“As long as there is a good book next to me, I don’t feel lonely,” Ridgewood Public Library Foundation (RPLF) Past President Melanie Stern says with her trademark smile that holds an air of the mystery one of her favorite characters might possess. And while she is an open book when sharing her passion for the Library, Melanie’s own interesting backstory is largely untold. Undoubtedly, the memoirs of this journalist turned oil broker turned entrepreneur—not to mention working mother, volunteer and philanthropist extraordinaire—would be a page-turner.
Like many a fictional heroine, Melanie has always cherished time for thinking, introspection and, of course, reading. Her childhood summers on Long Island included frequent trips to the library with her mother and sister, where she had to “get decent-sized books” that satisfied her intellectual appetite as she devoured one story after another.
Graduating quickly from youthful favorites such as Black Stallion and every one of the Nancy Drew series to grownup classics including Gone With the Wind and Tom Jones, Melanie developed a particular fondness for the writing of Jane Austen and her authorial descendants like Edith Wharton and Henry James. “Maybe I was English in a previous life,” Melanie remarks, adding with a laugh, “Masterpiece Theater and I are one.”
In fact, Melanie’s genre of choice remains the historical fiction that both fascinates and educates. She also enjoys a good mystery, citing Stephen King and Ridgewood’s own Harlan Coben among her favorites. While finding time for book clubs has been challenging, Melanie looks forward to exchanging book feedback and suggestions with her mother and sister, who lives in Minnesota and has been known to spoil her nieces and nephew with literary gifts.
Melanie’s young adulthood chapter, graduating early from NYU and earning a graduate degree from Georgetown’s prestigious School of Foreign Service, had the potential to become a spy thriller. Melanie actually considered working for the CIA—“you can assume another identity like you can through books”—but instead brought her analytical skills and inquisitive mind briefly to the Department of Energy and then to a petroleum industry trade publication.
Before long, Melanie became partner in an oil company that she co-owned for 25 years. She credits her late father, a CPA, as a role model who worked for himself and showed her how to “get the nerve and go out there and do that.” Another business venture with her daughter, Stephanie—designing and making fashionable ski helmet covers, Helmet Huggers—functions primarily from the family home and engages the talents of the entire family, including another daughter, Natalie, as well as son, Jordan, and husband, David.
This same creative and collaborative entrepreneurial spirit informs Melanie’s generous volunteer service. As RPLF President from 2006-2013, Melanie focused on building structure and recruiting others to join her. She inaugurated the successful challenge match appeal and spearheaded creation of the website and annual donor appreciation event. Even now, after turning over the reins to Betsy Giordano this past summer, Melanie is leading RPLF’s Planned Giving Committee, which has launched a “challenge” of its own: inviting initial donors who commit to a planned gift—such as a bequest, charitable trust or beneficiary designation—of $50,000 or more by October 31, 2014 to join her as part of the RPLF Pease Planned Giving Society’s Founders Circle.
Indeed, connecting the past, present and future is a central theme in the life of Melanie Stern. “Before computers, I had a book my mother gave me where I wrote down every title I read,” she fondly recalls. “I’ll have to look for that when I have time,” she muses as she gets ready to set off on her next adventure.