Tag Archives: Westport Memorial Day parade

Y’s Men: Memorial Day Floats Their Boat

No, the fix is not in.

The Y’s Men are just that good.

Every year since Edward T. Bedford built the Westport YMCA*, the gung-ho group of nearly 400 retired and semi-retired men has won the Memorial Day Best Float competition.

The tradition continued this year.

The 2019 parade theme was “Thank a Veteran.” The Y’s Men took it one step further, thanking Merchant Marines — the “unsung heroes” of World War II — for their service.

If you were at the parade, you know how great the float was.

If you weren’t, you missed another great tribute, from men who are members of — or close to — the Greatest Generation.

Whether you were there or not, enjoy this video, created by Y’s Man Sal Mollica. It’s a quick look at the float’s creators, its construction, and the proud part it played in Westport’s Memorial Day parade.

*Or maybe it just seems that way.

Crowd Sourcing Our Memorial Day Parade

The Memorial Day parade is one of Westport’s favorite town events.

Everyone has a favorite spot to watch from. Everyone has a favorite band, float or marcher to photograph.

But why share them only with a few hundred dear pals, casual acquaintances and random how’d-they-get-on-my-list Facebook “friends”?

Tomorrow, let all of Westport see “your” Memorial Day parade. Send a few (not all!) of your photos to “06880” (email: dwoog@optonline.net). Deadline: noon. Please include brief identification, if needed, and of course your own name.

I’ll post some (not all!) in the afternoon.

And be creative! We want special photos, for our special parade.

The start of the parade. Send us your photos tomorrow!

Memorial Day Parades: We Remember

Last year around this time, I posted a fascinating video of Westport’s 1981 Memorial Day parade.

Tom Leyden had just bought a new-fangled video camera. Standing on Riverside Avenue near Assumption Church, he captured 21 minutes of the annual event:

Former Governor John D. Lodge and all the town bigwigs; the Staples High School, and Long Lots, Coleytown and Bedford Junior High bands; WWPT sports broadcasters, Little Leaguers, Scouts, Indian Guides, the Westport Historical Society — even Big Bird (and traffic cop/drum major Bill Cribari).

The video was so popular, I’m posting it again.

But Tom uploaded another parade to YouTube. This one is from 1969.

It’s grainier than ’81. There is no sound. It’s just as fascinating though — especially the final shot.

In those days, the post-parade ceremony was held at Jesup Green. On the left, you can see the town dump. (Today it’s the site of the Westport Library.)

That’s one of the few things that have changed, however. As Tom’s twin videos prove, Westport’s Memorial Day parade is timeless.

See you on Monday!

(PS: The ceremony is now at Veterans Green, starting around 10:30 a.m. It’s part of the event that should not be missed.)

Meet Nick Zeoli: Memorial Day Parade Grand Marshal

The ranks of World War II veterans are rapidly thinning.

One of these years, no one will remain from that world-changing conflict to honor at Westport’s Memorial Day parade.

But it seems like Nick Zeoli has been — and will be — around forever.

The 2019 grand marshal is a proud Saugatuck native. He was born in 1923 to Dominick (a firefighter), and Olympia Zeoli. On July 1, he will be 96 years young.

Zeoli was a star football, basketball and baseball player at Staples High School, on Riverside Avenue just down the street from his home.

Young Nick Zeoli.

He was offered a football scholarship to Gettysburg College. But with war raging, he enlisted in the Navy.

He was assigned to the USS Boston, a heavy cruiser. Zeoli spent 3 years in the Pacific Theater. His ship engaged in 13 major battles, including Okinawa.

He was promoted to Radarman 3rd Class, and received a commendation from legendary Admiral William Halsey Jr.

After discharge in December 1945, Zeoli enrolled at Arnold College (later absorbed into the University of Bridgeport). He earned a BA in physical education, then went on to receive master’s degrees from both Bridgeport and Columbia.

Zeoli spent his summers during college as head lifeguard at Compo Beach. That’s where he met 1949 Staples grad Joanne Scott.

They married in 1952. On June 13, they’ll celebrate their 67th wedding anniversary. Their children Steve, Chris and Nikki are all Staples alumni.

Nick’s grandchildren — Jennifer, Charlotte and Nicholas — attend Westport schools. All are on track to be 3rd-generation Staples graduates.

Nick Zeoli, physical education teacher.

Zeoli began his career as a substitute teacher in Westport. But Wilton — newly opened as a high school — offered him a full-time job as phys. ed. teacher and head football coach.

He soon became Wilton’s first athletic director, and won national awards for his work.

He spearheaded the development of the high school field house — the first in New England. When he retired in 1994, it was named the Nicholas T. Zeoli Fieldhouse.

In Westport — where he always lived — Zeoli directed the Special Olympics program. He trained Special Olympics coaches in Pakistan and Bangladesh.

Nick Zeoli, a few years ago.

For many years, Zeoli emceed the Sportsmen of Westport awards ceremony. In 1985, the organization presented him with its Sportsmen Award.

Last June, Zeoli was honored by the Fairfield County Interscholastic Athletic Conference for his lifetime contribution.

There’s still plenty of life left in Nick Zeoli. He and his wife live now on a lake in Vermont.

He looks forward to making the trip south, and talking about nearly a century of life in Westport, and in war.

(This year’s Memorial Day parade kicks off on Monday at 9 a.m., at Saugatuck Elementary School. It heads down Riverside Avenue to the Post Road, goes over the Ruth Steinkraus Cohen Memorial Bridge, and takes a left on Myrtle Avenue before ending up at Town Hall. A ceremony — including grand marshal Nick Zeoli’s address — follows immediately, approximately 10:30 at Veterans Green. The parade and ceremony are two wonderful Westport traditions. Don’t miss them!)

A Special Memorial Day Speech

On Friday, I posted the Stalling family’s 1969 (or ’70) Memorial Day parade video as the weekly “Flashback.” It provided a unique look at Westport’s long-ago, yet timeless, community event.

Yesterday, Ed Stalling sent along another video.

In 1995 — the 50th anniversary of the end of World War II — his father Ed Sr. was grand marshal of Westport’s parade.

The ceremony was moved inside, to Town Hall, because of rain. The auditorium was filled — and silent — as Stalling recounted his service, and the crucial campaigns in Saipan, Tinian and Iwo Jima.

He wrapped up his remarks with a poignant and powerful reminder of the meaning of Memorial Day.

Here is Ed’s speech. On the eve of this great holiday — as the ranks of our World War II veterans dwindle daily — his words are more important than ever.

Friday Flashback #92

In honor of Monday’s Memorial Day parade, here’s a look back nearly 50 years.

Ed Stalling posted this family home movie on YouTube. Shot in 1969 or ’70 on Riverside Avenue — mostly opposite King’s Texaco (now Sunny Daes) — it shows cops, veterans, the Red Cross, state police cars (with comical 1-bubblegum lights on top), Indian Guides, Little Leaguers, and the Long Lots Junior High band.

Very briefly at the end there’s a shot of the Long Lots band downtown, opposite the old post office (now Design Within Reach).

Half a century ago, the Vietnam War raged. Our country was torn apart — politically, socially and culturally.

But — as shown in the video — Westport had a great Memorial Day parade.

We will on Monday, too. See you there!

 

Larry Aasen Leads Memorial Day Parade

“This is incredible. I’m 95. At my age, you don’t get many awards.”

That’s Larry Aasen’s reaction to being named grand marshal of the 2018 Memorial Day parade.

The World War II airborne sergeant — and 55-year Westport resident — will ride the route from Riverside Avenue down the Post Road, and up Myrtle Avenue to Veterans Green, on Monday, May 28. There, he’ll give the keynote address.

Aasen — and many other Westporters — hope the 3rd time’s the charm. The 2 previous Memorial Day parades have been canceled due to weather. The grand marshals delivered their addresses in the Town Hall auditorium.

Larry Aasen, at last year’s Memorial Day parade.

Aasen has a lot to talk about.

He was born in a log cabin in the middle of a North Dakota snowstorm. There was no electricity, running water, central heating — not even a bathroom.

Aasen rose to sergeant in the 13th Airborne. After training in North Carolina, he was sent to France. His division had 20-person gliders, with no protection. The mission was to drop behind enemy lines, and destroy anything of value. Gliders had a 70% casualty rate, Aasen says.

His job was cryptographer, encoding and decoding secret messages. He had a security clearance from the FBI.

After his discharge in 1946, Aasen earned a journalism degree from the University of North Dakota. He headed east, for a master’s at Boston University.

Aasen moved to New York, “to seek my fortune.” He spent 14 years with New York Life Insurance, rising to vice president of public relations, then 20 years with the Better Vision Institute on campaigns urging Americans to get their eyes checked. Aasen worked with Bob Hope, Muhammad Ali and other celebrities on those projects. (He’s also met 6 US presidents.)

When they posed for this photo, President Obama said to Larry Aasen, “let’s put the rose (Martha Aasen) between 2 thorns.”

In 1963, he, his wife Martha and their young children moved to Westport. “We needed more room than a New York apartment,” he explains. “There were a lot of media people here, and they loved it.”

He and Martha live in the same Ellery Lane house they bought over half a century ago. He calls it “the best investment we ever made.”

Aasen served 17 years on the Representative Town Meeting (RTM). His other volunteer activities include the Democratic Town Committee, Y’s Men, Rotary Club and Saugatuck Congregational Church.

Larry and Martha Aasen have not missed a Memorial Day parade in 54 years. This year, he’ll have a special role in it.

A well-deserved honor for one of Westport’s favorite 95-year-olds.

Memorial Day Parade Canceled; Ceremony Set For Town Hall, 10 am

For the 2nd year in a row, bad weather has forced the cancellation of Westport’s Memorial Day parade.

A ceremony — including a speech by grand marshal and World War II veteran Ed Vebell — is set for 10 a.m., in the Town Hall auditorium.

See you there!

Watch The Parade — Then Send Us Your Photos!

The Memorial Day parade is one of Westport’s favorite town events.

Everyone has a favorite spot to watch from. Everyone has a favorite band, float or marcher to photograph.

But why share them only with a few hundred dear pals, casual acquaintances and random how’d-they-get-on-my-list Facebook “friends”?

Tomorrow — weather permitting — let all of Westport see “your” Memorial Day parade. Send a few (not all!) of your photos to “06880” (email: dwoog@optonline.net). Deadline: 1 p.m. Please include brief identification, if needed, and of course your own name.

I’ll post some (not all!) in the afternoon.

And be creative! We want special photos, for our special parade.

Westport celebrates Memorial Day in many ways. Here's a simple shot from the parade route.

Westport celebrates Memorial Day in many ways. Here’s a simple shot from the parade route.

Y’s Men Wisely Saved Last Year’s Float

It’s a Westport tradition: Every year, the Y’s Men win Westport’s Memorial Day “Best Float” prize.

They didn’t last year — but there was a good reason.

The parade was canceled, due to rain.

Yesterday and today — despite predictions of more bad weather — they headed to Vince Penna’s garage, and took last year’s float out of mothballs.

Here’s a sneak preview.

Y’s Men president Jay Dirnberger puts the finishing touches on the float. (Photos/Mike Guthman)

To see the real thing, head to the parade on Monday.

Or — if it comes to that — the one in 2018.