JACKSON TWP. Henry Winkler is known to many as "The Fonz" from the television show "Happy Days." Winkler is scheduled to appear as the first of four featured talks at Kent State Stark’s Featured Speaker series. This year’s schedule is sure to get the double thumbs up from "The Fonz" along with his signature word, "aaaay."
Winkler is featured on Oct. 10, Shannon Huffman Polson is scheduled for Nov. 15, Anthony Ervin on Feb. 27 and Cal Thomas with Juan Williams on April 12, 2018. All programs begin at 7:30 p.m. in the Conference Center’s Timken Great Hall at 6000 Frank Ave., NW in Jackson Township.
Director of External Affairs at Kent Stark, Tina Biasella, said the program is entering its 27th season and has never had to repeat a speaker.
"We are excited to bring this caliber of speakers to the Stark County community this year as we have every year," Biasella said. "We’ve never had to repeat a speaker in the almost three decades we’ve hosted the program. This year, all the speakers are thought leaders and they are all people that local residents don’t get to hear from on a regular basis. The goal of the Featured Speakers program is to provide the opportunity to the community and our students to hear from national speakers. We love providing this gift to the community and it’s an academic offering for our students," she said.
The speaker list is built every year by watching for trends and topics people in the area would be interested in learning more about. Biasella said it has been so popular over the years for a number of reasons such as the timely topics, free tickets and the quality of speakers. Biasella tries to provide speakers that address a broad range of ages and topics of interest.
Speakers from past years include Linda Ellerbee, Billie Jean King, Daymond John, Robert Kennedy Jr., Helen Thomas, Anderson Cooper and George Stephanopoulos. While each speaker generates his or her own level of attention, on average 500 to 600 people attend each talk.
"Henry Winkler will be one of those speakers that will generate a lot of interest because he has been in the public for multiple generations through television, movies and books. The tickets for his talk will go fast," Biasella said.
Winkler, one of the most recognized actors in the world, is scheduled to speak about overcoming adversity and reliving his storied career. He’s worked to bring awareness and support to children who learn differently by advocating for changes in the educational system. In addition to a successful film and television successes, he’s a best-selling children’s book author.
Shannon Huffman Polson will present "Lessons from the Grit Project." She is one of the first women to fly Apache combat helicopters in the U.S. Armed Forces.
Anthony Ervin will present "Chasing Waters: Elegy of an Olympian." He is a four-time Olympic medalist in swimming and was called the fastest person on the planet in 2000 in the 50-meter freestyle and again in the 2016 Rio Games.
Cal Thomas and Juan Williams will talk about "Why Our Leaders Consistently Fail to Meet on Common Ground." Both are national news icons.
Many of the speakers do more with the community than just the hour-long talk. Most will do a live video feed into local high schools and talk with students. Speakers like Billie Jean King signed 400 tennis balls before her talk began and then lobbed them into the audience at the end of her talk. Jack Hanna brought along a kangaroo and a flamingo.
Some hold press conferences in the afternoon where many of the journalism students from Kent State attend and ask questions. Biasella said that all of the speakers are gracious and honored to be a part of the series, especially when they see the other names of speakers who have come to the area through the program.
Tickets are free to all guests. Those wanting to attend are asked to pick the tickets up at Kent State University. Biasella said they have started opening the first day for tickets at 7:30 a.m. and then 8 a.m. every day after.
"People were letting us know they had to be at work at 8 a.m. and by the afternoon some of the tickets were all gone so they didn’t have a chance to get here. So we decided to open the first day of tickets for each speaker a half an hour earlier to accommodate those who work," Biasella said.
Tickets for Winkler are available starting this morning. Tickets are free with a limited number of tickets available per person. All tickets are available on a first-come, first-served basis. No phone and email reservations will be taken.
Visit www.kent.edu/featured-speakers-series for complete details on this year’s speakers.