Montgomery, AL – Actor, director, and children’s book author Henry Winkler appeared as the special guest speaker Monday night when the Family Guidance Center of Alabama celebrated 50 years of striving to help families reach their goals.
The Alabama Shakespeare Festival in Blount Cultural Park in Montgomery was chosen as the venue for the event.
Dr. Walter P. White has served as the organization’s executive director since 1988 and spoke about what this special occasion meant to him.
“We’re celebrating our 50 years of service to families,” said White.
“So, this is an opportunity to reflect on our history of quality services to children and families and seniors and an opportunity for us to kind of look ahead to how we need to be responsive to the changing needs of families as we move into the future.”
The evening began with a news conference and Winkler fielding questions from the local media. Our Prattville spoke with Winkler about his visit to Alabama.
“I have never been to Montgomery, but my first girlfriend was from Birmingham, Alabama,” Winkler said. “Lula Turlington Blackwell, III. She was my first major girlfriend in graduate school. We met each other at a theater festival at Yale University.”
Winkler received a Master of Fine Arts degree from the Yale School of Drama in 1970. He later received an honorary PhD in Hebrew Literature in 1978 from Emerson College.
The actor and his wife have three children and are expecting their first grandchild at the end of the month. Winkler remarked that if he had not chosen to be an actor, he would be working with children, but he considers parenting to be the hardest job in the world.
“Being a parent to me is like climbing Mt. Everest with no clothes on,” said Winkler. “It is truly the most difficult job on the planet. Brain surgery is probably a snap compared to being a parent.”
A soirée for the patrons of the Guidance Center followed the news conference at 6:00 PM and the night concluded as everyone adjourned to the arena stage.
A Proclamation/Resolution presentation was given by Representative Greg Wren, and Service Partner Recognition awards were issued by White.
Winkler, best known for his role as “Fonzie” on the 1970s hit TV show Happy Days, spoke about how important it was to follow your dreams in life, and to replace all negative thoughts with positive ones. He answered questions from the audience, talked about his well-known television character, and read excerpts from one of his books entitled I Got a “D” in Salami. One in particular, had to do with Zipser spelling words for his teacher.
Winkler read, “Mrs. Adolph repeated the word, ‘rhythm,’ r-h-y-t-h-m, I said and without realizing it, I high fived myself. Then it was ‘receive.’ R-e-c … I paused and then my mind went totally black … r-e-c what? I know there’s an e, I know there’s an i … but what comes first?”
The children’s novels Winkler has written with partner Lin Oliver are funny ones for kids; the main character is Hank Zipser, a really bad student in the 4th grade and one who always seems to get into trouble. The books are based on Winkler’s own early struggles with dyslexia.
Winkler’s upcoming projects include a film, Running Mates, about two best friends running against each other for mayor in their hometown, and playing the character of Captain Hook in the stage version of Peter Pan.
Montgomery Mayor Todd Strange made the closing remarks of the evening, an asked Winkler if he would consider bringing the theater version of Peter Pan to the Alabama Shakespeare Theatre. Strange was excited that the answer was a positive one.
“Anytime you can have a personality of Henry Winkler’s caliber to come to Montgomery, Alabama, and to wow 500-600 individuals, and agree to come back to do Peter Pan at the Shakespeare Theatre, that’s large,” Strange said.
Strange spoke about the culmination of Montgomery’s week in the global spotlight.
“This is just the capping off of about six or eight days of really showcasing Montgomery to the world. We’ve had a wonderful evening,” Strange said as he exited the theatre after Winkler’s show.
The Family Guidance Center has two offices in Montgomery – Fairlane Drive and Lake Street, as well as offices in Dothan, Troy, Hayneville, and Birmingham. The organization continues to be responsive to the changing needs of families in the community as can be seen in the establishment of a variety of programs.
The full range of the Family Guidance Center’s services includes counseling, parenting education, mentoring, services for business and industry, child care support services, adult day care, career development, job training, and other therapeutic services for families.
Article by Melissa Parker
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