Back in the day, a group of Compo lifeguards kept the beach safe.
Decades later, they’re still saving lives.
Spurred on by Dave Jones — a 1971 Staples High School graduate and longtime lifeguard who battled several cancers, built a community cancer center and started a foundation that gives away money in non-traditional ways — the former guards raised money for Stew Leonard III Children’s Charities.
Honoring the 21-month-old son of Stew Leonard Jr., who drowned in 1989, the organization promotes water safety and awareness.
but the former Compo lifeguards did more than raise a few bucks. On Sunday, they presented the charity with a check for $10,000.
Dave Jones (2nd from left) and Stew Leonard Jr. (5th from left) pose with former Compo Beach lifeguards, at the check presentation.
That’s inspiring. And they’ve inspired the current guards to do their part too.
On Sunday — next to the daily quotes posted in the lifeguard shack window, which everyone on the boardwalk stops to read — the 2017 crew posted Stewie the Duck’s water safety rules.
Swim with an adult
Always wear a life vest
Take swim lessons.
(To read Dave Jones’ remarkable back story, click here.)
An hour ago, Stew Leonard Jr. was one of the experts CNBC called on for expert reaction.
Stew Leonard Jr. (Photo courtesy/Westchester Magazine)
The president and CEO of the small but influential chain called the deal — which includes a store on the Westport border just a mile from Stew’s Norwalk flagship location — “a game-changer in the industry.”
Amazon’s technological know-how “will revolutionize how people buy food and get it delivered,” he added.
Leonard — whose grandfather Charles Leo Leonard founded the store’s predecessor, Clover Farms Dairy, and personally delivered milk straight from the farm to local customers — saw today’s announcement as a return to those days.
“The cost of the last mile of delivery has been dropping,” he noted.
Leonard also cited the growing number of millennials as a factor. Using his 31-year-old daughter as an example, he said that her generation expects every purchase to be deliverable.
However, he continued, “retailers have to get snappier” about how they present the purchasing experience.
“We try to make it fun,” he said, with plenty of animation and the chance to see mozzarella balls being made fresh.
However, he acknowledged, buying cereal and water in a store is far less exciting.
This is a story about Compo Beach lifeguards, stage 4 cancer, Stew Leonard and inner-city children.
If you don’t think they’re all related, you don’t know Westport.
And you really don’t know Dave Jones.
His tale begins at Staples High, where he played football before graduating in 1971. It continues on the University of Idaho football field, with summers lifeguarding at Compo Beach. It includes marriage (and divorce) with his high school sweetheart; moves on to a long career in ad sales with NBC, then veers off to remarriage, and raising twin sons.
In 2010 — in the midst of a very successful career at WJAR-TV in Providence — Jones saw a doctor for lower back pain.
The diagnosis: stage 4 colon, liver and gallbladder cancer.
Then came spots on his brain. And lymph node issues. Jones was dying.
He underwent surgery, and 18 months of chemotherapy. Last year, he crossed the magic 5-year survival window.
Dave Jones (Photo/M. Kiely)
An event like that does something to a person. Jones left the TV station, took a huge pay cut, and worked as the major gifts officer for 100-bed South County Hospital in Wakefield, Rhode Island. He helped build a $6.5 million community cancer center there. “Neighbors taking care of neighbors,” he explains.
Then he lost his job. “That’s healthcare,” Jones says simply.
He retired. “I had a great life,” he says. “I was healthy, living on the ocean. But how much SportsCenter can you watch?”
A friend owned Capital Wealth Management. Jones suggested the firm start a foundation, to help people donate money in personal, non-traditional ways: building a roof for an animal shelter, say, or providing computers to autistic kids.
“They’re micro-grants that previously fell through the cracks,” Jones says. “But nobody gave us a shot. You can’t put a private foundation next to a wealth management firm. It looks nefarious, like you’re hiding money. The SEC has lots of questions.”
But he did it. Jones is now president and CEO of the Capital Wealth Foundation. One of his key board members is former Staples classmate Mike Perlis — now president and executive chairman of Forbes Media.
The foundation gives out 100% of its funds — “well into 6 figures” already, Jones says.
His most recent project is one of his favorites. Growing up in Westport, he knew Stew Leonard Jr. Like Jones, Leonard has achieved quite a bit of success.
Like Jones too, he’s known tough times. In 1989 Leonard’s 21-month-old son, Stew III, drowned. The Stew Leonard III Children’s Charity now promotes water safety and awareness.
Jones’ son Jack follows in his footsteps: He’s a lifeguard. Unlike relatively tame Compo though, he works on the Narragansett surf. Jack often sees city kids rush into the waves. They can’t swim, and get caught in the very strong undertow.
Later this month, Jones and Leonard will meet to plan the Capital Wealth Foundation’s next project: providing swim lessons for inner-city kids.
Jones is going all in. He’s asking every former Compo lifeguard he knows for contributions. With the help of ex-guards Will Luedke and Mary Hughes, and Ann Becker Moore — who hosts an annual lifeguard reunion in Westport — he’s got a great list to start with.
But Jones wants to reach even more. If you ever lifeguarded in Westport, and want to help teach kids how to swim, email David@CapitalWealthInc.com. Or call 401-885-1060, ext. 115.
Of course, you don’t have to be a former lifeguard to help. You just need some connection to Jones, Compo, Westport, Stew Leonard, cancer or kids.
When your name is Stew Leonard Jr., it’s hard to imagine you won’t be part of the family business.
But Stew — a Westport native — tells the New York Times that, had it not been for a chance encounter with an airplane seatmate, he might not have taken the path he did.
In an interview in today’s Business section “Frequent Flier” column, the president and CEO of “The Worlds [sic] Largest Dairy Store” says:
I never thought I’d wind up in the business. I was the first person in my family to graduate from college and my dad asked me what I wanted as a graduation gift. I told him I wanted a ticket on Pan Am. I wanted to see the world.
I did, and actually during my see-the-world trip, the course of my life changed.
Stew Leonard Jr. (right) and friend.
I was on a flight from Katmandu, Nepal, to New Delhi, and was seated next to a fellow in his 50s who was wearing all white. He even had on a turban. I thought he was very exotic. We started chatting. He told me he was the 16th generation to work in his family’s business. I told him that my father had a grocery store in Connecticut, and my dad wanted me to work with him, but I was set to do some training with a consulting firm and didn’t want to work in the food industry or the family business.
He was very kind, but he started asking me why I would want to take my energy away from my family. I told him I wanted to prove myself. He told me I already did. The gentleman was really nice, but kind of relentless. However, I couldn’t stop thinking about our conversation. When I got home, I did talk to my dad about joining the business, and here I am.
The interview centers on Stew’s frequent travels. Once, he says, he borrowed a private plane to fly 10 fish department managers to Prince Edward Island, for negotiations on lobster prices.
Stew Leonard and a lobsterman. (Photo/New York Times)
The flight saved them money, and a hotel room. But it backfired when the lobstermen couldn’t get over the fact that Stew arrived on a private plane.
“It was not one of my better decisions,” he tells the Times.
“I would have been better off flying commercial. In the long run, it would have been a lot cheaper.”
For the full “Frequent Flier” interview, click here.
A few days ago, I ranted about a segment of shoppers at Stew Leonard’s: the folks who — in addition to all the free samples — scarf down bagels, wings, ziti (and anything else) as if it too were “free.”
The story drew 30 comments. As expected, they ranged from “hey, everyone does it” to “those people are not only stealing from Stew’s, they’re stealing from me!” (higher prices, for you non-econ majors).
A few minutes ago, Stew Jr. (Himself) weighed in. But his comment is not what you might expect:
Scarfing at Stew’s — Dan, you make me laugh!
Stew Leonard Jr. (right) and a non-scarfing friend/customer.
There are some “scarfers” at Stew’s, but that day we also had about 10,000 really happy people and families because of all the free samples and “tastings.” When we have our demos of free food (100 a week). we get people from local businesses coming in for lunch! What do we do? We can’t let this very small percentage (less than 1%) of our customers dictate our policy.
This morning I watched a mom come in the store with her crying baby. She grabbed a bagel. The baby “teethed” on it and stopped crying. She spent over $300 on food. What’s a bagel?
If you want to go “nuts,” stand by our loose pistachio display. I find shells all over the store! When we package the pistachios, sales drop in half.
Let them scarf. My brother and I will smile! Happy New Year — and let me treat you to some of my mom’s lasagna next time you’re in the store!
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