Winkler coming to Jackson County

RIPLEY – Actor and writer Henry Winkler, who played The Fonz on “Happy Days,” will be in Jackson County schools in October.

Jane Winters, regional affiliates manager for Our Community’s Foundation, said Winkler will speak to students in the third through fifth grades. Our Community Foundation is sponsoring the visit.

Winters said this is the third year the foundation will bring a writer, singer or artist to the schools to talk with the students. Past guests included three artisans from Tamarack; in 2012 West Virginia writer Homer Hickam, author of “The Rocket Boys,” spoke to students and in 2013 Kathy Mattea, a singer and native of Cross Lanes, W.Va., was featured.

“When we had Homer Hickam we told his agents we were looking for someone with an inspirational story to talk with our students,” she said. “It turns out Hickam and Winkler are represented by the same agency and they told us about Winkler’s books and struggle with dyslexia. We worked on this hard for a long time.”

Winkler has co-authored 17 novels in the series “Hank Zipzer: The World’s Greatest Under-Achiever” with Lin Oliver. Winters said the books have been on the New York Times best seller list and are the basis for a PBS series by the same name.

In the series the main character has the same learning problem Winkler had and Winkler plays the character based on his favorite teacher who encouraged him.

Winkler has said the books give him his greatest source of pride and accomplishment.

While Winkler is known to many for playing the character Arthur “The Fonz” Fonzarelli on “Happy Days” on ABC from January 1974 to September 1984, it is his intellectual accomplishments that will be the focus for Winkler’s school and community presentations.

“Hank Zipzer is a boy with learning challenges, and of course, this fact is central to the novels. But just as Hank doesn’t let his challenges define him, neither do we let the issue of learning differences define the books. The Hank Zipzer novels are intended for every child who loves to laugh, who loves comic adventure, and who relates to a funny, resourceful, glass half-full type of hero,” Winkler and Oliver wrote in a letter to the teachers about their children’s novel series.

Winters said Winkler will address 1,300 Jackson County students on Oct. 16 and make a rare public appearance for the Jackson County Community Foundation Benefit that evening at the Armed Forces Reserve Center in Millwood.

Winters said they are within a few tickets of selling out for Henry Winkler’s appearance.

“We’ve had large crowds for the others but we are within three or four tickets of selling out, almost two months early,” she said.

Winters said Winkler will speak to the children in two groups, one from 10:30 to 11:30 a.m. at Ripley High School and the second group from 1 to 2 p.m. at Ravenswood High School.

Winter said at Winkler’s request there will be no media coverage of his talks to the students.

“He sees the presence of TV cameras and reporters as a distraction,” she said. “However, he will speak with the media at the Jackson County Board of Education between his visits.”

On Friday students in Jackson County Schools were introduced to the Hank Zipzer series in a special “back-to-school” treat with volunteers reading books from the series to the students.

“We are so happy you will be using the Hank Zipzer books in your classroom,” Winkler and Oliver wrote. “Writing these books has been a pleasure for us, a true work of the heart, and we hope you feel our enthusiasm on every page.

“A primary intent of our books is to offer a totally enjoyable reading experience for children. We also hope to teach children that the world is theirs, that they can achieve their dreams and overcome any obstacle in their path. Through persistence, positivity and a strong support group of friends and family, Hank’s journey is ultimately successful. If he can do it, you can that’s the attitude we hope our readers will take away.”

“We never dreamed of having someone of Mr. Winkler’s fame and talent in our schools,” said Blaine Hess, superintendent of Jackson County Schools. “I know our students will be motivated by his inspirational story of overcoming challenges. We are looking forward to featuring his Hank Zipzer book series in our elementary school reading programs this year.”

After “Happy Days” ended Winkler turned to producing and directing shows and currently has a role on the USA Network series “Royal Pains” as Eddie R. Lawson, a charming but long-absent con-artist father. Winkler found he could use his position to help others, particularly children. Groups with which he is associated include United Friends of the Children, Children’s Action Network, Toys for Tots campaign, The National Committee for Arts for the Handicapped, Special Olympics, and the Los Angeles Music Center’s Very Special Arts Festival for Children.

Tickets and table sponsorships can be reserved for the benefit by contacting the organization’s office at 716 W. Main St. in Ripley; by calling the foundation at 304-372-8588; or through email at jane.winters@pacfwv.com.

The Jackson County Community Foundation is an affiliate of the Parkersburg Area Community Foundation and Regional Affiliates, a nonprofit public charity created by local citizens to build permanent endowment funds and issue grants and scholarships to meet community needs.