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Game Changing

History has a way of making itself heard. Be it through its own actions or the words of those who observe its passing, history makes an indelible mark on the lives of each and every one of us every single day.

Dr. Bill Thierfelder considers himself both a teacher and a student of history. A Bayport resident, Thierfelder holds a regular series lectures, entitled “Game Changers,” at local area libraries, including his most recent on the Salem Witch Trials at the Plainview-Old Bethpage Library. For many years he was a professor of liberal arts at Dowling College in Oakdale. He retired from full-time teaching in 2010 and is now a part-time docent tour guide at the Museum of Natural History, in addition to spending his free time dabbling in writing, photography and artwork.

“I’m busier now than I was when I had a full-time day job,” he said.

A liberal arts teacher for many years, Thierfelder has a strong interest in history; in fact, the doctor noted the two go hand in hand.

“My major focus when I was teaching was art, music and literature, with an emphasis on the literature, but to teach that properly I would always include the historical context,” he said. “I’ve always been a history buff...I’m always watching The History Channel, The History Channel 2, and so on.”

Over the years, Thierfelder had been holding various presentations at local area libraries for close to 20 years on a variety of different subjects. Three years ago, in order to call attention to truly pivotal circumstances in world history, he began to develop a poignant new lecture series that he dubbed “Game Changers.”  

“I wanted to focus on people or historical events that really changed the way we are today...literally ‘Game Changers.’ Things that truly made our lives different,” he said. “For example, today we’re discussing the Salem Witch Trials, which becomes an automatic game changer primarily because it is as a result of those trials that we have, in the American judicial system, the whole notion of being innocent until proven guilty...which is the exact opposite of what the English court system had been.”

Other subjects of Thierfelder’s Game Changers series have included English naturalist and geologist Charles Darwin; “Freedom Summer,” an important period during the Civil Rights movement; the beginning of life on Earth; and “Founding Mothers,” which examines great women, such as Abigail Adams, who helped to found the U.S. The presentations typically consist of screening documentary footage pertaining to the topic accompanied by running commentary by Thierfelder. This is followed by a Q&A session with the audience.

Reaction to his series has been enthusiastically positive, Thierfelder said. The audiences he tends to attract are life long learners, looking to soak up knowledge like a sponge...in other words, his kind of people.

“The thing that I always hope for is that when you give a presentation like this, it will make people think,” he said. “More than one person has come up to me after my lectures and said, ‘I didn’t know that!’ And that’s the coolest thing to hear.”

Thierfelder has developed quite a following throughout the years. Judy Smith of Syosset fully admits to rabidly following him from lecture to lecture, doing so to the point of even altering travel plans so as not to miss a single one.

“I’m a Thierfelder groupie. I have changed reservations so I don’t miss one of his lectures,” she said. “First of all, he’s extremely intelligent, and he presents it in such an entertaining and engaging way so that even if it was a subject that you didn’t think you would be interested in, you will be by the time he’s finished.”

Bernard Braver of Plainview is another long time Thierfelder fan, making certain to keep up with the various appearances he makes at area libraries.

“He knows his subject matter and puts on a great presentation,” he said. “Time just flies by, and you want his lectures to be even longer because of that. I always make sure I attend all of his seminars...Bill is a vastly intelligent and entertaining man.”

At a period in most people’s lives where they’re winding down, Thierfelder’s energy and passion for what he does is inspiring. This is a man who still has quite a bit to accomplish in his lifetime, and he’s determined not to waste a single second in doing so.

“I don’t know the meaning of ‘wind down,’ and I have to say that I’ve always felt that way,” he said. “I am one of those wonderfully lucky people who is always been able to get up every morning and look forward to the day, and not many people can say that about their job. But the biggest thing is that this isn’t like a job to me...it’s about discovering new things and talking and sharing them with people.

Besides the Plainview library. Thierfelder has lectures upcoming at the Jericho Public Library, as well as the Manhasset Public Library. For more information on Thierfelder and his schedule, visit www.makingwings.net.