Every day for 50 years — in all kinds of weather* — Ruth has walked from Hillspoint Road to the top of Compo Hill.
She recently returned from Spain, where she completed the 100-mile El Camino spiritual trek.
For the 79-year-old longtime Westporter, it was no big deal.
Yet Ruth’s walks are only part of her daily routine. Since the 1960s, she’s taught exercise and fitness at the Westport Weston Family Y. Right now she’s with the Arthritis Foundation Family aquatic program.
When the Senior Center opened, she began teaching there too.
Many class members are younger — often much younger — than Ruth. But they struggle to keep pace.
When she’s not walking or leading classes, Ruth bikes. Of course, her rides are for good causes.
Since last century, she’s raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for the Dana Farber Cancer Institute, in the Pan-Mass Challenge. She was not always alone: Sometimes she was joined by her husband Larry, 4 children, in-laws and friends. Her group was called Ruthie’s Riding Rascals.
You’ve probably seen Ruth Sherman around town. The next time you see her, say hello — and congratulate her for being this week’s Unsung Hero.
But you’ll have to be in pretty good shape to catch up.
But Jan Bassin believes our town pulses with places that can inspire words. To jump-start those muses, she’s teamed up with the library to offer a month-long community writing project.
Every day during August, Bassin — Senior Center coordinator of writing programs, and the library’s Maker-in-Residence — will host an hour-long write-in.
Every day, it will be at a different spot.
The Playhouse. Compo Beach. The Farmers’ Market. The boardwalk at National Hall. Longshore. The train station.
You name it — if it’s in Westport you’ll find Bassin, and writers of every age and ability, all month long.
Each “Write Here” (get it?) session begins with a brief introduction from a representative of that location. Bassin will provide a prompt. Writers will then free-write: prose, poetry, first-person, creative, whatever. At the end, anyone who wants to can share their creations.
“The act of writing connects us to ourselves and our community,” Bassin says. “When you write somewhere, you feel connected to that spot.”
One example: At Wakeman Town Farm, the prompt might spur one person to write about her memories of growing up on a farm. Someone else might react to the sights and smells of WTF itself. A third person might be inspired to create a poem about animals.
Scenes like this could inspire some great writing.
The project kicks off this Thursday (August 1, 12 noon, Westport Library). I’ve been known to write a few stories about “06880,” so I’ll join Jan Bassin to talk briefly about writing in Westport.
Then we’ll turn it over to you all, for your own words.
Every “Write Here” session is free. You can come to as many or as few as you want. You can read your writing aloud, or keep it private.
“Write Here” will evolve, Bassin expects. She may create a website for writers who want their words to live on (by name, or anonymously).
You might even be inspired to submit a “Write Here” story to “06880.”
You know: this blog, right here.
(For more information about “Write Here: Westport,” click here.)
On Monday, “06880” posted a story about Baron’s South. Reader Morley Boyd had written — and sent photos — describing construction material from the recent Senior Center modernization project that had been dumped in the southwest meadow. He said that demolition debris was mixed with the fill; that there was evidence of soil erosion, and that mature trees had been removed from the site.
Yesterday, another concerned reader sent an update. This reader noted that the Baron — Walter Langer von Langendorff of Austria, who founded Evyan Perfumes in the 1930s, bought the estate in 1967, and lived there until his death in 1983 — had planted and nurtured diverse species of trees on his 32-acre wooded, hilly property, between Compo Road South and Imperial Avenue.
Among the “legacy trees’ was a Hinoki False Cypress. It grew robustly and beautifully in a protected valley.
It was judged the state’s #1 Golden Hinoki False Cypress, on a list of Notable Trees compiled by the Connecticut College Arboretum. It was not located where the construction occurred.
Tree warden Bruce Lindsay and Planning & Zoning Commission member Al Gratrix went to great lengths to ensure that the tree — which had been designated for relocation — would be given special attention by the contractor, so it could thrive.
The Hinoki was replanted at the crest of a hill, bordering the Fairfield County Bank parking lot. The “06880” reader who visited yesterday reports that the tree is brown, dry and dead.
After replanting, the Golden Hinoki False Cyprus appears dead. This photo was taken yesterday.
Not far away, the reader says, there is plenty of construction debris in the fill.
The runoff appears headed toward Deadman’s Brook, and the Saugatuck River.
Yesterday, “06880” posted reader Morley Boyd’s comments about Baron’s South. He said that construction material from the recent Senior Center modernization project had been dumped in a nearby meadow. He was concerned about debris in the fill, soil erosion, and the removal of trees.
Morley wondered why the material was placed there, whether it has been tested, when it will be removed, and where it will go.
Today, 2 town officials responded.
Jen Fava — director of Parks & Recreation — says:
Mr. Boyd’s characterization of an “illegal dump site” including a “host” of objects is greatly exaggerated, misleading and a misrepresentation of the actual conditions.
The decision was made by the Center for Senior Activities Building Committee to store the fill on site temporarily for use in other projects within the town and/or on the Barons South property.
A closeup of the rear of the dumped fill on Baron’s South. (Phots/Morley Boyd)
This fill was taken from on site in order to accommodate the Senior Center expansion. The fill, as taken from its original location, contains rocks and soil, as would be expected, but it is all from the Baron’s South property.
Mr. Boyd’s description also made it sound as though truckloads of debris have been dumped. This is simply not the case. There are a few pieces of metal and other debris, but not in quantity, as implied by the description. The items in question are being removed.
With regard to the “mature trees” that were removed, this was done in consultation with the tree warden. Only a few trees were removed, which were not in the best condition and were identified to be taken down as part of the future plan for this site.
Alicia Mozian, Department of Conservation director, adds:
I inspected the site last night. It is fully stabilized and the erosion controls are in very good shape. I saw no evidence of silt/sediment on the driveways leading down toward the waterways.
My post today earlier today about “livingshorelines” may have made you feel all warm and earth-fuzzy. You might even be motivated to take a walk at some open space in town.
Great! Just avoid part of Baron’s South.
Alert “06880” reader/local activist Morley Boyd recently noticed that 1,000 or so yards of construction material — from the recent Senior Center modernization project — have been dumped in the southwest meadow.
Morley Boyd took this photo — and outlined the approximate footprint of the excavated fill at Baron’s South.
It includes, he says, both fill and demolition debris: rusty pipes, sharp metal objects, chunks of concrete and asphalt, plastic garbage bags, shattered plastic containers, rubber tires, bricks and more.
Morley says that trapped, standing water at the rear of the dump area abuts residential property. He sees “considerable evidence” of soil erosion across the top section of raw, unprotected construction rubble and fill.
Debris in the Baron’s South landfill. The Senior Center is on the right. (Photos/Morley Boyd)
He also believes that a number of mature trees were removed from the site, to accommodate what he says is a grade raised by 5 or 6 feet.
Morley wonders why the material was placed there, whether it has been tested, when it will be removed, and where it will go. He has written to town officials, and awaits a response.
As anyone who has been to the Westport Senior Center knows, it’s not a place where zombies sit around all day, watching TV. (In fact, there are no TVs at all.)
Our Senior Center hums with activity and life. There are talks and discussions about every topic imaginable. There are classes in art, computers, cooking and dozens of other subjects. There’s yoga, Zumba, a fitness center and 8 TRX stations.
Trouble is, not enough non-seniors get to the Senior Center.
Tomorrow, you get your chance.
Westporters of all ages are invited to a Super Bowl party. From 1 to 4 p.m. you can eat and drink; play games and win prizes; enter a guess-the-final-score contest, and meet the Staples High School state champion field hockey team, plus Staples and PAL cheerleaders.
Tomorrow is a day for football — and meeting the state champion Staples High School field hockey team.
There will be tours of the new addition to the facility. Lynn Goldberg — who helped lead the project — will be honored too.
It’s an inter-generational event. Seniors — especially those with grandchildren far away — love seeing young Westporters. Kids without local grandparents can enjoy a family gathering.
And who doesn’t like free hot dogs, chips, dips and cake?
No one knows who will win tomorrow’s Super Bowl. But it’s clear: Westport’s Senior Center attracts champions of all ages.
Today as I left our meeting, I was struck with a profound sense of admiration for the strength and courage that each of the caregivers around the table exhibit time and time again.
These men and women give of themselves constantly, with no expectation of anything in return. They go above and beyond to make sure their loved ones are cared for physically, emotionally, socially and spiritually.
It is a thankless job. Burnout is common.
Every day we are surrounded by these unsung heroes. They tackle the responsibilities of their own lives, careers and families, while patiently and lovingly coordinating an array of services, appointments and support for their loved ones.
These caregivers show so much love and commitment to others. They too deserve a little love from the rest of us.
So true! If you are a caregiver — for Alzheimer’s, a family member or loved one suffering from cancer or any other illness, or a child who needs constant, consistent help — take a second, and take a bow. You are our Unsung Heroes of the Week.
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.
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