Olana’s Volunteering Pioneers

by Melanie Hasbrook

By Daphne Mayer, Membership and Volunteer Coordinator

Olana’s original guides and hosts Mary Ann Bikes, Alice Gold, Kay Sterns, Ruby Funk, Ruth Karmer and Mary Mazzacano in the Court Hall, c. 1960s, Olana Collection

In this 50th anniversary year of Olana opening to the public as a NY State Historic Site, I would like to highlight the efforts of Olana’s first volunteers.  These pioneering men and women led the charge to save Olana in 1966, tirelessly gave tours and hosted events to raise the funds needed to secure Olana’s future, while helping to catalog and research Olana’s collections and history. We celebrate the legacy they have left for us.

One of the most prominent of these volunteers was Mary Mazzacano. Mary grew up in Columbia County and, as a child, she and her friends would sneak onto Olana’s landscape in winter to sled down its hills or skate on the pond. Later in life, the Mazzacanos had a farm on Middle Road near Olana, and Mary became very involved with local causes and organizations including running the local Apple Blossom Festival.

When Olana was imperiled after the passing of Sally Church, Mary helped gather signatures from Olana’s neighbors to show local support for saving the house and landscape. She was then recruited by Sam Aldrich and David Huntington (two of the leaders of the campaign to save Olana) to help organize these local volunteers to give tours of Olana, which she did for three summers. “It was the best thing I ever did!” she told Dorothy Heyl, who has helped document the story of how Olana was saved. David Huntington called her “the Olana Dynamo.”

Mary continued to be involved with Olana for many years to come. In 1971, she was one of the founders of the Friends of Olana, which would ultimately become The Olana Partnership. Upon Mary’s passing in 2012, then Olana Partnership President Sara Griffen stated that Mary’s involvement at Olana “was a lifelong joy for her and I’m sure a source of great pride.”

We owe a great debt to Mary and her volunteer compatriots as they helped lay the foundations for the successful public-private partnership that Olana is today. Volunteers continue to be at the heart of Olana’s story and our ability to serve our ever-expanding audiences. Just as in the late 1960s, volunteers give tours of the house, help with special events, and make our visitors feel welcome. Given our increasing number of visitors and ambitious program of events, the need for individuals willing to devote their time and skills is greater than ever. If you are interested in being a part of the next chapter of Olana’s volunteer history, please visit our volunteer page and consider dropping in during one of our upcoming Volunteer Information Sessions to explore the opportunities at Olana today.