Tag Archives: Westport Senior Center

Senior Citizens And Staples Teens Share Stories. And Lunch.

Besides their grandparents, most Staples High School students have little contact with older Westporters.

Some grandparents live far away. And others are no longer living.

But senior citizens and Staples seniors (and  juniors) share more than this town. They all eat.

So food in its many forms — cooking, meals, restaurants — was on the menu last week. The Senior Center hosted its 2nd annual Intergenerational Writing Workshop.

Teenagers and men and women 4 and 5 times their age sat down together. They read what they’d written. They commented on each other’s memoirs and fiction. Then they dug into lunch — and kept talking.

One view of collaboration during the “Shared Voices” event …

The project is a collaboration between the Senior Center’s Writing Workshop and Staples’ English elective, “Reading and Writing Fiction.” Both are immensely popular — and both are well known for turning people who think they can’t write into agile, insightful writers.

David Stockwell teaches 2 sections of the class. To prepare for the day at the Senior Center, the high schoolers wrote about food. Writing Workshop instructor Jan Bassin’s students did the same.

“It’s universal,” Stockwell explains. “There are so many topics: food at the holidays. Families and food. Cooking. Restaurants.”

Whatever trepidation the teenagers and senior citizens may have had melted away as soon as they sat together, at small tables. They read, commented, laughed, told stories, then rotated to another group.

For more than 2 hours — without a cellphone in sight — the writers read.

One man wrote about tinned pineapple rations during the Korean War. They did not look appetizing. But an Army buddy told him to eat; pineapple is good for you. He did — and remembers that day more than half a century later.

Another Senior Center writer described a traditional English breakfast: pudding, bangers, ham, and 2 cups of tea. “Even the terminology made it come alive,” Stockwell says.

… and another. (Photos/David Stockwell)

An English breakfast was the same topic chosen by a Staples senior. His perspective was different — but equally intriguing.

And so it went: stories about eating watermelon. Descriptions of chocolate. Thanksgiving dinner. Anyone can write about food — and everyone did.

But food was just a starting point. As they chatted, a student asked an older woman if she had known what she wanted to do with her life when she was in high school.

No, the woman said. But she described how her life unfolded, and advised the teenager to pay attention to what she loved most from an early age on.

Another Workshop participant realized that she had worked for the father of one of the students for nearly 10 years.

All that reading and talking made them hungry, of course. Lunch — pizza, veggies, hummus, chips and dips — was welcome. It was also a chance to get to know each other even better.

Pizza also helps bring the generations together. (Photo/Alison Wachstein)

“In today’s world, there is little opportunity for seniors to share fascinating and valuable life experiences with these emerging adults, or for the younger generation to ask questions and seek perspective and guidance from those who have lived long and varied lives,” Bassin explains.

At the same time, she says, the topic she and Stockwell picked “de-emphasizes the age gap. We can all relate to food.”

The Senior Center Workshop writers were impressed with the Staples students’ writing and demeanor. The teens were awed by the seniors’ sometimes humorous, sometimes tearful stories of war, loss, hardships and lessons learned.

And the pizza was just topping for the day.

Pic Of The Day #600

Yesterday, I gave a talk at the Senior Center. The subject was “The View From ‘06880.’” Here’s a view of the large, lively audience a few minutes before I began. (Photo/Dan Woog)

Ade’s Vanishing Saugatuck

The 9-foot bulletin board in the lobby of the Westport Senior Center is available for 1 month, to any artist or arts group that wants to showcase their work.

October is Ade Van Duyn’s turn.

Ade Van Duyn, with her exhibit at the Senior Center.

A painter, she lived with her husband and 4 children on Hillspoint Road. She shopped at Max’s Art Supplies, Klein’s, the Remarkable Book Shop and Greenberg’s. She enjoyed the Ice Cream Parlor too.

Ade always loved Saugatuck. It felt intimate and friendly — like an old-fashioned village.

Driving up and down Saugatuck Avenue near I-95 Exit 17, she never questioned its lack of a sidewalk, driveways or access to homes.

Recently, while looking for an interesting subject to paint, she was fascinated by the appearance of some of the properties.

But, Ade says, her fascination took on a darker tone.

She painted a concrete wall with a door cemented shut.

A door sealed shut …

A house on a hill with “endless stairs to an invisible entrance.” An empty store disappearing into the hillside.

… and stairs to nowhere.

“My paintings turned into a message: These places are the ugly symbols of a vanishing community,” she says.

And, she asks, “Should we preserve those that are still whole, alive and healthy — those that are still there?”

Now Hear This!

Alert “06880” reader Dick Lowenstein writes:

I did not know I was hard of hearing until my uncle asked me to face away from him at the end of the hall in my grandmother’s apartment. He asked me questions to which I did not respond. I was 6 years old.

Doctor visits and hearing tests, followed by experimental radium and X-ray treatments, until finally what made a difference: lip reading and speech lessons.

Not until I was a 16-year-old high school senior did I get a hearing aid. That helped me comprehend college lectures. I wore that pendant receiver around my neck, with an earpiece to transmit amplified sounds, reluctantly.

As time progressed my hearing worsened. But technology progressed, and the aids became smaller. I went to binaural (both ears) aids built into my eyeglass template pieces, and finally to behind-the-ear models that I wear today. I function pretty well with them, but not in wartime or water!

New technology — better than what I currently use — is now here. Bluetooth and cell phone captioning are 2 examples. This Tuesday (October 2, 11 a.m., Westport Senior Center) the local chapter of the Hearing Loss Association of America sponsors a presentation on these new technologies.

The event is free, open to the public — and captioned.

(For more information, email mczola@optonline.net)

A Bluetooth hearing aid is indistinguishable from other Bluetooth devices.

Services Tomorrow For Fran Reynolds

Frances “Fran” Reynolds, a Westport resident for 56 years, and the much-loved senior services coordinator for the Department of Human Services, died Friday. She was 89.

Her obituary says, “Fran was an amazing and inspiring woman whose laugh and smile warmed all those who knew her. She loved going to Compo Beach, gardening in her yard and New York City, but most of all, spending time with her family and friends, who she viewed as her greatest gifts.”

Fran graduated in 1949 from Wellesley College. She then attended Yale University for Graduate Studies, as one of the first few female students.

Fran Reynolds

Fran worked for the National Tuberculosis Association and American Lung Association in New York City. She met and married the love of her life, Bob, and moved to Westport. In addition to serving as senior services coordinator for Westport for almost 25 years, Fran was on the board of directors for the Southwestern Connecticut Agency on Aging, Visiting Nurse and Hospice of Fairfield County and Westport Senior Center. She received numerous awards for  her work.

Survivors include her children and their spouses, Suzanne and Vincent Baum of Connecticut, and Dorothy and David Verani of New Hampshire; granddaughters Megan, Katie, Kiera and Julia; nephew Alan Leland; niece Nancy McGuinty, and 10 great-nieces and nephews. She will also be missed by Bob’s daughter, Carolann, her grandson Kent and great-grandchildren, Danielle and Luke.

Visiting hoursare  at Collins Funeral Home in Norwalk tomorrow (Thursday, May 31, from 9 to 10:30 a.m., followed by a mass at St. Luke’s Church in Westport (11 a.m.).

Sorry, Senior Center!

That’s what I get for relying on tipsters.

A few minutes ago, I posted a story referring to the Post Road East street that appeared seemingly overnight between the Sunoco and Mobil stations, opposite the Westport Country Playhouse:

Based on an email I had received, I wrote that it created new access to the Baron’s South property.

It does. But only if you go through the Senior Center.

Former 2nd selectman Avi Kaner notes that the road is part of the Senior Center enhancement project.

Happy trails!

Seniors And Teens Share Stories — And Lunch

One of the Senior Center’s most popular activities is a Writing Workshop. Jan Bassin guides men and women — many of whom have never written for pleasure — through the transformative process of turning their long lives and powerful insights into words that will live forever.

One of Staples High School’s most popular electives is Reading and Writing Fiction. Kim Herzog and David Stockwell help teenagers — many of whom don’t think of themselves as writers — turn their creative ideas into words they can be proud of.

Last spring, Bassin invited Julie Heller — the Westport school district’s grade 6-12 English coordinator — to her group’s final workshop. Heller was awed by the senior citizens’ eloquence and honesty. When Bassin asked if the Center could collaborate with Staples on a writing project, Heller immediately thought of Herzog and Stockwell.

Joining forces was easy. Figuring out what to write about together was not.

Eventually, the instructors settled on food. Senior citizens and high school seniors have something in common: “We all eat, smell and experience food,” Herzog says.

Earlier this month, both groups gathered at the Senior Center. They divided up, a few per table. They introduced themselves, then read their works.

Talking together …

Many older writers told personal stories. Many teenagers chose fiction. But all wrote powerfully, and well.

One woman described growing up in Europe, during World War II. An American soldier gave her a wonderful drink. Years later — now in the U.S. — she tasted it again.

Amazed, she asked its name.

“Coca-Cola,” she was told.

… reading …

Another woman related her first experience with oysters. They were not, she said, as fantastic as she’d heard.

The Staples students “couldn’t believe how honest” the Senior Center writers were, Herzog syas.

As for the younger writers: Their creativity and emotion stunned the older men and women.

It was the first time some of the Stapleites had sat down with senior citizens who were not their grandparents.

“It was great to watch,” Stockwell says. “The kids couldn’t stop talking about their experiences. And the seniors raved about the students.”

“Their collective writing skills were surpassed only by their good manners, self-confidence and the ease with which they made conversation,” one Senior Center member wrote afterward.

… and listening. (Photos courtesy of wanderinginwestport Instagram)

“The shortest distance between two people is a story,” Herzog notes.

And the quickest way to share experiences is through food.

So — naturally — both groups ate together too.

Westport Pizzeria, Trader Joe’s and Stew Leonard’s all donated lunch.

That’s something else to write home about.

Bernie Perry’s Iran

It’s tough to get to Iran.

But you don’t have to travel halfway around the world for a glimpse at that country’s fascinating daily life.

Just go to the Senior Center.

Internationally acclaimed photographer Bernie Perry has developed a book and gallery show called “Iran: Lifting the Veil.” On Thursday, he unveiled an exhibit of his work.

(Photo/Bernard Perry)

Perry — who specializes in social photography — has unlocked some of the mysteries of that ancient land. He is particularly pleased to have interviewed and photographed young women pushing hard for more personal freedoms and better jobs.

His work will also be on display at the Saugatuck Digital Arts Workshop (1499 Post Road, Fairfield) beginning November 16.

“06880”‘s tagline is “Where Westport Meets the World.” Thanks to Bernie Perry, we’ve all got a chance now to examine one of the most historic, yet opaque, parts of that world.

(Photo/Bernard Perry)

Unsung Hero #5

Dana Johnson moved to Saugatuck over 30 years ago. He married Ginny, and is an avid tennis player.

He’s our unsung hero because of all his work with the Senior Center. He serves meals, calls Bingo every Thursday to a devoted crowd, and organizes events like the Staples Senior Golf Tournament — an inter-generational event involving the high school boys and girls teams that benefits the center’s fitness program.

Dana Johnson (2nd from right, with clipboard), at the Staples Senior Golf Tournament.

Dana also volunteers 2 days a week at the center’s congregate lunch program, as a “waiter.”

Loretta Hallock calls him “one of the most unselfish people I know.”

Senior center director Sue Pfister adds, “Dana’s warm smile and gregarious personality are welcome any day of the week here. The only problem I have with him is, he’s a Red Sox fan!”

Congratulations, Dana. Thanks for all you do, for so many!

Portrait Of The Artist As An Older Man

In 2001 — after 18 years in Weston — Murray Rosenzweig and his wife Susan Hauser moved to Stamford. Their daughter, son-in-law and young grandchildren were there. When the house next door came on the market, the grandparents bought it.

Five years later, their daughter’s family moved to Westport, for the schools. Murray and Susan went back to Weston.

Around the same time — after 55 years as a radiologist — he retired.

“At great distress to my wife, I had no thought about what I’d do,” he recalls. “I read a lot, but I had no interest in ‘doing.'”

He joined the Y’s Men, and “met nice people.”

After a while, he “finally” went to Westport’s Senior Center.

Susan — “kind of an artist” — talked her husband into taking a painting class taught by Eddie Nino.

Rosenzweig had no art background whatsoever. But, he notes, “as a radiologist I knew where and how the head turns.”

Some of Murray Rosenzweig’s portraits.

He’d spent more than half a century thinking of skin as “a barrier to get through as quickly as possible, to see underneath.”

Now, he says, “I’m studying the skin.”

The results are remarkable. At 90 years old, Rosenzweig has become a very good portrait artist.

He downplays his talent.

“We’ve got a good group,” he says of his class — the 2nd one he’s taken with Nino. “We all encourage each other. It’s not competitive.”

Rosenzweig’s works are now on exhibit at the Senior Center. He never thought they’d be seen by anyone. But, he admits, “Eddie is proud of me.”

Murray Rosenzweig with his portraits, in the Westport Senior Center.

His 2nd career is full of surprises. The other day, someone asked the price of one of his portraits.

“They’re not for sale,” he says. “They’re like my children.”