By Joanne E. McFadden
When Jean Mead was a Brownie and later a Girl Scout, her troop took yearly field trips to Whitehall’s Skene Manor. “I always thought it was a magnificent place,” she said. “It was like a huge castle.”
Traditionally, Whitehall Skene Manor Preservation Inc., the not-for-profit organization formed in 1995 to purchase the manor and prevent it from being moved out of state, has raffled off a quilt at its annual Skene Manor Basket Party in November. Nine years ago, the quiltmaker who had been providing quilts retired. “I jumped in and said I would donate a quilt,” said Mead, who has been quilting for 25 years.
This year’s quilt is the “Amazon Star” pattern, which Mead quilted in various shades of blue, grey, and purply-pinks. The technique she used is paper-piecing, where blocks are created using a printed paper for stitch lines to enable the quilter to work with small-sized pieces and complex angles. “Paper-piecing is one of my favorite things to do,” Mead said.
After piecing the blocks together, she quilted the 108 by 108 quilt herself with a long-arm quilting machine. The process took her two to three months.
Tickets sell for $5 each and are available at Putorti’s Broadway Market. The quilt is usually raffled off at the basket party, which attracts 350 to 400 people, and proceeds go towards paying the manor’s heating bill in the winter. This year, the basket party will not take place because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Nevertheless, the quilt will be raffled off in December to help the manor pay its bills.
“Jean’s generous spirit is always welcome,” said SallyAnn Raino, treasurer of Whitehall Skene Manor Preservation. “She is a very talented quilter, and her quilts are valued in the thousands of dollars.”
Skene Manor’s volunteers are relying on the generosity of the community at large to be able to pay its bills during the pandemic.
While the quilt raffle annual fundraiser will still take place, Skene Manor’s main source of funding, its Friday, Saturday, and Sunday lunches as well as monthly dinners, have been canceled because of the pandemic. The dinners, which had various themes such as “A Night in Paris” with French cuisine, “Mardi Gras,” an Italian Feast, a Summer Steak Bake, and an Autumn Feast, were very popular, according to Richard Brewer, president of Whitehall Skene Manor Preservation, Inc.
Unfortunately, the reopening restrictions make it difficult for the manor to offer the lunches and dinners this season.
“We could only have 25 people in the house at a time now because of the restrictions,” Brewer said, noting that the dinners draw as many as 70. “Spacing would be difficult, too, because you have to be six feet apart. With an all-volunteer staff, we’re just not equipped to deal with the regulations that are in place for places that serve food indoors.” In addition, the volunteers who provide this service are in the COVID-19 high-risk group, and the organization does not want to endanger them.
“It’s a pretty tense time for us,” Brewer said. “We’re very disappointed not to be open.”
He noted that because the manor is staffed by an all-volunteer workforce, it was not eligible for any of the federal programs put in place to ensure that businesses could continue to operate during the pandemic.
In the absence of the dining room events that provide the primary means for paying the operating and maintenance expenses of the huge house, Skene Manor has sought out and continues to seek other ways to generate the revenue that it requires.
In May, Raino reached out to Dawn Harman, a Pampered Chef independent consultant in Danforth, to ask her to do an online party to benefit the manor. “My heart is very near and dear to helping businesses in upstate New York,” said Harman, who did a lot of fundraising and community development in the area when she lived and worked here.
The Pampered Chef fundraiser was relevant to the quarantine period, as the company offers products that help families put healthy meals on the table quickly. “With more people being quarantined, staying at home, they were preparing meals that they had never prepared before,” Harman said.
From May 22 to 29, supporters were able to place orders through Pampered Chef’s website, with proceeds going to the manor. Along with Harman’s donation of her commission, the fundraiser brought in $572.78 for Skene Manor. “I was honored to be asked to help them raise money,” Harman said. “Places like Skene Manor are the heart of our communities and allow us to learn from our past to build a better future.”
The manor is looking to the community for other ways to generate income. Jean Vladyka co-chairs the basket party with her sister, Joan LaCroix. Both are members of Elks Lodge 1491 in Whitehall, so Vladyka asked the Elks to sponsor a chicken barbecue for the manor. “They were quite happy to do it for us because they know how important the manor is to the Whitehall community,” said Vladyka, noting that people from all over the world come to visit this historic building. The barbecue took place on July 18, and the Elks donated the proceeds to the manor.
A fundraiser that has been going on since Whitehall Skene Manor Preservation Inc. purchased the manor is the “Buy a Stone” program where people can buy a block of stone in the façade. “Your name and the exact location of your piece of the building will be documented in a book kept in the gift shop,” Brewer said. “A donation of $25 makes you the ‘owner’ of a part of the building.”
Currently the organization has 1,035 stones mapped out, mostly on the north and west sides of the manor, with 567 still available for the “Buy a Stone” program.
Even though the manor is closed to the public, work continues. Historically accurate storm windows are being installed on the west face of the building to replace the aluminum ones put up in the 1970’s. Also, the roof on the west end south porch is being replaced with zinc-coated copper.
“We aren’t stopping, we just aren’t able to invite anybody in,” Brewer said.
“We’re asking for any donations or any help that we can get so that we can keep the manor going,” Vladyka said.
Contributions can be sent to: The Treasurer, Skene Manor Preservation, 8 Potters Terrace, Whitehall, NY 12887. Updated information about the manor can be found at skenemanor.org and on the Skene Manor Facebook page.