Westport lost two beloved citizens last week. Some of us knew both of them. I don’t know if they knew each other. But in many ways, and over several decades, they contributed their time, energy and talent to make this the type of town it was. And — fortunately — still is.
Tony Arciola was a son of Saugatuck. Like so many others in that tight-knit village of the early and mid-20th century, his parents were Italian immigrants. Their seven children were all born here. Tony was the youngest.
He graduated from Staples High School in 1944. At a time when many of his 100 classmates went straight to work — or war — Tony aimed for the University of Connecticut. Norm Flint — the principal of Bedford Junior High, who doubled as Staples’ college counselor — saw Tony’s transcript, and told him he was going to Yale.
He took a semester off to work at Kellems’ cable grip factory in Westport to augment his scholarship, and headed to New Haven.
He earned his undergrad degree, then got his master’s in education at Columbia. Tony substitute taught for a year at Staples, became a Spanish teacher and adult ed. instructor, and in 1950 landed his dream job, teaching English.
For 34 years, he was one of Staples’ most influential and inspiring teachers. He taught thousands of students how to appreciate American literature, and write a research paper. During a decade as department chair, Tony hired dozens of top-notch teachers. At a time of changing standards and philosophies, he held on to high standards for that research paper. He added contemporary novels, while making sure Shakespeare stayed in the curriculum too.
Yet his heart was in the classroom. Tony returned there full-time, happily helping teenagers analyze literature and learn to write. He was admired by everyone, but held in particular esteem by Saugatuck residents. They knew that one of Staples’ best was one of them.
Tony retired from teaching in 1984, but almost immediately returned as a special education aide. Working one-on-one with students gave him profound joy — and gave them a chance to succeed. He married late in life, to a woman appropriately nicknamed Sunshine, and reveled in his new family.
Bob Satter, meanwhile, was known to Westporters as a photographer and World War II Army Air Force veteran. The DeWitt Clinton High School graduate was stationed in London. He flew over 30 missions as a radio operator and belly gunner, earning the Distinguished Flying Cross and two battle stars.
Bob married Jean in 1946. Eight years later they moved to Westport. He opened a photography studio near the Greens Farms train station, sharing space with George Cardozo. Bob took thousands of family portraits, plus weddings, bar mitzvahs, confirmations and much more. He had a talent for putting everyone — including little kids and animals — at ease, and getting the best out of everyone.
In 2014 Bob was named grand marshal of Westport’s Memorial Day parade. In his address, he described the reality of war with honesty, power, touches of modesty and even humor.
In retirement, Bob — often wearing a leather bombardier jacket — could be found in two places. He was a regular at Gold’s, where he held forth at a favorite table, and at Sweet Frog, where he picked up a daily treat for his ailing wife. She died a few months ago.
As I wrote earlier, I have no idea whether Tony Arciola and Bob Satter knew each other. I hope so; both were “people persons,” with a curiosity about the world and the rich tapestry of human beings who inhabit it. Both loved Westport, and enjoyed knowing an enormous range of folks who live here.
But their legacies will live on. And that’s not just wishful thinking.
One day at Sweet Frog, a 6-year-old girl saw Bob’s jacket, and introduced herself to him. “My dad helps army guys,” Hope Vengrow said. He certainly does. Adam Vengrow is a driving force behind Catch a Lift, the organization that provides physical training, gym memberships, motivation and support to post-9/11 combat wounded military personnel. (The next event is November 11, at Birchwood Country Club.)
Bob and Hope became fast friends. Nearly 90 years separated them, but their bond was strong. She visited him during his final hospitalization — and, true to her name, gave him “hope.”
That story offers me hope that although Bob Satter and Tony Arciola are gone, the Westport they loved still lives. Residents like Adam Vengrow continue to give back, in their own ways, to our community. And when Hope Vengrow gets to Staples a few years from now, she will enjoy the same excellent school that Tony went to, taught at, and always loved.
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 danwoog06880.com.