Fairfield Ledger
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Neighbors Growing Together | Apr 23, 2014

Oprah visits Maharishi School, Fairfield

By DIANE VANCE, Ledger staff writer | Oct 20, 2011
PHOTO SUBMITTED George’s Pizza and Steakhouse waitress Danielle Soltis, left, poses with Oprah Winfrey and customer Don Hubbs late Wednesday afternoon outside the restaurant after the television personality surprised downtown Fairfield with a trip to Cafe Paradiso for a quick cup of coffee. “I thought, ‘Oh my gosh it’s Oprah,’” said Soltis, “and she gave us a hug.” Soltis and her husband Tom asked Oprah for a picture, and she asked if they had a camera. Tom Soltis quickly snapped the photo with a cell phone.

“It was a tremendous honor to have Oprah Winfrey here even for a brief visit,” said Richard Beall, director of Maharishi School. “We’ve been in communication for some time about this visit; it’s hard to believe it’s actually happened.”

Oprah came to the kindergarten through 12th grade private school around 11:30 a.m. Wednesday on a planned visit. She brought an entourage of film and production crews.

Fairfield Police Chief Julie Harvey said Oprah’s visit included her trip to Maharishi School, a visit to the campus of Vedic scholars (the pundits in Maharishi Vedic City), a visit to a private residence, coffee at Cafe Paradiso and meditating in the women’s dome. She left Fairfield airport about 6:30 p.m.

Beall escorted Oprah around Maharishi School to the places she had indicated an interest in visiting. The crews mostly went separate, pre-assigned ways, he said.

“She had an opportunity to watch the children’s meditation,” said Beall. “Then she participated in meditation with older students.

“She talked briefly with all of the high school students, boys and girls. She selected a few students to interview more closely,” said Beall. “All together, she interviewed about 10 students.”

Beall said a lot of cameras were around, but they all belonged to Oprah’s people. It was Oprah’s request to not have publicity about her visit.

“I was so busy, I didn’t really think about photos,” said Beall. “If Oprah’s people release any of the photos, then we’ll have some.”

All MSAE staff were told not to bring cameras or gifts to school, another source reported.

“She’s an absolutely remarkable person,” said Beall. “She’s clearly passionate – and compassionate of others.”

Oprah left the school around 1 p.m.

About three hours later, she was seen around Fairfield’s square.

“My wife Linda and I were driving over to pick up The Ledger in the late afternoon,” said Ralph Messerli this morning by phone. “We saw a commotion, a bunch of people clustered on the sidewalk near George’s Pizza. My wife said, ‘that looks like Oprah!’ and I said, ‘yeah, right.’

“We saw a parking space and started to pull in. Police Chief Julie Harvey was standing nearby and motioned us to go ahead and pull in,” said Messerli. “Then I see a gal who looks like Oprah. It was Oprah! She was talking with Fairfield folks, shaking hands and letting people take pictures with her.”

The Messerlis stayed in their car, observing.

“After she took some pictures, she walked over to our car, stuck her hand in to shake ours,” said Messerli. “We said some nice things and chatted briefly. It was pretty informal.”

Messerli said they don’t watch the Oprah show normally, but have caught a few now and then.

“She’s certainly made her impact,” he said. “She’s quite a lady.”

Married Maharishi University of Management students, Baruti and Mina KMT-Sisouvong had taken an afternoon walk and stopped at Cafe Paradisio about 4:15 p.m.

“I ordered a wonderful organic, raw, chocolate cheese cake,” said Baruti by phone today. “My wife and I sat down to enjoy our coffee and cake – and in walked Oprah.”

Two bodyguards and a few staff accompanied her.

“She saw my sweatshirt and made a connection,” said Baruti.

He was wearing a Morehouse College, Atlanta, sweatshirt.

“She let out a ‘Moore-house’ in the way it’s said around campus,” said Baruti. “She got it right. It was fun. We talked a little about Morehouse College, my awards from there and my mentors, Dr. Franklin and Dr. Carter. Oprah asked Mina and I how we came to be in Fairfield.”

Baruti is a doctoral candidate and Mina is in the graduate program to earn a master’s degree in vedic science at M.U.M.

“One of the nice things about Fairfield is people are very respectful here,” said Baruti. “Who ever we might see around town, we stay respectful. Those of us at Cafe Paradiso got to have a little time, sharing afternoon coffee.

“Oprah sat down, people came up to speak with her and she was very friendly and welcoming. She ate and drank, and visited, It was very nice,

“Later, I talked about the experience with Tom Morgan, who was also there,” said Baruti. “It’s a little strange to admire someone for some time, then meet her casually in everyday life. I’m getting ready to call my mentors in Atlanta and share with them.”

An M.U.M. employee shared her experience in an email Wednesday night:

“I walked [along the sidewalk to the dome for evening meditation] behind Oprah tonight. I didn’t realize it was her until she turned around near the gate and greeted us.

‘Hi ladies,’ she said. ‘Are you coming here from work? From home?’

Some of us responded ‘work,’ others ‘home.’

‘Work? Home? Homework?’ Oprah said, then laughed.

We were all going to the women’s Golden Dome, a meditation hall here at M.U.M. Oprah recently learned Transcendental Meditation and wanted to experience meditating together with hundreds of women, so she joined us.

It was a very sweet experience. The room seemed to be filled with more love and bliss than usual.

My daughter, 19, especially enjoyed being there. It seems the younger generation were more excited about having her here; the college aged were chatting away animatedly about it.

My daughter’s comment afterwards, ‘I got to meditate with Oprah in the dome and my sister didn’t. I’m gonna rub it in her face!’

 

 

Comments (3)
Posted by: Jim Karpen | Oct 20, 2011 15:57

Wonderful photo and article. Great work, Diane.



Posted by: Norman/MUM Public Affairs Dept. Zierold | Oct 20, 2011 20:31

Great article, Diane. You pulled some amazing firsthand encounters together and turned them into an exciting story. Wish I could have been there, but at least I could read about it. Thank you!



Posted by: Julie Long | Jan 27, 2012 06:51

Ms. Vance, I enjoyed your article. I'm originally from Fairfield and have written a novel, Maharishiville, set in a fictionalized version of Fairfield. It's a New Age twist on the age-old question: Can you ever really go home again? I'm going to try to connect with Oprah about it. I first read about Oprah's visit in her magazine — I couldn't believe it! — and then a google search brought me to your article (I now subscribe online). It brought memories reading about George's Pizza! www.julielongwrites.com



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