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Eternally youthful Village of Lewiston Recreation Director retires after 23 years

LEWISTON – Those who attend Lewiston Village Board meetings can always count on a little levity or quirky humor from longtime Recreation Director Marianne Gitterman.

Gitterman, who announced her retirement earlier this month, didn’t disappoint as she attended her final meeting earlier this month and played the tune “Y-M-C-A” and handed out Hershey’s Kisses.

“It’s the Village People – get it?” said Gitterman later of her musical choice. “I have a warped sense of humor, very dry. Some people get it and some people don’t.

“I’m not a real demonstrative person, but I think you all deserve a kiss,” she said as she handed out the chocolate treats to the board and the audience.

But Gitterman, 66, won’t be disappearing from public life. She will continue as a volunteer on the village Beautification Committee, a group she chaired this year. She said as chairwoman she does get paid for some of her hours doing planting around the village.

She has served the youth of the community as part-time recreation director for almost 23 years,working under four mayors.

Her son Matthew and daughter Shannon both grew up in the program, as did the new recreation director, Brendan McDermott. McDermott also worked for the recreation department under Gitterman while he was enrolled at Niagara University.

She affectionately calls them and other regulars “gym rats” at the Red Brick, which is in the Village Hall. The part-time program runs through the school year and the Town of Lewiston runs the summer youth recreation.

Gitterman and her husband, Keith, have been married for 42 years. They are Lewiston transplants, but clearly have become true Lewistonians, even operating their own gift shop on Center Street – the Lewiston Hollow Mercantile, for 10 years. The store closed in 2012.

“It was something we always wanted to do on our bucket list, but any business ties you down, so you couldn’t really take a weekend off,” she said.

Where are you originally from?

I grew up in central Pennsylvania. My husband took a job in Grand Island. He looked around and found that Lewiston reminded him of New England and he liked the village atmosphere.

Have you seen the village change since you moved here?

I think the village has gotten much better. I think there are a lot of people who want to make the village look good and be the best village in the area – which it is. There’s no other village in the area which compares to the Village of Lewiston. There’s always something going on and there’s always people out there willing to volunteer. This morning we were doing (the hanging baskets for Center Street) and I had 12 women doing 109 baskets.

What is your role in coordinating the baskets and gardens?

I am the summer beautification chair. I plant flowers on Center Street and decide what flowers we are going to have. I would still like to continue this. It’s a lot of fun.

You can always count on a beautiful Center Street. How did that get started?

It started with Chi Chi Soluri when they began the streetscape. I planted flowers with her. When she didn’t want to do it any longer, I did it for awhile and then somebody else did it for awhile and then I stepped up and did it again.

How did you end up working for the Village of Lewiston?

The recreation director resigned and I answered the ad. I was looking for a job I could do when my kids were young. This job here, I could bring my children. My daughter came in and by the time she left, she could run the craft program.

Did you have a background working with children?

My background was not in recreation. I have BS in biology and a master’s degree in human physiology. I used to work in a private clinic, a lab and then we moved. I was a phlebotomist. I was a vampire. I was the person who drew your blood.

What was the program like before you came?

There was nothing, very little. It was a place where maybe a dozen kids came in every day and they did some crafts or played in the gym. They’re weren’t any programs.

And you changed that.

I’m proud of making programs that the kids like – some craft programs and sewing classes and the three-on-three tournament. We always try to coordinate some of our programs with village programs, like the Christmas Walk. We have the breakfast and the cookies with Santa and we also do Christmas crafts in the afternoon. During the spring break, we have something like princess parties. I look for ideas from other towns. The Wild Turkey Hunt, where you search for candy in the dark, is an idea I took from a town in the south.

Wild turkey?

The other town wanted a fun Easter egg hunt for teenagers and turned off the lights in a football stadium. The Kiwanis do a great job with the Easter egg hunt in the spring and we didn’t want to duplicate them. This is in November, so we called it the Wild Turkey Hunt. We have people who actually think we have wild turkeys back there and I had one person think that kids could bring guns. I thought, “Where are you from?” What we do is line the area with glow sticks, like a landing strip, and the kids get flashlights. The kids hunt for wild stuffed turkeys, Beanie Babies-type critters. We have door prizes so everybody has a chance to go home with a prize.

Does the regular program meet after school?

It varies. I tried to offer different days of the week and times for programs so, if you have a conflict on Monday, you can come on Wednesdays. We’re very fortunate, because of a lot of our programs are sponsored by businesses, like our Halloween party or the Spring Fling. We don’t charge the kids any fee, so that no matter what, anybody can come.

Have you seen kids change over the years?

I don’t think kids have really changed. Our philosophy is that I treat you as an adult. If you spill your soda on the floor, I expect you to clean it up. I expect you to be respectful to other people, so if you are a bully it is not going to work. Usually, if somebody doesn’t do something appropriate, like being a little rough when they play basketball, I will give you a warning and the next time is a time out. The kids know where my limit is and my guys who work with me have told me I just have to look at them and they will straighten out. Most people will come up to the level you treat them. Also, if they have a problem, they know they can come in and we will take care of them. I also try to acknowledge everybody who comes in.

Do you feel like you have 100 or so of “your kids”in the nearly 23 years?

Not my kids, but they are my friends. They call me Mrs. G. It’s relaxed.

It sounds like you’ve really enjoyed your job.

I have. The board has been very supportive and the community has been supportive. We had volunteers who did the Halloween party and volunteers who did the Christmas party. I’ve been very fortunate that I’ve had a group of people who were willing to be here. My staff has also been very good. I’ve been lucky that way. I’ve had a nice job with nice people and have met a lot of people in Lewiston. I like the kids. The kids are fun.

What made you decide to retire?

My husband had retired. Doing the recreation program, we were limited as to when we could go and do things. It was time for a change. Change is good.

Are you feeling a little sad about leaving the job?

No. I think once you make a decision to change, you don’t worry about it anymore. I think that’s how everybody should do it. The decision is made and you move on. I read something the other day that said, “The only thing that’s for sure is that change happens.”

Do you have any other plans, besides the Beautification Committee?

I plan to get my garden back in shape. I like to garden. It has been tough. The weeds have been winning. It’s too bad you can’t change the weeds into food.

Know a Niagara County resident who would make an interesting question-and-answer column? Write to: Niagara Weekend Q&A, The Buffalo News, P.O. Box 100, Buffalo, NY 14240, or email niagaranews@buffnews.com. email: nfischer@buffnews.com