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Saturday, May 28, 2011

“Back to our Roots” Exhibit Hits the Ground Running

“Back to our Roots” Exhibit 
Hits the Ground Running:
Historical Society looks at Westport’s agrarian history
By Mike Lauterborn
(for Westport News)

Westport, CT – It was a story of indigenous peoples, hardy settlers, toughened farmers and bohemian artists, all of whom have called the area home and contributed to its colorful agrarian history.

Early evening Friday, a new exhibit titled “Back to our Roots” opened at Westport Historical Society, 25 Avery Place. Its timeline begins in the “pre-contact” era when local land was forested and shared with wildlife, continues through Puritan and Colonial times, carries up through the Civil War, when Westport was the largest supplier of onions to General Grant’s army, and wraps with a look at modern-day Wakeman Town Farm. Additional exhibit features include a collection of photographs of area stone walls by Larry Untermeyer, vintage tools housed in the adjoining 1846 Bradley-Wheeler Cobblestone Barn, historic barn photos shot by Larry Silver and watercolor depictions of local landscapes by Hardie Gramatky. The opening was attended by several dozen people, who enjoyed wine and hors d’oeuvres as they browsed.

Society Board President Dorothy Curran spoke about the origins of the exhibit. “It started as a conversation between Molly Donovan, who recently passed, and Wakeman Town Farm,” she said. “We quickly realized that the story about going back to our roots was bigger than Wakeman Town Farm alone and wanted to put it in a larger context.”

Curran provided a synopsis of each significant timeline era. “In early times, pre-European contact, indigenous peoples grew corn, beans, peas and Jerusalem artichokes,” she said. “They lived by the shore in the summer and inland in winter to be close to game. When Roger Ludlowe arrived during the Pequot War and found salt meadows, he established a foothold for farming, which was initially just to keep villagers alive. As they began to clear area land, lumber and fish became main exports.”

In 1670, the Puritans divided a significant portion of the Fairfield/Westport area into “Long Lots”, as a legal protection of land ownership against the crown, and more actively farmed. “Onion farmers would take carts to the shore, load up with seaweed and spread it on their fields as fertilizer,” said Curran. “Try to find an abundance of seaweed now,” she challenged.

 In 1806, the first market boat from Saugatuck made its way to New York City. “These boats ran daily, taking farm produce to the city and bringing back goods to the farmers,” said Curran.

However, because Westport was so favorably situated for sail-based commerce in general, by the 1840s, only 40% of Westporters were still farming. Maritime commerce then shifted to railroad commerce, which made it feasible to supply Grant’s army.

“By the late 19th century, as farms in the Midwest expanded, local farms declined and were abandoned,” said Curran. “At the same time, a new trend was happening that was unique to Westport and Weston. Artists, many from the Midwest who had moved to New York, took the train to Westport and discovered its great beaches, but also area barns that they converted to studios. As such, there are nearly 250 local barns that have been preserved. A large number of these, about 100, are concentrated in the greater Compo area due to the convenient location at the time of local trolley service and proximity to the train.”

Exhibit visitor Robbie Barnes found the exhibit very complete and informative. “I grew up in the area and it’s fascinating to learn about its roots,” she said.

Mike Aitkenhead, Program Director of Wakeman Town Farm, took interest in the stone wall photos. “When you think about the amount of work involved in creating the walls, it’s pretty impressive,” he said. “When all of these houses fall down, the walls will be the remaining relics.”

Liz Beeby, a Westport resident for the past 45 years, connected with much of the more recent lore. “I recognize many of the names here – the Wakemans, and Fillows for example,” she said. “I remember when there was a Fillow flower shop in town. I feel a huge historical connection to Westport.”

The “Back to our Roots” exhibit runs through September 2. For more information, visit

Seniors Host Senior Citizens at School Breakfast

Seniors Host Senior Citizens 
at School Breakfast:
FLHS Class of 2011 pay tribute 
to town’s elders
By Mike Lauterborn
(for Fairfield Citizen News)

Fairfield, CT – It was a delightful morning for all in attendance as seniors young and old met and mingled over a sit-down breakfast.

Held Friday morning in Fairfield Ludlowe High School’s cafeteria, the 5th annual “Seniors Serving Seniors” breakfast was an opportunity for 20 graduating senior classmen to honor 120 local senior citizens. The event included a menu of pancakes, eggs and waffles, live musical entertainment provided by the FLHS Jazz Ensemble, student singers and a raffle for school hats and t-shirts. A sea theme prevailed with centerpieces of sand and shells, and shell necklaces were given to each attendee.

“This is really an opportunity to give back and helps create good relations with people in town,” said Bridget McHugh, Senior Class Advisor and the lead event organizer. “Kids get a lot of bad press, so this is a chance for the older population to see some of the good work that we do here.”

Director of Pupil Services Frank Tatto, a co-coordinator, said the morning’s turnout was the best response to date. “Our older citizens love seeing the kids, love the music and are full of stories about their own high school experience,” he said. “This is a valuable part of our community, the history of Fairfield. It’s a way to thank them.”

Helping greet seniors as they arrived onsite and were shuttled by a golf cart from their cars to the cafeteria, Counselor Tony Samuelian said the event is one of his favorites. “It’s a real big day,” he said. “There’s not a person here who doesn’t get a kick out of this. I get a kick seeing them so happy. Something as simple as breakfast makes all the difference in the world.”

Attendee Barbara Figlar, grandmother of FLHS senior Chris Amicucci, a guitarist playing with the ensemble, appreciated the gesture. “This is an extraordinary gift to us seniors,” she said. “We’re fortunate to have the school system we do here in Fairfield.”

Senior citizen Nancy Roche agreed with Figlar, saying, “This is absolutely wonderful. Fairfield offers a lot to us seniors. We really appreciate it. I walked from my house downtown and brought a lot of my friends.”

Attendee Marcelle Conrad was reminded of her school days. “I’m a Roger Ludlowe grad and I feel like I’m eating together with my old classmates,” she said, adding, “I admire this generation. They’re very giving.”

As for the younger senior counterparts, Senior Class President Zach Tobin said, “It feels good to give back to folks that have done so much for the town, and country. They’re very interesting to talk to and have some great feedback.”

As seniors finished their meals, Tatto welcomed the gathering, joking, “It’s great to look out at this cafeteria and see so many young people. I thought I was at the teen center.”

Following the meal, the ensemble and singers performed several numbers, which inspired a handful of students to draw seniors to their feet to dance. The raffle capped the morning, awarding FLHS swag to attendees based on information they had supplied. For example, Laura Coleman, at age 96, was tapped as Most Senior Female. Peggy Seach had the most grandkids, with 14. Julie Schempp had the distinction of being married longest, at 70 years.

Equally notable, Bert Andren was recognized for being one of four generations to have attended Ludlowe. “In our family, my mother was the first graduate of Ludlowe, then me in ’55 and my son in ’82,” he said. “Now my grandson, Reid, who’s captain of the tennis team, is graduating,” he said. “I have nine grandchildren in the Fairfield school system, so there’s more on the way to carry on a great tradition.”

Staples’ Top Performers Honored at Dinner

Staples’ Top Performers Honored at Dinner:
Sixteen students noted as 
“cream of the crop”
By Mike Lauterborn
(for Westport News)

Westport, CT – The future looks pretty bright judging by the distinguished group of students that was gathered in a foyer area outside Staples High School’s auditorium.

The sixteen seniors have held the highest academic positions for their four years at the school and were being recognized at an annual High Honors Dinner Wednesday evening.

“This is our future, the cream of the crop,” said Dee Hychiko, a sophomore level assistant. “They have achieved the highest grade averages in school.”

Jim Farnen, grade level administrator for the senior class and assistant principal, explained that the top high achievers represent a percentage of the total senior class. “It varies each year based on total class size,” he said. “This honor goes back decades. It’s a celebration and night for the high performers to come together and be acknowledged in front of teachers, parents and administrators. Each honoree chooses a special person from the school to speak about and introduce them.”

Staples Principal John Dodig said the event is the highlight of the year. “We have a high school with an inordinate number of high achieving kids,” he said. “Even in that reality, these kids have worked just a little harder and really achieved over the last four years. All are going to prestigious schools, where they will be surrounded by people just like them. But they always come back and tell us year after year that they feel more prepared because of their Staples experience.”

The honorees themselves echoed that sentiment. “I think one of the biggest things I take away from Staples is an improvement in my critical thinking,” said Adele Shenoy. “I’m looking into medicine so that will be key. I feel like the past four years went by really quickly and couldn’t have done it without my parents’ support and teachers’ guidance.”

Fellow honoree Nicole Seo’s takeaway was how to put things in perspective and take a step back. “Staples has prepared us so well,” she said. “I can’t believe it’s ending. I’m so excited for the future and am hoping to study comparative media at M.I.T.”

Chenchen Feng, who wants to be a doctor and is headed to Duke University, said, “Staples helped me determine my strengths and weaknesses.”

Beaming at their progeny, assembled parents like Joan Berlin gushed with pride. “This is a big deal,” she said. “It’s amazing to us how much our son Michael has achieved. We had heard good things about Westport schools and moved up from Manhattan when he was in 4th grade. Michael can hold his own and will have no problem transitioning to college.”

As proud as the parents were administrators, like calculus teacher Robin Sacilotto. “This group is extremely bright but also very fun,” she said. “It’s hard to have that combo. You want to hang out with them. They’re amazing kids. It’s a great moment but I’m sad to see them go.”

Summing up the mood best, Farnen, who assumed a podium to address the gathering, said, “We will leave Staples this evening with a strong sense that our collective futures and the futures of our children and grandchildren will no doubt be brighter this century due to the leadership, work ethic and brilliance of these very impressive young men and women sitting next to us.”

2011 High Honors Students include: Michael Berlin, Chenchen Feng, Jordan Glick, Tessa Green, Joshua Greenberg, Ellen Kaminski, Justin Kleiner, Eric Lubin (Valedictorian), Todd Lubin (Salutatorian), Cole Manley, Peter Menz, Rachel Myers, Nicole Seo, Adele Shenoy, Caroline Wu and Timothy Yang.

Buglers Step Up to Play Taps Live at Military Honors Funeral Services

Buglers Step Up to Play Taps Live at Military Honors Funeral Services:
Bugles Across America group pays its respects
By Mike Lauterborn
(for Fairfield Citizen News)

Fairfield, CT – There are 400,000 or so funerals each year in the United States for military veterans and active duty military men and women. They are entitled to a live bugler to play the Sounding of the Taps but there are simply not enough buglers in the military to cover these services. Filling the void is Bugles Across America (BAA), with almost 7,000 horn-playing members nationwide who have stepped up on a volunteer basis to cover the shortage. A dozen Connecticut-based members met up in the University Commons room at Sacred Heart University early Sunday afternoon to get to know one another and discuss logistics.

A meeting coordinator, Fairfield resident Steve Smith, a bugler whose day job is retail packaging sales, provided some background about the group. “BAA was formed in 2000 by Tom Day, a Marine and horn player all his life,” he said. “The directive passed by Congress entitling military deceased to a bugler also said if none is available, the service providing the funeral honors may play a high quality recording of Taps on a stereo player or electronic insert for a bugle. Tom thought the idea of a recording was undignified and committed himself to ensuring a live performance whenever possible.”

Smith said that the organization receives requests through its website from each state’s National Guard, funeral homes and individuals and families of the deceased.

As to his own involvement, Smith said, “I started playing trumpet in 5th grade and continued through high school in marching bands and a youth symphony in Atlanta, where I was raised. My father saw an article about BAA and passed it off. It peaked my interest and I joined this past January. I’ve played five services so far. I feel like I’m giving back and it’s an honor to play for the family. From the get-go I thought this was for me as long as I could do it. I love playing anyway, but more than anything, I like that I’ve found something I’m really committed to. Live Taps is an important part of a military service.”

Smith said there had been a high volume of service requests in Connecticut due to Army National Guard budget cuts, and the Guard was more than happy to have the BAA’s help.

The state director of the BAA, Jon Worley, from Glastonbury, gave background about his own involvement. “I assumed my role back in January and my responsibility is to coordinate the organization’s state activities and fill requests,” he said. “I was really a lifelong guitar player until three years ago when I picked up a bugle. I’m also a member of the Patriot Guard Riders, which is an organization of volunteers who attend (upon invitation) military funerals as a show of respect and to interfere with the activities of any protestors that may also attend the funeral. That was my introduction to the use of a digital bugle and the shortage of real buglers.”

Worley said it took him a year to learn to play Taps adequately. “To date I’ve covered about 150 services – 40 this year alone for BAA,” he said. “The 150 include services for other military and police organizations. It’s very personally rewarding and definitely the right thing to do. For a full military service, one bugler plays Taps. For other types of services – police or fire, for instance – two or more buglers will play Echo Taps, which uses a cascade effect.”

Believed to be the youngest member of the BAA, Will Evans, 14, from East Haddam, CT, spoke about his start. “My uncle, Pierre Guertin, who’s a musician and bugler, told me about BAA,” he said. “I was already playing trumpet at Nathan Hale-Ray Middle School and had gotten pretty good. I was in the Eastern Regional Band, too, entry to which is by audition only. It seemed like a good idea and, as I got into it, I realized how important it was. I saw the family members crying. It was very touching.”

Evans said his age sometimes throws people. “Initially, the families are a little unsure, but then they realize that I’m capable and they are very moved,” he said.

For more information about Bugles Across America, visit