Woog’s World: Remembering Elsa Nad, a full — and fulfilling — Westport life
Published 6:32 am, Friday, September 18, 2015
With sad regularity, the obituaries keep coming. The men and women who helped make Westport what it was, in the post-war/baby boom era — the decades that moved this place from a small, sleepy suburb to a dynamic, eclectic community — are reaching the ends of their rich, fulfilled lives.
Their names may not be familiar to most Westporters. The marks they made — in politics, the arts, education, community service and more — have been forgotten (though they still live on). Even in life, some of those men and women never received much recognition. They were the worker bees who quietly and unobtrusively made this such a sweet place to live.
Elsa Nad was one such woman. She died last week, at 85. Here — thanks to her daughter Karen Bernstein — is her story.
Elsa’s ties to Westport stretch back to 1934. Her family bought a summer home in Stony Brook. Today it is a wooded, friendly Weston neighborhood off Easton Road, just over the border with Westport. Back in the day though, it was an artsy, somewhat bohemian summer colony that attracted families from New York City.
Elsa was 4 years old, that first summer. But the ties that were formed that year — and in many subsequent ones — bound her to this area for the rest of her life.
Her daughter says that Elsa’s home life was not easy. Here, however, she was able to play and be carefree. She learned to swim in the Aspetuck River that flowed through Stony Brook. She romped at Compo Beach. Those were idyllic times.
Elsa’s parents owned their Stony Brook home until 1955. By that time Elsa had married Abraham Nad. The couple was just starting a family. They too loved that neighborhood.
Abraham worked for Xerox. Like so many executives of that era, he was transferred many times. When, in 1969, he was assigned to Stamford, Elsa said two words: “Only Westport.” And so it was.
Over the next several decades, she joined and was an active participant in many organizations. There was the Y’s Women, the group that was so much more than just a social gathering. She met with the same book group from 1985 until her death.
Elsa added a poetry group in 1990. She was a member of a writing workshop for 12 years, and a memoir group for five. A published poet and short story author, she was given a standing ovation by her peers at an international writing event in Saratoga Springs. For two decades she was also an active participant in Steffi Friedman’s sculpture class.
From her first days as a permanent Westporter, Elsa and Abraham joined Temple Israel. One of her passions there was aiding struggling Jewish communities in the Ukraine.
Elsa was an avid supporter of the Westport Library. Meanwhile, she and her husband owned Directors Publications, where she worked as an editor.
“My mother drew upon all her experiences from Westport, and the wonderful people here in her writing,” Karen says. “She loved the support for the arts and creativity that is found all around town.”
Her poetry, writing and book groups all inspired her. “She felt as if she derived energy from the people here. The Arts Center, arts festivals, library activities, the people she met here who led and lead such incredibly interesting lives — she fed off them,” Karen says.
“And when she wanted to just sit and think and let the ideas marinate, she would go to the beach and just be. That was where she could sit for hours, watching people and the water and all that she loved.”
A writer since her graduate school days at Columbia University, Elsa flourished in the creative cauldron — and physical beauty — that surrounded her in Westport. All that she found here became part of the characters in her stories and poems, and the tales she told.
“My mother felt incredibly at home here,” Karen adds. “Her love of Westport moved her, and became part of who she was and what she did. She believed that it was only in Westport that she could be free to pursue and her sculpture and her writing. I firmly believe that she felt that Westport was a unique place that cared for and nurtured the things that she felt give people their humanity: the arts.”
Elsa passed those deep feelings on to all she met — including her daughter. At Staples High School in the early 1970s, Karen joined the elite a cappella singing group Orphenians. “This is what I dreamed of when we moved here,” Elsa told her daughter. “We wanted you to be a part of the creative community that is fostered here.”
Elsa continued to be active — and wrote — until just a couple of weeks before her death. What a wonderful life she led.
Dan Woog is a Westport writer, and his “Woog's World” appears each Friday. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. His personal blog is www.danwoog06880.com