Tag Archives: Westport Rotary Club

State Of The Town

Presidents make State of the Union speeches. Governors have their own (weirdly named) State of the States.

Now Westport introduces the State of the Town.

Unlike the other events, this one is a public forum. Questions are welcome from normal (as in, you and I) citizens.

It’s set for Sunday, January 28 (4 p.m., Town Hall). First Selectman Jim Marpe and Board of Education chair Michael Gordon will discuss town and school issues. Both are in charge of big budgets — and both wield important influence on what this town is, and where it’s going.

The State of the Town is a joint project of Westport Sunrise Rotary and the Westport Rotary Club. Incoming presidents Eileen Flug and Jeff Wieser joined current presidents Ron Holtz and Susie Basler to make the event a reality.

The State of the Town is a great way to learn what’s going on — and give feedback.

And enjoy fine refreshments, courtesy of Panera Bread.

No Bull! Westporters Run At Pamplona

Rick Benson, Jack Fanning, Drew Murphy and Rod Smith met in 1988. All had toddlers. They — the adults, that is — helped plan and build the Compo Beach playground.

It was dangerous work. Not the physical labor — just getting it approved was tough. There was significant opposition: It will ruin the vista! Teenagers will hang out there, drinking and having sex! It will attract out-of-towners!

But they — and others — persisted. Today the beach playground is one of our town’s great attractions.

The men have remained friends ever since. This year, they decided to do something even scarier than building that playground.

They would run with the bulls at Pamplona.

The bulls at Pamplona.

If you’ve been living under a rock all these years — or hanging out at a playground — and never heard of that bizarre ritual, it’s this:

Every year, for 9 days during the Feast of Saint Fermin, over 1,000 people join 6 bulls (and 6 herding steers) in the narrow, winding medieval streets of the Spanish town.

The men — and the runners are nearly all male (go figure) — try not to get gored or (yes) killed in the 2-minute race to a large bull ring. Once inside, there’s even more chasing — and being chased by — the bulls.

What could be more fun?!

RB and Rick Benson in the Plaza del Toro bull ring, Pamplona.

The Westporters were joined by others: Benson’s son RB, Fanning’s son Mikey and Smith’s son Tyler; Joey Laurita and his cousin Bryan.

All have Westport connections.

They spent 3 days in Pamplona. They watched one day from the balcony of La Perla — the same hotel where Ernest Hemingway stayed, when he wrote “The Sun Also Rises.” The 1926 novel lifted an obscure Spanish ritual into a worldwide phenomenon.

All ran at least one day with the bulls.

(From left): RB Benson, Joey Laurita, Mike Fanning, Joey’s cousin Bryan and Tyler Smith. They all look relieved — and alive.

“It’s not as scary as it’s sometimes portrayed,” Rick Benson reports.

However, he notes, “Some people are definitely less cautious than we were.”

The craziest folks are in front of the bulls, or near their horns. The Westport contingent ran alongside the 1,500-pound animals.

Which is why they’re back home today, able to tell this great tale.

(PS: Rick Benson does not know what everyone else’s next adventure is. But this fall, he heads to Africa. He’s spent the past months raising funds with Rotary Clubs throughout the state. In Kenya, he’ll help oversee a $135,000 school renovation. In Nigeria, it’s a $120,000 water sanitation project. Both are a long way from Pamplona — and the Compo Beach playground.)

Running with the bulls sure gives you an appetite. The Westport contingent dined well.

Staples, Farmers’ Market, Gillespie Center: Seed, Feed And Lead

The Westport Farmers’ Market opened for its 12th season last month.

As usual, plenty of vendors offered everything from locally grown and raised produce and meat, to honey and bread.

The crowd was large. The vibe (and weather) was warm. Another year was underway.

And — for the 9th year — the Market will partner with 2 other important town programs: the Gillespie Center, and Staples High School’s culinary classes.

It’s a win-win-win. In fact, it’s one of the most intriguing partnerships around.

Once a month — at the end of Thursdays, as vendors close up — the Farmers’ Market purchases unsold food. Volunteers transport it to Staples.

There, chef Cecily Gans’ students create unique menus, and prepare wholesome, nutritious meals. The Farmers’ Market picks those up and takes them to the Gillespie Center — Westport’s emergency shelter.

Gans’ students — with help from Rotary Club members and the Farmers’ Market — then serve the meals they’ve cooked.

“Seed, feed and educate” is the way WFM director Lori Cochran-Dougall describes the 3-prong partnership. They call it “Farms to School to Community.”

“We’re lucky to live in a privileged area,” she says. “This program allows kids to see neighbors who have fallen on hard times in a different light.”

Relationships bloom. Last year, an older man gruffly refused vegetables.

“My mom always says to eat all your vegetables,” a girl replied.

His face softened. He took some.

Fresh strawberries, tomatoes and other produce are used creatively — and deliciously by Staples’ culinary students.

Soon, he was back for more. He told the teenager he had not tasted tomatoes like that since his mother served them.

“People in Westport are very generous with their donations to the Gillespie Center,” Gans says. “But there’s not a lot of fresh fruits and vegetables.

“We bring in high, nutrient-dense foods. That makes a difference. Think about how you or I would function if we didn’t eat well.”

Gans’ students appreciate the opportunity to cook for the residents — and to make their menus count. Each month, the ingredients are different.

Among the recipes: Hungarian gulyas; butternut squash pasta; asparagus with miso lemon dressing; quinoa tabouleh with parsley and mint, and curried pumpkin with raisin.

“They think outside the box,” their instructor says. “They’re creative. They get the opportunity to serve, and see the needs of their community. Their level of responsibility really impresses me.”

Three graduating seniors — Christian Franceze, Alex Ialeggio and Ryan Liu — have been involved for all 4 years at Staples. Next year, Gans counts on juniors to fill their shoes.

Chef Cecily Gans’ students prepare food for the Gillespie Center.

The students build strong relationships with the WFM farmers and vendors. “We’re there at the beginning of the Farmers’ Market season, and the end,” Gans says. “We do whatever we can for them. They do the same for us.”

Cochran-Dougall echoes that sentiment. The director praises everyone in the community who participates — including the major funders, the Rotary and Sunrise Rotary Clubs.

In return, the Staples students print and share the menus they’ve created. It’s one more way to help nourish the town.

(Interested in donating to the Westport Farmers’ Market for this project? Click here — and earmark it for the Gillespie Center.)

Lobster Fest!

A lovely late-summer day.

Beer and wine. Music. A huge crowd of friendly, sociable people, ready to mix, mingle, kick back and chill.

And of course about 3,000 lobsters, shipped in yesterday from Nova Scotia.

Those were the ingredients for today’s Lobster Fest.

In just 5 years, the Rotary Club event has become a major highlight on the Westport calendar.

It’s the biggest block party in town. It’s Compo and community at its best.

And — best of all — it raises about $75,000, which the Rotary Club plows right back into good causes locally, nationally and abroad.

If you weren’t there, you missed a fantastic party.

And some really amazing lobsters.


The stars of the show.

Rotary Board member Rick Benson claws State Representative Gail Lavielle.

Rotary Board member Rick Benson claws State Representative Gail Lavielle.

Homes With Hope CEO and Lobster Fest volunteer Jeff Wieser pours a beer for 1-year-old Andy Wolf. Her dad, Jim, looks on amused.

Homes With Hope CEO and Lobster Fest volunteer Jeff Wieser pours a beer for 1-year-old Andy Wolf. Her dad, Jim, looks on amused.

Nearby, a slightly older youngster explored the Beaver Beer car.

Nearby, a slightly older youngster explored the Beaver Beer car.

First Selectman Jim Marpe and his wife Mary Ellen were also Lobster Fest volunteers.

First Selectman Jim Marpe and his wife Mary Ellen were Lobster Fest volunteers.

As the sun set on Lobster Fest, no one wanted to leave.

The sun set on Lobster Fest, but no one wanted to leave.

At the end, not much remained of the 3,000 lobsters.

At the end, not much remained of the 3,000 lobsters.

Saturday’s Lobster Fest Still On!

Yesterday’s thunderstorm knocked down several tents at Compo Beach. Three people were injured.

Folks wondered if the damaged tents would force cancellation of Saturday’s Lobster Fest — a major fundraiser for the Westport Rotary Club, and the town’s 2nd-largest community beach party (after the fireworks).

Have no fear. Tie those bibs. The Rotary Club promises that Lobster Fest is “100% still on.”

The tents are being fixed today (and the hundreds of chairs underneath them righted). Supplies arrive tomorrow. The fresh lobsters will come moments before they’re devoured.

Also featured at the 5th annual event: Jeff Northrup’s Hummock Island oysters; Baxter Urist and Bill O’Brien’s Beaver Beer, live music and more. Over 1,200 seafood lovers are expected to attend.


Lobster Fest hopes to raise $75,000 for local, regional and international causes. The Westport Rotary Club does plenty of good, for plenty of folks. They’ve got a big tent, both figuratively and — now that it’s back up at the beach — literally.

The weather forecast for Saturday is clear, with a high of 76. Perfect lobster-eating weather!

(Lobster Fest is set for Saturday, Sept. 17, from 3-7 p.m. at Compo Beach. Click on www.westportrotary.org for more information, or to purchase tickets — they will not be sold after Friday. Parking is free for all attendees. )

Rotary Duck Succumbs To Heat

Sunny — the 23-foot inflatable duck promoting Westport Sunrise Rotary’s Great Duck Race on June 4 — has been the most popular downtown attraction since The Crane.

After hanging out by the library, he moved over to more ducky territory: the Saugatuck River.

Today’s near-90-degree heat must have gotten to him, though. Alert “06880” reader Dorian Barth spotted Sunny keeled over:

(Photo/Dorian Barth)

(Photo/Dorian Barth)

Or maybe he was just resting.

Get Your Lobster On!

All summer long, Compo’s South Beach is the site of scrumptious-looking lobster bakes.

As summer ends (officially), there’s one last lobster cookout. And everyone is invited.

Westport Rotary‘s LobsterFest is set for this Saturday (September 19, 3-7 p.m.). It’s a great event — 2 lobsters or a New York strip steak plus corn, cole slaw, potato salad and all the beer and wine you can drink — for a great cause (Westport Rotary does amazing service, here and around the globe).

The beach is a fitting spot for lobster, of course. But it’s also familiar territory to Damon Grant. The percussionist headlines this year’s entertainment.

Damon Grant

Damon Grant

Before he became a musician, the world-class sideman — who has worked with Madonna and Parliament Funkadelic, and will be seen soon in “Daredevil” — dreamed of becoming a marine biologist.

Growing up in Norwalk, he had fish tanks all over his parents’ house. During high school, he worked at the Maritime Aquarium.

After a biology teacher turned him off to science, he became increasingly drawn to music. At Norwalk High School, he drummed in nearly every ensemble.

Grant earned a B.A. in jazz performance from the University of Massachusetts-Amherst. He’s just released a new album, Prevailing Melodies.

He and his fellow musicians will play “mellow, beach-y” music on Saturday. In other words: Music to eat lobster by.

(Tickets are $50 each, available at www.westportrotary.org, at Joey’s By the Shore and from Rotary Club members. Funds generated benefit over 30 local non-profit organizations.)


The Baldwin Family Returns

It started with a Google alert.

A grandson of Herbert Baldwin is notified every time his grandfather’s name appears in cyberspace.  In February, he learned of an “06880” post about Westport’s upcoming celebration of the 50th anniversary of the purchase of Longshore.

Baldwin — who in 1960 was serving the 2nd of  his 5 terms as 1st selectman — was instrumental in getting the RTM and Board of Finance to approve $1.9 million to buy financially ailing Longshore Country Club, before it could be sold to a residential home developer.

This afternoon Westport celebrated that historic event with a gathering at — of course — Longshore, following the Westport Rotary‘s annual golf and tennis outing.

Wendy Baldwin holds Herb Baldwin's license plate. It is from 1956 -- the year she was born.

Wendy Baldwin — Herb’s granddaughter — was there.  She smiled brightly as she recalled her grandfather.  She enjoyed the day immensely — but that’s not the only reason she and other family members traveled here from across the country.

Her father — Herb Baldwin Jr. — died last year, at 88.  For several months the family tried to figure out the best time to gather in Westport, so he could be buried here.

This was the perfect opportunity.  Tomorrow, Herb Jr. joins his father and mother in the Saugatuck Congregational Church cemetery.

Wendy and her brother Pete were delighted to have the chance to return to Westport, see Longshore — and reunite with people who helped their grandfather move so swiftly 50 years ago.

Pete Baldwin, proudly wearing his grandfather's cap.

Former Baldwin kitchen cabinet members John Boyd and Allen Raymond were both at today’s event.

“It was great to see them,” Pete said.

“And it’s nice to see my grandfather is still remembered in Westport.”

Right back at you, Pete and Wendy.  It’s nice you had the chance to make it back “home.”

With a tip o’ the hat to Google Alerts.

Honoring Herb Baldwin

Westport Rotary‘s annual golf and tennis outing is always a nice affair.  Folks play, socialize, eat, drink, and raise funds for over 30 local charities.

Nice — but hardly blog-worthy.

Herb Baldwin

This year’s event (Wednesday, June 9) is different.  To celebrate the 50th anniversary of the town’s purchase of Longshore, then-1st selectman Herb Baldwin will be feted.

But this is no hollow let’s-thank-a-dead-guy thought.  Several relatives — including Baldwin’s daughter Phyllis, and 3 grandchildren — are coming from as far away as Indianapolis and Menlo Park, California.

Some will play in the golf tournament.  All will join in the 4 p.m. ceremony that will look back on Baldwin’s role in those lightning-quick 18 days, when Westport raced from “wow, Longshore Country Club is on the market” to a signed, $1.9 million contract to buy all 169 acres.

Allen Raymond — current town historian, and past member of Baldwin’s kitchen cabinet that helped seal the deal — will be there too.

So who was Herb Baldwin?

He arrived in Westport soon after serving in World War I.  In the same year he got married — seems like he always moved quickly — he bought 20 acres of Bayberry Lane land.

With no experience — and no capital behind him — he planted a thousand apple trees, and hundreds of rows of vegetables.

Four years later, he cleared $123.

He soon became a successful apple grower.  But he found time for plenty of volunteer work too.

He chaired both the Westport and state YMCAs, and served on the national Y council.

He taught Sunday school at Saugatuck Congregational Church, then became deacon emeritus, chairman of the state Congregational organization and a national commiteeman.  When the church moved — on logs — across the Post Road to its present location, Baldwin was on the engineering committee.

He entered politics in 1919, as a member of the Board of Tax Review.  He remained on it for 17 years, and was elected chairman.  He was a deputy judge of the Town Court, until laymen were barred from serving.

He spent 18 years in Hartford as a state assemblyman and senator, eventually chairing the Appropriations Committee.  Back in Westport, he was selected as the 2nd moderator ever of the RTM.

Herb Baldwin (far right) during a Memorial Day parade, in the late 1960s or early '70s. Also in the front row, from left: John Davis Lodge, a Westporter, former governor of Connecticut and ambassador to Spain, Argentina and Switzerland; U.S. Congressman Stewart McKinney. Rear (from left): Superintendent of Schools Kenneth Brummel; unidentified; Board of Education member Merald Lue.

When 1st selectman became a full-time position in 1957, Baldwin was elected.  Early in his tenure he eliminated 28 sources of raw drainage from the Saugatuck River; soon, fish returned.  Roads in Saugatuck Shores were raised, preventing flooding.  Two new schools were built.

When Longshore was put on the market — in an area zoned for 1-acre housing — Baldwin shepherded the town’s purchase plan through both the RTM and Board of Finance.  Instantly, Westport was the 1st town in the country to own a country club.

Later in his 5 terms as 1st selectman he championed DDD zoning, allowing businesses like Glendinning (off Weston Road) and Stauffer (Nyala Farms) to build in residentially zoned areas.  Some Westporters opposed the moves — though the buildings were as discreet as offices could be, and the tax rolls benefited handsomely.

Baldwin Parking Lot — named for him — off Elm Street alleviated downtown parking problems (though several old homes were demolished in the process).

Baldwin retired in 1967, age 73.  In retirement he played bridge, backgammon, chess — and golf.  (He stopped in his early 90s — because his clubs were stolen out of his car trunk.)

In 1986 — for one of my 1st “Woog’s World” columns — I interviewed the-92-year-old Baldwin.  I asked him to sum up his life.

“May and I are as lucky as the devil,” he said, referring to his wife of (then) 67 years.

“We’ve got our health, our family, and we’ve been able to serve our community for 67 years.  What else could anybody want?”

Well, how about being remembered a quarter-century later for your role in preserving a property that has since become the most beloved purchase in our 175 year history?

(Wednesday’s golf tournament begins at 8:30 a.m.; tennis follows at 9 a.m.  Both events are at Longshore.)

Rotary Rocks Westport

Giving away $40,000 in less than 30 minutes is child’s play in Washington.

In Westport, it merits an “06880” post.

Westport Rotary did the honors this week, at their Community Partners lunch.  One representative from each organization was invited as a Rotary guest at the Inn at Longshore — and there were smiles all around as Steve Halstead handed out checks to groups ranging (alphabetically) from ABC (A Better Chance of Westport) to the Y.

After calling it “the happiest day of the year for Rotarians,” Todd Mauerman reminded his colleagues that it was time to start fund raising for next year’s giveaways.  Before the lunch was done, members turned their attention to the annual golf and tennis tournaments at Longshore on Wednesday, June 9.

Interested in helping raise money that the Rotary can then give away?  The cost is $185 per golfer ($720 for a foursome), $85 for tennis.  Entry fees include both breakfast and lunch.  Call Tony Riggio (golf, 203-227-6877) or Irwin Lebish (tennis, 203-222-0626).

Steve Halstead (far left) and representatives of many organizations smile as they raise their money-filled envelopes. (Photo by Dave Matlow)

PS:  Want a full list of organizations the Rotarians helped?  Here it is:

  • A Better Chance of Westport
  • ARK
  • Boy Scouts of CT
  • Bridgeport Child Advocacy Coalition
  • Builders Beyond Borders
  • CLASP Homes
  • Domestic Violence Crisis Center
  • Dr. Appleby School Health Center
  • Earthplace
  • Family Reentry
  • First Night
  • George Washington Carver Center
  • Girl Scouts of CT
  • Grant a Smile
  • Habitat for Humanity
  • Interfaith Housing Assoc (HwH)
  • Levitt Pavilion
  • Longshore 50th
  • Make a Difference Day
  • Mercy Learning Center
  • Necessities, Inc.
  • Norwalk Arts and Crafts
  • Norwalk Symphony Orchestra
  • Norwalk Youth Symphony
  • Positive Directions
  • Project Return
  • Smart Kids
  • Staples PTA  Post Prom
  • Staples Tuition Grants
  • STAR
  • Susan Fund
  • Westport Country Playhouse
  • Westport Department of Human Services
  • Westport EMS
  • Westport Historical Society
  • Westport/Weston Family Y