Library annual meeting spans the globe

CNN correspondent and keynote speaker Alex Marquardt stands before a video of a Trump rally during the Friends of the Wilton Library’s annual meeting on Sunday. — Jeannette Ross photo
Christopher ‘Kit’ Smith was named Wilton Library’s Volunteer of the Year. — Janet Crystal photo
Community Engagement and Information Services Manager Michael Bellacosa was named the library’s Staff Person of the Year. — Janet Crystal photo

Supporters joined Wilton Library staff, trustees, and volunteers in celebrating accomplishments of the past year at the annual meeting of the Friends of Wilton Library on June 3. Awards were given, trustees named, and keynote speaker Alex Marquardt shared his thoughts on global affairs and the state of journalism.

Library secretary Patty Connor introduced the Volunteer of the Year award by reminding everyone “volunteers are an essential part of fund raising.” Each year the library must about $750,000 in addition to the money it receives from the town.

The award was given to Christopher “Kit” Smith, who has volunteered with the book sales and investigated online selling of valuable donated books. Sales were launched in September via Amazon, Connor said, and revenue has been steadily increasing. Smith is also a past trustee, having served as treasurer from 1980 to 1984.

Michael Bellacosa, who was named Staff Member of the Year, was recognized for “his knowledge and expertise that have raised the caliber” of the library’s programs from the arts to the health and wellness series.

The library said goodbye to retiring trustees Bob Kelso and Tom Leffel. Ceci Maher, who has been filling an unexpired term was welcomed to a full term. Filling two vacancies were Thom Healy and Andrea Sato.

Keynote speaker

The library is not an unfamiliar place to Alex Marquardt, who spent some time here as a boy visiting the home of his grandparents, Mary and Don Marquardt.

“It was a very different library at the time,” he said, adding “it is such a special place in my heart.”

Marquardt, who has lived most of his life in Europe and the Middle East, is an award-winning senior national correspondent for CNN based in New York. He has also worked for ABC News, spending eight years covering the Middle East, including the Arab Spring and the war in Syria.

Had Hillary Clinton won the 2016 presidential election, Marquardt said, he likely would not have come back to the States, but Trump’s victory has made this a “fascinating time to be in this country” for a journalist. For a citizen, he said, “it can be troubling, depressing for many people, and it can be very distressing.”

Based in New York, he travels the country covering the ripple effects of the Trump Administration outside Washington, D.C. Some of what he’s seen troubles him.

“When you go away for eight years and come back, everything is much starker. I don’t think I’ve ever felt as much division, distrust, anger, outrage, tribalism, certainly in my time in the States.”

He told of an incident when covering an agricultural story in Nebraska in which a 17-year-old told him, “‘we don’t believe anything.’

“I just found that so distressing,” Marquardt said. “This is someone who’s going to grow up questioning everything. Healthy questioning is good but not believing what certainly people of my ilk and my company would argue are just the facts, are mainstream theories about what is going on in the world. There’s so much mistrust, bordering on paranoia, riddled with conspiracy theories. That was a really sad moment.

“Much of that anger we are feeling in this country is directed at us, the media,” he continued. “And I can’t tell you how damaging the term fake news has been. … you don’t like something, it’s fake news, and that has been incredibly damaging.”

Marquardt said he has been to some of Trump’s campaign rallies and showed video of one in Phoenix.

“We’ve all seen Trump on TV, we’ve all seen his comments about the press. It’s something very, very different in person. It felt a lot darker, a lot angrier, and it’s certainly, when you’re living in New York, not something you come across.”

The press is kept together in what is known as the “press cage, which is actually for our own protection,” Marquardt said. “There have been a number of times when friends of mine have been escorted out of these arenas by Secret Service, by local police forces because they are in danger. And because he does whip the crowd into a frenzy.

“I’ve often joked I’ve covered all these wars, conflicts and uprisings in the Middle East and I’ve escaped unscathed but if I’m going to get hurt it’s going to be in the States. … I do believe that’s a distinct possibility.”

After Trump went on about the media for 20 minutes at a rally, a friend of his texted “Is this the day one of is is going to get killed?”

The reason all this is distressing, he said, is “I’ve seen it before. I’ve seen it in countries that we should not be compared to. Third world countries where the same themes are very visible, and that should not be the case.”

Marquardt went on to discuss his life and work in the Middle East — which included losing friends to ISIS beheadings — and took questions from the audience. One person asked if reporters suffer from PTSD and he said yes. And larger companies offer counselors, but as one older correspondent said to him, “what can you say to them they will possibly understand?”

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