After 27 years of doing the books, taxes, and keeping The Orchestra of Northern New York in good financial standing, Mary Jane Watson, South Colton, has retired her position as treasurer of the North Country’s only professional symphony orchestra.
She was instrumental in the early years after ONNY was incorporated in 1995, and has played many roles and seen many changes throughout the years.
“The Orchestra used to be a smaller chamber ensemble, and it has grown in size significantly,” she added. Summer pops orchestras have been comprised of 70 musicians.
“We used to do the box office in-house. I remember going to the bank the very next day after a concert to make a deposit to cover the musicians’ checks,” she said in a recent interview. “Cashflow is much better today,” she added.
She also saw the annual budget increase substantially. Pre-COVID, the budget was nearly a quarter of a million dollars.
Events such as Bach’s Luncheons, a holiday brunch and silent auction, and raffles have been lucrative fundraisers over the years, but none was as successful as the Symphony Junque Sale held during the Potsdam Summer Festival for over 20 years.
Watson and Eleanor Hopke, Suella Young, and Marguerite Scheyer spent hours sorting through donations and marking them for sale. A long day of set-up, one for the sale, and another for clean-up made the fundraiser very labor intensive, and ONNY’s most successful fundraiser.
“We had people who became regular shoppers,” she added. “People who never came to the concerts would frequent the Junque sale.”
She is most proud that the orchestra has “survived.” It will mark the beginning of its 35th anniversary later this year.
She is also pleased that musicians’ fees have increased, a full-time executive director has been hired, and an endowment was created in partnership with the Northern New York Community Foundation. Today, ONNY’s endowment is about $200,000 and growing.
COVID presented interesting challenges, and a silver lining. Concerts were cancelled for 18 months, and programming went digital. Last year, three concerts were held with COVID protocol in place, but attendance was down 30%. COVID grant money will help ONNY celebrate its 35th year with larger orchestras and the return of the Baroque concert.
“I remember the Pre-COVID days when the holiday and summer pops concerts packed Hosmer Hall,” she says. That venue seats nearly 1,200 people. ONNY also faces new challenges with a recent grant for outreach in the Adirondacks, requiring the organization to raise $300,000 in five years. “I’m concerned about the Orchestra’s ability to meet that obligation, she said candidly.
While many aspects of this nonprofit organization have changed since the mid-90s, “the quality of the music remains outstanding under Maestro Kenneth Andrews’ direction,” Watson says.
A reception will be held in her honor on Saturday, April 2 at 6 pm at the Clarkson Inn, allowing interested persons to wish her well and still make the pre-concert lecture at 6:45 pm before the 7:30 pm concert. To attend the reception, persons must contact Executive Director Kathy Del Guidice at email@example.com or 315-212-3440.