Today: Westport marks 50 years of welcoming the world
Updated 6:42 am, Saturday, June 27, 2015
It was 1965 and Ruth Steinkraus-Cohen had an idea about bringing Amercians and international citizens together in peace and friendship — if only for a day.
So Cohen, who founded the United Nations Association of Southwestern Connecticut, established jUNe day, an event planned to coincide with the signing of the U.N. charter on June 26, 1945.
On Saturday, dozens of U.N. delegates and staff will, once again, be come to town for the 50th anniversary of the event. And the flags of many of the 193 members of the U.N. will be flying on the Post Road bridge crossing the Saugatuck River to greet the visitors.
That downtown span now is now named in the late Cohen’s honor.
“This is something unique to Westport,” said Bill Hass, United Nations Association president. He said the event, which traditionally takes place the last Saturday in June, was something Cohen, who also served as a private secretary to Eleanor Roosevelt, was enthusiastic about.
It’s a chance for the international visitors to see what Americans are really like, he said. “A lot of them get to see New York City and not much else,” he added. There is also the perception they get from two-dimensional depictions in movies and television and this event is a way to dispel those notions, organizers said.
More than 300 United Nations staff and representatives from governments around the world, along with their families, are expected to attend this year’s gathering. Hass said residents are encouraged to meet the guests at the 10:30 a.m. welcoming ceremony at the Saugatuck Elementary School where a continental breakfast will be served.
The day’s main purpose is to promote world peace and international understanding through friendly interaction. It is person-to-person diplomacy on its most direct level, organizers said.
Among the guests will be Carole Wainaina of Kenya, U.N. assistant secretary-general for human resources management, and Anthony Banbury, UN assistant secretary-general, Department of Field Support, who makes Westport his home.
During the day, the international guests will have free access to a number of events including tours of local attractions such as Earthplace and the Wakeman Town Farm.
The Westport Historical Society will offer guided tours of downtown, and across the Ruth Steinkraus-Cohen Bridge, where attendees can see the international flags displayed. Guests will have access to Compo Beach and the swimming pools at Longshore Park, organizers said.
Also planned are several sporting and recreational events, including a soccer match between the U.N. team and the Westport Knights, a tennis tournament and an organized day of golf at Westport’s community-owned Longshore Golf Course.
Once the welcoming ceremony is over, guests will get a chance to talk with residents and then be free to attend any of the events, Hass said. They are made aware of the offerings when they register for the day, he said.
Some drive to Westport from NYC, others come by train, and buses are available to take guests to any or all of the events, he said.
“The day can go until 6 or 7 p.m.” he said, especially for those who opt for golf.
Restaurants throughout the area contribute breakfast for visitors and lunch is served by local volunteers at Saugatuck Elementary School to all who attend.