Excitement and anticipation were in the air as more than 200 Barnum Festival supporters welcomed and congratulated Martin D. Schwartz of Fairfield as the 71st Ringmaster of The Barnum Festival. Recently retired as president and CEO of The Kennedy Center, Schwartz has been a longtime community leader and advocate.
Meet the Ringmaster Dinner, the kickoff event of one of the region’s annual traditions, took place to a packed, enthusiastic crowd at Testo’s Restaurant in Bridgeport. The dinner was donated by Testo’s and Luigi’s provided an assortment of Italian desserts.
As an added bonus, nearly a dozen former ringmasters – business and community leaders – from the past 25 years were in attendance to show their support. The group included Mickey Herbert, Michael Bisiglia, Robert Laska, Charles Carroll, Len Berger, Larry Merriam, Mayor Mark Lauretti, Michael Niedermeier, Armando Goncalves, Terry O’Connor and John Vazzano.
“We are happy to have Martin Schwartz as the 2019 Barnum Festival Ringmaster,” said Goncalves, market president of People’s United Bank and president of the Barnum Festival Board of Directors. “We are looking forward to building on this year’s theme ‘Everyone Counts,’ which aligns with PT Barnum’s legacy to bring fun and laughter to everyone. Under Marty’s leadership, this year we will have a great Barnum Festival. He will do a tremendous job representing all our communities.”
During his acceptance speech, Schwartz noted that “The Barnum Festival is an amazing organization that depends on the generosity of the community and the dedication of several hundred volunteers who work year-round on our many community events. Many of these talented volunteers have been involved in the Barnum Festival for 20, 30 or even 59 years.
“As ringmaster of the Barnum Festival, I have an opportunity to give back to the community in a big way,” he added. “I am truly honored to lead this major state festival and will be introducing new and exciting events. In keeping with this year’s theme ‘Everyone Counts,’ we will be embracing and supporting people with disabilities and donating part of the proceeds to support special needs children in Bridgeport.”
Schwartz retired from The Kennedy Center earlier this year. A champion for people with disabilities, he has touched the lives of thousands of families throughout Connecticut during his nearly 40 years as an executive and is nationally recognized in the rehabilitation field.
When Schwartz became the first President and CEO of The Kennedy Center in 1978, this small community-based rehabilitation organization was a grassroots nonprofit founded in 1951 by its namesake Evelyn Kennedy and 12 parents. At the time, the agency served under 200 adults with intellectual disabilities, employed 48 staff and operated with an annual budget of $776,000. Now headquartered in Trumbull, The Kennedy Center serves more than 2,000 individuals annually from birth through their senior years with a variety of disabilities, employs more than 750 staff and operates with an annual $32 million budget. The agency is one of the largest employers in the region and one of the largest rehabilitation organizations in the state of Connecticut.
Schwartz has received numerous local and national awards and accolades during his career at The Kennedy Center.
Organized in 1948 to help support local businesses and honor P.T. Barnum — a world-renowned showman and city leader — The Barnum Festival is a celebration of the city of Bridgeport and the surrounding area.