Roberta Chramoff, longtime executive secretary to the dean of student affairs, died Sunday, September 5, 2010, at her home in Ballston Spa.
Known to legions of Skidmore students as “Ma,” Roberta also was known for her big smile and a cordial manner that conveyed a strong sense of community to colleagues and students alike for nearly 30 years.
Born December 3, 1944, in Gloversville, N.Y., Roberta graduated from Mayfield Central School. She earned a degree as a court stenographer at Schenectady’s Spencer Business Institute and worked briefly in the Saratoga County court system before joining the New York State Education Department, where she was a stenographer for 10 years.
In 1980 Roberta joined Skidmore’s secretarial staff and in 1981 became a temporary executive aide in the Office of Student Affairs. Later that year she was named a full-time secretary to the dean and in 1991 became executive secretary, a title she held until her retirement in August 2007.
Roberta defined her job and its joys in a 2005 article in Skidmore Scope: “The students are my life, whether it’s student government leaders, or kids who’ve done something wrong, or kids who need help in any way….A lot of my kids—the ones I work closely with—call me Ma, and we stay in touch after they graduate. I’ve got kids—and grandkids—in just about every city I can think of.”
Former Dean of Student Affairs Joseph Tolliver worked with Roberta from 1991 to 1998 and remained a close friend. He recalled, “She knew more about student life than one could imagine. A dean’s office can’t function if it is only seen as a disciplinary place—it would be radioactive. She helped to create a welcoming place that was fun and had good dialogue. In the outer office—Roberta’s space—she created a mini student center. Her student workers and friends among the student body were a rainbow coalition—a diverse population. She was actively involved in co-curricular education from philosophy to implementation and in creating a home away from home for Skidmore’s students.”
While dean, Tolliver was asked to develop an outdoor-oriented program for new students. He said, “I didn’t know if Roberta wanted to be involved in it or not, but she embraced it. She was my partner in putting together a tremendous, wonderful program.” The Skidmore College Outdoor Orientation Program, known as SCOOP, is a four-day optional pre-orientation program for first-year students held at Great Camp Sagamore near Raquette Lake, N.Y.
SCOOP was one of Roberta’s proudest achievements, according to Pat Oles, who succeeded Tolliver as dean. He said, “Roberta was especially proud of SCOOP and the students who volunteered in that program. She empathized with the anxiety and discomfort students feel when they first leave home for college and liked helping them through the transition. Roberta gave her time and her love generously to the program and to the peer advisors. She was continually amazed with their talents and their character.”
That affection was shared by Roberta’s “kids”—Skidmore’s students. When news of Roberta’s death started to spread, alumni responded with an outpouring of memories. Among them was former SCOOP coordinator Lily Gedney ’07, who wrote, “Roberta had the biggest heart and the best hugs. We sat four feet away from each other, 30 hours a week, for a whole summer, and she was the most fun boss I ever had. She was responsible for some of my greatest college memories. For a lucky handful of us, who served as peer advisors and coordinators for SCOOP, she instilled in us a love for the Adirondacks, our ‘home forever wild,’ a memorable start to every school year, and an on-campus family of which she was our beloved matriarch.”
Ross Aresco ’00, who worked as Roberta’s student assistant, also wrote. “Getting to know Roberta was one of the best things I could have done at Skidmore. Her work and her contribution to Skidmore extended far beyond the details of her individual job responsibilities. She didn’t have any kids of her own, but the ‘kids,’ as she called us, were not in name alone—she truly provided a maternal presence in our lives. Roberta’s involvement in our lives didn’t end at graduation—she came to our weddings, to our graduate-school graduations, and met our children. I’m fortunate that my son, Cameron, was able to meet ‘Grandma Bertie’ twice, although I deeply regret that he will not have the chance to spend more time with her,” said Aresco.
Roberta was predeceased by her parents and her husband of 36 years, Joseph, who died in 2002. She is survived by Joe’s daughters: Laura (Joseph) Nigro of Loudonville, New York, Carol (Richard) Barre of Guilderland, New York, and Michele (Richard) Pisapia of Weare, New Hampshire; two sisters: Penny (Robert) Boduch of Ballston Spa, New York, and Nikki Hathaway of Amsterdam, New York; four grandchildren; and several nieces and nephews.