The Make-A-Wish Foundation has asked the Westport Weston Family YMCA to help with an emergency request this afternoon.
And the Y has asked everyone to help.
The wish — from a 6-year-old boy — is to swim with his family at the Y, have a pizza party, and pet a bearded dragon.
The Y hopes that members of the community will join staff and members to line the Y driveway entrance, to welcome the youngster at 3:10 p.m. today (Sunday, march 28. Let’s make it an unforgettable day for him and the family.
Jules Sprung — a Westport resident since 1976, and a noted swimming teacher — died March 6 in Norwalk Hospital, of kidney failure. He was 92.
Jules founded and ran 2 mail-order office supply companies, Hudson Pen and Sarand. He sold the latter in 1988, then worked as a marketing consultant.
In retirement Jules taught swimming classes for children for many years at the Westport YMCA. He was an honored presence at the pool until the pandemic.
He was also president of the Indian River Green condo complex on Saugatuck Road, where he and Barbara moved in 2002.
Born in New York City in 1928, Jules lived with his parents on the Lower East Side until the Depression forced them to move in with Jules’s grandparents in Williamsburg, Brooklyn.
At Stuyvesant High School he was elected class vice president, and was celebrated for scheduling dances with nearby girls’ schools.
After a year at City College he transferred to DePauw University in Indiana, graduating in 1949. He was commissioned as a lieutenant in the Army National Guard from 1952, and worked for a time at the New York Post. He also spent some years as a marketing executive before founding Hudson Pen around 1969.
He was introduced to Barbara Rosenfeld, a freshman at Sarah Lawrence College, in 1952. They married in 1953. Their daughter Sarah was born in 1956; son Andrew followed in 1959.
The Sprungs had a genuine feminist partnership. Jules supported Barbara’s work as an early childhood teacher in the 1960s, her pursuit of a master’s degree in education in the early ’70s, and her career as a nonprofit founder and early childhood curriculum producer in the decades following.
When Barbara co-founded the nonprofit Educational Equity Concepts in 1981, Jules generously provided office space to the startup at Sarand.
Jules had a strong creative streak, writing short stories and authoring an ambitious historical novel in his 70s. He also published a memoir of his early life and career. Jules was enormously well-read and enjoyed sharing his knowledge about topics like political history and the classics. He had a mischievous sense of humor, whose storytelling skills often made him the last person to finish dinner.
Having enjoyed working as a swimming instructor at summer camps in his youth, Jules reconnected with that early passion in his 70s. He was recertified as a Red Cross instructor, and putting his skill to work at the Westport Y for 15 years, until 2012.
A patient instructor who enjoyed children, he provided meticulous small group and one-on-one instruction.
In his later years the pool was a refuge from arthritis. He was a familiar presence at the warmer end, where he was accorded space to do his backstroke laps. He and Barbara also loved Compo Beach and visited regularly.
In addition to his wife, Jules is survived by his sister Helene Naimon; his daughter Sarah (Allan) and son Andrew (Cynthia); 5 grandchildren, 2 great-grandchildren; sister Helen Naimon, and a niece.
This month, Anthropologie is decorated for the holidays. Even — especially? — in these COVID times, the old Tudor building looks inviting and warm.
But for most of its life, the handsome structure at Westport’s major downtown intersection was the YMCA.
Built by E.T. Bedford in 1923 to replace the Westport Hotel, the new Y featured reading and writing rooms, pool tables and bowling alleys.
A year later — during what seems to be late fall or early spring — this is what the YMCA looked like.
(Photo courtesy of Seth Schachter)
There was plenty of parking. A small sign at the top of the photo warned trolley conductors to go slowly.
The Y did not occupy the entire building. The far eastern portion — the section closest to Church Lane — housed Westport’s downtown fire department. If you click on or hover over the image to enlarge it, you can see the bay doors.
Judging by this photo, fire trucks had no problem roaring through downtown traffic en route to calls.
Growing up in Westport, Jordan Schur spent plenty of time at the Westport Weston Family YMCA.
He still lives here. Now he’s a father. Jordan writes:
I want to express thanks and gratitude for the YMCA staff in the before/after- school childcare programs.
The pandemic has brought challenges to every family. For a 2-parent working household like ours, the Y has been a lifesaver. Let me highlight what an amazing resource they have been.
Westport’s elementary schools meet 2 hours and 45 minutes of in-school teaching each day, either morning or afternoon.
This leaves a lot of unaccounted-for hours, including kids’ “specials” (gym, art, music, Spanish) and homework.
This is just one area where the YMCA has been incredible. The staff helps kids log into their computers to do their specials, and provides them with materials and assistance.
The staff also helps kids with their homework in fun and creative ways, like turning sight words into artistic clouds that my wife and I would never have thought of even in normal times.
The Westport Y’s childcare program includes school help …
Then there are great extracurricular activities like swimming. The staff ensures they are there on time, as well as helping with lunches, the bus routine of getting to and from school, and countless other things they do every day that parents never hear about.
Heading into the school year, we had concerns about how our daughter would keep up with her work, and how she could participate in daily “specials” without a parent to help her.
The YMCA stepped up, figured it out, and has been beyond accommodating. Their responsiveness to concerns is a model for any customer service business, and their attention to each child’s individual needs is refreshing.
With adjustments to the pool because of the latest COVID outbreak, the staff has taken special notice that there is less time for our daughter to get ready to swim. They ensure she is changed prior to her “special,” so she can get to her lesson on time.
Little things like that allow my wife and I to do our work, without having to sit distracted and concerned about how our daughter is managing.
And taking children for full Wednesdays when school is not in session, as well as school holidays, is a great solution to the constant juggling act of kid logistics.
… and fun, in the new gymnastics studio.
So thank you to the whole YMCA team. I would highlight individuals, but I know how big a team it is to make everything described above come true. I don’t want to leave anyone out.
We are grateful for the role you have filled in our community. With so much uncertainty about the future, having a daily rock like your team is beyond reassuring.
(Do you know an Unsung Hero? Email email@example.com)
Looking around, it’s easy to see the casualties of COVID. At the height of the holiday season, stores and restaurants lack the familiar buzz. Its been that way for months.
Less visible — but no less dramatic — are the economic effects on others.
Like personal trainers.
Before the pandemic, Amy France had a thriving business. A competitive runner growing up in Ridgefield and an elite racer who also spent 15 years as a senior executive assistant for hedge funds, she pivoted in 2008 to a career in fitness.
After certification, she worked as a Saugatuck Rowing Club trainer for 4 years, then moved to the Westport Weston Family YMCA.
Before the pandemic, Amy France (center, blue shirt) ran a popular Run Club at the Westport Y.
Before COVID, she had up to 70 clients. Young female athletes, men and women in their 80s, and everyone in between — all enjoyed personalized sessions.
The Y closed in March. France taught herself Zoom, and trained clients remotely. Some lacked home weights, so she took some from her basement gym, and put them in her mailbox for pickup.
When the Y reopened, only half her clients returned. She trained them in person; others. via Zoom.
When the weather was nice, Amy France trained clients outdoors.
The Y follows strict protocols. Everyone entering the building is screened. There are strict limits on numbers; appropriate distance is maintained; masks must always be worn, and training equipment is constantly cleaned.
Adhering to all those protocols — and moving between live and Zoom sessions — is physically and mentally exhausting.
Yet her work is important, France says. Deprived of regular workouts, clients have gained up to 30 pounds. Emotionally, they’re depressed.
As the number of cases continues to rise, physical and mental health are more important than ever, she notes.
“You can’t store up fitness to be called on later. Somehow we have to persevere and maintain fitness, no matter the obstacles.”
If it’s Thanksgiving, it must be time for the Westport Police Department’s annual Toy Ddrive.
Local union 2080 and the Westport Police Benevolent Association are sponsoring the event. Each year, thousands of toys are distributed to underprivileged children throughout Fairfield County, and at Bridgeport and St. Vincent’s Hospitals.
Westport police officers will accept new, unopened and unwrapped toys at the ASF parking lot (1560 Post Road East) on the first 2 Saturdays and Sundays in December (5, 6, 12 and 13), from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
In addition, collection boxes will be set up now through December 14 at:
Age of Reason, 9 Post Road West
ASF Sports & Outdoors ,1560 Post Road East
Awesome Toys and Gifts, 429 Post Road East
The Toy Post, 180 Post Road East
Questions? Email firstname.lastname@example.org, or call 203-341-6000.
What a great gift for a kid!
Swimming at the Y has been my COVID happy place. Nothing like a pool-ful of chlorine to keep the coronavirus at bay.
No longer. The Westport Weston Family Y announced yesterday that effective immediately, both the lap and warm pools will be shut down indefinitely.
The decision was based on updated guidelines from the governor’s office. Under those rules, only 4 swimmers could be allowed at any time.
The wellness center, gymnastics center, group fitness classes and school-age childcare programs remain open.
The Westport Y pool will look like this for a while.
And finally … c’mon! You didn’t really expect anything different today, did you?
Matt Johnson — longtime executive director of the Westport Weston Family YMCA, and the man who over 40 years brought it from a small institution into one of the town’s most robust organizations — died Wednesday on Cape Cod. He was 91.
Amy Sanborn passed along the sad news — and a very in-depth piece from the Westport Y blog, in 2014. The Y at that time was still downtown, where Bedford Square is now. The story said:
Matt Johnson came to our Y in 1952 as a fresh-faced college grad from upstate Connecticut. He started as a supervisor of the Y’s youth and adult physical programs, taking on more responsibility over the following 2 decades. In 1970 he was named executive director, a position he filled with great accomplishment until his retirement in 1989. The longtime Weston resident remains an active part of our Y family to this day….
It’s safe to say that no other Y staffer presided over more change at our Y over more years than Matt Johnson. Matt was instrumental in bringing sports and recreational opportunities to Weston youth, efforts that ultimately led to our Y serving all our Weston neighbors as the “Westport/Weston YMCA.”
Matt Johnson (standing) with (from left) YMCA president George Dammon, CBS News anchor (and Weston resident) Douglas Edwards, and 1st Selectman John Kemish.
Matt also oversaw the greatest development of our Y facility since its opening a half-century before: the construction of the Weeks Pavilion in the 1970s, which gave our Y its Stauffer Pool, racquet courts, men’s and women’s health centers, locker rooms and an indoor track ….
Matt then laid the groundwork for the next phase of our Y’s evolution at our downtown facility: the conversion of the town’s central firehouse into a 2-level Fitness Center that to this day boasts the original brass pole used by generations of local firefighters.
After recalling Matt’s encounters with guest speaker Jackie Robinson, and Westport actors Bette Davis and Paul Newman (an avid YMCA badminton player), the story continues:
When hot-rodding became popular, the Y rolled right along. As Matt recalls, “Bill Etch, who was a volunteer leader, had an interest in cars and with some friends formed a club called the ‘Downshifters,’ which met every Friday at the Y.”
“When the club became too big for the Y rooms, they began to meet at Camp Mahackeno, where they set up shop in the unheated pavilion. There were 30 or so young men in the club, including a young Michael Douglas, and they’d take apart cars, put ‘em back together and then participate in regional events with their cars.”
Matt and his late wife Fran raised their 4 children in Weston, and were instrumental in helping develop the community’s recreation programs and establishing Weston’s enduring connection to our Y ,…
As far back as the 1950s, Y leaders realized the need for more space to hold its many popular programs and activities, and shortly after Matt took the helm of the Y in 1970, he helped spur the most ambitious expansion of the Y to date.
The most critical need at the time was, simply, “more water.” As you can see from photos of the time, Staples High School swimmers used the 4-lane, 20-yard long Brophy Pool (then 4- to 10-feet deep) as their home pool. Imagine the scraped chins, or worse!
The original Brophy pool — used by Staples High School for practices and home swim meets.
Matt helped coach the Staples team, including a young swimmer named Bob Knoebel. Another swimmer, Mike Krein, was instrumental in forming the Y’s Water Rat swim team, holding practices both in the Brophy Pool and, during summers in the ‘60s, at Longshore Club Park. At the time Longshore’s pool was saltwater, flushed regularly, but evidently not often enough. The Y’s swim team name derives from the trespassing rodents the kids would sometimes encounter during their early-morning swims.
The Y’a voard and volunteer leaders set a 5-year goal that included building a new facility with a larger pool….
The addition of the Stauffer Pool and Weeks Pavilion in 1977 (named for the retired geologist who was a major donor) was followed by the conversion in 1984 of the town’s central firehouse into the Y’s fitness center.
Matt Johnson (center) at a 2011 Westport Y function, flanked by (from left) then trustee chair Pete Wolgast and Jim Marpe, past Y trustee chair and now Westport First Selectman,
Longtime Y member Larry Aasen, who has known Matt since 1963, says, “For Matt, it wasn’t just about running the Y; it’s about serving the community. And whether his task was raising money for an expansion or doing the dishes after a potluck dinner, you could always count on him.”
Indeed, Matt Johnson has played a major role in building up our Y over the past 60 years. But more than that, he’s left his mark as a community builder – of Westport, Weston and of all the separate communities of swimmers, gymnasts and program participants that make our Y all that it is today.
(Click here to make contributions in Matt Johnson’s name, to the Westport Weston Family YMCA.)
The upper gym at the Westport YMCA was named for Matt Johnson in 1999.
Students in the program will be transported to and from Coleytown, Greens Farms, Kings Highway, Long Lots and Saugatuck Elementary School. The newly expanded Y has enough room to keep kids in small, socially distanced groups.
The Y’s Bedford Family Center expansion.
“The Y has served the community for more than 97 years, during which we have made it through many challenging times together. The COVID-19 pandemic will not be any different,” says CEO Pat Riemersma.
“After 10 weeks running Camp Mahackeno and seeing first-hand how essential it was for the campers after the spring closures, we knew we needed to offer a program to help families navigate this difficult time, “says Y camp and family services director Jesse Kanaple.
Safety measures include
Daily temperature and health screening for staff and participants.
Mandatory mask wearing for staff and children (youngsters will have “mask breaks”).
Enhanced cleaning of space and equipment.
Enhanced focus on personal hygiene
Lunch and snack must be provided by parents or guardians. Financial assistance for the program is available. For more information and registration, email email@example.com, or call 203-226-8981.
Just as at Camp Mahakeno, youngsters in the Wetport YMCA child care program will wear masks.
Mahackeno — the Westport Weston Family YMCA camp just south of the Bedford Center — has a long, storied history.
It’s as old as the Merritt Parkway. And as new as the work currently be done there, not far from the Saugatuck River site.
The Y opened its camp in 1938. Six years later they were offered 30 acres of land — including the site of the present camp.
Enjoying the Saugatuck River, at Camp Mahackeno back in the day.
F.T. Bedford — son of the Y’s founder, Edward T. Bedford — said his family’s trust would pay half the price, provided the town ponied up the other half.
Within a few weeks, Westporters pledged their portion: $10,000.
In March of 1945, the Y took possession of the property. That summer, 72 boys attended “Camp Bedford.” One of the highlights: a rope swing, dangling from the nearby Merritt Parkway.
A year later — at F.T. Bedford’s request — the name was changed to “Mahackeno.” That honored “Mahackemo” (with an “m”), a sachem (chief) of the Norwalke Indian tribe who in 1639 met Roger Ludlowe and traded land between the Saugatuck and Norwalk Rivers — including that very spot — for wampum and other goods.
Over the years, Camp Mahackeno grew. It added girls, a pool and other amenities. It (reluctantly) packed away the rope swing (and an enormous military-style float that it’s a miracle no one ever drowned underneath.
Summer Camp has been part of growing up for decades. In 1953, Westport artist Stevan Dohanos used Camp Mahackeno for this Saturday Evening Post cover.
This year, Mahackeno opened its new, now 34-acre facility. After a year of construction there’s a new amphitheater, archery range, climbing walls, 2 slides and 5 rainy-day pavilions.
A counselor gives an assist at a new climbing wall.
The basketball court, Beck Lodge and swimming pool have been renovated (with a new splash pad too). Playing fields were leveled.
The refurbished pool. Y members can register to swim for one hour slots on weekends.
Every tree of 8 calipers or more has been replaced by 2 new trees. Oh, yeah: the port-a-potties are shielded too.
Westport Weston Family Y CEO Pat Riemersma checks out one of several new wood chip paths.
250 or so boys and girls attend one or more of 9 week-long sessions. This being a pandemic, they remain in strict groups of 10, with the same (masked) counselor all week.
Scroll down for some photos of Camp Mahackeno, 2020. It’s not 1938 — but then again, what is?
Between canoe sessions, a counselor sanitizes railings.
Gaga is a ground-level form of dodgeball.
Two new slides are a huge hit.
The new amphitheater seats 360 campers and staff members.
No camp is complete without an archery range.
The newly renovated basketball court gets plenty of action.
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