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Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Chamber Off the Leash at Southport Veterinary Center

Chamber Off the Leash at 
Southport Veterinary Center
By Mike Lauterborn

Fairfield, CT – Tongues – and tails – were wagging at Southport Veterinary Center Wednesday evening as Fairfield Chamber of Commerce members and friends, some with their dogs in tow, gathered at the facility for a monthly meeting.

The event’s theme was “One Dog Night” and was held in the offices of the 2131 Post Road space. Dozens of guests met and mingled, toured the state-of-the-art hospital and enjoyed wine as well as pizza, served hot and fresh from a brick oven set up out back by Skinny Pines catering of Easton. Attendees milled in the lobby and at the front desk, in exam rooms and in the treatment area, discussing features of the facility and the state of business in Fairfield.

“This is my first time hosting a Chamber event,” said Dr. Hart. “I love having people in the hospital. This building has been an animal hospital for over 50 years but few are aware of it, even though it’s at such a busy intersection and part of town. This is a good exposure opportunity for us while serving the needs of the Chamber.”

As to the pet element of the evening, Hart said, “I suggested having attendees bring their dogs, to make it a dog happy hour. We’ve set up a special heated outdoor pen for our canine crowd.”

With regard to the town’s business climate, Hart said, “I think the climate is improving. It’s always best to share information than have everyone competing for the same people.”

Chamber head Ritchie thought the “doggie addition” to the evening added cache and felt that the Center made a great site for the event. “It accommodates everyone, people can see the operation, and they can meet and greet the staff and visit with each other.”

Ritchie shared Hart’s assessment of the local business climate. “Things are improving slowly,” she said. “People are feeling more upbeat about the future. A mortgage company representative in town told me this morning that they’d hired three new people. That’s an indicator things are coming up in the real estate sector. People have had to cut back and change the way they do things, and work harder, but with the intent of staying in business and improving business. They are more likely to be involved in the Chamber, so they can conduct business-to-business conversations.”

For a full gallery of photos from the evening, visit Fairfield HamletHub’s Facebook site:

WHS MLK Program Gives Kids a Glimpse at Civil Rights Era

WHS MLK Program Gives Kids a Glimpse at Civil Rights Era
By Mike Lauterborn
(for Westport News)

Westport, CT -- Times they were a-changing quickly in the 1960s, as anti-war and Civil Rights movements converged, sending protestors into the streets and driving public sit-downs and clashes. In a special Martin Luther King Day program Monday at the Westport Historical Society, kids got a chance to understand that era a bit better, through crafts, discussion and a noted local speaker.

“Today is about art and fun mixed together with lessons on tolerance,” said educator Miss Elizabeth, the program leader. Beginning mid-morning in the basement workshop area at the 25 Avery Place facility, and with the help of several teen volunteers, the instructor first took children through a craft activity.

Participants – 14 in all – were asked to create black & white line drawings of a bouquet of flowers.  When the drawings were completed, Miss Elizabeth asked the group, “What would make our flower pictures better?” Sun and leaves were among the responses, but “color”, suggested by five-year-old Olivia Morelli, was the answer she was seeking. “It’s more interesting to have lots of different colors, right?” said Elizabeth, injecting a lesson into the activity.

The group set about colorizing their pictures with watercolor paints, then pasted in cutouts of hands – their own that they had traced onto different pieces of colored construction paper. Then they wrote in phrases like “Peace”, “Flower Power” and a noted protest statement Elizabeth suggested: “War is not healthy for children and other living things.” In the end, they had created sunny compositions with symbols of racial unity and positive messages.

As the children worked, humming along to Beatles music, Miss Elizabeth touched on what the era was like from her perspective, growing up in the South. “People with different colored skin didn’t have the same rights as us,” she said. “When I was a little girl, people of different color had to drink from different water fountains.”

Civil rights pioneers like Rosa Parks were also discussed, as well as the meaning of the Day. “Who knows why we have today off?” asked Elizabeth. “It’s Martin Luther King’s Birthday,” said one child, while another added, “He was a kind man that didn’t like the rules that were mean.”

Perhaps the most qualified person to speak about Dr. King, however, was the day’s special guest, Westport author, activist and artist Tracey Sugarman. Now in his 80s, the noted local saw King speak in Westport in 1963. “Rabbi Rubinstein at Temple Israel went down South to work with him and help him desegregate a facility,” said Sugarman. “He was impressed with King and invited him up here to speak at the congregation. I went to hear him, and it changed my life.”

Sugarman traveled to the South, to Mississippi, with students, to work as a volunteer helping to get black Americans registered to vote. “I saw how people lived. It was shocking,” he said. “A black family that took me in couldn’t go to the public pool or library, and had no voting rights. It was unspeakable, very deprived.”

Sugarman began doing drawings of what was happening. These, and his observations, were ultimately incorporated in a book, “Stranger at the Gates”, and helped publicize what was happening in the South.

“I’ve gone back to follow up,” said Sugarman. “It was a remarkable time. I saw that non-violence was effective.” 

Scandinavians Mark Twentieth Day After Christmas

Scandinavians Mark Twentieth Day After Christmas
By Mike Lauterborn
(for Fairfield Citizen News)

Fairfield, CT – Imagine it’s holiday time, you have a few friends over, you sing carols and dance around the Christmas tree… then strip it bare and toss it out the back door.

If you’re Scandinavian, this scenario is called Tjugundedagknut, though it occurs on the twentieth day after Christmas. Celebrated for hundreds of years, it is the traditional end of the holiday season for Scandinavian peoples. In Fairfield, the occasion was marked Saturday evening at the Scandinavian Club, 1351 S. Pine Creek.

Attired in red sweaters or jackets and gray or black dress pants, a choir of two dozen members began the celebration by singing Christmas carols and other traditional songs. Pianist Dorothy Civitelli accompanied the group – comprised of members from the Scandinavian Club, Northern Lights Singers, North Star Singers and Apollo Singing Society – while Cameron Phillips led the performance overall. Tunes like “Let It Snow” and “Deck the Halls” were crowd favorites.

As the singers concluded, chairs were pushed to the side and a small Christmas tree placed in the center of the room. Wivan Sundman scooped up an accordion, invited attendees to form a circle around the tree and led them in traditional dances. Then Sundman asked young members and the “young at heart” to grab treats from the tree before it was promptly gathered up and carried outside to be discarded.

A smorgasbord feast, featuring Swedish open-faced sandwiches and traditional baked goods rounded out the celebration. Ornate candleholders, an important element in Scandinavian life, dotted the table.

“Swedes in America want to maintain their heritage, so we sing the songs and reenact traditions like this,” said Linda Gustavson, President of the Northern Lights Singers. “This is our 49th celebration of this event, and a nice way to end the Christmas season – while subtely welcoming the new year.”

Eric Sundman has embraced the mission of preserving this tradition. “I’ve been coming to the Club since I was born, so 43 years,” he said. “My mom has been organizing this since 1966 when it was held at Bridgeport Machines Auditorium. It has been non-stop ever since, keeping the celebration alive. It’s important to me to have my son Max continue on with all the Swedish traditions. Christmas is not complete until we celebrate this.”

Y Becomes a Tween Clubhouse for a Night

Y Becomes a Tween Clubhouse 
for a Night
By Mike Lauterborn
(for Westport News)

Westport, CT – It was Saturday night, and the Y was quite a sight, as some 80 or 90 kids took over the place to enjoy two hours of unbridled fun.

Youth Fun Night is a once-a-month feature during the school year at the 59 Post Road East facility, allowing 4th to 7th graders from various schools to meet and mingle. Activities are always scheduled, which this night included swimming, basketball, Bingo, inflatable diversions and even an opportunity to make-your-own sundae.

“The building is closed just to them,” said event volunteer Denise Stevens, manning the check-in table. “It’s like a pre-teen Clubhouse, with free reign of most of the Y.”

Overseeing the fun was Nicole Turechek, the Y’s Aquatics Director. She added, this becomes a place where kids can come to be themselves, meet new kids and relax. A getaway without going far from home. There are lots of fun things for them to do.”

Indeed, in the pool area, kids were paddling after each other, playing Marco Polo and splashing about. In another space, Tweens took turns with a microphone, singing along to words on a monitor. Across the hall, a long table featured ice cream sundae fixings, from gummy bears to M&M’s and sprinkles. Basketballs were bouncing in an upstairs gym while an intense session of Bingo was going on in yet another room nearby.

Fun for kids, a break for parents. Win-win for all.

Moravian Lovefeast Marks Centuries Old Tradition

Moravian Lovefeast Marks 
Centuries Old Tradition
By Mike Lauterborn
(for Fairfield Citizen News)

Fairfield, CT – It was a celebration of the Epiphany, selfless love and perhaps even the New York Giants win over the Atlanta Falcons judging by the team colors worn by a parishioner.

On a Sunday featuring critical NFL match-ups, the congregation at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church, 160 Hill Farm Road, took a knee to commemorate its sixth annual Moravian Lovefeast. A tradition since 1727 in Germany, the feast takes its inspiration from the agape fellowship meal of early Christians, which is combined with the singing of hymns from Moravian and Lutheran traditions. “Agape” is a Greek term meaning selfless love.

The musical portion of the session was led by Dr. Alice Caldwell, Music Director, while Rev. Mark Christoffersen quoted passages of scripture. Hymns were led by parishioners Sue Nash and Katie Jenks, who performed both solos and duets.

Midway through the event, participants were served a cup of apple cider and a Swedish bun, similar to what was served at the first Lovefeast, which followed the renewal of the Moravian Church. Moravians are spiritual descendants of the Czech reformer Jan Hus. The Moravian Church in America and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America have been sharing ministers and ministries since 1999.

Caldwell brought the Lovefeast tradition to the Church. “I spent my 20s working on my doctoral degree, focused on Moravian music and how they used it in their communities,” she said. “They built up a high level of expertise. When I came to Our Saviour’s in 2005, I tried to bring in ideas of Moravian music, like our own orchestra.”

The congregation’s choir made a trip to Germany in 2007, and performed in many places. They returned to Fairfield with a Moravian star, which is now used as the symbol of Epiphany and hangs brightly in the church.

“At our first Lovefeast, we had a guest pastor to help guide us,” said Caldwell. “We no longer have that connection, but we’ve gotten good at this. And many of our hymns have been suggested by church members.”

About the ceremony, Will Thoretz, a church member since 1998, added, “It’s a great way to show connections between denominations in the Christian world.”