her own teens, Kate and Mark, gave Sarah Herz the willpower and determination to become a national advocate for the inclusion of young adult literature in middle and high school classrooms.

Perhaps simply understanding her students and their problems propelled her to include books dealing with the ups and downs of being a teen in today’s world.

Whatever her motivation, Sarah’s role as a teacher in Westport spurred her on a nationwide odyssey for the National Council of Teachers of English to bring teachers and authors together, to discuss books that young people would devour.

Her goal was to form bridges between the everyday problems of teen life, and great works of literature. With University of Connecticut professor Don Gallo, Sarah wrote From Hinton to Hamlet: Bridges Between Young Adult Literature and the Classics. The book helped change the scope of teen reading forever.

As a reviewer for major publishing houses, Sarah read hundreds of books a year. She annotated and recommended titles for almost every situation in adolescent life. Her reviews helped library media specialists and teachers select relevant material.

Sarah Herz bookPerhaps more importantly, she then sent the books to school libraries in Bridgeport, where they inspired students to read. Kolbe Cathedral credits Mrs. Herz with doubling the number of books checked out from the library.

As a vice president of the Westport Education Association, Sarah was forthright in her ideas for classroom change.

I was fortunate to be Sarah’s colleague and friend, and witness the impact she had on students, teachers and curricula. In my life’s teaching odyssey Sarah served as my own Athena, wearing the helmet of knowledge, holding the owl of wisdom and wielding the spear of change. She will be missed by many, but her legacy of increasing literacy lives on.

Sarah is survived by her husband of 61 years, Stephen of Westport; her son Mark Herz of New Haven, and daughter Kate Herz, son-in-law Paul Ballew and grandsons Jacob and Elijah, all of Brooklyn. 

A memorial service will be held in Westport. Charitable contributions may be sent to The Mercy Learning Center (637 Park Avenue, Bridgeport, CT 06604).