January 7, 1984, the Date for the Gala Benefit “Night of Stars.” Well the big day was fast approaching but the preliminaries would prove to be almost as much fun as I explained previously. Excitement was building to a feverish pitch Clearwater, Florida was now far, “From the maddening crowd.” It would forever remain in the mainstream of South Eastern United States entertainment and culture; rivaling the spring break throng. It seemed like light-years away in Canarsie, Brooklyn and my earlier recollections as a young boy Chapter 2 what I titled “45 minutes from Broadway.” Little did I know that I would be 17 hours and 1156.8 miles from the glitter and lights of Broadway and the “Great White Way,” here on Opening Night. It was quite the “First Light” and “Love at first sight,” when the curtain went up I could indulge myself being there, Thelma by my side in these freshly adorned, plush seats.

You can see from the program of events star-studded list of famous entertainers Ella Fitzgerald and Peter Martins New York City Ballet. People from my era remember Betty Comden and Adolph Green and many have seen Mary Martin and Donald O’Connor with their successful careers on Broadway and in the movies. Mr. O’Connor among his many notable career triumphs was his role in “Singin’ in the Rain,” with Gene Kelly and Debbie Reynolds. Their famous rendition of “Good morning, good morning, good morning,” graces our breakfast table, lunch table and dinner table with the Tropicana orange juice commercial.

There were so many of these star studded favorites that we just sat and absorbed in awe this great evening as one of our true highlights here in Florida.


Opening Night Ruth Eckerd Hall Program: Figures 11.42, #11.43, #11.44.


“NIGHT OF STARS” Figure #11.45 #11.46 #11.47


Figure #11.48,  Program Acknowledgement and  #11.49 “Family Photo”

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Figure #11.50 Me with Arnold and his Wife Linda; PACT PREVIEW 0CT. 15, 1983

Figure #11.51 Dancing with the Stars or Time Dances On.

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Overview of Ruth Eckerd Hall Project, Figures #11.52 and Figures #11.53

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Figures #11.54 and Figures #11.55 Performing Arts Center Celebrates its first year

The first year developed a positive reputation among performing artists, nationally and inter-nationally. And Arnold Bremen stressed that Ruth Eckerd Hall was “well on the way to becoming a backstage name.” There’s something special about being on that stage and looking out at the audience was one of Arnold’s favorite expressions.

Eckerd Hall’s much touted acoustics have also brought praise from performers. Pianists Ferrante and Teicher wrote: “A beautiful hall but more importantly, tremendous acoustics. It’s a joy to play here.” Guitarist Carlos Montoya wrote: “The acoustics are the best of any modern hall; also it is the perfect size.” Or as impressionist Rich Little put it: The sound was perfect. All 180 of me had a ball.”


Figure #11.56 LIU Alumni Newsletter, Fall 1984

My stint at Ruth Eckerd Hall (popular name for the Performing Arts Center), was one of my self-satisfying jobs. In 1985 and then following into 1986, the theater was operating on an even keel – the shake-down cruise was over and the Operation was Center Stage.

The evaluations from the Accountant’s reviewing the budgets and projections came back with glowing grades. It was a nice way to finish launching this icon of entertainment for everyone to see and hear.

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Figures #11.57 and Figures #11.58 Arthur Anderson & Co. Review and Financial Statements

Arthur Anderson’s Financial Statements Auditor’s Report was issued on September 30, 1986. It examined the balance sheet of PACT, Inc., and the related statements of activity, fund balance and changes for the financial position for the year ended. In the opinion of Arthur Anderson, the financial statements referred present fairly the financial position of PACT. Inc.

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Figures #11.59 Projected Expenditures and #11.60 Earlier Auditor’s report

One of the preliminary Auditor Reports that was reviewed and approved by the Accountant giving an A-1 rating with sound fiscal practices.

The following are a sampling of the up and coming Programming Announcements that show the wide range of entertainment and shows scheduled to grace the stage and Ruth Eckerd Hall long after I had left this World Class Performing Arts Center.

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Figures #11.61, #11.62 and #11.63

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Figures #11.64 and #11.65

When Arnold Bremen had hired me (at 63) he said, “Joe, you work here will be until your 70.” When I wrote to him in 1980, I was only thinking of a two-year period, during which time the theater would be built and that would be the end of that. 70 comes around pretty fast when you’re having fun. Arnold gave me a choice of a farewell party (the first of the new organization), or I could work another year and phase out.

My salary had increased to $25,000 annually, following my job philosophy “leave them when everything is going smoothly,” I opted for the farewell party. It was really an “artsy” affair. All the staff joined in a sing-along to an early model of the player piano which Arnold acquired for this occasion (see pictures below)


Figures #11.66 and #11.67 Going away party; A Gala Event complete with player piano


Figure #11.68 Going away party; complete with signed by Staff of Official Robert Rauschenberg REH Print

I revel on the camaraderie that was built up on the staff that Arnold Bremen put together. It was our good fortune that Arnold and his wife Linda found a place to live in a development in the same area about a half a mile from where Thelma and I lived. On a few occasions Arnold would host a gathering at his house for the staff and I remember one such gathering on July 3, 1984. My son Bill had moved down the year before and was also invited as there were a lot of staff that would be considered his contemporaries. One such couple was Nancy Siebert and her husband Steve who would later become the Atty. Gen. of the State. What made this particularly memorable was that Steve had to bow out gracefully from the evening’s festivities to participate in the Midnight Madness Run. The race was held on July 4 at midnight, but participants had to arrive at least a half hour before on July 3 to get ready for the 5K, 10K and one K walk. The reason I mention this now was that surprisingly enough with my son’s encouragement I actually participated in the one K walk eight years later. And received an award as the oldest “living” person to complete the race. This of course of the 1K walk. It will be presented in an upcoming chapter.

All in all things fell into place. There was time for traveling up north visiting Bonnie and the grandkids. We did have our friends and family nearby. We did spend a lot of time with them as my time became more readily available.

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Figures #11.69 My brother Al his wife Edna, my sister Becky, brother-in-law, Danny and sister Sophie with me and Thel,, #11.70 Thelma’s side with her sister Renee next to Thelma in the front the, “I love Lucy,” red heads.

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Figures #11.71, #11.72 and #11.73

Figure #11.71 Congratulatory letter from Al Lerner still the Curator at the Hirshhorn. Figures #11.72 Letter sent to my very dear friend Ben Elzweig, wife. Ben passed away in 1985 and I needed to express my sadness at the loss of my life-long buddy. Figure #11.73 Letter written to Mr. Olga Hirshhorn and talked about what had transpired since my retirement and my correspondence over the years with Al Lerner.


Figures #11.74 Picture from the 30’s with my very dear friend Ben Elzweig


Copyright © 2016               William Sefekar

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It was amazing what Arnold with his staff put together for the greatest variety of entertainment that I have ever seen and Thelma and me were privileged to see the likes of Broadway while we were living in New York and in Washington at the Kennedy Performing Arts Center. And here we were in Clearwater, Florida on the West Central Coast of the State of Florida to have this at our beck and call. Bremen prepared the table perfectly as his “Sweets for the Spirit” captured the excitement and the tingling of this new venue. It was like being a kid in a candy shop, Thelma and I had a fantastic time picking and choosing the type of entertainment that we thought would be to our fancy. We’ll save this for the next part as Opening Night at Ruth Eckerd Hall (REH) would be looming large. And my son Billy was another one to have the benefit of the fruits of my labor. Because it wasn’t easy to give up what was such a big part of Thelma and our lifestyle that the Smithsonian and Hirshhorn Museum offered but this filled the void very nicely.


A problem we encountered in the construction was in setting up the parking lot. It was one of the finishing touches and getting ready for opening night, October 1984 (coincidentally 10 years to the day of the Hirshhorn Museum’s grand opening). The macadam parking floor was not fully completed – so we put a topping layer of tar. Well, the squishing and splattering resulted in a lot of unhappy theater goers with black goo on their cars and shoes. We had several complaints which were taken care of immediately and efficiently. We had to learn through experience that claims for injury kept cropping up of people tripping over carpets and stairs. Management didn’t know of this situation until we received an increase in insurance premiums from $1,700-$3,400.

It developed that the insurance company was paying off nuisance claims based on letters claiming injury and the company was not coordinating with our office. Review of one claim indicated the claimant, age 86, requested restitution because her injury did not allow her to work. We tightened up procedures, which would require claimants printed forms, listing the type of injury and description of cause of accident. Our insurance cost continued to increase due to conditions in the insurance industry which were escalating in all aspects of insurance, i.e., Workers compensation, property and health insurance.

But back to the glitter, the money was coming in as part of the bank financing the loan construction, operation and things were moving along at a fast clip. It was a lot of excitement in the community and articles appeared on a regular basis. Our quarterly publication Communiqué explained progress on every aspect of the undertaking and the involvement of the entire City of Clearwater, Pinellas County and Tampa Bay area. Arnold from the “Impresario’s Corner” was definitely in his element. He thrived on this kind of fast action exploding environment, meeting and greeting, setting up a kaleidoscope of acts and entertainment for his budding cauldron of enjoyment, pleasing the adults and children of all ages.

The articles below clearly show how Arnold Bremen operated in getting things done and keeping money coming in. I was glad to be a part of this, keeping pace with him as part of my job, making sure a check book was close at hand.



Figure #11.22 and Figure #23, New Funding for REH secured

As seen from the scrumptious treats below on “Sweets for the Spirit,” 1983 Grand Preview in October was in full swing. With a delectable array of internationally renowned theatre, opera and dance. Stars the level of Ray Charles, Arlo Guthrie and Pete Seeger, Chet Atkins, Johnny Mathis, Plays such as “Amadeus,” Stars of the stage and screen, young and old people’s workshop. The list just kept on growing.




Figures #11.24 – Figures #11.28 The Opening Line-up for the 1st Season

Thelma and I did our part in the mix and supported community efforts with our own contributions. The Dress Circle was one way of making this happen.


Figure #11.29 Being part of REH Community Support Group


Figure #11.30 and #11.31 Enjoying our Florida life-style; Thelma’s own success with the “Arts”

During this time, I did manage to keep my writing projects going, kept a lot of newspaper clippings and articles and worked on keeping in the forefront of activities at Temple B’nai Israel and with my wife’s family and sister, Renee who I mentioned lives down the block with her husband Harry. Renee’s daughter Sheila and her three kids; that was a lot of family, a lot of friends. We made some wonderful friends coincidentally one of the retired couples,Sol and Selma Schifman just happened to live across the way when we were living in Country Village on Long Island in Syosset. They were neighbors right across from my son’s best friend Bob Richards family lived facing the Schifman’s house. We really enjoyed their company and many other wonderful couples the friend such as Terry and Francine Kopackoff. This fellow is Russian but he lived in a very Jewish area in Brooklyn and he was very into all the cultural and the Jewish witticism, it was a wonderful time i.e. I kept the writing and one of my projects was that I wrote copious notes of our trip to the Greek islands, 80 pages on a pad that I transcribed and typed into 27 pages that I sent to my sisters and give them an idea of this wonderful opportunity that we had to visit my folk’s homeland. There even was a letter from one of my cousins who was older and knew of our family lineage who wrote me a couple of pages prior to our leaving explaining what had transpired in the early years and how mom-and-pop were able to work their way to the United States (**to appear in the book).


Figure #11.32 80-page Notepad of Trip to Greece

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Figure #11.33 and #11.34 Last pages of notes from our Trip to Greece


Figure #11.35 Typed version; Trip to Greece, 1982, front and last pages

Also we had a very momentous event, my lovely daughter Bonnie and her lovely husband Lee Landau brought into the world a lovely Beth Eileen Landau on January 16, 1983. We were there of course and she was a wonderful addition to our family. Things are working their magic as a matter of fact, Beth will be getting married if we fast-forward to April 29, 2017 in Charleston, South Carolina.


Figures #11.36 Great Medical Team Assisting in the Beth’s Birth.


Figures #11.37 Getting used to the “New and Improved” Family


Figure #11.38 (Upper left) The Landau Family,

Figure #11.39 (Upper right) Joe Baby with Baby Beth

Figure #11.40 (Bottom Left) Diana Jill’s 5th Birthday July 14, 1983;

Figure #11.41 (Bottom right) Bill’s, Going away party, July 30,1983 “Going to be very Interesting.”

Two very notable events took place during this period. One was Thelma’s and my 40th wedding anniversary which took place at the very nice setting of the Holiday Inn on Clearwater Beach, January 3, 1982. Many of our dear family and friends attended this beautiful celebration. It was overshadowed 10 years in the future by our 50th celebration which even included a Caribbean cruise there would be a lot more good things to share before that blessed event. The other item which you “take with a grain of salt,” marked my 65th revolution around the Earth starting on February 20, 1982. Another reason to get together and “party” ha, but more important to feel very thankful and fortunate for all that, that has been bestowed upon Me.


Figure #11.42 40th Anniversary Party, January 3, 1982

Holiday Inn, Clearwater Beach, FL


Figure #11.43 My 65th Birthday Party at Home with friends,

That dining room set is still going strong after 30 years.

And so concludes part 3 of the 4-part series for Chapter 11: Off-Broadway – Ruth Eckerd Hall Achievement. Part four will deal with the great, Grand Opening that rivaled the opening of the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington DC, almost exactly 10 years prior to this. As well as My bowing out; Exit Stage Right.”


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.






My farewell to the Palm Harbor Arts Center in 1979 was followed by a made–to–order opportunity. A newspaper story in the Florida St. Petersburg Times on August 12, 1980 highlighted the appointment of Mr. Arnold Bremen as the director of the Performing Art Center and Theater (PACT) in Clearwater, Florida and reporting on the groundbreaking for the theater.

Life is predicated upon intuitive action, a sense of anticipation and being at the right place at the right time. This is how things unfolded as I began the next pillar of accomplishments in my life in August 1980 when I came across some information that an executive director was selected for the newly formed PACT (Performing Arts Center and Theater) the Executive Director, Mr. Arnold Bremen had recently been successful at the Samuel L. Clemens Performing Arts Center in Elmira, New York. I had been involved with a fledgling performing arts centers here in the Palm Harbor, Florida and nearby Pasco County, this seemed like just an excellent assignment for me.

I proceeded to draft a letter on August 22, 1980 to Mr. Bremen, congratulating him on his achievement and on his being appointed for this position. I stated some of my credentials in similar areas and offered my services (copy of letter appears below, See Figure #11.1)


Figure #11.1 Initial letter to Mr. Arnold Bremen     Figure 11.2 1st Response from Mr. Arnold Bremen

Shortly thereafter, about a week and a half, I received a letter (See copy of letter, Figure #11.2) from Mr. Bremen thanking me for my letter of congratulations and also of my interest in helping in the project and also that if he would be interested as he was impressed with the credentials that I had submitted. He also indicated that he would be in Clearwater, November and would be happy to sit down and chat. This set in motion plans for this new opening and major “production” in my life, so to speak. Copies of the letters of the correspondence are available.

This was a classic example of discerning the lead, expanding the possibilities by initiating the introductory letter and clinching the deal with a personal interview. As usual, “good things don’t happen fast.” On August 22, 1980, I sent a letter to Arnold Bremen, at Elmira, New York where he had successfully managed the reconstructed Samuel L Clemens performing arts and community center in Elmira, I congratulated Mr. Bremen on his new appointment, listed in five lines my experience with the Hirshhorn Museum, and told him “I would be glad to see you at your convenience.” On its reply on September 4, 1980 (postmark Elmira) thanked me for my best wishes, and indicated that he would be in Clearwater around 1 November 1980, and he would be “glad to sit down and chat with you,” and asked me to call the PACT office.

On September 26, I wrote to Arnold again, thanking him for his encouraging reply, and indicating that I would call his office, requesting an appointment in November. I forwarded to him sample exhibition schedules, floor plans of the Hirshhorn Museum, and a copy of a report on the status of funds which reflected the fiscal year budget and utilization of authorized funding. In early November, I contacted the PACT office in Clearwater, Florida, and succeeded in arranging an interview, this through his secretary. The meeting with Mr. Bremen went extraordinarily well and was held at the Pinellas County Arts Council as PACT had no preliminary offices arranged on the premises where the future Ruth Eckerd Hall was to be located. My meeting with Arnold concluded with an agreement that I would be appointed budget officer at $15 an hour for 20 weeks. And that’s where I had spent a good part of the early planning phases commuting to downtown Clearwater, working with the fledgling staff that Mr. Bremen was putting together.

I was the second employee on the payroll; the first was Gloria Giardini, his secretary. There was another individual, Howard Groth, who was also a volunteer with duties that were administrative but actually he worked with the Board of Trustees. Howard and I worked very closely together and we had a natural compatibility, he had served in the Navy, were very close in age, and are temperaments complemented each other.

1981 was an amazing year to see some of this happening and I was very fortunate to be part of the early development of this splendid Performing Arts Center. There was a lot of interest, a lot of attention, there was a lot of newspaper articles and a celebrity status that even I attained. The Performing Arts Center and Theater, PACT had many areas and avenues to obtain funds from private and public sources. One of the first things to occur was our first annual Dress Circle event in honoring the close to 500 people who had contributed a minimum of $ 1,000 to reach $8 million for the Performing Arts Center and Theater the acronym that identified PACT and made this effort on its way to becoming a reality and start to bring on achieving this noted endeavor. One particular instance in the early part of February, February 16th, Kitty Carlisle was the star to kick off this Saturday night fundraiser. The extravaganza was held at the very palatial Bellevue Biltmore Hotel in Clearwater, a very incomparable setting for this.

As I stated previously the published accounts of the development of the Ruth Eckerd Hall continued regularly. On March 9, 1981 the St. Pete Times, Clearwater Addition printed an article about the volunteers that are the backbone of the programs and such as PACT and although I was later to have a full-time position when things started to get underway in earnest, these contributed to a sense that this is something very important underfoot. The article provided a very lavish segment about me. It was as though I was given top billing and copy of it is attached. But needless to say they felt that it was important to identify my efforts and success at the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden as Project Administrator until my retirement in 1977 and I explained that strangely enough, we had the same sort of beginning as I said in comparing this with PACT. We began in a converted apartment on Lexington Avenue in New York and that’s what we have here with PACT. The Offices are in a house converted to offices at 402 Pierce Blvd., Clearwater, downtown, right near the water; a very enticing location and site overlooking Clearwater Bay. I was a given some very flattering advanced billing and it’s good that these kind of achievements do not go unnoticed. I was identified as “a quiet polished man” and that had many years of experience in activating new and very large programs. He took charge of projects for the US Government’s Defense Contract Audit Agency, Small Business Administration, Veterans Administration and the U.S. Air Force, with a BA Degree in Accounting and a “Masters in Management”.

There was my whole life in a thumbnail sketch and they concentrated specifically on the work I did for the Hirshhorn and being involved in everything from setting up a budget and hiring personnel and even selecting furniture for working out contractor problems and then my retirement in 1977 moving to Florida and I had plans on working but as they indicated, but on a more relaxed schedule, ha. They found that out when PACT discovered that I would be offering my services looking into its financial situation with my basic background firmly acknowledged said; “The PACT organization welcomed him without delay.”


Figure #11.3 St. Petersburg Times Clearwater addition, March 9 1981.

Mr. Bremen needed a working budget and I had given him one that takes the project through its scheduled completion later next year: 1982. It was a nice way to get my feet wet, actually to get really immersed in this altogether getting down and being the one who readily prepared budgets three years in advance; this was just my cup of tea. I usually spend three days a week working on special projects like budget and getting contracts prepared. I’m already working on the budget for 1983 which involves projections for a fully operational building indicating that the PACT project will not be close to the 16 million cost of the Hirshhorn but it’s going to be a first-class facility and I was delighted to be working towards the day when it opens its doors to the public.

One of my first remuneration for work rendered under Mr. Bremen was a pay check I received from the period from March 1 to March 12, 1981 for services rendered to PACT. It consisted of 43 hours at five dollars an hour for a grand total of $215. It was a far cry from my days as grade 15 with the US Civil Service, but it was just as rewarding I guarantee you.

1st paystub

Figure #11.4 1st Paystub from PACT, Ruth Eckerd Hall

The days were going by at a fast pace. The summer brought very concrete, pardon the pun, construction progress (see picture below). Budgets were finalized for the coming year and contractual agreements with city and county officials were being transacted. There was submission of the State’s Grant Application for PACT that was prepared and submitted to and approved. I guess this would be similar to what I would have been involved with at the Hirshhorn under the Endowment of the Arts Program. Interest continued to pique as requests soared for tours of the construction site by prominent State and local officials as well as PACT contributors.


Figure #11.5  Arnold Breman PACT executive director showing progress on construction of Ruth Eckerd Hall pointing to where the future stage and orchestra pit will be,

The 1981-1982 PACT organizational chart for “salaried personnel” was approved. My title was Administrator/Finance Officer and I was a salaried part-time employee; it was the best of both worlds.


Figure #11.6 Summary description of PACT, Organization and Programs

A fitting milestone was obtained on December 22, 1981 when we, PACT; agreed on the building loan. A “consortium” of local lending institutions providing permanent financing for PACT, closed on a 25 year mortgage loan in the amount of $5.5 million bearing interest at 11% annum (**see appendices). The permanent loan will enable PACT to move ahead with the building construction and opening that 72,000 square foot Performing Arts Center facility on McMullen Booth Road that has been designed by the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation. (More of this historic event to be elaborated on).

A short time after embarking on my new career, Arnold had scheduled a business trip to New York’s entertainment district, where he was involved in the process of setting up the star-studded performers that would weave itself in the boards of the theater under construction.

Arnold said, “Joe won’t need you while I’m in New York, setting up a schedule.” I said, Arnold “I have a lot of things I can work on.” But he still thought I didn’t have to come in. I said to myself – “there’s work that has to be done,” and I rationalized that I could report in for duty, and not submit a time card.” This was “gutsy”, but something you can do when you’re retired. I was in the day Arnold left on his two–week business trip.

And so ends the first of four parts dealing with the Ruth Eckerd Hall Achievement. Yes, the budget was completed in fine fashion and resulted in a “salary increase,” of sorts.



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.