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Can you see dead people? Or maybe ACT like one?

11 May

The fine folks at the Webster Museum are looking for some people who can help bring the West Webster Cemetery to life.

The museum has set its sights this month and next on exploring the history of West Webster. In addition to new exhibits and a series of events at which current and former West Webster residents are sharing their memories, the museum is hosting a West Webster Cemetery Tour on Sunday June 19.

This is where you come in.

Interested community members are being invited to help bring the cemetery to life by “becoming” one of the former residents buried there. There’s no shortage of interesting people to portray, either. For example, there’s

  • 4 Revolutionary War veterans
  • 36 Civil War veterans
  • 29 WWI veterans
  • 137 WWII veterans
  • 52 West Webster FD members
  • a Webster PD officer

… and lots more interesting men and women.

The cemetery has a pretty interesting history itself. It’s the oldest in Webster, established in 1790 on a half acre of land in what was then the vast township of Northfield, which included what is now Webster, Perinton, Penfield, Irondequoit, Brighton, Pittsford, and part of Rochester. The first person buried there was a child. It’s located at the corner of Ridge Rd. and Maple Dr. (formerly called Cemetery Rd.).

The Cemetery Tour will be a two-hour long event the afternoon of Sunday June 19. Costumed actors will be stationed all around the cemetery, near the grave sites of their chosen people, and chat with visitors about their personal history.

The Webster Museum would be more than happy to help with costumes and choosing a character. So all you’ll need to do is read up a bit, and get to know your historical figure. Men, women and children are all invited to participate. The more the merrier. Wouldn’t it be fun to see a couple dozen old-tyme figures standing all around the cemetery that afternoon?

I’ll be there, in costume. I gave you a clue to who I’ll be portraying up at the start of this blog. When you chat with me, you’ll be hearing from Martha A. Cottreall. I’ll tell you about my kids; my husband William, who participated in a famous rescue mission; and about my son Joseph, who has (literally) made a name for himself in our town.

If you’d like to learn more or to sign up, contact the museum through their website form here.

It should be tons of fun. And don’t worry, you don’t have to be a good actor. (I’m surely not.)

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email me  at missyblog@gmail.com“Like” this blog on Facebook and follow me on Twitter and Instagram.

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(posted 5/10/2022)

A small slice of Webster’s musical history

28 Apr

Over the last several weeks I’ve been having a very interesting email conversation with one of my readers, a gentleman who lives in San Diego.

Mark Peacox is a former Webster resident who first wrote to me back in early March in response to a blog I wrote about all of the live music available in the Village of Webster. The email began,

It’s great to hear about the growing musical scene in Webster, although I’m saddened that I can’t partake in it as I’m living in San Diego. You may not be familiar with some of Webster’s musical history, so I’ll tune you in.

Mark then proceeded to share with me some of the wonderful memories he had of Webster’s music scene when he was a teenager. In the following weeks, Mark followed that original email with several others, all long and well-written, painting a detailed and very entertaining picture of what village life was like for kids back in the 1950s and 60s.

With Mark’s permission, I’d like to share some of his stories with you today. I think you’ll be as fascinated as I was. He began with his memories of musical Webster:

When the Beatles made their first appearance on the Sunday evening Ed Sullivan Show, America was transformed. My friends and I raided our newspaper route money and bought guitars and started to teach ourselves how to play. Our first few gigs were house parties. Eventually, the town started to warm to the idea of long-haired teens playing loud rock music and soon, we were playing at all the churches: Webster First Methodist, Webster Baptist, Holy Trinity, Webster Lutheran, and more. The churches would sponsor weekend dances. We expanded to the Teen Canteen at the Webster Town Hall, the basement of Empire Lanes, the golf course on Salt Rd. and other venues in Fairport, Penfield, Ontario and Sodus.

A young man convinced the village to allow him to develop a center for teens to hang out. Somehow, the village was convinced that teens needed their own place away from home and school, and the “Rec Center” or “Rec Hall” was born. They converted the town’s maintenence and vehicle repair center (site of today’s Webster Museum) on Lapham Park into the Webster Recreation Center, and held concerts and dances for the local teens. The Rec Hall became THE PLACE to go. Later, the Rathskeller and other teen musical venues popped up on Main St. and Commercial St.

One of the more amazing events to ever occur during my early teen years was when the village shut down the four corners of Main St. and Route 250 to sponsor a musical streetfest. The band, “Wale” (with lead guitarist Mike Marconi of East Rochester – years later he played for the Billion Dollar Babies, Alice Cooper’s band) were setup on a large stage in front of the Marine Midland Bank (formerly the Webster Hotel) and entertained a packed crowd on Main St. with music from the Beatles and other British Invasion groups.

Mark was born in 1950, in a house on Doran St. in the city of Rochester. His family moved to Iroquois St. in the Village of Webster before he turned 1.

In Webster, I lived the bucolic life, playing with my neighborhood friends in the Cape Brothers’ (farmers) field behind the house. We helped to bale hay, feed pigs and cows on occassion, build tree houses and snow forts for snowball fights, and sled down the hill in the farmers’ field. We swung from vines in the woods at the end of the street, playing Tarzan, and we caught tadpoles in the creek. If we weren’t climbing or hiking and exploring, we were riding our bicycles everywhere. We would camp out in a tent in our backyard during the summer and gaze in awe at the twinkling stars. …

I think one of the things I miss most is the Firemens Carnival. Its arrival always brought so much anticipation and excitement every year. From the Kiddies Parade to the Firemens Parade, the rides (the Round-Up was a terrifying rite of passage) to the steamed clans and ultimately, coming of age to pass through the gates of the Beer Tent.

Mark served as an air traffic controller during the Vietnam conflict and three years in Korea. Afterwards, he spent a short stint at Kodak before landing a job as an air traffic controller in Newport Beach, CA. He and his wife moved there in 1981. He remembers when he came back for a visit and showed his kids around his old home town.

Around twenty years ago, my wife and I were on another annual (or more) visit with family in Webster (she is from Webster, too) while our sons were somewhere between 8-10 years old. I took them on a tour of my old neighborhood and into the deep, dark woods at the end of the street.

These two California boys were terrified of the woods. The trees blotted out most of the sunlight and they had never seen such dense foliage. But what most impressed me was that NOTHING HAD CHANGED since the ’50s. So many features of Webster were still the same, which stood in great contrast to Southern California where every patch of dirt is quickly developed in a tract of homes or an industrial park or a strip mall. For me, it was refreshing and reaffirming that Webster was Where Life Is Worth Living.

Mark’s emails brought me back to my own youth, growing up in small-town Owego, and all of the simple fun we had riding our bikes, going to the community pool, sneaking into the County Fair. They’ve helped me picture what life must have been like growing up here. I long for the simple days we had back then.

It’s so neat to hear that folks are using my blog to keep in touch with their hometown. One day I hope to meet up with Mark when he comes back into town, so I can spend a whole afternoon reliving the old days.

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email me  at missyblog@gmail.com“Like” this blog on Facebook and follow me on Twitter and Instagram (@missyblog)

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Penfield’s Good Neighbor Day returns in May

11 Apr

As many of you know, when I started writing this blog (and until a few years ago, actually), I was a Penfield resident. So this annual event from our friends to the south has always been on my radar.

It’s the 8th annual Terry Rothfuss Memorial Good Neighbor Day, scheduled this year for Saturday May 7 from 8:30 a.m. to noon. The event gathers volunteers to help Penfield seniors, veterans and those who are disabled do light yard work and spring cleaning.

Projects require no more than a three-hour commitment, and volunteers of all ages are encouraged to sign up, so it’s a great family activity.

Volunteers meet at the Rothfuss Farm the morning of the event for refreshments and to receive assignments, and then spread out around the town to complete their projects.

The event honors the memory of Terry Rothfuss, who was a farmer in East Penfield and a friend to all. He was always ready and willing to help anyone at any time. His passing in 2014 left a huge hole in the community. His friends and family wanted to carry on Terry’s legacy of friendship by continuing to help their community and inspire others to do the same.

To sign up to help or receive help, please call Sabrina at 585-340-8651, or email srenner@penfield.org.

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email me  at missyblog@gmail.com“Like” this blog on Facebook and follow me on Twitter and Instagram (@missyblog)

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The “lost” memory album is going home!

6 Apr

Another “lost” cause has ended happily.

Several weeks ago, I posted a blog about a memory album filled with mementos and photos which a friend of mine had found at a local Goodwill.

The album itself was nothing special; your basic sticky-paged photo album we’ve all used for years for our family photos. Its 19 pages were filled with photos dating back to the early 1900s, picturing relatives and special events. Several more pages were filled with cards and letters, many of them apparently made by children and grandchildren.

My friend turned sleuth and was able to determine the album was probably owned by a woman named Caroline Kolupski, who used live in North Greece. He reached out to me for help in locating Caroline’s family so it could be returned. Perhaps, he thought, if I wrote a blog about the album, someone might recognize the photos or names.

My readers came through.

Within just a few days of posting the blog, I was contacted by not just one, but two of Caroline’s relatives who still live in the area and who were excited about the prospect of getting the album back. After that, it was just a matter of arranging a time for the hand-off.

That happened earlier this week when my friend and I met Marilyn Kolupski Kraitsik and Sandy LaDonna Kolupski for breakfast at The Original Steve’s Diner in Penfield. Marilyn is one of Caroline’s daughters, Sandy a niece by marriage.

We had a delightful time, getting to know each other and revisiting the details of the photo album’s journey from Goodwill to breakfast table. The album lying between them on the table, Marilyn and Sandy paged through it, pointing out Caroline and all the aunts, uncles and grandparents pictured in the old, fading photos. We were introduced to so many people and so many wonderful memories.

It was especially delightful to learn more about Caroline, who passed away in 2000, and the Kolupski clan.

Caroline had nine brothers and sisters, and her husband Lou had ten siblings. They raised four children of their own, three girls and a boy. A strikingly beautiful woman, Sandy remembers that her Aunt Caroline, “one of our sweet aunts,” was “as beautiful inside as well as outside.”

The ladies were also able to fill in some blanks. For starters, I’d theorized that the album had been assembled for Caroline because she was going into a nursing home or was in the hospital. Instead, Marilyn believes it was one of many photo albums her mother had put together, and the cards and letters tucked in the back had been added later, perhaps as part of a group Christmas gift.

As for how it ended up at Goodwill? Marilyn thinks when her sister was clearing out some of their mom’s old things, the album got mixed into the bags and boxes and not noticed.

When breakfast was over, Marilyn tucked the album under her arm and both she and Sandy thanked us — again — for finding and returning it. They were clearly thrilled to have it back, and we were equally pleased to have followed the story to its happy ending.

In hindsight, we shouldn’t have worried that we wouldn’t be able to find the photo album’s owner. There are still a LOT of Kolupskis in the Rochester area, and they’re all related. So it was really only a matter of time before “Grama” Kolupski’s album would find its way back home.

Thank you to everyone who shared the blog and have followed the story. (Click here to read the original blog I posted about the album.)

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email me  at missyblog@gmail.com“Like” this blog on Facebook and follow me on Twitter and Instagram (@missyblog)

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Webster has a Women’s Hall of Fame?

15 Mar

I really never know where my next blog idea will come from. In this case, it was an email from my friend Kathy Taddeo at the Webster Museum. She was writing about an unrelated topic but happened to mention something that really piqued my interest: the “Webster Women’s Hall of Fame.”

A Webster Women’s Hall of Fame? I’d never heard of this before, and I immediately wondered whether it still existed, where it could be found, and who’s been inducted. I clearly needed to do some research.

My first stop, of course, was the Webster Museum, as it always is when I need to find out something about our town’s history. Town Historian Lynn Barton was able to tell me a few things right away: the Hall of Fame was a program run by the Webster Business and Professional Women’s Club (BPW), and it no longer exists. Mostly because the club itself no longer exists.

Lynn had a box of records and papers from the BPW, and the museum had several other boxes filled with materials tucked in their back room. After about an hour poking through them, and with additional help from museum volunteers and my friend (and 2000 inductee) Shirley Humphrey, I was able to pull together a pretty good picture of what the Women’s Hall of Fame was/is.

The Webster BPW was established in 1964, but the Women’s Hall of Fame wasn’t created until 1975, which was officially designated by the United Nations as International Women’s Year. Its purpose was to “honor and perpetuate the memory of women in Webster, past or present, who have significantly affected the lives of those around them.”

Nominations were open to all Webster women and were solicited through notices in the Webster papers and forms posted at the library and at Town Hall. 

The first inductee was Marie Stone, who taught history and Latin at Webster High School for 40 years, and was instrumental in establishing the Webster Historical Society. She was the best friend and colleague of Esther Dunn (author of Webster…Through the Years) and was part of the organizing committee which formed the Webster Museum at Town Hall in 1976.

The last woman to be inducted was Carroll Manning, in 2004. Carroll moved to Webster in 1973, where her husband Rob established the Webster Veterinary Clinic. She was very involved in the Webster Arboretum, and was also known for knitting hundreds of pairs of mittens to donate to those in need. Carroll passed away in September, 2021 at 90 years old.

The Webster BPW continued to meet regularly until 2014 when it was finally dissolved due to declining membership.

Below, you’ll find a list of all of the Women’s Hall of Fame inductees. (No one seems to know why there five honorees in 1999.) The Webster Museum has photos of them all, and hope to some day soon put together an exhibit honoring these amazing women. There’s a good chance you’ll recognize some of the names.

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email me  at missyblog@gmail.com“Like” this blog on Facebook and follow me on Twitter and Instagram (@missyblog)

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Shirley Humphrey

Village resident publishes children’s book about kindness

11 Mar

Village of Webster resident Claudia Uschold has published a new children’s book that touches on a familiar problem: how hard it is to make friends at a new school.

William Was Worried!, published in November by RoseDog Books, tells the story of young William, who’s just moved to a new, larger school. Although he tries his best to make new friends, nothing seems to work. He becomes increasingly sad, anxious and … well, worried. Then a kind teacher and a fellow student noticed his struggles and stepped in to make William feel included.

“The book is really about kindness,” Claudia said. “Philippians 2:4 says to look out for the interests of others. I wanted to write something that brought that concept to the level that kids can understand. What you can do to help another student.”

Claudia drew the idea for the book directly from her 30-year career as a State Rd. Elementary School speech pathologist.

“Being with kids, you watch their behavior and you see how they interact with one another,” she said. “Working with new students that come to the school, you see how difficult it is to make a friend and feel valued and a part of everything.” 

The journey from original idea to publication was a long one, in part due to the care that her illustrator, Marissa Birke, took to create the book’s beautiful artwork.

Village residents may recognize that name as well. Marissa was the proprietor of The Pickled Paintbrush, an art-themed shop which for almost two years occupied the storefront at 36 East Main St. in the village before losing its battle with the pandemic.

Claudia actually first met Marissa at The Pickled Paintbrush. A few years ago, when she and a friend were taking a watercolor class there, Claudia chatted with Marissa about her story and asked if she’d consider illustrating it.

“She agreed,” Claudia remembered. “I was thrilled. From what I could see she certainly seemed like a gifted artist.”

Claudia’s not sure how many books she’s sold so far, but she’s OK with that. “I’m not going to make a lot of money,” she said, adding, “Even if one child reads it and enjoys it, I’m happy.”

William Was Worried! is available at Amazon.com and BarnesandNoble.com.

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email me  at missyblog@gmail.com“Like” this blog on Facebook and follow me on Twitter and Instagram (@missyblog)

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Looking back at the year in blogs

31 Dec

As another challenging year comes to a close, I took a moment the other day to look back through all the blogs I wrote in 2021. It was a fun tour and I was a little surprised by the sheer number: 248. I really thought there’d be fewer than that, given that we were still dealing with the pandemic, schools were still ratcheting up from remote learning and many regularly-scheduled special events were scaled back or postponed entirely.

But it turns out I still had a lot to write about. For that matter, the largest percentage of those blogs were about special events that continued to be held despite COVID, or returned this year after being put on hold in 2020. They included Village events like the Trick-or-Treat Trail, White Christmas, the Family Games nights, Beer Walk, and the holiday summer parade. But several other Webster events also got my attention, including the St. Rita Fiesta, Waterfront Art Festival and the XRX Radio Club Field Day.

I wrote a lot about businesses, especially highlighting the new ones that opened this year despite the pandemic. And there were several of them: Whimsies, Crafty Christy’s Boutique, Village HandWorks, Cobblestone on Main, Polar Freeze, To the Core Pilates and Nourished. I wrote about the new owners at Diamond Collsion, yoga classes at Welch’s Greenhouses and anniversary parties at my two favorite pubs, Barry’s and Knucklehead. I lamented the passing of The Music Store, and explored a long-time village business, Village Mall Video, for the first time.

I spread positive news from our schools about the Webster Marching Band’s Autumn Fanfare and State Championship; the schools’ musicals and dramas, Plank North and Schlegel Elementary Schools’ Tour Around the Lakes; and the creative ways the PTSA found to help the Class of 2021 feel special.

I highlighted local organizations that create the fabric of our community (most of them several times), including the Chorus of the Genesee, Webster Museum, Webster Public Library, Friends of Webster Trails, Miracle Field, the Webster Theater Guild and Bella’s Bumbas.

Then there were all those blogs which I can only characterize as snippets from small-town life, the kinds of simple things and wonderful people that make living in Webster special.

I shared photos of many of our village’s beautiful gardens, charming village porches and Christmas decorations. I told stories about neighbors helping neighbors: the Curtice Park homeowner who hosted a COVID-friendly Easter scavenger hunt for kids; a porch concert on Park Ave.; and the kind person who’s created a wild animal sanctuary on the Hojack Trail. I especially liked giving shout-outs to kids doing great things, like the young artists who created a chalk garden on Baker Street, and the six-year old who sold lemonade on South Ave. to benefit St. Jude’s.

I’ve met many wonderful people through this blog, and shared many of their stories with you. Like “Webster’s Mrs. Claus,” Florence Kinney; Brandon Schafer, the “North Ave. Artist”; and the new director of the Webster Library, Adam Traub.

Finally, I shared some personal stories, and wrote others just for fun (like the recent one about the hit-and-run at the Irondequoit Rec Center).

I got a proclamation for outstanding community service from the Town of Webster in August, and displayed many of my blog photos at the Webster Public Library. I shared both of those accomplishments with you all. I introduced a new website, Afterthoughts, and a few enhancements to my Webster on the Web site, links to local services and a village directory.

And finally, there were the mysteries you worked through with me: Who lost that GoPro in the lake? Who WAS James Carnavale? Who was that man who painted the Holt Rd. sign?

Whew.

I know a lot of you are still reading this blog, three or more page scrolls down from where it began. I know that because you are the folks who’ve been with me all year.

You’re the reason I write this blog. Because even though I enjoy doing this, it would get pretty old if I thought my words weren’t making a difference.

So thank you all for being faithful readers. I wish you all a very happy, healthy and successful 2022, and I look forward to continuing to spread good news from our hometown.

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email me  at missyblog@gmail.com“Like” this blog on Facebook and follow me on Twitter and Instagram (@missyblog)

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A walk down memory lane in honor of Carol Klem

30 Dec

I’ve been thinking a lot about Carol Klem lately.

Last month I posted a blog reminding everyone that November 21 is, and will always be, Carol Klem Day in the Village of Webster. (If you didn’t know Carol, check out the blog to understand what a village treasure she was.)

More recently, I was asked to craft a biography for Carol to be posted on the Webster Museum’s Webster Through the Years page. As I was scrolling through old blogs looking for a photo to accompany that biography, I came across one post that really made me smile.

Those of you who knew Carol and her Village Focus column in the Webster Herald will remember how Carol would pen an epic holiday poem every year, highlighting all of the great Village of Webster people and events she encountered that year. It was always published in the Herald between Christmas and New Year’s Day.

As a writer and blogger myself, I was a huge Carol Klem fan, and I feel blessed to have considered her a good friend before she passed in 2018. I always enjoyed her annual poems and in 2012, they inspired me to write one of my own.

I had emailed her that year to tell her how impressed I was with her latest installment. When she responded, she lamented that since she wrote for the Village of Webster, she couldn’t really include anything about the greater Town of Webster.

Since I was more familiar with the town than the village at that point (I actually was living in North Penfield then) I tried to fill in some of the blanks with a poem of my own.

In memory of Carol Klem, here is that poem (originally posted nine years ago today, Dec. 30, 2012, which is why it’s a bit out of date.)

AN ODE TO WEBSTER TOWN

Last night I tossed and turned in bed,
no visions of sugarplums in MY head.
Carol’s poem I’d just read.
(She does one every year.)

It really was a work of art,
which came directly from the heart,
‘bout the people and places that are a part
of this village we hold so dear.

A role model, Carol is to me.
The Webster village crier is she.
Just like her I want to be
when I grow up (if I do).

But this time she has gone too far.
She has really raised the bar
by adding to her repertoire
an epic poem so sweet and true.

But I will do my very best.
I’ll put my ‘puter to the test,
and till it’s done I will not rest
We’ll see how far it goes.

But unlike Carol, I must say
there absolutely is NO way,
I canNOT, to my great dismay,
name everyone I knows.

Carol has, luckily,
covered the village quite thoroughly.
So the only thing that’s left for me
is to “report” on the rest of the town.

Webster Village, we love you, true,
but there’s much more to our town than you.
There are businesses, people, festivals, too.
The best community, hands down.

Like all our parks (you know the ones),
for picnics, games and playground fun.
There’s even one where kids can run
beneath a spraying whale.

There’s Webster Park to barbecue,
Finn, Ridge and Kent and Empire, too.
There’s Sandbar with its sunset views,
and North Ponds with its biking trail.

The town’s natural beauty does not end there.
There are hiking trails just everywhere.
The Friends keep them in good repair
so we can all enjoy them.

Like Vosburg, Whiting, Gosnell, Finn.
Midnight, Ungar, and Arboretum,
Hojack (where the trains have been),
and Four Mile Creek (the new one).

Even driving can be fun
(If 104 is ever done),
but stay off Ridge Road, everyone
at lunch and dinner time.

Our schools do make us very proud.
By the marching band are people wowed.
School concerts always draw a crowd,
and the musicals are prime.

An open house the Town does host,
a summer party with fireworks,
the Fiesta at St. Rita’s Church,
and Community Arts Day.

At the Aquatic Center you can take a swim.
With ice skates at the arena you’ll skim,
and at the library a good book begin,
while the kids enjoy a puppet play.

You can take a class at the Rec,
buy fruit at Obbie’s Farm Market,
see a movie (like 3-D Shrek!),
then go next door to knock some pins.

Want to get something good to eat?
Webster’s offerings can’t be beat.
Like Bill Gray’s, Hedge’s, Charlie’s, T’s,
then an Abbott’s ice cream for some grins.

And at the head of this great town,
Supervisor Nesbitt can be found,
And the talented staff he keeps around
To keep things running well.

They keep our streets clear when it snows,
their free mulch helps our flowers grow.
They keep sewers clear and police our roads.
(Yes, and tax us for it all…)

Now, I’ve only just begun to list
the great things in Webster that exist.
Many people and places I have missed
in this overly long poem.

But I think that I have proved my case
that Webster is a special place.
I’m glad it’s become MY home base.
(Or, as I call it, “home”).

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email me  at missyblog@gmail.com“Like” this blog on Facebook and follow me on Twitter and Instagram (@missyblog)

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Sights and sounds of the season

22 Dec

The Village of Webster is an awesome place to live and work, but every Christmas season, it’s especially magical.

For starters, village homeowners really do a nice job with holiday decorations. Some displays are sparkly and gaudy, others muted and dignified. But together they make for a delightful stroll or slow drive through the streets to admire the spectacle.

I did just that last night, snapping photos of many of my favorites. You’ll see them in the slideshow at the end of this blog.

But something else happens every year (pandemic years excepted) that I think makes our village unique: community caroling.

This week the streets of Webster Village were alive with music as two separate groups strolled through the neighborhoods, caroling at businesses and homes along the way.

The first of the musical meanderings took place Monday night, when Robyn Whittaker, owner of Beyond Cuts salon, hosted almost two dozen friends, business acquaintances and assorted other local residents on her “Christmas Carol Debacle” caroling party. I couldn’t join the festivities this year, but I’m sure the happy group visited plenty of unsuspecting businesses and homes on their trek through the village.

They even stopped at my house, where my husband and I enjoyed a hearty version of “Jingle Bells” (pictured above). It made our evening, as I’m sure it did for many others who enjoyed ther carolers’ music.

Then last night, I joined the Chorus of the Genesee briefly for their annual “Soup & Carol Night.” The Chorus has been hosting this evening of caroling for more than 25 years. This year’s group numbered about 20, who first gathered at the Harmony House to pick up song sheets. After their musical walk through the village, everyone returned for socializing, coffee, cookies, and a selection of delicious homemade soups.

This kind of stuff is really what small-town life is all about.

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An angel in our midst: Florence Kinney, Webster’s “Mrs. Claus”

21 Dec

Christmastime — the time of year everyone’s a little more charitable to one another, a little more patient and little kinder. Food pantry donations increase, Toys for Tots collection bins overflow. Winter clothing drives generate piles of coats, hats and mittens. But then, come the new year, everything pretty much goes back to normal.

For Webster resident Florence Kinney, kindness, compassion and charity don’t stop on December 26. They’re essential facets of her year-round mission to spread Christmas cheer.

Florence Kinney — or as some know her, “Mrs. Claus” — is the driving force behind an unbelievable grassroots ministry, which she calls “Santa’s Workshop,” dedicated to bringing presents to children who might not get many gifts, or anything, for Christmas.

Throughout the year, Florence buys toys for thousands of children to bring happiness and holiday cheer into their lives. It began as a project intended for children who had to spend the holidays in the hospital, but in 32 years since it began, it has grown far beyond that original purpose.

The story about how it all began is rather inspirational.

In December 1989, Florence came across an article in the Democrat and Chronicle about two brothers who were going to be spending their Christmas at Rochester General Hospital. After reading the article, she asked her husband Charles if they could go to the store and just buy one toy truck for each little boy. He agreed; just one toy.

After delivering the trucks to the hospital, something kept nagging at Florence. “It kept building in my mind,” she said. She asked Charles if they could go out and get just a few more. He agreed, again, and they headed out to shop.

They came back with 400 gifts.  

“He was a real patient man,” Florence said.

Naturally, RGH was thrilled with the donations, and spread the word at a meeting they had with other Rochester-area hospital administrators. Florence and Charles’ phone started ringing, but they’d already decided it simply cost too much money to do again.

Then they got a call from a D&C reporter who’d heard what they did at RGH and wanted to come out for an interview. Florence basically told him there’d be no need because they weren’t going to do it anymore.

The following day the reporter phoned again and asked Florence a question she wasn’t expecting.

“Mrs. Kinney,” he asked, “I just wondered, have you and your husband prayed about this? I wish you would because I think you would come up with a different answer.”

“It was a very emotional moment for us,” Florence remembered. She and Charles stood in a corner of their kitchen and prayed.

“Next thing we knew this heat just rose right up from our feet, right through our body. We both started crying our eyes out and I looked at (Charles) and said, ‘This is a calling.'”

Santa’s Workshop for Hospitalized Children began that day, and for more than three decades, has been bringing a litle bit of Christmas cheer to thousands of children each year.

“We didn’t turn anyone down,” Florence said. “I worked three jobs to try to keep it going. But we knew it was a calling.”

Even after her husband Charles passed away in 2003, Florence pressed on. And what began as a effort to bring joy to children at RGH eventually spread to include seven local ministries, plus children affected by natural disasters, and even children in other countries.

“Wherever we’re called, Santa’s Workshop goes,” Florence said.

Every year, multiple “elves” help Florence collect, box up and deliver toys, clothing, books, stuffed animals, trucks, game, puzzles and more. It’s a daunting job; last week’s delivery to RGH alone filled four SUVs.

If Florence ever doubted for a moment that her mission is divinely-driven, the miracles she encounters almost every day in her work are constant reminders. The most recent happened just a few days ago, as she was nearing her goal of providing 4,000 gifts this year.

A few days before the deliveries began, she counted all of the gifts, which filled several rooms of her house. She found she was 77 short of that magic number of 4,000. Just 77 more and she’d be done for the year.

Shortly thereafter, two of her elves came in, clutching seven gifts. Only 70 more to go.

Then, a friend called. “We’re going shopping for the kids,” he told Florence, and took her to Ollie’s. She filled shopping cart after shopping cart with gifts, which her friend then took to the front register and purchased.

She never told him she needed 70 more gifts. Nor was she counting them as she filled the carts. But when she got them home, she took stock again, knowing that she was pretty close.

There were 71 gifts. It was, Florence said, “magical.”

In the last 32 years Florence Kinney has distributed 96,500 gifts, most of which she purchased herself. She hopes to continue the ministry for at least one more year, and reach the unbelievable goal of 100,000 children served. That means only 3,500 more gifts; compared to this year’s 4,000, that should be a breeze. She’s already started purchasing gifts for next year and plans to head out early the day after Christmas to pick up some bargains.

I asked her, if and when she reached that goal, would she really be able to retire?

“The only way I could do it is if God tells me that,” she said. “He called me to it, he’ll call me away from it. I know that in my heart. It will be his decision to make.”

Then she laughed. “At this moment, we are going to try to, though.”

Whatever she decides, Florence Kinney has already created a legacy for which she will long be remembered.

* * *

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