Returning Chautauquans in 2018 could hardly miss the feeling of change that pervades the grounds. Chautauqua Institution President Michael E. Hill and his team of new and returning senior staff members are making moves in this venerable place. With all the changes at the top, however, the steady, dependable contributions of the Institution’s hundreds of seasonal workers continue to undergird an unfolding season of great promise. Here are six of their stories.
Peterson began his first year in Chautauqua’s Gardens and Landscapes Department in April, and he will likely be on the grounds until November. He is one of Gardens and Landscapes Supervisor Betsy Burgeson’s stalwarts who dig, plant, trim and generally make the Institution’s grounds beautiful from the wet, bone-chilling days of early spring to the blustery days of fall. He loves it all.
“I’ve been in the gardening business for 30 years,” Peterson said. “For the past dozen years or so, I was the head groundskeeper at Tanglewood Manor, an assisted living facility in Jamestown. Before that, I worked at Chris Hansen’s nursery (Great Garden Plants) for 18 years. There was variety, you moved around.”
Peterson was born in Jamestown at the hospital where his wife now works as an office assistant. He lives in the house next to the one he he grew up in off Route 394 between Ashville and Stow. He is a proud graduate of the old Chautauqua High School across the road from the Institution grounds — only a stone’s throw from where he presently works.
After graduating from high school, Peterson tried attending Morrisville State College for a year, but it wasn’t for him. Exempted from military service due to a serious knee injury suffered while playing for the high school basketball team, he joined the Ashville Fire Department, where he has served for 45 years and is now the first assistant re chief. He is also EMT certified.
He enjoys hunting, and if he bags a deer, he gets it dressed at Lighthouse Market, and his family can enjoy the meat for most of the winter.
Peterson loves working in the dirt.
“You can see what you complete,” he said. “Also, you get the satisfaction of seeing people happy with your results. I find morale really high in the gardens department, and that always makes work better. I’m new, but what I see here is a big, happy family.”
Now in his fifth year working his way up at the Brick Walk Cafe, Joshua McCord was named cafe general manager this summer.
“It’s a pretty gaudy title,” he said, “but what it really means is that I’m kind of a jack of all trades.”
McCord has worked at the cafe as an ice cream scooper, cashier, gazebo server and as a floater able to fill in almost anywhere, so he knows most of the jobs in the cafe. When he interviewed for the position with new boss Renee Miller in late February, both found their philosophies of service matched up well, and he was hired.
McCord, a Westfield resident, attended Allegheny College in Pennsylvania for three semesters but is now taking time off to reassess his commitment to a teaching career.
“I had wanted to be a history teacher, but I began to have some doubts, so rather than graduate with a degree I didn’t want to use, I decided to work at the cafe while deciding on my major and future course,” he said.
The cafe job will keep McCord employed for over eight months this year, including all pre-season and post-season prep, clean up and planning. He plans to go back to college in the fall of 2019.
McCord attends Hurlbut Church regularly in the off-season.
With one parent a Catholic and the other a Methodist, he said he has assimilated various aspects of each faith.
“It can be confusing at times,” he said. “For example, I may find myself saying ‘Our Father, who art in Heaven’ in a Methodist service. That’s the more traditional wording. The Methodists say ‘who is in Heaven.’ I do enjoy hearing all the different voices during the season at the large Sunday service in the Amphitheater.”
McCord noted that Chautauquans may miss Paul Smith this summer. The longtime proprietor of the Tasty Acre diner just outside the Main Gate, Smith worked as breakfast chef last season at the Brick Walk Cafe. He has now taken a year-round job at Peek’n Peak Resort. Dawn Raynor, who has held several jobs on the grounds, including one most recently in the Bellinger Hall kitchen, takes over breakfast service this year.
Ever wonder what it might be like to be able to set a course in your 20s for a possible future stretching for decades, all completely satisfactory and fulfilling, with family and friends nearby, jobs rich with promise and the idea of home well established?
Emily Paterniti has, and she and her husband, Jimmy, love the idea. This is Paterniti’s sixth season at the Institution, and she has already racked up a resume. She works this summer at the Main Gate Ticket Office, planning and problem solving and thoroughly immersed in the complexities of her office. An accomplished saxophone player, she began her Chautauqua employment as a half- time office assistant in the School of Music and also as one of the ushers relaying audience questions to the speaker at the morning Amphitheater lecture.
Growing up in Falconer, New York, and now living in Lakewood, Paterniti pursued a joint degrees in arts administration and in communications and public relations at SUNY Fredonia. During the summer breaks, she advanced through positions as administrative assistant in the School of Music, intern in the Department of Religion, administrator in the School of Music under former managing director Oliver Dow, and off-season intern in the Program Office, to her present position.
“I’ve been fortunate to have such a variety of jobs on the grounds,” she said. “I met my husband when we were both in the (Chautauqua) Regional Youth Symphony. We were on the Amp stage together. He played the trumpet, and we brass players were in the back of the large string section. My husband played for four years at the Three Taps of the Gavel to open the season.”
Paterniti’s husband, a civil engineer who studied at Rochester Institute of Technology, works for the Jamestown Board of Public Utilities.
“We lived for a few months in Rochester,” Paterniti said. “I worked at the Strong (National) Museum of Play there. But we both prefer to live in Chautauqua County. That’s where our home is.”
Paterniti said she and her husband both love the grounds.
“We often attend the evening entertainment shows and many other music events at Chautauqua,” she said. “And almost best of all, for me, is the opportunity to find peace here. I have my favorite quiet spots. It’s a wonderful place for us.”
Jackie Draggett got a call during her Christmas holiday break from the Institution’s housekeeping staff, asking her to come back in. The caller was former housekeeping supervisor Cindy Williams, and she was calling to say she had decided to retire. Draggett would need to come and hold things together on the housekeeping crew as the new supervisor, effective almost immediately.
“We knew Cindy was thinking that one of these days, she might decide to retire,” Draggett said. “But this was pretty sudden. It all happened so fast that I actually heard when someone called me to congratulate me on my promotion.”
After three weeks as acting supervisor, Draggett was moved permanently into the position.
“I knew most of what was involved, from procedures to schedules,” Draggett said. “And I had filled in for Cindy and for (assistant supervisor) Janet Jackson at times. But it is different when you are accountable as permanent supervisor.”
Now in her 22nd season at Chautauqua, Draggett lost a key part of her team when Jackson slipped on the ice in January; she is still unable to work because of a fractured femur. Jackson, who recently lost her husband, is anxious to return to the close-knit family atmosphere that has long prevailed among the housekeeping staff. But her absence exacerbates an already difficult staffing shortage.
“We have looked to fill our vacancies,” Draggett said. “We have found some candidates in the interview process, but we’re probably about four members short of a full complement.”
One plus is the strong collegial collaboration between the buildings and grounds, gardens and housekeeping staffs.
“We know they have our backs,” Draggett said.
Draggett is from nearby Stockton, where she lives today. Her three kids live in the county, and she has been blessed with three grandchildren. She began working for Welch’s in Westfield as a quality control specialist for Concord grapes in 1978, moving to seasonal part-time after major layoffs at the firm five years later. She stayed seasonally until 1999. Draggett has been a key member of the Institution’s housekeeping team since 1996.
“We are really part of a family here,” she said.
Eight inviting stools face a 20-foot bar running along the south side of the elegant old hotel lobby. As the dinner crowd drifts in, the seats at the bar fill up and orders for beer, wine and liquor keep the four bartenders busy.
Wait. This is in the Athenaeum Hotel lobby. And it’s all real and different from what has gone before.
During the off-season, the Athenaeum received a full liquor license for the season. The hotel’s decision to introduce a bar in the lobby was a logical consequence. Josh Vogle oversees a dozen other bartenders and any temporary offsite bars the hotel sets up for special events.
This is Vogle’s sixth season at the hotel. He is working his way up the ladder, beginning as a special events server and becoming a manager for the special events team last year. A Lakewood resident, Vogle has tended bar at The Pub in downtown Jamestown on and off for five years, so when the hotel bar opened, he was asked to take over its operation.
A 2014 graduate of Syracuse University with a major in political science and policy studies, Vogle has long been interested in politics. He has worked in the campaigns of the mayor of Syracuse and a Syracuse-area congressman, and interned for U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer. Vogle planned this past Tuesday to vote in the Democratic primary to select a November opponent for Rep. Tom Reed.
“I’m still looking at law school,” Vogle said. “It’s a big financial step, so I’m taking my time. Georgetown would be my first choice now.“
Vogle said it’s so far, so good with the bar.
“We haven’t had any negative feedback and have actually had some customers who are not staying at the hotel,” he said. “With no track record from past history, we are setting goals as best we can. But we do have an answer now to a question we have gotten for years: ‘Where can I get a drink?’ ”
Mary Beth Parrinello
Three days a week, visitors to the Institution who enter the Visitors Center on Bestor Plaza will have the good fortune to interact with a woman who is suited for her welcoming role as provider of information, enthusiasm for Chautauqua and dispenser of practical advice. Mary Beth Parrinello is now in her third year at the Visitors Center and is a true information ambassador for the Institution.
An early childhood education (pre-K) teacher in Buffalo in the off-season, Parrinello first visited the Institution in 1979 on a day trip with her family.
She was quickly hooked.
As time passed, she graduated to renting a room on the grounds for a week or two, but it was not enough.
“This place speaks to me, and while I have been coming here for 40 years, my family has deeper connections,” Parrinello said. “My paternal grandmother lived in Fredonia and had strong ties to Chautauqua.”
In addition to her work at the Visitors Center, Parrinello attends music events all over the grounds, is a reader at the Episcopal Chapel of the Good Shepherd, helps serve Thursday evening supper at Hurlbut Church and is a member of the Chautauqua Literary and Scientific Circle Class of 2015. She and several classmates have formed their own, additional book club to satisfy their literary cravings.
“There’s something new every day at Chautauqua to enjoy and celebrate,” Par- rinello said. “And I love the spontaneous conversations that spring up all over the place between strangers. Perhaps they are all intuitively connected already just by being here.”
One might wonder how the off-season could measure up. It turns out that is does, very nicely.
“I live in the Delaware section of Buffalo, not far from downtown,” Parrinello said.
Her mother, a retired chemist and businesswoman, and two sisters and a brother live not that far away.
“In the off-season, I’m heavily involved in the Buffalo literary center, enjoy music at venues across the Buffalo region, and my church life is important to me,” she said. “So in a way, I suppose, I have recreated Chautauqua at home in the off-season.”