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Monday, May 2, 2011

Reflections on 9/11 in Light of Bin Laden’s Dispatch

Reflections on 9/11 in Light 
of Bin Laden’s Dispatch:
Troubling images come 
flooding back
(Posted to 5/2)
By Mike Lauterborn
© 2011. All Rights Reserved.

Fairfield, CT – “Bin Laden Dead” and “Bin Laden is Blown Away” were the headlines greeting me Monday morning as I awoke to discover that Osama Bin Laden, leader of al-Qaida and mastermind of the attacks on the World Trade Centers and Pentagon on Sept. 11, 2001, had been killed in a Pakistan-based military operation. It was big news certainly, and I immediately informed my two boys, who were readying themselves for school. Then, as I gathered more details, the images and sound bites of that horrific day nearly 10 years ago started flooding back.

I was a consultant at the time and master of my own schedule. As such, and given the spectacularly sunny skies that morning, I decided to drop my elder son, Evan, five at the time, at Roger Sherman Elementary and go get my car washed. As I began doing some pre-wash vacuuming at the Tunxis Hill car wash, an attendant informed me that a plane had hit the World Trade Center. I imagined a small single engine plane and snapped on the car radio to catch the story. Only then did the enormity of the event become clear and, as I made my way back home, the first tower came crashing down. I looked about me in traffic and wondered if anyone else was hearing what I was hearing.

As I pulled in the driveway, my wife poked her head out the window to give me the news, but of course I already knew. And while our younger son, Phillip, who was not quite two, rolled around on the living room rug, we watched the events unfold on TV – the fall of the second tower, the strike at the Pentagon, the downing of the plane in a field in Pennsylvania, the suspension of all air traffic, other rumored strikes. It was all very surreal and difficult to compute.

As calls came in from friends and family to check on our well-being and share their own thoughts and sympathies, I decided I had to see “Ground Zero” – the name that was quickly coined for the Trade Center site – for myself.

Just 24 hours later, I was shuttling in my SUV toward Manhattan on I-95, which was almost completely void of traffic, passing crudely constructed signs identifying staging areas for emergency vehicles. When I reached the Parkchester section of the Bronx, I parked and grabbed my brother-in-law Deon for the rest of the trek in.

We took the subway which brought us as far in as Houston Street, where barricades had been placed from the East Side to the West. We slipped past these and followed the deserted F.D.R. Drive down to Fulton Street, following the huge plume of smoke from the site and weaving our way along side streets. As we grew nearer, we found ourselves tromping through concrete dust, which appeared like snow covering cars, streets and steps. Then we saw women’s shoes in the roadways, that had been kicked off in flight from the debris clouds that had billowed outwards from the collapsing towers.

Then the images really flooded by. Flattened police cars that had been pulled from the wreckage and left on the side of the street. Memos and paper debris from the towers. Someone scooping dust into a Snapple bottle. A small tank sitting in Battery Park. Emergency workers commandeering city buses. Flatbed trucks rolling down West Street carrying twisted steel. A military Humvee shooting past with a soldier manning a rooftop machine gun. F-16s patrolling overhead. Coast Guard and E.P.A. ships guarding the harbor. Then the jagged remnants of the towers themselves, visible down Liberty Street, and the resulting vacancy in the skyline.

As the pair of us made our way back uptown, we noticed a dusty windshield and the words “Bomb Bin Laden” that had been scrawled with a finger. The hunt had officially begun for the killer.

The years that followed were frustrating as the shaggy bearded criminal periodically issued ominous communications from an apparent mountainside cave dwelling in Afghanistan. Sketches were released imagining what he would look like as he aged or altered his appearance. Rumors floated about his ill health. Like a needle in a haystack, he continued to elude capture.

So, to find, nearly 10 years later, after a maddening “Where’s Waldo” search, that he had been shacked up at a visible compound in Pakistan, was disheartening. Then, to learn that his body had been dumped at sea to avoid any martyrdom was equally exasperating. There was a mixed feeling of satisfaction about his death and skepticism about whether we had truly gotten our man. At the same time, I had a feeling of concern that there might be retribution from his allies while also wondering if we had actually affected any change, given the pyramid structure in the al-Qaida organization. Wouldn’t an underling just take Bin Laden’s place?

We had apparently knocked off an icon, and that was helpful in bringing some degree of closure and a morale boost to Americans, but now what? 

Swimmers Lap Up Donations at Y-Hosted Marathon

Swimmers Lap Up Donations at Y-Hosted Marathon
By Mike Lauterborn
(for Westport News)

Westport, CT – Just hours into the event, Mark Schachter had chalked up 85 laps and Aileen Coyne had tallied 92. Many other aquatic enthusiasts were right behind them ready to try their personal best.

The swimmers were gutting it out at the Westport Wilton YMCA in downtown Westport as part of a “24 Hours of Laps Swim Marathon”. The function was being sponsored by Al’s Angels, with all proceeds used to provide holiday meals and gifts for children and families in the Tri-State Area suffering from life-threatening illnesses, cancer, rare blood diseases and severe financial hardship. The event commenced at 10 a.m. Saturday April 30 and was scheduled to conclude at the same time Sunday morning.

“I founded Al’s Angels 10 years ago, after meeting a couple who had been wiped out financially by medical expenses related to their child’s cancer care,” said Al DiGuido. “My wife, Chris, and I realized we had healthy kids and an obligation to help other parents with kids in need. I had been doing fundraising for cancer with Tomorrow’s Children’s Fund in Hackensack, NJ and wanted to expand beyond just that one facility.”

DiGuido said past events have included 24 Hours of Hope, a fitness fundraiser that raised over $110,000. In New York City, the non-profit did 24 Hours of Strikes, a bowling marathon, raising $90,000. “All my kids were swimmers here at the Y… it seemed like a natural to add a 24-hour swim event to the fundraisers we do each year,” added DiGuido.

“Swimmers range in age from six to senior citizens,” he continued. “Each swimmer had to sign up to swim a 30-minute segment and go get lap sponsors. The goal is to raise $40,000 and we’re well on the way there. Every lap and every dollar counts. We provide toys to over 5,000 children and holiday meals to over 2,500 families.”

John Waesche, of Westport, climbed out of the pool after completing 42 laps. “This is the most laps I’ve ever completed,” he said. “My past best was 30 laps. The incentive was the worthwhile causes that Al’s Angel’s supports.”

Ian Schermann, of Norwalk, had just completed 74 laps. “In the strict time limit of a half hour, I thought I did pretty good,” he said. “I’m an every day swimmer, still this was challenging as you are doing it continuously without stopping. I do two charity swims per year – this is a first for this one. I like the idea of a cause that assists families this way.”

Cheering Schermann on was his wife Katie who said, “He’s got such a good heart in finding worthwhile things to support wherein he can help others. I’m so proud of him.”

Amid cries of “You got it Andrew!” and “C’mon Jack, way to go!” which came from a pack of Norwalk High School lacrosse team players volunteering as timers and cheerleaders, swimmer Caitlin Wiederecht, 18, regained her land legs. “I completed 82 laps,” she said. “I’m proud of myself. I actually had swim practice earlier in addition to this event, so I’ve done a lot of swimming today. I felt good that my efforts were helping a good cause.”

Looking on, Ellen Johnston, Senior Swim Coach at the YMCA and leader of the Water Rats, the Y’s competitive swim team, said, “This event is awesome, a natural partnership, and allows kids to participate. A number of our team members have participated and we’ll have more throughout the day. It’s great for them to know that their sport can support a noble cause.”

Perhaps feeling the impact of the cause more than any onsite was swimmer David Platow, 23, of Westport. “My mom passed away from cancer last September,” he said. “This event is a perfect opportunity for me to help the cause and a way to remember my mom. If she was here, she’d be helping out and swimming herself.”

Reaction Both Joyous and Cautious to Bin Laden Death

Reaction Both Joyous and 
Cautious to Bin Laden Death:
Commuters, downtown workers 
and students share thoughts
(Posted to 5/2)
By Mike Lauterborn
© 2011. All Rights Reserved.

Fairfield, CT – The news traveled quickly that al-Qaida leader Osama Bin Laden, who directed the attacks on the World Trade Centers and Pentagon on Sept. 11, 2001 that killed over 3,000 people, had been killed in an operation in Pakistan. In coffee shops, on the streets and at the downtown train station, area people were abuzz about the news. Mostly, there was jubilance, but also caution and some surprise.

“I just heard it this morning on my way to get coffee,” said Allen Wallace of Fairfield. “I’m very surprised and happy. It’s been a long time coming. For a lot of people, there’s some degree of closure but I don’t think it will alter things a lot. There are probably others that have already taken his place and will continue on. But there’s nothing else that’s a more symbolic victory.”

Collecting a coffee at Las Vetas Lounge, Yash Egami of Fairfield said, “I heard it on the radio this morning and thought it was good news. At the same time, the war on terror is not about one person anymore. I’m worried about the consequences and am still a little skeptical. They claimed they killed him before. I think killing someone like Osama Bin Laden is a Band-Aid on the problem. It doesn’t get to the root of hatred. Attitudes really need to change. America needs to do a better job of understanding other cultures and Islam.”

Matthew Connelly, a Fairfield Preparatory student from Trumbull, said he first learned of the news through a New York Times twitter feed. “It’s definitely good news, and brings a lot of joy to families that had loved ones lost in the 9/11 attacks,” he said. “But this shouldn’t be seen as an end to the conflict in the Middle East, which is what a lot of people are thinking.”

Georgia Lyn of Fairfield, who was rushing to catch a train, expressed caution. “It took them almost 10 years to get him,” she said. “What does this mean for us in terms of politics in Pakistan?”

Commuter Grayson Craddock hadn’t yet heard the news. as he was about to board a morning train. “I’m shocked!” he said. “Bush is going to be pissed!”

Newspaper vendor Fanos Ayana, of Bridgeport, was studying a story about the attack and said, “I’m so surprised about it and also happy because I wouldn’t want anything like Sept. 11 to happen again. It was a crazy time. I want there to be peace, but I’m worried that his allies might retaliate.”

Though she was too young to remember 9/11, 13-year-old Page Jones of Fairfield was happy about the news. “My dad woke me up this morning to tell me as I was getting ready for school. Hopefully there’s going to be peace.”

Fairfielder Lisa Gander was of the cautious set, saying, “My initial reaction was relief, yet cautiously optimistic. There’s retaliation that you think of. It’s a shame that so many lives had to be lost to get to this point. Everyone thinks of 9/11. Because he’s gone doesn’t mean the second man in command won’t take over.”

Hurrying to her downtown office, Sabrina Duk of Hamden said she’d heard the news on Facebook. “The most common comment I saw was ‘Proud to be an American,’ she said. “I’m not sure what to think about the situation. It’s 10 years later, we’ve spent so much money on the situation and lost so many lives. But the combination of this death with the royal wedding is a morale boost the country needed.”

Old Post Road Neighbors Meet, Mingle and Make Plans

Old Post Road Neighbors Meet, 
Mingle and Make Plans
By Mike Lauterborn
(for Fairfield Citizen News)

Fairfield, CT – In one of the most noted structures on the block, Old Post Road neighbors met over wine and cheese to reconnect, catch up and look forward.

The site was the Burr Homestead and the neighbors were members of the Old Post Road Area Association, which was conducting its annual meeting late Sunday afternoon May 1. The Association is dedicated to promoting community and preserving the historical character of the Old Post Road neighborhood. A reception preceded remarks from association president Peter Petron, guest speaker Fairfield Police Lt. Jim Perez and a report from Treasurer Jim Miller.

“This is our 61st annual meeting since our incorporation in 1950,” said Miller, who served as the association’s president for 30 years. “One of the founding members was honorary town historian Marcia Miner’s father Chick Peden. Today, the meeting is about the neighborhood socializing and input about traffic safety. We’re in the middle of the fourth year of a neighborhood vehicular and pedestrian safety campaign. We’re asking the town to continue to make upgrades to aid pedestrian safety.”

Miller has lived on the Old Post Road for 41 years. “The changes I’ve seen include a significant increase in traffic. A study we conducted four years ago showed 11,000 to 12,000 cars passing between the YMCA and Beach Road every 24 hours. That’s a lot of traffic for a residential street.”

With regard to demographics, Miller said the pattern has been cyclical. “In our block, between Beach Road and South Benson, there were two kids in public schools when we first moved here,” he said. “Three years later, there were 25 kids. Those younger families rotated out and by the 90s, there were only five kids in the schools. Now, in the 00’s, there are 32. Most families stay here and raise their kids and when the kids are gone, they think about moving on.”

Miller said sidewalks are a key neighborhood issue. “Since the town put one in from Beach Road to the Circle Diner last summer, I can take my 3-year-old granddaughter for a nice safe walk, which wasn’t always possible.”

Miller’s wife, Joyce, was happy about another development. “I’m delighted that the town will monitor the placement of chairs and blankets along the Old Post with regard to the Memorial Day Parade, so that there’s no placement more than 24 hours in advance,” she said. “The policy is respectful of the property owners here. We love the parade, but chairs and materials set out five days before is ridiculous.”

Joyce said the area has obvious significance, given that there are 32 events conducted on the Town Green throughout the year. “We welcome the culture, but fight the commercialism,” she said.

Jim was also pleased that the town has agreed to install “heavy-duty” signs that say Old Post Road Historic Area, at perimeter points in the neighborhood. The funding for the signs was raised through sales of pewter Christmas ornaments that depict area historic homes.

Lt. Perez said associations like OPRAA are a tremendous help to law enforcement. “They are an integral part of a consistently safe community,” he said. “The level of service the department can provide is directly related to the interest and involvement of the community.”

He agreed with Jim Miller that traffic is the biggest problem in the neighborhood and said the department is aiming to reduce volume. “Unfortunately, the Old Post Road is often used as an alternate to the Post Road. Working together with the community, I hope we can come up with a solution agreeable to everyone,” he said.

Meanwhile, Debby DeRose will continue to be a neighborhood cheerleader. “I’ve been living here since 1969,” she said. “This is a wonderful area and we’ve supported the association for years. We really work to form a sense of community, especially through activities like a summer picnic and pumpkin carving. These help define us as a neighborhood.”

An Old Post resident since 1990, David Henry echoed the cheer, saying, “I’m really fortunate to be living in a neighborhood where I can walk or bike down such a pretty and historic street to a neighborhood meeting where I know I’m going to see friends.”

Rockefellers’ Philanthropy Showcased in Author Talk

Rockefellers’ Philanthropy Showcased in Author Talk
By Mike Lauterborn
(for Westport News)

Fairfield, CT – Riverside Church in Manhattan. The Albany State Mall. The Museum of Modern Art. What do these landmarks all have in common? Their development was funded in part or in total by Rockefeller family money.

And these were but a few of the many projects the Rockefellers supported as author Suzanne Loebl explained Sunday afternoon May 1 to a full house in the McManus Room at the Westport Public Library, 20 Jesup Road. Her remarks were part of a presentation related to her book “America’s Medicis; The Rockefellers and their Astounding Cultural Legacy,” released last November by Harper Collins.

Loebl, a Brooklyn, NY resident, spoke about how she was inspired to pursue the topic. “I wrote another book previously called “American Art Museum” and became interested in art collectors,” she said. “The Rockefellers figured very prominently as collectors. I looked into their story. No book summarized their donations. My book covers that, as well as their big building projects.”

Besides the aforementioned sites, these projects also include Rockefeller Center, Lincoln Center, The Cloisters, the Asia Society, the Palisades, Acadia National Park in Maine and Colonial Williamsburg in Virginia.

“The Rockefellers are one of the wealthiest and most influential families our country has ever known,” said Loebl. “People either love them or hate them. John D. Sr. made all the money establishing his Standard Oil fortune; John D. Jr. decided he didn’t need to make more and focused on distributing the money. He put a new face on American philanthropy.” 

“Riverside Church was John D. Jr.’s first venture and was modeled on Chartres Cathedral in France,” Loebl said. “Soon after, in 1928, the Metropolitan Opera decided it needed a new opera house and approached him. He signed a lease for land in mid-Manhattan owned by Columbia University. Unfortunately, the stock market forced the Met to pull out. Stuck with the lease, Junior decided to build Rockefeller Center. It took 10 years to construct and the architectural community complained about how ugly and big the structure was. When it was finished, they changed their minds. Today it’s one of the city’s biggest tourist attractions.”

Rock Center was built during the Great Depression and John D. Jr. commissioned 96 artworks to ornament it, which provided many jobs. “An art critic commented, ‘He’s wonderful, like Lorenzo di Medici,’” Loebl said. “Now, the art there is certainly competent but not like Michelangelo. That’s what inspired my book title.”

John D. Jr. took over the Cloisters space on New York’s upper West Side as a next venture, erecting in 1938 a museum dedicated to medieval history, in Tyne Park. It housed the Unicorn Tapestries, which date back to the period 1495-1505.

“John D. was prone to embrace the dreams of other men,” said Loebl. “An example was Colonial Williamsburg, which was the vision of a pastor there.”

John D’s wife, Abby Aldrich Rockefeller, shared her husband’s love of art history, collecting Japanese prints and folk art. However, she was chiefly interested in artists of modern times and hired Alfred Burr, Jr. to put together the Museum of Modern Art, which began in an office building.

“Abby transmitted her love of art to her sons Nelson and David,” Loebl said. “Nelson founded the Museum of Primitive Art in Manhattan and the Empire State Plaza in Albany. It’s rumored the egg-shaped structure there was inspired by a grapefruit he was enjoying at lunch one day.”

John D. Rockefeller III carried on the tradition, becoming chairman of Lincoln Center. He was influential in preserving American art, collecting 125 significant pieces.

Audience members were intrigued by both the author and the subject matter. “I’m a history buff and lifelong learner,” said Ron Malone, Westport’s former police chief. “My interest is in well-known authors from the region. With regard to Rockefeller history, I know some but wanted to learn more.”

Westporter Charles Lamb had a more immediate connection. “The Rockefellers had a mansion on Euclid Avenue in Cleveland where my wife and I once lived,” he said. “That’s where Standard Oil started.”

Lamb’s wife Alberta added, “The houses on Euclid were huge Victorians. By the time I went to art school there in 1949, the houses were falling down and became the residences of artists. It’s some of that background that brought us here today.”

Nine Centenarians Celebrated at Jewish Home for the Elderly

Nine Centenarians Celebrated at Jewish Home for the Elderly
By Mike Lauterborn
(for Fairfield Citizen News)

Fairfield, CT – It’s a rare occasion when a person reaches their 100th birthday. Imagine the odds of nine people living in the same home marking that milestone.

But that was the very case Sunday, May 1 when nine residents of the Jewish Home for the Elderly, at 175 Jefferson Street, were celebrated as centenarians. The birthday girls and boys included Freda Hertz, 100; Nellie Kaminski, 99 (100 in Nov.); Betty Keller, 100; Sadie Peloso, 100; Molla Rosen, 102; Edith Wyman, 102; Dorothy Wilson, 100; Jean Serlin, 102; and Louis Weintraub, 99 (100 in Nov.). The celebration took place in the Home’s Tandet Recreation Center and was attended by several dozen family members and friends, who enjoyed lunch and cupcakes.

Andrew Banoff, the Home’s President and CEO, opened the event with a few remarks. “The Jewish Home has been celebrating its centenarians for the past seven years,” he said. “We thought it would be a neat way to recognize that so many people that live here have reached this incredible milestone. Today is a very special day for all of us, and started with my friend Dave Erenberg. I asked him the secret to long life and he said, ‘Put your hands on your face and rub your cheeks.’ I wondered what we were doing. He said, ‘You’re exercising your smile.’”

Erenberg’s grandson, Brian Winter, followed Banoff, saying, “It’s amazing that he lived to 104. Thanks to the Jewish Home for honoring him with this annual luncheon.”

Seated around tables with colorful balloons and messaging as centerpieces, family groups visited with honorees and spoke of special memories from their long lives.

“My mother-in-law lived in Manchester, England,” said Terry Entwistle, Edith Wyman’s daughter-in-law. “Her family owned cotton mills and were more well off than most. They had the first car in town. Edith claims she had no problem getting dates.”

Cynthia Kadish, a friend of Molla Rosen’s, said, “Molla was in the Miss Connecticut contest in 1926 at age 19, trying for a spot in the Miss America pageant. For her 100th birthday two years ago, several former Miss Connecticuts came to celebrate with her.”

Ruth Peloso, Sadie Peloso’s sister-in-law, said, “Sadie remembers when there were gas streetlights and the lamplighters lighting them. Summertimes she used to go with girlfriends to Peach Lake in upstate New York to ride in canoes. It was simple old-fashioned fun.”

Bill Serlin, Jean Serlin’s son, said, “Mom remembers moving from New York to Bridgeport and seeing the trolley tracks being removed on Main Street. That was about 75 years ago. She remembers the Great Depression, too, and the banks closing their doors and people waiting in lines outside trying to get their money.”

Carolyn Greene, one of Louis Weintraub’s daughters, said her dad grew up in New York but lived in Bridgeport as a teen. “He remembers horses were still much in use and they refreshed themselves at a main public water trough on the Fairfield Avenue extension.”

Greene added, “Reaching 100 has been his goal. He’s been talking about this since he was 80.”

Freda Hertz’s daughter, Phyllis Weisberg, said her mom grew up in Montreal and learned French as a child. “She came to New York in the late 30s and didn’t use her French for much of her life until, that is, she came to the Home,” she said. “She found a couple of French-speaking Haitian nurses and a fellow resident that spoke French, and she started using her French again. It’s about all she remembers these days.”

Betty Keller’s daughter, Janet Jurow, said her mom came to the U.S. from Poland in 1915 with her mother and two other kids, including Jurow’s Uncle Joey. “She remembers being very sick on the boat and seeing the Statue of Liberty,” she said. “Her father was already in the U.S. and had a party for her. There was bread on the table, which my Uncle Joey stuffed into her clothes. He got his first spanking for that by my grandfather, who said, ‘In America, you don’t have to steal bread. There’s always bread here.’”

Remarkably, Keller still works, at the Sheltered Workshop at the Home. “She stuffs envelopes and folds letters,” Jurow said. “She’ll work a few hours a day and gets a paycheck. She has an amazing work ethic, which is uncommon these days.”