Tag Archives: Westport YMCA

Passing The Olympic Torch To Bill Krumm

When Kevin Strong was a Westport YMCA Water Rat swimmer, coach Bill Krumm asked him to mentor a new team member. Both boys were 11 years old.

They forged a great friendship. Strong — a very talented swimmer — quickly brought his teammate to the Water Rats’ high athletic and personal standards.

Both swam at high level college programs. They were in each other’s weddings. Today, Strong — a Staples High School Class of 1988 graduate, now a pediatrician in northern Maine — calls Krumm’s request to help another boy “an opportunity I’ll never forget.”

Three years later, the Westport Y selected Strong as its representative to run with the Olympic torch on a 1/2-mile Fairfield County leg, from the East Coast to the 1984 Games in Los Angeles. He was chosen not only for his swim team accomplishments, but because of the way he lived the Y’s values.

Strong’s run came at night, in the pouring rain. The electric torch was lit. More than 3 decades later, he recalls how thrilling it all was.

Runners kept their torches. Each was also given a gorgeous mahogany case, inscribed with their name and date of the run.

For years, Strong kept his in the basement.

Bill Krumm

He told both stories last week at Christ & Holy Trinity Church, to an audience of 200 Water Rat alumni, Y friends and admirers of Krumm. They came from as far as Singapore to honor his memory. The longtime coach died suddenly in March, of a heart attack. He was 61 years old.

“Bill was a great technical coach,” Strong recalls. “But he was just as talented in helping kids get through that awkward 9- to 14-year-old stage.”

So — at the end of his 5-minute eulogy — Strong tied his 2 stories together. In a surprise, stunning move, he lifted up the Olympic torch he’d brought from Maine — and announced he was donating it to the Westport Y.

Then he asked everyone who knew Krumm to help choose an appropriate inscription.

Kevin Strong with his Olympic torch, at Christ & Holy Trinity Church.

Strong is not sure where the gift will be displayed. He hopes it’s somewhere near the trophy case, at the pool.

But he knows what it will do.

“I want that torch to inspire some 8-year-old kid to be the best swimmer and person he can be — just the way Bill inspired me, and helped me grow,” Strong says.

“I learned so much from him. Now I can give back to others, just like he did.”

Besides, he says, “That Olympic torch does a lot more good at the Westport Y than sitting in my basement.”

Introducing: Bedford Square!

Amis Trattoria has had a soft opening all week.

Anthropologie opens tomorrow.

After 2 years of construction — and right on schedule — Bedford Square has become a reality.

All along, alert “06880” reader Jennifer Johnson took photos.

Here are 3 views of the transformation, from YMCA to retail/restaurant/ residential complex.

And to think that it was only last century when the Y first talked about moving…

January 2012

March 2016

March 30, 2017 (Photos/Jennifer Johnson)

Staples Squash Team’s Growth May Be Walled In

For years, the Gym at Southport Athletic — originally the Southport Racquet Club, then the Southport Athletic Club — was one of the only places around here to play squash. Its 4 courts became even more precious when the Westport Y built its facility at Mahackeno. The old building downtown had 3 courts. The new one has none.

But the game has enjoyed steady local growth. And that growth is spurred by young players.

They like its fast pace, tactical complexity and physical challenge. It doesn’t hurt that colleges are adding teams — and look favorably upon applicants who play squash.

This year, Staples High School formed boys and girls squads. The athletic department pays for buses. Students and parents raised money for a coach (Atilla Agh), and court time. They joined nearby teams like Fairfield Ludlowe High and Greens Farms Academy that also train there.

Playing against those schools, and others including Darien, New Canaan, Rye, St. Luke’s and Hopkins, the Wreckers have done well.

Staples' girls squash team. (Photo/Stacy Bass)

Staples’ girls squash team. (Photo/Stacy Bass)

But word on the Post Road is that the Gym at Southport Athletic may be removing its courts, to add space for other activities. That would leave Staples’ program out in the cold.

Though the Y is the obvious choice as a site for new courts, it won’t happen soon — if ever. Any decision about what to do with its newly purchased Red Barn property is far off.

Parents and players have worked hard to grow their sport. But they fear for its future.

The ball may soon be out of their court.


Snow Day: Afternoon Views

By noon, the snow had moved on. The quick storm dropped 8 inches of heavy, beautiful stuff. It was a photographer’s delight.

The sun peeks through on Meadow View. (Photo/Krystof Bondar)

The sun peeks through on Meadow View. (Photo/Krystof Bondar)

iFloat was open for relaxation. This was the view from the 2nd floor of Main Street, shot by owner David Conneely.

These trees in front of Vineyard Vines on Main Street come courtesy of iFloat owner David Conneely.

Dayle Brownstein enjoyed this painting-like view, from the comfort of inside.

Dayle Brownstein enjoyed this painting-like scene, from the comfort of indoors.

Sadie romps outside. (Photo/Karen Abramson)

A little snow does not stop Sadie from fetching. (Photo/Karen Abramson)

Emily, Michael and Luke Bernier have a great time. Who says yellow snow is bad?! (Photo/Anne Bernier)

Emily, Michael and Luke Bernier have a great time. Who says yellow snow is bad?! (Photo/Anne Bernier)

Bella Sabino, Georgia Graham, Sienna Peck and Evan Sabino enjoying the snow at Winslow Park today. (Photo/Lisa Sabino)

Bella Sabino, Georgia Graham, Sienna Peck and Evan Sabino enjoying the snow at Winslow Park today. (Photo/Lisa Sabino)

Snow-covered Compo Hill, as seen from across the Sherwood Mill Pond by David Squires.

Snow-covered Compo Hill, as seen from across the Sherwood Mill Pond by David Squires.

Attendance at the Y's fitness center was low -- but members who made it to work out also enjoyed this scenery. (Photo/Dan Woog)

Attendance at the Y’s fitness center was low — but members who worked out also enjoyed this Camp Mahackeno scenery. (Photo/Dan Woog)

Westport was wonderfully wintry. This shot is from Partrick Lane. (Photo/Martin Gitlin)

Westport was wonderfully wintry. This shot is from Partrick Lane. (Photo/Martin Gitlin)

Weather Cold, Action Hot

It’s friggin’ freezing out. And the wind is blowing like we’re in Siberia.

All the more reason to head to the Y.

The Westport YMCA‘s new Mahackeno facility was filled today — as always. There was basketball, swimming and classes — you name it.

But nothing beats working out in the fitness center. From inside, the view almost makes you want to go outdoors.


Y fitness center

Be Careful What You Wish For

While planning for its move to Mahackeno, the Westport YMCA assured the public (and politicians) that there would be plenty of parking. Even during big events, Y leaders said, they could handle the crowds.

They can’t.

Today, a masters swim meet — “not even a major one,” an employee admitted — caused chaos. People parked in snow banks, at odd and dangerous angles, on the narrow entrance road — anywhere they could. Between drivers circling endlessly looking for spots, folks pulling out in very cramped quarters, and families dodging traffic as they trooped over from the Merritt Parkway commuter lot, it was a dangerous scene.

One small part of the giant parking mess today.

One small part of the giant parking mess today.

I don’t mind walking a good distance before I work out. But plenty of Y users are not as mobile.

The move out of downtown has made the Y wildly popular. Officials may be surprised at the number of new members. But they should not be surprised at what happens, now that they can hold swim meets with more teams than before.

A couple of weeks ago, a 16-team youth swim meet caused a similar parking frenzy. The Y sent several teenage employees outside, telling swim team parents to drop their kids off in front and then park in the commuter lot. They were ignored, so today they were nowhere in sight. The result: one big goat rodeo.

Not to mention the even-more-cramped-than-usual locker room. So I won’t.

Y’s Words On Shoveling

The Westport YMCA posts daily health tips on a whiteboard near (of course) the “Wellness Center.”

Today’s suggestions are worth passing along to everyone:

Y's words on shoveling

Be sure to show this to your kids, who will no doubt be very eager to help.

One Last Look Back

The Kemper-Gunn House has moved. The old YMCA Bedford building begins renovations soon, becoming an anchor of the new Bedford Square.

But Westporters can’t stop looking back.

Alert “06880” reader Jonathan Rohner sent this fascinating postcard showing the Y and the Westport Bank and Trust building (today it’s Patagonia):

YMCA and bank in 1920s or so

I love the cars — all looking the same — parked or driving haphazardly on the trolley-tracked Post Road.

I love the elm trees framing the Bedford building, and how peaceful downtown looked.

Equally alert “06880” reader Scott Smith contributed this photo, from a decade or so later:

YMCA witih old cars

I love the hand-colored blue sky. The bike leaning casually against the tree on the left.

And check out the front-in parking job of those cars in front of the Y. That would never fly today.

I was especially intrigued by another image Scott sent. This one shows the Westport Hotel. The area was called Hotel Square. Westport Bank and Trust had not yet been built:

Westport Hotel - site of old Y

The hotel had a pool room. Youngsters were not permitted inside. Edward T. Bedford vowed to give them a place. In 1923, he built the YMCA.

The rest is history.

And now, a new chapter has begun.


The More Things Change…

Many Westporters are lamenting the loss of 3 cherry trees. Cut down last week as part of the new Bedford Square project, they stood outside the downtown Westport Y seemingly forever.

“Seemingly forever” is actually 50 years.

A very alert “06880” reader found a Westport Town Crier clipping from March 15, 1964. The paper reported that despite spraying, pruning and feeding, a “venerable” tree succumbed to Dutch elm disease.

The "venerable elm tree" frames the Y.

The “venerable elm tree” frames the Y.

For 100 years or more, it stood on that exact same spot: in front of the Y.

The elm tree is removed after toppling.

The elm tree is removed. It was taken to the “city dump,” and burned.

In its place, the Town Crier said, 3 flowering Japanese cherry trees were planted. Twelve feet high, they were donated by Westport garden center owner (and very active citizen) Alan U. Parsell.

They flourished there for exactly half a century.

In 2064, I’m sure “06880” — or whatever replaces it — will run a nice looking-back story on the “venerable,” lovely trees that for 50 years framed handsome Bedford Square.

The Westport YMCA, after the Dutch elm was removed. Note the lack of ivy too.

The Westport YMCA, after the Dutch elm was removed. Note the lack of ivy, too.


Doc Doubleday: The War Years In Westport

Doubleday Field — between Saugatuck and Kings Highway Elementary Schools — honors “Doc” Doubleday. From 1923 to 1957, he served the Westport YMCA as physical director, then membership director.

Generations of members knew Doc as the friendly face behind the front desk. Scott Smith — the Y’s current communications director and resident “story teller” — sent Doc’s son Ed’s remembrances along to “06880.” As we celebrate Veterans Day, it’s a great look back to the 1940s, and the impact of World War II. 

The war was a very depressing time. Westport lost some 40 young, vibrant boys and men.

When my dad stayed late to close the Y, he would peck away at the typewriter. I finally asked him about it. He said he wrote notes to all the young men he knew in the service all over the world. He had a 3×5 card file with the name and address of each serviceman, their likes and dislikes, friends’ names, hobbies, etc. He said they needed to know that we at home cared about them.

Every so often he came home with a tear in his eye, and a heavy heart. Another Westport boy had been killed.

Doc Doubleday (standing, far right) with other Westport YMCA officers.

Doc Doubleday (standing, far right) with other Westport YMCA officers.

During the war years Al Bresslin, who was then the physical director, set up a “commando course” in the gym. There were parallel bars draped with mats to climb over, a low balance beam (footbridge), flying rings to swing over an imaginary river, a large pipe to crawl through, and finally a straight dash to the finish line. Everyone was timed weekly. Bill Krause was always the fastest.

There were all kinds of clubs at the Y: chess, checkers, airplane model building, stamp collecting and boxing. We had ping pong and pool tournaments.

Dad would ask why he didn’t see one or another of my friends at the Y anymore. Sometimes their parents didn’t have the $2 membership fee. He somehow came up with the money, and a Y membership card would magically arrive at the boy’s home. It meant so much to them.

Doc Doubleday playing banjo, with Westport teenagers. Eric ("Rick") von Schmidt -- who went on to great fame as a folk singer -- is the guitarist on the right.

Doc Doubleday playing banjo, with Westport teenagers. Eric (“Rick”) von Schmidt — who went on to great fame as a folk singer — is the guitarist on the right.

At the height of the war, all able-bodied men were off fighting. In the summer, farmers called Doc at the Y for labor. He’d round us up. We got on our bikes and headed out early mornings to hoe cabbage, pick tomatoes and corn, weed onions, etc. My friends and I were 12-14 years old. A 10-hour day, for $2.50, was good money for us.

In the fall, Herb Baldwin asked Dad to find kids to pick apples at his Bayberry Lane orchard. We got 3 cents a bushel, but it was fun. We’d pick and eat, then take a break and throw the bad apples at each other.

One day, Mr. Baldwin loaded us in a truck to help a friend on a farm in Fairfield. At noon we went up to the big garage to eat our lunch. Mrs. Rudkin offered us great homemade bread. The farm was named after a big tupelo tree that grew on the property. They’re also known as pepperidge trees. Imagine that: I was there at the beginning of Pepperidge Farms!

On August 17, 1945 the Westport Town Crier headlined pictures and names of all the young men who didn’t come home. My dad said, “Eddie, keep this paper. Every Memorial Day, take this out and look at it. Then say a prayer and thank all those who served our country.”

I have that newspaper today. Every Memorial Day I re-read it. It still hurts, almost 70 years later.

Ed Doubleday -- Doc's son -- reads the Town Crier from V-J Day every year.

Ed Doubleday — Doc’s son — reads the Town Crier from V-J Day every year.

When the war ended, the town celebrated V-J Day with a big gathering on the front steps of the Y. Soon, the boys began to come home. Some came to the Y first. They’d walk up to the front desk, throw down their duffel bag, reach over the desk, throw out their hands and say, “I’m home, Doc!” Tears formed in their eyes, and his.

Doc retired from the Y in 1957, and moved with my mom to Florida. She passed first. We lost Doc in 1972. He was 87.

Doc loved his years at the Y. I hope he will be remembered as someone who did what he could to make Westport a better place to live, and raise a family.

(This story is part of the Y’s 90th anniversary celebration. For more, click here.)

On August 17, 1945 the Westport Town Crier honored all the local boys who died in World War II.

On August 17, 1945 the Westport Town Crier honored all the local boys who died in World War II.