EXCERPTS FROM CHAPTER 11, 1981 – 1986 OFF-BROADWAY, RUTH ECKERD HALL ACHIEVEMENT PT. 1 1981
HE WROTE IT, THEY DID IT, HE SAVED IT; TRANSFORMING AMERICA!!
“JOE SEFEKAR’S INSPIRING STORY OF AN IMMIGRANT’S CONTRIBUTION TO THE HEALTH, WELFARE AND ARTS OF UNITED STATES.”
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.
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.
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