Campus Life

Fran and Michael Keilty to Receive 2019 Friend of the Green Award

The Gunnery will celebrate the joy of the holiday season by opening its campus to the Washington community on November 23 for its Annual Town Holiday Party. The event, which will be held from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. in Virginia Hamilton Solley Hall, will feature the presentation of the 2019 Friend of the Green Award to Fran and Michael Keilty.
The Friend of the Green Award is presented annually by The Gunnery to honor an individual or group that has contributed to the well-being of the town of Washington through their volunteer efforts. 

Since 2003, the Keiltys have owned the Hickory Stick Bookshop, which has been a welcoming presence in Washington Depot for nearly 70 years, and continues to serve as a community hub. In addition to supporting local authors, the shop hosts a writers group, an in-store book club and community events, including a new open mic night co-sponsored by 9 Main Bakery & Deli in New Preston. The Hickory Stick is a beacon for adult book lovers near and far, who make the shop a destination, and young readers, who can often be found sprawled across the floor of the children’s section with a new book or toy.

“What bookstores offer is a sense of community, a gathering place for people,” Fran Keilty said when asked why she believes the Hickory Stick has endured, and why it is important for it to continue. “Our philosophy is to say yes, except for when there is a compelling reason not to say yes.”

A large part of the shop’s appeal comes from the many well-known local authors the Keiltys have hosted over the past 16 years.  They include children’s authors and illustrators Wendell and Florence Minor, Nancy Tafuri and Mary Pope Osborne, and adult fiction and nonfiction writers Frank Delaney, Frank McCourt, Ann Leary, Florence de Dampierre, Stuart Woods, Dani Shapiro, Amy Julia Becker, Susanna Salk, Nan Rossiter and Marie Bostwick, and many more.

“Independent bookstores are the backbone of community,” said Shapiro, who is the author of The New York Times best-selling memoir, “Inheritance,” as well as four other memoirs and five novels. “When we first moved to Litchfield County, the very first establishment I walked into was the Hickory Stick. To find a well-curated, warm, welcoming bookstore in the heart of my new town made me feel right at home. As I’ve been on tour for my latest book, whenever I’m back home I stop in, see my friends, and re-charge.”

Wendell Minor, who is nationally known for the artwork he has created for over 50 award-winning children's books, and as the cover artist and designer of over 2,000 books for authors Pat Conroy, David McCullough, Fannie Flagg, and Nathaniel Philbrick, among others, described the Hickory Stick and other independent bookstores as “the lifeline of the community.”

“Fran does a beautiful job coordinating the events. I can’t imagine Washington without the Hickory Stick. It’s just impossible for me to conjure,” he said.

“It was always a stop along the way home from picking up our daughter from school,” said Tafuri, the Caldecott Award-winning children’s author and illustrator. “‘Let’s go to the bookstore, Mommy!’ she would ask when we started down the hill into Washington Depot and we always did!”

“It is a gem and we are fortunate to have such a thriving indie in our community, and all the credit goes to Fran and Michael and their knowledgeable staff,” said Rossiter, who started out as a children’s book author and is now a New York Times bestselling author of adult fiction books. “When all of my children's books were going out of print, she showed ‘Sugar on Snow’ to the esteemed publisher, David R. Godine, and encouraged him to reprint it – which he did. David and I became fast friends and he went on to publish another children's book of mine called ‘The Fo’c’sle.’ It was all thanks to Fran and I'm eternally grateful!”

“Fran always has a warm smile and a hug when I stop in, and she's always ready and willing to host a signing, as she does for so many authors. I think it's wonderful that they're receiving this award – it's well deserved!” Rossiter said.

As if running a bookshop weren’t enough, Fran Keilty is a longstanding member of the Washington Business Association, served as its President for six years, and is currently Vice President. She is a member of the Washington Economic Development Committee, and is Washington’s representative on the Western Connecticut Convention and Visitors Bureau, which promotes tourism in Fairfield County and Northwestern Connecticut.

Outside of Washington, Keilty served as President of the New England Independent Booksellers Association for two years and for five years as President of the Independent Booksellers Consortium. She also has been active in the town of Morris, which she and Michael have called home since 1974, serving on the Region 6 Board of Education for 13 years, including two years as Chair, on the Morris Planning & Zoning Commission, the Morris Library Board, and the Northwest Connecticut Arts Council Board.

The Keiltys are owners of Maple Spring Farm in Morris, which was the first organic farm in Litchfield County. The picturesque, 35-acre farm includes a 110-foot-long red barn, ponds, meadows and a sprawling white farmhouse, the oldest portion of which dates to the late 1700s. This is where the Keiltys’ three children, Elizabeth, Michael and Bryan, grew up, and where their seven grandchildren come to visit. It is where Michael Keilty raises Cheviot sheep, a smaller breed known for its wool, along with hens and cows, vegetables, herbs and medicinal plants. The same flock of sheep has been in his family for 75 years, and were part of a flock his father shepherded for the artist Lauren Ford, one of the founders of the Benedictine abbey in Bethlehem. 

Aside from tending the farm, Keilty worked until 2017 at the University of Connecticut, Storrs, as a sustainable agriculture research associate in the Department of Plant Science. Over the course of his nearly 20-year career at UConn, he coordinated a wide variety of sustainable agriculture programs and co-edited a book, “Alternative Health Practices for Livestock,” which was at the forefront of the movement to enhance the health of food animals by reducing excessive antibiotic, hormone and steroid use. Keilty worked with livestock producers, veterinarians and extension educators from Maine to West Virginia, conducting seminars, speaking at conferences and teaching at UConn, the University of Massachusetts and the University of Rhode Island. 

Keilty is the founding chair of the Connecticut Community Gardening Association, has hosted programs for the Northeast Organic Farming Association of Connecticut (CTNOFA), and worked with the USDA’s Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) state coordinators in Connecticut, Massachusetts and Rhode Island. He is a member of the Connecticut Food Policy Council, which meets monthly, and of the Governor’s Council on Agriculture Development, which meets quarterly to enhance local farming initiatives in Connecticut. 

Past recipients of the Friend of the Green Award have included: Denise DeVault Trevenen (2018); Lake Waramaug Association, accepted by co-presidents Anne Block and Gail Berner (2017); the Washington Lions Club, accepted by John Quist, president (2016); Sheila Anson, Washington’s Town Clerk and Vice Chairman of the Parks and Recreation Commission (2015); the Institute of American Indian Studies (2014); JoAnne Torti of the After School Arts Program (2013); The Washington Fire Department and Washington Town Hall employees, accepted by First Selectman Mark Lyon and Fire Chief Mark Showalter (2012); Kirsten Peckerman, Steep Rock Association board member (2011), and Phil and Gretchen Farmer P’05, board members and past presidents of the Gunn Memorial Library and Museum (2010).

In the spirit of giving this holiday season, guests are asked to bring a nonperishable food item or financial donation to support the Washington/Warren Food Bank. Washington residents may RSVP to Jess Baker, Associate Director of Alumni & Parent Engagement, at (860) 350-0145.
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Founded in 1850 by abolitionist, educator, and outdoorsman Frederick Gunn, The Gunnery is a coeducational college preparatory boarding and day school for students in grades 9 through 12/post-graduate. Dedicated teacher-mentor-coaches challenge students to reach their full potential in a home-like setting where character and citizenship are valued as much as intellect and achievement. Individualized attention and high expectations help young learners develop not only the skills and confidence they will need in college, but also the moral compass and love of learning that will serve them well in life. The school attracts ambitious, academically curious students who will both shine as unique individuals and thrive as contributing members of a deeply connected community. By the time they graduate, Gunnery students have become well rounded, grounded young adults with a sharpened sense of who they are and who they want to become.