Arthur Selkowitz is named Citizen of the Year for his philanthropic contributions to Stamford
It was early on a mild winter day, and Arthur Selkowitz, chairman of the Mill River Collaborative, was up and out the door to meet with top execs at Purdue Pharma to discuss the company’s support of Mill River Park. That his wife, Betsey, was already up at the same hour, with plans for breakfast with a friend didn’t strike him as odd (it should have). He also failed to register that cars already filled the visitor parking lot at Purdue headquarters. Even as he made his way to the appointed conference room, and spotted a large congratulatory banner hanging from the room’s ceiling, his first thought was that his hosts were “polite.” It took Arthur a few seconds, amid applause and shouts of surprise from friends and colleagues who quickly surrounded him, to realize he had been named the 2011 Citizen of the Year, a civic award sponsored by the Fred Robbins Post 142 of the Jewish War Veterans of the U.S.A. As his wife hugged him, the morning’s activities made sense. “I had no idea,” he says a day later. “Betsey had plausible reason for leaving the house so early, though it is unusual.”
He soon learned the lengths people went to—with top-secret e-mails and for-your-eyes-only arrival instructions—and how many were in cahoots to keep the ambush a surprise, all part of the sixty-seven-year-old tradition of the award. “[COTY organizer] Rick Redniss would not call Betsey. He’d call [my son] Jed instead. And Betsey came with friends so she wouldn’t use her car. And our friends even borrowed a car.”
An editorial board member of Stamford magazine, Arthur was recognized for his continued work to get Mill River Park off the ground, and support of the Avon Theatre, Stamford Museum & Nature Center, Lupus Research Foundation, St. Luke’s LifeWorks, Jewish Community Center, and Jewish Home for the Elderly in Fairfield. He is a recent recipient of a 2011 Moffly Media Light A Fire award. “Arty is known for more than just cherry trees,” quipped Richard Taber, chairman of this year’s COTY selection committee, at the ambush. “He also won Dancing With the Stars.”
Recalling Taber’s comments makes Arthur laugh again. “I have to say, it is an honor to be among these distinguished citizens, to follow in the footsteps of Juanita James, June Rosenthal, Sandy Goldstein, Dick Taber and others. I feel privileged to be in their company.” Later in March, Arthur’s name will be added to a Government Center plaque where past recipients are listed, and in May he will be honored during an Italian Center dinner, where COTY organizers will also award scholarships to students with strong ties to charity work. Meanwhile work on the park continues on schedule. “We are [thirteen] months away from the actual opening of the park,” says Arthur. “Anyone who drives there knows there is a lot going on.”
In May planners will host a cherry blossom carnival modeled after the Sakura Matsuri National Cherry Blossom Festival in Washington, D.C., a spring celebration commemorating the 1912 gift of cherry trees from Japan. “In the meantime we are beating the bushes. We have funds for the carousel and carousel pavilion. Construction on that will probably begin in early spring 2013.” Milton Puryear, executive director of the collaborative, adds construction will also begin then on the sculptural canopy. As of this writing, he was preparing to invite suppliers to bid on the design of the fountain, skating rink and an adjacent park building. If donors are secured, he expects construction of these features, also part of the first phase of development—from Broad to Pulaski—to begin in 2014.
After phase one is completed, “then we start phase two,” continues Arthur. “I’m going to go to my grave with this. There’s south of Pulaski street, then north to Scalzi Park. There’s plenty to be done. It’s a long-term vision.”The COTY award motivates Arthur to push through. “I think what [this award] means is there is recognition by this committee that this park will be built. I don’t think they would honor me otherwise. For me it’s an endorsement of what we are trying to accomplish. It’s worthy and we’re going to get it done.”