By Ila Preti

Give a hearty welcome to delightful, talented Helen Kelly who joined us in October!  Many of us knew her from her very active participation in many community organizations.

Born in Manhattan, Helen attended Cathedral High School.  She graduated with a B.S. from Mt. St. Vincent College in Riverdale; her major was Business Administration.

Her career began as an Advertising Agency Account Executive at J. Walter Thompson and Abbott Kimball.  She later became the Fashion Advertising Director at the New Yorker Magazine.  (This is where she met Jane Smiley who later introduced her to Sarasota and, much later, to Plymouth Harbor.)

Helen married John Love Kelly in 1952; living in Cortland Manor, N.Y., they raised two children, Janet and J. Scott.  Their four grandchildren are scattered around the country.  Helen enjoys following the exploits of her son who lives in Salt Lake City and is an avid triathlon participant.

When they retired from the advertising world, Helen and John moved to Siesta Key where they lived for eleven happy years.  After her husband’s death in 2004, Helen moved to a beautiful ‘tree house’ in the Landings.

Helen’s community service record is spectacular.  At the Women’s Resource Center she has been a board member, newsletter editor and Scholarship committee co-chair.  A former board member of the Sarasota Orchestra Association, Helen was the editor of their newsletter.  She worked on the Selby Library Reading Festival.  As a former member of the Mission Valley Golf Club, she was on the staff of their Valley Views newsletter.

Helen now attends classes at the USF Lifetime Learning program, studying ‘Great Books’ and Creative Writing; her memoirs are the current writing project.  She is interested in the theatre and subscribes to the Asolo and Florida Studio Theatres.  She also enjoys the Town Hall lecture series.

While she has many happy memories to look back on, she remembers, with special fondness, a ‘home exchange’ with a family from Montremont, France (near Lyon).  Welcomed there by the family and friends of the exchange couple, it was a memorable month.

An active, dynamic woman with an infectious smile, we look forward to Helen Kelly’s involvement in Plymouth Harbor!

Asked about life-long passions, Naomi Wittenberg gives what some would consider a conventional response for a woman. “My husband,” she answered, speaking of Simeon “Sim” Wittenberg, the man with whom she traded insults on first meeting and later shared 62 years of marriage together.

However, Naomi is far from a conventional woman, whatever that is. A self-declared feminist schooled at Boston University, she and her husband were equal in all their endeavors.  Deep love, enduring partnerships and the resourceful strength of the immigrant experience are her family heritage, so it’s not surprising to find all these qualities in her description of her own married life. Naomi says Sim, now seven years gone, was a stimulating companion and her one passion to the end.  Her eyes say he still is.

Partners in parenting, they raised two smart, strong daughters in Syosset, Long Island in New York.   They were very involved in their community, and the schooling of their daughters. For many years, Sim was the President of the Central School District #2 and Naomi was a leader in the New York State PTA.

They were business partners as well throughout those years building Wit-Craft Electric Corporation from the ground up.  Sim was the technical lead while Naomi led the business side, yet they taught each other all they knew and built Wit-Craft as a team.  Naomi understood the business inside and out and became quite comfortable in the world of electrical systems, motors and controls. Her no-nonsense confidence earned respect and the business of men who were at first ready to discount this woman in a man’s role.

After 35 years they sold the business so they could travel the world, which they did for another 20 years.  One glance around Naomi’s East Garden home is a tour of many cultures and includes a collection of original art by Bjørn Wiinblad, a renowned Danish designer and artist in ceramics, silver, bronze, textiles, and graphics.  She confesses that as an ardent Fund Shop shopper, she’s picked up many other treasures of which she is fond.

When Sim and Naomi moved to Sarasota in 1998, they found another world in which they could indulge a shared passion – theatre.  Sarasota’s rich theatre culture afforded them the opportunity to both support this favorite art form, as well as participate.  As members of the Asolo (Rep)Theatre Guild,  they were instrumental in the activities of the Guild Play Readers group.

“Sim loved acting.  He was a ham, and I was organized,” said Naomi. “We presented readings throughout the community to promote the Asolo, and,” she emphasized, “most importantly, to raise funds making it possible for public school students to attend live, professional theatre performances.”

Children, business, travel and now, theatre, had become the focus of their intensely involved lives together. “Sim loved acting, and I was organized,” said Naomi.  They moved into Plymouth Harbor together in August of 2006 only to be shocked shortly thereafter with news that Sim was gravely ill.  January 2007 found Naomi broken hearted.  The couple had looked forward to joining the Plymouth Harbor Players, but she was not ready to take the stage alone.  One year later it was a different story.

By the 2008-2009 theatre season, Naomi stepped in to adapt, produce and direct “The Cynthia Caper,” an early script by Howard Biermann, the resident who had written 19 of the 28 original plays performed annually by the troupe over the years.

The indomitable Naomi continues to follow this passion, now entering her seventh season with the Plymouth Harbor Players as the producer that pulls everything together. Her partners in theatre crime are now Peg and Don Wallace and they have great plans for this year’s production.

“The Stash on the 17th Floor,” another script by Don Wallace, includes multi-media surprises.   There will be no formal auditions this year, but rather residents are invited to gather on Tuesday, December 10 and Wednesday, December 11 from 2 to 4 pm in the Mezzanine conference room where there will be informal readings of the play and a discussion of all the roles, on-stage and off-stage, available.  This means the readings are not just for actors, but also for anyone wanting to serve backstage with props, lighting, prompting, costumes, or any other supporting crew role.

The performances will be at 8 pm on Tuesday, February 25, and at 2 and 8 pm on Wednesday, February 26.

Producing the Plymouth Harbor plays is a lot of hard work, but Naomi probably enjoys that collaborative effort as much as the audience enjoys the result.  It’s clear that she’s not one to do anything half-heartedly. Committed and passionate about her family – daughters, granddaughters, and great-grandchildren – as well as political and community matters, Naomi knows what is important in her life.


Resident Snapshot by G. Randolph Bishop

When you enter Sandra Forbes’ light, bright, inviting apartment, you see the hand of an experienced decorator, namely Sandra herself; interior decorating has been a hobby all her life and, with her many moves, she has had ample opportunity to use it.

Born and raised in Port Chester, N.Y., she was educated in the local school system, attended New York University, majoring in business, graduated with a BA degree.  She found employment at Alexander’s, at that time a well-known department store chain in the New York area and, after training, became an assistant buyer in the Women’s and Child’s Department at the White Plains store.

With her marriage to Clifford Forbes, she stopped working and moved to Philadelphia.  After three moves in 8 1/2 years, they settled in Franklin Lakes, N.J.  Twenty-five years later, Sandra moved to Sarasota where her only child, a daughter, Gail Forbes, also lives; her last residence in Sarasota was at Lake Shore Village.

Her late husband, Clifford Forbes, was a 1958 graduate of NYU School of Engineering.  While he was employed at Hamilton Standard, a leader in aerospace technologies, he was assigned to work with Gus Grissom, the astronaut; Grissom wanted to develop a new helmet for space flights.  Together the two men created a space helmet which eventually went to the moon.  The prototype, in wood, was presented to Forbes on completion of the project.  Forbes subsequently founded a business in New York, a firm he headed till 2 1/2 years ago when he suffered a fatal stroke at age 78.

Sandra Forbes’ life as a volunteer started as a teenager when, pushed by her father, she took her dog to comfort nursing home residents.  She volunteered in her daughter’s school library and, when Gail joined the school band, she became a “band mother,” driving kids to competitions.  Here in Sarasota, she was a “cuddler” in the neonatal department at Sarasota Memorial for twelve years and, most recently, a “caring companion” at Anchin Hospice for seven months.

Plymouth Harbor and Sandra Forbes are a good fit.  Since painting watercolors is another hobby, she’s an interesting addition to our thriving art community.  We welcome her and hope she enjoys life here in our active and interesting community as much as we do.

When Weta married the handsome Walt Cannon, whom she had met on a blind date, it was on one condition: the couple would move toNew York Cityas soon as possible. She had her eyes on graduate school, a career in public health policy, and a life of world travels. They did move to the Big Apple where Walt built his career with AT&T while she raised their three children.  Graduate school was not in the cards for Weta, but she did top off her nursing degree with a bachelor’s degree in education when her youngest son graduated from high school.

Weta’s ambition and determination were instilled in her early youth when her father and most of the other men in Nederland, Texas were off fighting the war. Her mother and all the other women around her were in charge, making all the decisions, working in the defense plants, and paying the bills.  It was an unprecedented time of choice and freedom for women in theU.S.and Weta, no doubt, took it for granted. That is, until she became an adult herself in the 50’s and 60’s and discovered that, in reality, women had few choices of their own.

Working as an ER nurse in New York City’s Roosevelt Hospital, Weta got her first dose of the horrific consequences of denying low-income women choice in family planning and healthcare. In the 1960’s when Weta was raising her own children with her husband in New York City, a woman who wanted to end her child–bearing years with a tubal ligation, had to meet the following requirements: bear a minimum of four children first, be at least 35 years old, undergo a psychiatric evaluation, and obtain her husband’s permission.  These experiences motivated Weta to learn more about Planned Parenthood and its Center for Family Planning Program Development, known as the Guttmacher Institute, a designated Collaborating Center for Reproductive Health by the World Health Organization.  She found herself at ground zero during a seminal time in the family planning and women’s health movement.

Weta’s social consciousness, driving her to participate in peace marches and later National Organization for Women marches, was equally matched by a progressive-thinking husband. Together they lived on a boat for a year, travelled across the U.S. twice over a two-year period, and travelled the world.

Weta, far left, with other volunteers

When they retired to life on Siesta Key in 1989, she volunteered as a clinic escort at the local Planned Parenthood during years when anti-choice protests were particularly vociferous and violent. Until two years ago, she was a regular volunteer in the clinic’s recovery room. Now she takes on whatever job wherever she’s needed.

One glance around Weta’s living room on the 17th floor reveals a gallery of folk art and artifacts gathered from their travels, which took them to many developing countries in Asia and Central andSouth America.  On their travels, Weta naturally gravitated to experiences that offered her a window into the nature and challenges of health care in each country. While they did participate in a research program on the Amazon, she regrets not taking advantage of service programs where she might have been able to address issues such as the appalling sex trafficking of women she’d encountered inCambodia,Thailand, andNepal.

Weta with Jan Chester (left)

“I consider my years of volunteering at the Planned Parenthood Clinic my service,” says Weta. “Barbara Zdravecky and Jan Chester (of Planned Parenthood of Southwest Florida) are miracle workers. We have come a long way in this community, but what we’ve gained is still not secure.”

Now with four granddaughters and one grandson, she is determined to do everything she can to ensure that they will live in a world where everyone has choices.  “What we want is universal access to affordable healthcare for men and women. I’ve talked with the men seeking preventative healthcare at the clinic, and they are victims of blocked access and choice as well.”

Weta has come to expect the protesters as she walks into the Planned Parenthood Clinic in Sarasota’s Rosemary District bearing her husband’s name, but it still saddens her.  “We all want the same thing, really:  healthy lives and children who are loved. Until we can have a dialogue, nothing much is going to change.”

Yet change and making the world a better place is what motivates Weta and other residents who volunteer. “I feel lucky to be living in a community of such vital, caring, and engaged individuals,” she says. “The intensity of everyone’s involvement makes for a rich community experience here at Plymouth Harbor.”

By Isabel Pedersen

Joelle and Jerry Hamovit, between them, have the answers to questions many of us would like to ask.  But they are retired!

Jerry, after graduating from Rice and Harvard Law School, practiced law in Houston for five years and in Cleveland for three.  Between those two, he spent three years in the Tax Division of the Department of Justice.  In 1965 and 1966, he worked in the Tax Legislative Counsel’s office at the Department of Treasury, specializing in legislative and policy matters.  From 1967-1988, when he retired to Longboat Key, he was in private practice in Washington.  But do not ask him tax questions.  He is retired!

Joelle’s resume is more complicated.  After their retirement to Sarasota, she worked part-time as a social worker at Sarasota Palms Hospital (a psychiatric facility which is now used by Sarasota Memorial Hospital).  Between 1995 and 2000, she had a private psychotherapy practice here.

From their marriage in 1956 until their three children had grown a bit, Joelle’s life was PTAs and volunteering for political causes and charities.

Her first full-time job, in 1970, was with the Poverty Program in Washington, D.C.  A graduate of Smith College, she earned a master’s degree at the National Catholic School of Social Work in 1975.  Fourteen years at the National Institute of Mental Health as Chief Social Worker in the Human Genetics Laboratory of the Biological Psychiatry Branch ended when they moved here.  Clearly, she could give you trained guidance on your personal problems, but don’t ask.  She is retired!

Both Hamovits are Texans but they have been gone from that state so long that they no longer salute when “The Eyes of Texas are Upon You” is played.  Chevy Chase, Maryland, where they spent 43 years, was their longtime home.  Longboat Key and now Lenox, Massachusetts, have been second homes.

The volunteer activities of this pair have been time-consuming.  Jerry served on the Planning and Zoning Board of Longboat Key, helped found Pierian Spring Academy and served on their board, was a mediator for Florida’s 12th Judicial Circuit, and tutored in math at Booker Middle School.  Joelle’s volunteer work in Sarasota has predominantly been for the Jewish Family and Children’s Services.

Their hobbies of reading, civic affairs and, for her, needlepoint, are about what might be expected of super-busy people.  As for raising three children and now five grandchildren, well, how did they work that in?

You will enjoy talking to the Hamovits—even if you ask no tax questions.

Plymouth Harbor has been delighting in the semi-annual performances of its resident professional classical pianist, Ted Rehl.  Another concert is open to the public this Thursday, October 18 at 4 pm. Ted has prepared a delicious sounding program titled, “Picturesque Russia,” featuring the music of the great Russian composers Sergei Prokofiev, Sergei Rachmaninoff, and Modest Mussorgsky.

Having said that he now practices and performs the music that he wants to perform and particularly enjoys,  Ted has selected a Prelude by Prokofiev, which sounds enticing.  There will also be a total of four more Preludes by Rachmaninoff, including his most famous two, the C sharp minor and the G minor Preludes.

The highlight of the program will be the multi-media experience of Modest Mussorgsky’s  Pictures at an Exhibition. Ted will perform the original version for solo piano, while images of watercolors which inspired Mussorgsky to compose this colorful music in the first place.  Many of us are familiar with the orchestral arrangement of this music by Maurice Ravel that is played by orchestras all over the world.

“This type of thing has been done various other places around the world, but to my knowledge it has never been done in Sarasota,” says Ted.

The musical material of Pictures at an Exhibition are based on drawings and watercolors by artist and architect Viktor Hartmann produced mostly during the artist’s travels abroad. Locales include Poland, France and Italy; the final movement depicts an architectural design for the capital city of Ukraine. Today most of the pictures from the Hartmann exhibit are lost, making it impossible to be sure in many cases which Hartmann works Mussorgsky had in mind. Yet musicologists over the years have pieced together the puzzle and the images you will see are based on their best research.

Mussorgsky links the suite’s movements in a way that depicts the viewer’s own progress through the exhibition. Two “Promenade” movements stand as portals to the suite’s main sections. Their regular pace and irregular meter depicts the act of walking. Three untitled interludes present shorter statements of this theme, varying the mood, color and key in each to suggest reflection on a work just seen or anticipation of a new work glimpsed. A turn is taken in the work at the “Catacombae” when the Promenade theme stops functioning as merely a linking device and becomes, in “Cum mortuis”, an integral element of the movement itself. The theme reaches its height of grandeur in the suite’s finale, The Bogatyr Gates.

“The Pictures was one of the pieces I enjoyed playing during my teaching career,” shares Ted. “I am amazed that it seems easier to play now than it was in my first life!”

Pianist at Plymouth Harbor senior communityAlluding to his first life, Ted means his career as a professional musician and educator and the long hiatus between his official retirement and the re-emergence of his performing life after he moved to Plymouth Harbor.  An earlier post, Life, Love and the Right Piano, tells the story of Fran and Ted Rehl’s life of music together.

Everyone is welcome to attend this concert in Pilgrim Hall, as seating allows.  If you’d like, you can even purchase a CD Ted recorded earlier in the year.  Proceeds of CD sales benefit the Plymouth Harbor Foundation.

Editor’s Note:  While publishing an autobiographical sketch is not our norm, we found Christine’s version so refreshingly delightful that we couldn’t resist.

My biography will be very brief since I have absolutely no accomplishments and very few talents unless you count being able to make a mess faster than almost anyone alive.

I’ve lived most of my life outside of Philadelphia.  I went to Harwick College, majoring in as little as possible which has turned into a lifetime pursuit.

Being unprepared for a well-paying job, I have worked as a travel agent all my life.  I’ve traveled a great deal and, best of all, I fell in love with one of my clients.  Single for a long time, I was finally able to trap a man when I was 37, and it’s been happily ever since.  Since Angelo tells me we need the money, I still work part-time for the agency, doing light bookkeeping.

We bought a winter condo at the northern end of Longboat Key in 1997, moved to a larger condo a few years later and then relocated to the island permanently a few years ago.  We have kept the smaller place on the beach for family and friends because even though we had room for guests in our home, Angelo says, “I like to have people visit but keep them the hell away from me.”  Now I fritter away my time with Mah Jongg, entertaining, and endlessly playing stupid computer games.

I’m also writing Angelo’s biography since we have always had a clear division of labor at our house.  I am in charge of all the little things, like where we live, what we spend and where we go; Angelo is in charge of the big things, like peace in the Middle East and space exploration.

Angelo was born in Washington, PA, and earned a BS in Pharmacy from Duquesne University.  After serving stateside in the Korean War, he worked as a pharmacist while earning a Masters and Ph.D. in Pharmacology from the University of Pittsburgh.  His career was spent at Squibb and Johnson & Johnson and included a lot of overseas travel which is how he met his lovely wife, Christine.

He has two outstanding daughters who have given us seven wonderful grandchildren who don’t always write thank-you notes and one adorable great-grandson.

He spends his time watching the news, loading my sales receipts into Quicken and wondering why our apartment took so long to remodel.

We are both very happy to be at beautiful Plymouth Harbor.

Jean, born in Stretford near Manchester, England, and Brian, born in Sale, Cheshire, England, first arrived in the United States in 1957, Brian to earn an M.S. in physical organic chemistry at the University of Minnesota.  They then returned to England where Brian earned his Ph.D. at the University of Leicester.  In 1963 they were again in the U.S. with, as Brian put it, “two suitcases and six job interviews,” and from then on, as they both say, they lived the American dream.

Brian worked for many years in research and development and corporate management, serving as senior vice-president at several companies.  His focus was on petroleum, plastics, and air separation.  He developed patented products, such as anti-corrosion chemicals for oil wells and fire retardants.  Well aware of the tension between research and development and marketing, he emphasized innovation within his companies and through professional associations.  Later in his career, he served on a number of corporate boards and on public television and YMCA boards.

In 1994 he received an Honorary Doctor of Science from the University of Salford (England) and culminated his career as president of the American Chemical Society.

Jean earned her degree at Burleigh College in Manchester and worked as an executive secretary in Minneapolis and Leicester.  Over the years she volunteered at schools and hospitals and served on boards for a hospital and the YWCA, while raising three daughters, who have all had successful professional careers and have given Brian and Jean four grandchildren.

Brian’s work took the family to various states, but they finally settled in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania.  For the last 25 years they have also lived part-time on Longboat Key.  Upon moving to Plymouth Harbor, they became full-time Florida residents.

Between professional and volunteer involvement, Jean and Brian have led busy lives.  It has not, however, been all work and no play.  They have traveled around the world, with their children when possible.  They both enjoy golf, bridge, and reading.

If you have not yet met Jean and Brian, I hope you have a chance to do so soon.

 Six months ago, there stood a lonely overgrown patch  in the west gardens that once was a place of joy for former resident Mary “Tilley” Bessemer.  In its heyday, more than eight years ago, Tilley could be found following the lazy wanderings of butterflies among their favorite blossoms in this lovingly tended garden designed just for them.  

When Nichole Peal first saw the garden last winter, the faded trellis was obscured by weeds and the birdbath filled with rotting leaves.  The potential that she soon saw in this butterfly garden was not far from the memory of Tilley’s former sanctuary and it emerged as the perfect project to earn her Girl Scout Gold Award.  The Gold Award is the highest honor a Girl Scout can achieve.  

“I had just finished my Harvest Award where I had learned about butterfly gardens on a visit to the Florida Native Plant Nursery in Myakka,” says Nichole, referring to another prestigious Girl Scout Senior award.  “There are so many elaborate rules for butterfly gardens like the number of plants and which ones are for the butterflies to eat and which are for laying their eggs.”

Nichole, now a senior at the Sarasota Military Academy, dedicated her spare time February through August to the planning and creation of “Tilley’s Butterfly Garden,” dedicated to the memory of Mary “Tilley” Bessemer.  Recruiting the assistance of fellow Girl Scouts and the expertise of local butterfly aficionados, Nichole sees this as an ongoing effort to maintain the garden and ensure that it remains a long-standing source of solace for Plymouth Harbor residents and guests. 

When the sun and the weather are just right, it’s easy to imagine the peace to be found in a well-appointed butterfly garden.  Sarasota abounds with these delightful gardens filled largely with native plants and the 170 species of butterflies that find their homes here at one time of the year or other (that’s nearly a quarter of 740 species found world-wide!).

“Butterflies are deep and powerful representations of life,” shared Plymouth Harbor CEO Harry Hobson. “They symbolize different things for different people:  endurance, change, hope, and life.”

It’s fascinating that face-to-face encounters with this most delicate and resilient creature, the tiny butterfly, can have such a dramatic effect on people.

The butterfly evokes an experience of calm, peace, and comfort. Research at medical centers has found that patients who visited or viewed a healing garden took less pain medication and overall had shorter stays than patients who did not. The greatest benefits are found by those living with illness, disabilities, or suffering from a loss.  The wellness aspects of a therapeutic butterfly garden are multifaceted.

Senator Bob Johnson, a former member of the Plymouth Harbor Board of Directors and the attorney managing Mary “Tilley” Bessemer’s estate, understands the affection with which she cared for this garden in the years before her passing in 2006. 

“Tilley loved her butterflies,” said Senator Johnson who met Tilley when she married his long-time neighbor. Widowed in later life, she had reunited with her high school sweetheart and found love anew.  They moved into a new home at Plymouth Harbor where they enjoyed many years together.  “Tilley was unassuming and down to earth. Even as her vision worsened, she could see those butterflies,” he added.  “She would be very proud, and probably astonished, by this garden dedication.”

A celebration and dedication of the newly refreshed butterfly garden  on Tuesday, September 10 at 11:00  recognizes and appreciates Mary “Tilley” Bessemer and Nichole Peal for their past and present contributions.

“Our very special butterfly garden will serve as a symbol of peace and serenity for all who visit,” added Harry, “and a life-affirming tribute to Tilley, whose zest for life continues to grace us.”   

May the wings of the butterfly kiss the sun and find your shoulder to light on,
To bring you luck, happiness and riches today, tomorrow and beyond.

~Irish Blessing