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Friday, March 4, 2011

Quilts Fill Church Spaces, Delight Visitors

Quilts Fill Church Spaces, 
Delight Visitors:
Southport Congregational 
hosts quilt show Mar. 4 & 5
(Posted to March 4)
By Mike Lauterborn
© 2011. All Rights Reserved.

Fairfield, CT – On its own, the historic church with its tall spire and soaring ceilings is an impressive sight. Dress it up with scores of colorful quilts and you’ve really got something to behold.

On Friday March 4, Southport Congregational Church at 524 Pequot Ave. hosted the opening day of a two-day quilt exhibit called “Fabrics and Fabrications”. The ninth annual show features more than 150 quilts, a special exhibit of quilted apparel and a boutique offering small quilted items and accessories.

All proceeds of the event, which returns Saturday from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., will be donated to three deserving local non-profit organizations, which include the Make-A-Wish Foundation of CT, Emerge Inc. and Project Learn. Previous exhibits have generated over $200,000 to benefit area children, women and their families through these organizations.

Representatives from the non-profits thanked event supporters at an opening reception held the previous evening. This included Donna Jackson, co-founder of Emerge, which provides transitional housing for survivors of domestic violence. “The quilt show is a lifeline for Emerge,” said Jackson, “helping us subsidize our income amid funding cuts. Their hard work and commitment is just phenomenal.”

Kim Smith, Development Director at Make-A-Wish, which grants the wishes of children with life-threatening medical conditions, was present as well. “We can’t do what we do without special friends like the quilt committee. The doctors provide the medicine and we provide the magic for our Wish kids through our generous supporters.”

Joining Smith was the Patrick family of Darien, who are past beneficiaries of Make-A-Wish. Their son Jay, now 15 and doing well, was diagnosed with leukemia in 2005. Make-A-Wish fulfilled his dream of experiencing Yankees spring training in Florida. “In the middle of a difficult health battle, Make-A-Wish enabled us to enjoy ourselves as a family. It was a great relief,” said Jay’s mother, Elsie.

The exhibit itself attracted a steady flow of enthusiasts, who were met by church staff, but also by some of the quilters. Virginia Avery was one of these craftsmen, on hand to speak about her quilted apparel, of which 10 one-of-a-kind examples were shown.

“I’ve been doing this for about 40 years,” Avery said. “I happen to be a jazz musician and that inspired my piece ‘Don’t Shoot the Piano Player’, which features outlines of my hands and an authentic sized keyboard stitched onto the garment. Other pieces have been inspired by famous designers, like Koos Van Denaaker, who have techniques that I’ve incorporated into my work. All of my garments have appeared in international fashion shows and follow various themes.”

Event co-founder Judy Reynolds spoke about the event’s inception. “Ten years ago, I exhibited in a quilt show at a congregational church in Cohasset, MA. Cecily Zerega joined me and we were both so inspired by the event that we wanted to bring something similar to our community. Our first event, held in 2003, featured 150 quilts, which became the standard in terms of the number displayed. Quilts are never shown twice here, so over time over 1,000 unique quilts have been exhibited.”

Browsing quilts displayed in the church’s Chapel, Susan Slater of Woodbridge, with her Milford friend Wilma Sielert, said, “We’ve both been quilting for over 20 years. It’s enjoyable to see the quilts people create, their use of color and design. Quilting is very uplifting. It gives you a lot of joy. One of the best things about it is the people you meet – you develop lifelong friendships.”

Eyeing quilts draped over benches in the Sanctuary, Marcy Clair of Shelton said, “I’ve been quilting for eight years. I still consider myself a beginner. I love to see the old quilts, get inspired and see the various handwork. A lot of these took years to make.”

Standing nearby, Westporter Lisa Krosse, with friend Michelle Lieberson, said, ‘I work at a textile conservation workshop in South Salem, so I’m around a lot of old quilts. They are my favorites. These here are in beautiful shape and involve so much intricate and precise handwork. They’re very impressive, especially given the limited resources the quilters had.”

Manning the boutique set-up with Joan Huntington, Susan Kunkel said, “The boutique is a popular part of the exhibit. We’ve been blessed with 15 women volunteers who have contributed their handwork including children’s backpacks, knitted baby items, mini quilts, knitted hats, potholders and even iPad and cellphone covers.”

Reflecting on the exhibit, event co-founder Zerega said, “It’s truly amazing to see all this come together, and gratifying to see so many people really appreciating what we have here.”

Keeping It in the Family

Keeping It in the Family:
Fairfield Center Jewelers
(Appeared in Mar/Apr issue of Fairfield Magazine)
By Mike Lauterborn
© 2010. All Rights Reserved.

Fairfield, CT – For some, it’s difficult to work with family. Others can’t imagine working with anyone else. The latter is the case at Fairfield Center Jewelers, a constant in an ever evolving, bustling downtown community.

Interviewed recently at the store’s 1498 Post Road location, Harvey Sussman, 82, his son Bob, 45, and Harvey’s brother Jerome’s son-in-law, Howard Diamond, 63, provided background about how the business has grown over the years and the dynamic of relatives working together.

It was Harvey’s father Louis that began the business back in 1933, in the midst of the Depression, establishing a shop on Main Street in Bridgeport. Its focus was jewelry sales and watch repair. Notably, the business repaired mechanical pocket watches for New Haven Railroad and was an authorized service dealer for Westclox (clockmakers) and General Electric (clocks for automobile dashboards).

In 1946, after serving in the army, Jerome joined the business. Then brother Harvey came aboard in 1955, after serving in the Korean War, and opened the current store as a branch location.

“When we came to town, there were mostly mom and pop stores,” said Harvey. “The only other significant store was F.W. Woolworth’s.”

The initial Bridgeport store closed in the mid 60’s and inventory was merged into Fairfield. In 1970, Diamond joined, followed 18 years later by Bob, after graduating from college. Since Jerome’s retirement in 1998, the three run the day-to-day.

“We are the dinosaurs in town – the longest lasting family-owned business in downtown, handed down from father to son, father to son,” said Harvey proudly.

While the store’s footprint has remained the same, the business focus has changed from bridal registry and offering silver and china to brides-to-be, to a concentration on fine quality jewelry, fine diamonds, gemstones, platinum, gold and sterling.

“Our niche is really giving our customers extraordinary value for their dollar,” said Bob. “We can be very competitive without sacrificing quality.”

Working with family hasn’t always been easy. “At one point, we had four opinions on purchasing and inventory,” said Bob, “but at the end of the day and in a democratic fashion, the multiple opinions and experience became an intangible asset.”

Bob said a policy of open communication has also been helpful. “We can say what we need to, and run ideas around all the time.”

While the Sussmans have enjoyed a long business run, longevity carries over to both supplier relationships and staff as well. A bookkeeper that started with them at 16 stayed on for 50 years. Their in-house bench jeweler is still with the shop after 35 years.

“There’s no seasonal help. Everyone is a year-round employee knowledgeable in style and quality,” said Diamond.

According to Bob, though, the most important key to the family business’ success has been customer care. “We genuinely care about our customers and most of our business is done on a handshake, a tradition established by Grandpa Louis.”

Will next-generation Sussmans join the business? “You never know what the tide will bring in,” said Harvey.

Going Green

Going Green
(For We’ve Got Answers column, Mar/Apr Fairfield Magazine)
By Mike Lauterborn
© 2010. All Rights Reserved.

Q: Where’s the best place to go in town to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day?

The perception in the United States, not surprisingly, is that March is the month of the Irish and the time to celebrate all things Irish, and that culminates on March 17, St. Patrick’s Day. To mark the occasion, Fairfield’s own Gaelic American Club at 74 Beach Road, a town anchor since its relocation from Bridgeport in 1992, has a number of activities planned.

To its membership of nearly 6,000 and their guests, the Club offers three key events leading up to the big day. On March 5, the Club hosts its annual St. Pat’s Dinner Dance. On the afternoon of March 12, a Children’s St. Pat’s Party and Storytime will take place. Scheduled for March 13, an annual cultural night highlights the club’s dancers, musicians, language groups, play group Clan na Gael and the Fairfield Gaelic Pipe & Drum Band. The Club also hosts a Communion Breakfast for the Ancient Order of Hibernians.

Open to non-members for a nominal cover charge, March 17 events kick off at noon with live bands in the pub and music and dance performances in the main Carolan Room. A limited menu includes corned beef sandwiches, fish and chips and Irish breads.

For a full calendar of Club events, visit

Blue and Gray

Blue and Gray
(For We’ve Got Answers column in Mar/Apr issue Fairfield Mag)
By Mike Lauterborn
© 2010. All Rights Reserved.

Q: What was Fairfield’s role in the Civil War?

It was 150 years ago that war erupted between the states. Fairfield men were not eager to join up and it took cash incentives from the town’s selectmen to encourage many to enlist. Even so, some bought medical exemptions or sent others in their place. Most Fairfielders that did enlist were placed in the 17th Connecticut Volunteer Infantry, which saw action at Gettysburg among other battle sites.

The town’s most noted Civil War veteran was John B. Morehouse. In 1861, he enlisted as a private in Company D of the 1st Connecticut Cavalry Regiment. Over a four-year period, the cavalry engaged the enemy on 93 occasions and had the honor of escorting General Grant at Appomatox to receive the surrender of General Lee in 1865. Reaching the rank of Major, Morehouse was wounded twice and returned to Fairfield a hero.

To mark the war’s anniversary, the Fairfield Museum & History Center plans an interactive, self-directed tour in April of the East Cemetery on Old Post Road. Buried there are 18 Fairfield men that fought in the Civil War. Museum volunteers, ideally in period military uniforms, will be stationed beside each relevant gravesite to provide background about these soldiers and virtually bring them back to life.

For cemetery tour details, visit