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Bill Kirby Jr.: A golden Kiwanian for sure

The Kiwanis Club of Fayetteville recently presented Marty Sternlicht with the Legion of Honor pin for 50 years of service.

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Oh, yes, nothing like being a Kiwanian.  

But all the better, Marty Sternlicht will have you know, is being a member of the Kiwanis Club of Fayetteville for a half-century.  

“It’s a good club, and I’ve certainly met a lot of nice people in the club,” says Sternlicht, 90, who joined the club in the fall of 1971. “I’m glad to have stayed with it. It’s a good place to meet new people all the time. I have enjoyed Kiwanis.” 

And particularly those years when Sternlicht would find himself sitting in a school classroom and reading to young students – a club project called Reading Is Fun to engage preschool youngsters ages 4 to 5 in reading and broadening their educational horizons.  

“I enjoyed reading to the kids, which I did for about 30 years,” Sternlicht says. “I usually would read to them between 30 minutes and an hour, and I would give each a book to take home. I encouraged them after they read their book to switch with their friends and get more use out of the books that way. It was really fun reading to them and getting them involved in the book. They appreciated it very much, and so did I.” 

You would have to know Marty Sternlicht. He has this gentle way. He can put you at ease from the moment you meet him – something the late Brownie Schaefer saw more than 50 years ago.

Remembering Brownie Schaefer 

Marty Sternlicht arrived in Fayetteville in 1964 out of Barrington, Rhode Island, to manage the old Fayetteville Manufacturing Co., which produced curtains, draperies and bedspreads. He and his late wife, Gail Sternlicht, raised three sons. Gail Sternlicht was head of the Cumberland County Data Processing Department until her death at age 54 in 1988.

 “I was living in Rhode Island, but working 20 minutes away in Massachusetts,” says Sternlicht, a native of Long Island, New York. “I was an industrial engineer. But then I got into the insurance business. Brownie was a big part of getting me into that.” 

And into the Kiwanis Club of Fayetteville.

“Brownie was one of my best friends and he was the reason I joined Kiwanis,” Sternlicht says with much affection about Schaefer, who died in 2002. “He was in the club, and he recruited me. That’s how I got introduced to Kiwanis. Before then, I didn’t know anything about it.”

 What he found was a close-knit club that included a Who’s Who of business and civic leaders with the purpose of giving back to the community. Its emphasis on children and young people dates to Dec. 1, 1920, when the club was chartered under Kiwanis International with community leaders to include D.M. Varnedoe, Ben R. Huske Jr., C.B. Taylor, Dr. M.L. Smooth, J.S. Schenk, D.W. Currie and Claude Rankin.

The club meets each Friday at 1:15 p.m. at the Honeycutt Recreation Center along Fort Bragg Road, and you’ll find some members following in the footsteps of their fathers and grandfathers.  

‘It’s just who he is’ 

Dec. 17 was something of a special club meeting. That’s when Worth Smith, the club president, presented Marty Sternlicht with the Legion of Honor pin on behalf of Kiwanis International for Sternlicht’s 50 years of service. 

“The Legion of Honor is an international recognition of Kiwanis and I thanked him for his long service,” Smith, 31 says. “Every Friday, he has been there ready to help with whatever he could. I just thanked him for his work in the club and for kids in the community.

“It’s just who he is.

“He has been one of the stalwarts of our club,” Smith says. “He has been an example for me. Guys like Marty didn’t stop when he retired. He kept working for the kids in our community, and he’s been a huge inspiration.”

Inspiration not lost on Hal Broadfoot Jr., a club member since 1985.

“Marty has been one of the leaders I have looked up to the most,” says Broadfoot, the  2019-20 club president. “Marty embodies Kiwanis, and not just because he's been a member for almost half of our club's 101 years. He is always at club meetings, board meetings and projects. I think of him as one of the moral compasses of the club. He seemed to know the right answer to the tricky questions that sometimes come up in large organizations. In particular, I remember Marty forcefully, but kindly, reminding the board to embrace the diverse religious beliefs of our club and our community.”   

Just one regret 

Marty Sternlicht was the ever-humble Marty Sternlicht at the ceremony.

“It was very nice, and I appreciated it,” he says. “I can remember others having those celebrations in the past who are no longer with us. I can remember what they looked like, but I can’t remember all of their names. Sometimes, I’m lucky if I can remember mine. But I’m certainly very pleased to have it, although I’m kind of sorry Brownie couldn’t be there to see it.”

Oldest son Mark Sternlicht excused himself from the E. Maurice Braswell Cumberland County Courthouse, where he is a Superior Court judge, to be with his father.

 “I was very proud to see Dad receive his 50-year pin,” the judge says. “It's an amazing achievement to volunteer for so long with a philanthropic organization that helps as many people as Kiwanis does.”

Marty Sternlicht looks on his 50 years as a club member with fondness, including Talent Night sponsored by the club.

 “That was fun,” he says, “and some of those kids were extremely talented.”

 He looks, too, over his nearly 60 years in this city.

“It’s a friendly community, and certainly the weather is better than Rhode Island or Massachusetts,” he was saying this week before our winter storm.

It’s where he saw his middle son, Bob, become a Delta flight attendant, and who now works in Los Angeles; where son John is a lawyer and chief executive officer for the Economic Development Alliance in Skagit County, Washington; where Mark Sternlicht presides at the county courthouse, and where he shares life with Anne Sternlicht, his wife of 31 years.

“Fayetteville has been a good place to be,” he says, “and a good place to meet very nice people.” 

Epilogue 

Pardon me, if you will, because I must to tell you something more.

I know Marty Sternlicht.  

I know him for the kind, humble and gracious man he is. And if you ever come to know Marty Sternlicht, you will say so, too.

Bill Kirby Jr. can be reached at billkirby49@gmail.com or 910-624-1961. 

Column, Kiwanis Club of Fayetteville, service pin

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