Lauterborn Blog Search

Friday, December 2, 2011

Christmas Tree Fest Kicks Off with Gala Preview

Christmas Tree Fest Kicks Off 
with Gala Preview
By Mike Lauterborn
(for Fairfield Citizen News)

Fairfield, CT – The elves were hard at work all year, and made one final push this week, to fill from floor to ceiling The Burr Homestead with holiday décor in celebration of the 30th year of the Fairfield Christmas Tree Festival.

The elves in this case are all the designers involved in crafting the elaborate ornaments, wreaths, tabletop items, garlands and more exhibited throughout the historic space at 739 Old Post Road, and over 200 volunteers who have given their time to tastefully decorate each of the themed rooms and coordinate the event.

On Thursday evening, several hundred select few had the opportunity to preview the fruits of their labor, enjoying a Gala Party complete with wine, hors d’ouevres and a silent auction. The soiree was the kickoff to the four-day festival, which is one of the leading holiday occasions in Fairfield.

Each year, the fest benefits a different local charity and, this year, all proceeds go to St. Vincent’s Special Needs Services in Trumbull, to help build a therapeutic pool serving children and adults with complex medical needs.

Sheeaun Academy of Irish Dance Stepping Forward

Sheeaun Academy of Irish Dance 
Stepping Forward
By Mike Lauterborn
(for Bridgeport News and 
Fairfield Sun)

Fairfield, CT – A scrappy kid from Bridgeport’s east side with a love of and early encouragement in Irish dance now operates one of the largest academies of Irish dance in the region. The group has been taking top spots in leading competitions and is a fixture at Fairfield’s annual Irish Festival.

Moira Speer, the 30-year-old owner of Sheeaun Academy of Irish Dance, which maintains a studio space at the Sportsplex@Fairfield, 85 Mill Plain Road, spoke with this correspondent at a recent practice session.

An early love of Irish dance

Speer, a pleasant thin-framed lass with long locks of blonde hair, was born in Virginia but moved to Bridgeport when she was three. She lived on Goddard Avenue on the Park City’s east side, a part of town she described as a “great area” as a kid growing up there in the early 1980s. “My brother and I had a lot of friends on the street and at the Multi-Cultural Magnet School where we had classes,” she said.

She was four years old when she was bitten by the Irish dance bug, taking instruction from Patty Lenihan of the Lenihan School of Irish Dance, conducted at the Gaelic-American Club of Fairfield. The school was then on the Post Road and is now located on Beach Road. Speer’s grandfather was president at the time. “My parents were just becoming members, learned about the lessons and asked me if I wanted to try,” she said.

Besides dancing at the Lenihan School, Speer and her younger brother Eamon, now 28, began dancing and performing at the Magnet School, every St. Patrick’s Day.

“I loved dancing from Day One, and only wanted to Irish dance, despite trying other activities like soccer, ballet and T-ball,” Speer said.

She began competing at local Feiseanna’s, which in ancient Ireland, were local festivals wherein storytellers, bards and balladeers would lead audiences in legends, stories, dance and song. These gatherings later gave rise to athletic and sporting competitions, including horse- and chariot-racing, as well as feats of strength and endurance.

Speer was a quick study and early talent. “I did really well and, from the beginner level, moved quickly through the ranks from Novice and Prizewinner to Preliminary Championship and Open Championship, the latter being the highest level, which I achieved at age 14. At that time, that was a pretty fast track,” she said.

“Riverdance”, the theatrical show consisting of traditional Irish stepdancing that, in essence, tells the story of Irish culture and Irish immigration to America, was debuting in Europe then, and was a huge influence not only on Speer but on young people everywhere that had even a passing interest in dancing.

“It lit the world on fire,” she said of the show, “driving immense interest in Irish dance. For me, it was really exciting and fueled my drive even more.”

Speer attended the first show, in fact, when it came to the U.S. and debuted at New York’s Radio City Music Hall in mid-March 1996. An eight-week run had been scheduled, which completely sold out. Related merchandise sales for the phenomenon smashed Music Hall records to date.

“There were all sorts of celebrities in the audience and the show was really powerful – the dancing, the music, the rhythm… .so inspiring,” she said.

The show drove Speer to compete “first regionally, then nationally,” said Speer of the period that followed. “My biggest accomplishment was in 2002, when I placed 35th at the World Championship in Scotland,” she said. “Over 150 top dancers from all over the world competed. I was one of the top 10 Americans.”

In 2005, no longer an upstart teen, Speer placed first in New England in the Senior Ladies 21+ category.

Speer steps into a new role

As she competed, Speer was also developing leadership skills. “From age 15 on, I was helping Patty at the school with instruction,” she said. “Eventually, I got to a point where I wanted to branch out on my own, and so established Sheeaun Academy, in 2008.”

She began giving lessons in her house and doing after-school programs. “Little by little, the student base grew and now there are over 100 students from Fairfield, Trumbull, Madison and Stonington in the group,” she said.

One of the biggest challenges to date for the rising academy was the recent New England Oireachtas, a regional Irish dance competition held November 18-20 at the Rhode Island Convention Center in Providence. The event, which has been conducted for the past 36 years, is hosted by the Irish Dancing Teachers Association of New England (IDTANA). The association operates under the auspices of AnCoimisiun le Rinci Gaelacha (the Irish Dancing Commission) of Dublin, Ireland.

Twenty-four students from the Academy, ages five through 16, participated in the competition. It was their second consecutive appearance – in 2010, nine of 11 Academy participants placed, with one getting first place in her age group. “It was a wonderful debut,” said Speer.

This year, the results were even more impressive: three were in the top 5, six in the top 10, and 12 in the top 20. Contests were divided by age, level, individual and group, with between 40 and 60 competitors in each category.

“For me and my teaching partner, Frank Rupp, who has also danced since he was a youth, it’s amazing to send your own students to competition and continue the Irish dance tradition,” said Speer.

Inspired, enthusiastic students

Eleven-year-old Fairfielder Finula Milici, a Sheeaun Academy member, shows the same spirit and drive as Speer at the same age. Nursing an ankle injury and looking on from the sidelines as her younger sister Bella and other classmates went through their paces at their Sportsplex training space recently, Milici described some of the technical aspects of Irish dance.

“During dance competitions and performances, we wear curly wigs,” she said. “The tradition started when girls went to church and would curl their hair. Church is on Sunday for most people and so are competitions. If you showed up for competition without your hair curled, people would assume you didn’t go to church.”

In Irish dance, arms are typically held rigidly to the sides and behind the back. Milici explained why: “Back in the old days in Ireland and England, classes were very popular and crowded and there wasn’t much room to move around.”

Milici, like Speer, began Irish dancing when she was four, at Greenway Academy in Bridgewater, Massachusetts. She was inspired by a television program. “I used to watch ‘The Wiggles’ and, on a St. Patrick’s Day special, there was a dinosaur Irish dancing,” she recalled. “I thought it was the coolest thing in the world. My mom signed me and my sister up. It was different from all the dancing I’d ever seen and the costumes were cool. When you’re young, it’s not so competitive. As you get older, it gets harder. Kids are grouped by talent, so a thirteen-year-old and a seven-year-old could be in the same class.”

Milici is a sixth grader at Roger Ludlowe Middle School. On a local level, Academy classmates are also from Saugatuck Elementary, St. Thomas Aquinas and Roger Sherman Elementary.


Irish Dance steeped in history

Irish Dance has gained great popularity in the United States and around the world. It may have begun among the Druids, who danced in religious rituals honoring the oak tree and sun. When the Celts arrived in Ireland from central Europe over 2,000 years ago, they brought their own folk dances. The Anglo-Norman conquest in the twelfth century brought Norman customs to Ireland. The Carol was a popular dance in which the leader sang and was surrounded by a circle of dancers who replied with the same song.

Three Irish dances were noted in the sixteenth century: the Irish Hey, the Rinnce Fada (long dance) and the Trenchmore. They were often performed in the great halls of newly built castles, to greet royalty arriving from foreign lands and at wakes.

In the late 1700s, it was common for pairs of dancers to hold a handkerchief between them. Dancing was accompanied by music played on bagpipes and the harp.

During the 18th century, the dancing master appeared in Ireland. He was a wandering dancing teacher who traveled from village to village, teaching dance to peasants. Group dances, with very high standards, were developed by the masters, with gifted pupils given solo performance opportunities.

Different styles of Irish dance developed across Ireland, which today are illustrated by jigs, reels, hornpipes, sets, half sets, polkas and step dances. The colorful costumes commemorate the clothing of the past, with each school of dancing exhibiting its own costume. Dresses are based on Irish peasant dresses worn two hundred years ago and are adorned with hand-embroidered Celtic designs, copies of the Tara brooch and capes down the back. Men’s clothes are less embellished, consisting of a plain kilt and jacket, with a folded cloak draped from the shoulder.

Arts Community Spurs Bridgeport’s Economic Rise

Arts Community Spurs 
Bridgeport’s Economic Rise
By Mike Lauterborn
(for Bridgeport News)

Bridgeport, CT – The promises of revitalization in the Park City have been many, to the extent that local residents, like the townspeople in the fairy tale “The Boy That Cried Wolf”, have tuned out reports of new project proposals. But one faction that talked the talk is now walking the walk and has not only taken root in Bridgeport but is drawing outsiders in droves and changing perceptions about the once-vibrant center of manufacturing and culture.

In mid-November, artists, craftsmen and musicians collaborated to present Bridgeport Art Trail, a four-day event with activities and exhibits at 26 distinct sites. Many of these locations are factory spaces that had been abandoned, but have since been reclaimed and repurposed as galleries and artist collectives. They are fast gaining attention and making it o.k. again to visit Bridgeport – long perceived by outsiders as a demilitarized zone where the unknown lurks. And while changing perceptions, these artist occupiers and their landlords are also contributing to property tax coffers and helping pull in a new stream of sustained revenue. The American Fabrics Building, built in 1912 at 1069 Connecticut Avenue, is one of these reclaimed, renovated spaces, now occupied by 30 artisans throughout its four levels. It’s a model success story, as told by the artists and visionaries that call it home.

AmFab: A locomotive of change

“I had a long conversation with a woman from Pennsylvania who left home at 2 a.m. to be here a half hour early for Denyse’s quilt sale, to get a specific quilt,” said Brec Morgan, painter, visionary and one of the first artists to occupy the AmFab building. “Denyse” is internationally acclaimed quilter and author Denyse Schmidt, who also occupies the building and was a strong draw for other artist move-ins.

“That’s a seven-hour drive,” Morgan continued. “It’s a testament not only to Denyse’s level of quality but also her commitment to the city of Bridgeport. She chose to be here.”

Morgan related the background of the AmFab site. “The previous owner had over $1 million due in back taxes and the city took over the building in 2007,” he said. “Half a dozen artists were here at that time. We went to the Economic Development agency and made a big point of wanting them to find a developer that would honor our commitment, not kick us out and appropriately renovate the building. It was falling apart and out of code, and lacked certain facilities. The city expressed our desires and told the developer, West Rock Property Management (of Yonkers, New York), they had to negotiate with us.”

West Rock came in and there was an initial meeting. However, the developer made it clear they would do what they could but thought it best to bring the building down and make it parking for one-level light industrial warehousing on the same property, according to Morgan.

“I told them if they brought the building up to code and invested in it, the other artists and I would solicit fellow artists to fill the upper three floors,” he said. “West Rock’s principal, Jason Freidland, agreed that, if filled, it would be economically viable. He gave us a year and started work. We put out the word and got him leases on all three floors within six months – 30 artists from six, with a waiting list.”

Morgan recalled, “Freidland came to my studio with his family that first year and told his wife that I was the guy that convinced him to save the building and that it was one of his best decisions. I responded, ‘He was brave for taking the risk to put his money into it.’ His response was, ‘Anybody can put up money, but not everybody has good ideas.’”

A broad representation of craftsmen

AmFab now houses painters, illustrators, photographers, sculptors, jewelry makers, quilters, ceramics makers, printers and more. Forty-six-year-old Neil Pabian, a woodturner that makes and sells handmade custom pens, laser engravings and laser photos, is one of the resident artisans.

Though Pabian lives in adjacent Fairfield, he said, “I grew up in the north end of Bridgeport. I’ve been doing woodturning on and off since I was 14. I was working in half of a one-bay garage at my house – about 120 square feet. I became unsociable and needed to get out and have more space. I started looking around and found rents for storefronts in Fairfield were ungodly. Someone suggested I look at artists’ lofts. I found AmFab through Craig’s List. I looked at a couple spaces then contracted for my current 600-square-foot workshop in May 2010.”

Pabian said the space, with its 16-foot-high ceilings, heating and big windows, is great and that he both makes his products there and uses it as a retail showroom.

The woodworker harbors one peeve though. “If Bridgeport is trying to promote itself as an arts town, it needs to give artists a tax break,” he said. “They give GE a tax break. They have to work with the artists, and have for the most part.”

Pabian said their building does an annual open studios event, which is part of Art Trail and is a good way to attract outsiders who have traditionally avoided Bridgeport. “I feel safe in this neighborhood, and every year things are getting better.”

Outsiders drawn to Bridgeport’s creative engine

Shopper Audrie Bidwell came down from Ellington, CT, with her friend Shannon Pankratz, from Vernon, to experience Art Trail and see the many artists and participating sites. “I would come to buy from Denyse Schmidt then discovered the show,” she said. “I brought my husband last year and walked all around. This year, knowing what to expect, I brought Shannon. Quilting is an art helping to spearhead an economic resurgence in Bridgeport. And I like that Denyse chose the city to live and work here. You wouldn’t think of Bridgeport for art or quilts. Typically, you tell someone you’re going to Bridgeport and they say, ‘Be careful’, and you get raised eyebrows.”

Pankratz compared the city to Bethlehem, PA, where she went to school. “It’s a similar atmosphere – a city where there used to be something great,” she said. “Then the industry dried up. In Bethlehem, it was steel. Now they’re trying to refurbish and rebuild. My husband and I just love stuff like this. If we can buy something for our home that’s local and handmade, that’s great and helps the local economy.”

Rona Ramos, from New Haven, was another who ventured to the Park City. Ramos had been to AmFab’s open studios event two years ago and was excited to return. “I’m comfortable in Bridgeport,” she said. “Artist spaces like this are great. And if you’re an artist, it’s probably inspiring to see other artists’ work in other mediums.” She continued, “It’s a good thing to revitalize spaces and arts and crafts is a good way to attract people. Handmade local items have become very popular and sought after as people return to simpler ways of life, spurred by a bad economy. You also appreciate a handmade item more and the work that goes into it.”


Internationally renowned quilter Denyse Schmidt proud to call Bridgeport home

“I used to be in the old Remington Arms building, across town, and was a little more active then in talking to people in Economic Development,” said quilter Denyse Schmidt. “But I got frustrated and had my hands full. Now, for me to be here (the American Fabrics Building, where she maintains a thriving showroom and office), with my international profile, is important for the movement that’s happening. It’s enough to be here and talk about it. Our production labels even say, ‘Factory built in Bridgeport U.S.A.’ and I have photos of the building on my website.”

Schmidt says she believes in Bridgeport, and conducts workshops from her space that get attendees from all over the world. She also drives visits to other attractions in the city.

“When I first came to Connecticut, I lived in East Norwalk,” she said. “I didn’t know about Bridgeport. When I discovered it, it seemed familiar from the industrial area of Worcester, Massachusetts, where I was from. There are tons of possibilities here, and factories to be repurposed.”

Perceptions may be one of the toughest challenges. “My friends from Fairfield County have been hesitant to visit Bridgeport,” she said. “Reputations can be pervasive – they take time to change. But since moving here, things have come a long way. More and more people are filling the buildings – Knowlton Street, The Nest, downtown. The momentum is building. And there’s so much to offer – location, the history of the buildings. As the regeneration continues, it’s important that it happens from the inside out – not big box stores – that takes advantage of what makes Bridgeport special, not a cookie-cutter of Baltimore. Things are on the right track.”

WHS Daffodils a Lasting Tribute to a Dedicated Volunteer

WHS Daffodils a Lasting Tribute 
to a Dedicated Volunteer
By Mike Lauterborn
(for Westport News)

Westport, CT – As they dug shallow trenches along fences, troughs around tree trunks and pits along pathways, and gently placed daffodil bulbs into them, they fondly recalled their dear departed friend.

In early May, 86-year-old Mollie Donovan, a long-time volunteer at Westport Historical Society who developed, mounted, documented and promoted over 50 exhibits over several decades, lost her courageous battle with spinal cancer. As a lasting remembrance, Joni Andrews, WHS past president and Hidden Garden Tour leader, ordered 1,000 Narcissus Long Trumpet daffodil bulbs and organized a team of Donovan’s friends and family to plant them around the Historical Society’s 25 Avery Place property on Saturday.

Among those on hand were Donovan’s sisters, Eve Potts of Essex and Marion Morra of Milford. “Mollie lived on Daybreak Lane here in Westport for 35 years,” said Potts. “She was probably the most dedicated volunteer WHS has ever had. She knew all the artists and writers, and was a happy, funny lady. She could always find something to laugh about. Even when she was ill, she still managed to come down here. Her memorial service was held on these grounds, with her 12 grandchildren, four children, all her nieces and nephews and hundreds of area residents in attendance.”

Potts continued, “She loved daffodils, and spring. We thought planting bulbs this fall for the spring would be a fitting memorial. She was a big gardener. This is really a living memorial – we’ll remember her for years to come as the flowers bloom every spring.”

Westporter David Rubinstein echoed Eve’s sentiments. “I worked for years with Molly, on the Westport Arts Advisory Committee (WAAC),” he said. “We were co-chairs together for 10 years. This is a perfect tribute to a remarkable person. She was absolutely dedicated to the cultural heritage of Westport and had the most amazing nature – always cheerful, and got things done, never complained.”

Guiding the planting, WHS Executive Director Sue Gold contributed, “We always described her as unsinkable. She accomplished her goals and motivated and inspired all of us that worked with her. One of her many traits was an attention to detail, and keeping organized with schedules and timetables. She was a writer, too, so handled the p.r., working closely with graphic artists and professionals.”

Kneeling in a garden bed alongside Kim Cooper, Westporter Ellen Naftalin joined the chorus singing Donovan’s praises. “She volunteered for everything,” she said. As a testament to her spirit, Naftalin noted that WAAC gives out an award called The Mollie, which recognizes the biggest volunteers in the arts category. Naftalin said Donovan also started the WSPAC (Westport Schools Permanent Art Collection) and was responsible for the placement of art collections all throughout town and the community.

“There was nothing she couldn’t do… or wouldn’t do,” Naftalin suggested.

SHU Luxembourg MBA Students Tour Middle East and Asia

SHU Luxembourg MBA Students 
Tour Middle East and Asia
By Mike Lauterborn
(for Sacred Heart University)

There’s textbook learning and then there’s the experience of being directly immersed in the subject matter. The latter is what 18 students enrolled in the MBA Finance program at Sacred Heart University’s Luxembourg campus experienced this past summer when they took a whirlwind tour of the Middle East and Asia to take an economic temperature reading.

Don Molner, an American who lives with his German wife and three young children in Trier, Germany, where he was once stationed, was one of the 18. Molner retired from the air force in 2009 after 27 years and was looking to transition from military to civilian life. “Sacred Heart’s was the only English MBA program in the region,” he discovered after an online search.

Molner started classes at SHU in Fall 2010 with a goal of learning more about corporate finance. Every two years, that campus offers an overseas trip as an elective. “The Middle East and Asia are emerging economies,” he said. “When studying global finance, these are key areas.”

Led by Professor Alfred Steinherr, the two-week trip took place July 2-16. “What was interesting about our group is that they were from four different continents, 11 different countries and many different career backgrounds,” Molner said.

The first four days were spent in Dubai and Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates. “They have a big problem in the housing industry there. The financial crisis of 2008 left a lot of vacant real estate inventory,” Molner said. “There’s also a big discussion about what to do after oil.”

In Dubai, the group visited DP World, the largest global marine terminal operator, with facilities that are 15km long, and the Dubai Chamber, which is trying to expand its financial services to attract clients from Abu Dhabi, the source of a majority of Dubai’s GDP. They also visited the Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest building, and the Burj al Arab Hotel. “The Burj al Arab is supposedly the world’s only 7-star hotel,” Molner said. “When they build something here, it’s going to be the biggest and best. It’s not about money, but country pride. They’ve always lived in the shadow of Saudi Arabia.”

In Abu Dhabi, the capital of the U.A.E., the class toured the Mall of the Emirates, the world’s largest mall, which contains a ski slope. They also visited the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque. “It accommodates 40,000 people,” said Molner. “We had to take off our shoes; the women had to cover up.”

Molner remarked that 90% of people in the U.A.E. are ex-patriots and the other 10% are mostly young natives who are given a free house, free utilities and a monthly stipend. The endowments have created problems in that, not surprisingly, the young don’t want to work. “Twenty-three percent of the young are unemployed; 34% haven’t completed high school,” Molner said.

A four-day stay in Beijing brought more insights, with tours of the Bank of China, where the group got a briefing on banking policy, and the U.S. and Luxembourg Embassies, among key sites. “A major portion of the discussion was about protection of intellectual property,” he said. “When a company wants to start production in China, they have to provide in-depth details about their operations and products. By the time the approval comes in, a Chinese company is already making your product – they’ve stolen the idea. They believe everyone should have access to it.”

The next stop was Bangkok, Thailand, with visits to the Asian Development Bank, focused on regional enhancement, and Chulalongkorn University, where international business professors explained how the country weathered the financial storm.

The final leg of the journey was Mumbai, India. The most impactful takeaways there were the “grotesque” poverty, extreme pollution and a service called Childline, which functions as a 24/7 emergency helpline for children in need of care or protection. The latter are in great jeopardy: “Six to seven million kids are sexually abused, 72 million ages 5 to 14 have no basic access to education,” Molner said.

Reflecting back on the trip, Molner concluded, “The entities we visited provided just a small snapshot of the current happening within each country. The trip cemented the learning experience.”

The Voice Is Making Itself Heard

The Voice Is Making Itself Heard:
Fairfield ad agency on the climb
By Mike Lauterborn

Fairfield, CT – The concept came to Matthew Hallock in his sleep and now the Fairfield-based ad agency he founded is one of the hottest shops in the region.

Located in a ranch-style house at 170 Brookfield Avenue, in a mixed-use/commercial area of town, The Voice boasts eight full-time employees and two paid interns. It’s a diverse group, so broad in ethnic representation it has been named a top business in America for three years running by Staffers have a wide range of skills allowing the shop to tackle most any marketing or advertising challenge in any medium. The agency’s forte, however, is creative, focused in the online/digital world. The Voice, in fact, has developed a reputation for high-end, content-rich online solutions. This includes websites, Flash demos, keynote presentations and rich internet applications.

Computer Associates, the world’s largest independent software vendor, is a leading client for which the agency has fulfilled over 500 projects. Other large clients include Emerson Network Power and the NFL. The shop has a solid stable of local clients as well, including Sports Center of Connecticut in Shelton, High On the Hog Catering in Milford and Investment Capital Partners in Fairfield.

While the agency was literally born overnight, it was cooking over the years as Hallock rose through the ranks from freelance writing to creative and account management.

Born in New York City, 49-year-old Hallock said he always wanted to be a writer, though there were no family members that had pursued the craft to influence that aim. His father was a VP in personnel for an international paper company, in fact, and they bounced around a lot from New Jersey, to Mississippi, and then Pelham, New York. Writing, literature and reading were always a focus, and continued to be a target as he earned his B.A. in English from S.U.N.Y. Binghamton in 1984. There, he wrote for Pipe Dream, the school paper, and, in his senior year, interned at a local radio station writing 25 radio commercials a week.

After graduating, Hallock stayed on at the station as its assistant director of continuity, getting spots on the air and continuing to write copy. In 1985, he then moved back to New York City to “make my fame and fortune in advertising,” as he put it.

His first foothold, as a secretary in the research department at Grey Advertising, was not exactly his pie in the sky job. “It was the driest of the dry,’ he said about the position, which involved typing up statistics and creating tables on research results. At the same time, he was taking night classes at the School of Visual Arts, developing his portfolio and freelancing at other agencies.

Along the line, too, he became a reporter for the largest paper in Queens – the Western Queens Gazette. “I was THE sports department,” he said, doing a weekly column, taking photos and covering area high school, college, Catholic and recreation league team action.

In 1991, he landed a spot as a junior copywriter at Adler Boschetto Peebles, a mid-size ad agency with about 150 people. He worked on accounts like CIT Group, Business Week Magazine and Manufacturers Hanover, then ran the creative group on The National Network (TNN) and Country Music Television (CMT). The experience sharpened his management style and the work became a meal ticket that attracted the attention of agency Ryan Drossman, which tapped him to run the Bear Stearns account in the late 90s.

After marrying in 1997, he earned his Masters Degree in American Studies at C.U.N.Y., started teaching the history of advertising and design at the School of Visual Arts and a seminar program at Yale, and moved to the creative team at the Keiler agency in Farmington, CT.

“I began noticing that kids coming out of college didn’t know how to get into the business or what would be expected of them and that agencies were frustrated with often ill-prepared recruits,” he said.

The need for a bridge between higher education and the advertising business was the driver behind The Voice, which came to Hallock in a dream in March 2001. He found a space in downtown Bridgeport near McLevy Green and rolled up his sleeves. “I had four walls, no windows, no clients, a wife, two kids and a mortgage,” he said.

But clients – Playhouse on the Green, The Klein Theater, Bridgeport Bluefish – happened, in-roads were made with area colleges for intern talent and, ultimately, in 2008, Hallock found the Fairfield location. The space features a photo studio that doubles as a seminar and meeting room, open-flow work spaces, a kitchen and two rooms that are rented to interns on staff.

“I didn’t start this for revenue,” said Hallock. “I did it to serve other people and give them entry. To see it succeed is fulfilling. I do feel like we have a higher calling. It gets you out of bed in the morning.”

Fairfield Ludlowe “Block Party” Aids CancerCare

Fairfield Ludlowe “Block Party” 
Aids CancerCare
By Mike Lauterborn
(for Fairfield Citizen News)

Fairfield, CT – Fairfield Ludlowe High School became a LEGO emporium Saturday as host site of CancerCare’s family-oriented “Blocks of Love” fundraiser.

The third annual event offered LEGO sets for sale, play areas, a creation gallery, video games, cooking demos and an interactive dance screen. It drew thousands of area families who came to have a little fun while supporting CancerCare’s noble mission.

“Last year we raised $150,000 from the event and related sponsorships and pledges,” said Sandy Tripodi, regional director of the Connecticut office of CancerCare, “and over 3,000 people attended. We expect more today due to greater publicity.”

CancerCare is a national non-profit organization established to provide free support services to anyone impacted by a diagnosis of cancer – people with cancer, families of patients, children that have a parent with cancer. The group also does targeted outreach to the Latino population.

Support includes face-to-face, telephone and online counseling, educational programs in the community and workshops. Perhaps CancerCare is best known for its financial assistance program however.

“Last year, in Connecticut, we provided almost $250,000 in direct financial support,” said Tripodi, “for expenses like transportation, child care, home care, pain/comfort medications and medical supplies and equipment.”

With regard to the LEGO event concept, Tripodi said it rose out of the Fairfield community among parents and kids. “They decided to take a love of LEGO and turn it into something impactful,” she explained, adding that it was Cindy Citrone, on CancerCare’s board of managers, who founded the event and was a key player. The result is a comprehensive set-up with multiple areas of entertainment.

For instance, in the Builders Gallery, on display were over 320 LEGO creations built at home by families and brought to the school to display. Photos were taken of each builder and their creation and provided as keepsakes.

In another area, kids could pose for a photo with a costumed LEGO mini-figure character.

In the school’s cafeteria, families, like Jacques Depardieu of Easton and his children Jean-Luc, 7, and Catalina, 5, collaborated at lunch tables on making more creations from scratch. “Both my children love playing LEGOs,” he said. “Next year, we would like to be exhibitors. It’s really nice to see how something like this creates positive energy to raise money and awareness of cancer for families that are in need.”

The cafeteria also housed a mini LEGO layout of Fairfield as imagined and created by students at Fairfield County Day School, as well as a block of buildings constructed by 13-year-old Fairfield Woods Middle School student Jacob Rodier. The lad was a national LEGO building contest winner and has been designated a Master Builder.

“I’ve been building for 10 years,” he said. “I need to move all the time and when I’m building, it keeps my hands moving. I’m also really into architecture,” Rodier said.

Despite best efforts and all the energy and fundraising for the cause, cancer is still a formidable foe. “There was a 10-year-old boy participating last year who built a creation with his dad, who had been given a tough prognosis,” said Tripodi. “He knew that if he lost his dad, he would still have the LEGO creation that they built together. Sadly, the dad has since passed.”

CraftWestport Offers One-Stop Holiday Shopping

CraftWestport Offers 
One-Stop Holiday Shopping
By Mike Lauterborn
(for Westport News)

Westport, CT – Cocktail table nibblies. Gooey baked goods. Fine art. Stylish jewelry. All this and more was represented at Staples High School Saturday, in the 36th annual staging of CraftWestport, presented by the Westport Young Woman’s League (WYWL) and facilitated by show producer ArtRider.

In fact, over 160 vendors were registered at the event, showing and selling handcrafted items in a wide spectrum of mediums including clay, metal, leather, jewelry, glass, fiber, mixed media, painting, photography, drawing, printmaking and wood. Monies generated from admission fees and WYWL-hosted activities, including a bake sale and teacup raffle, are distributed among some 30 regional charities. The show runs a second day – Sunday, November 20, from 10a.m. to 5p.m. Admission is $9 (seniors are $8, children are free).

“We do two fundraisers a year – this craft show and our Minuteman race in the spring,” said Dot Baliban, chairperson for CraftWestport, about the WYWL. The non-profit claims 120 members and is housed at the Westport Woman’s Club on Imperial Avenue.

“It’s an extremely popular show,” Baliban continued, “ranked among the top 10 craft events on the east coast. We get a constant stream of visitors. Last year, 3,500 people attended and we raised $85,000. New this year, attendees get $1 off their ticket price if they bring in a canned good. All food collected will be donated to Al’s Angels, a Westport charity that provides children and families in the tri-state area suffering with life-threatening cancer and rare blood diseases with holiday meals and gifts.”

The event is divided into two main areas: a food/consumables section and arts/crafts hall. In the food area, over a dozen vendors showed and sampled products including seasonings, nuts, peanut brittle, bagel snaps and baked goods.

Greenwich resident Nina King was visiting a popular booth, The Nut Lady, manned by Bob Weinberg. “It’s a beautiful Saturday and fun to see all the products,” she said. “I always find interesting things.”

Margaret Ogdon, of Wilton, perused Shari Manfredi’s Merriweather’s skincare products, with her daughter Eve, 11, and Eve’s friend Shelby Connor. “This is an annual thing for us,” Ogdon said. “It’s a great place to buy gifts. And if I see something unusual that’s appropriate for Thanksgiving, I’ll purchase that, too.”

Connor chimed in, “I bought things for my mom and brother, for Christmas. It’s a fun time, especially with my best friend.”

It was vendor Debbie Sadowsky, of Mostly Myrtle’s specialty baked goods, first time participating in the show. “People are lovely, gracious and friendly,” she said. “There are great holiday shopping opportunities for visitors.”

CraftWestport is held at Staples High School, 70 North Avenue, Westport. For more information, visit

SHU Panel Discusses Changing World Economies and Investment Risk Management

SHU Panel Discusses Changing World 
Economies and Investment Risk Management
By Mike Lauterborn
(for Sacred Heart University)

Fairfield, CT – The world has turned – and changed dramatically – since the global financial crisis of 2008. Investors are still licking their wounds and sitting on their funds, hesitant about getting burned again. What’s happening now with various economies, what’s down the road and how can an investor minimize risk while reaping solid returns?

That’s what a panel of leading experts stepped in to speak on at Sacred Heart University Thursday evening, Sept. 15, addressing a full house of students and business people in the Schine auditorium with a presentation titled “Recent Developments in Financial Risk”.

The informative talk was moderated by SHU’s own Dr. Lucian Orlowski, chair and professor of the John F. Welch College of Business’ (WCOB) Department of Economics and Finance, who expressed, “We need a major rewrite in finance to account for risk forecasting.”

Working toward that goal was first speaker Dr. Bluford Putnam, chief economist of the Chicago Mercantile Exchange Group, who boasts a rich background in finance and is the author of several related books. His focus was “Integrating Risk Management into Asset Allocation: Era of Great Divergence.”

“What did we learn from the financial panic of 2008?” Putnam asked the gathering. “The pieces of the puzzle didn’t go back together so well. The system hasn’t come back like people thought it would. When you come out of a financial panic, you take risk down. You want to be less in debt. The U.S. is currently tapped out. Companies are back but sitting on their cash. The Federal funds rate is near zero and consumer price inflation is rising toward 4%.”

In studying the world’s economies, Putnam observed great divergence occurring between the U.S. and certain mature markets versus emerging economies, which puts the U.S. in jeopardy. “China and the U.S. are aging fast -- China in particular because of its “one child” policy. “In 2020, China will have an older population than the U.S.,” he said. “And yet, China has a rural to urban migration, which makes it seem younger. At the same time, Russia, whose population is shrinking, can use energy to exploit its growth potential.”

Putnam continued, “Brazil and India have well-managed central banks, and there’s a lot of consistency,” Putnam continued. “Mature countries’ interest rates are at 0% while emerging are at 7% or 8%. Countries like Brazil and China have a lot of the United States’ debt and what they do with it will determine what happens here. Europe issues debt in Euros, which is a problem as no central bank controls it.”

In short, Putnam summarized, “Emerging markets are coming up and doing well, and there are big swings between ‘risk on’ and ‘risk off’ investments. We’re not going back to the period of 1950 to 2008. 2008 was like a big party and we all collapsed in a heap and didn’t get up again.”

Directing his comment to the student body, Putnam cautioned, “I hope you’ve got job opportunities in other countries as there will be none here.”

On Putnam’s heels, Dr. Kwamie Dunbar, an assistant professor in the WCOB’s Department of Economics and Finance, focused on “Recent Developments in Financial Risk: Credit Risk Dynamics in Response to Fed Changes.”

Dunbar said that in 2007-2008, investors reassessed their risk, making it difficult for a number of highly leveraged firms to raise operational capital. The Fed hasn’t made things easier: there have been times when investors expect the Fed, when they meet, to do something and they don’t. “Investing gets affected each time,” he suggested.

Following that thought, Dunbar’s department colleague, Dr. Abu Amin, said that studies show there is a high probability of change in the Fed funds target rate during a week when there is an FOMC (Federal Open Market Committee) meeting. “When the Fed unexpectedly lowers the target, counterparty risk responds more favorably,” he said. “During expansion periods, an unexpected increase in the Fed funds target rate is especially helpful to risky debt.”

Capping the presentations were Albert Cheng, Senior VP of Atlantic Asset Management and Sidney Hardee, Managing Partner of Hardee Brothers, LLC. The mission of their respective firms is to find ways of using interpretive data to guide investors.

“We look at opportunities and have to come up with risk metrics on a minute-by-minute basis,” said Cheng. “There’s a lot of volatility in the market. You can’t just look at quarter to quarter or month to month.”

Cheng said that ETF (Exchange Traded Funds) usage has changed investing. “Individuals can now access markets instead of going through brokers. More players creates more volatility,” he noted.

Hardee elaborated. “ETF handling has evolved from traders (hedges, speculators, arbitrageurs) to institutions (hedge funds, corporations, portfolio managers) to intermediaries (broker dealers, RIAs) and finally to individuals (retail). When I can sit in flip-flops and p.j.’s and trade gold, the market has changed.”

Hardee advised, “To be successful as a pro in the financial world, you need to develop framework to identify and manage risk. Then you have to categorize risk: mitigate one set and take advantage of the rest.”

Hardee’s market approach involves taking a variety of commodities and currencies – 60% U.S. equities, the rest global – synthesizing everything at the macro level then making buy-sell decisions. That strategy, he said, has yielded 7% to 8% performance with less volatility.

“You really have to take all you’ve heard tonight, boil it down and apply it to all markets,” Hardee suggested, receiving nods of appreciation from the gathering.

SHU Rededicates Library Following Extensive Renovation

SHU Rededicates Library 
Following Extensive Renovation
By Mike Lauterborn
(for Sacred Heart University)

You might say Sacred Heart University has written a new chapter in its history with the recent completion of extensive renovations to the Ryan-Matura Library on its Fairfield campus at 5151 Park Avenue. Now a rededication ceremony has been scheduled for Wednesday, November 2 to officially introduce the revamped space to university members and the general public.

While the university was established in 1963, it was not until 1968 that the three-level approximately 50,000-square-foot library facility was completed on the campus. It was the first stand-alone library for any SHU facility, though there is a specialized adjunct library center for health professions on Cambridge Drive in Trumbull. That center houses materials and study space and is overseen by Librarian Jeffrey Orrico.

The Park Avenue library facility, which is adjacent to the university chapel and Science wing of the Academic building, has served the campus population well over the past four decades but was clearly due for upgrades and a facelift, according to Head Librarian Gavin Ferriby. He began his SHU tenure as an associate librarian in 2006 and was promoted in 2009. Ferriby oversees all librarian staff, services and collections, and represents the library to the wider community.

The year of Ferriby’s promotion, outside renovations to the library occurred, which included installation of new windows, external lighting, a new plaza, external water wall and several trees and other plantings. Until then, there had only been sporadic reorganizations and upgrades to the facility.

“It was very old, worn and outmoded,” said Ferriby about the library prior to the latest overhaul, the planning of which began in November 2010 and renovations took place May to September 2011. “It needed substantial updating of all building systems.”

To that regard, the library has been decked out with a new roof, elevator, public restrooms, HVAC system and up-to-code sprinkler system. The first level was a key focus, receiving new carpeting, furniture, lighting, paneling and a new layout.

In fact, the first floor is now a model of modernity, transformed from an antiseptic 1960s cinder block environment to a visually rich space that invites study. New features include nine group study rooms outfitted with flatscreen monitors, circulation and reference desks, several small reader-friendly collections (new books, popular reading and graphic literature), a new Starbucks® Library Café, improved student seating, 16 computer workstations (eight iMac, eight PC), a 24-foot wide art wall with selections from the university’s collection, a water wall and administrative offices.

All of this is supported by 22 staff members, which include librarians for reference, technical services and digital needs, as well as an archivist.

On November 2, in a half hour rededication ceremony beginning at 2pm in the Starbucks Library Cafe, newly inaugurated SHU President John J. Petillo will offer remarks, joined by Ferriby who will introduce the team involved in the renovation effort: Architect Patrick Rose of Rose Tiso of Fairfield, General Contractor Turner Construction and Marc Izzo, the director of university construction and primary overseer of the renovation for the university. A reception, with beverages and small snacks, will immediately follow. 

“This is the first step of several renovations for the library, that will better serve our users for decades to come,” Ferriby said. 

Waterfowl Cause a Flap at Fairfield Woods Feature Creature

Waterfowl Cause a Flap at 
Fairfield Woods Feature Creature
By Mike Lauterborn
(for Fairfield Citizen News)

Fairfield, CT – There was a lot of wiggling around, fidgeting and chatter… as well as chirping and croaking. The collective cacophony was all part of Tuesday’s Feature Creature children’s program at Fairfield Woods Branch Library.

Led by Colleen Noyes, a teacher/naturalist at the Connecticut Audubon Society, the monthly attraction typically offers live animals from the center, with which children can interact and learn about. Tuesday’s program focused on waterfowl, and was facilitated with life-sized models of a Green Heron and a Merganser duck, along with an electronic animal sounds device. Over a dozen children, mostly ages 3 to 8, were in attendance, accompanied by their parents or caregivers.

“We get kids familiar with various regional birds, as well as other animals that are mostly native to the region,” said Noyes. “Kids are fun to work with… unpredictable, especially after school. I always get surprise questions. They’re funny, and often very smart. A lot of times the kids know more than I do. You just go with it and let them come up and help.”

Among the gathering was Ali and J.T. Tamayo, with their nanny Sherene Barnett. The children looked on attentively as Noyes pressed different buttons on an audio device to play animal noises and asked the group to guess the animal.

Patty Baron, with her children Sean, 5, and Megan, 8, of Fairfield, said she was a veteran of the programs. “We like to come to see the live animals – like snakes and reptiles,” she said. “We always learn something new.”

No one learned more than seven-year-old Zachary Grignana, however, whom Noyes dressed in garments and accessories that simulate features of a duck: scuba flippers for webbed feet, a vest for the bird’s down layer, goggles to represent a protective eye coating. His get-up sure had fellow participants squawking!

Community Band Draws Families and Friends from Far and Wide

Community Band Draws Families 
and Friends from Far and Wide
By Mike Lauterborn
(for Westport News)

Westport, CT – Audience members came from as far as Alabama to see this delightful platoon of volunteers toot their horns, pluck their guitars and blow their bassoons.

The musical group was the Westport Community Band and they performed for several dozen people late afternoon Sunday at Saugatuck Elementary School, 170 Riverside Avenue. Their program was titled “America from Coast to Coast” and featured both patriotic tunes like the “Star-Spangled Banner” and show tunes such as Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “Flower Drum Song” and John Phillip Sousa’s “The Belle of Chicago.” The concert, conducted by Weston High School Director of Bands Sal LaRusso and narrated by Bob Westervelt, took place in the school’s auditorium.

The WCB, which is celebrating its 35th year, is comprised of sixty adult musicians from Fairfield and Westchester Counties. Members are from a wide variety of professional backgrounds and have diverse musical experience. The group regularly performs at such venues as Westport’s Memorial Day parade, Levitt Pavilion’s summer music program, the Weston Family Fourth and the Stamford Town Center’s December holiday celebration.

Each spring, the Band, which is affiliated with Westport Continuing Education, gives area middle school instrumental students the opportunity to rehearse and perform with the band – over 500 children have participated to date.   

Bodega Heats Up Fairfield with New Spin on Mexican Cuisine

Bodega Heats Up Fairfield with 
New Spin on Mexican Cuisine:
Management Trio Collaborates 
Again for Successful Formula
By Mike Lauterborn

Fairfield, CT – You can call them the Tres Amigos, for they ride high together again guiding a hot new restaurant in Fairfield downtown that has local patrons packing the place and clamoring for their provocative fare and inviting atmosphere.

The trio is Mario Fontana, of Southport, Luis Chavez, of Norwalk, and Michael Young, of Trumbull, and they are the caballeros holding the reins of Bodega Taco Bar, tucked in Heritage Square at 1700 Post Road. They have herded together both their experience, culinary talents and thoughtful design sensibilities to create a stable of exciting dishes that challenge traditions and dare diners to push the boundaries of their dining comfort.

Fontana met with Patch on a recent Saturday to share the tale about his rise in the restaurant world and how their collaboration came about.

Born and raised in New York, Fontana spent a lot of time in Miami after college where he first got bitten with the Cuban/Latin culture. Keeping that experience in the back of his mind, he returned to New York and opened up The Foredeck. Several other restaurant ventures followed over a five-year period before he was approached to become the VP of a Toronto-based restaurant group. He moved to the Canadian city and opened a dozen four- and five-hundred seat restaurants. “It was the group mission to open large restaurants with different concepts,” he said.

Fontana met his future wife – a fashion designer – there and, because of her occupation, they moved back to New York. In 1997, they moved to Southport, where he opened Habana restaurant. “I had been carrying the Latin/Cuban bug with me,” he said. “Habana was a shot at conservative Connecticut culture, and it happened to be timely. We were first in the state with mojitos, cigars at the bar and Nuevo Latino cuisine. It was an instant success, with many imitators, and a great run – 10 years.”

Young was the chef at Habana and, when Fontana opened up Ocean Drive restaurant in South Norwalk around 2002, Young came over. At the same time, Chavez took chef duties at Habana. “We were working together quite a lot and liked the collaboration,” Fontana said.

At one point, Young and Chavez moved on to open up Valencia Luncheria on Main Street in Norwalk. They had a very loyal, cult-like following, according to Fontana, and called the cuisine Venezuelan beach food, though it meandered around South and Central America, where Chavez is originally from, Fontana added.

About a year ago, Fontana found the Bodega space. It was a deli and he started the process of re-planning it. Young and Chavez had kept in touch – they would go out together in New York and Brooklyn, particularly to taco bars that were interesting.

“I said, ‘Why don’t we do this together?’” said Fontana. “Bodega was a natural with my past experience and with what they were doing at Valencia. We’re not traditional Mexican. In fact, we try not to define our cuisine at all. We shoot from the hip.”

Bodega opened quietly this past June and people started to discover it, especially through social media channels, and the business gained attention quickly. “A good percentage of people that come enjoy the guacamole, made fresh to order and served in molcajetes (a traditional stone goblet-like preparation dish). The Bodegarita, our signature margarita, is hand-crafted to order using only fresh lime juice, top-shelf tequila and triple plum, and sweetened with blue agave syrup.”

Antojitos, of which the guacamole is a part, range in price from $7-$9. Tacos, at $4 each, include Gambas – seared ancho chili shrimp, cucumber-mango salsa and chipotle mayo – and Americano – seasoned ground beef, manchego cheese, salsa rusa and a crispy taco.

In the Platos, or main dish, category, popular is the Seared Scallops – with roasted corn, fresh tomato and edamame – and Camarones “Enchilados” – spicy shrimp, mango-jicama salad and arroz con crema mexicana. Platos range from $14 to $16. Nothing on the menu is over $16.

Bodega’s Specials are often dishes with which the trio is experimenting, and they will add those that are popular to the main menu.

Fontana said a number of things, besides the food, make Bodega stand out. “The staff is not working inside a rigid box, and they’re good people, naturally upbeat,” he said. “We make all our cocktails by hand – no soda guns or mixes. And we offer 75 top-shelf tequilas.”

Throwing down the gauntlet, Fontana said, “We want to tempt the palette, get people to experiment with new flavors and get them outside of their comfort zones.”

Bodega Taco Bar, at 1700 Post Road, Fairfield, is open 7 days a week, for lunch and dinner, and brunch on Saturday and Sunday. Monday thru Saturday, open at 11:30, Sunday at 11. Kitchen closes 10pm weeknites, 11pm Friday and Saturday. Phone: 203-292-9590. Web:

Military Veterans Celebrated at Y Luncheon

Military Veterans Celebrated 
at Y Luncheon
By Mike Lauterborn
(for Westport News)

Fairfield, CT – Each was proud to have served. Most were glad to have returned home. And all were happy to share their stories of glory, difficult loss and even love during the wartime eras in which they served.

On Sunday, the Westport/Weston Family Y, 59 Post Road East, celebrated local military veterans with a luncheon, the second consecutive year the event has been conducted. More than a dozen veterans, many accompanied by their spouses, attended. Y CEO Rob Reeves welcomed the gathering, VP of Operations David Cohen gave some background about the event, Rabbi Jeremy Wiederhorn gave an invocation and several veterans stood to share their experiences with the group.

“In getting to know the members, I found so many with military history in their backgrounds,” said Cohen, with regard to how the event initially came about. “I thought that was unusual and unexpected in a town like Westport with its socio-economic orientation. I would have lots of individual conversations and hear about amazing acts of heroism that I felt we should celebrate and keep alive. While many of these veterans are of an older generation, others cut across younger age groups. I felt we owed all of them a debt of thanks for the freedoms that we enjoy.”

As Staples High School senior Gabrielle Winer played the violin as an ambient backdrop, veterans like Gunvald “Gun” Moen, 82, told their tales. Moen served in the Korean War during the years 1951-1955 as a B-29 bomber pilot in the U.S. Strategic Air Force (SAC).

“I was prepared to do whatever I was ordered to do,” said Moen. “At one point, I had orders to go to Japan, to do photo reconnaissance. Those orders were canceled the day before I was due to leave. I always wondered about the purpose of that mission and, after the service, read that the U.S. lost some 30 planes and 150 airmen over North Korea, China and Russia from the 1950s to 1970s. They were shot down. I put two-and-two together and realized that these were spy missions and that my mission was going to be to spy on enemy operations.”

Stanley Adelman was a major who served 1943 to 1984, spanning WWII, the Korean War and Vietnam. He started in the Army Air Corps, then went over to the Air Force. He began as a bombardier/navigator, then pilot, in a B-26 Martin Marauder bomber. He flew 53 combat missions over that time span.

When asked about his most memorable moment during his service, it was expected Adelman would share a battle experience, but he gave a surprising reply. “In 1944, I was stationed in Braintree, England, and met a young Navy lady named Jill,” he said. “She was a radio operator in the Woman’s Royal Naval Service… and she became my wife.”

Jill, a veteran herself, joined him at the luncheon and encouraged him to share a military moment. “During the Battle of the Bulge, along the border between Germany and France, my crew and I were grounded by poor weather,” Adelman related. “Then, on Christmas day, the weather broke and we flew two missions in support of American troops that were surrounded. That was the beginning of the final defeat of the Germans.”

Eighty-eight-year-old Larry Aasen was a paratrooper in the 13th Airborne Division, in the years 1944 to 1946. He said his most memorable moment was the day he got out of the service, as he wanted to get back to college. “The army was complete boredom except for four or five minutes at a time,” he said. Despite this, Aasen said it was an honor to serve. “We knew that we had to stop the Germans and Japanese.”

Aasen recalled how two men in his unit were killed. “One was going out to the latrine, and stepped off the path and on a land mine,” he said. “Another reached for a Luger pistol he wanted as a souvenir and it was booby-trapped and exploded.”

Aasen also remembered German V-2 rockets passing overhead on their way to England. “They made a chugging sound like Model T cars,” he said.

Westporter Paul Schiavone, 86, was an infantryman who went to the front in 1944 during WWII. He fought in France and Germany and saw action with General George Patton’s Third Army. Though he was not wounded, he bears lifetime reminder.

“That first winter, they had no boots to give us,” he said. “I only had shoes, socks and leggings. Our feet froze in the snow. I got trench foot and was hospitalized for four months in England. To this day, I have no feeling in my feet.” 

Paranormal Research Trio Answers the Call

Paranormal Research Trio 
Answers the Call
By Mike Lauterborn
(for Fairfield Citizen News)

Fairfield, CT – Bumps in the night. Shredded bibles. Mysterious growling. Ghostly lights. All in a day’s work for a trio of paranormal investigators who came to share their tales with an attentive full house at Fairfield Woods Branch Library Saturday afternoon.

Founded by Orlando Ferrante and Joseph Franke, and now joined by John Carter, the Connecticut Paranormal Research Society has over 45 years of combined experience as one of the leading paranormal investigation and research teams in New England. Their 90-minute presentation included a projected slide show of on-the-job and contributed imagery, audio clips of other-worldly voices and a few equipment demonstrations, all of which left the audience spellbound.

Ferrante and Franke had last visited the Branch Library back in February, playing to a full house then as well. The popular visit demanded an encore, though the duo whittled down their talk from three hours. “We have so much material, but three hours is a long time to sit,” said Franke, who added, “If you want to spend a weekend with us, we’ll show you it all.”

Indeed, the duo has literally worked on hundreds of cases since they began collaborating in 1995, and has amassed a stockpile of documentation of strange, unexplained and even violent happenings and encounters. Just since February, they have been working on a case at a Masonic Lodge in Naugatuck and a potentially demonic case in Bethel wherein a woman’s boyfriend was attacked by an apparition. On their return home to eastern Connecticut after the presentation, they were scheduled to stop at a house in Derby where the homeowner reported lights turning on after being switched off and doors being unlatched after they have been locked, as well as voices and footsteps.

The trio says they get a lot of inquiries from media outlets and production companies, like Anderson Cooper and paranormal show “Fact or Faked?” But the group, which maintains itself as a non-profit, said they are “not in it for fame or fortune.” Said Franke, “We never take a dime for our work. We’re here to help folks disturbed by the paranormal. They’re honestly frightened and don’t want media attention. We’re certainly not going to sign over rights to evidence and further exploit the family.”

For Carter, the duo has been a godsend, helping him understand his sensitivity to certain energies and psychic abilities. “I have experienced paranormal stuff almost my whole life,” he said. “When I served in the military, I would get vibes or thoughts that something was about to happen and, sure enough, it would. When I was younger, my parents took me to doctors, and thought I was nuts, and put me on meds.”

Carter met Franke in 2007, at a lecture Franke and Ferrante were part of in Killingworth. The three stayed in touch before Carter officially joined them about a year ago, to help on investigations.

“John has an uncanny way of sensing activity and having premonitions,” said Franke. “Orlando has psychic ability, too, and John and he work off each other with the abilities. We have pictures and Electronic Voice Phenomenon to verify their talents.”

A few cases stand out as most signicant. In 2008 in Enfield, homeowners said they’d been seeing shadowy figures and activity centered around the couple’s twin toddler daughters. One evening, the duo was working with a psychic downstairs and channeling a spirit they felt was doing all the harassing. Through the psychic, the spirit spit in Ferrante’s face, then attacked an investigator upstairs who was shooting still photos. “He picked her up off her feet and dropped her to the ground,” said Ferrante. “This was no Caspar the Friendly Ghost.”

In Danbury, six or seven kids had conjured spirits through a Ouija board and got affected. “They started hearing voices, scratching on the walls, growling,” said Ferrante. “We tried burning the board but only the propellant burned. We had to bless it with holy water and bury it.”

In Seymour, at a place called Carousel Garden, the pair went to interview a man with psychic abilities. “He sat at a table and he was staring and being unresponsive,” said Franke. “He said there’s a man looking for a fight and led us to the basement. He started getting agitated then was knocked to the ground. Orlando was punched, too, and got a big red welt on his back.”

The trio will bring more of their chilling tales to Westport Library Saturday, November 19, in a presentation titled “Who Ya Gonna Call?”, at 2pm.

Gary Lamberti Discusses Freshwater Crisis at SHU Lecture

Gary Lamberti Discusses 
Freshwater Crisis at SHU Lecture
By Mike Lauterborn
(for Sacred Heart University)

The world’s freshwater resources are in crisis and we need to find solid solutions soon to avert further extinction of native species, destruction from invasive creatures and needless death from water-related disease, according to Dr. Gary Lamberti, the featured speaker at the Hesburgh Alumni Lecture held at Sacred Heart University’s 5151 Park Avenue, Fairfield campus Thursday evening, October 27.

Lamberti is a professor and chair of Biological Sciences at the University of Notre Dame, where he has been a member of the faculty since 1989, and is the author of over 120 publications related to his field. His work as an aquatic ecologist and environmental scientist has been focused on conserving wild salmon in Alaska, the ecology of invasive species and river restoration. He shared his insights at SHU’s Schine Auditorium to a full house of undergraduate science students in a presentation titled “The Global Freshwater Crisis: Challenges and Solutions.” This is the sixth consecutive annual lecture in an academic-led series hosted by SHU’s University College and the Notre Dame Alumni Club of Fairfield County.

“This crisis is not about having too little water to satisfy needs but managing it so badly,” Lamberti said. “Our freshwater resources have been inflicted by environmental alterations about whose long-term consequences we are blissfully ignorant.”

Noting that most of our planet is blue, Lamberti suggested that almost all environmental problems are tied into water, e.g. invasive species are transported by water, air pollution causes acid rain. “As Earth’s population grows, demand for water is increasing, and unless solutions are found, the result could be shortages, famine, even war,” he said. “Only 2% of the planet’s water is fresh, and mostly ice. Most of the accessible freshwater -- just .3% groundwater and less in freshwater lakes and rivers -- is underground and we’re depleting it.”

One major freshwater source in the United States is the Ogallala Aquifer, in the Midwest, which spans from Nebraska to Texas. Wells there, used to irrigate crops, are depleting resources. In fact, the lion’s share of the world’s accessible water is being used for agriculture to grow crops, then industry and municipal (taps, toilets), according to Lamberti, who added that there is also freshwater loss due to evaporation from reservoirs.

Another resource is the Great Lakes, which represents 20% of the world’s surface freshwater. “Everyone has their eye on it,” said Lamberti. “There have been discussions about taking from it, and creating an enormous aqueduct for distribution. Currently, however, it is prohibited to take more than a bottle of water from it.”

Concern about freshwater supplies was first shown in earnest in the 1960s. Congress recognized that U.S. rivers were being altered by dams and development. During that decade, five dams per day on average were being built. In the U.S. now, hardly any are being built, though the complete opposite is true in Asia. Lamberti said dams interrupt natural flow of water, fragmenting rivers.

Climate change is another factor likely to change the distribution of water. “Air temperatures are increasing, so there’s less snow cover,” Lamberti said. “As a result, the ground heats up more quickly, which drives more melting of ice.”

What does that mean for rivers? “River temperatures are increasing, which affects organisms,” he said. “The warm intolerant ones die, while toxins grow.”

On a planet that now holds seven billion people, one billion lack access to clean water. Three-and-a-half billion lack adequate water sanitation. In developing countries, over 90% of wastewater is discharged without even basic treatment. These statistics are startling but even more troubling is that there are 250 million cases of water-related disease each year, with 5-10 million deaths, including 4,000 children per day, from diarrhea and dysentery. Much of this inflicts the developing world, Lamberti related.

Equally disturbing is that most people don’t live where the accessible water is. Water shortages could lead to war, particularly in the Middle East, Egypt, Pakistan, India and China. The inland Aral Sea has shrunk by nearly 90% of its original size since 1989 due to exploitation, which has affected entire ways of life, said Lamberti.

Dramatically affected as well are the species that live in the freshwater ecosystems, half of which have been destroyed in the last 100 years. Forty percent of the world’s fish are freshwater, and one-fifth are threatened or endangered. In the U.S., mussels and crayfish top the list.

What’s being done? Specific to Notre Dame, the university’s Center for Aquatic Conservation is conducting research, education and outreach. Dr. David Lodge, who teaches Invasive Species Biology, is helping eliminate harmful species, like the Snakehead and Asian Carp, before they get a toehold. Dr. Jennifer Tank is focused on retaining nutrients along river flood plains.

“To solve our freshwater problems, we need to look at the causes, consequences and solutions,” Lamberti summarized.