By MORGAN SOLOMON, Montana State News
It is a rare occurrence to see Jack and Barbara Kligerman apart. Anything they do with passion and joy, they do together.
“It would just be odd if I wasn’t participating in activities with Jack. We just have always shared the same passions and thus always wanted to do the same things,” Barbara Kligerman said.
Jack and Barbara are recent winners of the Cornerstone award, presented to them by the Bozeman Public Library for their tireless services to the library and the literary community. They are the first couple to win the award.
“Barbara and Jack are very much a ‘couplet’ and deserve to be recognized jointly for all of their contributions to the library and our community,” said Paula Beswick, the library’s foundation director.
The Kligermans have organized many readings at the library in the past four years and have been volunteering there for 11 years. The two have managed fundraisers and participated in the book club.
They are also members of the Community Food Co-Op, a Bozeman hiking club and teach courses in arts and literature through Montana State University’s Extended University.
“Their expertise in literature and theater really help the room come alive,” DeOpsomer said of their involvement with the community readings at the library.
The two met at University of Syracuse in New York where Jack Kligerman received a master’s in English while Barbara completed her own master’s degree in audiology.
“We would study in the music room together, and I think it was our classical music class and our love for it that was one of the things that drew us together,” said Barbara. “And of course they would always play romantic classical music in there — (I don’t know) how we ever studied.”
Indeed what brought Jack and Barbara first together was their devotion to arts and literature, but they acquired these passions through two very different circumstances.
Jack’s first play he ever saw was “J.B.” on his way back from visiting a brother in Massachusetts.
“I actually had gotten lost in the Bronx and my muffler had fallen off, so I decided to see what it was all about while I waited for help,” said Jack. “It was really quite random.”
Jack was 20 years old at the time when he finally fell in love with theater. Conversely, Barbara had been brought up with parents that loved musical theater and exposed her to it at a young age.
“My parents had a radio on top of a cabinet and every Saturday I would pull up a chair, and press my ear to it and listen to the show ‘Let’s Pretend,’” Barbara whispered excitedly. “I was just transported every time.”
Jack and Barbara got married in 1962 and moved to California where Jack obtained a doctorate in English from Berkley College.
During that time they had two children — a daughter and a son. Although they struggled financially because of the costs of raising two kids and going to school, they made the best with what they had.
“Our night out included taking the kids to a Mexican restaurant in town where you could order a huge plate of beans and rice for a $1.45,” said Barbara.
Soon after Jack graduated from Berkley, they returned to New York where he obtained a position teaching English at Lehman College in the Bronx. He would hold a position there for the next 35 years.
“They had an exchange program there where I could exchange places with a professor and their family abroad and teach there,” Jack said. “Our first exchange was in London.”
While in London the Kligermans enjoyed the luxury of being able to see as many performances and musical productions as they wanted.
“London was so full of theater and music and arts,” said Barbara, “and we could go to all of them because we didn’t have to pay rent with the exchange program and it was so easy to get around for free.”
Jack and Barbara found a balance between supporting and spending time with their children and fulfilling dreams that only few couples can achieve.
“I would go to the matinée while Jack stayed with the kids, and he would go to the night show,” Barbara said.
Besides watching plays and musical productions, the Kligermans spent a lot of time traveling in order to help their children become “local tourists” at an early age.
“London was the first time we hitchhiked abroad and we did it with two little children. But that was a long time ago when it was OK,” said Barbara, waving her hand with a wink.
The Kligermans continued to travel with the help of the academic exchange program to China and France, living in each country for one year. They also managed to travel to other countries during the times that school wasn’t in session.
“In 1975 my parents took my brother and I to Peru, where they tended to push the envelope,” said their daughter Rachel Laudon. “On our way to Machu Picchu from Cusco, we were late for the train. They threw us through the train windows with all the bags so that we could all get seats. The train started leaving without them!”
Luckily, Jack and Barbara managed to get the train to stop so that they could get on and reunite with their children.
“Rachel could probably tell you so many horror stories,” Barbara laughed. “She would probably tell you about the time at one hostel we stayed in, where there was an old hag that managed it. She had such a long crooked nose that came down to her chin and the children thought for sure she was going to eat them.”
Yet, Laudon attributes who she is today as a result of the lifestyle her parents exposed her to and the many experiences she had as a child.
“Although, I can tell you so many horror stories about my travels with my parents, I have to say they have made me colorful,” said Laudon. “Living and traveling in all those places has allowed me to acknowledge how I want to live my life.”
In September 1992 Laudon moved to Bozeman and 10 years later the Kligermans decided to join their daughter and grandchildren.
“There were a lot of reasons why we moved to Bozeman,” said Barbara. “Rachel had her second baby, 9/11 happened, Jack’s mother, who we were taking care of, passed away, and we started thinking it was time to retire. We had a large house that was old and hard to pay for — we decided it was time.”
Now that the Kligermans have retired, they devote their time to volunteering and sharing their experiences and passions with others. The Cornerstone Award is one way that the Bozeman community has chosen to recognize their efforts.
When asked why she thought her parents devote so much time to volunteering Laudon said, “My parents want to share life with people — to allow people to experience new things.”
– Edited by Kaitlyn Nicholas