Women’s History Month 2021: The Hand That Rocks the Cradle……is the Hand That Rules the World…
Updated: Apr 2, 2021
From the poem by William Ross Wallace in 1865, that is more apropos worldwide during the pandemic and ongoing challenging times. I can safely state that hands-on is relevant when it comes to the necessary dedication, vision, and work of a small-town volunteer-driven not-for-profit organization. It has been a pleasure to collaborate and learn from several women from diverse backgrounds and experiences as a core group of dedicated volunteers continue to move restoration, events, and programs forward at Harmony Hall-Jacob Sloat House. I wanted to take a moment to consider and thank the women who have come to mind since the inception of Harmony Hall preservation advocacy. Given the seeming daily ever-
changing parameters these days of what is “acceptable” to say, and how to say it, I will apologize in advance to any women I may forget to acknowledge related to the project. My sole hope and intent are to call to mind the enthusiasm, respect, and ideas that numerous women, from diverse professional disciplines, bring to a project that continues to distinguish itself as a significant cultural resource and to convey my personal gratitude.
The first significant preservation advocate site visit was on June 29, 2004, and covered by Journal News writer Nancy Caciopo. Since that day several local writers have helped promote Harmony Hall events including Karen Croke, Features Editor LoHud, Donna Kessler of the Times Herald Record, and Janet Wortendyke, publisher of Hook Magazine. Sincere thanks to all! The much-anticipated site visit was made possible in large part, by the then liaise for the nascent Friends of Harmony Hall (FOHH), grant writer Helene Liebowitz and Stacey Matson Zuvic of New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation (OPRHP). Stacey’s expertise on
preservation projects and funding recommendations made possible the first significant grant in collaboration with Helene in October 2007. Also present that June day to view the inside of Harmony Hall, for perhaps the first time, were Sloatsburg Historical Society President and Sloat descendant, Harrison Bush and Virginia Mahoney also of the SHS. Virginia was instrumental in directing communication to OPRHP contacts William Krattinger and Stacey Matson Zuvic. Others in attendance I recall were Jane Kral, community volunteer FOHH treasurer and accomplished artisan, Christine DePalma, Janet Burnet, Barbara Berntsen, current FOHH president, Geoff Welch, FOHH curator, and architect Walter Sedovic.
The first years, 2006 to 2010, were branded the years of amazing progress. The house was active each year with new architectural discoveries and prospects for a successful revitalization all by volunteer in-kind service hours. Early board member the late Noel Jablonski, a civil engineer, brought her engineering expertise to the house by identifying and guiding the removal of the 20th century overbuild. This culminated in the exciting discovery of the 1848 Grand Staircase and rear veranda! Other members including Kathy Goldman commenced event planning, grounds improvements which included local Girl Scouts creating two gardens on-site and the establishment of Farmony by the late Clare Consiglio, a Certified Nutritionist with a Master’s Degree in nutrition and an advocate for sustainable gardening. Farmony remains to this day a most successful on-site garden education program, engaging local parents and students in addition to providing produce to the local food bank.
Also, early in the process, Sloat descendants from across the country stepped up to permit the purchase and installation of the historic house marker and in subsequent years discovered personal effects of Jacob and Sarah Sloat! These have included Carole Rednour Dixon, Rosemary Rednour, artist and metal artisan/restorer of the Tallix Foundry, Jan Snyder Ross, Patricia Boswell, and Niki Welles.
In recent years, the following board members have been responsible for dynamic events such as the annual Highlands Blue Grass Festival voted in 2020 by Hudson Valley Magazine as “Best Place to Hear Bluegrass.” The consistent, tireless, and laudatory work of Andrea LaMantia, Kathy Goldman, Jane Kral, and Barbara Berntsen in particular, make this signature music festival on the great lawn of Harmony Hall a critical and key fundraising success. Andrea also produced a meaningful and well-
attended Centennial of Women’s Suffrage in New York, Girl Scout Patch Program in 2017. Andrea, a recently retired Rockland County teacher, is also responsible for the popular Halloween and Victorian Tea events and is the current board secretary.
Other names that must be recalled are former trustees Suzanne Daycock, Darlene James, Patty Marsh & Edith Knoblick. Cynthia Fountain, a Ramapough Lenape Indian elder, shaman, and gifted storyteller, imparts valued Native American traditions at the Solstice and Equinox programs. My mother Gretel was the founding pillar behind Harmony Hall preservation.
Event help is made possible by dedicated and enthusiastic members including Allison Harvey, Kay Brum, Rose Nattini, Jane Barber, Monica Murray, and many others who donate refreshments and hospitality for events. Local business owners and Sloatsburg residents Susie McDonagh of Rococo’s Hair Salon, Jenny Kirby of Characters Restaurant, Kathy Pascale of interior design firm Decorating Dames, Barbara Berntsen of American Dry Wall, and Lauren Hayward of Hayward’s Deli make possible the successful production and hosting of year-round events and programs. Volunteer and Sloatsburg resident artist Jessie Taylor has helped organize and produce an annual Plein Air event which expanded into the village in 2020 and provides guests the opportunity to see historic sites in Sloatsburg and view working artists close up. Artist, teacher, and board member Tenley Escoffery continues to provide imaginative interactive art projects for young guests at Harmony Hall events. Her generous donation of time and art materials at Victorian Holiday is consistently and enthusiastically appreciated by our future preservationists. Sloatsburg resident Marianna Krichevsky has brought her talents to the kids crafts table during the Highland Bluegrass Festivals and lent her green thumb to gardening at Farmony. Kat Diamond, a Sloatsburg Girl Scout leader, has volunteered with her Girl Scouts at several events lending much appreciated helping
Mostly recently, progress has been realized by the input of fundraising professional Dr. Carole Weaver Linsner. Carole also donated a sink and prep area for events. A revitalized FOHH web presence has been realized by Kreative Juice House founder Alexandria Evans. Enhanced membership outreach and metrics have been organized by Marianne Carroll, a Sloatsburg resident, and current board member. Marianne has also presented her astrological expertise at Harmony Hall events, which has added a celestial perspective on many a day!
Project awards include the 2016 Preservation Leadership Award from the Historical Society of Rockland County made possible by a long-standing supporter, preservationist, and Crossroads of Rockland History radio program, executive producer Clare Bowes Sheridan.
Perhaps guest speaker and award-winning author and art historian Eve M. Kahn expressed the Harmony Hall experience best at her Fall 2018 presentation of the artist Edith Varian Cockcroft, “…to see the elegant mansion in full harvest décor, the parlor thronged with a standing-room-only crowd listening to my speech, so many interesting cultured visitors asking questions and enjoying delicious catering afterward-it was frankly thrilling. And there are few historic venues so flexible that they could accommodate not only a big crowd but also an unpredictable quantity of
objects and paintings that were loaned and displayed just for the day!” Lastly, I honor the memory of countless women that quietly serve their communities, families, and friends in significant ways. This includes my late mother, Gretel, a world traveler, who kindled in me the appreciation of beauty in nature, art, and service to the community. She listened to all the ups and downs of Harmony Hall over many years and supported many events with her grace, beauty, kindness, perspective, and much-needed humor.
My only sibling Elizabeth who passed on January 10, 2021, also inspired me. A caring person, friend, artist…who in the midst of her own challenges, always made time for kindness to others. Liz, I miss your directness, sardonic observations, and thoughtful notes. Your talents, beauty, and dignity remain in my mind and heart.
I will also remember and thank the many women of Sloatsburg church parishes, past, and present who, through the decades and World Wars supported their neighbors and friends with countless generous acts, fundraising initiatives, and much more. Though gone, the following women were guides for service to the community, commitment, and fidelity: Evelyn Haight, Francis McNair, Jules Ogilvie, Alice Jefferson, Mary Allen Bush, Peggy Eastburn Rednour, Linda Cronk, Jean Higginson, and Mary Nattini. With the 2021 hope of vaccination and the prospects of vanquishing the pandemic, many ongoing challenges remain worldwide and locally. The Women’s History Month theme for 2021 is Valiant Women of the Vote…here is hoping that a new generation of resolute women steps up in Rockland County to participate in the important and dynamic history that distinguishes our region as the 250 th anniversary of the American Revolution quickly approaches.