Which makes this a perfect opportunity to highlight the Westport Young Woman’s League’s $20,000 Super Grant recipient: the Rowan Center.
Formerly known as the Center for Sexual Assault Crisis and Counseling Education, the Stamford-based organization empowers clients to find strength, resilience and courage — while educating Fairfield County communities to help change social norms.
In Westport, the Rowan Center puts the WYWL’s grant toward programs in the elementary schools, and Staples High.
In addition, the Young Woman’s League is partnering with the Rowan Center and Westport Library to screen the documentary “Roll Red Roll” (Tuesday, April 30, 6:30 p.m., Christ & Holy Trinity Church). A panel discussion follows.
The film uncovers the “rape culture” in Steubenville, Ohio, brought to light at a high school football party. Teenage social media bullying ran rampant, as adults looked away.
The Rowan Center grant is just part of what the Westport Young Woman’s League does. Last year they gave over $80,000 to local and education-based charitable organization. Recipients include A Better Chance of Westport, the Bridgeport Rescue Mission, Caroline House, CLASP Homes, Homes with Hope, Family & Children’s Agency, Mercy Learning Center and Positive Directions.
But that money does not fall from the sky.
One of the WYWL’s major fundraising events is the Minute Man Race.
Actually, “races.” This year there are 10K and 5K runs, a 5K walk, and a Kids Fun Run with Kids Zone.
The 41st annual Minute Man Race is set for Sunday, April 28. It starts and ends at Compo Beach.
The start of a Minute Man race is always exciting.
It’s 4 decades old, but there are always new twists. For the first time this year, there’s a “corporate and small business team” category. The WYWL encourages local businesses to sign up and compete together, for a fun team-builder that helps good causes.
You’ve seen the signs. You know the Minute Man Race.
Now that you know the back story — where the money goes — there’s even more incentive to run. Or walk.
Or just donate and cheer.
(For more information on the Minute Man Race — including registration and sponsorships — click here.)
It’s still here. The 38th annual Minute Man Race — actually, a 10K, 5K walk (untimed) and Kids’ Fun Run — is set for this Sunday (May 1), at the traditional starting and ending point: Compo Beach.
The starter’s gun goes off every year, rain or shine. The race is still on this year, despite construction of a new walkway at Compo, and renovation of the parking lot.
A typical Minute Man race.
The Minute Man Race is one of the Young Woman’s League’s biggest fundraisers of the year. Last year, participants helped fund over $75,000, which the League distributed to 31 charities — all in lower Fairfield County.
Westport racers are a hardy bunch. A couple of sawhorses won’t stop them!
(To register for Sunday’s Minute Man Race, click here. Online registration is open until Thursday, April 28 at 6 p.m. In-person registration takes place at Performance Physical Therapy, 333 Post Road East, on Saturday, April 30 from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., or at the Compo Beach pavilion on race day, Sunday May 1, from 7 to 8 a.m. — provided the cap of 1,500 participants has not been reached.)
Bedford Hall — the Westport Woman’s Club‘s newly renovated, recently dedicated event space — is very modern.
Costing $120,000, it includes a state-of-the-art AV/home theater system, recessed and cove LED lighting, new halogen stage lights, and much more. It will be Westport’s go-to space for weddings, bar and bat mitzvahs, art shows, memorial services and much more, for years to come.
But its story begins 108 years ago.
In 1907, a group of Westport women decided to do something about the muddy, horse manure-filled streets of downtown. They put on a fair, raised money, and built sidewalks.
By 1925, the Westport Town Improvement Association had added sidewalks — and gotten rid of mud and manure on Main Street. The entrance to what became the Westport Woman’s Club (the “Bedford House” portion of the YMCA) is on the right side in this 1925 photo.
That “sanitary” project led to others: bathrooms at Compo Beach. Hot lunches and vaccinations (!) in the schools. More sidewalks on Compo Road.
A few years later, when E.T. Bedford was building his YMCA, that same group of women — now called the Westport Town Improvement Association — asked what he was doing for the ladies. He modified the Y’s design, giving them a separate entrance on Main Street. It was called “Bedford House.”
That’s where the Westport Woman’s Club — as it was known by the 1930s — held art shows, conducted dental screenings, handed out scholarships and hosted the visiting nurses’ offices.
“It was a very popular club to be in,” says current WWC president Dorothy Curran. “It was also the de facto health department in town.”
In 1945, as men returned from war and new families began moving to Westport, demands on the Y space increased. Bedford’s son Frederick continued his father’s commitment to the Woman’s Club, buying an 1881 house at 44 Imperial Avenue for the organization to use.
It was a beautiful waterfront home, with a big veranda. But it was in disrepair. And because there was no meeting space inside, it sat unused for 5 years.
In 1950, as the Saugatuck Church prepared to move its 1832 meetinghouse from the Post Road/North Compo corner, several hundred feet across US 1 (to its present site near Myrtle Avenue), it put its 1866 Sunday school building on the market for $2,000.
The WWC was interested. It would cost another $18,000 to move it to Imperial Avenue, and renovate the interior. Frederick Bedford agreed to pay half the cost of the purchase, moving and renovation price.
In September 1950 — a couple of weeks after the church made its slow, famous trek across the Post Road — the 2nd, less famous building was cut in half. The 2 sections then made their own journey west.
Photos depicting the Saugatuck Congregational Church’s Sunday School building move hang in its current home on Imperial Avenue.
When the Sunday school building was reassembled and joined to the Imperial Avenue house, the clapboard matched. “It was meant to be!” Curran says.
A kitchen was added. Dedicated the following June, the hall was used for the WWC’s active theater club, and rented to outside groups.
Over the years, the room grew old. Rental income dropped.
The gazebo and gardens are a lot lovelier in spring, summer and fall.
But the space is great. It’s centrally located. There’s a garden with a gazebo, for wedding photos ops. And so much parking! In 1955 the WWC granted the town 2 acres of riparian rights. The land was filled in, and now the club has 100 parking spaces to use in perpetuity.
Westport is one of only 2 Woman’s Clubs in the state with their own clubhouse. (The other is in Greenwich.) They share space with 2 tenants: Connecticut Braille Association, and the Westport Young Woman’s League.
The WYWL was formed in 1956, when a group of younger Woman’s Club members realized they were doing much of the group’s work, but had no representation on the board. The split made the New York Times.
Westport Woman’s Club president Dorothy Curran stands proudly outside the organization’s Imperial Avenue home.
At the time, the Young Woman’s upper age limit was 35. It became 40, then 50. Now there is no limit at all.
Today, the median age of Woman’s Club members is “a bit older” than the Young Woman’s group, Curran says. But in many ways the 2 clubs are similar.
The WWYL organizes the Minute Man Race and CraftWestport, and awards many grants.
The WWC runs the Yankee Doodle Fair, art shows, the Nutcracker Tea, Curio Cottage, Westport food pantry — and donates to many of the same organizations as the WWYL.
Which brings us back to the new Bedford Hall. The $120,000 project — funded mostly by Lea Ruegg and her son Erhart, and completed in January with a stage, Steinway baby grand piano, maple floors, crown moldings and seating for over 100 people — will be the site this Wednesday (March 18, 12-1:30 pm) of the 1st-ever event co-sponsored by the Westport Woman’s Club and Westport Young Woman’s League.
A Steinway piano and modern lighting are just 2 features of the new Bedford Hall stage.
It’s a panel, breakout discussion and brown bag lunch on the topic: “What is the role of women’s volunteer service organizations in the 21st century?” The public is welcome.
After so much help from 2 philanthropic Bedfords, it’s fitting that 44 Imperial Avenue finally has a “Bedford Hall.”
And fitting too, that a pair of well-run, very generous women’s organizations — both born in the 20th century — are joining forces in their shared 19th-century home, to address 21st-century women’s issues.
(For information on renting Bedford Hall, contact Susan Loselle: 203-227-4240 or 203-246-9258; firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com)
A handsome, 19th-century interior leads into the modern Bedford Hall (rear).
The women’s organization and road running may not seem a natural fit, but 35 years ago 10K races were all the rage. Members traveled around the state to watch other races. They set a course and rounded up business sponsors.
By 1979 they were, um, off to the races. Running past the Minuteman statue near Compo Beach gave the April event a name it’s had ever since.
600 runners paid the initial $3 registration fee, and started at Jesup Green. The League provided coffee and donuts, water stations, electronic timers and t-shirts. The Staples Jazz Band played at the finish line.
The 2nd year, rain turned everyone’s labels to mush. But the race was a hit. Within a few years, proceeds contributed to charity doubled.
In 1985 the starting point was moved to the beach. The distance was changed to 5 miles. Two years later, a “scamper” race was added.
The start of a Minute Man race is always fun. This was the scene at last year's 10K.
The 1999 event featured online registration. The technological change met an immovable force — snow, hail and rain — but by then nothing could stop the Minute Man Race.
For the 25th annual running in 2003 the length was changed again, to a 5K. The hope — that more recreational runners would sign up for a shorter race — worked.
A 10K was added later, in honor of the League’s 50th anniversary.
Last year's kids' race. On your mark, get set, go!
This year’s events — a 5K, 10K and kids’ fun run — is set for Sunday, April 29. There will be over 1,000 runners. 120 volunteers will coordinate everything — including 4 water stations.
Rick Spear once thought he’d be a doctor or lawyer. But the lure of Wall Street was strong. So in 1984, immediately after graduating from Stanford — where his thesis advisor was Condoleezza Rice — he started making serious money.
Eight years with Morgan Stanley was followed by a decade as a management consultant, advising financial services firms.
In 2003 — age 40 — Spear retired.
He’d always been a bicycle racer. Now — with time on his hands — he vowed to improve.
Out of that desire came Target Training. Spear opened the Westport triathlon and cycling training center and retail store in 2005 as a way to “leverage knowledge of endurance sports to help people like me have healthier bodies.”
A 2nd site opened recently in Greenwich.
“Endurance for Life” is Target Training’s motto. “You can’t fake being fit — running 5 miles, or biking 50 miles,” Spear says.
Target’s target audience is hard-working (and well-off) men and women. They train hard. And typically, as soon as they meet one goal, they look for a new challenge.
Here’s a big one. This Sunday (June 19), Target Training sponsors its 1st-ever Sprint Triathlon. The half-mile swim, 13-mile bike ride and 3.1-mile run begins and ends at Sherwood Island. The middle portions takes racers through the Green’s Farms and Compo neighborhoods.
A portion of the proceeds goes to Memorial Sloan-Kettering’s Cancer Care pediatrics department. It is a cause dear to Spear’s heart.
In its half-decade in Westport, Target Training has been closely involved with community activities. They sponsor, or work with, the Young Woman’s League Minute Man race, Andy Boas’s Charter Oak Challenge Foundation bike tour, Sound Cyclists and ABC House.
This month’s triathlon builds on the training Target is known for. It’s not only cyclists and runners who flock to the center next to Great Cakes — swimmers also work out under the Target banner at the Staples and Longshore and Norwalk Y pools, as well as Compo and Sherwood Island.
On Sunday, Spear will help out — not compete. “I’m a bike racer, not a triathlete,” he says. But, he adds — like the competitor he was on Wall Street, and remains today — “I win my share.”
(For more information on Target Training’s Sprint Triathlon, click here.)
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