Meet Your Neighbor: Linda Silpe

11063036084?profile=RESIZE_710xLinda Silpe’s home studio in Manalapan shows some of her artwork. But her primary passion is education. As a Norton Museum docent she helped start an education program for aspiring docents. Tim Stepien/The Coastal Star

Education has always played a significant role in Linda Silpe’s life and she’s learned over time the importance of culture in society.

Silpe and her husband, Don, who live in Manalapan, have long been benefactors of local cultural institutions such as Dramaworks and the Armory Art Center in West Palm Beach, and their philanthropy stretches back decades to the first days of the Wadsworth Atheneum in their native Hartford, Connecticut.

Armed with an undergraduate degree from Boston University and master’s degrees in both education and art education from the University of Hartford, Silpe got excited when a regional theater opened in a Hartford department store a year after she and Don married in the 1970s.

“It was a bit of a lark when it began, but Don and I were so hungry for theater we signed up immediately,” said Silpe, 82. “It started with local actors, and it grew and grew and now it is a major regional theater, which has produced original Tony Award-winning plays, attracted international directors, and is a major force in the theater world. And it started in the basement of the department store.”

She joined the board of directors 45 years ago and has become a lifetime member, even though she and Don left the frigid New England winters behind for the Palm Beaches long ago.

They wasted little time jumping into the local arts scene: Don became a board member at Dramaworks for nearly two decades, while Linda became a docent at the Norton Museum of Art, where she helped start an education program for aspiring docents.

“After we did that, I said to my husband, ‘They’re young, and after three or four years they get married and they leave.’ He said, ‘Where do they go?’ And I said, ‘They go to other museums. So? They then take that knowledge further, so that’s what we want.’”

Linda remains involved in the community as a member of the Armory Art Center executive committee, as a Norton docent and as a member of the Gallery Committee for the Ann Norton Sculpture Gardens, while Don is a member of the Dreyfoos School Board of Directors.

Linda Silpe said it’s important that the various cultural organizations across Palm Beach County work together.

“We enhance each other,” she said. “People who love ballet don’t necessarily care for opera, but you can cross-current a lot of the arts. That’s valuable; you learn much more that way. My serious cause is education. Whether it be art, music, physics, English, sex or history. I support education for all. Not the same education for all, but the availability of education for all, to build happier, healthier, safer individuals and communities.”

When the Silpes travel they often wind up in Manhattan, where they own a co-op and typically spend much of their time catching the latest shows in the theater district.

“We found that three in one day is too much, though we do occasionally do two,” she said. “My husband has been retired since 1989, when he was 49. We have spent our time going to theater, going to museums, having a good time. We fill it with the things we love.”

The Silpes have three children: a daughter Jennifer, who lives outside Burlington, Vermont, and is finance officer for the town of Underhill; son Greg, who is retired and lives in Palm Beach, and son Jay, an international trader who also lives in Palm Beach with the couple’s two grandchildren.

— Brian Biggane

Q: Where did you grow up and go to school? How do you think that has influenced you?
A: I grew up in West Hartford, Connecticut, where family and community were the center of lives. I ended up going to three high schools. I was in the first graduating class from Conrad High School. I did my undergraduate work at Boston University School for the Arts, then got a BSA [bachelor of science and arts degree] and a master’s in education and a master’s in art education from the University of Hartford.
Being engaged, whether through the PTA, politics or community centers, was a way of life for my family. It created a sense of personal importance, a responsibility to our hometown community.

Q: What professions have you worked in? What professional accomplishments are you most proud of?
A: My life-long profession has been education. As a public school art teacher for four years, I was paid to do what I loved, my only paying job. While raising my three children, I volunteered to teach art on a looser schedule in the town where I had been employed. And then I continued my devotion to education by volunteer teaching at a home for the aged, as well as teaching children with learning disabilities. I just loved the challenge of seeing eyes light up when students successfully met a challenge.
Later, I continued my educator role as vice chair of the Hartford Art School, as a regent at the University of Hartford, docent at the Norton Museum for more than 30 years, and board member and chair of the Armory Art Center in West Palm Beach. 
I am most proud of working with three other Norton docents 30 years ago to develop a curriculum to train future docents. We had all been art majors in college and felt new docents needed an art education background. We designed the program and then taught what we had designed because there was no staff to do it.
That grassroots project has morphed into a world-class docent training program at the Norton with a talented staff as part of a strong education department. I am thrilled with the outcome.

Q: What advice do you have for a young person seeking a career today?
A: Starting a career is just the opening of a door. Start with something you love. Where that opening will lead as you experience new challenges and opportunities unfold is what makes life exciting. So, once you go through that opening, keep looking around for new ideas, new pathways, new adventures.

Q: How did you choose to make your home in Manalapan?
A: We chose Manalapan because there was enough property for our teenagers to pursue all of the sports activities they loved without disturbing our neighbors. The ocean is at our back door for scuba diving, a tennis court, a dock for the boat and watercraft. Actually, the size of the property was the biggest draw.

Q: What is your favorite part about living in Manalapan?
A: The best part of living in Manalapan has been the small-town feel. We all know the town officials, and our Police Department know all of us, so when the town needs something residents always respond generously. Now we even have a supermarket. What could be better?

Q: What book are you reading now?
A: I am rereading Camus’ The Plague. I was compelled to read it during the early part of the COVID shutdown, and the similarities (to then and now) were breathtaking. But in the end, it sort of faded away. I am rereading it to see if it is the same book I read, or if time has changed it. Absurdism, which I hadn’t thought about since college, had pushed its way into everyday life. So, does it still seem relevant? That’s why I’m rereading it.

Q: What music do you listen to when you want to relax? When you want to be inspired?
A: I listen to Elvis, whose talent I didn’t appreciate as a teen, and ’50s and ’60s rock ’n’ roll. Surrounded by so many serious world challenges I revert to my innocent teenage years — sh-boom, sh-boom! Nothing serious, nothing sad, just moving to the beat.

Q: Have you had mentors in your life? Individuals who have inspired your life decisions?
A: When, as an elementary school student, I asked my mother about the Ten Commandments, she told me she only needed one: “Do unto others as you will have done unto you.” She explained that to her it covered all of them in one phrase. And I live by that as a goal, but of course sometimes fall short. 

Q: If your life story were to be made into a movie, who would play you?
A: Well, since it’s hypothetical, how about Audrey Hepburn? Beautiful (why not?), a woman who cared about people of the world, whose image of grace matches her life’s work outside of Hollywood.

Q: Is there something people don’t know about you but should?
A: When I am driving alone, I sing to my ’50s and Elvis stations, as loud as I can in my terrible off-key voice and love every second! (Well, I think my husband suspects this quirk.)

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