Library fall speaker series geared to senior citizens

Towson Library
Towson Library (Baltimore Sun Media Group)

The Towson Branch of the Baltimore County Public Library has issued an invitation to meet the author during a continuing speaker series geared to senior citizens this fall.

The four, hour-long free programs sponsored by the Friends of Towson Library will feature in September former Baltimore Sun reporter Rafael Alvarez and former Baltimore Sun columnist Michael Olesker; and Catonsville master bugler and "Taps" historian Jari Villaneuva in October. The series will also feature Ruxton writer Evan L. Balkan, lover of all things Baltimore and a writing teacher, in November.


Since January, with the idea in mind that learning is a life-long process that doesn't end with retirement, the library system has scheduled a Meet the Author guest speaker on the third Thursday of every month to engage, enlighten and entertain older adults.

Though each program is open to all adults, the series is geared to senior citizens, and steps are taken such as scheduling programs in the early afternoon when most of them are available.


The Meet the Author proceedings offer audiences a smorgasbord of fact, fiction, whimsy, wit and gravitas, laced with tasty trivia and sometimes topped with nostalgia.

"We try to keep the speaker series lively and interesting," said librarian Lisa Swaine, coordinator of Towson's six-member programming team, which even includes re-enactors.

That's why, earlier this year, American poet Emily Dickinson, dressed to the nines in period clothing, might have been seen searching for a parking space in the high-rise garage behind the library. Or it might have been Ben Franklin, also in full regalia. While some of the speakers volunteer their time, others require a donation or fee.

Swaine said that the speaker series geared toward seniors evolved from survey information. "We found in Towson a successfully aging community, a highly educated, high-income demographic."

Branch Manager Lisa Hughes added that seniors in the Towson area are interested in pursuing hobbies and intellectual interests, and staying engaged in what is happening in their community. "We want to bring them speakers who will be of interest to them at times that are convenient for them."

Olesker and Alvarez both have spoken at the North Point Branch and earned rave reviews, according to North Point Branch Manager Joanie Bradford, who said, "Both were very entertaining, and our customers really enjoyed talking about times gone by."

Baltimore County Department of Aging Director Joanne Williams says her agency "certainly appreciates the library's efforts."

"Like the social and recreational programs we offer, it contributes to the health and well-being of the whole person," Williams said.

Swaine noted that different speakers usually draw different crowds.

"We welcome off-the-beaten-track suggestions for the speaker series," Swaine said. "If someone has an idea, just let us know."

Below is the lineup of speakers for the Meet the Author series, September to November at the Towson Branch:

Rafael Alvarez — Wednesday, Sept. 10, 7 p.m.


Alvarez, who left his job at The Sun, where he did everything from dispatching trucks to compiling horse racing results to covering police districts, has been a writer for HBO's "The Wire," and has written several collections of short stories.

Hs latest is "Tales from the Holy Land," which, according to his publisher, Perpetual Motion Machine Publishing, contains "stories that take place along the narrow streets and alleys of Alvarez's heartbreaking hometown … through the difficult and hopeful lives of tugboat men, junk collectors, beautiful women, short-order cooks and an artist who captures it all in house paint on the sides of abandoned buildings."

Michael Olesker — Thursday, Sept. 18, 2 p.m.

Olesker wrote a column for The Sun for more than 25 years and has written a number of books. His latest is "Front Stoops in the Fifties," in which he writes about the early years of Baltimoreans who became famous.

A case in point, he notes the irony of Thurgood Marshall, born in Baltimore (with the "Thoroughgood Marshall," according to some accounts) in 1908, attending the racially segregated schools that ultimately prepared him to argue Brown vs. the Board of Education of Topeka before the Supreme Court and have segregation ruled unconstitutional. He also writes about Nancy Pelosi, the first woman speaker of the House who earned her political chops as she grew up Nancy D'Alesandro, daughter of long-term Baltimore Mayor Tommy D'Alesandro.

Jari Villaneuva — Thursday, Oct. 16, 1 p.m.

Villanueva, of Catonsville, a Hall of Fame bugler and retired from the U.S. Air Force Band who was eventually responsible for all the music USAF bands play at state funerals, has participated in more than 5,000 ceremonies at Arlington National Cemetery.

He is one of the country's foremost experts on military bugle calls and their history. His book "Twenty-four Notes that Tap Deep Emotions: The Story of America's Most Famous Bugle Call," explores the controversy over the origin of "Taps."

In it, he explains that the heart-wrenching story of its origin during the Civil War about how a Union captain found his fatally wounded Confederate son on the battlefield with a scrap of paper in his uniform pocket with the musical notes for "Taps" written on it, is just that — a story.

Evan L. Balkan — Thursday, Nov. 20, 2 p.m.

Balkan, of Ruxton, is English department coordinator for the Catonsville campus of the Community College of Baltimore County. He teaches creative writing and screen writing. His latest book is, "Walking Baltimore: An Insider's Guide to 33 Historic Neighborhoods, Waterfront Districts and Hidden Treasures in Charm City."

In it, he reveals historical tidbits, including the fact that George Washington's dentures are now on display in downtown Baltimore and they are made of ivory from a hippopotamus — not wood.

Balkan also has written several other books including "The Best in Tent Camping: Maryland, A Guide for Car Campers Who Hate RVs, Concrete Slabs and Loud Portable Stereos" and "60 Hikes Within 60 Miles."

The Meet the Author speaker series takes place in the Towson Meeting Room on the first floor of the Towson Branch Library, 320 York Road, Towson. For more information, call the library at 410-887-6166.

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