The Irena Sendler Family & CastLearn more about the people involved...
Irena Sendlerowa: Courage and Valor
Irena Sendler, born in 1910, in Warsaw, Poland, was raised by her parents to respect and love people regardless of their ethnicity or social status. She grew up in the town of Otwock, Poland. Her father, a physician, died from typhus that he contracted during an epidemic in 1917. He was the only doctor in his town of Otwock, near Warsaw who would treat the poor, mostly Jewish community of this tragic disease. As he was dying, he told 7-year-old Irena, “If you see someone drowning you must try to rescue them, even if you cannot swim.”
When World War II started in 1939, Irena immediately started protecting her Jewish friends in Warsaw. She worked as a social services director in Warsaw. She would make false documents for Jews in the city and had already started gathering her famous rescue network. When the Warsaw Ghetto was erected in 1940, Irena saw the danger ahead. When liquidation started in 1942, Irena and her network accelerated the rescue process. The number 2,500, in connection with children rescued, is estimated by Irena and historians to be of this division. About 800 were taken from the Warsaw Ghetto, many of which were orphans. Approximately the same number were in orphanages and convents, Irena and her network assisted in the hiding of these children.
Also, while working with the underground organization, Zegota, Irena and her network would assist in the hiding of about 900 children and many adults in homes around the city. Irena was caught by the Gestapo and almost killed in 1943. She escaped Pawiak prison and stayed in hiding for most of the rest of the war. Irena received world-wide recognition after the Life in a Jar project first visited Poland. In the 1960s she had been recognized by Yad Vashem but the Communist authorities agitated her continuously.
Irena passed on in 2008. Her legacy is carried on in many ways, including the Life in Jar play, which is presented around North America and the world.
Norm Conard: Educator
Norm Conard taught social studies at Uniontown High School in Uniontown for 20 plus years, he has left the classroom to develop an international education center. The Lowell Milken Center celebrates unsung heroes in history.
A third generation educator, Mr. Conard made sure that his teaching style exceeded traditional classroom boundaries by encouraging his students to develop projects of tolerance and diversity. His dream and the dream of his students was to develop a foundation which can assist schools and students across the country to develop such projects….like Life in a Jar. One of his great sources of pride is having seen over 200 of his students win state history championships and 80 of his students achieve national recognition in the National History Day Competition.
Mr. Conard says, “Irena Sendler has changed my life and the lives of my students. She continues to make a huge difference in our world.”
Norman still works with the original student founders of the projects, all of which are in their 30’s. “Mr. C.” has won a number of state and national teaching awards including the National Teacher Hall of Fame.
Megan Stewart Felt: Project Founder
During my freshman year in high school, I asked to be in a National History Day project. We found the story of an amazing woman; our research began there. We thought the project would end after the national competition but, to our surprise, the project had taken a life of its own.
The first time I met Irena, I was amazed by her wisdom and grace. Her courage and love could tear down any barrier. She challenged us to continue her story and inspire others. This a tremendous but rewarding task we will all try to achieve for the rest of our lives.
- In high school Megan was named a National Coca-Cola Scholar for her community service. She was also selected to the 2nd team USAToday All-American Academic Team for 2003.
- Megan is a graduate of Pittsburg State University in Pittsburg, Kansas. She was nominated for the BRICK award, as one of the ten outstanding young adults in ‘changing the world’ from the United States.
- Megan continues to work in the project and perform in ‘Life in a Jar.’ She travels to each presentation, works on our Life in a Jar film, does individual presentations and stays heavily involved in the project. She has participated in over 370 Life in a Jar presentations.
- Megan married Kenny Felt on June 3, 2006. Wedding photos are in the ‘photo gallery.’
- Megan was very close to Irena Sendler, through visits and mail. Megan has played the role of Irena for many years. Irena passed away on May 12th, Megan’s birthday.
- Megan graduated in May 2015 with her Masters in Educational Leadership from Pittsburg State University.
Elizabeth Cambers-Hutton: Project Founder
Jaime Walker: Former Cast Member
Jaime, for ten years, portrayed three characters, including the blackmailer, Mrs. Rosner, and Sister Matylda Getter in the Life in a Jar performance.
She says the following, “Until a few years ago, I spent the entirety of my life in Ottawa, Kansas. I attended Sacred Heart Catholic School in my younger years and went on to graduate valedictorian from Ottawa High School. As college approached, I became frighteningly aware that I didn’t want to leave the sanctuary of my parents’ home. Though, with their support I was able to choose Pittsburg State University and attended my first semester in the Fall of 2004 as a Business Finance Major. It was an absolute blessing to have met Megan (Stewart) Felt in class one day, and I will never forget when she asked me to become a part of this project.
“Although I didn’t feel worthy to take on such a cause, my faith has always led me to achieve more than I think possible. My heart won me over quickly, and I joined in November of 2005. My words cannot begin to justify the emotions exuded with each performance as they are genuine and from the heart. Irena Sendler is a woman whose morale and courage I aspire to. As she has become my hero, I hope that she too will also become yours.”
Jaime graduated in May 2007, earning the distinction of cum laude, with a degree in business finance from Pittsburg State University in Pittsburg, Kansas. She received her M.A. in 2009 and works at the Federal Reserve in Kansas City.
She visited Irena in Poland in April/May of 2008, saying, “Her (Irena’s) presence alone and grace especially astound me. My tears are not salty, but sweet. I cry tears of happiness, for in this life’s moment, I have lived a momentous life. It’s our message, our legacies that continue when we do not. Irena has the greatest and strongest of all. I still may not feel worthy to represent her life as I do, but I promised her I would honor her with a life of tolerance and kindness.”
Sabrina Coons-Murphy: Project Founder
Sabrina is from a military family and moved almost every 2-3 years, until she was a junior in high school. Right before her junior year of high school her family moved to Southeast Kansas. She attended a small high school in Uniontown, KS. Growing up she was always extremely shy and quiet because she was always the new kid, it seemed to all change after she became part of this project. She remembers Mr. Conard asking her after class one day if she would be interested in working on a project for National History Day. At the time she had no idea what we were going to do for a project or how it would take on a life of its own. She has had the opportunity to visit Irena in Poland twice. As of now she presents all over the Midwest telling the story of Irena Sendler. Recently she presented to a large group of book clubs in Southern Missouri. Sabrina is the oldest member of the original students, being 34.
Jessica Shelton-Ripper: Student Founder and Cast Member
Renata Zajdman and Elzbieta Ficowska: Child Survivors
Both Renata and Elzbieta were ‘Hidden Children.’
Renata survived in the streets of Warsaw until rescued and Bieta was taken out of the Warsaw Ghetto in a carpenter’s box at five months of age by Irena and her network. Bieta had a silver spoon put in the carpenter’s box by her parents, with her first name and birthdate. Bieta was active in care for Irena and both have visited Kansas and participated in ‘Life in a Jar’ presentations.
Renata passed away in December of 2013 and Bieta lives in Warsaw. Both women are and were very active in Child Survivor organizations and active in telling about the Holocaust. Elzbieta is the director of the Irena Sendler Award, given each year to a Polish teacher.
Both Renata and Elzbieta are true heroes in history.
Jack and Chip Mayer: Author and Friends of LiaJ
Jack is a pediatrician and writer from Vermont who has written the award winning and Holocaust best selling book ‘Life in a Jar: The Irena Sendler Project.’ The book was awarded the Notable Book award at a Governor’s Reception in Kansas. Plus the book has received a number of other honors. Jack’s book was at the top of all Holocaust books on Amazon.com recently.
Jack and Chip recently traveled to Poland with the Life in a Jar cast. They both have a heart for the story of Irena and the work of the students from Kansas. Jack has become a major part of the journey with Irena’s story. He goes out to speak in many areas and does a wonderful job of sharing this courageous story.
Howard and Rosalyn Jacobson: Changing the World Daily
Howard and Ro Jacobson are bright lights in the ‘Life in a Jar’ story. They have been major friends and supporters of the project since the beginning. They are loved by the students and adults connected to the Irena Sendler Project. Howard and Ro have both established foundations, which give scholarships to worthy students. They have contributed greatly to members of the ‘Life in a Jar’ project. They continue to be involved in the project in many ways.