Saturday, June 24, 2017
By James Lomuscio
The colorful flags lining Westport’s Ruth Steinkraus Bridge flapped defiantly as the sun peaked through the morning rain, promising today would be a beautiful 52nd annual jUNe Day.
The flags representing the United Nations 193 member countries complemented the assembly of more than 200 U.N. members and their families who came together for breakfast at the Saugatuck Elementary School and then a day of summer fun in Westport.
jUNe day was established in 1965 by the late Westporter Ruth Steinkraus Cohen, founder of the U.N. Association (UNA) of Southwestern Connecticut—also known as the as the International Visitors Committee of CT—in observance of the signing of the U.N. charter on June 26, 1945.
On this day, U.N. staff, their families and representatives from other governments get a chance to experience hometown America outside of New York City, participating in a variety of sporting and recreational events, according to Bill Hass, regional UNA president.
The day’s events included a soccer match between the U.N. team and the Westport Knights, a tennis tournament and a day of golf at the Longshore Golf Course.
Also included were tours of Earthplace, free tours of town historic sites, breakfast and lunch at the Saugatuck Elementary and free access to Compo Beach and the pools at Longshore Club Park.
“It is truly a pleasure, and I have to really commend the initiative you have here,” said U.N. Under-Secretary General Bettina Tucci Bartsiotas, “This brings it down to earth, to get to know the people of the world.”
Calling Westport a “strong, beautiful community,” Bartsiotas, who is from Uruguay and holds U.S. citizenship, encouraged those gathered for breakfast “to look at the world as a huge family, the humanity that bonds us.”
“I am also very encouraged to see generations here,” she said.
Rebecca Alvarez, 23, said the last time she attended a jUNe day “was when I was 1 or 2 and I don’t remember it.”
She said that now seeing it for the first time, “I love it ;I think it’s great,” and that she looked forward to “going to the beach.” He mother Lillia Alvarez works for the U.N., representing her native Cuba.
Ayeaye Thant, a former Westporter and daughter of U Thant, the third U.N. secretary general who served from 1961 to 1971, called jUNe Day “very important because this is a celebration of diversity.”
“Look at all these people of different countries, cultures, different religions,” Thant said as myriad languages could be heard and different garb showcased “They all came here under the umbrella of the U.N. This is friendship across cultures at its best.”
She also said that it was her experience at jUNe Day and her friendship with Steinkraus Cohen that made her decide to move to Westport.
The day’s events were organized by Michaela MacColl, jUNe Day chairperson, and among those present to welcome the international guests were First Selectman Jim Marpe, state Rep. Jonathan Steinberg and Westporter Dennis Wong, a representative to the U.N. for International Cities of Peace.
“I think it’s one of the things that brings people together in this world,” Wong said.
Marpe described jUNe Day as a natural fit for Westport since so many of its residents have had “broad international exposure,” as well as the town having many residents who are from other countries.
Steinberg called Steinkraus Cohen’s legacy “a special day for the community that connects the community with countries around the world.”
“We are proud to show our town to the people of the world,” he said.
Posted 06/24/17 at 11:25 AM Permalink