On Saturday, UConn All Americans and fan favorites Stefanie Dolson and Bria Hartley were honored at Senior Day ceremonies before a packed house at Gampel Pavilion on the Storrs campus. Each player was escorted into the arena by their parents to thunderous applause and cheering by the faithful fans and students. Hartley, grinning from ear to ear, hoisted her framed jersey as she enjoyed the adulation at the close of her stellar UConn career. Dolson, ever the cut-up, came out dancing in her inimitable style to the roar of her adoring fans. Then the two got to work: Hartley scored 20 points and Dolson surpassed the 1,000 rebound mark in UConn’s 72-35 trouncing of Rutgers. They made it look easy, as usual, in their final regular season home game under the dome. (They will play again in the first and second rounds of the NCAA tournament starting the weekend of March 22 at Gampel.) To read about their final home game, see John Altavilla’s story here.
On the second Monday of the month, Milano Salon & Day Spa in Bloomfield offers free services to women undergoing treatment for cancer with a program called Mondays at Milano. The project, created by a non-profit called Cut Out Cancer, was inspired by the award-winning documentary, Mondays at Racine, about a similar program at a salon on Long Island. Cut Out Cancer was formed by West Hartford residents Ronit Shoham, Rachel Marcus, Sharon Conway, Ayelet Shozik, Cindy Horowitz and Carrie Shaw. Milano Salon & Day Spa owners, brothers Sergio and Valerio Gurciullo, agreed to open their salon and volunteer the time, services and staff to the cause. On a recent Monday, about 25 women had appointments at the salon to pamper themselves with a variety of services including hair cuts and color, manicures and pedicures, facials, and reiki treatments in a loving and supportive environment. To read Julie Stagis’s story, click here.
Jessica and Tom Catropa, of Monroe, were among a group of several families gathered in a commuter parking lot in Danbury on Saturday as the Rescue Road Trips transport truck arrived, carrying several dozen rescue dogs from Texas. The Catropas were waiting to meet Chloe, a 5-month-old lab mix. Her adoption was arranged through L.A.B. Rescue and Adoption Network of TX and CT, run by Suzanne Bristol of New Hartford. Some dogs were transported through other adoption groups, such as Shaggy Dogs Rescue in Houston. But all were headed to either permanent or foster homes. Rescue Road Trips, owned by Greg Mahle, of Zanesville, Ohio, makes the 4,200-mile week-long round trip from Ohio down south to Texas and up to Connecticut every two weeks to collect and deliver dogs to foster and adoptive families. A typical load carries 80 to 100 dogs, many from Houston’s East End, where “dog dumping” and a high kill rate at shelters are common. Mild winters and a lack of spay and neutering programs have created a stray and abandoned dog crisis in the southern states. Mahle, who has been transporting rescue dogs for ten years, stressed the importance of raising awareness of the problem to help find loving homes. “I started with a mini van and now have this large rig,” he said. ”But there are still so many dogs in need.” To learn more about Rescue Road Trips, visit their website here. and visit L.A.B Rescue and Adoption Network of TX and CT’s Facebook page here.
As an antidote to winter’s cold, Bikram yoga offers a warm alternative. Developed by Bikram Choudhury, the technique is sometime referred to as “hot” yoga since it is practiced in a studio heated to 105 degrees. On a recent visit to the Bikram Yoga studio in Middletown, practitioners worked through Bikram’s 26 poses and two breathing exercises that are incorporated into a 90-minute class. Each class follows the same sequence of poses. The warm, moist air – the humidity is set at 45% – feels like a sauna, but it is the optimal climate in which to increase flexibility in the poses, according to owner Jennifer Brown. “When it’s juicy in there, it makes you more limber,” said Brown. The warmth helps students stretch safely and deeply and helps remove toxins from the body, she explained. She said the increased blood flow benefits your entire body and helps focus your mind. “Its the hottest place in town!” said Brown.
On a recent visit to Memphis, Tennessee, to cover a UConn women’s basketball game, I took time to visit the National Civil Rights Museum, the site of the former Lorraine Motel, where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was shot to death on April 4, 1968.
The Lorraine is undergoing a renovation and access to the motel is temporarily closed. Instead, visitors are allowed to climb the exterior stairs to the second-floor balcony where King was shot. A large window affords a view into Room 306 where King was staying, set to look as it did that fateful day. Balcony access will be barred again before the grand re-opening on the April 4 anniversary. Visitors will once again be able to tour the interior of the motel and view King’s room from inside.
A square cut into the concrete on the balcony just outside Room 306 marks the spot where King was shot. It was an eerie feeling to stand where the great civil rights leader and Nobel Peace Prize laureate last stood. I was standing on hallowed ground
The non-profit museum, which opened in 1991, chronicles important events in the civil rights movement leading into the 1960s. The Legacy exhibits, which are open during the renovation, are located across the street from the Lorraine, in a building that once was the rooming house where James Earl Ray, King’s alleged killer, rented a room while King was staying at the Lorraine to attend a rally in support of striking sanitation workers. Ray’s room, enclosed in plexiglass, is part of the exhibit and is set as it looked in 1968. The Legacy exhibit also includes the police and court documents chronicling the case against Ray.
In honor of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day, I offer a glimpse of this solemn place of remembrance.
Students at Charter Oak International Academy in West Hartford, are learning about hip-hop culture, dance, music and urban art. Austin Dailey, CEO of Red Supreme Productions, a DJ and dance entertainment business, has been teaching hip-hop dance moves during gym classes this week. The school is using grant funding for the program, titled Move It! Groove it! Create it!: A Hip Hop Experience, from the Foundation for West Hartford Public Schools and Whole Foods Market. On Wednesday, Dailey taught a group of fifth-graders several moves like the top rock, the knee drop, the swipe, the 6-step circle, the crab and the freeze. He also stressed the importance of stretching and building core strength to master the moves. On Thursday night, the school is holding a Family Dance Night, giving the students a chance to display their new skills and knowledge through artwork displays and dance performances. For more on the program, read Julie Stagis’s story here.
During a recent visit to Memphis, Tennessee, to cover a UConn women’s basketball game, I had time to make a visit to Graceland, the iconic residence of the late Elvis Presley, the King of Rock ‘n Roll. I created a photo essay during my tour through the mansion using the Instagram filter and offer it here in honor of what would have been the King’s 79th birthday on January 8.
Melissa Greenbacker can’t take a day off because of arctic-like temperatures. She has 20 calves to take care of at Greenbacker Farm in Durham. At 7:00 a.m., as the sun is just peeking over the horizon, Greenbacker dresses in layers and heads out into frigid 5-degree weather to care for her young charges who live in hutches next to the farm’s dairy barn. After giving them water, milk and grain, she cleans their hutches. To help keep them warm, she dresses them in jackets during the coldest months and gives them a double layer of hay. “I take better care of the calves than I do myself!” she said. ”You can’t do anything about the weather, so I just keep thinking about the warmer months to come.” As for the cows, they prefer colder weather. ”Over 70 degrees, they start to feel heat stress,” she said.
Greenbacker is a 12th generation farmer at the dairy farm that dates back to the 1720s. Originally located in Meriden and Wallingford, the Greenbackers moved to Durham in the 1980s to a 410-acre spread that straddles Rt. 68. A Cornell graduate with a degree in animal science, she opted to return to the farm after graduation rather than becoming a veterinarian because she loves working on the farm even though the work is hard and unending. But the weather? “It’s part of farming,” she said.
The UConn women’s basketball team added another game to the win column when they visited the University of Central Florida Knights at UCF Arena in Orlando, Florida, on New Years Day. In UConn’s second game playing in the new American Athletic Conference, they moved into the Knight’s house, with a large Husky fan section in tow, and rolled to a 77-49 victory. Stefanie Dolson rang in the new year with a 25 point, 12 rebound performance. Read John Altavilla’s game story here.
A new 57-foot cross was lifted into place Friday afternoon atop Pine Hill, the site of the former Holy Land, U.S.A., in Waterbury, replacing a similar one that marked the religious attraction for many years. The new cross, which will be illuminated with 5,000 LED bulbs in a lighting ceremony Sunday evening, will be visible along the I-84 and Rt. 8 corridors in Waterbury. The project was made possible by a group of local business owners and the board of directors of Holy Land Waterbury, LLC, a non-profit group that now owns the 17-acre property. All materials and labor were donated. Read Bernie Davidow’s story here.
The Pistapaug Mountain trail leads hikers on a moderate climb to the top of the 700-foot mountain, a traprock ridge in Durham. Once on top, views of Pistapaug Pond unfold below with rolling hills and farmland dotted with red barns visible on the other side. The trail is maintained by the Connecticut Forest & Park Association and is marked by easy-to-follow blue blazes, part of the Mattabesett Trail system. Blanketed by a fresh snowfall, the first of the season, a recent hike up the mountain was hushed and tranquil. Read Peter Marteka’s column about the trail here.
In 2004, former Courant photographer John Long produced a picture page on Gabrielle Collins, of West Hartford, who was a young dancer studying at the Ballet Theatre Company Academy. Collins, 8 1/2 at the time, was rehearsing for her role as a mouse in the Academy’s production of “The Nutcracker.” Long’s photos captured the young Collins’ natural stage presence and passion for her craft.
Now 17, and a senior at Conard High School with a 4.1 GPA, Collins is performing the role of the Sugar Plum Fairy in the Hartt School Community Division‘s production of “The Nutcracker” this weekend at Millard Auditorium on the University of Hartford campus. Collins, who started dancing at age 6, is realizing her dream to dance the leading role in the Christmas classic.
“Being the Sugar Plum has always been my dream ever since I started dancing as a little girl,” said Collins. “When I was Clara in ‘The Nutcracker’ I would sit in the throne and watch the Sugar Plum dance from the side of the stage and I just always remember being like, I want to do that one day,” she said.
Now a trainee in the Community Division’s pre-professional program, Collins plans to become a professional ballet dancer. After graduating from Conard in the spring, Collins hopes to land a job with a ballet company, or plans to enroll in a dance program at a university.
The Hartt pre-professional program is rigorous and requires training six days a week. Collins has had additional training at summer intensive programs at American Ballet Theater and the Joffrey Ballet, both in New York City, and the Pittsburgh Ballet Theater.
“She’s very hungry, very passionate about what she’s doing,” said Samantha Dunster, artistic director and chair of Hartt’s Community Division dance department. “Gabby has a very strong technique, but it’s not just the technique. It’s the passion, the artistry she has,” said Dunster.
Starting Monday, Collins will begin training for the Youth America Grand Prix, the world’s largest international student dance competition, to be held in Providence, Rhode Island, in February.
Now on the threshold of what promises to be a successful career, we revisit Collins as she realizes her dream.
Anita Schorr, 83, of Westport, is a Holocaust survivor. On Tuesday, she visited Vinal Technical High School in Middletown, to share her story. Born in Czechoslovakia, she is the only member of her family to have survived the Nazi’s attempt to obliterate the Jews. At age 13, she was sent to Auschwitz concentration camp and later to Bergen-Belsen, from which she was liberated in 1945. After emigrating to the U.S. in 1959, she remained silent about her experiences for many years. But a visit to the Holocaust Museum in Washington D.C. when it opened 20 years ago changed her. She could no longer keep silent. Since then, Schorr has spoken to hundreds of groups in Connecticut and New York about her experiences. Her goal is to teach people to not stand by when atrocities occur. “The free world stood silent,” while the Holocaust unfolded, she said. She hopes it never happens again.
The Kogut family has farmed at Hemlock HIll Christmas Tree Farm in Somers for 27 years, developing a loyal clientele of families who make cutting their Christmas tree there an annual tradition. The Koguts will close the farm for good at the end of the season when the lease on the 60-acre spread expires. It’s a bittersweet ending for the family who have helped create a holiday tradition for so many. “It’s the end of an era,” said Kathy Kogut. For more on the Koguts and Hemlock HIll, read Mara Lee’s story here.
I-Park is an artist’s retreat nestled on 450 wooded acres in East Haddam where artists can go for four-week residencies to create in peaceful seclusion. Six artists are chosen by jury for each residency, including writers, visual artists, musicians, sculptors, architects and landscape designers. Artists live in the park’s main house and work in assigned studio spaces. A lovely path takes visitors around a large pond where they can see various ephemeral installations left behind by artists from I-Park’s Environmental Art Biennale, a three-week program that takes place every two years for artists to create site-specific pieces. I-Park, a non-profit foundation, will hold an open house on Sunday, November 24, where visitors can meet the current artists in residence and tour the idyllic grounds. To learn more about the artist’s enclave, read Susan Dunne’s story here.
Destiny Africa Children’s Choir gave a sneak peek of their upbeat show in two short performances at Nayaug Elementary School in Glastonbury Tuesday, previewing what to expect when the choir, from the Kampala Children’s Centre in Uganda, performs a free 90 minute concert at Glastonbury High School on Friday, December 6 at 6:30. The choir combines singing, dancing and African drumming as they perform for audiences around the globe, raising money for the center. For more on the choir, and how they came to visit Connecticut, see Peter Marteka’s story here.
Marine Lance Cpl. Dan Coppinger-Donovan surprised his siblings, Mary Barden, 11, a sixth-grader, and Charles Barden, 9, a fourth-grader, at the Ann Antolini Elementary School’s 13th annual Veteran’s Day celebration Friday morning. Coppinger-Donovan had been serving in the Persian Gulf and the Mediterranean for several months and hadn’t seen his family since leaving home on January 1 of this year. He left Camp Lejeune in Jacksonville, North Carolina on Thursday on a four-day leave, and drove fourteen hours to New Hartford, arriving at 6:00 a.m. Friday morning to attend the ceremony and surprise his younger siblings. He emerged unannounced from backstage during the event in the school’s auditorium as his siblings were being questioned about their brother by fourth-grade teacher Sheila Hawley. After an emotional reunion, the event proceeded as usual with songs and poetry, and a slide show of students relatives who are veterans. When the event ended, Coppinger-Donovan carried his siblings – over his shoulders – back to their classrooms. There would be plenty of time to visit at home for a perfect Veteran’s Day weekend.
The defending national champion UConn women’s basketball team dispatched Philadelphia University with a lopsided score of 93-28 in a fast-paced exhibition game at the XL Center Tuesday night. It was the second of two pre-season games in which UConn easily rolled over lesser opponents before the new season gets underway on Saturday when they meet Jen Rizotti’s Hartford Hawks. No. 3 Stanford rolls into town on Monday. Read John Altavilla’s game story here.
Bright sun and warm temperatures notwithstanding, the Huskies performance at UCF in Orlando on Saturday was anything but warm and sunny. More like a pre-Halloween scare fest. They suffered another blowout as the UCF Knights skewered them, 62-17 at Bright House Networks Stadium. For the gory details, see Dez Conner’s account here. With five games remaining in the season the question remains: can they right the ship?
UConn previewed the 2013-14 basketball season with their annual First Night celebration before a packed house at Gampel Pavilion Friday night. The event included the usual autograph signing, player introductions – with several showing off their dance moves – and a few trivia games for the players and contests for the fans. Then, for the first time, the two teams merged for an inter-squad scrimmage pitting Team Geno, in white, against Team Kevin in blue. Team Geno came from behind to win it, 51-49. To read Jeff Jacob’s column and see more coverage of the event, click here.
Finally, after 215 years, a slave named Fortune was laid to rest in Waterbury Thursday. What was billed as a “Coming Home Service for Mr. Fortune” drew hundreds of mourners for a funeral ceremony at St. John’s Episcopal Church conducted by Rev. Amy D. Welin. A burial service followed at Riverside Cemetery under a steady rain and rumbling thunder. Fortune died in a drowning accident in 1798, and his bones had been used for years for anatomical studies, first by his owner, Dr. Preserved Porter in the late 18th century. In 1933, Fortune’s bones were donated by a descendent of Dr. Porter to the Mattatuck Museum where his skeleton, called “Larry,” was on exhibit for nearly 30 years. In the 1970s the skeleton was removed from display and in the 1990s, the museum’s African American History Project Committee worked with anthropologists from the New York Burial Ground Project to discover Fortune’s story. Now the museum has unveiled a permanent exhibit of Fortune’s story and the history of slavery in Waterbury. And Fortune has at last come home to rest. To learn more, click here for a story by Susan Dunne and Daniela Altimari.
Schools opened in New Britain Tuesday welcoming students, many of whom were getting used to new surroundings. In a push to reestablish “neighborhood schools,” the city underwent redistricting that reassigned many students. Here are some scenes from the first day at Vance Village Elementary School, a K-5 school with a student body of about 500 children.
On Monday I was assigned to take a flight from Brainard Airport in Hartford to East Haven to take aerial photographs of the site where a plane crashed into two houses on Charter Oak Avenue Friday killing two occupants of one house and the pilot and his son aboard the plane. The plane had been attempting to land at Tweed-New Haven Airport just a few blocks from the site. The wreckage from the plane had been removed over the weekend, but the houses still stood, scarred and empty as they await demolition sometime this week. A makeshift memorial of candles and stuffed animals is visible along a chain link fence at lower left and a shrine to the Virgin Mary is visible in the corner of the backyard of one of the houses, shaded by trees that were scorched by the intense fire that engulfed the crash. For the latest updates on the crash, read more in a story and see video here.
The Mandell Jewish Community Center in West Hartford has mounted an exhibit, “Beatrice Fox Auerbach: The Woman, Her World and Her Wardrobe.” The exhibit includes historical photographs of Fox Auerbach as well as several articles of clothing and accessories that she once owned. The exhibit will be on display until September 27.