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I am bewildered and dumbfounded that our worst fears are coming to be realized.  Over the years we always tried to wonder how could it have been possible that the most civilized, the most educated nation on earth at the time – Germany could have succumbed to the horrors of the Nazis and currently the neo-Nazis under a banner of one man.
These things are unfathomable now.
Well, we are coming to realize that it’s happening, this is happening. The truth cannot be denied what was considered “right” is being twisted to the whims of charlatans under the banner of freedom and the right to speak. My Dad’s book has given me an opportunity that I never thought it would be. It puts me in a position to speak out. I’m writing a story, a memoir, people are telling me; oh you know, it’s just your Dad’s story and be satisfied with this and leave it at that. Well it seems to have taken on a life of its own and I’ll share with you a couple of passages that I’ve re-visited a few times on previous blog posts and his writings and what he shared with us, it jumps out at you and comes alive. Here are a few of the excerpts. The initial one refers to the “New Museum” that opened on the Capitol Mall in 1974. Two years later, this Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden prepared a major Exhibit for the Bicentennial. The theme was Immigrant’s Contribution to the United States 1876 – 1976. It also dealt with Artists – Immigrants of America. Initial references from the book included the building and opening of the Air and Space Museum adjacent to the Hirshhorn and its new curator Michael Collins who happened to be the Lunar Module Commander for Apollo 11. This was also mentioned in the previous chapter, Chapter 8, from “American Dreamer,” pages 185-189.

Excerpts from American Dreamer pg 186

I relished this opportunity and to impart some of my knowledge and experience knowing what it was like to be a fledgling; new kid on the block. It was an exceptional event, Thelma and I were glad to be part of it.
But this did not keep us from getting our first major, eye-opening exhibit ready to make our own contribution to the American Bicentennial. The plan was put into place an exhibit to acknowledge the contribution of the “Immigrants’” over the last 100 years that have come to our shores with the rich emphasis on Immigrant’s Art Influence.
With all the hoopla today centering around immigrants and immigration we shouldn’t lose sight of how much we owe to the millions, upon millions, upon millions who would even be considered refugees that came to this country as a last resort; and not just “ARTISTS – IMMIGRANTS OF AMERICA.” One of the things that I was most proud of was the Golden Door publication dealing with ARTIST- IMMIGRANTS OF AMERICA, 1876 – 1976. Part of the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden exhibit and publication; May 20 through October 20, 1976. One of the numerous articles as early as the turn-of-the-century appeared in the New York Times and deals with the heading “Immigration Record Will Be Broken This Year; 1906.”
What makes this so prophetic is that part of this newsletter about the Golden Door is the reflection on what figures to be its personification of “Liberty.” At the base of the statue at the entrance to New York Harbor symbolizes the immigrants’ expectations. On Liberty’s base was inscribed the words by Emma Lazarus’ closing verses: Patriotic sentiments:

Give me you’re tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore; send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me. I lift my lamp beside the Golden door!

(Figure 9.23 Golden Door Artists- Immigrants 1876-1976); Figure PP5.1  (Figure 9.24 Bicentennial Exhibit, MEMO; Figure PP5.2

Figure 9.25 Bicentennial Exhibit Article, “Melting Pot” Figure PP5.3

Their acceptance was a cyclical thing, the immigrant’s lot would go through periods of increases and decreases. In the article, the last paragraph states “the outbreak of World War I led to intensified efforts to assure the immigrants’ patriotism and loyalty.”  By the 1920s, however, a virulent restrictionism began to dominate the American attitude towards immigration.  Passage “Through the Golden Door” became possible for fewer and fewer immigrants.” How ironic that things haven’t changed much during the passage of all these years.

The second passage that I’ve included, is from a letter that my Dad sent to Mike Wallace of media broadcasting and of the “60 Minutes” fame 40 years ago.  But first, let me digress to the serious events and issues of today.
I am pleased to share with you a message written by my good friend, Rabbi Daniel Treiser of the Temple B’nai Israel, Clearwater Florida.  It addresses recent events that culminated with the terror attacks against protesters and the death of Heather Heyer and the injury of 19 others as well as the tragic loss of Lt. H Jay and Trooper Burke M.M. Bates when their helicopter crashed in Virgina a week ago.


Rabbi Daniel Treiser Message on the today’s current events and issues, Figure PP5.4

This message should be read vigilantly and taken to heart. Rabbi Treiser tried to carefully purport all the views dealing with the circumstances that took place.
Quoting a friend and colleague Rabbi Dan Levin who wrote, “Neo-Nazis and white supremacist know nothing of those whom they hate. They seek to find power and preserve privilege in society, not by virtue of their own personal merit and achievement, but because they worship the superficial and have found scapegoats to blame for their frustrations and resentments.” And follows with words of the great Ellie Wiesel, Prof. and Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, “We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.” And Rabbi Treiser continued, “we cannot remain silent. The overwhelming voice of good, tolerance and love in our nation MUST be stronger than the shouts of hate. Vigils and rallies against intolerance continue to occur throughout our communities. Be a part of them.”
As I said, there are strange things happening.  Is it just coincidental that the crypto quote on August 16, was a saying from Rosa Park, the very brave woman who refused to leave her seat at the front of a Birmingham Alabama bus and started the Civil Rights Movement in earnest?  Here is one of her formidable responses. It Is certainly applicable today and for the future: “I have learned over the years that when one’s mind is made up, this diminishes fear; knowing what must be done does away with fear.”
What is going to be occurring in the next months and years is incumbent upon all of us not to stand by and let others go forth and express views that we are sympathetic with. It sounds and looks like it is going to be necessary to pick up the torch, that’s the irony of ironies because those people who marched in Charlottesville, Virginia under banner of white supremacists promoting bigotry, racism, hatred carried with torches. It was those inexpensive tiki-torches which they purchased to spew their message of hate and intimidation which if it gets out of hand could burn down the democracy that this country was built on. I am writing this at about 1:30 am, Thursday morning, August 17 with the help of my voice recorder which has been instrumental in preparing and capturing what evolved into the American Dreamer: A Look into the Life of My Father, Joe baby; He Wrote It… They Did It… He Saved It… If I didn’t have all these little nuances, advances for preparing this material it would a disadvantage. Yet, this is what my Dad had to deal with when he first sat down and hand wrote everything and then saved it. It would be a long time coming before it all came together for us to perceive.
So, what you can see is, we need to be vigil and as the saying that has been handed down to us, “Freedom is Not Free” and “Silence is Not Golden”.  It’s a means of perpetuating our inheritance and our heritage.
Thank you for this opportunity to be able to speak out. I admire all those people who went to the rallies and organized to show their support for the freedoms that we hold dear and evidently there is a wide range of support that is going to be needed.  We fought for it, we defended it, we need to keep defending it.
My Dad wrote about it and we all need to speak out in gatherings and our places of worship, city halls, in parks and show the spirit of this great country and what it was based on.  Maybe we’ve had it too easy and the time is necessary to show our cherished values and our moral courage.  God help America as well as we need to pitch in to help the cause.
This country is based on the hard work, and blood of immigrants, that tilled the fields, fueled the factories, secured the battlefields and don’t let anybody say otherwise.  This is what is real, not fake news, it’s not something that we normally shout about that when people like my Dad took the time to keep this close to his heart and wanted us to know what it meant. He didn’t shine by going about wanting to make people see it, carry torches, yet he thought about every day, whether working hard, as a soldier, father, helping in the building of Museums, Performing Arts Centers and Libraries; he showed by example.
This is the reason I have acquired the Domain Name: and once the book is published I plan to have time, I would like to hear your stories, about your family; your parents, grandparents, and of course you.
I listen to some of the twisted justifications that these white supremacy neo-Nazis spew that they think they were just dropped in this country, that they are the purveyors of what’s right.  They must be blind to the fact that every one of us are immigrants, unless we came from an old Indian nation.  We worked hard, we built this country. What have they done that they could justify to purge everyone that doesn’t fall into their view of the Aryan image and mentality?  It’s almost always the same, whether it’s religious fanaticism or extremism.  You really have a tough time trying to reason with this ideology.
Joe Sefekar, almost 40 years ago felt it was necessary to speak out in his terms so he wrote it out.  He tried to separate free speech and our First Amendment with calling for riotous actions and atrocities from the heinous outpourings of Nazi sympathizers in Skokie, Illinois.
This was in comparison to the listener of the Mike Wallace radio talk show when comedian George Carlin used a few colorful words that the listener felt offensive because his young son happened to be in the car listening in comparison to Nazi sympathizers discharging death and other atrocities.


(Figure 10.18 Letter to Mike Wallace of 60 minutes); Figure PP5.5

I even had time (Joe speaking) to contact Mike Wallace formidable TV host of “60 Minutes,” about a news report hearing with George Carlin, the comedian from one of the listeners who heard these dirty words while he was driving with his son and was offended. The new story followed an item on the Skokie demonstration – how can Mr. Douglas talk about an insult on the senses and not say anything about life-and-death assault by the Nazis in Skokie, Illinois? Is only assault on the senses could be condoned under the First Amendment, but an assault on death should not be allowed to surface as free speech when what it spews forth its death.

I went on to furnish some facts if they could use the follow-up scenario: That being a native-born American, with some normal religious interest – meaning like attending Friday night services, just as Catholics attend Sunday church services. By the grace of God, my parents migrated from Salonica, Greece to America. My mother left three sisters behind, they, their husbands and children were slain by the Germans, 15 in all. Four cousins survived the concentration camps – one is in Canada, one is in New York and two are in Israel. My exposure to the Holocaust was during my tour of duty in Europe with Hdqtrs. First U.S. Army. Our units liberated Buchenwald and I observed what remained before it was cleaned up. What will stay with me forever was the abattoir with hooks along the walls below the ceiling. Two survivors explained that the prisoners were impaled by their chin on the hooks. Maybe it is a sense of stoicness and the ability to bend instead of breaking that has enabled the Jew to survive throughout the generations. My cousin Haim became a bank guard in Tel Aviv; Eli owns a carpet store in Canada; Pepo is a grocer-owner in Brooklyn.

So, as indicated earlier, I’m planning to launch this website and will open up the door, open up the gates to hear stories that people would like to share and I’d like to hear from these white supremacists to have the guts to see what their contributions have been; positive contributions have been to help build this country, make it better, instead of spewing hatred and belligerency.







Good thing it wasn’t issued 100 years ago. I’d be writing this posting from Salonika, Greece and it would be all Greek to you.  Anyway, I don’t want to dwell on this right now and detract from the message appearing below. And I want to carefully craft my response before it goes viral.  You know what they say when hitting the send button it cannot be retracted.  So, expect to hear something in the next day or so.

OK, ANOTHER STOP THE PRESSES, This time for a major accomplishment.  My sister Bonnie Sefekar Landau and her husband Lee Elliot Landau celebrated today on Thursday, August 3, 2017; 43 years of happily marital bliss.  Wonderful years together, I can attest; Soul mates from the get-go.  No, this is not a Geico commercial.  He even loaned her one of his kidneys three (3) years ago.  And they’re living happily after laughter.

Figures PP.1  Bonnie and Lee’s Wedding,  My Sister, Bonnie and Lee Landau Celebrating 43 years of marital bliss today, Thursday, August 3, 2017






Welcome my good and dear readers, friends, and country folks.  Well, we’re here in August. July, offered a lot of good happenings.  Met some new people and contacts, opened some new doors that will help with getting the book ready for distribution.

 A few of the major developments is that the Book Council in New York saw fittingly enough of the book it was presented, they will want me to speak at a number of book fairs and literary gatherings.  First on the agenda is the 2017-2018 Festival of Jewish Books & Conversations.  This Tampa Bay event is being held in October where yours truly the Opening night Author.   Also in dropping off copies of the books to the Hirshhorn Museum and Ruth Eckert Hall here in Clearwater, there’s been a very good response and I’ll share this with you.



Figure PP.2  Ruth Eckerd Hall acknowledging Tampa copy of book presented to them.

Figure PP.1  Invitation to be part of  Jewish Book Fair in October.


So, we are in the final throes of getting the book to you and once the details are available we will arrange for the actual delivery date.   I will be looking to travel in the next few months to broaden the horizons and meet many of you that have been following us.  So, I will be happy to provide a schedule of where these events will be held and possibly at a Barnes & Noble’s bookstore near you.  Thanks again for all your interest and support and we’ll talk soon.

We will be zeroing on a date forth coming for obtaining copies of the book.  We are also planning to allow readers to access the website or blog postings and have available pertinent documents and materials and pictures not able to be included in the book.  It would make the cost prohibitive; as providing a nice twist to it so it kinds of doubles the pleasure as well is a good bang for the buck, ha.

I’ve been providing examples throughout of all my Father dutifully collected letters, documents, memorabilia.  This one is for the hundred days (100) prior to the 2000 Millennium.  Daily articles appeared in the St. Petersburg Times.  Starting with September 23rd, 1999 and leading up to December 31, 2000, the Times had a Capsule summary with pictures for each year.  I found them all in a folder and managed to crop and scan the pictures of some of “their” (Mom and Dad’s) highlighted years and then reverted to quarter-century presentations in preceding blog postings.  Interestingly enough the last twenty-five years appear in the August Newsletter for your reading enjoyment.  As you can imagine these 11 by 18 pages would not bode-well for inclusion in the printed book.  This was confirmed by the copy editor of the printing company printing the first 18 Bound Galley copies of the book; showing her the complete rendition of the over 25 pages encapsulating a hundred years.  It was very entertaining as she leafed through it, picking out all the major highlights of her birth, marriage, children being born etc.  A major advantage worth mentioning about this format is allowing once clicked on you can increase the magnification to see it more clearly and with better resolution, a real-win-win. So, it’s a bonus for the book to include links to Appendices, large files and blog postings that are pertinent but could not be added due to the number of pages, color content and allows an outlet for new additional material that comes to light…






Figure PP.4 Century Countdown 1972-1975,   Figure PP.5  Century Countdown 1976-1978





Figure PP.6  Century Countdown 1979-1981,  Figure PP.7  Century Countdown 1982-1985





Figure PP.8  Century Countdown 1986-1988,  Figure PP.9  Century Countdown 1989-1992






Figure PP.10  Century Countdown 1993-1995,   Figure PP.11  Century Countdown 1996-1999

Thank you all for your support, it means a great deal and if you get some enjoyment and introspection this can be transcribed as a fitting testimonial for my father.

As an added feature for our readers and audience, we are also posting on twitter, @JoesLegacy and on Instagram, items that appear in the book and related matters.  We are still eliciting your comments and suggestions.  I hope to develop a running dialogue with you all, as many of you have provided us with comments that appear in the social media and we value that.  I try to get to them as much as I can with the help of my associates and do appreciate my valued followers.

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Copyright © 2017             William Sefekar

We are always interested in hearing comments and suggestions about how the blog could be better. Sound off below with your ideas.






Pre-Sale for the Book is Now Available!

Pre-Order your Autographed Hard-Copy by Clicking the Button Below!






Creating a Legacy?

How does a legacy start? It starts with keeping track of what might be considered mundane even insignificant things, letters to the editor, letters from friends, even at an early age job recommendations, pictures, documents. I guess Dad just had a penchant for keeping things organized and even though it skipped a generation, I still have kept it together which is remarkable in itself.

So once you’ve accumulated it, how do you keep it intact, that’s an amazing transformation literally and figuratively. From the Lower East Side of Manhattan to Canarsie, Brooklyn; the War years; Rose St.; Thames St., Brooklyn; Woodside, Queens; to Syosset, Long Island; Washington DC, Silver Spring, Maryland, and the final resting place or next to the final resting place 750 Helmsman Way, Palm Harbor Florida and then to my confines.

But the really Galactic Compilation that evolved into this book actually consists in two small portable cabinets that my Dad started 30 years ago. One was from “1917 to 1967” and the other little portable cabinet was from “1967 to the Present.” They had folders in them and we marked it up accordingly to reflect a little more subcategories years and chapters. I like to refer to this as the “Big Bang Theory” as each of these two small portables proliferated into what will be the American Dreamer: A Look into the Life of My Father, Joe baby, A Memorable story of a man on a mission; He Wrote It, They Did It. This is not to say that there weren’t hundreds of other folders and bigger cabinets and 40 photo albums to show you and eventually find its way into the “chapter cabinets” that would be used in writing the manuscript as well as putting meat on the bones as the expression applies.


Figure #R.9 & #R.10 Original portable cabinet 1917- 1966  and some of the original files.


Figure #R.11 & #R.12 Original portable cabinet 1967- 2006  and some of the original files



Figure #R.13 One of the Letters to the Newspaper published, July 8, 1935  #R.14 Recommendation Letter from friend, Martin Sobel, June 24, 1941

The collection of 40 photo albums and documents were located in a special place in their home.


Figure #R.15 Honeymoon Album January, 1942     Figure #R.16 World War II Album 1943 -1945



Figure #R.16 Photo Albums 1937-1983   #R.17 Photo Albums 1984 -2004


Figure #R.19 & #R.20 Portable Manuscript Attachments Cabinet 1917 -1966.



Figure #R.21 & #R.22 Portable Manuscript Attachments Cabinet 1967 – Present


As was mentioned earlier during the period from 1997 to 2007 Joe baby and I transcribed the bulk of the notes and notepad’s that he had written and turned to be over 120 typed pages. Some of which have been included in the excerpts and some of which would then be transformed into a living document with the pictures and other artifacts and memorabilia. We will be happy to share the original written text. What makes this book so special is not only the writings that look into what it takes to make a satisfying life experience but Joe ALSO shares with the reader guideposts along the way that are worth taking under advisement.

Just two of these items are presented here:

In addition to the letters and letters sent to the editor on issues as a testament and monument to one man’s concerns and philosophy on life, i.e., perseverance. One such example of the hundreds of clippings, writings and shared experiences is a faded old piece of paper 2 1/2 inches by 1 1/2 inches that I carried with me in my wallet for a lifetime. Although frayed around the edges. It’s labeled, Reader Woodward’s pocket piece:

“Nothing in the world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent. The slogan ‘Press on,’ has solved and always will solve the problems of the human race.” – Calvin Coolidge. –Ed.

It was my Mantra that I carried with me throughout life and enduring its trials and tribulations.

Figure #R.23 News clipping carried around by Joe Sefekar as a guidepost about Perseverance.


The second item appears later on when Joe Baby began his introspection on how can you capture in a life-time what is your purpose?  How do you create a lasting testament that shows your life had meaning and was useful and would be remembered not just for making the world better but also influencing the many lives you touched. One of the myriad of collectables is an 1997 article by John A. Cutter that appeared in the St. Petersburg Times about “Consider writing about your life’s legacy.”  By this time the pieces were already in place for Joe Sefekar to have accumulated much material and writings that are part of his legacy and has formed the basis for his story.

Figure #R.24 Article by John A. Cutter, “Consider writing about your life’s legacy.”

St. Petersburg Times, 1997


Good Day our trusty readers, as you can see from the posting, the opportunity is now available for pre-sale orders of the American Dreamer: A Look into the Life of My Father, Joe baby, A Memorable story of a man on a mission; He Wrote It, They Did It, He Saved It. Believing that this is a one-of-a-kind, or maybe a two-of-a-kind story, we are willing to offer the special pre-sale price of $36. At this point there are over 400 color pages, chock full of beautiful stories, words to live by, loving stories, war stories, peace stories. I wouldn’t say it’s things that you can take to the bank but maybe to the bank of life.  As I said, even though we don’t know exactly what the final price will be, once the book is printed IT MAY conceivably command a lot more than the $36 we ARE ENTERTAINING at this time. When considering color printing and other factors that go into the publishing price; this is a limited time offer. We will take orders of $36 for the hardcover copy that is autographed by the authors.

Some of which have been included in the excerpts and some of which would then it be transformed into a living document with the pictures and other artifacts and memorabilia. We will be happy to share the original written text.


In the upcoming Blog posts we will continue to provide readers the opportunity to take advantage of pre-sale purchases of the book and offer other incentives so that you can receive especially packaged first edition copies.


  Copyright © 2016      William Sefekar

** Material will appear in book.

We are always interested in hearing comments and suggestions about how the blog could be better. Sound off below with your ideas







This is the beginning of an ephemeral work experience with the City of Tarpon Springs. I was hired as Assistant City Manager for Tarpon Springs, Florida, the next town over from Palm Harbor where we lived. A long time employee of Tarpon Springs City Hall became the new city manager. He ran the office like a GD Colonel (which he was).  And I’m really being careful in choosing these words because in almost 40 years of previous relations with people in management and government positions, I tried to deal with individuals fairly and openly whatever their rank or position. A good deal of my work experience was in military or quasi-military assignments, so this was a bitter pill to swallow to try to work out a troublesome situation.  He threatened to cut any person’s throat who spoke to the local newspapers without his permission.  There was a lot of salt water under the dock, so to speak, before it came to ahead later on in this chapter.

In October of 1978, I wrote to Mike Goyer indicating my interest in obtaining a position with him, and listing my experience as budget officer (thus putting into operation my previous plans of retiring and finding a suitable job). I was called for an interview, and we hit it off pretty well. He had no regular personnel vacancy but he said he could put me on the rolls under the CETA (Civilian Employee Training Act) Program, which was a joint program where the City and the Federal Government shared the salary cost of $ 10,000 per annum. It was exciting – I worked on the FY 1978-79 City of Tarpon Springs budget, supervised by the Finance Director, and had direct contact with the City Manager. My duties included coordinating meetings with the various city directors (i.e. Personnel, Supply, and General Services) and attending weekly Commission meetings. My relations with all the personnel and the Commissioners were pleasant and congenial, ­until the serpent reared its ugly head.

Working closely with Mike and the Finance Director, we completed the budget. Charley Barnes, the perennial old-timer, who had been with the City for over 20 years supervising construction of streets and sewers in the City, worked on the finances with us. His knowledge of all the nooks and crannies was invaluable in preparing the budget.

Then the lid blew off — the Commissioners were unhappy with Mike (something about his not keeping them, abreast of every detail of his activities), which led to his dismissal. Then the Finance Officer resigned for a better job, but probably in support of the City Manager. I found myself in charge of the City Budget and I was appointed Acting General Services Director, at $ 15,000 a year. I worked with Charley Barnes’, who was now appointed Acting City Manager. I supervised the Personnel Division; the Supply Department and the Streets and Sewers Division. About that time, a sunny day in March 1979, I was standing near an open window about 11 a.m., looking out at a bright spring day, a soft breeze blowing, and I said to myself, “What am I doing here, when I should be out there”? But this feeling of remorse didn’t last long. The sense of challenge and accomplishment replaced any misgivings I may have had, about going back to work.

There were also a number of bonuses, though not in the financial sense. Tarpon Springs is a beautiful city on the Gulf of Mexico and world-renowned because of its famous Greek sponge industry that dates back to the late 18 and early 1900’s. Every once in a while, I would occasionally do a flashback thinking about my father, Jack, growing up on the Island of Salonika, Greece. One of his early trades was also as a fisherman before they left the Greek Isle to settle in the “New World.” But back too real-time, Thelma would meet me regularly for lunch or maybe a dinner at the sponge docks – beautiful atmosphere, delicious foods and a nice way to soak up the sights and sounds of this “Greek fishing village. (Her last birthday would be spent having lunch there.)

They were also noted for their art festivals on the Bayou that attracted thousands of art fanciers and tourists yearly; Thelma would love to drag me along.

Tarpon Springs Bayou (1) Welcome 2 the Bayou

 Figures  #10.42 and #10.43 Tarpon Springs, Down on the Bayou

 Sponge Dock Restaurants Tarpon Springs

Figures #10.44 and Figure #10.45 The Tarpon Springs Sponge Dock where we would have lunch.

So I was budget officer for the Tarpon Springs Government; which was exciting, even though it was only for short time. The city manager I mentioned was ousted by the city board. The finance officer assigned to assist the newly appointed acting city manager was made; hold the phone. The new city manager was a young man, who had a similar job in Arizona, and just made the switch. His name was Mike Goyer. The City Manager became the target of the high and mighty Commissioners – usually there were 5 Commissioners, and the climate was very politically charged. Pinellas County was the most densely populated Congressional District in Florida. The Commissioners vented their spleens on the City Managers. It took only 3 Commissioners to displace any Manager they didn’t like. In October 1978, there appeared to be a personal vendetta by the Commissioners of the various small towns in my County against the hapless City Managers. The Manager of the City of Dunedin (Gehringer) was such a victim. The Manager of the City of Clearwater was also replaced. The Manager of Tarpon Springs could not escape this spate of firings – it was open season.

The City of Tarpon Springs announced that the position of General Services Director at $18,000 was being opened to applicants. The Mayor, Bill Lane, suggested I apply for it. Charley Barnes and I had been running the City with his know-how of the daily operations and my knowledge of the financial activities. I must admit that I enjoyed the relationship because things worked so smoothly. One of the Commissioners said, “I don’t think we should put Joe in the position of General Services Director until a new city manager is appointed. The Manager should have a say in selecting the General Services Director”. Not being interested in having any more responsibility, I didn’t push for immediate action, but agreed to await the arrival of the new city manager, ­right? No, wrong!! The new city manager, a veteran Colonel of the Vietnam War, took hold with vim and vigor.

The new City Manager took hold of his responsibilities. Assuming he would take some time to familiarize himself with the way of the Government operations, they were all laid-back with anticipation, and waited for him to reveal whether he was going to be a benign force or martinet.


We didn’t have long to wait for the answer, which had an unexpected effect on my future. One of the staff (whose identity was never divulged) innocently gave some information to a reporter of a local town paper. The story was unimportant but the city manager took it as a breach of confidence. He called staff together, which was our first meeting, and he warned us, “If I hear of anyone talking to the newspapers, I’ll cut your head off at the neck!” I realized it was all innocent rhetoric, from a soldier just back from the Vietnam battlefront, but the newspapers never got an inside story again. But it did give us an idea of what kind of supervisor we had. I became a victim of this bombastic individual. Our relationship was strictly business – we worked on a budget together. We followed the usual practice of adding and subtracting from budgetary requests submitted by the different division managers.


There were several changes which required retyping of the budget. Our first disagreement was my objection to redoing the whole budget over a minimal variation of some of the figures. He asked, “What authority do you have over this budget?” I said “I’m the budget officer.” He replied, “You’re not the budget officer – I am.” On that shaky basis, I continued my review of the budget under his supervision. At the next Commission meeting, we presented the budget to the City Commissioners. In replying to a question by one of the commissioners, I gave my justification for some of the figures. The City Manager claimed that he was not aware of the data that was submitted and I declared, “I told you about it.” All hell broke loose, and the city manager threatened to quit. The Commissioners would not “look good” if a man they had just hired for the top administrative spot, resigned.


This is the kind of situations I referred to when I listed the advantages of being in “retirement” position. Despite the fact that I knew that there was nothing to be done in the face of a “Little Caesar” temperament, I immediately sat down and wrote a letter of explanation to each of the Commissioners and Mayor, Bill Lane. The only result of the letter was to assuage my “hurt” feelings, but I left on good terms with the staff and the Commissioners. My record of countless career entries for service recognition remained intact. The City manager threatened to “quit” several times after that incident. It was less than a year later that he tried it for the last time; that maneuver again. Like the boy who “cried wolf”, he tried it once too often. The city commissioners said goodbye to the “Lt. Col. who would be City Manager.”


Activities with The Temple, adapting to Being a Floridian:

One day in the latter part of 1978, I got a call from a temple member friend, and he told me of a volunteer group that was working on an idea of performing arts Center in New Port Richey, a town adjoining Palm Harbor. This group had received a bequest of 50 acres on a piece of land in Pasco County. The chairman of the working committee, had organized a group of interested citizens and put their organizational talents together. They were successful in obtaining a planning document from the Frank Lloyd Corporation, which laid out the pertinent facts and figures involving construction of a Performing Arts Center. In view of my experience with the Hirshhorn Museum, it seemed to be a good prospect for me. The building committee’s mission was to raise the funds for initial operations. Inasmuch as they didn’t want to rely on government funding, it looked like a long haul. We set up some of our basic needs. Office space was set up in the Barnett Bank building, which required no layout of funds by PHPAC (Palm Harbor Performing Arts Center), except for office supplies. We were making some progress, but we were concerned with the proviso accompanying the request, “commence building in two years.” We had a small staff: director and the clerk, and myself as finance officer. Being unpaid jobs, it was no surprise when the director resigned. To get a replacement, the committee had to consider putting a paid employee in the slot. Unfortunately, the person they hired wasn’t sufficiently qualified, and was fired. Despite my efforts, we could not get a viable organization going. The failure to accept local government assistance, would be detrimental to the success of this venture. I would learn from this undertaking as the project would never acquire the public support necessary and was destined to fail from the beginning. The expansion of the plans from a performing arts center to a huge complex, including the resort hotel and residential housing, was quite a tall bill to pay. C’est la vie.


As a footnote, this preliminary experience in the world of “Performing Arts Centers” was invaluable in the next phase of my life that begun shortly thereafter.

Luckily, I could always fall back on my retirement activities: golf, swimming, gardening, and social functions. On days that I didn’t golf, I would ride my bicycle to our community pool, swim a few laps and then home for lunch. Thelma and I had routines and we kept ourselves busy on a regular basis I would help her with her rose bushes which she took on in a determined demeanor with awards from the Rose Society to show for it. Here she is at one of her rose shows and here we are tip toeing through the roses.

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Figures #10.46 and #10.47 Tiptoeing through the roses   Figure #10.48 Now this is a rose garden

My children were very conscientious in keeping open the lines of communication with dozens of letters filling up my cabinets and of course it was very satisfying responding in-kind also. And almost as satisfying were the updates on how the Hirshhorn Museum was progressing. I was always receiving publications, my regular monthly subscription to the “Torch” through August 1983, when Billy decided to move down here and join us. It would now be up to Bonnie and Lee to keep the lifeline open.

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   Figures #10.49 and #10.50 A little togetherness never hurts.


More Togetherness!!

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Figure # 10.51 Bonnie, Diana and Lee Chillin’ in Florida Figure # 10.52 Proud Grandparents with Diana Jill, Figure # 10.53 “Joe Baby” and Baby Diana Jill

We managed to keep in close contact whenever possible, especially at family gatherings which has been a trademark for both Thelma and my families. Getting them to come down to sunny Florida during the winter and cooler months up north was not a problem.

So concludes the third and final excerpt from Chapter 10 Retirement, Moving South to Florida 1977 1980.

The Chapter 11 embarks on another of my major challenges and achievements, Ruth Eckerd Hall; the wonderful world of the performing arts; and lots and lots of family togetherness.

Copyright © 2016               William Sefekar

** Material will appear in book.

We are always interested in hearing comments and suggestions about how the blog could be better. Sound off below with your ideas.






Before getting into some of the major ventures as my post retirement career challenges began to take shape, I settled into a routine of getting acclimated with my surroundings. Lots of warm weather, lots of green and greens with some golf and something to reacquaint myself with; my writings. There were many people, friends, family and Associates that would garner my attention. I was particularly eager to continue my association with my former boss Al Lerner at the Hirshhorn (and his wife Pauline). I did the same with Joe Hirshhorn and his wife, Olga and Sen Daniel Moynihan, Chairman of the HMSG Board


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                      Figure #10.16 Letter Al and Pauline Lerner   Figure #10.17 Letter Joe and Olga Hirshhorn

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            Figure #10.18 Letter to Mike Wallace of 60 minutes   Figure #10.19 Letter to Senator Moynihan

I even had time to contact Mike Wallace formidable TV host of “60 Minutes,” about a news report hearing with George Carlin, the comedian from one of the listeners who heard these dirty words while he was driving with his son and was offended. The new story followed an item on the Skokie demonstration – how can Mr. Douglas talk about an insult on the senses and not say anything about a life-and-death assault by the Nazis in Skokie, Illinois? If it is only an assault on the senses could be condoned under the First Amendment, but an assault on death should not be allowed to surfaces as free speech, when what it spews forth is death.

I went on to furnish some facts if they could use the follow-up scenario: That being a native born American, with some normal religious interest – meaning like attending Friday night services, just as Catholics attend Sunday church services. By the grace of God, my parents migrated from Salonika, Greece to America in 1916. My mother left three sisters behind, they, their husbands and children were slain by the Germans; 15 in all. Four cousins survived the concentration camps – one is in Canada, one is in New York and two are in Israel. My exposure to the Holocaust was during my tour of duty in Europe with Hq. First U.S. Army. Our units liberated Buchenwald and I observed what remained before it was cleaned up. What will stay with me forever was the abattoir with hooks along the walls below the ceiling. Two survivors explained that the prisoners were impaled by their chin on the hooks. Maybe it is a sense of stoicness and the ability to bend instead of breaking that has enabled the Jew to survive throughout the generations. My cousin Haim became a bank guard in Tel Aviv; Eli owns a carpet store in Canada; Pepo is a grocer-owner in Brooklyn.

I kept writing letters, a steady flow of letters to newspapers; TV commentaries; to my family especially my children. And it was reciprocated, here’s a photo of Bonnie dutifully sending a letter to Thelma and me and Billy keeping in touch from his new position as Energy Director in Western Maryland.

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           Figure #10.20 My daughter Bonnie writing us  Figure #10.21 Son Bill as Energy Director



Figure #10.22 A few of Thelma’s prize roses awards

We had a delicate life during these years. Thelma immersing herself in growing roses and community activities of the Jewish civic organization Hadassah and ORT (Organization for Rehabilitation and Training). We also were active in our retirement community, treasurer of the stock club, etc. We had on Thelma’s side of the family her sister Renee and husband Harry that lived five houses from us. Through their help was how we found this really nice home that we moved in, upon our arrival here in Palm Harbor.


Figure #10.23 and Figure #10.24 Part of the “famous” Thelma’s rose garden

Thelma took great pride getting the roses planted and taking care of with a lot of TLC. It involved spraying, fertilizing, pruning and show presentation


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             Figure #10.25 Painting of daughter Bonnie in her   Figure #10.26 Rembrandt’s self-portrait

              wedding dress



Figure #10.27 Original Wedding Photo

As you can see from the likeness of the painting of my daughter in her wedding dress, my wife had extraordinary talent in creating exact likeness of subjects whether alive or inanimate objects. The results are striking as you can see even from just photos.




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            Figure #10.28 scenic view of La Seine in Paris                  Figure #10.29 Morning in the Tropics

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                         Figure #10.31 Winter Harmony

Figure #10.30 Old wooden bridge, Sturbridge, Ma

Figure #10.32 Spanish Senorita 17           18

                                                                                                                              Figure #10.33 Girl with a broom

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                         Figure #10.34 Hawaiian Coastline                        Figure #10.35 Diana Jill at the beach

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                                           Figure #10.36 Flowers in a vase       Figure #10.37 Floral arrangement                                                                                                            in fancy vase

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     Figure #10.38 Fresh Cut Flowers                             Figure #10.39 Poor Artist’s Cupboard

We certainly can’t ignore the continued lifeline going with Bonnie and Billy up in Maryland. Our first grandchild would arrive on July 14, 1978 and was named Diana Jill Landau. Thelma and I would spend time up there assisting them in preparation for this blessed event. We helped fix up their house, getting things ready and helping Bonnie while working with Lee’s parents Cynthia and Irv. It was definitely a most joyous occasion.

Certain unforeseen changes took place during this time period and chapter. An important career development would occur putting a different spin on my best laid retirement plans. This would add another feature to Chapter 10 Retirement, Moving South to Florida. Post #22 Chapter 10 Part 3; excerpts to follow.

Copyright © 2016      William Sefekar

** Material will appear in book.


We are always interested in hearing comments and suggestions about how the blog could be better. Sound off below with your ideas





1977 began my sixth decade. My eyes were really lit up. I had decided to take early retirement despite the fact that my job as Administrator of the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, one of the Jewels of the Washington D.C. Smithsonian Institution, was a dream job. My philosophy of my previous jobs was “Take your leave, while the leaving was easy.” By making my own decision to leave, I left on good terms with everyone.
This is quite evident by a most fantastic retirement party by anybody’s standards. All the Associates of the Smithsonian Hirshhorn family and friends were in attendance. Glowing adulation flowed, there were gifts, paintings and other going away mementos. This outpouring of good cheer would send Thelma and I off with fond memories and a tinge of tears in our eyes. The following montage depicts the wonderful sendoff we received.

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Figure  # 10.1 A going away painting from the Hirshhorn.

A Retirement painting with me sitting on the Thomas Moore’s sculpture, “King and Queen” was one of the going away gifts from the Hirshhorn. Other various gifts included: Life-time subscriptions (see below), a Montblanc fountain pen and of course a tie.

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Figure #10.2 Life-time Subscription                  Figure #10.3 Mont Blanc Pen gift



Now the time had come to make my “Swan Song,” I took out my little notes and began what seemed like an eternity. Trying to remember the basic points from the Toastmaster’s speaking seminars

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Figure #10.04 Hand written notes for going away party


Like the old cliché, this is both a sad and joyous occasion. There is no question that it is a sad time, leaving the Hirshhorn Museum, the Smithsonian, and all my friends. But, on the other hand seeing you all here is a very happy occasion, and I thank you all for sharing this fond farewell. In my 37 years with civil service, I have been with eight different agencies. Happily, my longest tour was with the Hirshhorn Museum. My seven years with HMSG were exciting, challenging and fruitful. I was fortunate to have the guiding hand of Al Lerner, whom I have found to be a tremendous human being. And of course, all of this would not be possible without the great generosity of Mr. Hirshhorn. Since my retirement coincides with my 60th birthday, I would like to read from a clipping I have called “Thoughts On Growing Older.” **

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               Figures #10.5 and #10.6, Going away Speech

There was plenty of refreshments and good cheer, even the high octane kind.

9 10 11 Figures#10.7    Party spread  Figure # 10.8 Retirement Cake- “Four” Figure #10.9 Pick your poison -Potent and Plain

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Figures #10.10 and Figure #10.11, Receiving a beautiful Hirshhorn Picture signed by Staff

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Figure #10.12 Family picture with Thelma, our son-in-law Lee, daughter, Bonnie,                                                                          Mr. Joe Hirshhorn, Joe Sefekar, Mrs. Olga Hirshhorn and son, Bill                              Figure #10.13 Cutting the Retirement cake.


My personal friends were unhappy because they would miss their guaranteed invitations to all the opening art exhibitions hosted by the Museum. This always meant hot hor’douvres and most of the time came with an “open” bar. Of course, my wife decried the loss of invitations to the Smithsonian soirees. They covered the total intellectual orbit – the Jeffersonian awards, which honored outstanding individuals that not only contributed to the arts, but were outstanding in other fields. There was Sir Hillary, noted mountain climber who bested Mt. McKinley. We met Alex Haley who authored the outstanding book “Roots” which was converted into a mega four-part series. We can’t forget Isaac Asimov, noted scholar who was in the vanguard of the nation’s science fiction writers, a Nobel Prize winner, and the originator of the Law of Robots. At his reception, we discovered that he had lived on Herzel Street, Brooklyn. N.Y. where my wife had spent her younger years and coincidentally shared the same birthday.

Our friends at Parkside Plaza took it very hard. We developed a close association akin to the above referenced Herzel Street where everyone was close and lived one on top of each other, so to speak. We were on the fifth floor and had lovely neighbors throughout the building. We had a memorable going away bash just a tad different than the one in the confines of the Hirshhorn Museum. Gifts flowed, tears also flowed. We would keep in contact with many of these friends who would later head down the I-95 corridor, making the same trek down to Florida. Though most of them headed to the East Coast, Thelma and I’s plans were to locate on the West Coast in Clearwater, St. Petersburg near where her sister Renee and family resided.


Figure #10.14 Going away bash with friends at Parkside Plaza

One would ask why one would leave such a challenging, interesting and self-satisfying position, at the peak of accomplishment, in exchange for a sedentary environment in warm and sunny Florida. Well, the one who would ask was our family doctor, who I went to see for an inventory-type physical exam, prior to our sojourn to the South. He asked, “Why are you leaving your job where you are enjoying your work, you’re comparatively young (60), and apparently in good health?” I replied, “I like the idea of moving to Florida, and I think I am still young enough to get a suitable job there.” After 38 years in the Federal service, my pension would be equivalent to my current salary and I could work at any position without worrying about supervisory conflict, meeting work-schedules, and other work-related hang-ups. What made it tougher was leaving behind so many dear friends, people that we came to know and love. It was very heartwarming that equal expressions of loss flowed forth. One such reminder came from Betsy Hammer, a close assistant.

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Figure #10.15 Postcard from Betsy Hammer on my retirement

Dear Mr. Sefekar – You’re as much a part, to everyone, of the Hirshhorn as the beautiful works of art, and I know everyone will miss you. It’s you who’ve kept us smiling with your kind calm leadership. I’m the one who appreciates.

Cordially, Betsy Hammer

How can you express a feeling of leaving behind such wonderful, dedicated, and caring people that Thelma and I met and were so very fond of?

And so on Thursday, the 4th of August 1977 – we loaded up our two cars. My wife always spelled me when we went on trips, but this time she drove one car and I the other. We were using the auto train, which cut out about 15 hours travelling time. Leaving Washington, D.C., we traveled approximately 2 hours to the departure point at Quantico, Virginia. The cars were then loaded on the special train, and we were seated in coach.

After alighting in Sanford, Florida population 21,500. We claimed our cars and pointed to Palm Harbor, on the West Coast of Florida. The roads were new to us and the trip was dramatic to my wife, who drove the second car. We were introduced to the weather in Florida, where every day at 4 PM everyone is drenched in a deluge of torrential rains of H2O, then the sun appears and the skies are blue. Palm Harbor is on the West Coast of Florida, near Tampa, and St. Petersburg in the County of Pinellas. Population of Pinellas County was almost 700,000 now, almost a million. The population of Palm Harbor, the unincorporated area was maybe 10,000, now almost 60,000. We definitely picked a rural, soon to be a sprawling area. This was much like our migration to Syosset, Long Island in the 50’s which saw a tremendous growth occurring. It wasn’t as bad and certainly no comparison with our family and friends that migrated to the other “East coast” of Florida near Miami, Ft. Lauderdale and Palm Beach.

Our address was 750 Helmsman Way, Palm Harbor, Florida. It was an area more rural than suburban, there were horse farms and pastures, a retirement community situated on the outskirts of Clearwater.

Our initial days in Florida were fun as we became acclimated to the area and our home. Adjustment was easy because my wife’s sister and her husband Harry lived six houses down the street ­the sisters got along great, and we managed to keep the in-law situation controllable. As the saying goes, “you need a brother-in-law like a bear needs golf clubs at the North Pole.”

We lived in an adult community – no children under 21, – and we enjoyed the facilities available – golf course, community pool, clubhouse with social activities, and the 242 families were all friendly. We had regular monthly dues, and each one could do whatever they wanted to do, in this best of all possible worlds. The strangest thing was seeing all the housewives put aside their domestic tasks and taking up the game of golf – and they did well. Thelma, who had never ridden a two-wheel bicycle in her life, tried her hand at it. She learned the rudiments of golf and became the treasurer of the women’s golf association. She also joined the Pinellas Rose Society, and entered many rose shows, garnering First Prizes and several Seconds and Thirds. She returned to oil painting and added watercolor, oriental and charcoal drawings to her repertoire. She also won several prizes for her paintings; which will be “on exhibit,” later on. I wasn’t as competent as Thelma in seeking additional avocations, but I pursued my golfing interests, which I had taken up in Maryland and previously on Long Island, New York.

I had time to look for that pie-in-the sky position. I registered with the U.S. Unemployment Office, to see what kind of jobs were available. I felt a budget job would be easily available. I would read the local papers to see what news items could be parleyed into a respectable vocation. In Florida you have the State Government as the top echelon; then you have the counties (many); then the cities (myriad) and then unmanageable numbers of school districts, agencies, police and fire departments.

I filed for substitute teacher, and was qualified in business administration. As a substitute teacher you called up the night before, or you could be called at 6 a.m. when the regular teacher had an emergency situation. You never knew where the school would be. My first call one morning was at a nearby High School. I was assigned as a substitute to a typing class. The pupils were rambunctious and they thrived on substitute teachers. I gave them a test but I don’t remember too much of what went on; finally, the dismissal bell sounded. I was fortunate to survive this initial encounter. I guess my son Bill has a stronger constitution than I, because upon his retirement he took on life as a substitute teacher like a heavyweight going the distance; he’s in his eighth year and surviving in the “blackboard jungle,” right here in the same Pinellas area. Luckily, I never found out how my life as a substitute teacher would be because in early 1978, the job-seeking climate sort of cleared. Reading the local paper, I read about the new Manager the City of Tarpon Springs had just hired.

The next posting, part two (2) of Chapter 10, Retirement; Moving South to Florida, deals with the trials and tribulations of adjusting in the “Asphalt Jungle,” hardly a serious comparison but still open to many of the intrigues that small-time government harbors. From working with the Tarpon Springs Government, to the birth of our 1st grandchild and the beginning rumblings of a possible life-changing opportunity in the Performing Arts World.


Copyright © 2016      William Sefekar

** Material will appear in book.


We are always interested in hearing comments and suggestions about how the blog could be better. Sound off below with your ideas.






Once the dust settled down and we got into a steady day-to-day operational flow I was able to take advantage of the fact that the machinery is well oiled and in place. This was apparent from the wide range of daily announcements, editorials that came from all areas in the Washington bureaucracy; the Art World and the Media.

In this final segment the Hirshhorn accomplishment, I’m not going to leave you with a smattering of the writings describing this period but provide you with many of the wonderful letters, documents and expressions of appreciation that took place once the Museum became operational after it opened on October 1, 1974 and became firmly entrenched in the Washington scene beginning in 1975 and continuing through 1976.

The Congressional Record entry dated November 19, 1974; the Senate, from Sen. Charles Percy, (Illinois) summed up his thoughts about the opening of the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden on the Mall in Washington. With a flourish of comments filled with criticism that had been leveled in Washington and in art circles around the country as well as reading reviews, he toured and greatly enjoyed the Museum and Sculpture Garden and believes the initial judgment on the Hirshhorn collection can be summarized in the words of Hilton Kramer of the New York Times, Mr. Hirshhorn’s gift to the nation is “magnificent” and “unlikely to be equal in our lifetime.” In my view, the greatest strength of the Hirshhorn collection is its tremendous diversity. The collector provided us with a true cross-section of great 19th and 20th century art works. With the exquisite creations of recognized Masters displayed alongside unfamiliar works of little-known artists.

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Figure #9-20 Congressional Record entry     Figure #9-21 Congratulations from SI Assistant Treasurer

The above letter from SI Assistant Treas. John F Jamison was most kind and heartfelt giving me more credit that I would not normally receive but seeing it in writing makes all the difference.



Figure #9-22 Smithsonian Newsletter for October 1974’s Announcing the Opening of the Hirshhorn Museum

The Calendar of the Smithsonian Institution gave us an air of legitimacy. We did have our share of new activities, exhibits and we were getting into the mainstream of this wonderful way of allowing Americans and world visitors to enjoy and enhance their knowledge of so many facets of our life and history. The staff was up to the challenge of keeping current with the myriad of art related functions that we were planning over the course of the next few years.

The next target was the Bicentennial for the United States that was looming less than two years away. One of the things that I would take an interest in was the building and construction of another eagerly anticipated new Museum that was bound to attract a lot of attention. The Air and Space Museum was scheduled to kick off during the Bicentennial activities over July 4th holiday. I did have a number of assignments that would keep me apprised of how things were taking shape across the street.  The proximity to the Hirshhorn Museum made it a no-brainer that we needed to be involved and actually share what we had learned from our “meteoric rise” and getting the Hirshhorn started, worked on and completed. It also afforded me the opportunity to come in contact with their newly rising stars that would play an important part in seeing this sparkler also become a fixture on Capitol Mall. The newly appointed Curator for the Museum was none other than Mr. Michael Collins, of Apollo 11 fame (Commander, Lunar Module) of which I kept Memorabilia that appears in the previous chapter. I relished this opportunity to impart some of my knowledge and experience knowing what it was like to be a fledgling, new kid on the block. It was an exceptional event and Thelma and I were glad to be part of it.


But this did not keep us from getting our first major, eye-opening exhibit ready to make our own contribution to the American Bicentennial. The plan was put into place to acknowledge the contribution of the “Immigrants’” over the last 100 years that have come to our shores with the emphasis on Immigrants’ Art Influence.


With all the hoopla today centering around immigrants and immigration we shouldn’t lose sight of how much we owe to the millions, upon millions, upon millions who would be considered refugees that came to this country as a last resort; and not just “ARTISTS – IMMIGRANTS OF AMERICA.” One of the things that I was most proud of was the Golden Door publication dealing with ARTIST- IMMIGRANTS OF AMERICA, 1876 – 1976. Part of the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden exhibit and publication; May 20 through October 20, 1976. One of the numerous articles as early as the turn-of-the-century appeared in the New York Times and deals with the heading “Immigration Record Will Be Broken This Year; 1906.”

What makes this so prophetic is that part of this newsletter about the Golden Door is the reflection on what figures to be its personification of “Liberty.” At the base of the statue at the entrance to New York Harbor symbolizes the immigrants’ expectations. On Lady Liberty’s base was inscribed the words by Emma Lazarus’ closing verses: Patriotic sentiments:

…Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore; send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me: I lift my lamp beside the Golden door!

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Figure #9-23 Golden Door Artists–Immigrants 1876-1976  Figure #9-24 Exhibit Fact Sheet

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Figure #9-25 Bicentennial Exhibit, MEMO      Figure #9-26 Bicentennial Exhibit Article, “Melting Pot”

Their acceptance was a cyclical thing; the immigrants’ lot would go through periods of increases and decreases. In the article, the last paragraph states “the outbreak of World War I led to intensified efforts to assure the immigrants’ patriotism and loyalty. By the 1920s, however, a virulent restrictionism began to dominate the American attitude towards immigration. Passage to the Golden Door became possible for fewer and fewer immigrants.” How ironic that things haven’t changed much during the passage of all these years.


The Bicentennial exhibit proved to be a huge access. There were many parties to attend, over 20 celebrations; I would be there. Staff was warranted their own acclamation. I was constantly working on good employee relations: Jim and superintendent Frank; Lee getting the OK to work at home.

The list of current staff members evoked a tumultuous roar of pleasant memories. June 10, 1970 my starting date was safely ensconced between hiring the first staff members Frank and Francie in 1970. Ms. Sewall and Assistant Curator Stephen Weil, “who likes to rock boats.” The great cataloguing by Anne in the library; my final interview with JHH in 1970 before officially starting. I had developed a pretty good bond with Al Lerner over the years and as I could see the light at the end of the tunnel, there were some things that Thelma and I wanted to impart to Al and Pauline Lerner to show them how much all their good tidings over the years meant. So we came up with something that reflected our utmost appreciation.


October 26, 1976

Dear Thelma and Joe,

I must tell you first that your generosity is unusual and touching and it makes it all the more difficult to write this letter. You have shown great concern and warm sympathy all along and that is itself a sufficient gift since it is really the rarest and most treasured of commodities.

A token gift would have been reasonable although not necessary.

But I really can’t, with any clear conscience accept such an extravagant gift. And there is no reason why you should do this as a measure of your affection. The warmth and spontaneity of your act means a great deal to Pauline and me. I am very serious about this and have considered it carefully, my chief concern being not to offend you in any way. But think you will understand that I will remember the generosity will remember the generosity of your intention, which is really the most precious gift of all. With warmest thanks

Yours, Al

Figure #9-27 Letter of Thanks from Al Lerner


Figure #9-28 Thelma and I at one of the Bicentennial Exhibits

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Figure #9-29 and Figure #9-30 The Bicentennial celebration afforded Thelma and me and to revisit some of the galleries and exhibits.



13Figure #9-31 Membership in the National Society of Literature and the Arts

I kept current with activities for the Arts while preparing my leave-taking. Particularly, involvement with the National Endowments For The Arts (NEA). It would set in motion a ripple effect that would serve me well even after retiring from the Hirshhorn. This link would provide the next Jewel in the “Triple Crown.”

Two amazing milestones that took place during this period were my entry in America’s Who’sWho in Government and being recommended for the prestigious Rockefeller Administrative  Award.


In July 1976, I was happily surprised to see that my submission of a biographical sketch was accepted by the publishers of Marquis Who’s Who in Government and included in the 2nd edition, 1975-76 in the publication of the same name.  I record the entry below because of its simplicity and brevity, and the concise manner in which it reflects the highlights of my family history, schooling record, my occupation, my army career and service with the Hirshhorn Museum.

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Figure 9-32 Galley Proof for Who’sWho in Government   Figure 9-33 Actual citation in Who’sWho Publication

a b

c d

Figure #9-34 Nomination for Rockefeller Public Service Award

On April 9, 1976, Abram Lerner, Director, HMSG put my name in for Nomination for the Rockefeller public service award. He based this on my length of public service, dedicated career to the Federal government and to recognize distinguished service and contribution to the growth and prestige of the Smithsonian Institution. The above application states why he felt this was justified.

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Figure #9–35 Recognition, 35 years of Service Figure  #9–36 Rockefeller Award Winner


Figure #9-37 Draft of final budget submission for FY 77

One of my last the last Budget Submissions for FY 77; it would become effective the following year.

In order to complete an accurate picture of the many facets that go into preparing, designing, constructing, opening, operating and ensuring the successful life of such an edifice as the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden: it required an integrated, dedicated staff and certainly the appropriate amount of resources, financial and otherwise to bring this to fruition. I was certainly blessed by being surrounded by overqualified, over-achievers – Staff both above me, besides me and under me.

Coupled with the fact that Thelma was really my right hand and very supportive, as well as developing into a most “talented artist” in her own right, there was no way that I could have failed to accomplish what I was required to do.


Figure #9-38 Thelma and I Meeting with Smithsonian Officials and Art Experts

The next posting will address my leaving the confines of the Hirshhorn Museum, the Marvelous going away party, as well as leaving behind many of the wonderful friends we cherished at work and the ones that we made along the way, over the past 12 years. The road ahead would bring new challenges, fond memories and even equally great accomplishments.

**Appendices and artifacts will include: Detailed budget transactions, congressional submittals, Hirshhorn publications, letters of accommodation from both government level recommendation, letters of appreciation from staff. Pictures of the building of the Hirshhorn Museum, opening night festivities, Program, brochures, testimonials, retirement party and farewell address.

Copyright © 2016      William Sefekar

** Material will appear in book.


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Continue reading THE HIRSHHORN MUSEUM ACCOMPLISHMENT, PT. 4 * 1970 – 1976







During this hectic period, I faced a serious challenge.  It was early 1974 and I was working like a person with blinders.  My concentration focused on October 1974 – the scheduled opening.  One morning, upon my arrival at the office, Mr. Lerner introduced me to a man about five years younger than my 57 years.  He asked me to find space in our temporary quarters and he suggested I keep him busy.  This was a strange request in that it was not explained to me what the purpose was for his presence in our office.  I did know that he worked at the Smithsonian National Museum of History and Technology, and that he was a Grade GS-16 (I was a Grade GS-15).  It was apparent he was being “kicked upstairs”.  This was a method used to enable an individual to retain a high grade when his ability was in question.  I certainly wasn’t going to delegate my responsibilities to an individual who could possibly threaten my position.  Since I had not been given direct orders to encourage this encroachment, I decided that I would give him a desk in a secluded part of the office, and assigning him some “make work” tasks that would keep him busy.  With nothing tangible for him to do, he realized on his own volition that he did not fit in with our organization.  Luckily, this slight interruption did not have a noticeable effect on museum plans, which were progressing steadily toward fruition.

If I ever had any qualms about being short, I never had any misgivings about my not being tall.  I could look “up” to Mr. Hirshhorn because, although he was short and stocky he never was inhibited.  I was short and slight but lack of money did not inhibit me.  But I kept my proper distance.  On one occasion I approved for payment the invoice for transporting the Art Collection from New York City to Washington, D.C. a cost to be paid by Mr. Hirshhorn. Inasmuch as the move was a huge success and the bill of lading showed no exceptions, I immediately signed off as “received in proper order.”

The next day, Mr. Hirshhorn called the Museum, as he was wont to do and inquired as to why we were processing the invoices so swiftly.  I explained that the art had been received in good order and the Register had certified that each item was received and that there was no reason to delay payment. When we couldn’t find any reason to withhold payment on the invoice, he felt he had done his best to “negotiate” a lower cost. The invoice was paid promptly.  Mr. Hirshhorn was the consummate businessman.

It was October 1974, the time for the opening of the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden.  The Groundbreaking Ceremony had taken place on January 8, 1969, which included President Lyndon B. Johnson, Chief Justice Earl Warren, and Secretary Dillon Ripley (**picture).  And of course, Joseph H. Hirshhorn, wielding their trusty spades, setting the wheels in motion for construction of a Museum, which Ambassador Daniel P. Moynihan, Chairman, Board of trustees, said would last more than a “Hundred Years”.  (**Include JHH talk about making his contribution to the United States from humble beginnings of Immigrant roots)

And today as can be imagined it’s value is in untold billions of dollars of irreplaceable pieces of art and sculptures under the auspices of the “Museum.” It has indeed found a lasting home among the greatest works of Art on display in the world. I cannot say enough for the opportunity afforded me by the Hirshhorn Museum, the Smithsonian Institution and of course Mr. Joseph Hirshhorn and the experience working under the guidance of Abram Lerner, the Curator. This can be found in the Opening Day Catalog of the Hirshhorn Collection that was presented to the US government. The attached slideshow provides just the thumbnail sketch of what was a lifetime of dedication that Mr. Hirshhorn amassed over 40 years. Enjoy just a sampling and maybe you too might have an opportunity to visit the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, if you haven’t already. Slideshow of Hirshhorn Collection Catalogue begins now.

Tuesday, October 1, 1974, was a mild day, but in anticipation of rain we contracted for a huge tent in the event of inclement weather. Fortunately, we were able to conduct the activities in and around the building without any inconvenience to the guests.

The Invitation to the opening was on a Museum Logo displayed on a platinum border, with a black circle emblazoned off-center on a white globe, symbolizing the Fountain on the circular Plaza and the encircling Building, The invitation invited the guests to the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden at Washington City, October 1, 1974.


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It was a handsome reception with “open” bar and dancing.  Mr. and Mrs. Hirshhorn tripped the light fantastic during the festivities. One night was for VIPs and Guests; one night was for the Artists and Guests; and one night for Smithsonian Associates, Employees and Guests.  It was three nights to remember, a fitting finale to four years of planning, participation, and the satisfaction felt by each individual involved in this historic endeavor.

In early 1975 we were in a sort of shakedown period.  All the normal wrinkles in a new building had to be ironed out.  The Director wanted a bookshop with educational materials.  He steered away from gadgets that weren’t related to the learning process.  The staff was involved in developing a long-range schedule of various exhibitions, usually three or four years into the future.  This required planning the layout of the exhibition by the curators, exhibition specialists, and historians.  Not all items exhibited came from the Hirshhorn collection.  A major Retrospective could encompass the best works by a particular artist, i.e., Willem De Kooning, Henry Moore; or selected works of other great collectors, i.e. Sloan Collection. This meant that such art works, supplementing Hirshhorn’s collection would be shipped to the Museum and the cost of shipping, ensuring installing the exhibition would have to be considered in the overall cost.  Each exhibition would go through the same steps, and close attention would be given to the current budget costs, and then estimating costs for exhibitions planned three or four years ahead.

This planning required the skills of many people, but the Administrator brought the different efforts together into a logical pattern.  The past six years were full of challenges, new learning experiences, and the need for numerous decisions.   The Museum had its share of critics as well as champions.  One of the challenges we faced was a review of the Smithsonian Institution, the first in the 126 years that the Smithsonian had been in operation.  That was a lot of ground to cover, and the Hirshhorn being part of the Smithsonian came in for a lot of examination.  We were particularly involved because one of our critics had been snooping around the different Smithsonian offices, had lifted material from the different “in” and “out” correspondence boxes, and then he would write to the different Congressional Committees, spewing ambiguous information.  One of these Committees (reviewing the Smithsonian budget) was interested in the activities of the Smithsonian and the Hirshhorn.  We had to justify why the Smithsonian needed the Hirshhorn Museum when there were already established a National Collection of Fine Arts and a National Portrait Gallery in Washington.

One of my most memorable Hirshhorn Collection memorabilia from the Opening Night Festivities is a signed, numbered poster for the event. It is hanging in a special place in our home.

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The simple answer was that the Hirshhorn Collection was more in the genre of modern art and its collection of sculptures covers the works of Rodin, Henry Moore and modernists like Alexander. The initial value of the Collection in 1969 was $75,000,000.  In 1975 the Collection as estimated at $125,000,000.  The Director of the Art Institute of Chicago had, at one time, entertained doubts about the validity of the Hirshhorn Collection.  As was the practice in Washington, there evolved from the inspection of the Smithsonian, a request to the General Accounting Office (the watchdog of the Congress) to inspect and issue a report to the Senate by August 4, 1974.  A report was subsequently issued which covered such subjects as: Was the Smithsonian empowered to enter into an agreement with Hirshhorn, committing the United States government. To accepting the Collection; What were the 10 original employees doing for 4 years (1970-1974) working in New York and Washington, to justify the time spent in storing, selecting and preserving the works of art in the “Collection.” Well, the final report was issued, all pertinent questions answered, and the Chairman of the Board of Trustees, Sen. Daniel P. Moynihan said it was the first report he had seen where the General Accounting Office was satisfied with all aspects of their investigation (**include budget reports).


Once the Gala Opening took place, the staff knew that with this behind us, the real guts and glory lay ahead. Now it was the day-to-day operations that will really set the Hirshhorn apart as a world-class Museum. One of the first things that went into effect besides making sure that the throngs of visitors both tourists and locals were taken care of, were two important aspects of Museum keeping. One was that our team of docents would be always there to provide tours of this newly open attraction and curiosity. The docent is an unheralded part of the Museum operations; it is a person who acts as a guide, typically on a voluntary basis, in a museum or art gallery. As would be the case, I was very pleased with the way our cadre of docents took pride in making sure that their tours turned out to be both informative and artsy

The other item that also played an important part in the unqualified success that the Museum was to introduce “the monthly newsletter,” requiring a complete cooperative effort by the entire staff to ensure that the activities promoted by the Museum reached out to all the possible outlets for attracting new and a continued regular multitude of committed art and museum goers. The following Newsletter kicked off a litany of details, dates and events that kept us busy during this shakedown period. (** 1st Month, October 1974 Hirshhorn Museum’s Newsletter)


Just prior to the opening of the Museum, Mr. Lerner selected a Deputy Director as his assistant.  I had enjoyed my relation with Mr. Lerner, being in a de facto assistant position; I did not feel that this action belittled my job.  Mr. Stephen Weil was a lawyer and former Director of a Museum in New York.   The Hirshhorn Museum was entitled to a Director and Deputy Director.  Mr. Lerner treated me well, awarding me several with-in grade promotions, which provide in-grade increments.  Weil was a take hold individual, but Mr. Lerner kept him in check.  In a public relations interview, Weil said he “believed in rocking the boat.”  I’m a great believer in holding on to the “gun wale”. Weil’s first efforts were to try to replace several division chiefs – I quickly derailed such plans.  He got involved in certain personnel problems and, in one case, we disagreed on a decision and he threatened to throw me through a window.  That didn’t bother me except we were on the fourth floor.   We defused the situation, and got along pretty well after that.  However, at this point, I began thinking that this is a good time to make my departure.  Everything was fine, salary was great, had no enemies – I could leave in a good frame of mind. However, this would not be the case for the immediate future. As indicated, the challenges of keeping the Museum functional and in smooth working order would require even more vigilance. I was surely up to the task as will be seen in the next part of the “Hirshhorn Accomplishment.” And so ends the third of four parts for Chapter 9’s posting.

**Included will be many of the memorandums and letters to the Smithsonian and budget preparation. Correspondence with Al Lerner, Joe and Olga Hirshhorn and of course the myriad of pictures, diagrams, communications and documents that went into building the museum.

During this period an equally rewarding event took place in our family’s life. It just happened to be the preparation and wedding of my dearest daughter Bonnie Lynn Sefekar to a most worthy young man, Lee Elliott Landau on Saturday, August 3, 1974.  It will also mention Bill Sefekar’s running for the Maryland State Legislature in the 1974 Democratic primary.



Copyright © 2016      William Sefekar

** Material will appear in book


We are always interested in hearing comments and suggestions about how the blog could be better. Sound off below with your ideas








Mondays, the staff eagerly awaited my report.  On the Fridays I spent in Washington, I would follow-up on purchase orders for equipment and confer on personnel actions in progress.  I would attend conferences with key Smithsonian personnel and meet with the contractor’s representatives.  But there was no news for the “troops” in New York.  The construction was behind schedule and when they asked, “when are we moving to Washington?”, I would have to say, “We’re behind schedule on the building”.  This had an unhappy effect on the staff, who were eagerly awaiting their new assignment, as well as me who was eager to get back to Washington.  They were young and waiting to launch their careers – with eyes focused on new horizons.   Many of these professionals would make a name for themselves in the not too distant future.

But in the meantime they worked feverishly, going about their business of preparing the collection for its transporting up to Washington DC, when the Museum was ready to receive these precious gifts. I found it rather amusing and entertaining to see how the staff painstakingly managed to have pictures made, I should say miniaturized pictures of the entire collection of paintings and sculptures. This is all done to scale and to be part of an 11 foot replica model of the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden. It was a cutaway version that lent itself to the staff of art experts to prepare the layout for the opening exhibits and beyond. These little miniature paintings and sculptures were interchangeable as the three-story Hirshhorn Museum was retractable to accommodate placing the artworks in the most desirable arrangements.

But for now, their futures were on hold – they had to pick up their lives here and move lock, stock, and barrel to new surroundings.  Some had families and had to take care of schooling needs; some of them had to transfer their bank accounts, and establish their credit in their newly adopted state.  On the other hand, I was the stranger in their midst, and they thought I was keeping the truth from them.  But I really was a straight shooter and was very concerned about their adjustment when reaching Washington upon completion of the construction. As a result of setting a good foundation, many continued their careers well into the 21st century.

A very interesting off-shot did occur. While I was becoming engrossed in the finer parts of the fine arts, Thelma was becoming immersed in the actual art of the fine arts. She actually began taking painting classes. The classes only supplemented a special gift that she had, just waiting to be released. She created many remarkable works that the family is quite proud of, and not just our immediate family. It was also a part of my extended family, coinciding with the Hirshhorn experience. We will have a gallery exhibit of sorts that we’ll show later on to give Thelma her just due and you can judge for yourself. One was even an abstract of the Hirshhorn Museum. But back to the task at hand: BUILDING THE BUILDING!!

That’s when I found that contractors were always two or three years late.  Even with a penalty clause of $ 1,000 a day for each day behind schedule did not expedite the status quo.  At the completion of the construction; the penalty stood at $700,000 which was later adjusted by arbitration.  In 1972, Hirshhorn’s agreement had to be amended to meet completion of construction.

Figure#9-10 Board Meeting, Morgan Warehouse, 510 W.21st, St, N.Y.C.

One of the fateful Board Meetings held in 1972 that would be going over the staff preparation for the move to Washington and dealing with the scheduled construction delays.

LR: Al Lerner, George Hamilton, Joe Sefekar, Charles Blitzer and Joseph H. Hirshhorn

1972 marked another milestone in my career fulfillments. It marked the 30th anniversary of my service with the Federal government that began in 1942 with my induction into the Armed Forces. My wife and children took part in this Special Program. I would serve another 5 years before retiring in 1977.

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Figure # 9-11 Smithsonian Honor Awards; 30 Year Career Service.

With this special milestone behind me there was nothing more I could do but make sure that my career continued to a successful conclusion and I continued to immerse myself even more fastidiously into working with the officials at the Smithsonian, my higher-ups at the Hirshhorn and my staff. I was very dedicated to them and had developed a deep seeded attachment with them.

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Figure #9-13 Erection of the circular structure of the Museum


Figure #9-14 Holiday Greeting Card from Joe and Olga Hirshhorn


Figure #9-15 Memo from Abram Lerner H.M.S.G. Construction July 17, 1973

This Memo spelled out the requirements that would have to be in place before, during, and after the transfer of the collection to Washington is made. Time frame dates for completion included: The Garden, September 10, 1973; freight elevator, November 16, 1973; the Plaza area, November 27, 1973 and the Lower Level, December 16, 1973. Making the transfer of the Collections beginning at the earliest until January, 1974.


The 1972 – 73 period brought many changes to our family. Thelma and I had made many enduring friends not only at Parkside Plaza but in the Silver Spring Maryland area during the past six years. We received visits periodically from our family up north in the New York area. Billy staked out his claim in the political arena, chasing his idealistic pursuits. He continued his association with the Democratic party and worked at the Democratic National Committee (DNC) in the radio department; located in the legendary Watergate building in Washington DC. In 1972 Sen. George McGovern became the Democratic Presidential nominee and selected Sargent Shriver as his vice presidential running mate. Sargent Shriver, was the initial Director of the Peace Corps among his other attributes. Billy was assigned to travel with the Candidate. For two months he crisscrossed the country attending numerous political gatherings and events; flying in and out of National Airport in Washington.

On one such trip we picked him up at the airport for his usual one-day layover, to be off again after getting fresh clothes. It was a special happenstance that we happened to meet Sargent Shriver while he was debarking from the plane on the Campaign Trail.


Bonnie on the other hand was taking a more serious path. One of her friends from high school thought it would be a good idea to fix her up with one of the fellows that she knew from high school while attending Montgomery Blair. It was sort of a blind date and as fate would have it Bonnie would meet him occasionally during the next few years, while attending the University of Maryland. The young man, Lee Landau who had ideas of becoming a lawyer and joining his dad in his practice, began the courtship in earnest in 1972. Their relationship would blossom with this fine fellow setting his sights on taking my daughter away, literally and figuratively. But it was one of the most wonderful things that could have happened to my family and my daughter.

Figure #9-16 Meeting Vice-Presidential Candidate Sargent Shriver.

Mr. Lerner thought it appropriate in considering all my effort put forth during the last three years that I receive a “Nomination for Quality Step Increase.” In the justification for the step increase it was stated in some very glowing terms that I still feel exceptionally proud of even to this day. Having been called upon in my present position as 13Administrative Officer to perform a wide range of duties, and in all these having showed excellent ability. In addition, Mr. Sefekar shown an unusual ability to meet any and all requirements of his position. He has shown great resourcefulness, initiative and industry and handling his various work assignments. His work performance has consistently exceeded normal performance expectations, and his excellence of achievement and spirit of cooperation have contributed significantly to the successful accomplishment of our mission during the past three years.

And thus I was awarded a Quality Step Increase.

Figure #9-17 Nomination for Quality Step Increase dated April 23, 1973.

As is my usual penchant for taking copious notes about events that took place, my files were filled with some of the details that occurred during the course of the construction and preparation of the Museum.

In May, 1973 the following are excerpts (hand-written notes, surfaced) from some of the day-to-day activities that took place during the week of May 23 and the myriad of details and decisions that had to be made.

May 23 – Rowan–Weiner conference RE: ektachrome (old camera film scanning) for postcards.

May 24 – Washington – interviewed Baird – Administrative Position- VG. Held meeting with Barwick on requisition – some resistance to drape requisition, may run into trouble.

May 25 – interviewed Dr. Albert – interested in research or curatorial position, VG interviewed Mr. Marsh – Exhibits Displays – G.  Trouble with requisition for special equipment which Mr. Blitzer must sign. He left for weekend without signing.

Set up meetings with Tele sonic on Friday, June 1 to demonstrate Tour Guide System.

Set up meeting for Thursday, May 31 to discuss filming history of HMSG. Final portion of 1,000 data collection sheets submitted to Information Services Division. Arranged special keypunch and verifying.

May 29 – All day loading by Morgan Bros. Manhattan – All library books and file cabinets.

McCabe moved, Rosensweig, Brooks scheduled end of week. Meanwhile routine work goes on. Revised plans to return to Washington to receive books – will leave up to staff in Washington.

May 30 – Visited Warehouse in morning to advise staff of status of office operations and to inform Nancy Sage, et al., that move of collection our priority item and that Mr. Lerner and my efforts will be directed towards that end.

Contract will be signed with movers in next few days. However, other major items which are routine: continue procurement of Museum furnishings, will require full time between now and June 30. Our aim is to stay within procurement regulations without holding up requisitions and purchase orders. But we will try to furnish on this information to Supply Division, S.I.

Sample of Work; A Vignette, file 1973

An historical meeting took place on Wednesday, January 10, 1973 at 820 Park Ave., New York City. Our staff, Mr. Lerner, Miss Sage and myself went to Mr. Hirshhorn’s apartment to beard the lion in his den. Our mission was to get JHH’s okay to begin plans for moving his collection to Washington, DC. This was a sort of re-start up because the original estimates we had solicited initially were in November 1971. With the delays in the building completion, the proposed move was put on the back burner. Now, the feeling was that this was the time. Again, the first reaction by Mr. JHH was “it was too soon.” The problem facing us was having completed and secured the building to receive the collection. Workmen should be out of the building and all possible impediments be removed. We agreed we should plan an October receiving date, and on that basis we convinced Mr. H. that we needed a minimum of nine months lead time – six months for packing and crating and three months for moving. This made the month of February as the target date for signing a moving contract. Mr. H gave us the go ahead sign – we agreed on the most likely of movers to be selected.

Over a drink, and some arty talk, Mr. Lerner came up with an anecdote. When Mr. H. was visiting Picasso he made the unpardonable faux pas of offering Picasso money for a sculpture. Sensing Picasso’s reaction, Mr. H. adroitly changed his approach by saying “I’ll give everything I have,” taking off his bowtie, his jacket and two francs. Picasso asked “will you throw in your wife,” to which Mr. H. said “yes.” Picasso laughed heartily, said “he’s crazy” and took the bow tie and jacket. Mr. H. got his sculpture.

During our conversation, the discussion arose on locating a few items that are listed in the Hirshhorn collection but have been in apparently misplaced. It developed that a painting was found hanging in Mrs. H. boudoir. She was reluctant to give it up since Mr. H. had given it to her as a wedding present. Mr. H. said “don’t worry my dear, I’ll replace it.” It was done in all humility, without any petulance.

Figure #9-18 of the Opening of the Temporary Offices at the Smithsonian and closing of the New York Office.
Figure #9-18 of the Opening of the Temporary Offices at the Smithsonian and closing of the New York Office.

This made it essential that the contact for a qualified mover be let, adhering to government regulations which required unquestioned professional ability in transporting art and other valuable objects, safely and undamaged.

As a sign that we were progressing towards completion of our hiatus in New York, The October 25, 1973 Announcement stated that the New York office of the Hirshhorn Museum and sculpture Garden located at 135 E. 35th St. would finally close on September 28, 1973 and that temporary offices would now be located in room 1235 of the Arts and Industry Building, Smithsonian Institution. The Warehouse Office at Morgan Brothers and Storage Company 510 W. 21st St., New York City would be maintained until the Collection is shipped to Washington. This was the signal we were looking for, coming to fruition after many years and so many hours that our staff was inching ever so close to seeing the dream become a reality.

End of Part Two of Chapter 9, The Hirshhorn Accomplishment.” In the next Blog posting, Part three of this 4 part Series, will deal with what would amount to the most providential calling that I would have in my lifetime: The “Opening of the Hirshhorn Museum.” It would be slated for October 1, 1974; a year from now.

Copyright © 2016      William Sefekar

** Material will appear in book.

We are always interested in hearing comments and suggestions about how the blog could be better. Sound off below with your ideas.









1970 was an auspicious year – it opened new vistas for Thelma and me.  It also closed some chapters in our lives.  On Saturday, January 10, 1970, Thelma’s mother, Bessie Lakoff died at the age of 85.  Her life had been difficult, as most immigrant families had experienced.  She had migrated from Vilna, Russia – her husband, William had preceded her to the new country where they raised a family of 4 daughters and one son.  A happily married life but had become a widow when William died in November 1939. My son William Charles would be named after him. It was a financial struggle raising a family during the aftermath of the depression.  But it was a close family and the siblings helped support their mother.

Jack and Jenny (Pop and Mom) were always there for us.  No lengthy heart to heart talks, but daily concern over our well-being.  It was like they were on the side lines – guiding our way through the calm and the eddies.  We had the usual admonishments of “yes” and “no”, but all I remember were the decisions that I had to make for myself but can remember none that my siblings made for themselves. In our immigrant family, this was how personal independence was instilled in the children.   But we were content.  And that is why we were able to let them go, as they slipped out of our lives.

Pop died the week that I started my new job with the Smithsonian.  Added to the trauma of losing a parent was the uncertainties associated with the starting of a new job – in this case it was an ending and a beginning.  My wife and children lived in Washington, D.C.  When Pop died, my brother Al and my sisters, who lived in New York attended to the funeral arrangements.  My sister, Lucy, lived in Toronto, Canada, with her husband Hy and two children, Gloria and Martin.  They were family oriented, although they were a distance away.  They kept in close touch with us.  Lucy was the oldest, and kept us together with her energy and concern.


Starting a new job, I had trepidations of the effect on my new assignment and  my absence due to family problems.  But since everything, at this point was in the planning stages I will become part of the start-up operations.  Actually, although the period of mourning in the Jewish religion is seven days, there is a mini period of three days to accommodate the exigencies of the 20th century.  Normally, internment is one or two days after the passing of the deceased.

With the mourning period behind us, I was able to concentrate on the new job and to try to spend some quality time with Thelma and the kids.

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Figure #9.1 Arrangements for Joining Hirshhorn Staff, March 1970  Figure #9-2 Family Life 1970-71 

Facing a two-year separation, my wife and I had three alternatives:

1)   My subletting an apartment in New York, which would make the prospect of a two-year separation, seems more difficult to endure.

2)   Have my wife join me and we would stay with her widowed sister, Yetta Starr.  This was not practicable inasmuch as we had two children going to school or living in Washington.  This would disrupt my wife’s social activities for 2 years and possibly longer, if construction were delayed.

3)   A plausible, and as we found out later, more feasible action was for me to stay in New York temporarily, and commute from Washington and return home for weekends.  Monetarily, it was more satisfactory that I did not have to maintain separate domiciles.  My costs were a minimal contribution for expenses to stay with my sister-in-law. My airfare was covered in arrangements with the Smithsonian.The apartment was crammed with works of art – not haphazardly but neatly hung or leaning on the various walls in the apartment.  This is how his other art holdings were stored in the various homes he owned in Greenwich, Conn.; Toronto, Canada; and the collection itself accumulated over a period of 30 – 40 years, now housed in the Morgan Brothers Storage facility on 23rd street and 10th Ave., NYC.  The apartment was tastefully furnished despite the paintings and sculptures arrayed in every nook and cranny.  Mr. Hirshhorn was having breakfast, and I joined him in a cup of coffee.  He was a tough hombre to deal with.  He kept a close hand on everything connected with the creating of a home for his “children”, as he lovingly referred to the works of art.  He never sold anything that he collected – he did not “deal” in art.  After he had donated his art to the U.S. he continued his buying binge, retaining ownership of these new purchases, but subsequently bequeathing them to the government on a periodic basis.  He selected the curator of the collection, Mr. Abram Lerner, who advised Mr. Hirshhorn on art, but it was Mr. Hirshhorn who made all the decisions on what he wanted. In many cases, the first Mr. Lerner learned about an acquisition was when he would get a notice from U.S. Custom office that a huge box containing paintings or sculpture, was at the pier, and had to be signed for.  The inventory of paintings and sculpture donated to the U.S. Government in 1965 was valued at $ 75,000,000.  Eventually, when the collection was ready to be turned over to the Government in 1974, the estimated value was $125,000,000. (Art experts documented this estimate at current value). Mr. Hirshhorn was friendly, talkative and chatty. But when it came to business, he was stern and directly to the point.  He asked me, “Can you be strict with the employees?”


“If you have to fire them, can you do it?

“Yes. But in the Federal Civil Service, you can’t dismiss an employee without following regular grievance procedures”.

That seemed to satisfy him and the interviewed ended.  It was a strange discussion because I would be the only individual on the entire staff of 10 that enjoyed prior Civil Service longevity.  It was this Federal status, my knowledge of personnel procedures, familiarity with the obligation of controlled funds that gave me the edge in being selected.  Another thing that helped was my extensive experience in preparing and executing a financial plan that could project our requirements for the next five years. Other factors were my extensive experience in purchasing supplies, equipment and services.  We had to find justification for purchasing white Formica desks and file cabinets, and library shelving when government regulations required colors of olive green be regular issue?

The staff had previously submitted the required Civil Service Application Form 72, and based on qualification requirements were accepted for positions commensurate with their education and experience.  This small cadre was comprised of working curators, art historians, and art handlers with Undergraduate and Master degrees in their fields of specialty.  They were a young, enthusiastic and loyal group, and Mr. Hirshhorn was our Patriarch.

It was a complicated plan.  The museum was being constructed in Washington, D.C.  The staff of 10 was New Yorkers – a group of dedicated individuals consisting of would be artists, curators, historians, but all with the ability to do the moving and lifting of the paintings and sculptures they were working with. I would take care of the hiring selection process.  In addition, some of us were working on the important job of taking inventory and cataloguing the collection, preparatory to writing and editing the Inaugural catalogue for the Opening Exhibition. Part of my initial responsibilities were to hire a small cadre of dedicated workers in the arts. I was very fortunate that this group of dedicated and sincere workers who would follow me through this transitionary period. Many of them still remained with the Hirshhorn long after I retired. There were some that retired recently after 40 years of service

I had taken some related art subjects in my undergraduate studies – but nothing very deep and the one thing that stayed with me – were the classical Greek columns: Corinthian, Doric and Ionian. My initial exposure to modern art was a book by Milton W. Brown “The Story of the Armory Show,” [The Joseph H. Hirshhorn Foundation – Library of Congress Catalog No. 63-13496.) The author had done a treatise for Mr. Hirshhorn, which was a historical account of the Armory Show of 1913, (**show picture to appear in manuscript) reassembling the show and relying on documents created by a small group of artists banding together as the Association of American Painters and Sculptors.  Being a nostalgia buff, what intrigued me was that this show debuted February 17, 1913, and was for a whole generation of artists the introduction to Modern Art, which slowly crept into the American psyche.

Being a Management Analyst qualifies one for any field, similar to being a stenographer, where having experience in a field is not a prerequisite to being hired. I was able to continue, into the maze of daily challenges, which included adjusting to the personal lives of the staff.  The Abram Lerner, Director of the Museum had a chronic back disorder which required constant medical supervision, and at times was hospitalized because of pain and discomfort.  But he still was on the job and was always available.  Having been Hirshhorn’s personal curator for many years, it was only natural that the Smithsonian selected him to be the Director of the new Museum.

Mr. Lerner deftly brought together each part of the museum into one integrated and smoothly operating entity. He appreciated the fact that I was a neophyte in the realm of art. He was patient with me and his guidance was like a helping hand rather than that of the teacher. The staff was involved in different art related areas, and I worked with them daily. In effect, we had three workstations first and foremost for our administrative offices at hundred and 35 E. 65th St. on the corner of Lexington Avenue, NYC. Second was the Morgan brothers moving storage company located at 21st and 10th Ave., NYC; and the last but not least was the budding Hirshhorn Museum and sculpture Garden, Seventh and Independence Ave., Washington, DC.

In June 1970, when I reported to work in New York City, the 65th St. office was the hub of our museum activities. It was a three story brownstone type building, with staff occupying the top two floors. We broke out the walls on the second floor and set up the library area; on the third floor, space was allocated for the administrative office. A cadre was assigned to the Morgan brothers storage facility, when they began the huge task of taking inventory of all the artwork stored at that facility. This was a very important assignment because on completion, we had to computerize listings; one was the itemized 6,000 artworks that Hirshhorn had donated to the Smithsonian and the second contained Hirshhorn’s personal collection, which was not part of his gift to the nation.

Al Lerner, with the help of his learned staff, developed an initial list of about 1,000 paintings and sculptures from the initial Hirshhorn donation of 6,000 works of art. Then Mr. McGagy, the chief of the exhibition department concentrated on the setting that would be most appropriate for exhibiting each work. Mr. Simon’s staff came up with the idea of creating a scaled-down model of the circular floor (1/4 inch per foot). The miniaturized replica of the Museum that was 11 feet across with cutaway sections. We created the floors in the museum, our staff photographer made copies of each painting, which were reduced in scale to the size of the walls, in this way it was easy to magnetically attach the photo to the wall. This painstakingly task of comparing the different views offered an opportunity to select the most aesthetic combination of size, shape and relationship between the various paintings and sculptures. The result of this checking and rechecking reduced the number of objects to be shown to 900. Of course, no one could project how the art would look when the paintings would be hung on the walls or how the “live” sculpture would look on the museum circular floors or if the sculpture would appear in the ethereal of the sculpture garden.

The schedule was Spartan – for both my wife and I. It was more difficult for her than for me.  While she was involved in rearing our two children, and keeping the homes fires burning in Washington, DC, I was engrossed in a new undertaking requiring me to be away from home four days and returning for the weekend.  This enabled me to spend Friday on the construction site of the new museum.  The weeks flew by into months and years.  Sounds unending!  But I managed to survive.  My wife was a real “trooper”.

Flying schedules were very accommodating. Monday mornings I boarded the 8:00am. flight from Washington, D.C. to New York – Eastern Airlines had inaugurated a no-advance reservation shuttle flight, which departed Washington National Airport every hour on the hour, to NY La Guardia Airport.  If a plane was completely filled, Eastern assigned another plane, even if only one passenger was waiting.  It was an hour flight, frequently on time; I arrived at LaGuardia Airport, hopped a cab, and scooted over the 59th Street Queensboro Bridge and a half-hour cab ride to 65th St. and Lexington Avenue.  I reported to my office by 9:30am where I worked to 5:00pm and usually took work home.   My social life was limited, by choice.  I had the opportunity to meet some of my family for dinner, but regularly I had dinner at my sister-in-law’s apartment, which was my home away from home.  Working at night included poring over the building floor plans, and assuring that sufficient office space was allotted to the administrative and professional staff.  Furniture and equipment requirements also received a lot of prior attention.

Returning to Washington on Thursday afternoons worked out very well.  By a stroke of scheduling luck, American Airlines had regular service between NY La Guardia Airport to Washington National Airport, which departed every hour on the half-hour.  If I missed an American Airlines flight at 4:30pm, I could catch the Eastern Airlines at 5:00pm.  This convenient schedule helped me develop an acceptance of this difficult separation.  The Washington departures were similarly convenient – Eastern Airlines left at 8:00am and if I was delayed, American Airlines had an 8:30am flight.

What helped in the beginning was Hirshhorn’s agreement with the Smithsonian that the museum would be constructed within two years.  It was a lonely existence.  Having been a New Yorker, I did not feel that I had to take advantage of the bright lights and Broadway shows.  I just wanted to do my work and high tail it back to Washington every weekend.  During the first two years, I did get my vacation time and managed to take some trips overseas.  The planning was progressing very well, but the construction was behind schedule.

For example, in October 1971, my wife and I were able to get away for a trip to Israel.  Her two sisters, Yetta and Renee, and Renee’s husband, Harry, accompanied us.  It was a stellar trip.  The cost of our trip was bankrolled by a legacy left by my mother, who had succumbed to declining health at age 85. She left an equal amount to my brother and four sisters.  This was all she had left, and it was due only to a quirk of circumstance.  My father had predeceased her by 5 months, and his life insurance of $5,000.00 with the world famous AT&T, which provided this windfall for us, went to her as the survivor.

While our trip was escorted, with a travel guide to take us sightseeing we undertook some spontaneous tours on our own.  One we hadn’t planned in advance was a visit to the Israel museum in Tel Aviv.  What turned out to be one of the most exciting to me was seeing the sculpture garden adjoining the museum.  An interesting fact was that an American who donated the sculpture to the museum. He was the famous showman, Billy Rose, who through his successful investment in AT & T stock was able to amass a fortune.

There were two aspects of the sculpture garden which were very coincidental; the ground cover was a layer of light brown pebbles that surrounded each sculpture.  The other fact was that many of the sculptures duplicate castings of several that were in the Hirshhorn collection.  For me it was like finding a gold mine.  I feverishly snapped slide photos of the sculpture and the layout of the garden (** pictures to appear in the book).  The ground cover motif was exactly what was planned for the Hirshhorn Museum.  It was a feather in my cap – but had no effect on the plans already approved for the Museum in Washington.  Something funny happened in the lobby of our Hotel Dan in Tel Aviv.  We were sitting there, chatting, when I noticed a closely folded wad of paper in an ashtray.  I idly picked it out, and noticed it was a heavy parchment type paper.  As I unfolded it, I could see it was a poster.  I eagerly straightened out the 14 x 20 poster; I could see that it was the Knight of Death by the 14th Century engraver Albrecht Durer.  It was only a printed poster, commemorating the 1971 showing of Durer’s work, but to me it was pure gold. I had just happened to see an exhibition catalogue before of a Dürer exhibition at the Smithsonian Museum. When I returned after three weeks things were progressing very well, but the construction was still behind schedule. The photos below taken through my eyes show what this vacant space of prime real estate looked like.

Official and professional photos of the excavation site, construction of the building, exhibits and sculptures appear later in the chapter.


Figure #9-3 Excavation site and initial construction site for the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden (HMSG)


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# 9-4 Visiting Museums out West   Figure #9-5 Visiting Museums in Israel????

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30 years of my federal service career leading up to major budget management, organization conundrums came in handy when dealing with all the facets of this undertaking. This would include the major responsibility of handling Congressional inquiries. The Board of Trustees included any illustrious figures, officials: New York US Sen. Daniel P Moynihan; Theodore E. Cummings, Hal B. Wallis, etc., it was quite a world wind but I felt confident the many challenges that I had faced prior to this magnificent assignment would make the odds of success at least better than 50-50.

It was during one of my lunch hour meanderings on the Capital Mall visiting the likes of the splendid museums such as National Gallery of Art and US archives that I came upon an “old piece of parchment,” that was none other than the Constitution of the United States. This piece of parchment has kept this country intact and guided our leaders exceptionally well. So I would take this out every so often to refresh my memory about what transpired here almost 200 years ago; when we were just a fledgling nation. “We the people of the United States in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, ensure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America and the Articles,” forthwith.


Figure #9-7 Parchment of the Constitution of the United States that I kept in my desk to help keep me focused on how I can make a contribution to this great Nation.


Copyright © 2016      William Sefekar

** Material will appear in book.

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The next digression takes place as a result of some minor surgery that I had at the Holy Cross Hospital in Silver Spring Maryland. I am not predisposed to being a good patient as was recently retold by my incident at Sloan-Kettering Cancer Institute New York; saving the nurse who had fainted in my room. I was in a bad state of mind while recuperating at The Holy Cross Hospital. Unbeknownst to me, my son and a good friend of his, Bill Reinckens who grew up in a Catholic family in Yonkers, New York contrived to pick up my spirits. They just happened to come across one of the famous Marlene Dietrich’s poster of her with her parasol from the movie Blue Angel. Who during the war years in the second World War coincided by way of my involvement with the USO. Miss Dietrich had entertained the troops and there were some pictures in my war album of her with the first Army Headquarters, rear echelon. A couple of these pictures with her and Mickey Rooney appear in Chapter 4; The War Years.

Well if you could imagine my son’s friend in his druid outfit complete with hood from his choir days in New York and a red yarmulke presented to him by my son marched into Holy Cross Hospital beside pictures of Pope Paul the sixth in his red outfit and skull cap, “yarmulke.” They could have passed as emissaries from the Vatican and proceeded with their poster of Marlene Dietrich which they presented to the nurse as they entered my room. Unrolling the poster, they showed the signed copy that professed, “To ‘Joe baby’ (see previous chapter 7 derivation of nickname) get well quick so we can pick up where we left off”, signed Marlene. Naturally it was quite an uplift. The nurses were in an uproar and they proceeded to scotch tape the poster to my hospital room wall. Everyone seemed to enjoy this little bit of ribaldry except when my wife came into the room to find out that Marlene had added her get well soon wishes that seemed to steal the show as she did 30 years ago.


“Figure 8-7 Actress Marlene Dietrich, Visiting troops during World War II

With that behind me, I returned to my government work and possible new career assignments. As mentioned earlier in this chapter my fortunes took an upturn with my contact at the Small Business Administration which was duly noted. Through the auspices of Ethel Maness, it turned out that her husband, Irving, was the Director of the Management Assistance Division at the SBA, so she had mentioned to Bill that there was a position available for Budget Officer for which the SBA was currently recruiting. When I was interviewed, I said that I was being considered for another position, not intending to give the impression that I had other alternatives.  He said “Joe, who are you kidding – you know you don’t have other offers.”  He was right, but I got the job. During my stint with the Small Business Administration (SBA), I was an assistant to the Administrative Officer, Morton Oppenheim, who didn’t like to do budgets.  We turned out to be the best of friends.

Our business relations grew into a personnel bond that was to continue for a long time. Edith Oppenheim, Morty’s wife and Thelma became fast friends.  Mr. Oppenheim, my supervisor, had a Secretary who was a nice, middle-aged woman.  She also performed secretarial duties for me. I thought our dealings were pleasant, and I thought that I had not made any abnormal demands of her.  But we never know what people really think of us.  One day she exploded and accused me of being a “Little Caesar”.  Nothing serious came of this outburst, but thereafter at home, I was “hailed” as “Little Caesar” ala Edward G. Robinson, and my wife took delight in taking me down a peg, if I ever puffed up with authority.  I considered this one of my better positions, although I was happy with most of my other jobs.  Mr. Maness was a jovial person and politically motivated.  He had been part of the battery of lawyers who had been assigned to the Nuremberg Trials in Germany.  When the perpetrators of the grizzliest crimes visited upon the human race were brought to justice, he was there.

In the presidential election of 1968, there was an electric feeling running thru the government agencies in Washington.  It was more so in the Small Business Administration because the SBA was a political football.  In every new administration, the chief administrative appointed head at the SBA was always of the ruling party and the division heads were always cronies of the top appointees.  1968 was a crucial election year.  The Democrats had big hopes of winning the election and retaining control of Congress. But in June their hopes were dashed when Robert Kennedy a popular candidate for the Presidency was assassinated and his death threw the Democratic Party into confusion and turmoil. As my usual flair for writing and “sending out feelers,” culminated in a letter I wrote to Sen. Robert Kennedy and the attached letter I received from his office. I hold this very dear in light of what transpired.


Figure #8-8 LTR from Sen. Robert F. Kennedy

Senator Hubert Humphrey was the democratic standard bearer in 1968. Humphrey and Senator Edmund Muskie ran a losing campaign after the damaging 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago, culminated in the election of Richard Nixon and Spiro Agnew. I was an innocent by-stander, watching the changing of the guard.  A New Administrator of the Small

Business Administration was appointed (Mr. Sandoval) and he chose a Floridian, party supporter, who had built a strong Republican base in Florida. These were the “fortunes of war.”

This appointee was one of his party followers who had been a utilities employee at $ 5,000 per annum, and he received an appointment at a salary of $ 13,000.  This wasn’t unusual but it was the influx of appointees who were unaware of governments rules and regulations affecting work rules and limitations covered by the Hatch Act. During this transition period, we came to work one morning and there was a smiling cherubic face, ensconced brightly behind his desk with a cardboard box of buttons – campaign that is.  I know that political campaigning is prohibited in Federal buildings, and at one time federal employees could not participate in electioneering and that was the creed I followed.  There was a big hullabaloo around that desk.  The clerk was admonished and told to remove the box from the desk immediately.  He was advised of the harsh penalties for such actions.  I wonder if he ever became a permanent civil servant.

Things were catapulting in amazing changing scenes of events that seemed out of this world for a young boy/man from the teaming streets of the lower East side and Canarsie, New York. Not only would my world be forever changed shortly but from my “Vault” of newspaper clippings and other things I’ll share with you another Earth-shattering/momentous event. The moon landing of the ‘Eagle,’ July 21, 1969 when Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin planted the American flag on the surface of the moon. “One small step for man… Giant Leap for Mankind.” This was also my giant leap of faith as you will soon see. The other astronaut of this integral triumvirate, Michael Collins, controlled the command module, would become the first Curator of the Air and Space Museum that would open its doors two years after the Hirshhorn Museum for the US Bicentennial in 1976; right next to the Hirshhorn.

          Author’s Note: Life is full of so many coincidences and unexplained happenings, creating another reason why this book is being written. As part of our regular weekly routine the blog posts are submitted on Saturday for Monday postings. This blog posting was submitted on Saturday, July 2, 2016, to be aired on Monday, July 4. On Sunday, July 3 one of the authors happen to see the just-released movie: “Independence Day, Resurgence.” It created somewhat similar feelings as the first movie exactly 20 years earlier. Yet, it was even more moving and produced a greater profound impact than was expected. It’s hard to believe that in less than three (3) weeks, the 1st actual manned moon landing will have taken place 47 years ago. The movie even shows a colony established on the moon and how it might look; one day!

The movie projects a lot of family interactions, ties that bind parent-child and bonding friendships with the main storyline showing all of the nations on the planet working together to defeat the out of space adversary. And another curious byline was that the President of the United States happened to be a woman. Do do do do do do. There are many things we all need to ponder over as we speed thru space: our values, ideals, principles, fate and faith.

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Figure #8-9 Washington Post Article Landing on the Moon.
Figure #8-10 Apollo 11 Moon Landing, Crew

      In August 1969, I was enrolled in a one week Personnel Seminar given by the Maritime Administration at Kings Point, Great Neck, L.I., N.Y., representing the Small Business Administration.

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Figure #8-11 Executive Seminar, “Management Organization”  Figure #8-12 Important Letter in file for “leap of faith,” to the Hirshhorn

This provided me my next career change that I also considered a “leap of faith.” The attached letter that was put in my file would help in my putting my ducks in line. Prior to that time there had been several stories in the Washington Post (the poor man’s NY Times) describing the ground breaking ceremonies, conducted by President Lyndon B. Johnson in Washington, D.C (** Material will appear in book). This dedication was for building a museum to house the modern art collection of Joseph H. Hirshhorn, financier and philanthropist.  From a poor beginning, living in the teeming tenements of New York’s East Side, he had lifted himself from nothing to unimaginable wealth, acquiring those magnificent works of art, worldwide investments, and Canadian uranium mines.  Books were written for him and about him: “The Armory Show” and The Hirshhorn Medici from Brooklyn.”  He rubbed shoulders with royalty and elected officials (King of Norway, Governor of New York, Nelson Rockefeller, President Lyndon Johnson)

The world was clamoring for his collection.  Italy offered the building that Galileo lived in, but Hirshhorn wouldn’t spring for the cost of having a road paved up the hill on which the home rested.  I read the article and I mused to myself, “this building is being built in Washington.   Why couldn’t I be considered for a job there”?  My first job, as a receptionist was with Hirshhorn (in 1933), so it could be possible that my last job (I now had 30 years’ Federal service, including military time) would be with Hirshhorn.

As a result, during the week of August 18, 1969, I called Abram Lerner, the appointed curator of the new museum and requested an interview for a possible position in his office.  We agreed to meet on Friday, August 22, 2 PM at his office, after my seminar was through.  I have to admit that I had two other big guns in my corner.  My brother-in-law, Hyman Goldstein, contacted Dave Tarlow, who was Mr. Hirshhorn’s accountant for 60 years and whom I had worked with during my first position with Hirshhorn in 1933.  I should mention that I did have some contact with Hirshhorn in the summer of 1945.  I had come back from military service in Europe in June 1945 for my 30-day furlough.   I visited my sister Lucy, who lived in Canada.  She knew Hirshhorn, through her husband Hyman and I can remember that Mr. Hirshhorn took us out for an ice cream soda.  I hadn’t spoken to him since the early 1930’s, but he must have remembered that shy, “why don’t you speak up and stand straight” kid.  At my receptionist job, I was just out of a commercial class in high school, I was folding a letter to fit a small envelope. I was engrossed in getting the right fold, as I was taught.  As he passed my desk, he said, “that’s a long process to fold a paper.  Just do it this way”.  And he grabbed the sheet of paper – zip zip and it was ready for insertion in the envelope.  That was Hirshhorn – impatient, and always moving.  He worked with 20 telephones all around him.  He traveled between New York and Canada before the planes were ready for him.  He would take the sleeper trains at night, for the long ride from NYC to Toronto, Canada and arrive in the AM for a full day’s work.  He would return the same night and be ready for the fun the next day in New York. Little did I know that fast forwarding the years preparing for the operation and opening of the Museum in 1974 that I would spend over two years commuting via Eastern Airlines on a Monday through Thursday job from Washington to New York and back while the museum was constructed on the Capitol Mall.

The first official undertaking coupled with first shovel of dirt began with official proclamation ceremony words presented by Pres. Lyndon B. Johnson, September 1969.


Figure #8-13: Commencement of the Dedication for the Building of the Hirshhorn Museum with President Lyndon Johnson Sept. 1969; Washington Post.

Good things don’t happen fast, so it wasn’t until January 1970 that Mr. Lerner convinced Mr. Hirshhorn that I was the one qualified for the job.  I never knew if there were any Smithsonian employees considered for a job they who would have given their eyeteeth for.  Mr. Hirshhorn wrote directly to Mr. Dillon S. Ripley, Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution, Wash., D.C.  On January 13, 1970 Mr. Hirshhorn wrote and indicated that I had been “in his employ many years ago and his experience and education in the budget and management fields qualify him to handle the many administrative and technical problems facing us.”  Mr. Ripley’s reply on Jan 26, 1970 wasn’t so enthusiastic.  It was really truly a “Yaley” response – smooth and “no.”  But a hand written postscript at the end of the typewritten letter, left the door open.  “P.S. we’ll keep him in mind if we get additional budget authority this time.  (Insert letter** Material will appear in book).

I continued my job through winter and spring of 1970 at SBA.  My supervisor, Morty Oppenheim, knew of the possible change to come, but did not pressure me in my duties.  Finally, in early June, the logjam started to break up.  I received a call to see Mr. Hirshhorn at his Park Avenue apartment in NYC.   It was a low-key interview – we easily bridged the elapse of time from our first meeting in 1934 over 35 years ago.

Copyright © 2016      William Sefekar

** Material will appear in book.

We are always interested in hearing comments and suggestions about how the blog could be better. Sound off below with your ideas.