Sunday, November 23, 2003

Volunteers take a bow

Arts organizations depend for their survival on thousands of people who care. Here are some of them.

By Jackie Demaline
The Cincinnati Enquirer

When arts organizations talk about their volunteers, the phrases that come up again and again are "countless hours," "energy and commitment" and "couldn't exist without."

Now it's time to say thanks. We acknowledge the efforts of some of the thousands of people in our region who make all things possible for arts groups large and small.

A friend to black theater

Linda Hilson had her first volunteer experiences growing up in the congregation of Union Baptist Church. Now, she says, "Volunteering is second nature."

She serves on Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra's Multicultural Affairs Committee and volunteers with Arts Consortium and the Aronoff Center for the Arts.

But it's as a "creative" volunteer with Cincinnati Black Theatre Company that she's been invaluable, says the company's executive director Don Sherman.

Hilson, who lives in Cumminsville, started volunteering before there was even a Cincinnati Black Theatre Company. In the beginning, five years ago, there was just the dream of a spring festival.

She did - and still does - whatever's needed. But these days her volunteer job is key to the company's success. "Linda has great creative ability, she's behind much of the Cincinnati Black Theatre Company's programming and marketing," Sherman says.

At the moment she's "choosing and contacting productions, finding venues, matching shows with dates" for the next Midwest Black Theatre Festival scheduled for April. When she's not masterminding a festival, she oversees the company's educational outreach, coordinating instructors for the company's programs and connecting instructors for community projects.

Which doesn't mean she won't work box office. "The one thing I don't do is go out and get money," she laughs.

Hilson figures she gives "a bit of time" every day to Cincinnati Black Theatre Company. That "bit," when pressed, is about five hours, scheduled around her official job. "I work from home, too. I give as much time as I can."

Hilson, says Sherman, is the best possible example of "why people are involved with arts and the community and why there are those who believe in what they do and have fun doing it."

Hilson smiles and gives this advice to would-be volunteers. "You have to love it. Whatever you do, love it."

The UnMuseum? It's kids stuff

Pat Andreadis knows a little about children. She has nine of her own.

"I know kids better than I do adults," laughs the Anderson Township mom and grandmom. Growing up in the Andreadis household meant making sculpture out of found objects and crafting Christmas ornaments and birthday presents by hand. Move over Martha!

About the time her youngest graduated from high school, Andreadis returned to school herself and pursued a degree in arts education at the University of Cincinnati.

When she retired from teaching, it was time to take on a volunteer activity. Andreadis knew "it had to involve kids and art."

That was about the time the Contemporary Arts Center called and asked her to be on an advisory committee for the UnMuseum, a contemporary art center for kids planned for its new museum.

"It sounded like it had my name on it," Andreadis says with a smile.

She worked on the committee for two years and had firm beliefs of what needed to be there. "It had to be available to everyone. It had to include hands-on activities."

When the doors opened in June, Andreadis signed on for duty because "I was interested in seeing things I felt so strongly about carried out."

Andreadis gets a resounding round of applause from Contemporary Arts Center staff because she volunteers wherever she's needed, whether it's helping on a TV commercial shoot, answering phones at the reception desk or, her pet project, a program designed specifically for pre-schoolers.

"Pat puts a lot of thought and even more love into creating these workshops," says assistant curator of education Antwan Jones. "Her originality in creating some of these hands-on art activities is truly amazing."

You can find Andreadis every Saturday at the UnMuseum. On Dec. 20, she'll teach a workshop on how to make completely unexpected toys out of toy parts.

Beginning in March, she'll be there for a series of Tuesday "arty parties" for little ones. She's already submitted 14 lesson plans for the series.

"Pat's warmth and genuine concern for families and children to have a meaningful and unique artistic experience is priceless," Jones says. "Her caring is infectious. Anyone who knows Pat Andreadis would call her an angel on earth."

He's 'driving' force behind Covedale Theater

Doug Ridenour of Bridgetown was never an arts guy. But the sale, renovation and last year's re-opening of an old twin movie house into the Covedale Center for the Performing Arts wouldn't have happened without him.

Ridenour came to the arts less than five years ago, through the driver's seat. In 1999, his daughter Jenni (then 13) was cast in a Cincinnati Young People's Theatre show (Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat). "I was running her back and forth to rehearsals, 6:30 to 10:30, three nights a week.

"My wife, Cathie, told me she'd bought tickets for every night of the show and I thought, "Ohmigod." But by the time he saw the end result there were tears in his eyes and he wasn't arguing about spending his evening at the theater.

Ridenour, who calls himself "a behind the scenes kind of guy," was asked to join the board. During a meeting, the subject of a new home came up, one that could house Young People's Theatre, be a winter home for Showboat Majestic and house its own productions (like the upcoming revival of an original musical A Christmas Carol).

Ridenour drove past the Covedale Cinema and saw it was available. He proceeded to spearhead the building's acquisition by putting down money to hold the property.

"After we bought the property," says Covedale chief Tim Perrino, "Doug acted as our general contractor for extensive renovations," somehow managing to do everything at low cost or no cost, leading an army of volunteers.

Now that the Covedale is fast-becoming a West Side institution, Ridenour continues to volunteer with every event and he says there's plenty left to do, including expanding the stage, making it disabled accessible and adding backstage dressing space.

"We've been blessed by many, many volunteers who have worked long, long hours to make this theater a reality," says Perrino. "But Doug made the dream a reality. He saw the power of the performing arts in the life and efforts of his daughter and turned that into the impetus to create the same powerful experience for many hundreds of kids to come."

Jenni, by the way, has been in every Young People's show since Joseph and is majoring in musical theater at Northern Kentucky University.

More volunteers

Julie Borths of West Chester Township is "the quintessential multi-tasker," says Susan Grubbs, herself the volunteer director of the Cappies program for area high school theater students.

Borths copy edits every single student-written review, and they number in the hundreds.

"It's one of the toughest jobs in the program, it's a very tight deadline, Julie has been a tireless and dedicated volunteer."

• • • 

A few years ago, Mary Jean Weber had an idea for a program she called "Patchwork Kids" in which youngsters would learn about art and earn a "salary" toward school clothes and supplies from Wal-Mart.

It was a triumph again this year, with more than 130 Over-the-Rhine youngsters beautifying their Pendleton neighborhood by designing patches of sidewalk during the eight-week summer program. Most of the 30 outside mentors were volunteers from Cincinnati Art Club.

• • • 

Sarah Michael "has committed herself to making Oxford a better community to life in," say her fans at Miami University Art Museum, where Michael is president of the docent organization.

She organizes docent-led educational programs, museum tours for university classes, museum receptions and helps with exhibit installations by contributing her talent as a skilled seamstress.

In her spare time, she has worked on the restoration of the historic DeWitt Homestead, the refurbishing of the Doty Homestead. With her husband, Jim, she's been a part of the effort to convert the Oxford College building into a community arts center.

• • • 

When Mary King of Hyde Park asked Cincinnati Shakespeare Festival, "What can I do to help?" they pointed at the lobby and the women's restroom and said "no budget."

She looked at the space, pondered for a couple of weeks and when she called back she'd lined up a professional painter, free paint, a seamstress and volunteer workers - who got the job done by opening night of this season.

• • • 

Lebanon Theatre Company calls Georgia Dunn "our lifeline." She's produced every show but two in the community theater's last four seasons and one of those two she directed. She takes on the jobs of publicity, programs (including gathering mug shots and soliciting advertising) and ticketing.

Dunn is not only chief bottle-washer, she's top grants writer for Lebanon. Maybe most remarkably, she decided to step down from the board to make room for young, fresh blood.

• • • 

Jim Kesner holds the most nominations for arts volunteer this year, which may mean a lot of folks in Cincinnati love film. He is organizer/host of the Tuesday night movie group (find them at the Esquire or Mariemont), he volunteers with Cincinnati World Cinema, and maintains a Web site that is chock-full of information about art openings, music events and all things off-the-beaten cultural track.

These days he's busy promoting Cincinnati's "hidden treasures" (shops, galleries, studios, you name it) and trying to get the word out to as many people as he can reach.

How can you not love a guy who's such an advocate and ambassador?

• • • 

Laureen Catlin has been a member of Mason Community Players for 20 years. This summer she directed and choreographed Hello, Dolly! For the Players' debut in the new Mason Community Center auditorium (and was instrumental in getting the group there, even putting together a PowerPoint presentation on the Players for Mason City Council.

Catlin takes on the time-consuming job of finding space for auditions, rehearsals and performances. She writes for the Players' quarterly newsletter, is the group's historian, maintains the group's voice mail, stores costumes and props and recently started tap classes for performers, in preparation for next summer's 42nd Street (which she'll choreograph).

"Laureen is someone everyone can depend on. She always follows through with what she promises to do and always gives everything she has to give."

• • • 

Greater Cincinnati Blues Society's Jeff Craven calls Gary Stockelman and Ken Waltermann "bulwarks of volunteerism" whose contributions "are sung to the blues choir" but probably unknown outside that small circle of friends.

"Gary tirelessly collates and edits our monthly circular of band gigs and venues, and Ken has served as volunteer president for the past five years, spearheaded our annual band competition and acted as stage manager of Queen City Blues Fest since 1994."

• • • 

Cincinnati Symphony depends on hundreds of volunteers every year. Among those who give above and beyond are Bill and Evelyn Kick and Dianne and Ernie Bishop.

The Kicks are volunteers extraordinaire in the CSO library. Musician and retired music teacher Bill and Evelyn arrive at least once a week and often work as a team, sorting, cataloging and copying music. Bill will often help edit and mark bowings. Last summer he proof read the entire Rachmaninoff: Symphony No. 1.

Last year, when an orchestra recording session was scheduled during the dinner hour, the Kicks arrived with more than 400 cookies (six different kinds.) She explained, "This is for the orchestra so they won't get hungry while they record - tell them to go for the Grammy!" (Earlier this fall Evelyn was back baking for the Ravel recording sessions.)

Needless to say the entire orchestra knows the Kicks and sends warmest thanks.

• • • 

The theater bug bit Larry Behymer more than 45 years ago when he met new drama teacher Roger Grooms at Anderson High School. Shortly after graduation he spotted an article in the Mount Washington Press announcing a meeting to organize a community theater group. That was how, in 1959, he became one of the youngest founding members of Beechmont Players.

Since then, he's been an integral part of 52 of Beechmont's productions and a guiding presence for almost 45 years. If Behymer had a coat of arms, Beechmont folks say, it would read "Encouragement not discouragement."

• • • 

Fran Cohen has given thousands of hours to Cincinnati Art Museum, where she's involved in every volunteer aspect: the museum shop, gallery aides, docent corps, visitor service and the Duveneck Association.

She has headed the volunteer corps for four major exhibitions. No matter where she's volunteering, you can count on getting a warm welcome. She also finds time to volunteer for WCET's Action Auction, the Cincinnati Symphony, Taft Museum of Art and more.

• • • 

David Dillon proclaims Andy Marko is "the hardest working man in the local arts," actively involved in the promotion, production and presentation of contemporary art for as long as a lot of us can remember. Dillon and Semantics Gallery thank Marko, Julia Ranz and Alita Vogel for their efforts on the gallery's behalf.

• • • 

Tony Christensen puts in more hours than any other adult volunteer at the Museum of Natural History and Science - and he takes a bus to get to his volunteer job. Every Monday he leads the animal demonstration. Volunteer coordinator Arden Steffen says: "Tony is a true joy to work with, he has saved the staff countless hours on the floor, I don't know what we'd do without him."

• • • 

On opening nights at Ensemble Theatre, you can't miss Dee Wright. She's the usher in the hat. On other performance nights, chances are you'll find the Covington resident checking tickets and passing out programs at Playhouse in the Park, the Taft Theatre, Kentucky Symphony Orchestra, College-Conservatory of Music, Showboat Majestic and Covedale Center for the Performing Arts.

"I love the people you get to meet and the camaraderie with the other ushers," says Wright, a dental hygienist. "And I love the theater."

• • • 

Moya Jones came to the Weavers Guild as a Business Volunteer for the Arts to help with long-range planning. She joined the guild to see the plan, which includes an enlarged facility, through. Her computer skills came in handy in organizing the weavers conference here in 2000, she edits the newsletter, maintains a marketing mailing list and helps with publicity. All this, and her real love is quilting and surface design!

• • • 

The Scholastics Art Awards just celebrated its 10th anniversary in southwest Ohio, and program director Jennifer Baldwin says a special thanks to some people who've been there since the beginning: Sycamore High School art teacher Kat Rakel-Ferguson; Our Lady of Visitation art teacher Laura Edwards (who started when she was Baldwin's student at St. Henry High School); and Mary Sue Markey, who teaches art at St. Ursula Academy.

They adjudicate, install, and award about 500 young artists from nearly 5,000 pieces submitted every year. "They're truly youth art advocates who roll up their sleeves to ensure that the young artists of the community benefit."

• • • 

When Jimmy Antia and Pheruza Tarapore graduated out of the Enjoy the Arts, they stuck around to volunteer. If you caught any events at 20/20 or 20/20 II festivals, chances are you saw the Clifton residents hard at work.

"They are selfless, enthusiastic, funny and genuinely caring about Enjoy the Arts," says assistant director Joelle Daniel. "They swear Enjoy the Arts was one of the things that attracted them to Cincinnati."

• • • 

Artist Kathleen Wickemeier has designed and donated art for every imaginable council project and event, from watercolor renderings of a children's garden sculpture park and theater renovation project, to invitations, to pieces for silent auction. She's been a volunteer artist at Howl O' Fest and is a featured artist in the council's Traveling Artist Series.

"It's very unusual to have someone donate hundreds and hundreds of hours of their time, their artwork and their financial support, says Sharonville Fine Arts Council president Jeanie Wrenn. "We owe Kathleen a debt of gratitude."

• • • 

Marvel Gentry Davis has been a driving force behind ballet tech almost since she was one of its first students.

As the company's volunteer executive producer, she founded community outreach program Dance 2 Community Kids and initiated a collaboration with Arts Consortium that will culminate in a joint performance in spring, and pretty much took on the Herculean challenge of everything but the dancing for the Gala of International Ballet Stars, which had its second annual performance at the Aronoff last summer.

• • • 

It's hard to think of a single Cincinnati Opera initiative that hasn't benefited from the time, talent, investment, advocacy or attendance of Dr. Robert and Suzanne Hasl, says the Opera's Julie Maslov.

They're donors who match dollars by minute of service, says Maslov, hosting young artists during their Cincinnati stay.

They volunteer for the Opera's education and outreach programs and have done everything from flip burgers and serve dinner to thousands at Community Open Dress Rehearsals in Washington Park to attending school performances and sponsoring educational tours.

"In addition to their local service they are members of Opera America and support advocacy at the national level.

"They are always a source of positive support, encouragement and friendship to everyone involved in the company. They roll up their sleeves and happily do whatever it takes to ensure the success of the opera and the arts in our community."

• • • 

Judi Drake, a retired teacher from Hamilton, is invaluable to Fitton Center for Creative Arts as a receptionist, tour guide, and usher. She also helps out at food functions and prepares mailings. "Judi is one of those rare individuals who is always looking for more work and saying, "Don't you have anything else for me to do?" We couldn't get along without her."

• • • 

Tri-County Players' favorite go-to guys are Johnnie Kelley of Colerain Township and Bob Hinman of Deerfield Township.

Kelley got his start in "show business" when he tagged along with wife Becky to a rehearsal with Tri-County Players. "He just thought we "might need some help with something."

"He put the toolbox in the car, brought along the tool belt and a pencil, just in case. He hasn't stopped working since."

He became an expert at turning directors' rough sketches into mathematical equations and safe, sturdy, practical sets.

When the Players left longtime home College Hill Town Hall a few years back, Kelley became a master at filling 80-pound sandbags (at home) to stabilize curtain braces and light trees when the theater took its show on the road.

Hinman is the guy who helps Kelley with the sets, just one of the ways he and wife Koben are "cornerstones" of Tri-County Players.

Hinman and Kelley also oversee parking as the Players move from theater to theater and for the past two summers they worked concessions at Cinergy Field and Great American Ball Park raising funds for the community theater (sometimes in 90-plus degrees and always about two square feet of space.)

When it's time to cart risers, chairs, racks, platforms, light poles, speakers, and, yes, those sandbags, on and off trucks and up and down stairs, in and out of a warehouse, "Johnnie just straps his back brace a little tighter while Bob adjusts his knee brace and the job gets done."

• • • 

A terrific writer, a self-starter - Annette Wick of Loveland, says Pauletta Hansel of Women Writing for (a) Change "is the kind of volunteer who sees how her work connects with all areas of the organization.

"She's played a critical role in board development and fund-raising, all while wearing her marketing hat."

Thanks, arts volunteers - God bless you, every one.


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