WILKES-BARRE — Their feet were on Franklin Street, their minds were on literacy, but their hearts were in Havana.
Amid straw hats and tropical flowers, an estimated 300 guests gathered under a pastel-colored tent outside the Westmoreland Club on a balmy late summer night to raise funds for the Osterhout Free Library on Friday.
The theme for this year’s fundraising gala was “A Night in Havana,” with decor and music to match.
Eileen Song, president of the library’s board of directors, said the gala is Osterhout’s largest annual fundraising event, and organizers expect that Friday’s dinner/dance and auction will raise over $100,000 for the facility.
The Times Leader served as print media partner for the event.
It also served as an opportunity for the Osterhout to celebrate three people whose ongoing contributions have been invaluable to the library: Stephen J. Rosenthal was recognized as this year’s guest of honor, while Rose Marie and Joseph Panzitta were presented with the Evergreen Award.
Rosenthal, a library board member and past president, is a senior vice president, wealth management adviser, retirement benefits consultant and partner with Koehl, Youngman, Levy & Rosenthal Wealth Management Group at Merrill Lynch in Wilkes-Barre.
An area native and Wyoming Seminary graduate, Rosenthal has been a leader with numerous community and philanthropic organizations, including the Wyoming Seminary Board of Trustees, Leadership Wilkes-Barre, the Jewish Community Center, Temple Israel, the Westmoreland Club and B’nai B’rith.
The Panzittas, also born and raised in the Wyoming Valley, are known not just for Joseph’s founding of Panzitta Enterprises, but for the decades of service each has given to charitable organizations.
Rose Marie has been delivering Meals on Wheels since the 1970s, and is a member of the St. Vincent de Paul Kitchen board, and has been involved with the American Red Cross for many years, including as a blood donor. This year, at the age of 91, she received an honorary degree from King’s College for her decades of volunteer service.
Joseph is the oldest current member of the Wilkes-Barre Rotary Club and is a longtime member of the Irem Temple Shriners.
Together, the Panzittas chaired the building fund for the St. Mary of the Immaculate Conception Church parish hall addition, served on the Osterhout gala planning committee and have financially supported all the Osterhout galas, as well as other library fundraisers.
Song, who has been on the board for about five years and took over the helm as president this year, said the library relies on fundraising and donations to supplement other funding sources and support its work — work that she said is critical to promoting literacy and educational advancement for many in the community, especially young people and disadvantaged families.
And it’s not just about the books.
At the library, many who have no personal access to the Internet are able to use the Osterhout’s computers, she said, while its collection of books and periodicals is invaluable to young students.
“Many of us take for granted the ability to buy books that our children may need or going online on our own computers to find information,” Song said.