Saturday, June 27, 2015
By James Lomuscio
Westport today marked its 50th jUNe Day, a world-comes-to Westport event celebrating the United Nations and providing a day of rest, relaxation, and a touch of hometown America for U.N. member families.
As many of the 193 U.N. member flags colorfully billowed under cloudy skies on Westport’s Ruth Steinkraus Cohen Bridge—named after the late Westporter who organized the first jUNe Day in 1965—a welcoming ceremony was held in the nearby Saugatuck Elementary School cafeteria.
There, scores of U.N. delegates, staff and their families, many arriving on an early morning train from Grand Central Terminal, gathered for a breakfast and anniversary ceremony prior to the annual day of cultural and recreational events throughout town.
Activities included trips to downtown, Compo Beach, Longshore Club Park, and Earthplace as well as a soccer match, Westport vs. U.N.
Steinkraus Cohen, former personal secretary of Eleanor Roosevelt, started jUNe Day in observance of the signing of the U.N. Charter on June 26, 1945 with the goal of peace, freedom and justice via cultural interaction.
Over the years, it has welcomed thousands of world residents affiliated with the United Nations. In 2008, jUNe Day guests for the first time in anyone’s memory included a sitting U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Zalmay Khalilzad. (See WestportNow June 28, 2008)
Willard Hass, president of the Southwest Connecticut Chapter of the United Nations Association and a former U.N. employee who moved to Westport after attending his first JUNe Day 31 years ago, read a proclamation from Gov. Dannel P. Malloy.
The governor said without Westport’s cooperation, the annual event underscoring the U.N.‘s good works never could have happened. Hass also displayed a similar proclamation from state legislators.
“I can’t believe it’s been 50 years of the wonderful collaboration between the Town of Westport and the United Nations,” said state Rep. Jonathan Steinberg. “I can’t think of a better way to celebrate that understanding.”
State Sen. Toni Boucher and Rep. Gail Lavielle were also present. So was William Steinkraus, 89, Steinkraus Cohen’s brother and an equestrian champion and Olympic Gold Medal winner. She died in 2002 at age 81.
Carole Wainaina, a native Kenyan and former Coca-Cola and Phillips executive who joined the United Nations eight months ago as U.N. assistant secretary-general for human resources management, was keynote speaker. She stressed the importance of shared humanity in an oftentimes divisive world.
“When I witness the power of the human spirit, I see how similar we are than we are different,” she said.
She also read a message from U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who has visited Westport on several occasions and said he was sending his “warmest greetings” to all jUNe Day participants.
The secretary-general said, “This very special anniversary falls in a year of momentous decisions that need to be taken on our common future.”
Member states are shaping what he hoped would be an “inspiring” new sustainable development agenda and moving towards a “meaningful agreement” on climate change, Ban said.
“We are the first generation that can erase poverty from the earth—and the last that can act to avoid the worst impacts of a warming world,” he added.
First Selectman Jim Marpe also presented Hass with a jUNe Day proclamation, and he praised Steinkraus Cohen “who organized and shepherded this event from its inception and for most of those 50 years.”
Marpe acknowledged former first selectmen Jacqueline Heneage and Gordon Joseloff, who were present and who during their administrations “actively supported this endeavor.”
“Westport is unique among many of its neighboring communities because so many of its citizens have broad international exposure and appreciate the importance of the U.N. in today’s complex and, sadly, dangerous world,” said Marpe.
His comments came a day after terrorist attacks in France, Tunisia, and Kuwait.
In addition to many Westporters having lived abroad, Marpe noted that the town is home to a number of expatriates due to business, “again bringing a broader world view to Westport that might not be found in other American cities.”
Also addressing the ceremony was Anthony Banbury, a Westporter who is U.N. assistant secretary-general for field support and who led U.N. efforts last year to combat the Ebola outbreak in Africa.
He told the guests he had the best of both worlds—being both a town resident and working for the U.N., an hour’s train ride away.
“You really couldn’t ask for a better community to live in,” Banbury said.
Missing from the event for the first time in many years was Ambassador Joseph Verner Reed, Jr., a Greenwich resident who has served the United States and the United Nations in many capacities, including U.N. under-secretary-general and special adviser. Hass said Reed informed him Friday he would be unable to attend due to his wife’s illness.
Among the highlights of the ceremony were Suzuki Music School of Westport violin and cello performances by Andrew Gray of New Canaan and Tomaso Scotti, a Coleytown Middle School student. They performed two times throughout the program, getting rounds of applause.
Another highlight was Alex Anvari, head of the Westport Soccer Association, presenting last year’s soccer trophy to Andro Ashmeade of the U.N. Soccer and Recreation Club. The two groups were scheduled to square off again today.
Perhaps the most moving part for the ceremony was the “passing of the torch of peace” presented by Natabara Rolloson of Oneness-Home Peace Run. The torch, which passes from state to state, was lit and held high by local, state and U.N. officials present.
“Peace begins in our hearts,” said Rolloson, who lives in Queens, N.Y. “We live in a beautiful country with so many opportunities. For the next 30 seconds, close you eyes and feel that peace spreading out beyond us.”
For half-a-minute, silence filled the room.
His message reinforced what Wainaina had said earlier.
“We start with every individual, we start with every community, and then we go out and do it in the world,” she said.
Posted 06/27/15 at 01:33 PM Permalink