Two veteran Westport educators died recently. Mike Silverstein and Alan Chalk worked at Staples High School during dynamic, fervid years. Their marks on their students — and the school — were strong.
Melvin (Mike) Saul Silverstein of Worcester, Massachusetts, died on May 18. He was 95.
An award-winning educator, prized friend and co-worker, he took on diverse roles in education and his communities and was a longtime advocate for the less fortunate.
Silverstein grew up in Hartford, the youngest son of immigrant parents from eastern Europe. He attended Hartford public schools and worked with his siblings at the family-operated People’s Dairy, a milk processing and delivery company.
Only 17, he enlisted in the US Army Air Force in 1943, training to serve as a gunner on a B-24 Liberator just as World War II ended. He was awarded the WW II Victory Medal, American Campaign Medal and Good Conduct Medal.
After his discharge in May 1946. Silverstein attended Hillyer College (now the University of Hartford), where he met his wife Florence. They married in 1948. He graduated in 1950, and obtained his Masters of Education in 1956.
He became a teacher and counselor for Glastonbury High School, then in 1960 moved from East Hartford to Norwalk, and joined the guidance staff of Darien High School.
During the summer of 1966 Silverstein led a group of 22 students to Israel on a service project under the auspices of the New York City-based 92nd Street Y.
In 1967 he took on a guidance role at Staples High, and dramatically expanded it. Over 2 decades he became a fixture in Westport education — active and pioneering in career counseling, adult education and work/study programs.
In 1978 he was named the outstanding counselor in the state of Connecticut by the Connecticut School Counselor Assn.
He also volunteered at the Hope Center in Bridgeport. Simultaneously he was an energetic member of Temple Shalom in Norwalk, becoming principal of the religious school.
Silverstein was married to the late Florence Heath Silverstein for 68 years. He is survived by his children: Lucy Tannen of Framingham, Massachusetts; Jeffrey Silverstein of Blackstone, Massachusetts; Timothy Silverstein (Sally) of Norwalk, Melanie Rosenbaum (Bruce) of Thorndike, Massachusetts.
He also leaves grandchildren: Caroline Savitzky, Alex Savitzky, Kate Silverstein, Ben Silverstein, Lindsay Navarro, Michael Silverstein, Joseph Rosenbaum, and and, as well as great-grandchildren; Devin Smith; Paige, Jordan and Zoey Savitzky; Jonathan and Nicole Navarro, and Madilyn and Salma Delgado-Savitzky.
Silverstein is also survived by his brother Nathan Silverstein of Branford, Connecticut; cousin Marilyn Benson of Bloomfield, Connecticut, and many nieces and nephews.
He was predeceased by his brother Irving and his twin sister Evelyn Fain.
A memorial service will be held late in June in Hartford, followed by a social gathering to share memories and thoughts. Those wishing to attend should call Jeff Silverstein: 774-270-0769.
In lieu of flowers please consider donations to the Alzheimer’s Association, Diabetes Research Institute, University of Hartford, or the Jewish Healthcare Center in Worcester, MA. Click here to leave online condolences.
Alan Chalk died at home, surrounded by love, on May 31. He was 89.
Chalk was born in 1931 in Springfield, Massachusetts. He and his beloved wife Norma LaFlamme married 70 years ago.
Chalk joined the Navy during the Korean War, and did 2 world tours. In 1952, his experiences traveling in Japan and meeting the people touched him deeply. A lifelong journey commenced.
He received his teaching degree at Wesleyan University, and attended the University of Iowa Ph.D. program. He moved to Fairfield in 1961, where he lived the rest of his life.
His first teaching position was at Staples High School, developing an innovative creative writing program. He became chairman of the English Department at Weston High School in 1972. He was voted Teacher of the Year in 1989. He retired from Weston High School in 1991.
Chalk began a new career as consultant, writer and teacher specializing in postwar and contemporary Japanese literature and film, and developed an extensive library. He created the curriculum for the first Center for Japanese Study Abroad magnet school in Norwalk.
He traveled extensively but Japan remained closest to his heart. He led tours for students, teachers and family, sharing his knowledge and love of Japan. He wrote novels, short stories and poetry, many inspired by his travels in Japan.
Chalk was a master teacher, writer, wood sculptor and photographer. He also found time to raise 5 children with Norma, remodeling the house, and creating beautiful gardens.
Chalk said, “I exist in a style of anonymity and I ask a thousand questions. I find that I ask questions I don’t have the answer to and this may be the key to effective teaching. I am always learning. Every day.”
He loved teaching. His deep care for his students and staff is reflected in the letters from students and parents, thanking him for his inspiration and caring during pivotal times in their lives, as well as those from teachers whom he helped to become master teachers themselves. He impacted many lives.
A plaque on his wall — a gift — reads:”A teacher affects eternity; he can never tell where his influence stops.”
Chalk is survived by daughters Lynn and Karen; sons Brian, Gary and David; son-in-law Scott, daughter-in-law Laura; grandchildren Jesse, Danielle, Gabrielle, Billy, Maya, Sammy, Nicole and her family Jeff, Tenley, Caiden Blaiotta, and great-grandchildren Lyla and Jude.
He was predeceased by his wife Norma, an integral part of his accomplishments and to whom he gives much of the credit.
Dan Magida, a former student at Staples over 50 years ago, was one of his best friends.
Contributions in his memory can be made to Habitat for Humanity of Coast Fairfield County, where his wife was a longtime volunteer.