For several years, a Birthday Bash in honor of Leah Rondon raised money for several scholarships. It honored the 6-year-old daughter of Bedford Middle School teacher Colleen Rondon, who was killed when struck by a car while playing at a friend’s house.
COVID canceled the most recent event. But the show goes on — literally.
This Saturday (March 6, 6 p.m.), a cabaret with young performers from around the globe will be livestreamed on Triple Threat Academy‘s Facebook and YouTube pages. Triple Threat founder/noted “Fame” actress/Staples High School grad Cynthia Gibb co-hosts, with Leah’s mom Colleen.
Performers – most of whom train with Triple Threat in Westport and Hollywood — include Makayla Joy Connolly of Broadway’s “Harry Potter,” and Westport’s own Jamie Mann, of Netflix’s new show “Country Comfort.”
Leah’s brother Sam joins on sax, Cooper Sadler tears it up at the Levitt Pavilion, and Sophie Walther sings her heart out from the UK.
The family-friendly benefit relies on donations from viewers and supporters. Click here for the link; click for the livestream via Triple Threat’s Facebook Live and YouTube pages.
It’s been a tough year for non-profits. In-person fundraising has suffered, while demands for their services has spiked.
But thanks to one organization, another can continue its work.
Westport Rotary Club recently donated $1,075 to Homes with Hope. The funds will provide transportation for children living in supportive housing to HwH’s After School Academic Program, where they receive food, tutoring and mentoring. It’s especially important with the rise in online learning, and the widening academic gap for children without a parent to assist them.
Westport Rotary will distribute all of the funds donated by the community to its 2020 LobsterFest Charitable Giving fundraiser. More grant recipients will be announced soon.
Rotary meetings now held virtually 3 Tuesdays a month (12:30 to 1:30 p.m.). For more information, click here.
Lee Greenberg — longtime resident, active volunteer, salon host, talented sculptor, noted tennis player and skier, yoga teacher (long before most people knew what that was), and friend to countless Westporters of all ages — died Friday at her beloved home of 43 years, on Duck Pond Road.
Born Lee Snell during the Spanish flu influenza on January 22, 1918 in Hell’s Kitchen, New York to parents from Belarus Russia, she came to Westport in 1941 after marrying Nat Greenberg. He operated the Westport Hardware Store for more than 55 years, and became a noted real estate developer.
Lee and Nat were among the earlier Jewish residents of Westport. Nat helped establish Temple Israel, and later enabled the development of Birchwood Country Club.
Lee was intellectually curious, bold and worldly, and dedicated to a healthy lifestyle including exercise and mobility long before it became popular. She played tennis, did yoga, and did splits into her 90s.
A perennial beach and sun worshiper, she held court year-round with friends and family while playing backgammon and Scrabble on her cherished beaches (from Block Island in summer to St. thomas in winter). Young at heart, she kept her mind active with games and news to the end of her life.
She was aided by the irreplaceable love, endless dedication and careful driving of her 18-year caregiver, Gina Prempeh from Ghana. Through this winter she could be found at Compo Beach, listening to her favorite operas and watching the sun set next to her “bouquet of trees.”
Lee was married to Nat Greenberg for 43 years, and to the late Jacques Sternberg for 10 years. She is survived by her children, Linda Libow of New York, Gail Greenberg of California, Michael Greenberg of Westport and Debbie Filkins of Block Island, Rhode Island, and their spouses; step-children Edward Sternberg, Cathy O’Gara and spouses; 8 grandchildren, 3 step-grandchildren; 4 great-grandchildren; 6 step-great-grandchildren; the Snell nephews and their children, and her beloved caretaker Gina Prempeh.
I was fortunate to see her recently. On January 19 a half dozen friends from the Westport Rotary Club gave her an ice cream cake (chocolate, her favorite), a bouquet of roses, some fabulous balloons and a card made by Dave Matlow of his photographs of Lee with family and friends.
We saw her in her heated garage with her loyal companion and aide Gina, her son Michael and one of her granddaughters. We enjoyed a short, socially distanced visit and sang “Happy Birthday.”
She was happy to see us. She spoke about her husband Nat and her long life in Westport. She celebrated her 103rd birthday with her family 2 days later.
We are so pleased to have seen her and to greet her so happily in this special way. She was a remarkable, unique character. We shall miss her very much.
Gillian prepared these remarks for the Rotary’s celebration of her 103rd birthday:
The former Leah Snell moved to Westport from New York in 1941, when she married Nathan Greenberg. He was a native of the town, and an early member of Westport Rotary. As fellow Rotarian Ann Sheffer said, “The Greenbergs were committed to the evolving community of Westport, and the world in general. They brought the world into their Westport home.”
Lee continues to be an inspiration, an example to us all of a life well lived, a truly abundant life.
Lee has continued to represent an outward looking, worldly curiosity and contributes so much to the local community. Until COVID hit, she was not only a regular attendee at Rotary but also active over many years in the Westport Historical Society, a board member of Norwalk Symphony, the Westport Arts Center, and her Carriage Barn sculpture group at the New Canaan Society for the Arts.
Horse sculpture, by Lee Greenberg.
I first got to know Lee 10 years ago at Ann Sheffer and Bill Scheffler’s house. Political candidates were making rousing “get out the vote” speeches. I sat down next to her and introduced myself. I had no idea I was sitting with the Grand Dame of Westport, the person who knew everyone in the room and just about everyone in the entire town.
She showed me her sculpture (“When Pigs Can Fly”), which she was donating to raise funds for the DNC silent auction that night, then gave me thumbnail bios of all the important folks in the room. Quite an education! Gradually we became friends, particularly when she invited me to attend her renowned cultural salon.
Lee’s cultural salon was an extraordinary gathering at her home each week. She and her friend Herb Podell invited a small group of friends and acquaintances to hear a speaker or performer of note. The cosmopolitan range of her interests and connections was breath taking: opera singers, musicians, journalists, political columnists, photographers, artists, human rights activists, politicians, economists and authors. For many years, each shared their ideas and talents in Lee’s living room to an appreciative audience, who were thrilled to attend and join in the lively discussion that followed.
One of the striking aspects to me of Lee’s persona is her intellect and curiosity. Her conversation is peppered with questions and references to current events, to making connections and with people in the news, many of whom she knows personally. Until quite recently, here at Rotary lunches when the speaker would ask for questions from the floor, Lee often nailed it with a reference to a relevant New York Times article she just read and quiz the speaker on his opinion!!
In her second century, Lee Greenberg was as sharp as ever.
Of course, we must mention Lee’s life-long athleticism. Local tennis champion – often playing on her back yard tennis court, skiing every winter, and yoga and daily exercise routines. For many years she taught yoga on the beach at her place in St Thomas, and on Block Island.
This perhaps is one of her secrets to long life and mobility. I had been unaware of all this until one evening about 8 years ago (when she was a mere 95). I was working out at the NY Sports Club. There was Lee doing a circuit of the machines – legs and abs, all manner of major stretches. My trainer said, “Oh yes, Lee’s one of my best clients. She’s often here 5 days a week!”
Mobility is still important to Lee – she loves to be out and about in her beloved Westport. Thanks to the TLC and careful driving of her loyal helper Gina, you’ll easily find Lee most afternoons at Compo Beach. Her white SUV is parked overlooking the water. She often holds court with many friends who love to be in her company.
When we celebrated Lee’s 100th, several members spoke.
Martha Aasen talked of Lee’s outstanding generosity and energy as a fund raiser for countless political candidates over many decades. She said, “It’s a privilege to call her a friend.” Martha told this story:
In the late 1950’s, Lee, Nat and their 4 children were living in a then-huge house on Long Lots Road, enjoying a very comfortable life Liz Taylor and then-husband Mike Todd were house hunting. She was pregnant. Her mother lived in Ridgefield, and Liz wanted to be near her mom.
Their realtor called Nat Greenberg — a long-time Westport real estate developer — in a panic. The realtor had nothing to show them, so he asked Nat if he could them his house.
In walked Liz Taylor and Mike Todd. They loved the house — one of the few in those days with a swimming pool and tennis court — and asked if the Greenbergs would consider renting it for a year.
Their first reaction was “of course not!” But Nat and Lee talked. They came up with an idea: They could live in Switzerland for a year. Mike offered to pay not only the year’s rental, but for the family of 6 to travel to Europe in style, by ocean liner — and for their chalet.
Unfortunately, during that year Mike Todd was killed in a plane crash. Lee learned the news at a ski mountain. It was a tragic ending to Liz Taylor’s Westport adventure.
A post-script on the 175 Long Lots Road house: Liz Taylor and Mike Todd were not the only famous residents. Lee and Nat eventually sold their home to Harry Reasoner in 1968 — the same year the TV newscaster teamed up with Don Hewitt and Mike Wallace to begin CBS News’ “60 Minutes.”
Ann Sheffer also spoke. She talked about the strong family ties between generations of Greenbergs and Sheffers. Her grandparents were close friends of Lee and Nat — all wicked tennis players, and all involved in local real estate development.
Ann also talked about Lee’s talent as an artist, and how nearly every Democratic candidates for state and local elections — and many national ones — from the 1950s through the ’80s were hosted by their two families, for fundraising and support.
Longtime Democratic activists Lee Greenberg (center) and Martha Aasen, with President Bill Clinton.
After the speeches. cake and singing of “Happy Birthday,” Lee stood up. She expressed great joy for all the wonderful words spoken about her. She thanked the Rotary Club and guests for a great celebration, and said she had so much fun she’d like to do it all over again.
However, she concluded, she’d settle for seeing her friends again next Tuesday at the Rotary Club.
Whenever Ukraine is in the headlines, the news is bad. Border disputes, business shenanigans — even Chernobyl is there.
Rule of law has broken down in the Eastern European nation.
We’re going through a rough patch ourselves. But a few months ago, during the impeachment process, Westport’s 2 Rotary Clubs decided to do something in support of our country’s faith in law. It’s something, they said, that’s fundamental to our democracy, and separates us from many other nations oppressed by tyranny.
Because Ukraine is desperately trying to expunge corruption from both its political and legal systems, the clubs — Sunrise Rotary, and the noontime Rotary Club — decided to focus their efforts there.
Ken Bernhard — an attorney, constitutional law professor and former state representative — had also taught in Ukraine. He contacted Professor Demitriy Kamensky of the Berdyansk State Pedagogical University.
Berdyansk State Pedagogical University
Kamensky — who has an LLM in taxation, a Ph.D. in criminal law, and taught at Florida State College of Law — said the clubs’ timing was perfect. Berdyansk State had hoped to construct a moot court setting, to resemble one in their country’s actual legal system. It would provide a training environment for aspiring litigators.
Westport’s 2 Rotaries contributed $2,500 each. The courtroom was opened last week.
Thanks to our friends at Westport Sunrise Rotary and the Westport Rotary Club for their support of the rule of law in Ukraine, which is no longer a distant, foreign principle. Indeed it affirms that reality for our law students, faculty and legal professionals.
The moot courtroom has become a place to learn how the judicial systems operates within a free, democratic society. This is where legal theory meets legal practice, where new skills are learned and progressive legal tools are examined. We are very grateful to the clubs for their confidence in our legal community.
The moot classroom.
It seems like a small gesture. The impact on Ukraine’s legal system will not be felt for a while — and it can never be measured.
Rotary clubs raise money so that they can give it away. (And they keep doing it, despite a steep drop in fundraising during COVID).
Combine that with the fact that “Supporting education” is one of Rotary’s six areas of focus.
Rotary International’s motto is “Service Above Self.” “Supporting education” is one of their 6 areas of focus.
From Westport to Ukraine, today there is living — and legal — proof that it matters.
Westport Rotary Club’s annual LobsterFest is one of the town’s great events.
Held at Compo Beach in late September — when the weather is great, and the lobsters (and steaks) are even greater — it’s the perfect way for 1,600 folks to celebrate the end of summer.
It’s also one of the biggest Rotary fundraisers in Connecticut. 100% of the proceeds go to 35 area nonprofits that address poverty, education and social needs, and other development programs overseas.
As the sun set on Lobster Fest in 2016, no one wanted to leave.
LobsterFest is one more cherished tradition to fall victim to COVID-19. But the 9th annual event is not going away.
Many sponsors have already decided it’s too important to drop. They’re contributing their usual amounts, so that Rotary can continue to support so many causes.
Westport Rotary president Leslie Roberts says, “It is important to us to make a responsible decision that considers our community and the sponsors who generously support us. Eradicating disease is a priority for Rotary clubs around the world. As Rotarians, we decided the best choice in the current environment is to cancel the physical LobsterFest event.”
In its place rises “2020 LobsterFest: A Charitable Fundraiser.” Donations from sponsors and would-be guests will honored with banners and lawn signs around Westport, and in media releases and ads.
There’s plenty of time to donate. The deadline is October 30. But you can do it right now — just click here.
(Rotary Club lunch meetings are being conducted virtually via Zoom, 3 Tuesdays a month from 12:30 to 1:30 p.m. Membership inquiries are welcome: email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org.
This year, the pandemic forced a change. $80,000 in funding was announced by email. And it’s going out now — not next month — because for many recipients, the need is urgent.
Thanks to fundraisers like LobsterFest, and ongoing hard work by members, Westport Rotary can help 35 local organizations. They include Staples Tuition Grants, Homes with Hope, CLASP Homes, and a wide range of Westport-based social services, housing, education and addiction services organizations.
Also receiving grants: Bridgeport and Norwalk organizations that serve the needy, including Mercy Learning Center, Family ReEntry and the Carver Foundation.
Speaking of Mercy Learning: Many Westporters are longtime volunteers. The Bridgeport program provides underserved women with academic, language, computer and life skills; early childhood education; assistance preparing for citizenship, and mental health, job and financial counseling.
Recently, many more Westporters have given generously, as the organization adds food, medicine and diapers for women in need.
Yesterday, the National Catholic Reporter shined a great spotlight on MLC. It’s featured in the paper’s “Saints Next Door.” Click here for the full story on this wonderful institution — and the great people behind it. (Hat tip: Diane Johnson)
More great philanthropic news:
Fairfield County’s Community Foundation is giving 90 grants totaling $1,359,500 from its COVID-19 Resiliency Fund. The project was launched just a month ago. Click here for the list.
But they’re not stopping there. An anonymous donor will match every donation — up to a total of $500,000. Click here to make a donation of any size. Every dollar counts!
And finally, a beautiful song that means more than ever, these days:
Yesterday’s “06880” highlighted the role that Westport’s Rotary clubs play, helping bring democratic values to Ukraine.
The Westport Rotary and Sunrise Rotary are 2 of the more than 35,000 Rotaries worldwide. The couple of hundred members are part of a global organization of 1.6 million. Their projects are international — like Ukraine — but much of their work takes place right here at home.
Westport Rotary was founded 100 years ago, in 1919. Its Sunrise sister is newer — it’s just 31 years old. Sunrise accommodates people who want to give back, but prefer breakfast meetings to midday.
Meetings include sharing of good news, guest speakers, and project plans. Recently, a member mentioned a wheelchair-bound World War II veteran whose home and yard needed major work. A dozen Rotarians spent 2 Saturdays getting it done. Their breaks were enriched by amazing stories of his D-Day landing at Normandy.
Many meetings include presentations by executives of non-profits. They share their organizations’ missions, accomplishments and needs. Club members are often inspired to help.
For example, Homes with Hope — which provides services and housing options to families and individuals seeking their way out of homelessness — is the recipient of monthly meal servings by Sunrise Rotary members. They also sponsor a July 4th barbecue, and food drive the day before the Super Bowl.
Rotary speakers have included the executive director of the Syria Fund, which provides education and assistance to refugees; the CEO of Norwalk’s Carver Foundation, who talked about the “opportunity gap” in education, and the headmaster of the Southport School, which educates students with dyslexia, and tied together the twin issues of incarceration and undiagnosed learning disabilities.
Of course, all of the Rotary Clubs’ charitable efforts cost money. Westporters are familiar with fundraisers like the Great Duck Race and LobsterFest.
Up next: Sunrise Rotary’s Uncorked Wine Tasting Gala.
Good times at last year’s Uncorked wine tasting, at the Inn at Longshore.
The event — set for this Friday (November 22, 6:30 to 9:30 p.m., the Inn at Longshore) features 100 wines, craft beers and non-alcoholic drinks, all curated by Cory D’Addario of The Wine Company Westport (the new name for the old Liquor Locker). A graduate of the Culinary Institute of America, she is an expert at the synergy between wine and food.
On tap too: excellent hors d’oeuvres, authentic French breads, desserts and amazing chocolates. Full case beverages can be purchased for discounts.
Westport’s Rotary Clubs often operate under the radar. On Friday, you can get a great “taste” of their wonderful work.
(For tickets to the Uncorked Wine Tasting Gala, click here.)
Fairfield’s Isabelle et Vincent will provide authentic French baked goods.
For months, Americans have been flooded with news about Ukraine.
For most of us, it’s a foreign country. We can’t quite figure out its politics, its place in the world, or all the political and business figures with similar-sounding names who seem to be doing nefarious things.
Ken Bernhard is not confused.
The longtime Westporter — an attorney who spent 8 years representing Westport in the General Assembly, rising to assistant minority leader; served as 3rd selectman from 1987-89; was on the Zoning Board of Appeals; has been on boards from the Library and Chamber of Commerce to Earthplace, Levitt Pavilion and Aspetuck Land Trust;helped found the Syria Fund for refugee aid, is involved with an orphanage in Haiti, collects shoes for thousands of children worldwide and raises guide dogs — has a connection to that Crimean nation too.
Three years ago, he taught law in the port city of Berdyansk. With that nation in the news now, he wanted to see what his Westport Sunrise Rotary Club — and its sister organization, the Westport Rotary — could do to foster the rule of law and due process.
“We wanted to give evidence that we support democratic values,” he explains.
Through a professor friend in Berdyansk, he found that the law university hoped to construct a moot courtroom where students could learn courtroom skills.
Both clubs quickly agreed to finance construction.
Nothing is easy there. But as soon as banking requirements are fulfilled, and the necessary documents are translated and executed, the project can begin.
There’s a lot we don’t know about Ukraine. But this is one unimpeachable fact: Halfway around the world, Westport is helping democracy thrive.
Ken Bernhard (left) with students in Berdyansk, Ukraine. They hold a Connecticut state flag.
Over 300 volunteers serve 2,400 lobsters, 300 steaks, 1,600 ears of corn, and plenty of raw oysters to 1,200 ticketholders.
Though the goal is great — proceeds support more than 30 local organizations, plus international Rotary projects — it can be an environmental mess.
At the end of the event, there’s a lot of trash.
Where are you — well, all those volunteers — gonna put all those lobster and oyster shells, steak bones and husks, not to mention thousands of knives, forks, paper plates and napkins?
Don’t worry! These folks think of everything.
This year’s event — set for Saturday, September 21 (3 to 7 p.m., Compo Beach) — is environmentally friendly. Thanks to a partnership with Sustainable Westport, LobsterFest focuses as much on recycling as on raising money for charity.
Tony McDowell — Rotarian, former Fest chair and now a member of the organizing team — explains that this year’s feast picks up where other town local initiatives like the Maker Faire left off.
Last spring, that townwide event recycled in a big way. Every garbage can was labeled for the different type of trash to be deposited in it. Greens Farms Elementary School does the same thing, in their cafeteria.
Greens Farms El offers 3 choices for waste:
LobsterFest will do it too. A company will haul away lobster shells, and compostable plates, trays and cups. Almost all waste will be reused.
But not all. Some plastic knives and forks remain from last year. Moving forward, the event will use all corn-based utensils.
The red trays are plastic. But they’re reused every year.
LobsterFest is a fun, family event. Kids’ activities include the Melissa & Doug children’s tent. The Hot Rubber Monkey Band returns too.
A $60 ticket includes two 1-and-a-quarter-pound lobsters, or a 14-ounce New York strip steak, plus corn, cole slaw, bread and butter, potato salad, peppermint patties, and all the beer or wine you can drink. There’s also a $10 menu for children 12 and under.
Tickets are available only in advance. Click here to order online. They can also be purchased at Joey’s by the Shore, or from any Rotary Club member.
NOTE: The Westport Rotary LobsterFest is different from the Westport Lobster Festival, sponsored by Westport Lifestyles magazine. That event is September 28, at the Fairfield County Hunt Club; it includes a polo match and balloon festival.
No word yet on how much they’ll recycle their lobster shells, utensils and trays.
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