The big day is Tuesday. Nearly 6 months after closing — and a week after the original date — students return to Westport schools.
Many things will be different. They’ll attend in shifts: half in classrooms, half studying remotely. Desks will be 6 feet apart. Some hallways will be one-way. And those are just a few of the changes COVID has wrought.
Some youngsters have not even driven past their schools in half a year. To remind them of what they look like, here is a special “Friday Flashback” drone gallery. All images are courtesy of multi-talented and spectacular Staples High School senior Brandon Malin. (Click on or hover over any photo to enlarge.)
To start off, here’s the school he’s headed back to:
Bedford Middle School
Coleytown Middle School (construction project)
Coleytown Elementary School
Greens Farms Elementary School
Kings HIghway Elementary School
Long Lots Elementary School
Saugatuck Elementary School
Bonus feature: Greens Farms Academy (All drone photos/Brandon Malin)
Saugatuck Elementary School students are busily rehearsing “The Little Mermaid.” The curtain rises next Friday (March 13, 7 p.m.), with additional shows Saturday, March 14 (1 and 6 p.m.). Tickets are $5 at http://www.saugatucktheaterclub.org; $7 at the door, if any remain.
To generations of Westport students, Lou Dorsey was phys. ed.
The Saugatuck native, Staples High School graduate and longtime teacher died November 2, in Florida. He was 93 years old.
Dorsey was a member of Staples’ Class of 1943. He left school after the basketball season, to join the Navy. “It was more important to get in the war before it ended than to get my diploma,” he said in 2004.
Nine classmates (out of a graduation class of 100) also left school early, for the war. Dorsey received his diploma eventually, on leave, in a special ceremony with principal Douglas Young.
Dorsey served in the Pacific Theater, as a radioman third class. After his service he received his undergraduate degree at Arnold College (now the University of Bridgeport), and his master’s at Columbia University.
He taught physical education for 33 years at Saugatuck and Burr Farms Elementary Schools, and Staples High School.
He was inspired to teach by his high school coaches, particularly Roland Wachob at Staples.
“Rollie would put me in charge of his 9th grade class when he’d go off on a baseball trip,” Dorsey said. “If you did that nowadays you’d get sued.”
Dorsey and his wife Pauline spent 60 summers in the western Maine mountains. They moved to Cocoa Beach, Florida 33 years ago, where Dorsey was an avid golfer.
He is survived by 4 children: Judith Dorsey and her husband Kenneth Gomberg; Kimberly Slimak and her husband Michael Slimak; Jiliane Dorsey and Louis Dorsey, Jr. and his youngest sister, Patricia Dorsey Wood, as well as 3 grandchildren and 3 great-grandchildren.
A memorial service will be held in Rangeley, Maine next summer. Click here to leave condolences.
Westport does not have a nickname. But if we did, we might be called “The Land of Lawsuits.”
Westporters like to sue. The town won a lawsuit to prohibit construction of a nuclear power plant on Cockenoe Island (yay!). Neighbors lost a suit to prohibit construction of the Compo Beach playground (yay!).
Neighbors also threatened to prohibit Positano restaurant from putting a few tables on an outdoor patio near Old Mill Beach. As a result, the restaurant moved. A private home now rises in its place (boo!).
Lost in the mists of time is another lawsuit. In 1985, 64 residents of Bridge Street and nearby roads sued to prevent the conversion of what was then Saugatuck Elementary School into multi-unit housing.
Three years later, a settlement was reached. The agreement limited the project to 36 owner-occupied, age-restricted units.
(Photo courtesy of SmartMLS Inc.)
Today, The Saugatuck is a true success story. One of Westport’s most affordable residences lies a short walk from thriving Saugatuck Center and train station, and not much further from Compo Beach.
The attractively renovated red brick building graces Bridge Street between South Compo and Imperial Avenue.
Residents have formed a tight-knit, active community. It’s hard to imagine the neighborhood without it, in fact.
None of that could have been predicted in 1984. Westport’s school population was declining. Burr Farms Elementary was torn down. Hillspoint Elementary turned into daycare. Bedford El became Town Hall. Greens Farms Elementary School housed the Westport Arts Center.
When the lawsuit was settled, plans were drawn up to convert the school that generations of Saugatuck residents attended. It dated back to the early 20th century, when the original wooden building was called the Bridge Street School.
It took several years, but 17 1-bedroom and 19 2-bedroom apartments were built in what were once classrooms, the library and auditorium. Because Saugatuck had been a classic elementary school, each unit features large windows and high ceilings.
Units at The Saugatuck feature large windows.
Those surroundings are familiar to at least one current resident — and several others in the past. They attended Saugatuck El as kids. Living there now is very different — but also quite familiar.
Joe Veno has lived in The Saugatuck for more than 20 years. As a youngster, he walked to the school from his Franklin Street home. He played basketball in the playground — now a parking lot — and baseball in what is now a quiet back yard.
The Saugatuck is a cooperative. The Town of Westport owns the land, and holds a 99-year lease on the property. But the Cooperative owns the building.
Members must be at last 62 years old (at least one, in the case of married couples), able to live independently, and their income must be below the Connecticut Housing Finance Authority’s guidelines for homeowners at 80% of area median income. Importantly, there are no limits or restrictions on assets.
To ensure affordability, the resale price is linked to the average increase in income for individuals living in the area.
Three units are currently for sale. A 2-bedroom, 1 bath apartment is listed at $222,282; 2 1-bedroom units have listing prices of $179,800 and $168,300. (Inquiries can be directed to the property manager: 203-226-1570.)
Those are far below other Westport prices, because of the original affordable housing prices implemented in the 1990s, and the strict resale cap/formula that limits how high prices can climb.
A view of The Saugatuck’s back yard.
A cooperative’s rules are are more stringent than in a condo, particularly in areas like rentals. Saugatuck units must be their owner’s primary residence.
One of the great perks of The Saugatuck is Shaun Cullen, a part-time super.
Residents include longtime Westporters who have downsized, and no longer want the responsibilities of a home and yard.
Other residents have moved to The Saugatuck from elsewhere, to be close to their children and grandchildren in Westport.
Most Saugatuck residents are retired, from careers including Wall Street, Madison Avenue, refuse collection and tile installation. At least 2 — an accountant and a contractor — are currently working.
The vibe is friendly. Neighbors chat easily, in the community room, mail room and hallways.
The cooperative is governed by an executive board. They and other residents organize a variety of activities: movie nights, supper at the beach, a jazz keyboardist and Labor Day picnic.
A recent party in the community room.
It’s hard to imagine Westport today without the Compo Beach playground — or to visualize the town, had a nuclear power plant been built on Cockenoe.
It’s just as hard to imagine what Bridge Street would be like without The Saugatuck. How great that the neighbors who sued more than 30 years ago cooperated in a settlement that led to a co-op.
FUN FACTS: 1) During the Depression, the WPA commissioned Westport artist Robert Lambdin to paint a 7-foot high, 20-foot long mural: “Pageant of Juvenile Literature.” For years, it hung just inside the main entrance to Saugatuck Elementary School.
In 1992, when the town finally began to convert the old Saugatuck El to senior housing, the mural was slated for demolition.
A group of art-lovers — including Mollie Donovan, Eve Potts and Judy Gault Sterling — set out to save the work. Within a month they raised $40,000. That was enough to remove the mural, conserve it, and reinstall it at its new home: The Westport Library.
It stayed there for more than 2 decades. When the transformation project was announced, and a suitable spot could not be found for the work, Westport arts curator Kathy Motes Bennewitz and members of the Westport Public Art Collection searched for a large wall, with plenty of foot traffic.
They — with architect Scott Springer — found it, at Staples High School. Now, the enormous, eye-catching mural hangs proudly near the auditorium lobby, just a few feet from the Staples library.
2) When Saugatuck was an elementary school, Pete Seeger — at the time, blacklisted as a folk singer — performed on its auditorium stage.
When the curtain rises on “Willy Wonka” this Friday and Saturday (March 29 and 30), it will be the culmination of a true community effort.
It takes a special kind of person to stage an elementary school show. Second grade teacher Katie Bloom was just back from maternity leave. But she’s a theater veteran — from age 8 through Hofstra University — and hey, there’s a special kind of people known as “show people.”
In less than a month Bloom helped form the Saugatuck Theater Club. Casting began. Anyone who tried out was promised at least a small part.
She hoped for enough children to fill every role. She got 120.
That number was impressive. The talent: even more so.
Some of the “Willy Wonka” leads.
The 3 rounds of callbacks demonstrated, Bloom says, how much the SES students wanted the program.
Bloom was aided by an army of parents. Jen Berniker, Miriam Young and Carole Chinn led the charge. Working with principal Beth Messler, they created a Movie Night fundraiser.
John and Pam Nunziato — parents of one of the leads — own a branding and design firm. They created Wonka and STC logos, developed projection backdrops (parents took up a collection to buy the screen), signage, Wonka Bars and a playbill.
The “Willy Wonka” Imagination Room.
The Caricato family donated printing costs. The Greelys spent hours making enormous sets. Melissa Crouch Chang designed and sewed costumes for every cast member (including 60 Oompa Loompas).
Other parents supervised rehearsals, worked backstage or simply spread the word.
Middle school youngsters helped with choreography, stage management, lighting and sound.
Professional photographer/SES dad John Videler gifted every cast member with a head shot.
Then there was Saugatuck El mom Megan Bolan. A Broadway performer, teacher and choreographer, she worked with the cast on major numbers.
The entire school got in the spirit. Guess what book they chose for their annual “One Book, Two Schools” event? And thanks to the art department, “candy art” now blankets the halls.
“This has engaged faculty, students and parents,” says principal Messler. “It’s created new opportunities for our community to connect with one another. It’s been a one-of-a-kind experience.”
The show is just under an hour (very kid-friendly!).
Of course, there will be chocolate. Doors open 45 minutes early, so theater-goers can visit the candy shop (featuring hand-made Wonka Bars, commissioned by a local chocolatier).
Five lucky winners at each show will open their bars to find a golden ticket. One gets a scrumpdiddlyumptious grand prize.
So what will the Saugatuck Theater Club do for an encore?
I have no idea. But they’re already making plans for next year.
(“Willy Wonka” will be performed Friday, March 29 at 7 p.m., and Saturday, March 30 at 2 p.m. Tickets are $5 each; click here to order.)
From the 1950s through ’80s, Westport junior highs fielded interscholastic athletic teams.
Bedford and Long Lots — and, after it opened in 1965, Coleytown — competed against junior highs from Darien, New Canaan and Greenwich in football, boys and girls soccer, boys and girls basketball, wrestling, baseball, softball and track.
Competition was intense — both within the league, and to win the mythical Westport “town championship.”
Interscholastic competition ended in 1983, when Westport schools moved from a junior high model, to middle schools. Ninth graders went to Staples High, and competed on their own freshman teams.
But in the 1950s — and perhaps earlier — local elementary schools had their own intra-town sports teams. I have no idea when they began. By the 1960s, they were gone.
I don’t know what sports they involved either — except for boys basketball, as shown by this Saugatuck Elementary School photo provided by alert “06880” reader Fred Cantor.
Fred adds that a scrapbook from Coleytown Elementary School’s first year — 1953 — describes a girls kickball competition between that school and Bedford El.
If you’ve got stories about elementary or junior high sports teams, click “Comments” below.
Last night, Staples Tuition Grants handed out $304,000 in scholarships to 113 high school seniors, and graduates already in college.
The event marked 75 years of STG financial help. It’s always uplifting and warm — a celebration of promise, purpose and community.
As usual, the Staples library was packed with recipients, donors, and proud family members and teachers.
But this time, there were younger faces.
The first-ever Saugatuck Elementary School Community Award was given. It’s a project of the school’s Caring Council — 4th and 5th graders who volunteer for philanthropic causes — and they were there to see “their” honoree.
They and their classmates walked a combined 2,501 miles this year, in a fundraising effort. They mapped their miles “across the USA,” with “stops” at universities attended by their teachers.
Caring Council members who attended last night’s ceremony were thrilled to meet awardee Case Videler. An SES graduate himself — now headed to the University of Delaware — he embodies the Caring Council mission.
Case Videler, and members of the Saugatuck Elementary School Caring Council.
Saugatuck El and Staples Tuition Grants share even more ties than Case, though.
This year’s 13th annual walk-a-thon kicked off with a speech by DARE officer Ned Batlin — a former STG recipient.
And a powerful video celebrating the organization’s 75th anniversary was created by Westport’s own Doug Tirola — a former SES parent.
It was a night that the 113 scholarship recipients will always remember.
And one that some future grads — members of Staples High’s classes of 2025 and 2026 — won’t forget either.
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