Author: Created in March 2022 in part by Jacqueline White
In light of March 8th being International Women’s Day and March being Women’s History Month, we wanted to take the time to celebrate some of the women who have, and who continue to make a difference in the Cooperstown area. Markers of Historical and Legends & Lore distinction pay homage to women like Susan B. Anthony and Amelia Earhart and their connection to Otsego County.
When asked if any women have made historic waves in relation to their business, the following entries were submitted by Cooperstown & Otsego County area companies. Each of the women below carries a sense of great pride within their place of work. Read on to honor some of the matriarchs of the tourism-related businesses nestled in upstate New York. Cooperstown & Otsego County are lucky to have - and are very proud - to introduce the following women in celebration of Women’s History month...
Melissa Miosek is the Brand Director of Brewery Ommegang. As Brand Director of Brewery Ommegang, she oversees all brand marketing and leads of an On-site Tap House and Mercantile store. Melissa drives branding and exposure for one of the nation's fastest-growing IPA Beer brands, Ommegang’s Neon Rainbows, brewed in Cooperstown.
Under Melissa's leadership, the overall guest experience has been elevated for all that visit the brewery. Melissa has worked to drive incremental consumers to our "Fire Pit" Fridays and has worked to help secure one of the biggest concert line-ups this summer for the Ommegang Concert series and is also leading the efforts as Brewery Ommegang celebrates its 25th Anniversary this year. She is passionate about connecting Brewery Ommegang with the local community which has already opened doors to many local partnerships, support for local organizations, and overall goodwill.
To get a taste of Melissa’s passion, plan a getaway to Brewery Ommegang for dinner and a Travel Package or a concert…either way, you can’t miss what Melissa has got brewing!
Michelle Freehafer has played an integral role at Red Shed Brewery since its inception 7 years ago and has been part of the larger Otsego County community area for more than 40 years. She originated from the Catskills but ultimately chose to call Cooperstown home. Starting out in administration, her job responsibilities have since ranged from beer tending to event coordination. Planning for the brewery's annual Oktoberfest that attracts patrons from beyond the Central New York Region, and the traditional St. Patrick’s Day parties are just a couple of major, local economic drivers that she loves contributing to. Hundreds of other small events throughout the years have also taken place thanks to Michelle’s creative energy and organization.
Through her hard work and dedication to the Red Shed team, Michelle has made waves in the male-dominated field of craft beer and has greatly contributed to the enjoyment of many guests, new and old, visiting Cooperstown, exploring the craft beer culture of New York State. Plan a visit to our Cooperstown Brewery or their (smaller and seasonal) Cherry Valley Taproom to relish the flavor of success Michelle has supported and been so much a part of!
In 1988, four female teachers, Debby Clough, Dawn Minette, Tina Morris, and Helen Rees, from the Greater Plains Elementary School went to the City of Oneonta and asked if they could use the empty, derelict house next to Riverside School as the focal point for the Oneonta City School District’s 4th-grade local history curriculum. The City, which owned the property, gave them permission, and so began the restoration of what is now the Swart-Wilcox House Museum.
In 1991, the Swart Wilcox House was placed on the National Registry of Historic Places. In 2004 the NYS Education Department chartered it as a House Museum. In 2012 the historic Peter Swart corn crib was added. All of this historic preservation and honor in the name of conservation to teach students about the oldest remaining structure in Oneonta and the lives lived around it, due to the tenacity of four driven women.
Over the last 30 years, the house has been restored back to the 1870-1910 Victorian era. This was the period of Oneonta’s greatest growth, and when the Wilcox family lived there. The house has been furnished almost exclusively with gifts from the Oneonta community. In the 1990s the "Friends of the Swart-Wilcox House" was created. Since then, they have overseen maintaining the house, accessioning & preserving donations, providing school talks & tours, creating programs for community groups, developing exhibits, as well as creating special events for the community.
The four original “Mothers of the Swart-Wilcox House” have long since become the Board of the Friends of SW and have been joined by a variety of talented and creative retirees who volunteer their time to keep things going. A note from Helen Rees who is still a powerhouse in the maintaining of the historic home:
“The photo is from the 1988 Cocktail Fund Raiser which we organized at the Oneonta Country Club. That night we raised approximately $5,000 in funds and roughly $10,000 in pledges. That was when we realized that our “public school mentality” of fundraising via bake sales would never get us anywhere near the NYS Matching $100,000 Grant level that we need…, especially in the limited time frame of 1 year. So we started a letter-writing and personal approach campaign, and at the last minute eventually had a Guest Editorial in the Daily Star, which finally put us over. The resultant $200,000 restoration was overseen by Joe Bernier and the City of Oneonta staff…since we were all full-time teachers who had no time or knowledge to send out bids and oversee construction workers.”
“As for the photo…I have always tried to list the 4 “Mothers of the House” in alphabetic order…as we were all strong, creative, and capable women…and no one person did more than any other. We each had our own strengths, and we appreciated that if someone said they would do something…it would get done…no need to check. John Lutz, the Oneonta City School Assistant Superintendent, called us the “Skunk Works”…as if a task was mentioned, it was done before he knew it…sort of like the skunk that comes out at night and works creating something that hadn’t been there the day before. We took it as a compliment…honest!”
The SW house has created a successful Summer Sunday Series of programs entertaining local interests that cover the lives of the people, as well as the history of the community & world events. Tours are available April through October and welcome school and motorcoach travel with reservations made in advance.
Leatherstocking Railway Historical Society and the Cooperstown & Charlotte Valley Railroad would like to recognize Frances Puffer (Fran) for her valuable contribution to our organizations. She moved to Oneonta in 1960 to attend college and decided to make Otsego County her forever home.
Fran has been a loyal member for over 15 years and spent many, thousands of administrative hours in the office doing financial and passenger reservations. She has decorated dozens of our passenger cars for special events, wore costumes, and for many years operated as our primary conductor on countless excursion train rides. Her knowledge of our historical equipment is exemplary as she explains about the cars and rails to our many chartered school and general passengers. Oftentimes you would find Fran on a ladder painting one of our historical buildings in Milford or building benches for O’Neil Station in Cooperstown. Fran is a proud Leatherstocking Railway Historical Society Board member who has been instrumental in many of our updates and policy changes. We recognize Frances Puffer as an influential female force and would love for you to come to meet her.
Train season begins with the Easter Bunny Express in April. Check the website schedule for all other train rides, charter opportunities, and a chance to chat with Fran!
Dr. Marcela Micucci’s work ethic, education, and intelligence serve as qualities worthy of a role model for all citizens. She works countless hours for the benefit of Oneonta citizens as well as visitors to our community. As an Oneonta resident since 2000, Marcela left Oneonta in 2010 to pursue her degree and work experience.
Marcela’s return to Oneonta in 2020 brought a wealth of knowledge and experiences to the area. Her work as the Andrew W. Mellon Postdoctoral Curatorial Fellow at the Museum of the City of New York included co-curating Beyond Suffrage: A Century of New York Women in Politics and curating Rebel Women: Defying Victorianism and “Debating Vice: The Anti-Obscenity and Birth Control Movements, 1870-1930”. She was also a Postdoctoral Curatorial Fellow at the Museum of the American Revolution in Philadelphia and When Women Lost the Vote: A Revolutionary Story, 1776 – 1807. Her curatorial work and professionalism are welcomed additions to GOHS.
As Director of GOHS, Marcela spearheaded the renovation of the History Center’s first floor and its upcoming permanent exhibition. She works closely with community members and with prominent museum designers to update the small museum experience for Oneontans and visitors. Unfortunately, due to COVID, there have not been significant opportunities for visitors at the History Center. However, Marcela has been working on several projects. There is an ongoing update of the self-guided tour of Oneonta’s Historic Walnut Street area, and she was an organizer and support for last summer’s nostalgic walking tours of Main Street in the 1960s led by Art Torrey and Liz Morley, and the Sixth Ward led by former Oneonta mayor John Nader.
Through her leadership, GOHS is also updating its organizational systems and information technology. Her extensive knowledge base is shared with others as she mentors promising young historians for the Cooperstown Graduate Program for Museum Studies and demonstrates her dedication to the many volunteers at the History Center. Dr. Micucci has been influenced by strong women from our past: Abigail Adams, Olympe de Gouges, and Carrie Chapman Catt; and those from our more recent history: Ruth Bader Ginsberg, Dorothy Pitman Hughes, and Hillary Clinton. As these women have influenced Marcela, she serves as a strong, female role model for our area.
The Art Garage particularly recognizes Elizabeth Nields of the Town of Otego. Elizabeth Nields, an accomplished ceramic artist, and sculptor, has been a major inspiration to hundreds of young artists since the 1970s, mostly through her legendary month-long summer clay workshops.
The Art Garage first exhibited her work in a two gallery show that included gigantic architectural pieces in the sculpture garden in one of our earliest shows, at a different location (the Smithy-Pioneer Gallery just off Main Street in Cooperstown). Originally from NYC, she is one of many artists who have chosen to make Otsego County their home and enhance its vibrancy. The Art Garage is honored to be showing a cameo collection of her ceramic platters and more in the Mid-Winter Show, a 4-person show exhibited through April 5th, 2022. Open year-round and by appointment with many different exhibits on display, the Garage awaits your artful wonder to celebrate women and all artistic talent!
Lonetta was raised in a farm family in Antwerp, NY a small town in northern Jefferson County. As part of a large family, she learned self-reliance, the importance of diligence, and hard work.
She earned her BS degree at Cornell University in 1967. She completed the Jordan Marsh Executive Training program in Boston and did her graduate work at the University of Connecticut. Her broad work experience includes teaching school, owning her own Bed & Breakfast and catering business as well as working as a developmental trainer for New York Central Mutual. For 10 years, she trained employees in the areas of customer service, business writing skills, frontline leadership, time management, and stress management.
Growing up on a family-owned dairy farm, Lonetta understood from an early age, the philosophy of being an entrepreneur. Now, mother of successful children of her own who have followed in her dedicated footsteps, pacing toward ever-increasing tourism as an economic driver in Otsego County, Lonetta created Cooperstown Stay. She successfully continues to run her business to this day and has been a very positive economic factor in the Cooperstown area.
Cooperstown Stay is a rental agency, specializing in short-term vacation rentals for private lodging. Since 1998, she has represented over 900 different hosts who own rental properties. Along the way, she has trained her staff and each host in the meaning of genuine hospitality. An important part of Lonetta’s service has been to help her hosts develop rentals that provide the essential elements of cleanliness, décor, and style desired by today’s travelers.
Contact Lonetta today to book your next vacation home getaway and support a woman-owned business in the Cooperstown & Otsego County area.
Mary Joy Lu is the CEO, Founder, and majority owner of Rail Explorers USA. She and her husband Alex are the founders of the commercial rail bike industry in the United States. Their activity ignited this industry in North America, becoming a multimillion-dollar market employing hundreds.
Rail Explorers USA currently operates successful rail bike divisions in Las Vegas, Rhode Island, The Catskills, and Cooperstown. These operations collectively welcomed over 150,000 riders in 2021. Mary Joy has also selected female leadership for the division manager position in 3 of the 4 current operating divisions. Specific to Cooperstown & Otsego County, Mary Joy has made a significant investment in the community with the creation of Rail Explorers Cooperstown located in Milford, New York.
In its first year of operation in 2021, Rail Explorers Cooperstown attracted almost 20,000 riders to the area while creating a significant payroll and economic impact in Otsego County. Rail Explorers Cooperstown also provides significant support to the Cooperstown & Charlotte Valley Railroad and has also attracted a significant amount of media attention to Otsego County in its first year of operation. Be sure to reserve your seasonal railbike soon to awaken your senses in the fresh air of Central New York, and experience what Mary Joy has lovingly provided this area.
Pamela Colman Smith (known as Pixie to her closest friends) was a brilliant writer, illustrator, and artist, and is the mother of the modern tarot. She was born on February 16, 1878, in Middlesex, England, to a Jamaican mother and a British father. In her younger years, she spent her time between London, New York, and Kingston.
In 1909, Arthur Edward Waite commissioned her to produce a series of seventy-eight paintings to create a tarot deck, which became known as the Rider-Waite Tarot Deck, but Pamela’s life was not as she hoped. Even though she was a highly talented artist and writer, her works failed to reach financial success. Despite illustrating works by Bram Stoker, W.B. Yates, and the Women’s Suffrage Movement, she died penniless and obscure. She was not credited as the Rider-Waite deck illustrator.
I would think that Pamela Coleman Smith would be greatly humbled and honored that the Rider-Waite Tarot Deck is the top deck amongst tarot readers and is the deck most often used by beginners delving into the art of tarot divination. Because the artwork exemplifies her mysticism, ritual, imagination, fantasy, and deep emotions, the deck has been published in numerous editions and has given way to countless variants and replications. With distribution in over 20 countries, it is estimated that there are more than 100 million sets working their spiritualism with tarot readers, enthusiasts, and truth-seekers the world over.
Pamela died on September 18, 1951, at the age of 73. There was no funeral, memorial service, or obituary. Her gravesite remains unknown. She would have all but been forgotten except for her seventy-eight tarot paintings.
As an intuitive tarot reader, I have used my Rider-Waite Tarot deck exclusively for the past two years for personal growth, client readings, and in my tarot workshops. I truly believe that if you start your tarot studies with this original deck you will be able to understand other tarot and oracle decks because of its rich artwork, symbolism, colors, and energy, as ‘the tarot tells the truths we dare not tell ourselves.’ Of all my tarot decks, Pamela’s artwork and symbolism speak to me like no other deck out there. I am truly grateful for the gifts she shared with the world and that through her artwork, the tarot continues to inspire, heal, and fascinate people each, and every day.
My name is Christene Springle of Schenevus, and I would be honored to share with you the truth in Pamela’s visuals.