Sunday, January 01, 2017
The year 2016 saw many changes in Westport and WestportNow was there every step of the way.
Now in our 14th year of publication, we are deeply grateful for the support shown by our growing legion of readers and advertisers. We urge you to support our advertisers and thank them for helping make WestportNow possible.
It is with your help that we are able to document day-to-day life in Westport in a way unmatched by any other publication. With readers not only in Westport but around the world, we are extremely proud to be the No. 1 source of news and information about our town.
As is our tradition, our New Year’s gift to readers is a photo review of the past year, which includes many photos submitted by you. Depicting major events and some not so major, they were all part of life in Westport in 2016. To enjoy, CLICK HERE. Happy New Year!
Wednesday, December 28, 2016
By James Lomuscio
Perhaps more than other years, 2016 for Westport was marked by farewells, perhaps too many of them. From those who moved on or retired after long careers to those who died leaving behind larger than life legacies, it seemed like an avalanche of goodbyes.
But it wasn’t all losses when it came to those who epitomized the town’s sense of community. Westport also made some positive gains, small steps and large ones, most of them having to do with infrastructure needs and planning for the town’s future.
As the clock ticks down, what follows is WestportNow.com’s annual look at highlights of the past year.
After 17 years at the helm, Schools Superintendent Elliott Landon marched in his final Staples High School commencement late June, saying goodbye as he headed into retirement. Most of the graduates were toddlers when he had arrived in the district.
Thursday, December 15, 2016
Dollars, Sense and Luck of the ZIP Code: Why education funding in Connecticut is only a small part of its oversized achievement gap
(Editor’s note: The author is a 2015 Staples High School graduate and member of Yale University’s class of 2019. This article first apperared in the Yale Daily News and is reprinted with permission.)
By Rachel TreismanYale Daily News
MIND THE GAP
In Hartford, Connecticut, a third-grade class read enough books to earn a pizza party. The excited students piled onto a bus, crossing the Connecticut River to a pizza parlor in East Hartford. One student pointed out the window: “What’s that?” She had never seen a river, recalls current Westport Public Schools Superintendent Colleen Palmer. Shortly after, Palmer visited a third-grade classroom in the affluent town of Weston. A girl told Palmer it was almost her birthday, and Palmer asked what she was doing to celebrate. The answer: her father was taking her to Paris.
In 2015, the Economic Analysis and Research Network, a national economic policy coalition, reported that Connecticut has the largest income gap between the top 1 percent of taxpayers and bottom 99 percent. Perhaps because of this, Connecticut also has the nation’s largest achievement gap among pre-K-12 students.
Consider two districts. This year, suburban Westport, Connecticut, is spending $21,716 per student and, as of 2016, its public schools are ranked first in the state based on factors including academic proficiency, student and parent satisfaction and teacher excellence. The city of New Haven, home to Yale University, spent $19,746 per student this academic year, and its public schools rank 101st out of 118 state districts.
Connecticut data-sharing nonprofit Data Haven found in 2013 that in Greater New Haven, 17 percent of low-income students were reading at grade level as compared to 58 percent of their high-income peers. The Tauck Family Foundation, a private foundation that invests in the development of children from low-income families in Bridgeport, reports that students in low-performing schools are five times more likely to drop out of high school than those in high-performing schools.
Friday, December 09, 2016
By James Lomuscio
Many in Westport knew of her only as Tina, the homeless woman with long, gray-blonde hair and a limp who regularly asked for money, usually a dollar, in downtown parking lots.
But today as more than 150 filled Christ & Holy Trinity Episcopal Church for her funeral, Christine “Tina” Wessel, 63, became more than just a tragic, homeless statistic.
The Rev. Peter R. Powell, the retired CEO of Homes With Hope, eulogized her as a larger-than-life figure, “Christ in our midst,” challenging the community to do even more to address the needs of homelessness in town.
“We need to transform this community, so that no one else lives and dies the way Tina did,” Powell said.
Saturday, December 03, 2016
A look at progress on the Bedford Square project in Westport’s center. The development around the former Westport Weston Family YMCA is mixed use retail, residential, and offices. Anthropologie is the anchor tenant, occupying 40,000 square feet on two floors in the main building. Its space will include a restaurant, Amis Trattoria, a Philadelphia-based restaurant group owned by Urban Outfitters, parent company of Anthropologie. The residential space includes apartments with views overlooking Elm Street and Church Lane. Completion is scheduled for April 2017. WestportNow.com photos
Wednesday, November 30, 2016
Art Basel Miami, North America’s foremost international modern and contemporary art fair, takes place at the Miami Beach Convention Center beginning Thursday and runs through Sunday. It is the sister fair to the original Art Basel, founded in Basel, Switzerland in 1970. Helen Klisser During, artistic director emeritus of the Westport Arts Center and WestportNow contributing photographer, was among VIP guests today getting a preview. Helen Klisser During for WestportNow.com
Friday, August 19, 2016
By Emily Weyrauch
Unlike the majority of visitors to Sherwood Island State Park this summer, Michele Sorensen isn’t there for the sun and the sea. Instead, her sights are set higher—in the sky and up in the trees, on the myriad bird species drawn to the park to breed or feed.
Sorensen, the Sherwood Island Nature Center’s liaison, knows it’s more than just gulls when it comes to life on the beach, and is passionate about the park’s ecosystems and avian diversity.
“The longer you hang out,” she said, “the more you see.”
On a recent walk on the park’s East Beach, Sorensen pointed out the wrack line—a green and brown kelp fringe found when the tide recedes. It is where shorebirds pick for washed up crabs and clams. They have to move fast though, as park staff routinely remove the seaweed, grooming the beach for visitors.
Wednesday, June 29, 2016
By James Lomuscio
The setting seemed cinematic, fictitious even—a worldly, wizened 95-year-old keeping two 18-year olds rapt and continually amazed, so much so that they would keep coming back to hear more.
But that was the scene last week at the Compo Beach area home of legendary illustrator-photographer Ed Vebell as he hosted the teens—Wellington Baumann, a 2016 Staples High School graduate, and Aren Heitmann, a recent Fairfield Ludlowe High School graduate.
Baumann and Heitmann, history buffs who will attend Gettysburg College in the fall, are interning with Vebell for the summer in his loft studio. They seemed a good fit.
After all, Vebell, a World War II Army sergeant, was the key artist in Europe and North Africa for Stars & Stripes, the American newspaper reporting on matters affecting the U.S. Armed Forces. He was also the only artist allowed to cover the 1945, post-war Nuremberg, Germany war trials, which prosecuted members of the Nazi leadership.
Thursday, May 26, 2016
WestportNow won 17 citations, including six first place prizes, in the 2015 Society of Professional Journalists Connecticut Chapter Excellence in Journalism competition. The awards were announced tonight at the group’s annual banquet in Wallingford.
It was the most awards won by WestportNow since the competition was opened to online journalism in 2007. This year, in a reshuffling of categories and competitors, WestportNow for the first time competed against not only other small news websites but also small circulation newspapers.
James Lomuscio won five of the first place prizes for: (shared with photographer Dave Matlow) a five-part “Seniors and Housing” series; for his “Westport Key to ‘Great Gatsby?’” story about a documentary exploring F. Scott Fitzgerald’s time in Westport, his coverage of a memorial service for slain Jeannette and Jeffrey Navin; for his continuing coverage of their murders, and for his profile of interim Staples principal Mark W. Karagus.
Matlow won a first prize for his photo of passersby aiding a bicyclist accident victim.
By James Lomuscio
Longtime Westporter Joe Schachter, 90, is a sailor through and through, a World War II Navy ensign who served in the Pacific only to return to Westport to do battle years later to save Cockenoe Island from a seven-story high nuclear power plant.
A self-proclaimed water rat, Schachter is the quintessential old salt, though the term old doesn’t seem to fit so much. He becomes animated, youthful almost, talking about his buddies at the Y’s Men, their weekly luncheons at the VFW, his wife Irma of 50 years whom he married after his first wife Carol died in 1964 leaving him with three little boys.
He’s also big, barrel-chested, a presence that belies inner sensitivity.
“I was overwhelmed; tears came to my eyes,” he says about the phone call from William Vornkahl, president of the Westport Veterans Council, asking him to be this year’s grand marshal in the Memorial Day Parade on Monday.
Thursday, May 19, 2016
Editor’s note: Westporter Arthur Levitt, best known for his work in finance and markets, today told a gathering of Fairfield County artists that the arts economy faces a problem of “socialized gain and privatized pain,” which he called a “market failure.” Here are edited excerpts from his keynote remarks to the Cultural Alliance of Fairfield County (CAFC) breakfast at the Shore and Country Club in Norwalk at which it presented its inaugural 2016 ACE (Arts & Culture Empowerment) awards.
I was so honored to be asked to join you, and to help honor the award winners. Each of you is being recognized for outstanding creative work, and for talents that we all envy. I wish I could express myself creatively as well as you can.
That’s how some people are drawn to the arts. They can see or hear or sense that there are some people in our society who are gifted in a way that they can scarcely imagine.
It’s no different than watching Steph Curry hit a 40-foot jump shot. Athletes have the same capacity to marvel us.
But while we admire athletes for their gifts – both in fame and in fortune—artists enjoy appreciation in every way but in fame or fortune.
Thursday, May 05, 2016
The Frieze New York 2016 Art Fair opens today at New York’s Randall’s Island. The fifth edition of the fair brings together more than 200 of the world’s leading contemporary galleries to the island’s festive surroundings. Helen Klisser During, artistic director emeritus of the Westport Arts Center and WestportNow contributing photographer, was among VIP guests Wednesday getting a preview. The show runs through Sunday. For ticket information, click here. Helen Klisser During for WestportNow.com
Tuesday, April 05, 2016
By James Lomuscio
Henry, Hagar the Horrible and Half Hitch shed tears today when they learned their father, Richard Hodgins Jr., the man who brought them to life with pen and ink at his drawing board, died Sunday. He was 84, and he loved life.
That’s how syndicated comic strip artist and editorial cartoonist Dick Hodgins Jr. said he wanted his obituary to begin when he called this writer in early March to say he had inoperable lung cancer.
Hodgins died at his Wilton home from complications caused by cancer treatments, according to his son Richard Hodgins III.
Dick, as he was known, was one of the last of a winnowing cadre of Fairfield County-based cartoonists who daily kept the funny papers filled with gags.
Thursday, March 31, 2016
By James Lomuscio
Behind Police Chief Dale Call’s desk is a photo of his late father in uniform and smiling, almost as if he’s watching over his son, proud of him making it to the top.
The late George Call rose through the ranks to Inspector, an ascent the son has chronicled in a framed collection of his dad’s badges next to his photo.
“He was the one I grew up watching,” said Call, 53, who first joined the force as a special officer in 1981, just one year after graduating from Staples High School. “Actually, I grew up in this building.”
Today, after 35 years on the force, the last four as chief, Call heads into retirement, passing the baton, or badge, to Deputy Chief Foti Koskinas, who will be sworn into by First Selectman Jim Marpe. Capt. Samuel Arciola and Capt. Vincent Penna will each be sworn in as deputy chief.
Sunday, March 27, 2016
New York City’s Easter parade really isn’t a parade, just a lot people walking up and down Fifth Avenue. But the long-running event is always fun to watch and WestportNow photographer Dave Matlow was there today to record the scene. Note the photographer in the first picture is famed New York Times society photographer Bill Cunningham. Dave Matlow for WestportNow.com
Tuesday, March 08, 2016
By James Lomuscio
UPDATE (adds memorial service) Howard Munce, the Westport artist whose career as illustrator, art director, teacher, sculptor and author spanned generations earning him the sobriquet “dean of Westport artists,” died Saturday, March 5 at his Rockyfield Road home, his daughter, Mary Bewster said. He had turned 100 in November.
A Westport resident since 1935, Munce’s tall, thin, spry, and until recently energetic presence ubiquitous in town arts circles appeared ageless. More than an elder statesman, he seemed a living link to the community’s vibrant, creative identity in the latter part of the 20th century.
It was an era of illustrated magazine covers, billboards and Dashing Dans to Madison Avenue agencies where art directors held clout. Munce was one of them, rising to creative director at Young & Rubicam, where he met and soon married his wife Geraldine, in 1950.
“I don’t know of anybody else who’s alive today who could speak of the arts history of this town,” said filmmaker Martin West, whose 2009 town documentary “Years in the Making” showcased 50 town artists.
Friday, February 19, 2016
By James Lomuscio
Westport has not escaped the surge in heroin and other opiate overdoses in Connecticut.
While no deaths have been reported in Westport, the state’s Office of the Chief Medical Examiner said this week the number of people in Connecticut dying from drug overdoses continued to skyrocket in 2015.
More than 720 people overdosed, with heroin-related deaths climbing at alarming rates, the office said.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, of the nationwide 47,055 drug-overdose deaths in 2014 — an all-time high, and more people than died of liver disease or renal failure, of suicide, or in car accidents — heroin was responsible for over one-fifth.
Friday, January 01, 2016
As in years past, Westport in 2015—the 13th year of publication of WestportNow—saw many changes. Jim Lomuscio documented them in his year in review (see WestportNow Dec. 31, 2015).
WestportNow was there every day 24/7, documenting the big things and little things that make Westport special. You saw stories and photos here that you saw nowhere else, thanks to dozens of contributors to Westport’s only locally owned news source.
We are deeply grateful for an always-growing readership that has made us Westport’s No.1 place to go for news about our community and for news and features of special interest to Westporters. We urge you to support our advertisers who help make this all possible.
As is our tradition, our New Year’s gift to readers is a photo (and occasional news story) review of the past year. Entries include major events, and some not so major. But they were all part of life in Westport in 2015. To enjoy, CLICK HERE. Happy New Year!
Thursday, December 31, 2015
By James Lomuscio
As the New Year is ushered in on Friday, it seems that ringing out the old and ringing in the new in Westport could not have more relevance and bittersweet poignancy.
From the loss of beloved citizens to the moving on of equally beloved town employees and educators to last calls at landmark restaurants to the loss of a longtime, after school bus service and the shooting down of a seven-year planned senior housing complex, the town had more than its share of change.
At the same time, there were a number of new beginnings, including the reopening of the historic Saugatuck Congregational Church to the start of the Bedford Square project to the completion and initial undertaking of a Downtown Master Plan.
As always, change is inevitable, even in the land of steady habits; however, in Westport the changes always seem to be tempered with deference to the town’s historic character.
Friday, August 21, 2015
(Editor’s note: WestportNow’s special week-long series on seniors and housing concludes today with a look at efforts to add new senior housing to Westport and current options open to seniors.)
By James Lomuscio
The need for senior housing in Westport, whether affordable, market rate, and/or with an assisted living component, has confounded Westport officials for years.
It has become a flash point, however, for the current Planning and Zoning (P&Z) Commission.
Chairman Chip Stephens, 60, has said repeatedly that he is not against more senior housing in Westport. On the contrary, he says it is a need that has to be addressed, but by private developers and on private land, not town-owned land.
In fact, he says this need is behind formation of the P&Z Senior Housing Committee co-chaired by P&Z Vice Chairman Jack Whittle, 52, and member Catherine Walsh, 60. To date, the committee has had two meetings.
Thursday, August 20, 2015
(Editor’s note: WestportNow’s special series on seniors and housing today focuses on longtime Westporters who moved to Darien in search of housing to meet their needs.)
By James Lomuscio
Richard Leonard, 85, moved with his parents to Westport in 1946. He was just 15 but commuted daily on the 6:30 a.m. train to New York, so he could finish up at St. John’s Prep in Astoria, Queens.
Paula Leonard moved with her parents to Westport in 1952, graduating from Staples High School that year.
It wasn’t long before the two met and began dating.
In 1957, after four years as a Navy pilot during the Korean Conflict, he and Paula married, settling into their first home on Lone Pine Lane, then Ludlowe Road and eventually Orchard Lane.
Wednesday, August 19, 2015
(Editor’s note: WestportNow’s special series on seniors and housing today focuses on a well known couple who had hoped to continue living in Westport but finally decided to move to Charleston, South Carolina.)
By James Lomuscio
Steve Rubin, 71, and his wife Toni, 69, moved to Westport 32 years ago. They lived at Hidden Brook, an affordable apartment community off Post Road East run by the Westport Housing Authority (WHA). They raised their only child, a daughter, there.
Today, the Rubins are grandparents and live in Charleston, South Carolina where Steve says it’s much more affordable and winter weather is a breeze. He says they fell in love with Charleston’s charm after visiting on their way back from Florida a couple of years ago.
They kept visiting, each time for a longer stay and eventually moved down Columbus Day weekend 2014. They live in the West Ashley section of Charleston near the Ashley River.
“Since we moved here, three other Westport couples have called me, saying they’d love to move to Charleston,” Rubin said. “We all seem to agree it’s going to become a club of ex-Westporters.
Tuesday, August 18, 2015
(Editor’s note: WestportNow’s special series on seniors and housing today focuses on seniors who have left Westport but wish they could have stayed.)
By James Lomuscio
Like many Westport residents, they came to town for the schools, but they stayed for the community and all it offered. And they wanted to spend the rest of their lives here surrounded by friends, familiarity, and a love of place.
But now in their 70s through 90s, they live elsewhere—Redding, Bridgeport, Darien, even as far as Charleston, S.C.—to name a few.
They say they did not want to leave Westport, but the lack of adequate senior housing, whether affordable or not, was a driving force.
Some say they had hoped Westport would join the ranks of many other Fairfield County towns with its own senior housing complex, 60 percent of the units affordable, near the downtown on Baron’s South. Such a complex had been on the drawing boards for seven years, the subject of many meetings of town boards and commissions.
Monday, August 17, 2015
(Editor’s note: WestportNow today begins a special series on seniors and housing in Westport. Future installments will cover those who have left Westport and the current state of senior housing in town.)
By James Lomuscio
Nick Berardi, 83, and his wife Josephine, 84, have lived in Westport for 51 years. They raised their children here, made a number of longtime friends and enjoyed the community’s many offerings. They couldn’t think of a better place to spend the rest of their lives.
But now, their home is on the market. And memories of relaxing days at Compo Beach and starlit evenings at the Levitt Pavilion for the Performing Arts will be just that, memories.
“It’s the cost,” said Berardi, a retired accountant. “The taxes, the utilities, the repairs, the maintenance. It’s the upkeep of your house.
“My wife especially wants to stay in Westport,” he added. “We figured we’d sell our house and look for rentals with two bedrooms, $1,500 a month, but you can’t find anything for $1,500. As a last resort, we’d move to Florida, but it’s too hot for 12 months of the year, and we like the amenities here.”
Thursday, January 01, 2015
Westport in 2014—the 12th year of publication of WestportNow—saw many changes, as documented in Jim Lomuscio’s comprehensive review of the year (see WestportNow Dec. 30, 2014).
And every day, 24/7, WestportNow was there, often exclusively, just as we have been since 2003. We are deeply grateful for a still growing readership that has made WestportNow Westport’s No.1 news source.
As the only locally owned daily news source, we are also deeply grateful for the local advertising support received and urge you to patronize our advertisers—and tell them you saw them on WestportNow.
As is our tradition, our New Year’s gift to readers is a photo review of the past year. Entries include major events, and some not so major. But they were all part of life in Westport in 2014. To enjoy, CLICK HERE. Happy New Year!
Tuesday, December 30, 2014
By James Lomuscio
Every year is marked by change, but in Westport, current and planned change came at fever pitch in 2014.
Several time-honored, mom and pop businesses integral the town’s identity either shut their doors or moved from their storied, if not legendary, locations.
Several prominent individuals whose service epitomized town spirit died, each one leaving heroic example, as well as a hole, behind.
New beginnings marked 2014, from Church Lane’s redevelopment to the new Levitt Pavilion for the Performing Arts and the finally relocated Westport Weston Family Y.
Wednesday, December 17, 2014
By Gordon Joseloff
Richard C. Hottelet, my personal link to the legendary group of CBS News correspondents who covered World War II under Edward R. Murrow, died today at his Wilton home. He was 97.
Hottelet was the last survivor of the group that became known as the “Murrow Boys. He joined CBS in London in 1944 and retired in 1985.
I first met him in the late 1970s. He was covering the United Nations for CBS but did an hourly network radio newscast daily before heading over to his U.N. office. I often wrote his hourly newscast for him.
I had joined CBS News a short time earlier after working for United Press International in outposts that included London and Moscow. Hottelet had worked for UPI’s predecessor, United Press, in London, Moscow, Berlin, and Washington.
Tuesday, December 16, 2014
WestportNow contributing photographer Phyllis Groner recently returned from a week-long visit to Cuba. She captured these images in and around Havana. Phyllis Groner for WestportNow.com
Wednesday, August 20, 2014
By James Lomuscio
In the wake of national concerns about the militarization of police departments, an issue brought to the forefront by the police response to rioting in Ferguson, Mo., Westport Police Chief Dale Call weighed in on his department’s receipt of military surplus over the years.
“Define militarized,” Call said in an interview. “Police departments have been organized in the paramilitary structure since the beginning of time, but at the end of the day, we’re don’t function as the military, nor should we ever.”
With Westport being an affluent community and not being strapped for equipment, “we don’t ask for what we don’t need,” from the Department of Defense (DOD) through its 1033 program, Call said. The program gives without charge military resources no longer used, from guns to Humvees.
The Washington Post reported last week that in 2013 the 1033 program gave about $500 million worth of equipment to local departments, mostly for natural disaster responses, items such as tents, generators, ATVs and pickup trucks. However, law enforcement agencies can also tap the program for more formidable items: aircraft, grenade launchers and tactical vehicles.
Friday, August 15, 2014
(Editor’s Note: This is another in our occasional series, WN Spotlight, featuring people and places that make our town special.)
By Larissa Lieberson
There’s nothing better than the smell of warm, freshly glazed donuts. Nothing, perhaps, besides the taste of them, especially when they are handmade each morning at Westport’s Coffee An’ Donut Shop.
Located at 343 Main St. in a shopping strip that includes Ace Hardware and the Merritt Country Store, this old time donut shop has become a local legend. Daily, people from all walks of life seem to find their way to this rare sanctuary rich in unpretentiousness and a sweet sense of community.
From the moment one steps into the shop, one spies people reading newspapers, talking to each other across tables and the counter, and just letting their hair down.
Regulars credit George Vlandis and his family for the comfortable vibe. Vlandis took over the shop 22 years ago after selling his pizza restaurant in Fairfield. From pizza, Vlandis turned his focus on something sweeter – donuts, glazed, chocolate frosted, coconut, jelly, cinnamon and marble twists. Muffins, too.