About Scope    Editor’s Mailbox    Back Issues    Skidmore Home

Fall 2002

- - - - - - - - - -





On campus

Faculty focus



Arts on view

Alumni affairs
and development

Class notes



people & projects

Dance trouper
At home on the range
Moore music, please
Making concessions
Legal eagle
Fret-fully employed

Dance trouper

Imagine you have a stomach virus, and it’s a brutally hot and muggy summer day. (Queasy yet?) Now imagine fitting yourself into a costume, tying on some dancing shoes, and going onstage to perform for an audience. It would take some guts of steel—not to mention mental fortitude. But Judy Podlesney ’58 had all that this past June. She had only to remind herself: “The show must go on!”
     A tap dancer since the age of three, Podlesney (at right, below) recalls that her mother “believed dance classes would help me become a graceful teen.” By fourteen, however, she’d stopped dancing, in favor of other activities, and didn’t start up again until she was in her fifties.
     In 1996, Podlesney joined a group called Happy Feet, started by her tap and clogging instructor. While Happy Feet has nothing to do with pedicures or reflexology, the way Podlesney tells it, it’s just as restorative—and twice as entertaining.
     Based in Fairfax, Va., the group’s repertoire ranges from traditional to jazz choreography set to disco, pop, Irish, bluegrass, and country/western tunes. Of the ten cloggers (they do some tap, too), Podlesney is the oldest; the youngest is thirteen. They perform at festivals, parades, outdoor park pavilions, and retirement homes. At the latter, she notes, “we mingle with the residents and find some ex-hoofers among them—and, at one place, a very elderly ex-stripper.” Last year Happy Feet won a pair of trophies at the Mid-Atlantic Clogging Competition in Maryland.
     Podlesney, an assistant Montessori teacher and nurse in a corporate child-care center, is in it for the fun—and the challenge. She and the other women in the group (it’s open to men, too; but so far none have auditioned) are continually improving, she says. “Being a member of a performing group is time-consuming,” she says, “but the joy I get from it is well worth it.” For more, visit the Web site: www. happyfeetcloggers.org. —MTS

At home on the range

Taber Shirley Rehbaum ’74 says she’s “an optimist by nature”—which may explain why she so successfully made a career switch a few years back, from being a banker in New York to an executive director of a nonprofit in Alaska.
      An English major, Rehbaum jokingly told a Fairbanks Daily News-Miner reporter that Skidmore prepared her “to read books and write papers.” After stints teaching the ice sport of curling and working in an aircraft maintenance shop, Rehbaum turned to banking in Scotia, N.Y. After her husband’s death in 1990, she went on a cruise to Alaska and fell in love with the state.
      The next three summers, Rehbaum stayed in a cabin in the Brooks Range. “It was like being in a National Geographic movie,” she recalls. In 1995 she returned to Alaska to look for a job. She found it posted in the next morning’s paper: executive director of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Greater Fairbanks, a mentoring organization for children.
      “I had no idea whether or not I could run a nonprofit,” she says, but friends and colleagues encouraged her to try. “It was a whole new ballgame,” Rehbaum admits.
      Under Rehbaum, the number of children served by BBBS Fairbanks has grown from about 30 to nearly 400, and the organization is “expanding its vision to include kids living in rural and remote villages where the issues include poverty, substance abuse, suicide, limited resources, and limited opportunities.” Through BBBS, Rehbaum says she gets “to see the best of people: parents and school personnel who want the best for their kids and students; volunteers who share their time, talent, and experience; and kids who blossom and grow into happy and productive young people. The relationships formed in this program can last a lifetime,” she says.
      “I’ve been fortunate to have had many mentors in my own life,” Rehbaum notes. Working on the residence-hall staff for two years at Skidmore, she adds, gave her “a sense of community involvement and purpose that may well have planted the seed that eventually sprouted and grew here in Alaska.” The Last Frontier is Rehbaum’s home. “I absolutely love it,” she says. “I enjoy hiking, biking, dog-mushing, snowshoeing—and just decompressing at my little hilltop log home with my four hairy dogs.” —MTS

Moore music, please

For some people, dreaming aloud pays off. When Maine-based songwriter Chris Moore ’84 was taking mandolin lessons with national guitar champion and mandolin great John McGann in Boston a decade or so ago, they would always talk about their dream band. Then McGann learned of Moore’s songwriting abilities, and soon the duo began performing together as Rust Farm, a band that currently includes bassist Richard Gates (who’s played with Patty Larkin, Paula Cole, and Suzanne Vega, among others) and drummer Dave Mattacks (who’s played with Fairport Convention, Elton John, Jethro Tull, and Paul McCartney, to name a few).
      The debut CD Rust Farm was released in 1998; Snows of March, produced by Nashville musician Tim O’Brien, followed in 2001. A third CD is due out in early 2003.
      Music reviewers have given a thumbs up to Rust Farm’s unique sound. “It’s a sound so complete it should have a name—but it doesn’t,” proclaimed New England Folk Almanac. Country Music People gave Rust Farm a five-star rating, describing the band as “tight” and praising Moore and McGann for their “captivating and unusual harmony singing.” Acoustic Guitar magazine picked up on the duo’s “striking chemistry,” noting that “Moore’s got a forward-tilting Yankee bluegrass baritone and a mandolin style to match.”
      Rust Farm’s sound, according to Moore, is “steeped in American roots music—bluegrass, old-time, country, and folk—but our other musical influences are very broad: The Band, the Beatles, jazz, Los Lobos.…As long as it’s a good song, I pretty much like it regardless of genre,” he says.
      “Songwriting is a spiritual experience, and it’s hard work," Moore contends. “I’m interested in lyric content that is thought-provoking and poetic. I try to make the songs accessible on multiple levels, open to several interpretations.” Artists who’ve performed Moore’s songs include Carol Noonan, Northern Lights, Mark Erelli, and Rani Arbo. New England Folk Almanac observed of Moore: “He is an amazingly versatile writer. He consistently creates new songs that have the timeless quality of the best traditional songs.” —MTS

Making concessions

Shopping and eating under the same roof is nothing new to consumers. K-Mart has Little Caesar’s. Barnes and Noble has Starbucks. And now Expo Design Center, a division of Home Depot, has Expo Café—thanks to Steven Swartz ’91 and his independent food and beverage company, Red Gate Concessions Inc.
      Unlike its more standardized competitors, Red Gate works with clients individually to create an image and location for each particular site. Catering to his clients is no problem for Swartz. (And, given that his great uncle is Dunkin’ Donuts founder Bill Rosenberg, it may even be in his blood.) In two years, Red Gate—based in College Point, N.Y.—has expanded its Expo Cafés to forty stores (with 225 employees) coast to coast.
      Swartz’s company has also created a prototype Café Beyond for a Bed Bath & Beyond store in Westchester, N.Y., has contracted with Massachusetts-based Jordan’s Furniture to open a pizza café, and is experimenting with hotdog kiosks at Home Depot. Swartz anticipates expanding into hospital cafés and university cafeterias.
      As a Skidmore student, Swartz spent summers tending bar and working the front desk at Saratoga’s Gideon Putnam Hotel. He decided to stay in the hospitality industry, enrolling in Marriott’s management program in Boston and then transferring to a new Marriott in New York City. Later, he joined the group that brought the first wrap restaurant to NYC. Wraps led to Boston Chicken (on its way to becoming Boston Market), which led to consulting work, which led to Home Depot, which landed Swartz where he is now.
      At this point, he says, the financial rewards of running Red Gate are slight. “With any developing company, it takes time before you can reap those benefits,” he says. Meanwhile, he’s cultivating his team, learning a lot, and building relationships. “You are who you are in any industry by the name that you have,” he maintains. “You develop the name by developing a reputation for honesty and a straightforward manner.” Swartz says he abides by his own version of the “KISS” rule: “Keep It Simple and Straightforward.” —MTS

Legal eagle

For many, the fall of energy giant Enron has been primarily a matter of news headlines. For Matt Hurst ’95, the collapse of Enron and the consequent decline of the Arthur Andersen accounting firm have been consuming professional concerns for much of the past year.
      An associate with the Chicago law firm Mulroy Scandaglia Marrinson Ryan, Hurst is working with his colleagues to preserve the monthly stipends and health insurance of approximately 600 retired partners of Arthur Andersen—benefits that may be lost if the firm declares bankruptcy. During the summer, Hurst’s firm sought an injunction against Andersen to preserve some assets for the retirees. A federal judge denied the motion, but other legal remedies are now under consideration, he says.
      Hurst believes the case underscores the deepest fears of a public increasingly leery of the news from Wall Street. “If people don’t have confidence in the government and in the accounting firms,” he says, “then there’s no faith in the economy. If those who are supposed to be the watchdogs don’t do their jobs, the system breaks down. Over 50 percent of households have shares in the stock market—more than at any time in history. A failure of trust can have a long-term impact. When you see the market react as it has this summer, it’s likely to take a few years for people to put their faith, and their money, back into the system.”
      A Skidmore political economy major, Hurst earned a J.D. from Northwestern in 1999 and clearly relishes the challenges of litigation. “In law school you’re taught to think along legal lines, but the law reflects society’s many interests,” he observes. “The benefit for me is the chance to draw on numerous disciplines. I studied government and economics and see both as important to my work. I also appreciate having been exposed to literature and physics. You never really know what the next case will be about.”
      Hurst comes from a family of legal eagles—his stepfather and older brother are practicing attorneys, and two stepsisters are law-school grads. His mother, a psychiatrist, “thinks we’re all nuts,” he says, acknowledging that the family’s passion for law “makes for some interesting Thanksgivings!” —AW

Fret-fully employed

Andrew Olson ’00 builds guitars—and sometimes finds himself having to explain his profession. “A lot of people think I’m a Lutheran, but I’m actually a luthier,” he clarifies.
      After graduation, Olson worked at Spector Basses in Woodstock, N.Y. With three other employees, he built close to 200 basses that sold for $2,500 to $4,500. Steps included milling maple into necks, inlaying mother-of-pearl and abalone into the ebony and rosewood fingerboards, wiring the electronics, and doing the final “test runs.” One bass was built from 32,000-year-old cypress salvaged from a rock quarry in Georgia, Olson says. “It was pretty wild working with wood that old. And there was even some 10,000-year-old mastodon ivory inlayed into the fingerboard.”
      Olson is now the sole employee at Michael Tobias Design (MTD) in nearby Kingston, building electric basses and guitars. He does most of the woodwork and fretwork, while owner Tobias—who’s been in the business for thirty years—does the finish work. “I get it to the point where it’s a guitar,” Olson explains, “and then he sands, stains, and wires the electronics.”
      Olson’s interest in woodworking dates back to a middle-school woodshop class, when he tried making his first guitar. At the time, he was more interested in playing than “craftsmanship.” The next inspiration to build came in the summer between his sophomore and junior years at Skidmore. Olson was playing in a band with John Webb ’98 and Ben Ritter ’99 and decided he wanted a five-string fretless bass. “I didn’t want to pay a lot of money for one, so I built one,” he says. As his excitement about woodworking took hold, Olson’s desire to play and perform took a back seat.
      With thousands of ideas for handmade instruments coursing through his head, Olson has just started his own business, Olson WoodWorks. (For now, he splits his time between MTD and his garage shop at his home in Gardiner, N.Y., where he also repairs and restores instruments.) “The fact that [making custom instruments] can be so different every time keeps it always fascinating, and always growing as a craft,” he says. “And when I deliver the finished product, seeing the customer’s reaction is an enormous source of satisfaction.” —MTS


© 2002 Skidmore College