Q&A: Eugene Sekulow

July 1, 2019

Sharing a lifelong love of books

This article first appeared in the Spring 2019 issue of Planning Matters, a newsletter of the Office of Gift Planning.

To Eugene Sekulow, the greatest invention ever was Johannes Gutenberg’s printing press. So it may come as no surprise to learn that he is both an avid reader and a book collector. A graduate of the Krieger School of Arts and Sciences, he earned simultaneously his bachelor’s and master’s in political science and international relations in 1953 and followed these with a doctorate in 1960. He also served on the Hopkins faculty for several years before making an unexpected career change and moving to New York.

We caught up with the retired corporate executive and volunteer gardener to learn more about his decision to leave most of his book collection to the Sheridan Libraries and University Museums — a collection that will be valuable in supporting academic programs in Jewish Studies and political science.

What inspired your commitment to the Sheridan Libraries?
I always used the libraries at Johns Hopkins. The library was very important to me because I was a local student and lived at home. It was a good place to spend time between or after classes. I had a desk in one of the reading rooms, and books were everywhere. Can you imagine?

How does an academic end up working for an electronics company?
An RCA executive whom I met at a classmate’s wedding invited me to work for the company in Germany over the summer of ’60. By the way, that’s the summer I met my wife. I came back to Hopkins in the fall and left for New York in the winter of ’61 to work for RCA. I had a wonderful time and worked there for 24 years. Then I started the international business for NYNEX, which later became Verizon, and worked there for 11 years.

Tell us about the books in your collection.
It started out in the social sciences and narrowed down as I got more involved in academics, political science, American government, and politics. It includes books on foreign policy and biographies of public figures. I have quite a collection of books that deal with Nazi Germany and the Holocaust.

I used to travel to Berlin where there’s a square called Bebelplatz, and in that square, below the surface, you see empty bookshelves.That is where the Nazis burned the books. You don’t destroy a book. To me it’s a sacred object.

 

“I want it to be used. That’s what books are for.”

Eugene Sekulow, A&S, '53, '53 (MA), '60 (PhD) Donor and Johns Hopkins Legacy Society member

When were you first introduced to books?
As a young child. My grandfather was extremely well educated in Russia and very book inclined. I would read the letters in his books, and when I got one right, he would drop a penny from the sky and say, ‘You see. You are being rewarded by God because you’re studying.’

I love looking at books, touching them. I have to hold the book. I have to smell the paper. They’re like a security blanket, I guess. It’s the same thing as a kid with a stuffed animal toy.

What impact do you want your gift to make?
I want it to be used. That’s what books are for. First editions are wonderful and cherished, but they should be used also, if they are reasonably contemporary. If they’re rare, that’s another matter.

What do you do when you’re not collecting books?
I volunteer at the New York Botanical Garden doing what I always wanted to do. I started in the rose garden, and now I work on the chrysanthemum exhibit. I spend eight months on an exhibit that lasts two weeks, and I love it. That’s another story ….

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