Brian Kleinman, a naturalist from North Granby, brought his live animal education program, Riverside Reptiles, on the road to the Levi E. Coe Library in Middlefield Tuesday. Kleinman brought nine animals from of his collection of 140 for his hour-long program in which children were able to see and touch a variety of common and exotic reptiles and amphibians, including a bearded dragon, native to Australia, a European legless lizard and an 80-pound Burmese python named Percy. Kleinman’s mission is “to educate people about how to better understand, appreciate, and coexist with the natural world,” according to his website, www.riversidereptiles.com. He saves Percy – the biggest and best – for the end of his show.
The UConn men’s and women’s NCAA Championship basketball teams were honored by President Barack Obama at the White House Monday afternoon in the East Room packed with invited guests and media. It was the second time since 2004 that both teams were honored for dual championships.
“It is just a remarkable thing what these two programs have accomplished,” Obama said. “The women were a perfect 40-0 and won their games by an average of 34 points. There was not a lot of suspense. Now, I did not pick the men’s team to win. But neither did anybody else, unless they went to UConn. Tell the truth,” he said, raising his hand, prodding UConn alumni in the crowd to show themselves.
After the 20-minute ceremony, during which UConn players presented Obama with UConn jerseys, and Stefanie Dolson lost her balance and fell of the riser – she was unhurt as she landed on her feet – a few team members and coaches Auriemma and Ollie proceeded to the White House lawn for a press conference.
To read Dom Amore’s story about UConn’s visit, click here.
The UConn College of Liberal Arts and Sciences held commencement ceremonies at Gampel Pavilion Sunday, while the Neag School of Education graduation was held at the Jorgensen Center for the Performing Arts. Sandy Hook Elementary School teacher Kaitlin Roig-DeBellis, who protected her 15 first-graders when gunman Adam Lanza shot his way into the building on December 14, 2012, killing 20 children and six adults, by hiding them in a cramped bathroom, gave the commencement address to the Neag School graduates, And University of Texas professor of mathematics Philip Uri Treisman told CLAS grads that “democracy is not a spectator sport.” To read Chris Hoffman’s coverage of the events click here and here.
With a decisive 69-54 win over the Texas A&M Aggies in their NCAA Elite 8 game at the Pinnacle Bank Arena in the Lincoln Regional Monday night, the UConn women’s basketball team (38-0) is two games away from a perfect season. A win over Stanford in the national semi-final in Nashville Sunday night would send them to an expected – well, at least hoped for – championship showdown with the only other undefeated team – the Notre Dame Fighting Irish. On the eve of the Huskies pursuit of a record ninth national championship, here is a look back at their Elite 8 victory in Lincoln, Nebraska. Click here to read John Altavilla’s game story. Click here to read Lori Riley’s preview story on UConn’s semi-final game against Stanford.
The UConn women defeated the BYU Cougars, 70-51, before a packed house at the Pinnacle Bank Arena in Lincoln, Nebraska, in an NCAA Sweet 16 game in the Lincoln Regional. Stefanie Dolson was given the assignment to guard BYU’s 6’7″ center, Jennifer Hamson. After a tight first half, with eight lead changes and three ties, and UConn only up by one point at the half, the Huskies came out swinging in the second half, pulling away to win it and advance to the Elite 8. They will play the Texas A&M Aggies as they continue their journey toward the Final Four and a record ninth national championship. Read John Altavilla’s game story here.
Three Connecticut National Guard units were officially welcomed home in a Freedom Salute Ceremony at the Governor William A. O’Neill Armory in Hartford Tuesday night. Troops with the 143rd Combat Sustainment Support Battalion, the 1048th Transportation Company, and detachments with the 2-104th Aviation Regiment, were recognized for their service and sacrifice for their country. Friends and family filled the bleachers to support the honorees and witness the awarding of two Purple Hearts and twenty Bronze Stars. The 143rd had been deployed in Kuwait and the 1048th and 104th in Afghanistan. To learn more about the event, click here for Kelly Glista’s story.
Photographers show up hours before POTUS is to arrive. We must pass security. That takes time. We get wanded by magnetometers and inspected by bomb sniffing dogs. We are ushered, guided, and ordered by secret service and handlers. And then we wait.
On some Connecticut visits Courant photographers are designated “pool photographers” granting them better access to the president on the condition that we share whatever we photograph with other media. We join the traveling press corps and ride in the official motorcade. The status grants us closer and more fluid movement around the president. Somewhat closer that our colleagues standing in the back of the room.
Presidents arrive in a flash of activity like a midsummer thunderstorm . The police, secret service, politicians and the traveling press arrive at once. Then POTUS arrives. And as quickly as he arrives, he leaves. The police, secret service and traveling press leave too.
My first experience photographing President Jimmy Carter was not a success.
I knew President Jimmy Carter liked to press the flesh. He would wander up to shake, squeeze, wave, touch and smile his way down along line of fans pressed against the barricades, eager to be close to the most powerful man in the country. I’ve seen it. I wanted to photograph that ritual up close when he came to Hartford December 10th, 1978.
I planted myself at the fence hours before he was to arrive. The crowds grew. So did the excitement. Soon people were standing 4 deep behind me.
We all waited together.
He got out of his limo surrounded by politicians and Secret service and raised his right hand in a wistful way to acknowledge the crowd. Then he was gone, ushered into the Hartford Hilton in one swift smooth motion. The idea for the picture didn’t work this time.
I got a picture of his arm and the back of his hand. That was my first attempt at photographing a visiting president.
After winning 18 Big East titles, the UConn women steamrolled their way through the inaugural American Athletic Conference Championship tournament this past weekend at the Mohegan Sun Arena with three decisive wins in as many days, going 34-0 on the season. They defeated Cincinnati 72-42, Rutgers 83-57, and Louisville 72-52. To read John Altavilla’s tournament wrap-up, click here. UConn will enter the upcoming NCAA tournament as an undefeated top seed in their pursuit of a ninth national title.
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.