Val-Kill and the Eleanor Roosevelt Awards 10-29-03


“I put myself in the way of things happening,

and they happened.”

                      Franklin Delano Roosevelt


October 29, 2003


Dear Cynthia,


I hope that this note finds you quite well. Below is a copy of a letter that I have sent out to many of my friends regarding the Val-Kill Medal Ceremony. I thought you would like a copy. Please find an article that I pulled off the Internet mentioning a connection to FDR. One can ask Google to send e-mail attachments, during the day, about key subjects or people. Every time the subject of FDR comes up, I receive an e-mail mentioning a media release. It is a way to receive the news before it “hits the street.” I also have enclosed a button for you from the Eleanor Roosevelt event in New York. – rjg


Recently I received an invitation to go up to Hyde Park and attend the Eleanor Roosevelt Val-Kill Foundation’s Medal Award ceremony for 2003. In previous years I had ignored the invitation for one reason or another. But after Linda and I had been invited to Laura Roosevelt’s house in Greenwich, Ct., last year to see the workings of the ERVK Foundation, I decided their task and mission was quite worthy so I wanted to attend this year’s event.


It’s a pleasant hour drive up the scenic Taconic, which has been considerably brightened by the fall foliage’s multi colors. Eventually though, I must turn west towards the Hudson, so I drove onto Rte 55 that leads through the old town of Poughkeepsie, where Vassar College is located. Approaching the Mid-Hudson suspension bridge I headed north for a few miles up Rte 9 past Marist College and the Culinary Institute. I had been up here a number of times in the past year while I was working on the renewal of the FDR/ March of Dimes Birthday Ball. The ball will be postponed until next year while the FDR Library and the Henry A. Wallace Visitor’s Center are being worked on. Val-Kill, Eleanor Roosevelt’s home, is located a few miles southeast of Springwood, the big mansion and library on the Post Road.


I drove in to the property, which is located on many, many secluded acres and is managed by the National Park Service. It is celebrating its 26th year as a National Historic site, and it is the first and only home of a First Lady that has been so honored. After parking with hundreds of other cars, on a vast grassy meadow, I wandered over to the tent where the reception was being held. Of course in the moments before the event, I worked on my post cards, and by 12 noon, the tent and 28 tables were filled, and the reception started. We were all introduced to not only the medallists but also their very capable seconds, who all made brilliant introductions. (I have included the program with this letter.) The speeches were outstanding after each introduction and acceptance, the speakers and medallists were afforded standing ovations.


I was quite impressed with Jean Kennedy Smith’s remarks about Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. Neither of them is a youngster, but they delivered their lines with aplomb, humor and charm. I especially recalled Mrs. Kennedy’s quote from her late brother the President, “Arthur was the smartest guy he ever knew!”  Professor Schlesinger, who had never met Mrs. Roosevelt while she was First Lady, recalled their work together in her years with the United Nations and cited the importance of her seminal effort creating the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.  




David Roosevelt, who wrote Grandmere a wonderful book on his grandmother, introduced Mike Wallace. Wallace told of his upbringing by Russian immigrants who worshipped FDR. He told us that he was really unaware of ER until he was in the US Navy during WWII and as the communications officer would read dispatches about ER’s magnificent work visiting the wounded in the Pacific Theater.


He then related a background story of his famous interview with ER and her equally famous remark about Westbrook Pegler, who had been excoriating her in his column for years. When asked what she thought of Pegler’s unrelenting attacks on her, she responded by saying that “he must be a really unhappy man!” No animosity, no rancor, no attack, but a simple characterization of a pretty vile s.o.b.!


All in all, the other two medallists were outstanding and quite well appreciated. But I focused on the personages whom I knew and subsequently I was able to speak to Mrs. Smith, Professor Schlesinger, Mike Wallace and David Roosevelt in depth. It was quite a thrill. I had them sign some cachet philatelic covers, and the professor autographed his 1945 edition of the Age of Jackson, along with his 1959 Crisis of the Old Order, part of his award winning multi biography of FDR. All in all, they were great to talk to, quite engaging, and they all asked me how I became involved with the Roosevelts. Of course I told Mrs. Smith about Linda’s heroic cousin Fred Rosen who had served in the PT Boats and was a friend and contemporary of her brother’s during the war years and my work with the Jon Breen Fund Scholarships that led to my lectures to high school students about the Roosevelts.


After the luncheon, ended I spoke to Ms. Cynthia Koch, the director of the Roosevelt Library and she introduced me to Edna Gurewitsch, whose husband David was ER’s personal physician and great friend. She has also authored a wonderful memoir about their friendship entitled Kindred Souls. Most of us walked through the small stone cottage home, and many of us stopped and watched a monitor that was playing the famous Wallace-Eleanor Roosevelt interview.


Finally on my way out to the path that led to the parking area, I met an older gentleman who was standing alone, and I said hello. He responded and we started to talk. I asked him where he was from, and what brought him to this event. He said that he was a fan of Teddy Roosevelt. We talked a bit about the old Rough Rider, and he told me that TR had hired his grandfather and then later tried to take his grandfather’s job! I asked him “What did you say your name was?” He said, “My name is Seth Taft!” I then said, “Can I assume that your grandfather was William Howard Taft?” Lo and behold he was President Taft’s grandson, and he was here with his son and son’s family and they were not only enjoying the party, but also visiting the grandson, another Seth, who is a junior at Vassar. I volunteered to take their picture, and he offered to take mine with my camera. I said that I usually didn’t feel comfortable posing with Republicans, but the son and grandson assured me that they were Democrats! Wow! But the senior Taft, who had run for mayor of Cleveland and had lost to Carl Stokes, and whose uncle was Robert A. Taft, and whose cousin was Robert Taft Jr., both GOP senators and whose nephew is the current Governor of Ohio, assured me that he is still a Republican! We all had a good laugh, they were charming people, I must say, and we exchanged cards, and I told him that I would send him a copy of this letter.


So that was the end of a very special day. I had learned a lot, met some terribly interesting and important people and accomplished what I wanted to do.



Richard J. Garfunkel

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