By Jim Norman
Apocrypha has it that in some ancient culture or other, it is a serious curse to tell someone, “May you live in interesting times.”
Nationally and around the world, the last two years have surely been among the most interesting of times I can remember. So why should our Bergen County Ethical Culture Society be any different?
Not to be outdone by anyone, the last two years have shown us that we can not only look interesting times square in the eye, but we can rassle ‘em down to the ground, squeeze the juice out of ‘em, and toast one another with an “Interesting Times” libation.
When I accepted the invitation to become our president, the first thing that confronted us was a leadership crisis that in my view was largely a molehill elevated to the status of Mount Everest.
I know opinions differ on this, but please remember, the name of my more-or-less monthly president’s column is “As I See It,” not “As I Think Someone Else May Want Me to See It.”
The American Ethical Union, the national organization that we count on to help us through rough times (and have paid a handsome sum each year for the service), rather than stepping in to help, contributed to the bitter divisiveness that some of us experienced at that time.
Curt Collier’s creative leadership
Somehow (and really, it’s no secret how; I’ll get to that in a moment), we survived, solidly united and moving forward under the new, creative leadership of a transplanted Texan named Curt Collier to give our Bergen County community the Ethical Culture Society it needs, deserves, and must have.
Next, Covid hit us hard, along with the rest of us in America and around the world. With an amazing team of technology geniuses, led by David Bland, Eric Sandhusen, Rob Eigenbrod, Gregg Gordon, Orion Hopper, Peter Kasturas, Susan Lesh, and Patty Richards, we were able to roll with the Covid punches and come up with a virtually seamless hybrid program, relying heavily on Zoom.
Our communications wizards, led by Theresa Forsman from her home in Nebraska (!) and Terri Karp from wherever she and Ken happened to be in the world (!!), kept us closely connected with each other.
Our membership co-chairs, Ron Schwartz and Ed Gross, kept our Society growing when all around us forces seemed to be determined to shrink us.
Elaine Fondiller, the quiet superstar of programming, kept our Gatherings (the meetings that we used to call Platforms) ever interesting and relevant.
Hands-on all the way!
Above all, we could not have done it without Curt.
Within days after I met Curt, who had been selected by our search committee as our interim leader, he had leaned an extension ladder up against the side of the building and climbed up to the roof to determine where rainwater was leaking into our meetinghouse.
From that point on, it was hands-on all the way! Curt has brought an astonishingly comprehensive and inclusive vision to our Society and has introduced thematic changes that make our Society a relevant and contributing force in our community and beyond—our immensely successful “Banned Book” programs, our Separation of Church and State speaker series, and our Summer Youth Employment Program, to name a few.
Curt has also introduced us to new ways of looking at how we raise money, relying increasingly on funding through government and private grants, a solid indicator that our new organizational vision places us in the vanguard of progress for our society and our Society.
Keeping our vision alive
He also is deeply committed to preserving our environment for our children, and has developed programs to make certain our kids understand their own role in that, including the Hackensack River eel count that members from young to old participated in.
As I prepare to step back from a leadership role, I am confident Curt and our new Board of Trustees, to be elected at our annual membership meeting later this month, will continue acting to keep our vision alive. It will be a pleasure to sit with you at member meetings, instead of in front of you. As your fellow member, I cannot wait to see what the future will bring!
Jim Norman is president of the Ethical Culture Society of Bergen County.