Laurie Veninger stands up for “de-mail” at the North Truro Post Office with Ira Brodsky and Mark Enright. Veninger said other members of Indivisible Outer Cape gathered at post offices in Wellfleet, Truro, and Provincetown on Saturday as part of a nationwide protest against Postmaster General Louis DeJoy and policies that are disrupting service and the public’s trust in the mail. (Photo Nancy Bloom)
DEBT OF GRATITUDE
EASTHAM — About 50 people gathered outside Willy’s World Wellness & Conference Center on Aug. 7, marking one year since the death of tennis coach Joe Abbott, who collapsed at work on the gym’s tennis courts.
They held signs remembering Abbott, but said they were also there in protest, because Willy’s owner, Barbara Niggel, has not paid Abbott’s widow the $20,000 Niggel allegedly owed Abbott when he died.
“Be Kind, Be Decent, Willy’s Pay Joe What You Owe,” read the sign held by David Bernstein, a tennis player who started a GoFundMe campaign after Abbott, of South Dennis, died at age 63 of a heart attack on Aug. 7, 2019. The campaign raised about $40,000.
Bernstein and other students of Abbott say they are not done trying to help Francine Abbott, Joe’s widow, as well as his six children and 12 grandchildren.
Ms. Abbott did not want to comment about the money at the protest Friday, but said, “Everyone who is here is why Joe came to work in the morning. And they became my support system this past year. They were his family, and now, they are my family.”
Niggel, through her attorney, Ed Kirk, has disputed Abbott’s claim. Kirk told the Independent in March, “If and to the extent it is demonstrated that Joe Abbott was owed any money at the time of his death, that amount will be paid. Given her long-standing relationship with Joe Abbott, my client would be of the opinion that Joe Abbott would not be happy with the allegations being made against my client at this time.”
Bernstein said Abbott was very loyal to Niggel, who has a long history, documented by numerous small claims in Orleans District Court, of failing to pay contractors and employees, as well as violating building, health, and safety codes, which caused the town of Eastham to shut down the gym for months last December.
Bernstein said Niggel is asking Francine to “jump through hoops” to document the money owed. He and Abbott’s other supporters say they won’t pay fees or use the newly reopened gym until the money is paid.
Protestors also said they were upset about the way Abbott died, immediately after strenuous work to resurface the outdoor courts on a hot August day. They said Niggel had collected extra money from the tennis players to hire a professional contractor for the project.
The day Abbott died, he had been hauling 80-pound bags of material to resurface the courts, said Betsie Lind of Eastham, a longtime student of Abbott’s. Lind said he then began her lesson, but promptly stopped, saying he was feeling too hot and needed to sit down.
Lind said Abbott was sweating profusely. She tried to use the downstairs phone by the indoor tennis courts, but it did not work, so she dialed 911 on her cell phone.
Lind remembered Abbott as more than a tennis instructor. “He was more like a life coach,” she said.
Mary Gulrich, one of Abbott’s students from Eastham, added, “He treated each of us with dignity and respect and greeted us with hugs and joy.”
“We are very saddened that it’s been a full year and we’re still waiting for Francine to be paid,” said Anne Sigsbee, another of Abbott’s students who joined the protest.
Along with private lessons, Abbott coached several teams, including a men’s team that went on in February to win a U.S. Tennis Association national championship in Florida.
Meetings are held remotely. Go to eastham-ma.gov/calendar-by-event-type/16 and click on a particular meeting to read its agenda. That document will provide information about how to view and take part remotely.
Tuesday, Aug. 11
- Conservation Commission, 6 p.m.
Wednesday, Aug. 12
- Finance Committee, 5 p.m.
As of July 30, the number of confirmed cases in Eastham was 14. The number of cases increased from 12 last week, according to the town’s website.
A protest outside Willy’s Gym is planned to begin at 8 a.m. on Friday, Aug. 7. Anne Sigsbee has organized the protest for the one-year anniversary of the death of Joe Abbott, a longtime tennis instructor at the gym.
“It will be a year since Joe died and many of us are very aware that his family has not been paid what he was owed when he died,” Sigsbee told the Independent.
The Independent reported in March that Francine Abbott of South Dennis, Joe Abbott’s widow, claims that Willy’s owner Barbara Niggel owed him more than $20,000 in unpaid wages and loans when he died last year. Niggel has denied this and has hired a lawyer to represent her in the dispute.
“We felt to honor him and his family we would speak up,” Sigsbee said. “Some of us feel strongly and will not use the facilities until we learn that they’ve been paid what they’re owed.”
The protest will be an all-day event with most people showing up around midday, Sigsbee said. She expects 20 or more people to attend, including Abbott’s family, and participants will be wearing masks and remain socially distanced.
“Joe’s family is very supportive and will be there,” she said.
Anyone planning to attend should wear a mask; signs are welcome.
Nauset Schools to Reveal Opening Plan Aug. 6
Nauset Regional School Supt. Tom Conrad will announce the district’s reopening plans for the fall at 6:30 p.m. on Thursday, Aug. 6.
So far all that has been announced to parents is that the Nauset district, which spans Wellfleet to Brewster, will most likely open late, on Sept. 16, to give teachers time for training and to be ready for a school year guaranteed to include distance learning for families needing that option and a lot of hand sanitizer.
Other than that, Conrad’s message will lay out details on whether all students go back to a brick-and-mortar school, continue “distant learning,” or a combination of both.
To get on the Zoom call, follow these instructions: Go to nausetschools.org. Scroll down the Quick Links and select “Event Calendar” and then click on the event listed on Aug. 6. Click next on the “Description, 8-6-2020.” This will take you, finally, to the agenda and Zoom meeting link.
Rock Harbor Open Again
The Rock Harbor boat ramp is open again, according to Town Administrator Jacqui Beebe. She gave an update to the select board on Aug. 3 on the completion of the project to repave and replace the boat ramp in the area.
Beebe said Harbormaster Scott Richards will be at the harbor assisting boats in and out of the area. The town waited to see what the weather was like earlier this week but planned on opening the boat ramp after Wednesday.
“Our docks and floats are in the water and we have everything set up to receive boats at this point,” Beebe said. “The ramp portion is complete; the parking lot was repaved two days ago and is ready to be driven on.”
The line markers for parking spaces will be drawn either this week or next week.
Register to Vote
The last day to register to vote in Eastham for the state primary election, to be held on Sept. 1, is Saturday, Aug. 22 at the police station. The deadline to request a mail-in AV or EV ballot is Wednesday, Aug. 26 at 5 p.m. and to request an AV or EV in person is Monday, Aug. 31 until noon.
Early voting for the primary will be held at town hall on Saturday, Aug. 22 and Sunday, Aug. 23 from 9 to 11 a.m. and on Monday, Aug. 24 through Friday, Aug. 28 from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m.
The last day to register to vote at the annual town meeting, to be held on Sept. 21, is Tuesday, Sept. 1 until 5 p.m.
Kerry Steps Down from Strategic Planning
In a letter to the select board, Scott Kerry announced he will be stepping down from the strategic planning committee but said he would still provide input as a resident.
“I would like to offer my services and experiences as a business owner, father of an elementary school student, and long-time resident if needed and/or desired,” Kerry wrote. “I will plan to make future meetings when my schedule permits.”
Kerry is the new town moderator and chair of the T-Time Development Committee. —Ryan Fitzgerald
WELLFLEET — Protests against police brutality following the May 25 murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis were not confined to America’s major cities. About 150 people marched through Wellfleet last Sunday afternoon, and about the same number gathered in Provincetown that evening.