The Colgate Scene
July 2000
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People on the go

Teaching hope
When Viola Montas took the oath of allegiance this spring as part of the naturalization process, her new citizenship was a triumph for many people, including several Colgate students.

     As part of Professor of Geography Ellen Kraly's International Migration, U.S. Immigration and Immigrants course, 37 students volunteered at the Mohawk Valley Resource Center for Refugees in Utica. Seniors Tre McCroskey, Natalie Robyn and Jamie Toedtman and sophomore Jen Johnson found themselves teaching citizenship classes.

     "It was dry material," said McCroskey, who, like the others, traveled to Utica every Monday during the spring to teach lessons on the Constitution, government and the rights and obligations of citizens, "but what I found most intriguing was that we talked and we learned the students' stories. Hearing them firsthand, it hit me hard."

     Montas fled Haiti after several family members were murdered and she herself was tortured and left for dead in a garbage dump.

     "Viola told us once her favorite times were talking with us. That interaction was the best part of the class for Jen and me."

     The course began with an historical overview and a synopsis of U.S. policies. The intense work gave the student volunteers a good basis but the reality of the center, with its refugees from all over the world, proved occasionally startling.

     "We did the research, read the books, wrote the paper and then we were thrown into it," said Robyn, who teamed with Toedtman. The two prepared lesson plans geared to the citizenship test. They worked on basic sentences, helped students learn the presidents and explained basic concepts.

     "I learned so much about how people have to struggle to maintain lives we take for granted," said Robyn. "It was moving to see how hard they were working to break away from something we don't understand and how desperately they want a new life."

     Said Toedtman, "I always felt very appreciated."

     Montas came to America in 1995 and works at ConMed making medical products. Her effervescent personality touched all the volunteers, and she provided a spark whenever she was in class.

     "Everyone in class really bonded," said Robyn, who found a connection with her own South American roots. "We talked about people in a serious, sensitive way."

     At one point McCroskey and Johnson asked the students to write down what it meant to them to become citizens. "I just want to be safe in my home," was one reply that struck Johnson.

     "I have never felt unsafe. I suppose that I am fortunate, or rather, sheltered, but to see someone look so sad, but yet have so much hope, I can't really describe how I felt."

     "I believe there is great educational value in students learning in a serious way what they have to offer to others, to the larger community. It has been wonderful to observe our students seeing themselves through the eyes of the people with whom they have worked at the Refugee Center, realizing the meaningful ways they can share their Colgate education with persons in the community," said Professor Kraly. "From a more personal point of view, it is a privilege for me to work collabor-atively with the center's staff to hear the stories of the refugees and observe their daily courage. And it has been a privilege for me to work with the our students on this project, to see them doing what they do so well, sharing their knowledge, energy and optimism with others." JDH

Producing Courage
Amie Cole '90 knows the whole story.

     She's the line producer for Courage, a reality-based show that will premiere on Fox Family Channel in August.

     "Courage is about people who live their lives in inspirational ways," explained Cole.

     With a multitude of departments to coordinate, Cole keeps the show on track and continually evaluates it (she credits a Colgate course in critical thinking about the media with her ability to "question everything"). "I'm at the hub, responsible for knowing the whole story so we can produce the show we want to do." There's the budget, staff to hire, studios to book, rates to negotiate, agents to placate, a schedule to maintain. She works on contract for 44 Blue Productions, the company that was hired to produce the show.

     Each episode depicts four stories, weaving interviews of the real-life subjects and re-enactments by professional actors with narration and "wraparounds" by host Danny Glover. "He brings a real warmth to the show."

     One story of courage that touched Cole deeply was of Cody Unser, the 12-year-old daughter of motorsports champion Al Unser Jr. Paralyzed by transverse myelitis, a rare spinal cord infection, Cody founded the Cody Unser First Step Foundation to generate awareness of the disease. "Cody doesn't seem daunted by what's happened to her. She's the most inspirational girl."

     Before becoming a freelance producer, Cole spent eight years developing her talents with MTV and VH-1.

     "I had no idea what I wanted to do when I graduated," Cole remembered. "I watched so much MTV, my mother suggested I interview there." Cole met with Audrey Morrissey '89, "whose job I ended up taking, because she was promoted." Cole worked out of New York City, on programs such as MTV News, House of Style and Unplugged, making her way up to line producer. After six years, she transferred to Santa Monica, California and began producing Behind the Music on VH-1.

     Work in music television was full of location shoots and interaction with stars (at a New York interview she powdered Paul McCartney, and at Farm Aid she hitched a golf cart ride with George Harrison and Ringo Starr) -- as well as young people in a competitive environment. "I used to be a real stresshead. I had to learn how to relax. Right now I'm having more fun than I've ever had.

     "I most enjoy working on studio shoots. On the set, my job is to keep everyone cool and mellow and having fun." Cole said the communication skills she gained as a French and English major help her "to deal with many different production personalities." And, she quipped, "I can write a mean business memo." RAC

Back at the Five and Dime
In this age of Internet shopping and supercenters, Messinger's Five and Ten is a holdout from a bygone era.

     "Retailing is in my blood," reminisced proprietor Donald Messinger '31. "My dad ran a general store, and I helped out from the days I could look over the top of the counter."

     Since opening his own business 64 years ago, Messinger has been a cheerful fixture in the community of Clyde, New York, where they celebrated "Don Messinger Day" on the store's 50th anniversary. He's accumulated a treasure trove of stories that he loves to recount to visitors and callers alike.

     Messinger got his start in the five and ten business right after graduation. As a senior, he had served on George Estabrooks' Placement Bureau committee. "When we opened a branch in Buffalo, Dr. Estabrooks spent the night at our house in Sodus. I got to know him real well. He suggested I go with W.T. Grant, because it was on the rise."

     Messinger got his manager training in New York City, bringing his Colgate ways with him. "I found myself saying hello to everyone on the street just like I did in Hamilton."

     In 1936 he opened Messinger's Five and Ten, just 20 miles from his hometown, and joined an organization of 3,000 independent stores, seven buyers, and a warehouse in Brooklyn. Soon he opened a second store in nearby Williamson.

     World War II interrupted things for three years. Drafted by the Navy, Messinger ran a supply depot in New Guinea. "My last job was helping them count $3 million in moldy money! Everything got moldy there, even me." Back home after the war, Messinger expanded the Clyde store but closed the Williamson shop. "I was going like a house afire with the one store.

     "People would tell me they'd gone all over for something and then came into my store and said, `I knew you'd have it!' My favorite was a woman visiting her daughter all the way from Webster." She was looking for a hair net and had scoured the stores from there to Clyde, nearly 40 miles away, until her daughter suggested Messinger's. "She was amazed. The factory makes 11 different ones. She took all I had in the color and kind that she wanted," he chuckled.

     Now the pace has slowed. "My stock is not like it used to be. I've outlived my suppliers, and there are five Wal-Marts within 20 miles," he mused.

     He's still got regular customers, though, older townfolk who don't drive and who like to reminisce -- his friend Newt visits for a spell almost every morning -- and kids come in for penny candy. "Those in between go to the mall."

     "This is a nice hobby now. My wife Thelma and I are lucky. I can afford to spend my time here." He's there eight hours a day (except on Wednesdays, when he heads home early to mow the lawn).

     "I've been so wonderfully lucky all my life. Colgate got us started right." Messinger is proud of his two sons, who both went to Colgate as well, Donald '65 and Richard '72.

     He also describes with admiration Thelma's volunteer work, for Meals on Wheels, the library and helping senior citizens prepare their income taxes. "I don't dare retire -- I don't want to be so busy!" RAC

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