Our Town with William Kelly: Michele Kessler named PBS’s Star of Education for 2021

William Kelly  |  Our Directors  |  Our Town  |  December 6, 2021

Michele Kessler, a longtime champion of education and a prominent community leader and philanthropist, is being honored with this year’s PBS Star of Education award.

Kessler is immediate past chair of the South Florida PBS Board of Directors and vice chair of the Palm Beach Civic Association’s policy-making Executive Committee.

She is the founder of the South Florida PBS’s annual Stars of Education Soirée. The award pays tribute to a distinguished individual or family who has made an indelible and lasting impact on education in the community, especially for the underserved.

Kessler is the sixth recipient of the annual honor. Each year, the honoree highlights the work and achievements of non-profit organizations that they support.

“It’s very, very humbling,” Kessler said. “People sort of acknowledge things you like to do as being good for the community. I’m lucky that I get to do these things.”

Kessler has chosen to highlight the Palm Beach Zoo & Conservation Society, where she is chairman of the board of directors; the Massachusetts General Hospital Leadership Council for Psychiatry, which she co-founded; and the Town of Palm Beach United Way, of which she is past board chairman.

Kessler said she originated the Stars of Education concept to raise money for education while boosting awareness about charitable works in the community. A video about the highlighted organizations is shown on PBS for 30 days, she said.

“You learn about the people and then you see what they have done,” she said.

Past Star of Education award recipients include Amelia Fanjul, the late Bill Finneran, now-Mayor Danielle Moore, Bob Wright, CEO and chairman of the Civic Association; and James Patterson.

This year’s fund-raising dinner and award ceremony will be on Wednesday, Dec.8 at Club Colette. Laurie Silvers, former co-chair of PBS South Florida, is co-chairing the evening with the organization’s incoming board chairman, Dr. Michael Zinner.

The event is sold out with a wait list, according to Sandra K. Baker, managing director of development for South Florida PBS. Proceeds will benefit PBS’s Kids and Education programming.

“Every year it has grown in dollars,” Kessler said. “We don’t intend to ever outgrow the space. We cap it at 100 people.”

Kessler’s previous honors include the 2007 Women of Distinction award from Palm Beach Atlantic University; the 2012 Ellis Island Medal of Honor; and the Town of Palm Beach United Way’s Alexis de Tocqueville Society’s Distinguished Citizen Award in 2017.

Civic Association President Mary Robosson said Kessler is a genuine and kind-spirited role model who speaks through her actions. She also has a wonderful sense of humor, Robosson added.

“How many people do you know who can champion multiple nonprofit community causes, like the Palm Beach Zoo, PBS and Palm Beach Civic Association, attend several board meetings in a given day, return phone calls and emails, then go out and play a friendly game of golf, sinking every putt?” Robosson said. “There’s only one Michele Kessler.”

Patterson, who is a Civic Association director, said he has observed Kessler at work with South Florida PBS and in other capacities.

“What makes her so special is her passionate love of every project she works on and her professionalism,” Patterson said. “You don’t always get ‘passionate’ and ‘professional’ in the same human being.”

Robert Nederlander, a member of the Civic Association’s Executive Committee, said Kessler is an “outstanding individual” who understands how to resolve problems.

“We couldn’t have a more dedicated person to Palm Beach, for what she has done generally for the community,” he said. “I admire her and certainly we’re all happy that she spends time in the Palm Beach area to further people’s needs.”

Wright said Kessler has for many years been a major supporter of many non-profit organizations, especially in education and for South Florida PBS.

“She has made PBS here in the county much stronger than it had ever been,” Wright said. “She is also a very strong supporter of the Palm Beach Civic Association. She and her husband [Howard Kessler] are just very generous people. They offer their money, their home and their time to get deeply involved.”

Howard Kessler will also be recognized at Wednesday’s ceremony for being “equally committed to improving the quality of life for the residents of South Florida and beyond,” Baker said.

The Kesslers have two sons and four grandchildren and divide their time between their homes in Palm Beach and Massachusetts.

South Florida PBS is Florida’s largest public media company. Its mission is to create and present arts, education and cultural heritage programming, and tell different local stories across a variety of digital media platforms.

It includes stations WXEL-TV, which serves the Palm Beaches and the Treasure Coast; WPBT2, which serves Miami-Dade and Broward counties; and the Health Channel, a 24/7 television and multi-platform health and wellness service.

The Civic Association’s mission is to protect and enhance the quality of life in Palm Beach by educating and engaging residents about important issues that affect them.

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