November 11, 2020

NATURE VS. GLITTER: “Flowering, Froth and Flurries” is among Nancy Staub Laughlin’s works created with pastel on paper and mounted photographs. The artist has exhibited her work around the country.

By Anne Levin

Nancy Staub Laughlin’s artwork is a combination of elements. Photographs of landscapes in different seasons might be mixed with things that sparkle and glow. The Skillman-based artist has exhibited these assemblages at galleries and museums in New Jersey and beyond. Next spring, she is scheduled to have a show at New York City’s Carter Burden Gallery.

“I describe them as still lifes, almost, but more,” she said of her work. “I incorporate the landscape. I look at it almost like a mathematical equation. I love sparkle. I’m totally obsessed by it. I’m putting together two opposites that, together, become one. It’s how I see the world.”

Laughlin has known since seventh grade that art was her calling. One of six children, she grew up in Connecticut and came to Princeton to work in the atelier of Seward Johnson after graduating as a sculpture major from Philadelphia’s Moore College of Art.

“I think I was actually the first apprentice to theoretically graduate,” she said of Johnson’s program, then located at an old schoolhouse on Alexander Road (the Johnson Atelier is now in Hamilton). Working for Johnson during the day and waitressing at The Annex restaurant on Nassau Street at night, she was able to make a living. more

HOMELESSNESS AWARENESS: HomeFront has planned a variety of events — including “Art for the Holidays,” information and donation visits in Palmer Square, a virtual panel, and virtual tours of HomeFront’s headquarters — starting this weekend in recognition of National Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week. (Photo courtesy of HomeFront)

By Donald Gilpin

Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week runs from November 15-22, with area nonprofit HomeFront offering the community several ways to learn about the changing face of homelessness during the pandemic and how to get involved.

On any given night, HomeFront, according to its website, provides shelter to more than 450 individuals, the vast majority of whom are children.

HomeFront fed more than 18,500 people last year through free bags of groceries distributed to hungry families.

Last year, 68 long-term unemployed HomeFront clients were successfully placed in jobs or received their high school diplomas. 

Also last year, 357 children participated in HomeFront’s Joy, Hopes, and Dreams after-school program, and 94 children received high quality, trauma-informed day care in HomeFront’s Atkinson Child Development Center.

During Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week, visitors are invited to stop by HomeFront’s Pop-Up Information and Donation Drop-Off Center in Palmer Square to learn more about the local situation and to make donations of non-perishable food, coats, diapers, wipes, and formula on Friday, November 20 from 4 to 7 p.m. and from noon to 5 p.m. on Sunday, November 15, Saturday, November 21, and Sunday, November 22. more

By Anne Levin

Gov. Phil Murphy’s November 4 legislation banning single-use plastic and paper bags in New Jersey, effective in May 2022, was welcome news to local environmentalists, who have been working toward such a measure for years.

The newly adopted Plastic Pollution Reduction Act also includes polystyrene food containers, plastic straws, and other materials that end up clogging waterways. It is considered to be one of the toughest plastics legislations in the country.

“Our community has been interested in this for a long time,” said Sophie Glovier, chairman of the Princeton Environmental Commission (PEC). “Litter and plastic are a big problem in town. And we see how many plastic bags are in our waterways.”

It is the fact that the legislation is statewide that makes it so significant. “We are really fortunate now that the state has acted,” Glovier said. “There were so many towns passing different bans themselves, trying to move the issue forward. The fact that it’s at the state level makes it easier for all of us.”

The PEC recommended to Princeton Council last year that it should endorse pending state legislation banning the single-use plastic bags, paper bags, and polystyrene and Styrofoam takeout food containers. New Jersey towns that have banned single-use plastic bags include Jersey City, Hoboken, Teaneck, Point Pleasant Beach, Paramus, Glen Rock, Belmar, and Lambertville. more

By Stuart Mitchner

No book or essay dealing with the precarious situation of modern man would be complete without some allusion to Dostoevsky’s explosive figure.

—Joseph Frank (1918-2013)

In March the cheering was for health care workers saving lives on the front lines of the pandemic. Saturday it was crowds of happy people all over post-election America cheering postal workers for delivering the votes that rescued the nation. By Sunday I was beginning to think that a birthday column celebrating Dostoevsky (1821-1881) and his novella Notes from Underground (1864) made an awkward fit with the national mood of joyous deliverance.

However, in view of the president’s refusal to concede, and the vengeful damage he could inflict on the nation between now and January 20, I’ve decided to go ahead and share some thoughts from Dostoevsky’s Underground Man that seem pertinent to the current “precarious situation.”

I came to Notes after searching Franz Kafka’s Diaries for references to the writer he considered “a blood relative.” In the December 20, 1914 entry, after citing his closest friend Max Brod’s claim that Dostoevsky “allows too many mentally ill persons” into his work, Kafka writes: “Completely wrong. They aren’t ill. Their illness is merely a way to characterize them, and moreover a very delicate and fruitful one. One need only stubbornly keep repeating of a person that he is simple-minded and idiotic, and he will, if he has the Dostoevskian core inside him, be spurred on, as it were, to do his very best. His characterizations have in this respect about the same significance as insults among friends.”  more

HISTORY CAPTURED ON VIDEO: Vintage photographs and informative interviews help tell the story of the first African American museum in central New Jersey.

The Stoutsburg Sourland African American Museum (SSAAM) and the Sourland Conservancy have announced the release of two videos that were funded by grants from the New Jersey Council for the Humanities (NJCH).

Although the videos are very different, each tells the story of the Museum project and of African American history in the region in a unique way, with interviews and historic photographs.

“This is not only a story of this area, it’s the American story,” said John Buck, SSAAM board president. “These are the same stories that you hear from all over the United States,” said his wife, Elaine, co-author of the book If These Stones Could Talk — African American Presence in the Hopewell Valley, Sourland Mountain, and Surrounding Regions of New Jersey. more

MEXICAN TRADITION: “Sugar Skull! A Virtual Día de Muertos Adventure” tells traditional stories, for children and families, inspired by the Day of the Dead. 

State Theatre New Jersey is presenting Sugar Skull! A Virtual Día de Muertos Adventure through Sunday, November 15. A minimum donation of $15 gives patrons access to this virtual show.

The theatrical performance for children and families elaborates on traditional Mexican stories, music, and celebrations pertaining to the Day of the Dead. The performance begins by introducing 12-year-old Vita Flores, who is confused on why parties are being thrown for the dead. Then, a candy skeleton, Sugar Skull, comes to life and takes Vita on a musical journey to understand where Día de Muertos comes from and its true meaning. more

“HOME GROWN”: Artist Elizabeth Robbins will present “Painting Still Life With Oils” in a free Artsbridge Distinguished Artists Series Zoom presentation on November 19 at 7 p.m. To attend, visit artsbridgeonline.com.

Frost may have taken out the flowers, but they’ll be in full bloom via Zoom on November 19  at 7 p.m. when Elizabeth Robbins presents at Artsbridge’s Distinguished Artists Series. The National Oil Painters of America 2020 Still Life Award of Excellence winner will demonstrate her painting technique and show some of her award-winning masterpieces in “Painting Still Life With Oils.” more

DAY OF THE DEAD EXHIBITION: The Arts Council of Princeton now presents an El Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) art installation in its Taplin Gallery, featuring works created by participants from its community workshops.

El Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) comes alive through color and celebration with an exhibition at the Arts Council of Princeton through November 14.

El Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) is observed in Mexico and throughout the world this time of year, where family and friends gather to remember and honor those who have died. Traditions connected with the holiday include building private altars using sugar skulls, marigolds, and
favorite foods of those who have passed.
 more

“ORIENTAL POPPIES”: This work by Karen Caldwell of Sunflower Glass Studio is featured in the 26th Annual Covered Bridge Artisans Studio Tour, presented via Zoom this year as a “Tour From Home.” Visit coveredbridgeartisans.com.

The 26th Annual Covered Bridge Artisans Studio Tour has a new a look this year.  Join the Delaware River Valley studio tour online with their “Tour From Home.” Favorite artists will be on hand to share new work with visitors through a Zoom platform in real time. The live event will take place as usual on Thanksgiving Weekend, November 27, 28, and 29, plus December 5, 12, and 19 from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Registration at coveredbridgeartisans.com/tourfromhome allows free entrance to the event anytime during the tour. You can view brief behind the scenes videos, images of artist’s work, and go directly to each artist’s website. You can also visit each artist in real time to say hello, see their new work up close, and purchase directly from them or their online shops. more

SUPERIOR SOLUTIONS: “We are a client-based interior design practice, providing cutting-edge solutions for interior design dilemmas. We provide constant, clear communication of the design process every step of the way.” Freda Howard of Freda Howard Interiors LLC looks forward to helping clients with her design expertise. (Photo by Frank Digiovanni).

By Jean Stratton

Dealing with dreams and making them come true is Freda Howard’s business. Taking someone’s vision and creating a new design that reflects what was only an ephemeral hope and turning it into reality is a very special skill.

“Enjoyment of the space is the goal,” she points out. The design must work for the client and reflect their way of life.”

Owner of Freda Howard Interiors LLC at 195 Nassau Street, Howard was interested in design at an early age. Growing up, she enjoyed trying out color combinations and new furniture arrangements.

“I was interested in design as a young girl,” she recalls. “I liked color and seeing how things could be put together and arranged. Also, my mother sewed, and made draperies, and I learned from her.” more

EYEING THE OLYMPICS: Princeton University wrestling star Matt Kolodzik sizes up a Rutgers foe during a 2016 bout. Kolodzik, who completed his Princeton career this past winter by helping the Tigers win their first Ivy League title since 1986, was later named as a co-recipient, along with lacrosse superstar Michael Sowers, of the Roper Award, given to the top senior male athlete at the school. Kolodzik is turning his focus to making the U.S. team for the 2021 Summer Olympics in Tokyo. Last month, Kolodzik finished sixth in the 65-kilogram (143-pound) freestyle competition at the U.S. Senior Nationals in Iowa. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

By Bill Alden

As 2020 approached, Matt Kolodzik was focusing on making the U.S. wrestling squad for the Tokyo Summer Olympics.

The Princeton University star had deferred his senior season with the Tigers to train with the NJRTC, a shared Regional Training Center between Rutgers and Princeton wrestling with the end goal to produce Olympians.

But with Princeton 149-pounder Matt D’Angelo getting injured and winning an NCAA individual title as another path to the Olympic Trials, Kolodzik returned to the mat for the Tigers and helped the program make history.

After winning by a technical fall over Andrew Garr of Columbia in his 2020 debut on February 8, Kolodzik came back the next day to defeat Hunter Richard 4-2 as Princeton edged Cornell 19-13 to end a 32-match losing streak to the Big Red and clinch the program’s first Ivy League title since 1986.

“Being on the bench with the team, there is nothing like it,” said Kolodzik, reflecting on the triumph over Cornell. more

RISING STAR: Princeton High football player Jaiden Johnson snags an interception in a game earlier this fall. Last Saturday, junior receiver/defensive back Johnson, who is in his first season playing football, scored a touchdown on an 86-yard kickoff return in a losing cause as PHS fell 61-20 to Scotch Plains-Fanwood. The Tigers, now 1-4, host New Egypt (3-1) on November 14. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

By Bill Alden

Coming into the fall, Jaiden Johnson was an unknown quantity for the Princeton High football team.

Having played on the JV boys’ soccer team in his first two years at PHS, Johnson switched to football for the 2020 season.

“I just felt like I had a lot of potential playing football,” said Johnson.

“I decided to make the change. I haven’t played before, this is my first official year ever.”

In taking up football, Johnson had a special influence in his father, Marquis Johnson, a 1994 PHS alum and star athlete for the Tigers who was inducted into the school’s Athletic Hall of Fame in 2010.

“My dad played football, there is definitely genes there,” said Johnson.

“In the offseason, me and my dad worked our butts off to get the result. He pushed me as hard as I could. I gained about 15-20 pounds.”

Starting at both wide receiver and defensive back, Johnson has gotten a crash course on football through the first month of the 2020 campaign.

“This is the fifth game. These past four games were learning games,” said Johnson. more

STICKING TOGETHER: Stuart Country Day School field hockey players Morgan John, left, and Catherine Martin celebrate after a goal in recent action. Seniors John and Martin helped set a positive tone for Stuart as it posted a 5-3-1 record this fall. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

By Bill Alden

Although the Stuart Country Day School field hockey team suffered a pair of one-goal defeats in its last two games of the season, Missy Bruvik was proud of how her players competed to the end.

“We played really hard in both games, we never quit,” said Stuart head coach Bruvik, whose squad fell 2-1 to Bordentown on November 2 and 1-0 to Princeton Day School two days later to end the season at 5-3-1.

“It would have been nice to win one of those last two games. I know the kids felt they gave their best effort.”

In reflecting in the stretch run, Bruvik acknowledged that Stuart struggled to finish in the circle.

“We didn’t score a lot of goals in general all year; we had a lot of 1-0 games,” said Bruvik.

“I also give a lot of credit to the keepers, I could tell that they were getting better too as the season went on. On our corners, we would get them off. We didn’t score off of rebounds, we practiced that.”

While Bruvik may have hoped for better results in the final week of the season, the positives of getting to play nine games in the face of COVID-19 protocols and restrictions is far more meaningful than a win-loss record. more

PERFECT STORM: Members of the Princeton Day School girls’ cross country team show off the spoils of victory after they placed first in the Girls’ Varsity White race at the XC 7-on-7 Invitational meet at Thompson Park in Jamesburg. The victory at the meet was one of many highlights in a special fall which saw the squad post an 11-0 record and won two invitational meets. Pictured, from left, are assistant coach Kelly Grosskurth, head coach John Woodside, Madeline Weinstein, Emily McCann, Alex Hollander, MacKenzie Mazzarisi, assistant coach Chris Devlin, Brooke Law, Maddy Flory, and Harleen Sandhu. (Photo provided by Chris Devlin/PDS)

By Bill Alden

Alex Hollander was prepared for a rocky ride this fall in her senior season for the Princeton Day School girls’ cross country team.

“I was feeling pretty anxious and nervous,” said team co-captain Hollander, noting that PDS had lost some key runners from the 2019 squad who were expected to come back.

“I knew we were going to have a full team because the roster showed that but I hadn’t heard of people who were signed up because they were new freshmen. I definitely wasn’t expecting a good season.”

But the addition of three freshman, Emily McCann, Brooke Law, and Harleen Sandhu, helped ease Hollander’s nerves as the trio excelled from the start of preseason training.

“It lifted my mindset for the year because you are starting off with something so uncertain to begin with because of all of the restrictions,” said Hollander. more

STROKE OF BRILLIANCE: Hun School girls’ tennis player Sophia Lin hits a backhand in a match this fall. Senior co-captain Lin starred at second singles for the Raiders, helping Hun post a 3-2-2 record. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

By Bill Alden

Joan Nuse took the helm of the Hun School girls’ tennis team in 1987 and guided it to nine Mercer County Tournament titles, three Prep B State crowns, three Prep A State championships, and three Mid-Atlantic Prep League championships, earning a spot in the school’s Athletic Hall of Fame.

Taking an eight-year hiatus from the program, Nuse coached the Hun boys’ tennis squad for one season and then became the head coach of the Raider swimming team for the next seven years.

This fall, with Hun not having a coach for the girls’ tennis team as the fall approached, Nuse agreed to return for a second act.

“It was interesting to be back, I hadn’t expected to be even doing it,” said Nuse.

“It has been awhile since I have done the girls. I really enjoyed coaching with Ian McNally. He was a lot of fun.” more

November 6, 2020

By Donald Gilpin

Incumbents Michele Tuck-Ponder and Beth Behrend, and new candidate Jean Durbin are currently leading over the five other challengers in the heated race for three positions on the Princeton Public Schools Board of Education (BOE).

At last count on November 5, Tuck-Ponder, currently BOE vice president, had received 5,032 votes (19.74 percent of the votes cast in Tuesday’s General Election), Behrend, BOE president, had 4,869 votes (19.10 percent), and Durbin was in third place with 4,011 votes (15.73 percent).

 Among the other contenders, Adam Bierman had garnered 2,792 votes (10.95 percent), Paul Johnson 2,674 votes (10.49 percent), Karen Lemon 2,465 (9.67 percent), Bill Hare 2,208 (8.66 percent), and Hendricks Davis 1,350 (5.30 percent). Each voter designated three choices for the three open BOE seats.

Also on the ballot, Mark Freda was the winner in the uncontested race for Princeton mayor, and incumbents David Cohen and Leticia Fraga regained their seats in the uncontested election for Princeton Council.

The Mercer County Board of Elections will continue to accept ballots that arrive in the mail through November 10, as long as they were postmarked by 8 p.m. on November 3, with November 20 the last day to count ballots in New Jersey. The results will be official when certified by the county clerk on November 23.

November 4, 2020

The Suzanne Patterson Center was one of five polling locations open in Princeton on Tuesday. This year’s General Election was primarily vote-by-mail in New Jersey due to the pandemic, but registered voters could drop off their ballots or vote by provisional ballot in-person at the polling sites. Only voters with a disability who needed an accommodation were allowed to use a machine. 

By Donald Gilpin

The voting for Election 2020 is over, but the counting, which started ten days ago with many mail-in ballots already received, continues. By 8 p.m. last night, Tuesday, November 3, all ballots in Mercer County had been cast in the 2020 General Election.

Whether mailed to the Mercer County Board of Elections or placed in drop boxes at the Princeton Municipal Center and throughout the County or delivered directly to a polling place or filled out at the polls on a provisional ballot, the votes came in in record numbers, according to Mercer County Clerk Paula Sollami Covello in a phone conversation shortly before press time Tuesday.

Covello stated that the Mercer County Board of Elections would be counting for at least another week, but that her office would report preliminary numbers on their website at mercercounty.org last night after the polls closed, then again on Wednesday, November 4, on Friday, November 6, and probably on Tuesday and Thursday next week.

Based on the number of mail-in ballots already received, Covello expected about 70 percent of the vote to be in and counted by last night. She noted the unusual number of people who voted in Mercer County. “I thought 2008 was a huge turnout. I was clerk then and what a huge turnout we had. But this may surpass it.” more

By Donald Gilpin

The Princeton Board of Health last week issued a COVID-Safe Community Pledge “as a proposal to the people, institutions, businesses, and visitors to Princeton to encourage shared community awareness and actions to protect each other.”

“We have data in Princeton showing that our behavior can help mitigate this pandemic,” said Princeton Board of Health Chair Dr. George DiFerdinando. “That’s what makes me hopeful, that people have shown that they’re willing to make changes. This Pledge is a way of reinforcing what they already know and reorienting them for what they have to do in the fall and winter.”

DiFerdinando emphasized that the Pledge is intended to acknowledge all the hard work that’s been done in Princeton so far to combat the virus, to focus attention on “what we need to keep doing,” and to realize that things are going to be different in the coming months and “we have to be even more conscious of our behavior.”

He went on, “We have to be even more mindful and do things in a specific way. We have to double down.” He mentioned the challenges of bringing students back home from colleges and of celebrating upcoming holidays. He predicted that a vaccine will not be widely available before spring, and that the next five months would be especially challenging.

Princeton Council and Princeton Mayor Liz Lempert, in their COVID-19 Update on Monday, November 2, echoed the Princeton Board of Health announcement, noting, “These actions included in Princeton’s COVID-Safe Community pledge, if committed to and followed by the large majority of our community, will have a measurable effect of decreasing exposure, infection, disease, disability, and death. While we cannot change the virus, we can and must change our behaviors to lessen its impact on ourselves and others.” more

By Anne Levin

Princeton Council voted at its Monday meeting to introduce an ordinance creating a new affordable housing zone, for a project of townhouses and multifamily apartments that backs up to the Princeton Shopping Center and has frontage on Terhune Road.

The governing body also approved a resolution authorizing a settlement agreement with 375 Terhune LLC, owned by developer Roman Barsky. One house currently stands on the parcel. Both items were carried over from the Council’s meeting on October 26.

The ordinance provides a framework for the development of townhouses and multifamily apartments, 20 percent of which are designated affordable housing. There can be up to 24 townhouses and six multifamily apartments.

“This attempts to create this housing in a form that is sympathetic to the existing scale of residential development along Terhune by breaking up the apartments into two buildings, appropriately scaled and set back,” said Michael Sullivan, planning consultant. “The townhomes are a little higher and set behind them. Access would not be from Terhune, but from a new public roadway on the western side of the tract.”

The townhouses would face each other, with a courtyard or mews between them. Part of the ordinance also requires a buffer along the rear of the properties that front on Grover Avenue and Grover Park. There is also a requirement for a fence or wall, six to eight feet high. Plantings and stormwater management are also required, as is bicycle parking for the multifamily buildings. more

SWEET SIBLINGS: After a huge jump in adoptions during the first months of the pandemic, things are back to normal at SAVE animal shelter in Skillman. Sugar, right, was recently adopted, but her brother, Cayenne, is still waiting to find his “forever home.”

By Anne Levin

During the first wave of the pandemic, consumer demand for feline and canine companionship boomed to previously unseen levels. Americans stuck at home adopted from shelters in record numbers.

SAVE — A Friend to Homeless Animals was among them. The shelter in Skillman, normally filled to capacity with dogs and cats, was hard pressed to keep up with the demand.

“Between March and May, adoptions were honestly through the roof,” said Executive Director Heather Achenbach. “It was way above normal.”

But by August, the numbers had leveled. In October of 2019, SAVE handled 59 adoptions; in October 2020, there were 60. The organization’s current challenge is to raise needed funds in an environment that makes the usual methods impossible.

SAVE’s biggest moneymaker, the annual Holiday Boutique and Party, will not be held this year.

“We still need to raise money,” said Achenbach. “We have essentially asked people to please donate commensurate as if they are attending the event. And an anonymous patron will match gifts sent by November 21.”

In the meantime, smaller events are planned. A socially distanced shopping event held last month brought in $5,000 and drew 70 visitors over a four-hour period. Similar, small-scale fundraisers are being considered. more

By Anne Levin

Among the most significant challenges of navigating COVID-19 is maintaining mental health. The anxieties associated with the ongoing pandemic can be particularly acute for students whose education has been interrupted, with no definite end in sight.

It was this climate of uncertainty that inspired Preeti Chemiti, a sophomore at Princeton University currently attending remotely from her family’s home in Fargo, North Dakota, to write a mental health guidebook. Mind Matters is geared to college students, high school students, the BIPOC [Black, Indigenous, People of Color] community, and teachers, among others.

As a freshman, Chemiti was among a group of first-year students awarded a Bogle Fellowship, a funded opportunity for participation in service or civic engagement projects during the summer before sophomore year. Fellows design their own summer internship or project in collaboration with a host partner, and support from the University’s Pace Center for Civic Engagement.

“I found out in February of freshman year that I had gotten the fellowship,” said Chemiti, who hopes to be back on campus next semester. “I wasn’t sure what the summer would entail — certainly not COVID. I soon realized that I had an opportunity, and had been given a platform. I decided I wanted to do something on my own, related to educating people about mental health during this pandemic.”
 more

By Donald Gilpin

Princeton University reported last week that its endowment grew to $26.6 billion in the fiscal year ended June 30, 2020, with an investment gain of 5.6 percent.   

This year’s results, certified by the Princeton University Investment Co. (PRINCO) on October 15, put Princeton in the middle of the pack of Ivy League schools for the year’s investment results. Brown University had the highest percentage return for 2020 at 12.1 percent, with Dartmouth second at 7.6 percent, Harvard third at 7.3 percent, Yale fourth at 6.8 percent, and Princeton fifth.

Over the past ten years the average annual return for the Princeton University endowment has been 10.6 percent, placing it in the top one percent of the 43 colleges and universities listed by Wilshire Trust Universe Comparison Service, according to Princeton University’s October 26 press release. 

Princeton’s $26.6B endowment is the third largest in the Ivy League, behind Harvard at $41.9B and Yale at $31.2B. The Princeton endowment gained 6.2 percent for the 2019 fiscal year and 14.2 percent in 2018.

Princeton University, which cut tuition by 10 percent this year in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic with most students off campus, relies on its endowment to fund more than 60 percent of its budget.

“Princeton has been fortunate to face the many financial challenges created by the COVID-19 pandemic from a strong budgetary position, thanks in part to an endowment that is the result of generations of generosity from alumni and friends, as well as effective stewardship and investments by the trustees and PRINCO,” said University Provost Deborah Prentice. more

By Stuart Mitchner

I am not a member of an organized political party. I am a Democrat.

The Republican platform promises to do better. I don’t think they have done so bad. Everybody’s broke but them.

Be a Republican and sooner or later you will be a postmaster.

I don’t make jokes. I just watch the government and report facts.

Rather than yield to an inclination to fill the entire column with quotes by and about Will Rogers, who was born on November 4, 1879, I’m putting four of his timeliest, most politically resonant quips up front. You could say Will was born to the occasion, prime time Americana: World Series, Halloween, Election Day. In recent history, November 4 marked the election of three two-term presidents, Dwight D. Eisenhower, Ronald Reagan, and Barack Obama. Bill Clinton, another two-term POTUS, was elected on November 3.

In the foreword to his biography of Rogers (Univ. of Oklahoma Press paperback 2000), Ben Yagoda writes, “America surprised itself when Will Rogers died, surprised itself by the size and force of its grief.” On August 16, 1935, the Associated Press sent out the news that Rogers and aviator Wiley Post had died in an airplane crash near Point Barrow, Alaska, “the northerrnmost point in U.S. Territory.” Democratic Majority Leader Joe Robinson made the announcement on the floor of the Senate: “Will Rogers, probably the most widely known private citizen and certainly the best beloved, met his death some hours ago in a lonely, far-away place.”

The poignance of “a lonely, far-away place” sounds the personal depth of Will’s relationship with the nation: he’s a loved one, a member of the family. At the same time, Yagoda compares “the magnitude of the reaction” to what might be expected after “the passing of a beloved president.” 

The tone sharpens as Yagoda quotes legendary journalist/essayist H.L. Mencken talking about Rogers in the press room at the 1928 Republican convention: “He alters foreign policies. He makes and unmakes candidates. He destroys public figures. Millions of Americans read his words daily, and those unable to read listen to him over the radio.” Summing up, Mencken says, “I consider him the most dangerous writer alive today.”

Still another side of Rogers is shown in Bing Crosby: Swinging On a Star (Little Brown 2018), when Gary Giddins paraphrases a Metronome article that envisions Crosby stepping “far beyond the limited sphere of a singer of popular songs” to become “as Will Rogers before him, a part of American life, an astonishingly successful symbol of the good man.” The suggested lineage includes Mark Twain, George M. Cohan, and others “who didn’t need a Gallup Poll to tell them what the people wanted because none of them ever forgot that he was one of the people.”

Then of course there’s the best-known statement Will ever made, prescribing his own epitaph (“or whatever you call those signs on gravestones”): “I joked about every prominent man of my time, but I never met a man I didn’t like. I am so proud of that, I can hardly wait to die so it can be carved.”

And when he flies to the Arctic edge of civilization, he finds a fate more in line with the blunt “philosophy of life” Yagoda says Rogers once expressed to historian Will Durant: “What all of us know put together don’t mean anything. Nothing don’t mean anything. We are just here for a spell and pass on. . . . Live your life so that whatever you lose, you are ahead.” more

STAGE MANAGERS HONORED: Alison Cote, left, and Cheryl Mintz are being recognized for their many years of work at McCarter Theatre Center. (Photo by Matt Pilsner)

Princeton residents Cheryl Mintz and Alison Cote will be honored with the Award of Excellence at New Jersey Theatre Alliance’s virtual Curtain Call on November 16 at 7 p.m. This honor celebrates their tenure with McCarter Theatre Center, where for the past 29 seasons Mintz was the resident production stage manager, and for the past 24 seasons Cote was a production stage manager.

Their combined body of work spans over 400 productions and developmental workshops with McCarter Theatre and theaters across the country, including Broadway, off-Broadway, Lincoln Center, the Spoleto Festival, and the Kennedy Center. They also take great pride in the scores of emerging stage managers and theater makers they have mentored in their time with McCarter.

With the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic and the resulting suspension of production activity at theaters around the country, including McCarter, Mintz and Cote have demonstrated their resilience and creativity in response to a rapidly growing need in their communities. Leveraging their theatrical management skills, they have combined forces with Princeton residents Seth Mellman of SMP Video and IT Manager Peregrin Jones to produce virtual events using a combination of live camera work, pre-recorded segments, visual montages, and live participants joining by Zoom. Organizations who have benefited from their services include The Jewish Center Princeton, The Suppers Program, Theater J (Washington, D.C.), the Stage Managers Association Del Hughes Awards (New York), 12.14 Foundation/NewArts (Newtown, Conn.) and McCarter. Independently, Mintz and Cote are production stage managing virtual theater projects for Broadway and off-Broadway companies. more