As gyms, playgrounds and recreational facilities remain closed, the driveway basketball hoop looks better than ever. There are tons in Westport. Some get plenty of use. Others sit idle; the basketball players have moved away.
Full Court Peace is a Norwalk-based charity that collects unwanted portable basketball hoops, cleans them up, then gives them to boys and girls in Norwalk, Bridgeport and Stamford.
The organization was started by Mike Evans, a Weston native who played basketball at Hamilton College and semi-professionally in Belfast. In Northern Ireland he brought Protestant and Catholic boys together to play as one team.
Email firstname.lastname@example.org with your name, address, and a picture of the hoop you hope to donate. Evans will pick it up at your house, and set it up in a driveway a few miles away. Then he’ll send you a photo of the boy or girl who gets it.
Financial help is welcome to keep this effort going; it requires a U-Haul and manual labor. Click here to help.
But there’s good news. The VFW says: “We are honored and extends our deepest appreciation to the Westport Young Woman’s League for awarding us a generous Super Grant of $20,000. Throughout the past 100 years, VFW Post 399 has been the heart and soul of the veteran community and a Westport institution.
The Super Grant will make a huge difference in helping with our much needed roof repairs and allowing us to continue in our support for both veterans and community. We look forward in partnering with the WYWL to help the community and provide affordable meal programs.”
Stones bearing inspirational messages pop up all over town. This one at Grace Salmon Park caught Marc Frankel’s eye.
I’m guessing whoever painted this was young. If I were an art teacher, I’d give him or her an “A” for creativity. An English teacher would give it an “F.”
And finally … a little Spirit. “It’s nature’s way of telling you something’s wrong …”
For several years, Westport schools have been in session on Veterans Day.
At first, the move was controversial. Why, some residents wondered, did our students and staff not get the federal holiday off, to honor all those who have served our country?
Of course, that’s not what most people do on Veterans Day. If you’ve got the day off, odds are you spend far less time thinking about America’s vets than you do about going to the gym, walking the dog and what’s for dinner.
Things are very different inside our schools.
Many make the day meaningful, by prepping students with special programs.
Jay Dirnberger, with a plastic helicopter made for him by a Bedford Middle School student. (Photo/Molly Alger)
Every year on or around the holiday, Bedford Middle School invites veterans to meet, in small groups, with 8th graders. The vets talk about their experiences, and lessons learned. Students ask questions, and have meaningful conversations.
Jay Dirnberger has participated for the past 8 years. He always looks forward to it — especially the attentiveness of the youngsters, and their insightful questions.
Sometimes, he says, they help him uncover long-forgotten incidents or emotions.
Jay and his wife, Molly Alger, always look forward to the thank-you notes that arrive from students a few days later. They are detailed and meaningful, she says. Every year, one or two bring her to tears.
Ted Diamond is a longtime participant too. The World War II Army Air Corps combat navigator was there again last Friday — at age 102. So were 96-year-old Larry Aasen, and 95-year-old WWII vet Leonard Everett Fisher.
Leonard Everett Fisher, at Bedford Middle School. (Photo/January Stewart)
“This is a terrific program,” Molly says, “particularly in a town that does not have a lot of family members on active military duty.” She thanks Courtney Ruggiero, David Deitch and the social studies staff for organizing this event for “the future leaders of our country.”
Bedford Middle School student thanks a vet. (Photo/January Stewart)
Veterans at Bedford Middle School. (Photo/Bob Fitzpatrick)
Greens Farms Elementary School usually holds a Veterans Day event on the actual holiday as well. This year, due to scheduling issues, it was last Friday.
For the past 7 years, 3rd grade teachers have run an all-school assembly. That’s no coincidence: instructors Amy Murtagh, Karen Frawley, Dan Seek and Michelle DeCarlo all have immediate family members who are veterans.
Murtagh’s husband is on active duty in the Marine Corps Reserves. He recently returned from a year-long deployment, including 7 months in Afghanistan. He presented GFS with a flag flown over his base.
Capt. John Murtagh, UMSC, and 3rd grade teacher Amy Murtagh. (Photo/Jenn Falik)
Frawley’s mother is a retired Air Force member. It’s important, Murtagh says, that Greens Farms students meet a female vet.
Seek’s father is also retired from the Air Force — and a former POW. DeCarlo’s father-in-law is a veteran too.
Every year, the GFS program begins with a reception. Veterans, their family and school students or staff members they’re related to swap stories.
Clockwise from bottom: Greens Farms 3rd grader Lily Jumper; Lily’s mother Lauren; Lily’s grandparents Marie Jumper, and James Jumper, electrician’s mate 3rd class, US Navy. (Photo/Jenn Falik)
The 3rd graders then run the assembly for the entire school. There is a Pledge of Allegiance, national anthem, and a discussion of why Veterans Day is important. Then everyone sings songs from each branch of service.
Third graders teach the rest of the school about something related to the day. Past lessons have included a Missing Man table, and discussions of the Oath of Enlistment and the sacrifices veterans and their families make.
This year, the subject was the importance of our flag — including flag-folding. That was especially poignant. The ceremony was conducted by 2 vets who recently returned from deployments to Afghanistan. One — Lt. Ryan Weddle of the Navy — is the father of a current 3rd grader. On Friday, he folded the flag with Capt. John Murtagh of the Marine Corps
After the ceremony, each veteran was presented with a flag that had already been folded the traditional way. Each vet’s background and honors was noted.
Among the attendees this year: a female veteran, a Purple Heart recipient, a Combat Action Medal recipient, and veterans from multiple wars.
Veterans at Greens Farms Elementary School. (Photo/Jenn Falik)
Like Molly Alger, Amy Murtagh believes that honoring veterans in schools takes on added significance here. “Westport doesn’t have the biggest military presence,” the GFS 3rd grade teacher says. “So this is an incredible learning opportunity for our students.”
Meanwhile, it’s a regular — if special — school day today, in Westport. But Colin Corneck won’t be in class this morning.
The Staples High School senior — a member of the boys soccer team, boys swim team captain, and recipient of a Naval ROTC scholarship — will deliver the address at the town’s annual Veterans Day service.
The program begins at 10:30 a.m., with a patriotic concert by the Westport Community Band. In addition to Colin’s remarks, there’s an invocation and benediction by the Rev. Alison Patton Buttrick of Saugatuck Congregational Church; remarks from 1st Selectman Jim Marpe; placing of a memorial wreath by members of VFW Post 399 and American Legion Post 63; taps played by Community Band trumpeters, and the “Armed Forces Salute.”
Colin will represent all Westport students well. They won’t be there, because school is in session. They wouldn’t have been there if school was out, either.
But thanks to the work of teachers and staff at all levels, our youngsters today have a great knowledge of — and appreciation for — what today is all about.
We pass it every day. For nearly 100 years, it’s sat proudly at one of Westport’s busiest intersections.
Yet VFW Joseph J. Clinton Post 399 is also one of our town’s best-kept secrets.
It’s not for veterans only. It’s not a private club. It’s not smoke-filled (anymore).
It is a place where “guests” are welcome (just sign the book!). It is a place you can rent for your next reunion, birthday or anniversary party, shower or club meeting.
It does boast some of the best-priced food and drinks in town.
Oh yeah: There’s also a dock in back, with low-cost moorings, and slots for anyone to tie up before enjoying a great lunch or dinner.
(From left) Bob Tirreno, Tom Dubrosky, Phil Delgado and Joe Gallo, at the VFW’s 24-slip dock.
The VFW has been a Westport institution since 1920. Named for a World War I veteran, it occupied a couple of different sites in Saugatuck. It moved to its present Riverside Avenue location — at the junction of Saugatuck Avenue, across from Treadwell — in 1973.
The property was donated to the chapter, which is part of the national Veterans of Foreign Wars organization. Westport veterans like the Kowalsky and Veno brothers, and Buck Iannacone, helped construct the current, spacious and welcoming brick building.
Out in front — seldom noticed — is one of the original cannons made in 1799, placed at Compo Beach in 1901 to commemorate the 1777 battle against the British.
It was vandalized in 1957. The Rotary Club restored it, and presented it to the VFW. The cannons at the beach today are replicas.
A Compo cannon, in front of the VFW.
In the 1980s, there were 150 or so active Post 399 members. Most were in their 60s or older, veterans of World War II and Korea.
That’s the traditional pattern of the post. Younger vets are busy raising families, and with careers. Once they retire, they have the time — and desire — to join.
Westport’s VFW counts over 180 members now, from Vietnam to Afghanistan. But most are inactive. Leaders include Phil Delgado (Bosnia), and Tom Dubrosky and Bob Tirreno (both Vietnam). Viet vet Frank Veno is vice commander.
Joe Gallo runs the excellent food service. Lunch is 6 days a week in the summer, 7 in fall and winter. Dinner is served Friday nights; Saturday is usually private parties.
One of 3 main dining areas, this room is bright, warm — and boasts a killer view of the Saugatuck River.
Though many Westporters don’t know it, Post 399 is available to rent. The lower level fits 150 people; the 2 rooms upstairs seats 60 and 45. Sports fans love the 9 flat-screen TVs throughout the 2 levels.
An open deck in back — with a stunning view of the river — was enclosed a while back.
Beyond the parking lot, the post has a dock with 24 slips. Most are rented (2 are donated to volunteer organizations). A few are available for anyone passing by, who wants to go in and enjoy lunch.
The Westport Fire and Police Departments hold regular events at the VFW. So do the Y’s Men, Kiwanis and other civic groups. VFW officials would love to host more.
But the VFW is not just about meeting, eating and drinking. Every Memorial Day they help provide the flags the Scouts place on veterans’ graves, and comprise the honor guard at the ceremony after the parade.
On Memorial Day last month, VFW Post 399’s honor guard stood proudly. From left: Tom Dubrosky, Johnny Deilus, Bobby Tirreno, Allan Chavez, Phil Delgado, Rob Custer, Frank Veno, Brad Menkin and Bernie Rombout.
They collect flags so they can be disposed of properly; furnish buglers for vets’ funerals, and are a resource for veterans with questions of any kind (whether VFW members or not).
There’s an active auxiliary too. Once limited to service members’ wives, it’s now open to their children and parents too.
Fairfield County is not fertile ground for veterans’ organizations. The Norwalk VFW post closed a while back, and Fairfield’s is inactive.
But — nearly 100 years old — Westport’s Joseph Clinton Post 399 is going strong.
They want to be even stronger.
As the post’s century anniversary approaches, they’ve got big plans. They hope to raise $100,000 from the community. Funds will retire the mortgage, and help dredge the river.
“We hope to be around for the next 100 years,” says Tom Dubrosky. “We want to be here, so people who serve now and in the future will have a place to go.
“We’re here for veterans — and the entire town.”
(For more information on Westport’s VFW Post 399, click here or call 203-227-6796.)
Last weekend was the Memorial Day holiday. In honor of all the Westport service members who gave their lives, the Photo Challenge showed a plaque honoring PFC Michael Cherub. He was killed during World War II, when he was 26 years old.
I gave a hint: It’s not one of the memorials at Veterans Green, opposite Town Hall.
Sadly, only one person — Bob Grant knew where PFC Cherub’s plaque is.
Equally sad is the fact that — although it’s at VFW Post 399 — it’s mostly hidden behind the building, on the banks of the Saugatuck River.
Two other memorials are nearby. Perhaps it’s time to move them to a spot where more Westporters can see them. (Click here for the photo.)
This week’s image is not your garden variety Photo Challenge.
No — it’s a garden!
If you know where in Westport you’d find this, click “Comments” below.
A year ago, “06880”‘s Veterans Day story highlighted Dylan Mace.
The Staples High School junior was raising funds for Westport’s VFW Post 399. The Riverside Avenue building lacked a handicap-accessible bathroom. Dylan was appalled — “brave men and women who serve could lose limbs!” he said — and vowed to help.
Dylan — whose grandfather was a Korean War vet — went to work. Singlehandedly, he raised almost $8,000.
And then he got more help from the community.
Early in his fundraising, architect Lou Lefort and electrician Barry O’Reilly offered their services.
General contractor Scott Rochlin contacted Dylan too. Scott’s son Charley was a decorated Marine.
After Charley died in an automobile accident, Scott’s family set up a foundation to help veterans and their families. Scott volunteered to oversee the project — and said his organization would cover any extra costs.
Scott also brought in Dino Meloni, from Nicolia Marble and Tile. He installed the bathroom tile, gratis.
Bender donated a handicap sink and toilet. Lowe’s and The Tile Shop in Norwalk gave Dylan contractor discounts on supplies. Westport Glass chipped in too.
One of the specially created VFW tiles.
But Dylan wanted this to be extra-special for veterans. He found Custom-Tiles.com online, and asked if they could make special tiles with the emblems of the 5 US military branches. The owner worked with Dylan, creating amazing ones for the walls.
Dylan was so moved by the project, and the people he met through it, that when it came time to plan his service project for the National Honor Society, he asked to paint the inside of the VFW — and spruce up the outside.
Congratulations, Dylan, for all you do.
I’m sorry I couldn’t post this a few days ago, on Veterans Day.
But thanks to you — and all who helped — every great day at the VFW will now be even better.
Yesterday, Boy Scout Troop 39 placed flowers on the graves of veterans, at 5 Westport cemeteries. Here, they decorated the entrance at North Kings Highway. The flowers were donated by VFW Post 399. (Photo/Amy Schneider)
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