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Six stars of Chautauqua

There is a spring in Chautauqua Institution’s step this summer.

The great, watershed 2017 season is halfway home. Some visitors are actually wondering what happened to the Amphitheater replacement plans since the old one is still standing. Most note the striking improvements in the new building. The summer program is generating sustained praise. The honeymoon with new president Michael E. Hill looks like it might be a lengthy one. New ideas, and new ideas for implementing older ideas, are blossoming around the grounds.

Some things haven’t changed in the midst of all that is new, like the vital, steady presence of the Institution’s many hundreds of seasonal employees. They are still doing what they do to make Chautauqua’s season shine. They work in the Athenaeum Hotel, on the gardens staff, in the Institution’s eating places, in the Welcome Center, and in the new Amp. Here are six of their stories.

Maureen Emerling

Maureen Emerling, CLSC Expert and welcome gate employee, poses at the Chautauqua Literary & Scientific Circle Veranda on Tuesday, July 18. OLIVIA SUN/STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER

“I’m a pretty positive person,” Emerling said when asked about her success in the role as chief of welcome to Chautauqua. At 6 p.m. every Sunday, Emerling leads a well-attended session at Hultquist Center for visitors to the Institution. She is in her third year as the Institution’s first impression on newcomers.

“I speak for a while, and then mix in a short eight-minute video,”  Emerling said. “I try to introduce the visitors to the history of Chautauqua and to the variety of its programs. I always tell them, ‘We want to make you experts on Chautauqua.’ ”

Emerling is a licensed clinical social worker who retired three years ago from a busy practice at the organ transplant clinic at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center.

“Government regulations and insurance companies both require that anyone considering or recovering from an organ transplant be evaluated by a licensed social worker,” she said. “I did that.”

Emerling’s Chautauqua nameplate identifies her as a “CLSC expert.” She and her husband have been immersed in Chautauqua Literary and Scientific Circle matters due partly to the influence of her mother-in-law, Nately Ronsheim, CLSC director for 20 years toward the end of last century.

“She brought so many big names to the Institution for speeches and events involving the CLSC,” Emerling said.

Originally from Boston, New York, in the heart of the lush farmland between Buffalo and Chautauqua, Emerling went to school at nearby Keuka College, then pursued a master’s in counseling at Canisius University in Buffalo, and later earned a master’s in social work at the University of Pittsburgh. She met her husband, Douglas Ronsheim, a Presbyterian minister and counselor, when both worked at the Erie County, New York, medical center. They now reside year-round just north of the Institution on the shores of Chautauqua Lake.

Emerling helps staff the Institution’s Visitors Center in the Post Office Building on Bestor Plaza.

“We had over 200 visitors last Sunday,” she said. “Some of them are traveling from, say, Ohio to Connecticut and see the signs for Chautauqua on the Thruway or the interstate, and decide spontaneously to make a visit here. We hope some of them like what they see and will come back.”

Emerling said she is “keenly aware of the economic impact” the Institution has in Chautauqua County.

“As year-round residents now, we want to get involved in the community and help make things better,” she said.

Emerling and her husband walked down nearly every day in the off-season to watch the new Amp rise.

“We talked to the workers,” she said. “It was obvious how much pride they took in their work. And just look at the result!

Mike Parks

Mike Parks poses for a portrait at the Garden and Landscaping Office on Wednesday, 19, 2017. ERIN CLARK / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER

With this easygoing, laconic six-year Gardens and Landscapes veteran, what you see is what you get. And what you see is a man quietly passionate about his work “for the best bosses I’ve ever had.”

Parks is a lifelong local, growing up in Jamestown and now living at the western terminus of the historic Chautauqua Lake ferry in Stow. Parks’ wife is a retired social worker with the county Resource Center. They live in what is called the ferry house in Stow, Parks said.

“Several previous owners of the house had owned or operated the ferry,” he said. “I might get a free ride once in a while.”

Parks was an avid avocational gardener who worked for private local landscaper Hickory Hurst Farms for several years before joining the Institution staff.

“I remember when I met Ryan (Kiblin, former Gardens and Landscape director),” Parks said. “I happened to mention that I could cut rock and stone. ‘You’re hired,’ she said. That was it. I’m happy here. The only way I’m retiring is if I scratch a lottery card and hit the jackpot.”

Indian arrowhead hunting in nearby fields helps pass the time in the off-season when Parks is not working at the Institution.

After graduating from high school in Jamestown, Parks went to work at Proto Tool, a major player in what was at the time a vibrant machine tool business in Chautauqua County.

“We made lots of everyday tools,” he said. “Pliers, hammers and wrenches. President Nixon had abolished the military draft by the time I got out of high school, so the army was not an obligation for me. When I started at Proto Tool, they told me I had a job for life.”

Ten years later, Proto was bought out and the factory closed. Parks took a job at Classic Wood Reproduction.

“I spent five years there, until the firm started to lay off people,” he said. “I was proud that Classic did turn the spire on the top of the Fenton Museum in Jamestown.”

He then turned his gardening hobby into full-time work. Parks works as part of a different Gardens and Landscapes crew each week, and loves the variety this schedule provides.

“Now I’ve got to get going,” he said. “I’m going to mow the overflow parking lot. You’d be amazed what I find up there.”

Matt LeBarron

Matt Lebarron poses for a portrait on Tuesday, July 18, 2017 in the Amphitheater. PAULA OSPINA / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER

Now in his fifth season on Amphitheater Manager Keith Schmitt’s Amp crew, LeBarron said he works three days a week “doing whatever we need to do to keep the Amp and its programs moving along.”

“I’m a stagehand. We all help set up for the performances, do whatever is needed,” he said. “But on Friday nights, especially when there is a big show, I work security.”

LeBarron said on Opening Night featuring Jay Leno, working in a new Amp, the crew all had a few butterflies.

“With Sheryl Crow a couple of weeks later, now there was a different feel in the crowd,” he said. “It’s hard to put my finger on it, but there was just an energy. I worked early on the lines, long and stretching around the street corners from the main Amp gates. That one was a challenge for sure.”

Once a show starts, that’s when those working security really get to work.

“We have to make sure no one gets on the stage during the show. If there is a no photo policy in effect, it’s up to us to enforce that. With everyone having a cellphone, bans on recording are much tougher to enforce,” he said. “And in such a big, raucous, excited crowd, alcohol is sometimes a factor. We’ve all got to stay alert and keep things orderly.”

Born in Jamestown, LeBarron is a graduate of Cassadaga Valley Central School. He has worked for the past seven years at Ruby Tuesdays in Lakewood as a chef and shift manager. But he has different aspirations. He is studying environmental geology and hopes for a career in meteorology.

To that end, LeBarron is enrolled in online giant University of Phoenix.

“Here’s how it works: Courses last four, five or seven weeks. You take one course at a time. You get materials to read, classes to watch on your computer,” he said. “If there are labs, you get a kit for that. You email your professor with questions or post them on a class message board. I have an employer scholarship through Ruby Tuesdays and some help from the school. I figure I save about 40 percent on tuition overall. I expect to get my B.S. degree in four years.”

Angel Rodriguez

Angel Rodriguez poses for a portrait at the Athenaeum Hotel on Thursday, July 20, 2017. ERIN CLARK / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER

Rodriguez is a young man committed to following his dream. He wants to make it in the entertainment business, with his singing voice as the vehicle to carry him to success.

Born in Jamestown, Rodriguez moved with his mother to his parents’ native Puerto Rico after his mother and father divorced. He and his mother returned to Jamestown when he was 12. He is part of a large family from both parents in Chautauqua County.

Rodriguez graduated from Jamestown High School in 2010. This is his first summer as a houseman at the Athenaeum Hotel, where his mother also works in housekeeping. Rodriguez starts his days at the hotel collecting bags of dirty sheets and towels the housekeepers have left in the hall after cleaning guest rooms. He then transfers these laundry bags to a car for the trip to the main hotel laundry behind the bicycle shop on Massey Avenue.

Together with two other housemen, Rodriguez cleans every window on the hotel’s upper floors, vacuuming stairways and porches.

“It’s hard work, but I do like working here,” he said. “The hotel is clean, and the staff is nice.”

Rodriguez’ full-time job is to watch over a county-managed safe house overnight.

“There are four residents,” he said. “All four men have severe disabilities or limitations, and I help keep them safe at night. I can never sleep while I am there. We try to maintain as normal a life as possible for the residents.”

During the summer, Rodriguez has juggled both jobs, and finds the schedules generally compatible.

Rodriguez has been singing and dancing “for as long as I can remember,” he said. He has traveled to Philadelphia to audition for “The Voice,” and performs professionally as opportunities arise in Chautauqua County. He has garnered high-place finishes in local competitions such as Chautauqua’s Got Talent and the Chautauqua Lake Choice. This week, he offered two solos in the Christmas in July show in Jamestown.

“I make my own costumes,” he said. “When I found out about Prince, he seemed to have a similar style. I like to add sparkling stones, sequins or glitter to my costumes. I have to represent what I am singing.”

Greg Delahoy

Greg Delahoy poses for a portrait in the Afterwords Cafe on Wednesday, 19, 2017. ERIN CLARK / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER

Delahoy is one of several family members who have worked at the Afterwords Café on Bestor Plaza.

“My mother and younger brother both worked here as well,” he said.

This is his fourth year at the café, and his second as a shift boss.

“I love working here,” he said. “We usually have several returning staff, so you can develop friendships with your colleagues, and we do have a lot of fun while working hard.”

The men on the staff usually have a post-season golf outing at Willow Run, and Delahoy says one of the women on the Afterwords team may join them this year.

“In the café, my favorite dishes are the chicken panini and the portobello mushroom panini,” he said. “Our busiest times, by far, are during what we call the lunch rush around noon right after the 10:45 a.m. Amp lectures. It can get crazy busy in here, but we love all the activity.”

Delahoy, a native of nearby Panama, is a rising junior at Rochester Institute of Technology aiming for a five-year bachelor’s degree in civil engineering.

“I’m hoping to build a career in engineering,” he said. “I love the idea of building bridges.”

He will spend next year in a co-op assignment in an engineering firm or in construction management.

Delahoy began his Chautauqua career as a delivery boy for The Chautauquan Daily, covering Route 1 on the Overlook and both sides of the ravine on the south end of the grounds.

“I always thought that was the best route on the paper,” he said.

During a second year on the Daily staff, he served as circulation manager.

Panama Rocks Scenic Park is practically in Delahoy’s backyard.

“I never get tired of exploring there,” he said. “There’s one particular cave that has snow inside all year round. And we often visit Fat Man’s Misery, where two large boulders are so close together that you have to be fairly slim to squeeze between them.”

Madison “Madi” Gross

Madison Gross poses for a portrait in Brick Walk Cafe on Wednesday, July 19, 2017. ERIN CLARK / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER

“I’m a floater at the Brick Walk Cafe,” Madi Gross said during a break on the cafe’s back deck. “I like it that way. I may be running tickets on the food line, getting ice out of our big coolers in the back, making sandwiches, doing dishes in the kitchen, dishing up ice cream or helping out in the Gazebo. I’m in my second year here, and they talked to me before the season about a more regular assignment, but I love the variety.”

Gross is experiencing variety in her college career as well. She is majoring in journalism and early and special education, with a minor in theater arts added for good measure. Gross, who moved to Westfield from Erie, Pennsylvania, four years ago, is a rising sophomore at Edinboro University in northwest Pennsylvania, and expects to take five years to get two separate bachelor’s degrees.

Sparkling with enthusiasm, Gross sports a handmade badge proclaiming “Madi. Dual major at EU. Loves Dogs. Happy to Help!” She might be an employer’s dream.

To help with college costs and to prepare for the future, Gross is working a second job this summer at When Pigs Fly, the latest restaurant to occupy the low-rise brick building familiar to many Chautauquans right on Lake Erie in Barcelona. At school, she also has two jobs, one in the dining hall and another in the provost’s office.

Gross plays the bass guitar in her spare time and gets involved in “any theater or music production I can find time for.” She also threw the discus and shot put for her high school track team at Westfield Academy.

“A friend got me involved,” she said. “I learned the right technique and despite not being large physically, I won several events in my last year.”

Overall, Gross said, “I try to be flexible in life, and prepare for what I want. I just go with the flow and see what happens.”

Tags : Angel RodriguezGreg DelahoyMadison GrossMatt LeBarronMaureen EmerlingMike ParksSix Stars
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The author John Ford

John Ford is in his eighth year with the Daily. He reports on general news, does feature reporting and writes the weekly Chautauqua Conversations column. A wire service reporter for United Press International prior to embarking on a career as a foreign service officer with the Department of State, he currently writes a regular column on American politics and foreign relations for one of the two principal daily newspapers in Nassau, Bahamas.