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.

 

A Zest for Life Profile

Lest you ever suspect that selling your home and moving to a retirement community like Plymouth Harbor means that life is slowing down, have a chat with Peggy and Don Wallace. A report on their daily activities and active work in the community would leave a 50-year old youngster breathless.  And that’s exactly what happened when I joined them for lunch recently in the Mayflower Dining Room.

From the moment we sat down, they were bubbling with all the reasons they cherish living in the Plymouth Harbor community. But first things first, Peggy and I ordered the seafood wrap while Don ordered a cheeseburger with gusto before we all bolted for the salad bar, one of the best in Sarasota.

We sat down with salad plates heaping and I quickly learned that Peggy and Don had not intended to move into Plymouth Harbor when they did.

“We put our name on a waiting list saying we wouldn’t be ready for another 2-3 years,” said Don.  But when they got a call three months later with the news that a southwest facing apartment on the 12th floor of the tower was available immediately, they put their home on the market and packed their things.  Although it took a year to sell their house just when the marketing dipped, he beamed, “We never regretted it and never looked back.”

In fact, they never missed a beat keeping up with their outside circle of friends and find themselves even more involved in activities than when they had their home on Siesta Key. They keep physically fit by working with Michael in the gym at least twice a week.  Peggy serves on the Library Committee and is getting ready to participate in the project of redecorating their colony common area.  Don is active with the Programming Committee.

“There is so much to do at Plymouth Harbor,” Peggy points out. “If you aren’t active, then you must not want to be!”

Together they are a power couple providing a real professional touch to the annual Plymouth Harbor Players theatrical production. Don is still an active member of the Directors and Writers guilds of America, but doesn’t get paid scale for writing the play for this group of amateur resident thespians.  For the past three years he has written and directed the production.  Peggy had been his stage manager until this most recent production when she was cast in a leading role.

Zest for Life at Plymouth HarborNearly two months of rehearsals for this annual production are an all-consuming business, especially with pros like Don and Peggy at the helm. That professional polish is the result of a life spent in the entertainment business in LA and New York.  Don wrote, directed and produced soap operas such as “The Edge of Night,” “One Life to Live” and “All My Children.”  He was nominated for three Emmy awards for three different episodes of “One Life to Live” and won a Writer’s Guild of America award for an episode of “One Life to Live.”

Both Don and Peggy are musicians; she’s a singer and he’s a horn player.  They sing in the choir at the First Congregational Church and attend the Sarasota Orchestra concerts regularly.  It was great fun to talk about his experiences conducting choirs and our respective views on whether to sing Brahms’ German Requiem in English or the original German.  We could have talked the rest of the afternoon, but not with their busy schedules!

One of their sons lives here in Sarasota, another visited just last month and their granddaughter had just left the day before our meeting after a week’s visit.  Their family enjoys staying at the Lido Beach Resort where Plymouth Harbor residents benefit from a discount rate even during the height of season.

Peggy says that one of the most important factors that make her busy life manageable is the care and attention of all the staff at Plymouth Harbor.  “They take away the little hassles of living,” she shared.  Well, when you are as busy as Don and Peggy involved in activities that feed mind, body and soul, you need every minute you can get for yourself!