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ON THE SCENE: Joy to the Children arts benefit celebrates 30 years

December 15, 2016
By NAJ WIKOFF , Lake Placid News

Thirty years ago, Lisa Weibrecht decided to turn the annual Christmas party at the Mirror Lake Inn - initially conceived for the family, staff and friends - into a fundraiser to underwrite youth programming at the Lake Placid Center for the Arts.

Lisa and Ed Weibrecht recognized that in this tourist-based economy people throughout the community need and desire a chance to celebrate before the holiday rush, and they would relish the opportunity to do so in a manner that could help bring joy into the lives of children.

Lisa then, as now, was passionate about the arts. She felt that all young people deserved the opportunity to participate in the arts and express their creativity. She knew that her athletic boys enjoyed the arts and wanted to make sure any child with similar desires could have access.

Article Photos

Lisa Weibrecht, left, and Leslie Higgins, who was the first chairperson for Joy to the Children 30 years ago, enjoy the annual benefit Dec. 8 at the Mirror Lake Inn.
(Provided photo — Naj Wikoff)

The key was raising sufficient funds to enable the LPCA to provide an array of free or very affordable programming. Well over $2 million dollars later, the success of that idea as proved itself over and over again.

The success, though, is far more than the money raised, or the fun had by all who participate, but by the thousands of children from throughout the region who annually benefit. Joy to the Children is truly the gift that keeps on giving throughout the year.

"Thirty years, unbelievable," said Lisa Weibrecht between welcoming friends pouring up the stairs into the Inn's lobby. "It's getting bigger and bigger all the time (estimate 550 for 2016). It's amazing that such a small town can raise over $2 million!"

For 2016, a special guest was Leslie Weymss Higgins, the first chair of the Joy to the Children benefit.

"I love being back," said Higgins. "I hoped it would last this long. I got involved because somebody suggested me. They knew I liked volunteering and organizing events. So when I was asked, I accepted and loved doing it. I did it just one year because I knew someone else would have good ideas on how to make the event even better."

Two people that have been to every benefit are Linda Friedlander and Mike Saulpaugh, who has played the piano at each celebration for the past 30 years. (If anyone else has all 30, please let James Lemons at the LPCA know.)

"Yes, I have been to them all, plus a couple of the private parties before," said Friedlander. "Joy to the Children catapults me into the Christmas spirit, and it raises money for a good cause. It's a great occasion."

"I have played at every Joy benefit, plus four years before that," said Saulpaugh. "I started in 1982 right after college. It's grown exponentially since then. For me this is much more than playing for a reception, it's for a good cause, plus I get to stay in touch with many old friends."

Important to keep in mind is that a bit over 40 years ago there was no Lake Placid Center for the Arts. There was a summer art school lead by Bob Whitney and a summer theater lead by Joan Frank, and occasional concerts organized by Elliott Ritter, Edna Michelle, and Pauline Andrews, but not much else, especially during the school year.

Back then, there was no Lake Placid Institute and Adirondack Film Society/Lake Placid Film Forum, the Pendragon Theatre had not yet begun, and the Sinfonietta was based at the Lake Placid Club. Thus the founding of the Arts Center launched year-round arts activities available to everybody, and Joy to the Children gave attention to the youth, an array of programming that had not existed until then.

"Participation in the arts helps children with their reading, math, and their self-esteem," said Mary Dietrich. "There are endless benefits for children participating in the arts. It teaches them creativity, gives them leadership skills, and expands their horizons. My mother introduced me to the arts; she was a piano teacher, and at family reunions, everyone would sit around a piano and play their instruments."

Participation in the arts when young can have a profound difference on the life and opportunities for a child.

My introduction to painting was in Kindergarten by my teacher Mrs. Brown, and the possibilities through avidly watching Averill Conwell create murals for the Mirror Lake Inn dining room.

"I was introduced to the arts by my mother at a very young age," said actor James Tolkan. "My mother was an artist specializing in ceramics, jewelry, and watercolors. But I didn't get introduced to acting until I was 23 in college. I was a late starter. I transferred to the University of Iowa and then majored in theater with Gene Wilder and other people. And one day, after six years of college, I got on a Greyhound Bus and went to New York City to be an actor. I had 75 dollars in my pocket, and that was the greatest time of my life. My first apartment cost $24.13 a month."

"This is my first Joy to the Children," said Paul Smith's College President Cathy Dove. "I've always been traveling before. It's tremendous. We have such a talented community. At the end of the day, education is about nurturing the whole person. The more we can do to support people's development in all these areas the better."

"The arts are important because they stimulate creativity," said Wynde Kate Reese. "With creativity comes innovation. With innovation comes new ideas. I think it's important to introduce our children to new ideas."

"My parents made me take piano lessons," said Georgia Jones.

"When I was in third grade, my mother who never believed in missing school, took me out of school for a matinee performance of the Royal Danish Ballet's Dancing Coppelia," said Parmelee Tolkan. "I was eight or nine. It was totally life changing. I want to provide that kind of experience for a child up here who might not get it as easily as a person living in a big city, to give them the opportunity to see something at the art center that might change their life. That's why I support this event!"

What makes is possible is money raised by Joy to the Children, other events held throughout the year, individual donations, grants and the efforts of hundreds of volunteers. One of them, Nicole Richardson, was selling raffle tickets Thursday night.

"This is my first Joy to the Children," said Nicole. "I'm a native of Lake Placid. I participated in the arts at the LPCA when I was young. It warms my heart to be able to give back."

"It's a point of pride for everybody that we do an event this big every year," said Mirror Lake Inn Head Chef Jarrad Lang. "We start preparing the food the weekend before. We do everything in the hundreds; we look at making five to six hundred pieces of everything we produce. Our goal is to make everyone happy."



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