Monday, November 27, 2017

Ron Zeno Day

By C.J. Hirschfield

I’ve written before about longtime Fairyland friend Ron Zeno, who died in June. Ron was Fairyland’s beloved Santa for nearly two decades, as well as a Fairyland board member, a puppet-show voice artist and a regular reader at our Friday Toddler Storytime sessions.

Now I’m pleased to announce that Friday, Dec. 1, has been proclaimed “Ron Zeno Day” by Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf. We’ll be honoring Ron’s memory at Fairyland that day in several ways.

Ron Zeno reading "Please, Baby, Please" at Toddler Storytime.

First, we’ll read some of Ron’s favorite books at the 10:30 a.m. and 3 p.m. Toddler Storytimes. They include Please, Baby, Please by Spike Lee and Tanya Lewis Lee; Don't Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus by Mo Willems; and Knuffle Bunny by Mo Willems. Ron always read at least one of these books during his Storytimes.

“Ron’s rendition of Please, Baby, Please was just stunning,” recalls Fairyland children’s librarian Angela Moffett. “His pacing was perfect as he slowly drew out the mother's pleas for her child to behave, and he chuckled each time as if he was reading it for the first time. His delight with the story was so evident.”

Angela says that, as an African-American man, Ron offered children an unusual opportunity to see not just a male but a person of color in the role of Storytime provider.

“Librarianship is a field dominated by white women, and the majority of children experience Storytime in that context,” Angela says. “Of course, we all know this doesn't reflect the diversity of Oakland. Many children viewing Ron's Storytimes were treated to reading, singing and joyful literacy play modeled by someone who looked like them, perhaps for the first time.”

Ron’s deep, loud voice and happy laughter drew in children from all the attractions surrounding the Merry Meadow. As you can imagine, he is sorely missed.

Ron Zeno as Fairyland's Santa, with a young visitor.

Here’s another way we’re marking Ron Zeno Day: Every child who attends Storytime that day will receive a copy of One Love, a book Ron would have adored. Based on the song by Bob Marley, it’s described as “a testament to the amazing things that can happen when we all get together with one love in our hearts.”

"One Love," by Cedella Marley

And one more tribute to Ron: Through our friends at Saint Vincent’s Day Home in West Oakland, we’ll be giving away 25 free one-year family memberships. Ron was the first person who taught us that Fairyland is a therapeutic environment where family members can really connect. He also believed that every child in our community should be able to visit Fairyland regardless of their family’s ability to pay.

The last page of “One Love” shows a multicultural group of families around a tree in “One Love Park.” The accompanying text reads: “One heart, when we touch, a new world we’ll see.” On Friday, Dec. 1, Ron’s birthday, we’ll let him know that he brought us a little closer to being Oakland’s own One Love Park.

C. J. Hirschfield has served for 15 years as executive director of Children's Fairyland, where she is charged with the overall operation of the nation's first storybook theme park.

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