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Passion for the Climb
Passing through Hamilton on any given day, you’re likely to see Chuck Fox ’70 strolling down the sidewalk clutching a red-and-white-striped box in his hands. Nearly everywhere he goes — from the post office to meetings — Fox, who manages the Hamilton Movie Theater, carries a popcorn snack to give away. Just three years after he graduated from Colgate, Fox said, he and his wife, Maureen, returned to Hamilton as a great place to raise their family. He’s become a fixture in serving the community, from coordinating the playground’s construction and raising funds to build the Chenango Nursery School and restore the Village Green, to chairing the Village Bicentennial and coordinating the 4th of July celebration. He recently started a nonprofit, Community Bikes, which refurbishes donated bicycles for Madison County families who can’t afford them, and will ship new bikes to Africa, coordinating with the Malawi Children’s Village.
Dinner and a movie
(and so much more)
By Chuck Fox ’70
The first graders tumble off the bus, excited by the big day. The boys all wear ill-fitting ties, the girls are in dresses. The bus says Madison Central School, but the kids each hand the driver a token as they get off. After all, this is City Day and, just as if they were heading into the Big Apple, they’re celebrating with dinner and a show.
OK, “dinner” is juice and a doughnut at Quack’s Diner and the show is a movie at the Hamilton Theater. Still, for lots of kids in Madison — or Brookfield, Munnsville, Otselic, or the other little villages that surround Hamilton — Broad Street might just as well be Broadway.
(Photo by Andrew Daddio)
“It’s so nice of you to let us come to the movie for free. We have no budget for this,” the teacher tells me. She adds, “A lot of these kids have never been to a theater of any kind.”
I tell people I’m in showbiz. Best job I ever had. Managing a movie theater provides endless opportunities to make it fun for others, contribute to the energy of the community, engage people in ways that only a hometown theater can, and tap into that desire in all of us to make a difference in ways big and small.
It’s perfect for me. A little bit of the arts (we present opera), a little bit of culture (
Jackass: The Movie
notwithstanding), a slice of Hamilton history (the theater opened in 1895), lots of room for creativity (we had Spiderman scale the theater’s wall), and a heavy dose of community fun.
The Sherburne-Earlville marching band is performing a mini-concert on the street, which we’ve blocked off in front of the theater. Tom, one of our high school staff, is standing with me looking out at a big crowd enjoying the music. “What’s the connection?” he asks. “None,” I tell him. “Just for fun.” He laughs approvingly.
Great place, Hamilton. It’s a community that is receptive to new ideas, embraces creativity, values tradition, and celebrates history. People care about each other. And the theater has always been a centerpiece, a place that has created memories for generations of campus and community folks. More than just movies, there have been USO drives, Depression-era fundraisers, wartime blood drives, Colgate and high school graduations — even a wedding! People love to stop by and tell their stories.
A Colgate grad returning for his 50th Reunion stands outside the theater, reminiscing with Judy Plesniarski, longtime proprietor with her husband of John’s Shoe Shop next door. “I remember there was this cute little blond usherette working at the theater,” he recalls. “That was me!” Judy tells him.
Heritage Farm, the center for special-needs adults just north of town, has a treasure trove of animals. Goats, horses, peacocks, rabbits, llamas — you name it, they’ve got ’em, and the participants love to come showcase them at the theater as part of our free children’s series. It’s fun for them, and a treat for the families coming to the theater (and for lots of passers-by).
Today they’ve brought a miniature donkey and a pig dyed green for
. A couple arriving for another movie glances over. I hear the woman whisper to her husband, “There’s something you don’t see every day!”
Folks seem delighted to see donkeys in front of the theater, or school buses unloading, or the jazz ensemble performing under the marquee, or the guests lined up down the street for Pay What You Want Tuesday. They may not know exactly what’s going on, but they like that there’s “stuff happening” at their community theater. It’s a continuation of a long tradition. They appreciate what that means. So when we ask them to contribute to help pay for the free programming we provide to schools and families, they’re happy to pitch in.
It’s a beautiful starlit night in July. More than 500 people are packing up their lawn chairs and blankets at the ball fields, where we’ve just shown our first free outdoor Movie Under the Stars,
, a real feel-good summer movie. Kids are throwing Frisbees and waving glow sticks in the dark. A young dad surveys the scene and says to his wife, “This is why we live in Hamilton.”
The movie is over. Most of the Madison first-graders have fallen asleep. The teacher is rousting them for the bus trip home. She gives me a smile and says, “This was a big day for them.” Great day for me, too. Hey, that’s showbiz.
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