Category Archives: History

MLK

This story has become a Martin Luther King Day tradition on “06880.”

Today is Martin Luther King Day. Westporters will celebrate with a day off from school or work.  Some will sleep in; others will ski, or take part in a Staples basketball clinic for younger players. Few will give any thought to Martin Luther King.

Twice, though, his life intersected this town in important ways.

Martin Luther KingThe first was Friday night, May 22, 1964. According to Woody Klein’s book Westport, Connecticut, King had been invited to speak at Temple Israel by synagogue member Jerry Kaiser.

King arrived in the afternoon. Kaiser and his wife Roslyn sat on their porch that afternoon, and talked with King and 2 of his aides. She was impressed with his “sincerity, warmth, intelligence and genuine concern for those about him — our children, for instance. He seemed very young to bear such a burden of leadership.”

King’s sermon — to a packed audience — was titled “Remaining Awake Through a Great Revolution.” He analogized his America to the time of Rip Van Winkle — who also “slept through a revolution. The greatest liability of history is that people fail to see a revolution taking place in our world today.  We must support the social movement of the Negro.”

Westport artist Roe Halper presented King with 3 woodcarvings, representing the civil rights struggle. He hung them proudly in the front hallway of his Atlanta home.

Artist Roe Halper (left) presents Coretta Scott King with civil rights-themed wood carvings.

Within a month Temple Israel’s rabbi, Byron Rubenstein, traveled south to take place in a nonviolent march. He was arrested — along with Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King.

In jail, the rabbi said, “I came to know the greatness of Dr. King. I never heard a word of hate or bitterness from that man, only worship of faith, joy and determination.”

King touched Westport again less than 4 years later. On April 5, 1968 — the day after the civil rights leader’s assassination in Memphis — 600 Staples students gathered for a lunchtime vigil in the courtyard. Nearby, the flag flew at half-staff.

A small portion of the large crowd listens intently to Fermino Spencer, in the Staples courtyard.

A small portion of the large crowd listens intently to Fermino Spencer, in the Staples courtyard.

Vice principal Fermino Spencer addressed the crowd. Movingly, he spoke about  his own experience as an African American. Hearing the words “my people” made a deep impression on the almost all-white audience. For many, it was the 1st time they had heard a black perspective on white America.

No one knew what lay ahead for their country. But student Jim Sadler spoke for many when he said: “I’m really frightened. Something is going to happen.”

Something did — and it was good. A few hundred students soon met in the cafeteria. Urged by a minister and several anti-poverty workers to help bridge the chasm between Westport and nearby cities, Staples teachers and students vowed to create a camp.

Within 2 months, it was a reality. That summer 120 elementary and junior high youngsters from Westport, Weston, Norwalk and Bridgeport participated in the Intercommunity Camp. Led by over 100 Staples students and many teachers, they enjoyed swimming, gymnastics, dance, sports, field trips, overnight camping, creative writing, filmmaking, photography, art and reading.

It wasn’t easy — some in Westport opposed bringing underprivileged children to their town — but for over a decade the Intercommunity Camp flourished.

Eventually, enthusiasm for and interest in the camp waned. Fewer Staples students and staff members wanted to devote their summer to such a project.  The number of Westporters willing to donate their pools dwindled. Today the Intercommunity Camp is a long-forgotten memory.

Sort of like the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King. Even on his birthday.

MLK speech

Historical Society: Over 2 Years, Quiet Anger Grew

I did not want to publish another story about the Westport Museum for History & Culture (the former Westport Historical Society).

The long-appreciated Avery Place institution has taken a public pummeling, since Monday’s story about the renaming of the Sheffer Gallery in honor of a large contribution from a charitable trust. I ran subsequent stories when former volunteers spoke out. Readers added hundreds of comments. Current museum officials did not respond.

Westport Historical Society (Photo/Lynn U. Miller)

I thought Westporters had had their say, and Museum representatives did not want theirs. I did not want another story. It would seem to be “piling on.”

But then I got this email, from a Westporter who spoke with multiple WHS sources. It’s filled with other questions and concerns. It’s been vetted by people with long and deep knowledge of the WHS and WMFH&C.

Much of this information has been talked about quietly in town, for a couple of years. Now — in the aftermath of this week’s controversy — it too becomes part of the public discourse. The resident writes:

The average Westporter has to be confused and questioning the current explosion of outrage towards the Westport Historical Society.

How did the renaming issue cause over 200 “06880” followers to take time to express outrage? Did this outburst of frustration and anger arise out of nowhere?

No. Distress over the recent direction of the WHS has been going on for a while. There has been little public outcry, but much angst and a sense of hopelessness.

One of the early chapters of the outrage began when the new executive director dismissed — by email — a senior employee, after 20-plus years of service to the gift shop. She was told it was being phased out.

But within weeks the shop was reopened, staffed by a younger employee.

A wide collection of books on sale at the Westport Historical Society, in 2014. (Photo/Larry Untermeyer)

Concurrently, most longtime “period rooms” were eliminated. At the same time, many donated pieces of Westport historical value (not necessarily monetary worth) were sold or trashed — summarily and quietly, without donor notification.

The next chapter was longer and more painful. Individual by individual, longtime board members, volunteers and large donors were quietly pushed out.

Many people who had given so much over so many years were shown the door. They were too proud, too humble and/or too civil to push back in a public forum.  They stayed in touch as one by one they went down — but they did not go public.

The advisory board experienced the same treatment.

As the next chapter evolved, certain groups that supported and enhanced the WHS were pushed aside. This included some artists who had exhibit commitments in writing and were already being promoted in the media. Despite their hurt, they too stayed quiet.

Residents became the next focus. Last year, people who were used to accessing archives and files of the WHS –and amazingly, town officials too — were suddenly told it was now necessary to schedule in advance. In addition, they would have to pay $40 an hour.

Then came the unilateral renaming of a Westport institution. Quickly, and with surprisingly little outcry, the Westport Historical Society was to become the Westport Museum for History & Culture. That opened the door to government funding, negating much of the need for local volunteerism and donations.  Both were pillars of the WHS, which gave the WHS purpose and strength.

The latest, but not the final, chapter came this week with the revelation of the renaming of a section named for a longtime Westport family that donated countless hours, as well as generous funds, for decades.

Now it is to be renamed for a new donation from a well-meaning foundation, which could not have imagined that the quiet revelation of the news would release the outrage built up over the past 2 years.

One can hope that this is the last chapter that returns the WHS to its constituency: its volunteers and its participants. WHS, are you listening?

MLK Celebration Shines Light On Voter Suppression

Carol Anderson teaches African American studies at Emory University. She is one of America’s foremost experts on voter suppression.

Anderson’s research has identified suppression that, she says, could have reversed results in key states during the 2016 presidential election. She also studies voter disinformation (election meddling), and the disenfranchisement of black women voters from the suffrage movement through the 1960s.

Anderson’s latest book is  One Person, No Vote: How Voter Suppression is Destroying our Democracy.

Dr. Carol Anderson

All of which makes her an excellent choice to deliver the keynote address at Westport’s annual Martin Luther King Day celebration. It’s set for Sunday, January 19 (3 p.m., Westport Country Playhouse), with an audience Q-and-A, reception and book signing to follow.

The event also includes performances by award-winning opera soprano Helena Brown, and students from Trumbull’s Regional Center for the Arts.

The importance of voter suppression — as we hurtle toward the 2020 presidential election, and voter registration lawsuits plod through the courts — is why, in addition to the usual MLK Day sponsors (TEAM Westport, the Westport Weston Interfaith Council, Westport Library and Playhouse), Anderson’s appearance draws strong support from the Westport League of Women Voters, and Westport’s 1919 Committee.

That’s a group of library staff and volunteers who have planned events throughout the year to commemorate the 100th anniversary of women’s suffrage.

One Person, No Vote is included in the Westport Library’s 2019–20 WestportREADS program, which celebrates that centennial.

The MLK Celebration on January 19 is free. However, tickets are required. Click here to register.

“Harriet,” “Honey Boy” Producer: The Westport Connection

Movie buffs know that 2 Oscar contenders — “Harriet” and “Honey Boy” — were both produced by Daniela Taplin Lundberg.

Some may even know that she produced “The Kids Are All Right” and “Under the Silver Lake.”

But who knew that she was a Westporter?

That’s just one part of a wide-ranging interview with Forbes.com.

Daniela Taplin Lundberg

In it, Lundberg talks about her youth in LA (her father got his start in producing by taking a gamble on a young director named Martin Scorsese, and his project “Mean Streets”); her interest in stories about “triumphs of the human spirit” (including “Beasts of No Nation” and “Doris”), and the women who have helped her navigate her male-dominated world.

As for “Honey Boy” — released through a streaming service, as opposed to a theater experience — she says:

People want to be able to access entertainment in their own homes, and I relate to that well. I have 3 children, I work in New York, I live in Westport. I want to be able to have these great, extraordinary film experiences at my fingertips, if that’s a possibility. So I think there’s a way for both things to coexist.

As a filmmaker, the idea that I can serve as both is really exciting, but do I believe that the experience of “Harriet” on a big screen with 300 people in the room is going to be better than watching on my TV in my living room? Yeah, I do….

It’s really gripping. It’s really exciting. I think it’s probably better in a big group experience, if you can do that. But the first time I saw “Godfather II” was on a VHS tape in my parents’ living room [and] it didn’t make it any less a good film for me.

Meanwhile, Lundberg tells another media outlet — “06880”:

We chose to land here because the schools seemed great, and the town felt like it had a great combination of warmth and edge. You have all the touchstones of a beautiful Connecticut town (changing leaves in the fall, gorgeous shoreline, picturesque town), but then you have a wonderfully creative theater community and truly great food.

We took a shot thinking that it might be the right fit, and have been lucky enough to find truly great friends and a wonderful place to raise our three children. We’ve been here for 4 years now, and it’s really starting to feel like home.

Her next project: a film about Teddy Roosevelt, and the lessons of leadership.

(Click here for Forbes’ full interview with Daniela Taplin Lundberg. Hat tip: Tricia Freeman)

November 22, 1963

Today is Friday, November 22, 2019.

If you were alive on Friday, November 22, 1963 — and over, say, 5 years old — you understand how dramatically, and traumatically, America shifted that day.

If you weren’t, there is no way you can comprehend it.

The murder of President Kennedy was a horrific, galvanizing moment in time. It happened 56 years ago today, but I remember it like it was yesterday.

JFKI was in 5th grade. Since September my friends and I had walked to and from school. We gathered on High Point Road, cut through the Staples High School athletic fields and parking lot, sauntered down North Avenue, walked across open farmland, and arrived at Burr Farms Elementary.

We were like the “Stand By Me” boys: talking about kid stuff, reveling in our independence, figuring out each other and the world, in a world that would soon mightily change.

Minutes before school ended that beautiful Friday, the teacher from next door burst into our room. “Kennedy got killed!” she yelled. A girl broke into spontaneous applause. Her father was a leading Republican in town.

Our teacher slapped her face.

Usually, our teacher wished us a happy weekend. That day the bell rang, and we just left. No one knew how to interpret her reaction. We’d never seen a teacher hit a student before.

Then again, we’d never heard of our president being murdered.

JFK NYT

As my friends and I gathered for our ritual walk home, we suddenly had Something Big to talk about. For the first time in our lives, we discussed news. We had no details, but already we sensed that the world we knew would never be the same.

That vague feeling was confirmed the moment we walked down the exit road, into the Staples parking lot. School had been out for an hour, but clots of students huddled around cars, listening to radios. Girls sobbed — boys, too. Their arms were wrapped around each other, literally clinging together for support. I’d never seen one teenager cry. Now there were dozens.

At home, I turned on the television. Black-and-white images mirrored the scene at Staples a few minutes earlier. Newscasters struggled to contain their emotions; men and women interviewed in the street could not.

The president was dead. Now it was true. I saw it on TV.

Walter Cronkite on CBS, announcing the death of President Kennedy.

My best friend, Glenn, slept over that night. The television was on constantly. The longer I watched, the more devastated I became.

John F. Kennedy was the first president I knew. My father had taken me to a campaign rally in Bridgeport 3 years earlier. I could not articulate it then, but I admired JFK’s energy, was inspired by his youthfulness, and vowed to grow up and (like him) make a difference.

Now he was dead.

Bill Mauldin captured the grief of a nation.

Bill Mauldin captured the grief of a nation.

Saturday was rainy and blustery. I watched more TV. Like most Americans, I was obsessed by this unfolding tragedy. Like them too I had no idea that the impact of that weekend would remain, seared in my brain and heart, more than 5 decades later.

Sunday was the first day I cried. The raw emotions of all the adults around — in the streets of Westport, and on the television screen — finally overwhelmed me. I cried for the dead president, my fallen hero; for his widow and children; for everyone else who looked so sad and vulnerable.

Then — right after noon — Jack Ruby killed Lee Harvey Oswald. Once again I sat transfixed by the TV. I was stunned, and scared.

Monday was a brilliant fall day. President Kennedy was laid to rest under a crisp, cloudless sky. The unforgettably moving ceremony was watched by virtually everyone in the world with access to a television.

To my everlasting regret, I did not see it live. Glenn said we could not sit inside on a day off from school. Rather than risk being called a nerd (or whatever word we used in 1963), I chose playing touch football at Staples over watching history. I was in 5th grade. What did I know?

The coffin, at Arlington National Cemetery.

The coffin, at Arlington National Cemetery.

The next day we went back to school. The Staples parking lot looked exactly as it had before that fateful Friday. Our teacher never said a word about slapping the girl who cheered President Kennedy’s assassination.

Thanksgiving arrived on schedule 2 days later. At our dinner — like every other table in America — the adults tried to steer the conversation away from the awful events that had consumed us for nearly a week.

Life Magazine coverIn the days and months to come — as the country slowly, painfully, pulled itself out of its collective, overwhelming grief — I devoured everything about President Kennedy I could find. I saved Life, Look, Saturday Evening Post. I ordered the Warren Commission report. Like so many others I still have it all, somewhere.

In the years that followed my admiration for the young, slain president grew, then ebbed. But it never died. He remained my political hero: the first president I ever knew, cared about, was mesmerized by, and mourned.

When President Kennedy was killed, journalist Mary McGrory said, “We’ll never laugh again.” Daniel Patrick Moynihan — who worked for JFK — replied, “Mary, we will laugh again. But we will never be young again.”

Fifty-six years ago this morning, I was a young 5th grader without a care in the world.

Walking home that afternoon, I could never not care again.

Colin Corneck: Veterans Inspire Me To Serve

Colin Corneck is a Staples High School senior. A soccer team member and swim team captain, he’s already received a Naval ROTC college scholarship. He’s also applying to the US Naval Academy.

He was chosen to represent Staples, at this morning’s Veterans Day ceremony in Town Hall. Here’s Colin’s address:

I am honored to come before you today. I was recently selected to give this speech because of my passion for serving our country. I’m fortunate to attend a school where there are several of us with the same interest – so on behalf of all of us, thank you.

Thank you for giving me this opportunity. And thank you for allowing me to join you today where I am surrounded by greatness — the greatness of each and every one of you – our American veterans.

Colin Corneck

Right now, I’m in the midst of the college application process. My goal is to become a naval officer after attending university. I have been fortunate enough to receive an NROTC scholarship and am applying to the Naval Academy.

I would like to thank our veterans for your heroic sacrifices. Your bravery and willingness to serve made it possible for my generation to be here today, a debt that can never be repaid but that instead should be paid forward.

When I was in 8th grade at Bedford Middle School, I was given the opportunity to hear from veterans, possibly even from some of you sitting before me today. I remember a particular story from a World War II veteran, who enlisted at the age of 16 and fought in the Pacific.

While I looked around and saw that my classmates were captivated hearing the courageous story, I felt touched on what I think might have been a deeper level. I don’t think I fully appreciated that many World War II veterans were my age when they began their service, but I was able to realize the momentous sacrifices that members of our armed forces make for the safety of the rest of the country. This was the first time I felt the calling, and the desire to try and follow the extraordinary footsteps each and every one of you has left behind.

I’m privileged to come before you today to talk about service and what it means to me. I come from a long line of people who served in the armed forces, including great-grandparents who fought in World War II and my father, who was a naval intelligence officer assigned to a Marine Corps F-18 squadron and then to the aircraft carrier USS Kitty Hawk. I often talk to my dad about his military service.

He speaks of his time in service with the highest degree of pride, and tells me that it was one of his greatest life choices. It has developed him into a great leader, father, and overall person.

Veterans salute during the national anthem, at today’s Town Hall ceremony.

My discussions with him excite me to serve as I want to look back on my life knowing that I made a difference in the world, and that my time on this earth was well spent.

Service to me means the opportunity to protect our nation’s values. Just as the veterans we honor today put their lives on the line to protect our democracy and the ideas we stand for as a country, I want to do the same.

We are blessed to live in the greatest country on earth, created by ideals set forth in the Declaration of Independence and embedded in the Constitution. The ideals of personal freedom and self-government are enabled and protected by our Armed Forces.

The veterans among us today who fought in World War II protected our democratic style of government, and defeated armies fueled by the fascist fire of hatred. The veterans among us today who fought in Korea and Vietnam traveled halfway around the world to protect our allies and give them the opportunity to live democratically just as we do.

The veterans among us today who served in the Middle East and Afghanistan worked to stabilize regions and fight off terror before it gets to the front lines of our nation.

For your sacrifices and accomplishments, I thank you. Each and every one of you has been an inspiration to serve, and I hope to be able to protect our country in the same fashion that you have.

I was asked during one of my Academy interviews how I thought I would fit in with people who have very different backgrounds. Recently, I had the opportunity to have lunch with a group of West Point cadets: male, female, ethnically diverse, and from many different parts of the US. Regardless of background, what brought each and every one of us to that table was a strong connection forged by both a common belief in our country’s values and a commitment to defend those values.

Color guard, at today’s ceremony.

The same can be said for the various branches represented in this room. While there will always be friendly rivalries, there is a broader bond that unites anyone who has served in any capacity in any branch of our military.

I have a lot to learn – and relish moments like this where I can be in the company of each of you. You can teach us all so much. I also have a lot to give. I am extremely excited to enter the next chapter of my life, and to have the opportunity to serve.

One last time I would like to thank each and every one of you for your service. I am inspired to stand among you.

Today’s Veterans Day ceremony also included remarks from 1st Selectman Jim Marpe. He noted Westport’s support of all service members — from the Catch a Lift events, to the VFW and its fundraisers, to Homes with Hope’s supportive housing.

He urged all Westporters to re-commit to making sure that “all our veterans are able to live their lives in dignity, accessibility, and with a peace of mind that comes with our ongoing support.”

The Wilkinson family — Emma, Augie, Jack and Melody — remember their grandfather and great-grandfather who served.

 

Westport Students Honor Vets

For several years, Westport schools have been in session on Veterans Day.

At first, the move was controversial. Why, some residents wondered, did our students and staff not get the federal holiday off, to honor all those who have served our country?

Of course, that’s not what most people do on Veterans Day. If you’ve got the day off, odds are you spend far less time thinking about America’s vets than you do about going to the gym, walking the dog and what’s for dinner.

Things are very different inside our schools.

Many make the day meaningful, by prepping students with special programs.

Jay Dirnberger, with a plastic helicopter made for him by a Bedford Middle School student. (Photo/Molly Alger)

Every year on or around the holiday, Bedford Middle School invites veterans to meet, in small groups, with 8th graders. The vets talk about their experiences, and lessons learned. Students ask questions, and have meaningful conversations.

Jay Dirnberger has participated for the past 8 years. He always looks forward to it — especially the attentiveness of the youngsters, and their insightful questions.

Sometimes, he says, they help him uncover long-forgotten incidents or emotions.

Jay and his wife, Molly Alger, always look forward to the thank-you notes that arrive from students a few days later. They are detailed and meaningful, she says. Every year, one or two bring her to tears.

Ted Diamond is a longtime participant too. The World War II Army Air Corps combat navigator was there again last Friday — at age 102. So were 96-year-old Larry Aasen, and 95-year-old WWII vet Leonard Everett Fisher.

Leonard Everett Fisher, at Bedford Middle School. (Photo/January Stewart)

“This is a terrific program,” Molly says, “particularly in a town that does not have a lot of family members on active military duty.” She thanks Courtney Ruggiero, David Deitch and the social studies staff for organizing this event for “the future leaders of our country.”

Bedford Middle School student thanks a vet. (Photo/January Stewart)

Veterans at Bedford Middle School. (Photo/Bob Fitzpatrick)

Greens Farms Elementary School usually holds a Veterans Day event on the actual holiday as well. This year, due to scheduling issues, it was last Friday.

For the past 7 years, 3rd grade teachers have run an all-school assembly. That’s no coincidence: instructors Amy Murtagh, Karen Frawley, Dan Seek and Michelle DeCarlo all have immediate family members who are veterans.

Murtagh’s husband is on active duty in the Marine Corps Reserves. He recently returned from a year-long deployment, including 7 months in Afghanistan. He presented GFS with a flag flown over his base.

Capt. John Murtagh, UMSC, and 3rd grade teacher Amy Murtagh. (Photo/Jenn Falik)

Frawley’s mother is a retired Air Force member. It’s important, Murtagh says, that Greens Farms students meet a female vet.

Seek’s father is also retired from the Air Force — and a former POW. DeCarlo’s father-in-law is a veteran too.

Every year, the GFS program begins with a reception. Veterans, their family and school students or staff members they’re related to swap stories.

Clockwise from bottom: Greens Farms 3rd grader Lily Jumper; Lily’s mother Lauren; Lily’s grandparents Marie Jumper, and James Jumper, electrician’s mate 3rd class, US Navy. (Photo/Jenn Falik)

The 3rd graders then run the assembly for the entire school. There is a Pledge of Allegiance, national anthem, and a discussion of why Veterans Day  is important. Then everyone sings songs from each branch of service.

Third graders teach the rest of the school about something related to the day. Past lessons have included a Missing Man table, and discussions of the Oath of Enlistment and the sacrifices veterans and their families make.

This year, the subject was the importance of our flag — including flag-folding. That was especially poignant. The ceremony was conducted by 2 vets who recently returned from deployments to Afghanistan. One — Lt. Ryan Weddle of the Navy — is the father of a current 3rd grader. On Friday, he folded the flag with Capt. John Murtagh of the Marine Corps

After the ceremony, each veteran was presented with a flag that had already been folded the traditional way. Each vet’s background and honors was noted.

Among the attendees this year: a female veteran, a Purple Heart recipient, a Combat Action Medal recipient, and veterans from multiple wars.

Veterans at Greens Farms Elementary School. (Photo/Jenn Falik)

Like Molly Alger, Amy Murtagh believes that honoring veterans in schools takes on added significance here. “Westport doesn’t have the biggest military presence,” the GFS 3rd grade teacher says. “So this is an incredible learning opportunity for our students.”

Meanwhile, it’s a regular — if special — school day today, in Westport. But Colin Corneck won’t be in class this morning.

The Staples High School senior — a member of the boys soccer team, boys swim team captain, and recipient of a Naval ROTC scholarship — will deliver the address at the town’s annual Veterans Day service.

The program begins at 10:30 a.m., with a patriotic concert by the Westport Community Band. In addition to Colin’s remarks, there’s an invocation and benediction by the Rev. Alison Patton Buttrick of Saugatuck Congregational Church; remarks from 1st Selectman Jim Marpe; placing of a memorial wreath by members of VFW Post 399 and American Legion Post 63; taps played by Community Band trumpeters, and the “Armed Forces Salute.”

Colin will represent all Westport students well. They won’t be there, because school is in session. They wouldn’t have been there if school was out, either.

But thanks to the work of teachers and staff at all levels, our youngsters today have a great knowledge of — and appreciation for — what today is all about.

Larry Silver Celebrates Leonardo Da Vinci

It’s been 500 years since the death of Leonardo da Vinci. Museums all over the world are celebrating the life and death of the remarkable inventor/artist/ architect — the literal embodiment of a Renaissance man.

Leonardo da Vinci

In the 16th century, a plague killed nearly a third of Milan’s population.  In its aftermath da Vinci designed a city with greater communications, water, services and sanitation — all to prevent future spreads of the plague.

Unfortunately, the city was never built.

Half a millennium later, photographers from around the world were invited to submit images that show da Vinci’s influence, as seen in today’s world.

A thousand entries were submitted. Only 30 were chosen.

One was from Westport’s own Larry Silver. His image — taken in the Florida Everglades in 2001 — will be exhibited at the Trieste Photo Festival, and published in a companion book by Trieste’s Revoltella Museum.

But you don’t have to travel all the way to Italy to see Larry’s work. An exhibit of his remarkable photos is set for the Westport Library. It opens December 7, and runs through February 13.

There’s a reception on Friday, December 13 (6 p.m., Sheffer Room Gallery). And an artist’s talk with Miggs Burroughs at the library on January 23 (6 p.m.).

Florida Everglades, 2001 (Photo copyright/Larry Silver)

Andrew Wilk Presents …

Like many Westporters, Andrew Wilk is very impressed by the recent transformation of the Westport Library.

But, he knows, a building that pulses with creativity is a lot more than “sticks and bricks.”

What really counts is the activity inside.

Andrew Wilk

Wilk is in a position to help make the library buzz even more than it does. An Emmy-winning television executive producer and director — as well as a playwright and symphony conductor — he has one of the most impressive Rolodexes* around.

Now he’s tapping his countless contacts — men and women he’s met through “Live at Lincoln Center,” as chief creative officer of Sony Music Entertainment, and vice president for the National Geographic Channel — to bring exciting, provocative pioneers in science, the arts and humanities to the interactive library stage.

“Andrew Wilk Presents…” debuts next month. Though he’s not crazy about the title — “I just find people, set them up for success and let ’em go,” he demurs — the library series looks like yet another Andrew Wilk smash.

The first guest (Thursday, December 12, 7 p.m.) is Michael Davie. A filmmaker who has worked on major projects for Oprah Winfrey, National Geographic, Discovery and many more, he’ll weave together hair-raising adventures from Kosovo to the Congo, adding personal reflections on travel, family and connecting with people all over the world.

Michael Davie in action.

Davie most recently co-created Oprah’s landmark 7-part series “Belief.” He began his video career by walking from Cape Town to Cairo (!) — alone (!!) — and recording that amazing journey.

Along the way Davie chronicled police brutality in Johannesburg, landmine victims in Mozambique, the sexual abuse of street children in Zimbabwe, and the disparity between rich and poor in Kenya.

He has also interviewed Nelson Mandela, and reported on terrorism, the persecution of gays in Iraq, the environmental cost of mining in Peru, and rescue climbing on Denali.

The second speaker is the celebrated oceanographer Dr. Robert Ballard. He found the Titanic, Bismarck, USS Yorktown and John F. Kennedy’s PT-109, and explored the Lusitania.

Dr. Robert Ballard

His next goal: discover Amelia Earhart’s plane. Wilk has no doubt Ballard will accomplish that too. “He’s an amazing person, with riveting stories,” Wilk says.

The third speaker is filmmaker Kevin Bachar. A 3-time Emmy Award-winning writer and cinematographer, he spent 10 years as a National Geographic producer. He also wrote specials for Discovery Channels’ Shark Week.

“There are so many great series at the library,” Wilk says. “I hope this is one more that will elevate the community.”

And — with speakers like Dr. Robert Ballard — take us to unimagined depths.

(General admission seats for Michael Davie are $20 each. VIP tickets cost $100, and include preferred seating, and pre-show food and drinks with Davie and Andrew Wilk. Click here for tickets.)

* The virtual kind, of course.

“The Number On Great-Grandpa’s Arm” Comes To Westport

A pair of bomb threats to a Bridgeport temple — just 2 days before the first anniversary of the mass shooting at a Pittsburgh synagogue — reminds us all that anti-Semitism is still very real.

Which makes an upcoming townwide, interfaith event particularly important.

This Sunday, November 10 (1:30 p.m.), the Westport Library will screen HBO’s Emmy Award-winning short documentary, “The Number on Great-Grandpa’s Arm.”

The film — which features an intimate conversation between a young boy and hi beloved great-grandfather, an Auschwitz survivor — includes hundreds of animated drawings by Westport filmmaker/painter Jeff Scher.

The screening will be followed by an audience Q-and-A with Elliott Saiontz, the film’s young narrator; his mother, and Scher. The discussion will be moderated by Rev. John D. Betit, of Christ & Holy Trinity Episcopal Church.

One of Jeff Scher’s drawings in the film.

Monique Lions Greenspan has helped organize the event.

Her mother survived the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp. “I know firsthand the incredible strength, optimism and gratefulness that survivors possess,” Monique says.

“Their stories provide invaluable lessons for both adults and children. I feel a deep sense of obligation to make our community aware of this opportunity for our children — and adults too — to bear witness to and learn from survivors’ experiences.”

Unfortunately, she says, in the aftermath of the Tree of Life Synagogue attacks — and others, in places as varied as Christchurch, Poway, El Paso and Halle — “it is more important than ever to commit to programs and discussions that clearly define expectations for, and the responsibilities of, all members of the community. Hate cannot be normalized.”

(The November 10 film is sponsored by the Federation for Jewish Philanthropy of Upper Fairfield County, PJ Our Way and the Westport Library. After the screening and discussion, the Nu Haven Kapelye offers “a musical journey from sorrow to joy, through the Klezmer tradition.” Both events are free. Click here for more information.)