(Photo submitted)
(Photo submitted)

VAN WERT — Questions over appearances of music legend Peter Yarrow at local schools were addressed Tuesday by the Van Wert Area Performing Arts Foundation. Concern arose over the weekend of Yarrow’s programs in schools given his criminal record. Yarrow was convicted of a 1969 incident of taking immoral liberties with a 14-year-old girl.

Paul Hoverman, executive director and president of the Niswonger Performing Arts Center of NW Ohio stated, “Yarrow was convicted and served a sentence for the conviction. In 1981, Yarrow received a Presidential Pardon from then President Jimmy Carter. Since then, Yarrow has spoken to nearly 22,000 school children all over the world about respect for each other and most recently on anti-bullying."

In a conversation with the Times Bulletin Tuesday afternoon, Yarrow described Operation Respect as “An organization devoted to creating an environment for children in schools that is loving and caring, respectful and in which violence, bullying, ridicule, and disrespect is far less likely to occur. It is very much a continuation of the work I did in the Civil Rights Movement when respect or its absence was the critical reality in terms of racism in our country. Today we find that children who are different are targeted beyond those people who are targeted, there is a tendency that has grown in the United States that had begun to accumulate even before we started Operation Respect.”

The 76-year-old Yarrow will be performing with his band Mustard’s Retreat at the Niswonger Performing Arts Center on Thursday but earlier in the day, he is scheduled to perform the program Operation Respect to elementary children in the county.

Hoverman admitted that he and the committee were unaware of the 45-year-old incident when Yarrow was booked for the concert.

“Some in the community have researched the past of Mr. Yarrow and discovered an incident in his past from 1969 that causes them concern, particularly since he is to speak to elementary school children in the afternoon,” Hoverman explained. “Peter spoke with me about the concerns of some of our community, and told me that he has been working for 45 years to restore his reputation from what he calls a terrible mistake in his life. He has taken full responsibility for this mistake and has tried to make amends. It is the good work Peter Yarrow has done with his programs to teach school children to respect each other, and recognition of the international pulpit he has developed over the years with national School Board Conventions speaking out on issues of bullying that interested us in bringing Yarrow to our area.”

Speaking with the Times Bulletin, Yarrow pointed out that he understands why some are questioning his performance.

“It’s a sign of the times,” he noted. “I fully understand with (Jerry) Sandusky and with the Catholic Church, but it is shocking to see that this kind of real criminal behavior has been perpetrated against our children. And in my case, I made a mistake in an era in which unfortunately it was very common for us to be surrounded with inappropriate attention from young girls, and I have very frequently expressed not only my real sorrow and apology for having done this because it was absolutely wrong, but I also went to jail for two-and-a-half months and I was given a pardon by President Carter. There’s a certain point in which you say, ‘I have paid my debt to society, I have lived what I hope is a very caring, productive life, I am deeply devoted to making the world a better place in a multitude of ways,' and at a certain point there might be a time when people can say, ‘thank you for doing the work and continue it.’”

Yarrow, along with Noel (Paul) Stookey, and Mary Travers made up the iconic folk music trio, Peter, Paul & Mary which had a streak of hit songs in the 60s such as, Puff the Magic Dragon, If I Had a Hammer, Blowin’ in the Wind, and Leavin’ on a Jet Plane.

“It is because of his work with schools and many other respectful causes throughout the world, not to mention some of the most beloved and recognized music that he helped write and sing over the past 50 years, that we decided to invite him to perform and speak at the Niswonger,” Hoverman said. “It is the opinion of the committee that the benefit of the planned presentation to our youth and the musical performance in the evening will more than justify the selection of this performer.”