ONEONTA – “You spent your last day on Earth saving others,” his sister-in-law, Erika Heller, declared this afternoon at John Heller’s funeral. “We are so proud.”
Erika, along with John’s fiance Amber Roe, his Oneonta Job Corps colleague Kathleen Feeney, state Sen. Jim Seward, R-Milford, and the Rev. Judith Thistle, pastor of Worcester’s Second Baptist Church, addressed 350 mourners – reflective, often tearful – this afternoon in Foothills’ Atrium.
At calling hours at Bookhout Funeral Home last evening, the line was up to 2 1/2 hours long.
Today’s speakers painted an affectionate picture of a young man who had grown into a brave, loving, dedicated adult, full of humanity and humor.
With Foothills Fortunes Rising, New President At Board’s Helm
By JIM KEVLIN
In 2017, 18,983 fans walked through Foothills’ doors. In 2018, that rose to 28,128, just shy of a 50-percent increase.In 2017, Foothills Performing Arts Center hosted 271 events. In the year just ended, that rose to 321, an 18 percent increase.
“There’s something for everyone,” Roxana Hurlburt explains cheerfully. The vice president of ISD, the tech consulting firm, Hurlburt became president of the Foothills board Jan. 1, succeeding Johna Peachin, who is stepping back to board treasurer.
On the one hand, there are Metropolitan Opera simulcasts; (Bizet’s “Carmen” is coming up Feb. 2.) On the other hand, Roxana reported, there’s Thompson Square, the husband and wife combination that performed their country playlist to a full house this past Veterans Day.
With George Wells, Townsquare Media’s former local GM, as president of Orpheus Theatre’s board, Oneonta’s cornerstone community theater troupe and Foothills have reconciled after a years-ago rift of long-forgotten origin. Orpheus’ Starstruck Players will perform “Law & Order: Fairy Tale Unit,” Jan. 11, 12 and 13 in the upstairs theater, and recently designated Foothills home to its children’s-theater arm.
Highlights of this past year included the Power of Dance, based in New Jersey, organizing a contest for dancers from Oneonta’s local troupes. Most of its events are in larger cities, from Albany to Cleveland and Columbus, Ohio.
And, of course, Amy Schumer, visiting Delaware County relatives, turned up one day and offered to test material from her summertime national tour at a Foothills benefit in May. The show sold out in a few hours, and raised $11,000, allowing Foothills to make a sizeable donation to Opportunities for Otsego’s women’s shelter.
Perennial events are going strong, too, said Hurlburt, pointing to the Shamrock Swing in March, where boys and their moms spending an evening dancing and eating pizza, the masculine counterpart to the Family Y’s annual Daddy-Daughter Dance at SUNY’s Hunt Union the month before.
The annual Taste of Foothills, where local restaurants highlight their specialties, followed by a comedy act, filled the 600-seat Bettiol Theatre for a performance for nationally hailed mentalist Craig Karges in October.
“It’s all positive down there,” said Hurlburt the other day in a double interview at ISD headquarters that included Bill Youngs, the Foothills director who has guided the day-to-day progress over the past three years.
Except for a stint in Troy, where she and her husband, Jim, “childhood sweethearts,” lived while newlyweds, Roxana has lived most of her life in Otego. However, she took advantage of her time in the Capitol District to attended Hudson Valley Community College.
Returning to Greater Oneonta, she was assistant to Frank Isbell, then Fox Hospital president, before joining ISD 30 years ago and building the business with company president Ron Ranc.
Over the years, as sons Jim Jr. and Jesse were growing up – the Hurlburts also have two grandchildren, Cooper, 5, and Gunner, 8 – she was active in community groups such as the Cub and Boy scouts, Little League, and the Otego Volunteer Fire Department Ladies’ Auxiliary, as well as the Otsego Chamber and Catskill Hospice boards.
She “grew up with” the Bettiol family, and entrepreneur Gene Bettiol, Southside Oneonta’s developer, encourage her to join the Foothills board a few years ago. (Bettiol had adopted the performing arts center after the death of his son, Gene Jr., one of the originators of the Foothills idea, along with promoter Peter Macris and others.)
While Gene Sr. passed away in December 2017, his wife Betty has continued to support the undertaking, most recently providing tables, chairs and linens for the Atrium, where weddings, dinners and social events are hosted.
The benefactor also provided chairs for the “black box” production room and the upstairs theater, which thrills Bill Youngs – previously, his staff of three, led by veteran Geoff Doyle, now office manager, had to ferry furniture around the sizeable complex as events required.
Hurlburt sees Foothills taking advantage of opportunities that will surface through the City of Oneonta’s DRI (the Downtown Revitalization Initiative), noting a recent $15,000 grant was used to hire Paperkite, the Cooperstown consultant, to develop a marketing strategy.
The city’s theater consultant, Webb Associates, envisions Foothills as eventually managing the historic Oneonta Theater, although what happens there remains to be determined.
Roxana emphasized Foothills plans to be as prudent with public money as it is with its own. City Hall had provided $20,000 to repaint the 10-year-old main building, but it was discovered that the current tannish color was mixed in with the cement in the original construction.
If the building were to be painted, it would only peel, requiring another $20,000 paint job in eight years.
Roxanna Hurlburt, then chairing Foothills’ facilities committee, gave City Hall its money back.
Though the parade and the fireworks at Oneonta’s First Night celebration have been cancelled, the festivities at Foothills are still scheduled from 5 p.m. to midnight, according to organizer David Hayes.
“Unfortunately, in Upstate New York, we are at the mercy of the weather,” he said. “But it was just going to be a wall of rain, and out of concern for people’s safety, we decided to cancel.”
Duncan Webb, found of Webb Management Services, the premier consultant on revitalizing and managing historic theaters, told a gathered audience at Foothills that the 121 year old theater, now owned by Tom Cormier, was viable, and recommended that it be renovated and “aligned with the downtown” in helping to attract visitors who shop and stay in hotels in Oneonta.
But most notably, he said that the theater, once restored, should partner with the Foothills Performing Arts Center, rather than be in competition with it, and that Foothills should manage the theater’s operations. Additionally, he recommended that SUNY Oneonta partner with the theater to develop programs based around the college’s theater and music departments.
Emcee “Big Chuck” D’Imperio, right, stands high above a packed crowd that gathered on Main Street this morning to welcome Santa back to Oneonta with big cheers and happy smiles during the annual Santa Parade. Santa will spend the afternoon in his cottage in Muller Plaza, hearing good boys and girls’ Christmas wishes. And once you’ve seen Santa, you can go down to Foothills to see the Gingerbread Jubilee and join in the cookie fun. At right, Brittany Boyke, Davenport, helps her little penguin – daughter Alexis Merwin – decorate a delicious holiday treat. The fun at Foothills continues until 3 p.m.
Entries flooding in Friday afternoon for this year’s annual Gingerbread House competition as contestants carry their confectionery creations in into the Foothills atrium for the judging later in the evening evening. Above, David Kropp, Oneonta, starts arranging a few of a 50 record entries, including one depicting Oneonta’s Christmas tree in Rockefeller Center last Christmas, made by his sixth- and seventh-grade class at Oneonta Christian Academy. At right, Julie Dostal and Chris Rolko arrive with LEAF’s gingerbread igloo. Entries drop-off ended at 6 p.m.(Ian Austin/AllOTSEGO.com)
No peeking! Above, Mentalist Craig Karges, with coins taped to his eyes with a blindfold on top, was able to correctly guess that Cindy Seward, right, Milford, was holding a cell phone charger without seeing or touching it. They were joined on stage by Jim Kevlin, left, Cooperstown, who arranges cups to hide a dangerous spike for a second trick. Earlier in the evening, diners enjoyed the finest food selections from area eateries. At right, Ivan Miritello, Oneonta, serves up some salad from Elena’s Michael Catering, one of the many food selections from area eateries during this evening’s Taste Of Foothills banquet. (Ian Austin/AllOTSEGO.com)
Foothills Performing Arts Center this evening recognized its benefactor, Gene Bettiol, who passed away last Dec. 2, as its Distinguished Citizen of The Year. His wife, Betty, accepted the award during the annual Taste of Foothills celebration, from Roxana Hurlburt, a Foothills board member. With Mrs. Bettiol were her daughter Jaci and grandson Eric Michelitsch. Jaci Bettiol read a tribute to her father, as did Joseph Podolfino, his lawyer and longtime friend. Last year, the honor went to Arnie Drogen, Foothills co-founder and longtime board member. (Jim Kevlin/AllOTSEGO.com)
The OHS Class of ’18 celebrated its Senior Prom last night in the Foothills Atrium, where they danced and enjoyed food and photo booths. Above, Nate Southwick and his date Kirsten Lester sway on the dance floor among their classmates to one of the evening’s slow songs. Later, students headed to the OHS Cafeteria where they played games of chance to win a wide selection of prizes and money. At right, Christian Holoquist and Danielle Basdekis, left, as they deal cards to Jada Fisher and Christina Mattocks. (Ian Austin/AllOTSEGO.com)
At the first Otsego County Healthy Living Expo today, organizer Mathew Johnson, left, and Julie Dostal, right, look on as Bassett physician Richard Brown briefs state Sen. Jim Seward, R-Milford, on National Take Back Week, an initiative to collect outdated prescriptions. Inset photo, Allistair, left, and Alex Scorzafava, center, present Michael Gardner, Milford, with a brand new bicycle provided by New York Central Mutual; the company will be giving out another 25 bike tomorrow (Saturday), when the Expo resumes from 10 to 4 in Foothills’ Atrium. The event features 40 local organizations providing information on healthy living. Visitors can get information and resources, plus fresh produce courtesy of Pathfinder village. You can pet animals from the Utica Zoo, listen to guest speakers, or have your feet checked for weight distribution. (Ian Austin/AllOTSEGO.com)