The Mount In Winter

A New Year's reception to say, 'Thank you'

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LENOX — On a cold snowy evening in winter the home (modeled after a 17th century English country house in Lincolnshire) of the famous author, artist and humanitarian Edith Wharton opened its aged wooden doors. Guests of the community, board members and supporters were invited to partake in a heartfelt message of thanks for a year of diligent hard work, community support and success.

The evening begins with a surprisingly cozy shuttle ride from the parking lot to the main house. Inside the lights are dimmed and the shuttle is warm. One can sink into the cushy leather seats while viewing out the windows an icy landscape, as the the vehicle makes its way to the tall, iron gates of the main house.

The reception begins at 4 p.m. and Development Associate Alex Sniffen and Finance Director Tammy Walger are greeting guests and handing out name tags.

“It’s so nice to open the house in the winter and show the community how much we appreciate them,” Sniffen said.

Rounding the top of the iron staircase, one finds Communications Director Rebecka McDougall and a gathering of elegantly dressed people enveloped in the domed gallery’s golden light. An enticing table of hors d'oeuvres and desserts has been prepared and everyone is sipping wine and champagne from tall, fluted glasses.

Board Chairman Dan Kasper welcomed everyone and thanked the community and all the supporters before introducing Executive Director Susan Wissler who spoke before the numerous guests.

"Thank you to everyone, the community and all of our supporters for their gifts and donations and a real shout out to my staff; without them none of this would have been possible.” Wissler’s career began at The Mount in 2001 as vice president; she has held the position of executive director since 2008.

Wissler talked about the hopes and projects for the future, referencing the trail network to be initiated, beginning at the top of Plunkett/The Mount, down to the shores of Laurel Lake. Discussions have been underway for a couple of years.

A significant challenge brought to light is the renovation and repair of the expansive terrace. "There is so much activity and programming taking place there we can’t completely close it down,” Wissler said. “We are hoping to begin work this spring by doing it piecemeal in order to secure our events that take place here.”

Development Director Don Temples in chatting with Abbie VonSchlegell, said, “This event lets us all get together to thank our supporters and the people of the community."

"It’s a great winter thing for us.”

VonSchlegell was proud to say, “I will be speaking at the 2017 Global Conference/ Habitat for Humanity on women’s philanthropy relative to The Mount."

The party spread out into the main dining room, drawing room and library, where guests appear happy to find each other for meaningful discussions on past accomplishments and community betterment.

McDougall and Wissler are posing together for a photograph in front of the hanging tapestry of the drawing room.

Also in the drawing room are Kasper, Pauline Metcalf, of New York, author of recently published book on Syrie Maugham (a young socialite of Jewish descent who came to America from London in the 1930’s) and Kate Wharton, co-chairwoman of The Mount’s Boston Committee, which raises awareness in the Boston area.

“We are happy to say that The Boston Committee recently awarded Julian Fellowes (writer of Downton Abbey and other works) the Edith Wharton Lifetime Achievement Award,” said Wharton, dressed impeccably in her lovely mint-green pashmina.

Standing nearby is Irene Goldman, author of "My Dear Governess," Published in 2012 by Yale University Press, the book is a collection of letters over 40 years that Edith Wharton wrote to her governess.

“I’ve been visiting this house since 1982,” Goldman said, smiling. “Edith’s governess’s family saved and brought the letters to Yale, where I found and published them with permissions from the Edith Wharton Estate. It’s fascinating to read them.”

Public Programs Coordinator Abbie Wilson sat with two of the volunteers, Karen Richards and Barbara DeBarieri. “It’s a swell party! And really nice to see everyone here in the winter, all the familiar faces.”

Wilson works on programs such as “Music of the Hour” and “Wharton on Wednesdays” (Both take place on the terrace) with the help of volunteers Richards and DeBarieri, who both have been volunteering at The Mount for three years.

Lounging on the sofa are musicians Tishka Musko of New Britain, Conn., and Christopher Szpara of Enfield, Conn.

“It’s great to visit here and explore,” Szpara said. “I’m a member of The Mount.”

As the hours diminish, the guests begin to trickle down the stairs, yet left in the main dining room is author Roberta Silman, winner of The National Magazine Award for Fiction with her first published story "A Bad Baby." She went on to publish more stories in the New Yorker, The Atlantic, Redbook, McCall’s and Hadassah Magazine,

She was standing with her husband, structural engineer Robert Silman of Great Barrington, along with The Mount Arborist Ron Yaple of Race Mountain Tree Services in Sheffield and Veronica Yaple. Ron Yaple recently won the 2016 Vista Award from the Massachusetts Arborists Association.

"It’s a real treat to work here and we have been here since the restoration of the gardens.” said Yaple.

Partaking in her last desserts is Olga Weiss, chairman of the Lenox Historical Commission and the 250th Anniversary Committee for Lenox.

“I love being here," she said. "We have 27 events scheduled coming soon!”

Last to leave and standing in the gallery was Louisa Millonzi, the sweet art and dance student of CATA (Community Access To Arts) who voiced the true value of The Mount and spoke with much excitement about it and the reception.

“I love this event. I just love the sweet, kind and caring people, and I love the poetry!” she said. “I’d also like to mention my sister Susanna, who was also with CATA.”

Louisa works with acrylic paints at CATA as her medium of choice. Accompanying her is Margaret Keller, CATA’s executive director, who said “The Mount is such a glorious and welcoming place and this is a great moment to congratulate them all in their success!”

Upon leaving the great estate, it’s still snowing and waiting outside the iron gates is a long and sleek black limousine driven by the personable Paul Abbott of Abbott’s Limousine and Livery Service of Lee. Abbott graciously opened the door and drove the guests back to their cars in warmth, comfort and luxury.

An evening at The Mount is truly a memorable experience and Edith Wharton is a legend of her time. With the knowledgeable, accommodating and friendly staff members it is a pleasure to go, and we residents of the Berkshires are fortunate to have such a beautiful, historic and momentous venue so close to visit year after year.

We only hope that as the years pass, grand estates and landmarks such as this maintain their glory and remain a lively presence into the future — if we continue spreading the light.

The Mount is a turn-of-the century home, designed and built by Edith Wharton in 1902. A National Historic Landmark, today The Mount is a cultural center that celebrates the intellectual, artistic and humanitarian legacy of Edith Wharton.


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