Looking Back at 2017 With Gratitude

As the year winds down, I look back with so much gratitude, especially when I remember the new friends I’ve made. The months seemed to fly by, as if on skates. It was late fall before I realized that I hadn’t sent a recent newsletter, so I have some catching up to do.

About mid-summer, I learned that Gretchen Simard, a former physical education teacher for Chesterfield County, was coordinating a trip to the International Children’s Games, a worldwide competition among teen athletes that has been held for the last 15 years in various parts of the world. Gretchen founded Team Chesterfield in 2004 and has led youth teams every year thereafter. The current team, with students from the regional area, was scheduled to compete during July, in Kaunas, Lithuania, which is the setting for both Izzy’s Fire and The Little Lion.

I called Gretchen and offered to teach the athletes, as well as parents and coaches also going, a few Lithuanian phrases that might come in handy. Ausra Huntington, a native and former teacher of Lithuania, who now lives in Bon Air with her husband, Lee, joined me. I became so enamored with the project that I ended up going with them. It proved to be a wonderful opportunity to not only support the team and see teenagers compete from all over the world, but I was also able to visit many Lithuanian friends whom I had not seen since 2014.

Team mascot International Children’s Games

Team mascot for the International Children’s Games

Although no member of Team Chesterfield won a medal, two of them turned in their best times in swimming and track events. While in Lithuania, the athletes enjoyed meeting a multitude of other competitors from abroad, visited castles, went kayaking and hiking, sampled local food, and even stayed in Belgium overnight  where we all indulged in the famous chocolate Belgian waffles and some shopping before heading home.

When I first met the athletes, I described a Rotary International (RI) project I had helped initiate in Kaunas a few years ago. Brandermill Rotary of Midlothian, which is my club, and Rotary Club of Kaunas, as well as the Chicagoland Rotary Club of Lithuanians of Downers Grove, IL, joined forces to help initiate a RI grant in the amount of almost $12,000. The funds were used to purchase physical therapy equipment, which was given to Lopselis Children’s Rehabilitation Hospital  (an institution that has been in existence in Kaunas almost 100 years) to assist local children with special problems. While there this time, I presented Audrone Prasauskiene, director of Lopselis, with a plaque commemorating the donation.  Arvydas Sabrinskas, former president of Kaunas Rotary as well as Giedrius Sidaravicius and his wife, Ieva Sidaraviciene, who originally helped with the project, also joined me for the presentation and to discuss a future project for Lopselis.

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Presenting the plaque at Lopselis

Team Chesterfield reserved some time to visit several of the twenty eight children living at the Baby House, which is located just behind the main building of Lopselis. The children squealed with delight, as members of Team Chesterfield delivered a treasure trove of gifts they had personally collected prior to the trip. It was a special day for all who participated, as you can see from the photographs. Next year, the games will be held in Jerusalem. I’m crossing my fingers that I can go again.

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Members of Team Chesterfield distributing toys to children at the Baby House of Lopselis

Since I had some prior knowledge to the area, I was also privileged to give guided tours to the Ninth Fort, a place of historical significance during World War II. Everyone involved with Team Chesterfield toured the site which was the execution place for some 40,000 individuals, most of them Jews. While at the Ninth Fort, which has since been turned into a museum, we also visited the Hall of the Righteous, an exhibit set aside to honor non-Jewish individuals who saved Jews during the Holocaust. None of those individuals received any type of compensation, although they risked their lives to protect the Jews, most of them strangers. The pictures on the wall include the former pediatrician who directed Lopselis during the war. I didn’t know that history when I was working to raise funds for what is now known as Lopselis Children’s Rehabilitation Hospital. Also in the Hall of the Righteous was the mother of Virginija Mann, a friend of mine. Virginija’s mother, along with other family members, helped save eight Jews from Kovno Ghetto, which was located in Kaunas.  As fate would have it, Virginija and her husband, Barry, who now live in Utah, were in Kaunas visiting Virginija’ s family, so I was also able to catch up with them over lunch one day.

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During the Holocaust in Lithuania, Dr. Petras Baublys, a pediatrician and director of what was then known as Lopselis Orphanage, provided a safe haven for Jewish children. He was later declared Righteous Among the Nations for his actions.

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Members of Team Chesterfield outside of the Ninth Fort in Kaunas
(L-R) Saayeh Zarei, Chloe Jepson, Sydney McCallie, Maddie Corbett

Another special day took place as well, as I renewed my friendship with Ingrida Vilkiene, who coordinates educational Holocaust programs from some ninety schools in Lithuania. I also had a meeting with Dalia Urzaite, who teaches in Kaunas, and Natalija Rackovskaja, who teaches in Klaipeda, in the hope that one day we all may be able to develop a joint program between schools in Lithuania and schools in Virginia.

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Ingrida Vilkiene, deputy director of education, International Commission for the Evaluation of the Crimes of the Nazi and Soviet Occupation Regimes (Vilnius, Lithuania)

Dalia Urzaite Natalija Rackovskaja

Dalia Urzaite and Natalija Rackovskaja

Irena Veisaite, a survivor of Kovno Ghetto and a dear friend, cooked dinner for me, which I enjoyed before visiting the Tolerance Center for the Vilna Gaeon Jewish Museum where I donated new copies of Izzy’s Fire and The Little Lion to Marcus Zingerus, executive director of the Tolerance Center, for their library.

Marcus Zingerus Tolerance Center Vilna Gaeon Jewish Museum

With Marcus Zingerus at the Tolerance Center for the Vilna Gaeon Jewish Museum

A very significant milestone was reached In September, when Mill Mountain Theatre brought The Little Lion to life again on Waldron’s Stage in Roanoke, VA. The play, inspired by my book of the same name and written by noted Richmond playwright Irene Ziegler, was presented this time as a dramatic reading, under the direction by Travis Kendrick. Travis just happened to have learned his trade while working under the tutelage of Tom Width, artistic director of Swift Creek Mill Theatre and the director of the world premiere of The Little Lion, which ran during the Mill’s 50th anniversary, from January 31 – March 7, 2016.

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Playbill The Little Lion

Playbill for The Little Lion

Guided by Travis, the depth of emotion displayed by the actors at Mill Mountain was breathtaking. They not only kept the sold-out audiences in suspense but, at times, brought many of them to tears. I was honored to share the stage with those talented actors as we participated in a talk back session where the audience asked questions following one performance.  Months later, I am still hearing from individuals who attended, including some of the fifty five students from Tina Tapp’s ninth grade English class at Radford High School.

Cast and crew little lion Mill Mountain Theatre

Cast and crew at Mill Mountain Theatre

In the week prior to the play’s debut, I spoke to students in Tina’s class at Radford High, as they were studying The Little Lion. I also spoke to students in Dr. Melvin Macklin’s class at Ferrum College, who were likewise studying the book (for the second year), along with numerous other professors (some retired) and Ferrum students who joined us for the class presentation, dinner, and the play. I also gave presentations to Rotary clubs and public libraries in Roanoke and Radford. Another highlight was when I spoke from the pulpit at Rocky Mount Methodist Church, now pastored by the Reverend Will Waller, my former associate pastor in Richmond.

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Ferrum professors, along with a group of students, and I pose for a photo prior to having dinner and attending the play at Mill Mountain.
(Front row, L-R) Dr. Lana Whited, Dr. Tina Hanlon, me, Dr. Ed Cornbleet (ret.)
(Second row, L-R) Dr. Susan Meade, Dr. Marcia Horn (ret.), Dr. Katherine Grimes, and Dr. Sharon Stein
(Back rows) Ferrum students

Special friends came from far and near to see the production. Barbara and C.N. Irby, whom I have known for over thirty years, drove in from Lynchburg, and Heidi Nunnally, whose mother (Frances Nunnally) is a survivor, came from Richmond to see the play a second time, along with a friend. Although numerous members of Temple Emanuel had driven from Roanoke to see the original stage rendition at Swift Creek Mill, they attended the performance at Mill Mountain as well. Special thanks to Rabbi Kathy Cohen. Not only did she lead the delegation to the first performance at Swift Creek, she encouraged Mill Mountain to stage the play. Longest-drive honors goes to Dr. Marcia Horn, who helped develop the Holocaust studies program at Ferrum College and has been an abiding inspiration to me since 2005. Marcia, now retired, drove from New Jersey, not once (to Swift Creek) but twice (to Mill Mountain), to see the play. There were many others who came as well, but space does not allow me to name them all. Just know that I so appreciate each of you.

Heidi Nunnally nancy wright beasley

Heidi Nunnally came from Richmond

A few very special individuals must be singled out, though. Nancy Gray, retired president of Hollins University, had tears in her eyes when she gave me a hug after the first performance. “You must be so proud,” she said. When I told her that I was actually humbled, she said, “Then I’ll be proud for you.”

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With Nancy Gray, former president of Hollins University

Another proud moment was when I posed with Travis Kendrick for a photo with Amanda Cockrell, Dr. Tina Hanlon, and Karen Adams. Amanda has directed the Master of Fine Arts in Children’s Literature at Hollins for the last twenty five years. Karen Adams, my thesis director, along with Dr. Tina Hanlon, my critical analysis advisor for The Little Lion, shepherded me through the thesis process. Without Karen and Tina, neither the book nor the play would have been a reality. I owe them a debt I can never repay.

(L-R) Travis Kendrick, me, Dr. Tina Hanlon, Karen Adams, and Amanda Cockrell

Numerous other books signings and presentations across the state, and even in Alabama, kept me busy. None was more meaningful that the one hosted by Friends of the Blackstone Library in early November. After enjoying an evening of fellowship, they treated me to an overnight stay at the Grey Swan Inn, a bed and breakfast in Blackstone. The accommodations were not only outstanding, but Mandy Sikorsky, who was keeping the inn that night, introduced me to her favorite friends. They happened to be chickens…yes, chickens. Mandy not only cooked me sumptuous food from homegrown veggies, she regaled me with tales of her chick friends and then even sent me a photo of two of them, as yet unnamed. I’m going to suggest Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum.

As 2017 comes to an end, I want to honor a very special friend, Alan Zimm, a 96-year-old who survived the Holocaust. Mr. Zimm was my original inspiration for starting this work twenty years ago.

On November 12, 2017, a photo was taken of Mr. Zimm, me, and my dear friend, Inge Horowitz, marking the special anniversary.  Mr. Zimm changed my life and work forever almost exactly twenty years earlier on Sunday, November 9, 1997. At the end of annual service at Emek Sholom Holocaust Memorial Cemetery, a diminutive, soft-spoken Mr. Zimm walked to the microphone, the last individual to do so before the conclusion of the service held each year to commemorate many of the Jews lost during the Holocaust. I had never met Inge, who coordinated the service, or Mr. Zimm. He reverently recited the names of many family members, including his parents and several siblings who died in the Holocaust. Mr. Zimm, the first Jew I ever met in Richmond, told me later that afternoon that only he and one brother had survived. His brother had recently died, leaving Mr. Zimm the sole survivor of a huge and loving family whose fate was sealed by having been born Jewish in Poland. I told him that his witness had changed me forever. Little did I know how long and difficult that change would be and how it would affect me or my work.

With Alan Zimm and Inge Horowitz

Two books and one play later, I stand ready to embark on yet another venture. Pray for me, please, as there are special challenges waiting in 2018, and I’ll need all the strength I can muster to carry them out.

Alumna pens award winning booking about the holocaust

By William Lineberry
The Richard T. Robertson School of Media and Culture

May 11, 2015 10:54 am

Nancy Beasley’s career as a journalist started with a wager—one that she lost. In 1979, Beasley’s husband bet her $10 and a haircut that she could get a job as a reporter at the Richmond News-Leader. She took him up on the bet thinking she wouldn’t get the job, seeing as she had never written professionally. She lost the bet, and now 36 years after this accidental beginning, the VCU School of Mass Communications alumna (M.S.’00) is still writing.

– See more at: http://robertson.vcu.edu/2015/05/11/alumna-pens-award-winning-booking-about-the-holocaust

Lohmann: A powerful story that won’t let her go

You just never know when something will grab hold of your life and take you on a wild, rewarding, unforgettable ride.

Nancy Wright Beasley half-jokingly describes that scenario in her life as “Izzy driving the bus” — a reference to her first book: “Izzy’s Fire: Finding Humanity in the Holocaust.”

READ MORE

Posted: Wednesday, April 1, 2015 10:30 pm,
BY BILL LOHMANN Richmond Times-Dispatch

Author is Guest Speaker at Eliezer: the Jewish Society at Yale

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Having a great conversation with Professor Eugene Fidell, Senior Research Scholar in Law & Florence Rogatz Visisiting Lecuturer in Law at Yale University and Rabbi Shmully Hecht, one of the founders of Eliezer: the Jewish Society at YaleDSCN1000

One of the highlights of 2014 was  the privilege and honor to be a guest speaker at a dinner hosted by Eliezer: the Jewish Society of Yale in New Haven, Ct. The society, formed in 1966, started out as a social club for would-be and current leaders of the Yale community but has blossomed into an nonsectarian  intellectual organization recognized the world over, hosting speakers such as Senator Joe Lieberman.  Speakers for the intimate dinners are provided housing in their lovely brownstone, which was fully equipped with food and drink of all kinds. The kosher dinner was wonderful, enhanced by the conversation of Rabbi Hecht, as well as several Yale students and professors. When it snowed, I stayed another day, enjoying their hospitality even more. Eliezer has recently changed its name to Shabtai: the Jewish Society of Yale, and has moved to a new location, but they will remain in New Haven.

 

 

Photos of book club presentations

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Special thanks to Carol Piersol, especially for the lovely gifts she brought me from Lithuania this year and also for having me speak to her book club in Richmond.

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Hilda Meth, in white sweater, had me as a guest in her home in Warrenton for dinner and a presentation of “Izzy’s Fire” to her book club members. Hilda, who formerly lived in Richmond, and I became dear friends after she read “Izzy’s Fire.” She has always been one of my staunchest supporters.

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Pat Rollison, in blue sweater, kindly arranged a book presentation for me at her Circle 1 group at the Trinity United Methodist Church, where I enjoyed cookies and coffee, too.

 

“Izzy’s Fire” goes to Brazil

DSCN0366Camila Shiffl, a history teacher in Brazil, was so interested in studying Holocaust history that she paid her own way to Richmond to participate in the Alexander Lebenstein Teacher Education Institute held each year at the Virginia Holocaust Museum in Richmond. Since I was also taking the class, I met Camila, who was staying in Williamsburg housing where other international students were living. Following the seminar, she offered her translation services to the VHM and she also spent two nights with me, as she wanted to see additional places in Richmond. Camila and I had lunch at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts with Inge Horowitz, president of Emek Sholom Holocaust Memorial Cemetery, and Inge shared information about that project with Camila. I also visited with her in Williamsburg and met her two best friends, who happened to be Lithuanians.

“Only in America could you come to a city like Richmond, sit next to an author who wrote about the Holocaust in Lithuania and then meet two students who lived in that country,” Camila said with a laugh.

 

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(L-R) Paulina Kazlauskaite and Julia Balkunaite, study medicine and pharmacy respectively in Lithuania. Camilla visited them in Lithuania after she attended the TEI. Camila is currently pursuing studying in Slovakia about how the Roma, or Gypsies, were treated during the Holocaust. Camila attributes her interest in that subject to attending the TEI. She says, “I was inspired to follow this course of study after hearing Tim Hensley, director of collections at the Virginia Holocaust Museum, give a presentation on Roma (gypsies) and decided that I wanted to learn more on the subject.”

Izzys Fire - 24-07-2014 (1)While in Richmond, I  gave Camila a copy of “Izzy’s Fire” to take to the newly-opened Holocaust Museum where she lives. I recently received a very nice thank you letter, as well as a photo of Camila presenting the book to Carols Reiss, general coordinator of the te Museu do Holocausto de Curitiba, the only Holocaust museum in Brazil, which opened in November 2011.

Bryan Parkway Book Club

DSCN1680My dear friend, Carla Davis, invited me recently to speak to the Bryan Parkway Book Club. Look what a lovely bouquet and card they sent as a special thanks for the program. Did I tell you that I love flowers?

Abigail “Abby” Reasor earns her GSA Silver Award – Starts Holocaust Education Program in Virginia

DSCN1743Abigail “Abby” Reasor (pictured on the right) recently earned her Girl Scouts of America Silver Award by developing the first-of-its-kind Holocaust education patch in Virginia. Abby is a member of Troop 793, which is led by her mother, Erin. Abby was assisted by her best friend, Kaitlyn Sorensen (pictured on the left), member of Troop #280 whose mother, Anne, is troop leader for that group.  Both troops meet in Mechanicsville. Abby diligently researched and implemented the first Holocaust Education Patch for Girl Scouts in Virginia and worked in conjunction with Megan Ferenczy, director of education at the Virginia Holocaust Museum (VHM) in Richmond, VA, who helped formulate the program.  Abby recently introduced her new program to several scouts at the museum. Part of the requirements for the patch, which include choosing between numerous tasks to complete the patch and also includes reading from a variety of books, like “Izzy’s Fire.” Another part of the patch involves a scavenger hunt at the VHM, as well as attending a Kristallnacht service, such as the one held each November in Richmond at the Emek Sholom Holocaust Memorial Museum to memorialize victims of the Holocaust.

Abigail “Abby” Reasor speaks to the first group of Girl Scouts who have begun work on the Holocaust Education Patch in Virginia.

Megan interacted with the scouts, answering questions and guiding them in their quest for information throughout the museum. They also heard from Inge Horowitz, president of Emek Sholom, about the history of Kristallnacht and the  memorial service that’s held each November at the site in Richmond located at Forest Lawn Cemetery.

As a former Girl Scout, I am so proud of these young women and thrilled that Girl Scouts are still building good will in their community and around the world. The new program can be accessed by other  Girl Scouts in other states via www.comgirlscouts.org. To date, only two states offer patches for Girl Scouts in Holocaust education: Texas and now Virginia. Hearty congratulations to Abby and a big thanks to Kaitlyn for supporting and helping her friend, Kaitlyn has previously earned her Silver Award as well.

 

(L-R) Erin and Abby Reasor, Kaitylyn and Anne Sorenson go over some plans for the new Holocaust education patch with Megan Ferenczy, director of education at the Virginia Holocaust Museum in Richmond, VA.

Inge Horowitz (in striped shirt),, president of Emek Sholom Holocaust Memorial Cemetery, described some of the Kristallnacht services that are held in November each year at the cemetery in Richmond to honor the victims of the Holocaust. Attending a Kristallnacht ceremony is one of the several options available to Girl Scouts to attain their Holocaust education patch.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Alexander Lebenstein Teacher Education Institute

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(L-R) Nancy Wright Beasley, Christine Beresniova,Dr. Charles W. Sydnor, Jr., president and chief executive officer of the Virginia Holocaust Museum, Ingrida Vilkiene.

 

The Virginia Holocaust Museum (VHM) in Richmond, VA, holds two week-long seminars each summer that are generally attended by about 30, or more, teachers and individuals interested in enlarging their knowledge of Holocaust education.

Three graduate credits can be earned. The tuition is free, including room and board at the University of Richmond, which partners with the museum to make the program possible. The classes, which are generously sponsored by Marcus Weinstein, offer a plethora of information, including a copy of “Izzy’s Fire,” which is given to each participant. I had the privilege of attending the 2013 seminar led by Dr. Simon Sibelman, who was the president and executive director of the VHM at that time.

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(L-R) Christine Beresniova and Ingrida Vilkiene

Two very special women attended that seminar: Ingrida Vilkiene,  deputy director of The International Commission for the Evaluation of the Crimes of the Nazi and Soviet Occupation Regimes in Lithuania and Christine Beresniova, a Ph.D. candidate, Indiana University, and a Fulbright Grantee to Lithuania, studying educational policy. They came early and spent the night with me. I invited Patty O’Connor and Becky Quesenberry, both retired from the Chesterfield County Public Schools, to meet with us to share their lesson plans on how they utilized “Izzy’s Fire” in the language arts programs. Each of them had taught “Izzy” since its publication in 2005 and offered valuable information from their experiences teaching the book. We later had dinner with Inge Horowitz, president of Emek Sholom Holocaust Memorial Cemetery (in Richmond) and she shared some history of that project as well.

(L-R) Patty O'Connor, Christine Beresniova, Nancy Wright Beasley, Ingrida Vilkiene and Becky Quesenberry

(L-R) Patty O’Connor, Christine Beresniova, Nancy Wright Beasley, Ingrida Vilkiene and Becky Quesenberry

Christine, an American married to a Lithuanian, was then studying and living in Vilnius, Lithuania, when Jonathan Berger, an official of the U.S. Embassy in Lithuania gave her a copy of “Izzy’s Fire.” Prior to attending the TEI, she had come to Richmond to visit with me and talk about the book, and meet with the previously-mentioned teachers. She was also given a private tour of the VHM by John Hagadorn, a volunteer docent there. Following the tour, she met with several staff members to discuss ways of using the book in Lithuanian schools. Since then, she has completed her doctoral program.

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(L-R)Dr David E. Kitchen, Associate Dean, School of Professional and Continuing Studies, University of Richmond and Cheryl Genovese,Program Manager, Summer School of Professional & Continuing Studies at UR; Tim Hensley, Director of Collections at the VHM; Rena Berlin (now retired) Director of Education and Dr. Simon Sibelman, who was then the president and CEO of the VHM, take a break to share time with me after lunch. Dr. Sibelman is now the Director of Judaic, Holocaust, and Peace Studies at Appalachian Sate University in Boone, North Carolina.

 

 

 

St. James Episcopal Church

I visited with the Reverend Ann Dieterle, former associate rector of St. James, as well as John Hagadorn, a member there following a presentation and book signing at St. James Episcopal Church in Richmond

I recently visited with the Reverend Ann Dieterle,associate rector of St. James Episcopal Church, as well as member John Hagadorn, following a presentation and book signing at the church in Richmond. Reverend Dieterle recently took a position as rector of St. Paul’s Church in Wilkesboro, NC. John Hagadorn is a volunteer docent at the Virginia Holocaust Museum in Richmond, VA.