by Rachel Young
Learning he had been named grand marshal of next month’s Maritime Festival was beyond humbling for David Berson, who conducts daily tours of Greenport Harbor on his solar-powered boat Glory and provides no-cost educational programs to local children.
So you can imagine how Berson felt when he was told area filmmaker Tony Bettler had been commissioned by officials at the East End Seaport Museum & Maritime Foundation, which hosts the annual Greenport festival, to create a short documentary about his contributions to the community.
“Even my inbred New York City cynicism was overwhelmed with the honor,” the Bronx native and longtime Greenport resident, 67, said last week at Preston’s Dock, the Main Street site his 30-foot vessel has long called home. “And the honor is not mine. I’m just the antenna. I’m a reflection of everybody that’s doing good work out here.”
“Captain David Berson, Grand Marshal” will be screened at 6 p.m. Friday, Sept. 2, at the Greenport Theatre. In addition to offering a glimpse into Berson’s life as a sailor and celestial navigator, the roughly 30-minute film explores the free programs he has offered to Greenport School District students since 2008. Those initiatives, which are funded largely by donations from various individuals and community organizations, include weekly art, science and writing classes for fourth- and fifth-graders, a storybook workshop and a nature journal program.
“[Berson] creates a great environment out of the classroom,” said Bettler, a native of Switzerland. “The kids are participating really well.”
Starting in May, Bettler visited Berson Saturday mornings at Greenport’s Little Red Schoolhouse, where the boat captain helped students create decorative guitars and ukuleles. Their creations are currently on view in the front window of Colonial drugstore in downtown Greenport.
“We take a very strong interest in the children of this community — to provide them with the opportunity to enjoy art, music and science in an environment that’s less demanding than school,” said Berson, who operates the programs with his partner, Meg Bennett, under their 5013c Glory Going Green.
“It’s more of a Montessori model,” he continued. “I think it of as an Italian social club without the bocce.”
Lynn Summers, secretary and volunteer educational director at East End Seaport Museum & Maritime Foundation, called Berson a “spark plug of energy and education.”
“He really believes in what he does,” Summers said. “He has great ethics and principles and is totally devoted to children and education.”
Those values, she said, are reflected in Bettler’s film.
“You get the essence of what Greenport is all about, which is family and community and helping one another and being open to the future,” she said.
See the documentary
“Captain David Berson, Grand Marshal” will be screened at 6 p.m. Friday, Sept. 2, at the Greenport Theatre, 211 Front Street, Greenport. A donation of $5 per person benefits the East End Seaport Museum & Foundation. The annual Maritime Festival takes place Sept. 23-25 in downtown Greenport. Visit eastendmaritimefestival.org.