Oswego public justice students are exploring career opportunities, attending conferences, and meeting mentors thanks to the generosity of David Cutler ’74, the founder and executive director of the Arapaho Community Treatment Center, a residential community corrections facility in Englewood, Colo.
Cutler augmented his Public Justice Excellence Fund with an additional gift of $170,000, bringing the total of the fund to $420,000. He is motivated to help Oswego students because of his love for his alma mater, which he feels provided a great education that helped him build his successful career. “We need good leaders in corrections and law enforcement. It’s a really challenging time right now in the field,” said Cutler, who noted that the field was “shrinking,” due to a drop in crime rates and smaller budgets.
He feels motivated to support Oswego because of his own experiences. “Oswego changed my life — that’s why I really wanted to contribute back to Oswego State,” he said. “I had a great time up there and learned so much.”
Using the Cutler fund money, the public justice faculty sends eight students each year to the Criminal Justice Educators Association of New York State, where they attend presentations and seminars and take advantage of opportunities to enhance their career searches.
“Our students make an excellent impression on faculty members of other colleges and they wish they could take their students to the conference,” said Public Justice Professor Diane Brand. “But they don’t have the blessing of Mr. Cutler to provide them with that opportunity.”
In addition, Cutler’s gift funds field trips for 40 students each year to maximum security Auburn and medium security Butler correctional facilities. As a result of one-on-one interaction with the inmates and corrections officers, some students are inspired to take courses toward a career in corrections and others have gone on to graduate school in counseling to work with inmates and those with substance abuse issues.
“It was very different than the textbook or reality TV shows,” said Gaston Owen ’13, a public justice major and forensic science minor who went on the prison field trip during his first semester at Oswego. “It helps you tweak your career options and think of things you might never have thought of before.” He serves as a peer adviser for other public justice majors and is an active member of the Public Justice Club, which brings speakers to campus and sponsors trips like one this spring to Washington, D.C.
Mike Muller ’13 went to the CJEANYS conference in October, in addition to attending the prison field trips. The public justice major and forensic science minor says hearing presentations by an ex-state trooper and professors from other colleges helped him refine his future goals.
“It was great to have a real-world experience. You can read every day in a book but it’s nothing like this,” he said. “We got to sit down with people who do it every day and hear their experiences.” In addition to his participation in peer advisement and the Public Justice Club, Muller serves as a teaching assistant. At press time, he was awaiting results of a physical that would allow him to accept a job with his hometown police force in Port Jervis right after graduation.
Oswego has been a family tradition for Barbara Brown McCormack ’44, going back to the turn of the last century. That’s why she has been a loyal supporter of The Fund for Oswego for more than 30 years and is a member of the 1861 Society of The President’s Circle.
“I loved Oswego when I went there, and think very highly of it.”
The love comes naturally. McCormack’s father, Leon N. Brown, went to the Campus School as a child in the early 1900s. Her mother, Helen Picken Brown ’18 took the train from Yonkers to enroll at Oswego Normal School.
McCormack herself attended the Campus School, literally following in her father’s footsteps as she walked from the family home several blocks away on West Mohawk Street. “In the winter snow, we sure were glad to see that pergola,” she said with a laugh.
McCormack met her first husband, John Murphy ’49, when both were undergraduates at Oswego. After his death, she married the late Robert “Rod” McCormack.
Her life is full of memories of the college, especially as a young bride working as a library assistant under legendary librarian Helen Hagger.
Even now, she loves to attend plays and musical performances on campus.
She supports Oswego with unrestricted gifts, giving to where the need is greatest, because of her high esteem for the college.
“I admire the school – they’ve done a wonderful job. It has a great reputation. Even people from afar know of Oswego. I know because I’ve lived afar,” said McCormack, who spent many years living in Montana and New Jersey.
Thanks to her loyal support and generosity, students today can benefit from the same great education McCormack enjoyed . . . and come to love Oswego as much as she does.
JAMES F. OKONIEWSKI ’72 FEELS strongly about two things – his love for his hometown of Fulton and the Oswego County area, and his belief that mathematics is a key subject for success in life.
He decided to act on those convictions by establishing a scholarship for students from Fulton’s G. Ray Bodley High School, his alma mater, to attend Oswego and study math. His gift of $50,000 will endow a scholarship for a Bodley graduate with financial need, majoring in mathematics or in education with a concentration in math. The first scholarship will be awarded for the 2013-14 academic year, and it is renewable, provided the recipient meets certain academic standards.
“I’m trying to counteract the feeling out there that the study of mathematics is not that important,” Okoniewski said. “Math is clearly important in analyzing any situation.”
He pointed out that if people were better able to analyze the risks versus the return on their investments, it would benefit, not just individuals, but the economy as a whole.
It’s a strategy he used to build a successful real estate business by analyzing the value of his property investments.
Now he would like to share his success with students from his hometown school, where his cousin Joseph Sczupac was chair of the math department. Francis Godici was a Bodley math
teacher who influenced Okoniewski.
Okoniewski’s roots run deep in Fulton, particularly in its Polish community. He was the youngest president of the city’s Polish Home, a post he held in his teens during the 1960s. “When I was younger I hung around adults more than kids my own age, so that is when I joined the Polish Home,” he explained.
As an Oswego student, he took his love for his ancestral homeland one step further and studied one summer in Poland at Krakow’s Jagiellonian University, thanks to encouragement from Professor Emeritus Joseph Wiecha to apply and win a Kosciuszko Foundation fellowship.
Okoniewski shared his Polish heritage by starting a Polish language affiliation club at the college, holding a book drive to raise money to buy Polish literature for Penfield Library and bringing the first polka band to Oswego State.
He became a DJ at the student radio station WOCR and his talent was recognized by WRVO station manager Bill Shigley, who invited him to go on air at the public radio affiliate.
His other mentors were in the math department, including Professors Emeriti Richard Orr and John Daly.
Now the influence comes full circle, as with his generous endowed scholarship, Okoniewski reaches out to help generations of Oswego college students to come. l
— Michele Reed
Andrew Miano ’95, Hollywood producer, likens his role to that of facilitator, since he helps enable the director’s vision to become a reality. But you could say his job description is more like “wizard” — he helps create the movie magic.
It’s not as easy — or quick — as waving a wand, though. A partner with Paul and Chris Weitz in their production company Depth of Field since 1999, Miano explains that it can take years for a movie to evolve from an idea, book or script to its premiere on the silver screen. Case in point: “Being Flynn,” which the company optioned before Miano’s son was born and was released when the boy was 8½ last year.
Last month’s premiere of Admission, starring Tina Fey and Paul Rudd, took four years from start to finish.
And some projects die on the vine, lacking either funding, the right cast or some other factor to make it to release.
But those that do end up in the theaters make it all worthwhile.
Miano has produced such critically acclaimed hits as Tom Ford’s A Single Man, one of the American Film Institute’s 2009 Movies of the Year. The movie premiered at the Venice International Film Festival, where star Colin Firth won the Best Actor award, followed quickly by the BAFTA Award and Golden Globe, Screen Actors Guild and Academy Award nominations. Julianne Moore received Critics’ Choice and Golden Globe Award nominations for her performance.
Miano’s other movies as producer include Peter Sollett’s Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist, starring Michael Cera and Kat Dennings; and Paul Weitz’s American Dreamz and Cirque du Freak: The Vampire’s Assistant. He was executive producer on Paul Weitz’s In Good Company and Little Fockers; and on Chris Weitz’s The Golden Compass, starring Nicole Kidman and Daniel Craig, which grossed nearly $400 million worldwide.
“We gear toward adult comedies or dramas with a touch of comedy because that’s real life,” Miano explains. And which movie is his favorite? “They’re all like my children,” he says with a laugh. “I love them because you spend so much time with them.”
Miano came to Oswego as a business major, but after only a few weeks, he knew it was not for him. He had liked acting in high school, so he became a theatre major and minored in writing.
In those two departments he would find a home, and mentors who would change the course of his life.
Brad Korbesmeyer and Leigh Wilson of creative writing, and theatre’s Mark Cole ’73, Kitty Macey, Ron Medici, Jon Vermilye ’66 and the late Rosemary Nesbitt, whom he called “less an influence but an inspiration,” all affected his life.
It was a remark by Korbesmeyer that set his career in motion. “You should be an agent, you like to talk so much,” Korbesmeyer told him. So Miano interned at the Willam Morris Agency in Chicago and enjoyed it so much he decided to pursue a career as an agent.
Korbesmeyer laughed when told that story. He remembers it differently.
“I remember talking about how Andy had so many interests and was good at all of them. It was like, ‘How do you put all of them together?’
“He was involved in the music department, one of the choral groups, was a DJ and in a band — I remember going to see him playing in a band at a bar with a kilt on! He was taking creative writing courses, acting in musicals and has this great, engaging personality.”
Korbesmeyer added, “I see it as a perfect fit that he is a producer … but he does talk a lot!”
The agency job took Miano to Hollywood, where he faced the realization that what he really wanted to do was make movies. He joined up with the Weitz brothers and his first movie with them was In Good Company. “I’m very proud of it,” Miano said. “It was fun to make and successful. People still talk about it. ”
When people hear what Miano does for a living, they always ask him if he hobnobs with the stars. “People have this impression that being a producer is a glamorous job,” he says. “The truth is it’s 10 percent glamour and 90 percent hard work…that 10 percent is a great deal of fun, but the 90 percent is why I do it!”
He has flown all over the world producing movies and has worked with Hugh Grant, Dennis Quaid and Scarlett Johansson, among many others.
Still, the globe-hopping producer was thrilled to come back to Oswego and share his insights with students. An Alumni-in-Residence Program participant, he returned to campus in fall 2011, and told students, “Believe in your ability that you can do anything you want to do.”
Despite social media that keeps people all connected via Facebook, Twitter and Linked In, Miano says, “At end of the day what I do is still so much about communication and relationships.”
And, one would still argue – magic.
Professor Emeritus of Education Raymond Bridgers Jr. readily admits that if someone had told him as a high school student that he would become a teacher, he would have laughed. “School was not a particularly happy place for me,” he says. But once he started teaching, Bridgers came to love the classroom.
“I literally enjoyed going to work every day, walking into the classroom,” he says, his voice brimming with excitement. “I hope the students enjoyed it as much as I did.”
With a bachelor’s degree in philosophy and a master’s in elementary education, both from the College of William and Mary, and a doctorate of education from Duke University in curriculum and instruction, Bridgers decided to teach school “until I decided what to do.”
He found he loved it, and wanting more classroom experience decided to take an opening at Oswego’s Campus School. He told the college he would stay only three years – he wanted to experience a northern climate. Their first night on campus, he and his wife, Carolyn, watched gentle, fluffy snowflakes fall against a streetlight outside their house window, and Bridgers thought it was the most beautiful thing he had ever seen. The wonder he felt must have changed his plans, because he spent his entire career at Oswego.
“I feel fortunate to have spent 35 years at Oswego,” he says.
Although he spent his early career teaching ninth-graders and serving as a principal in Virginia, he found he loved the middle grades the most. “I liked the creativity of the junior high student. Their intellectual capacity was always exciting and interesting,’ he says.
After seven years in the Campus School, he taught in what is now Oswego’s School of Education.
“One of the main things I used to tell [students] was, ‘The most important thing you carry into the classroom is not your knowledge of physics, languages, etc. It’s you as a person and how you help those kids explore life,’”
Bridgers developed two courses at Oswego: “Teaching Culturally Different Children” – his basic theme was we’re all culturally different – and “Play and Playfulness,” about the importance of play in the lives of the young and old.
Bridgers always tried to learn students’ names from the first day in the classroom, and he refreshed the courses by periodically throwing away all his notes and developing his lectures anew.
He became a familiar figure on campus, with his boisterous laugh and fringed leather jacket. An avid runner, he completed several marathons. He served as adviser to Kappa Delta Pi (which he had served as president at Duke and William and Mary) and the sorority Alpha Sigma Chi. A member of Phi Delta Kappa education honorary, he received a federal fellowship in 1968-69.
In retirement, he loves spending time with his family, including Carolyn ’78 and their six children (Cynthia, Michael, Bradley M ’05, Katherine, Holly and Lori ’87), 12 grandchildren and 11 great grandchildren.
He also enjoys making stained glass, a skill he learned at Oswego to craft doors for his kitchen cabinets and taught for several years at the Art Association of Oswego.
And while he enjoys retirement with his typical gusto, he still professes his love for Oswego and its students, saying, “If I had my druthers, I would have stayed and taught until they threw me out.”
Preparing for a photo shoot backstage at Waterman Theatre, Hollywood stuntwoman Joanna Shelmidine ’89 starts pulling gear out of her stunt bag — fireproof clothing, hip and back pads, body harness … and a little box, like a child’s pencil case, full of matchbox cars. There are a sports car, ambulance, motorcycle, three tiny cop cars and more, stashed alongside a few pieces of colored chalk. “Oh those?” she says with grin. “We use them when planning out a driving stunt.” The stunt coordinator and stunt drivers get on hands and knees with the director to chalk out the scene on the pavement (or more often now, using a printout from Google maps), simulating the action with the miniature vehicles — over and over again — to be sure that everyone understands the shot so they can be in the right place at the right time and execute the stunt safely and precisely, she explains. “We want to be all on the same page, no surprises,” she says.
The planning, the tiny cars and the protective gear in that duffel bag sum up the stunt world according to Shelmidine. “It’s not about being a daredevil. It’s not about facing down fear,” she says emphatically. “It’s about precision and safety.”
As she dons those gloves – which she wears in honor of the famous stuntman who previously owned them – along with the pads and harnesses, we watch a magical transformation. Petite and lovely, with flowing dark locks, a dazzling smile and the body of an athlete, here Shelmidine is in her comfort zone and her comfort zone is action. She slips in protective pads under her clothing to cushion the falls, dive rolls and even car hits. She laces up the stiff leather ankle boots with traction soles that help her run, dodge and land on her feet.
One look at her IMDB entry and you know why she needs the gear. Her resume bullets include crashing a Jeep Wagoneer into an RV, getting chased by bulls, driving as a
NYC cop and falling into a hole. For the HBO series “The Sopranos,” she performed fire stunts, fights and a near miss with a car.
Her most recent work was in CBS’s “Blue Bloods” and Fox’s “The Following” starring Kevin Bacon. She took a hit directly from Bacon in the seventh episode of this season, “Let Me Go,” and has a close encounter with him in the upcoming episode, “The End is Near.”
Unlike the stars of the movies she works on, it’s never “about” Shelmidine. She’s hesitant to have the camera focus on her face today, because in the movies, it rarely does. As a stunt double for famous actresses like America Ferrera in “Ugly Betty,” Hilary Duff in “Greta” and Cathy Cahlin Ryan in the FX show “Justified,” Shelmidine is anonymous. A shape-shifter, she was transformed into an Afghani woman for “Charlie Wilson’s War”, an Asian lady for Jet Li’s “The One” and a young boy for “Rocket Science.”
Even as she performs the most intricate stunts, simulating death-defying action, she must be careful to obscure her face from the lens. She may have to snap her head away from the camera at a key moment, or flip her shoulder-length brunette hair across her face at just the right time.
Her resume includes her height, weight, inseam, and shoe and dress sizes, so stunt coordinators and directors can pair her with actresses of similar size and shape. The wardrobe department prepares identical clothing for the star and Shelmidine, and in her case, multiple sets of the same outfit since they often get dirty, torn or burned in the course of performing multiple takes of the action.
There’s a lot of acting included with the action. “My whole goal is to get my body, whether in a fire, fight or punch, in the way an actress would do it, not an athlete,” Shelmidine explains. “So that it will look like the actress did it, not Joanna Shelmidine, the stuntwoman.”
In the editing, the footage of the stunt gets chopped up, and scenes with the actress’s face added, thereby adding to the anonymity of the stunt performer.
But that’s all OK. She’s not in it for the glory, Shelmidine assures us. “[Stunt work] is a lot less about bravery or being bold,” she says. “It’s more about being precise, professional, showing up the right size and on time. Make sure your pads don’t show, your face isn’t revealed in the frame and you hit your mark.”
A stunt person may have to do a stunt several times in a scene where five cameras are getting the shot from four different angles plus a master. “You have to land in the right spot for all five cameras to capture the stunt. If you fall out of your frame line, they can’t use that footage any more, costing production time and money.”
Today, backstage at Waterman, this Hollywood fixture seems a little star-struck herself. Shelmidine hasn’t been back in Tyler Hall since graduating more than 20 years ago, and for her, this is where it all began. A visit as a high schooler to the Theatre Festival in April of her junior year convinced Shelmidine the theatre was her world and Oswego was the place to launch herself into it.
Standing on stage, looking out upon the rows of red theatre seats, she executes a small dance step. “That’s what I did in ‘Miracle on 34th Street,’ directed by [the late Professor Emerita] Rosemary Nesbitt,” she says with a shy smile. She fingers the curtain, points out rigging she climbed on as a student and reminisces for a moment about playing a role in “The Mikado” the summer after graduation, directed by Professor Emeritus Ron Medici and the late Professor Emeritus Jim Soluri. Professor of Theatre Mark Cole ’73 and Costume Shop Director Kitty Macey stop by for hugs and memories. “These Oswego professors prepared me for the realization of life in the entertainment industry — which can be tough. The things they said and did encouraged me on,” says Shelmidine.
Then the moment is over and it’s down to work for Shelmidine.
1 and 2 doubling Aleksa Palladino in “The Huntress,”3 doubling Ellyse Deanna in a SOBE energy drink commercial, 4 doubling Pamela Adlon in “Wedding Bells,” 5 doubling, Anna Belknap in “Medical Investigations” 6 doubling Annabella Sciorra in “The Sopranos” 7 doubling Reece Thompson in “Rocket Science” and 8 doubling Hillary Duff in “Greta.”
Precision is Key
Even as the photographer readies the lighting and the art director positions props, Shelmidine is talking animatedly about the stunt we will simulate for the photo. “Where do you want me?” She calls out to the photographer. “What do you think of this move?” as she kicks one jeans-clad leg above her head while hanging onto the rigging ropes, a ballerina with biceps.
She’s in her element now. In her world, the director tells the stunt coordinator precisely where the action has to land, to fit into the shot he or she envisions for the movie or TV show under production.
Shelmidine tells of one memorable stunt for the television show, “Mercy.” “There was a fight scene with another woman in a hospital,” she recalls. “They said to break everything in the room. I happened to catch a stuffed frog; it flew over the bed and landed in front of the camera. They asked me if I could do it again. So there I was, smashing a glass picture frame with my head, and I had to scoop up the frog without looking like I was doing it and have it land the same way it did when I did it by accident.”
Shelmidine specializes in fights, fires and falls, as well as driving. Her gear bag also includes a set of tools, a shop rag and some sandpaper. She is so committed to safety and precision, Shelmidine likes to set up her own cars for stunts. She makes sure the brakes are in working order, tests the vehicle to get a feel for how it performs in the maneuvers she will make. The sandpaper? That’s to clean the dust from the brakes so they can lock up when she takes the car into a slide.
A theatre and psychology major at Oswego, she auditioned at Universal Studios in Orlando, Fla., shortly after graduation. Her first big break came unexpectedly. The theme park needed an actress to fire a gun. “Growing up in Lorraine, N.Y., I knew a lot about shooting. My dad went hunting; I wasn’t afraid of it,” she recalls. “At least I didn’t break a fingernail like the other girl.” She got the job and spent her days working the Dynamitic Nights Lagoon Show, riding around in a boat and shooting the bad guys. “On off days, I’d be the bad guy,” she says with laugh. She hid in a trawler while shots and flames exploded around her. Later they asked if she would leap off the top of the exploding trawler into the lagoon. Of course, she said yes, and the rest is history.
She snagged a gig in Tampa performing a stunt with Burt Reynolds, earned her Screen Actors Guild card and headed for Hollywood.
Making of a Stuntwoman
There she spent time learning the stunt trade from other stunt performers and coordinators, studying martial arts like Hap ki do and Tae kwon do and practicing rock climbing, rappelling, fire stunts and jumping from high fall towers.
One of her biggest loves is cars, and she honed her skills by working at the Rick Seamans Motion Picture Driving Clinic, two seasons on the pit crew at Scott Brothers Racing Team, a season building cars for the TV reality show “Fear Factor” and currently aligns herself with the Drivers East stunt team in New York City. Her motorcycle skills helped her land two national commercials for Suzuki and a doubling gig as America Ferrera in “Ugly Betty.”
She does credit Oswego with some of her driving skills, though. “I had lots of practice driving my Ford LTD on the snow,” she says with a laugh.
Shelmidine explains that fire is a “mind game,” which slows down time for her. “On the outside you are acting like a crazy woman, and inside [you are] Zen with the world,” is how she explains it.
She recalls her favorite class, although she didn’t know at the time it would serve her so well in her career: “Bodily Movement” with Theatre Professor Emeritus Ron Medici. “We memorized movement, and in our last final, I memorized movement around the dance studio,” she says. “If anything, that class is what my career became.
“Now, I look at an actress and right away start imitating her movement, so when I’m in the middle of my stunt my body emulates hers.”
In addition to her mentors in the theatre department, psychology professor Dave Sargent, Shelmidine’s adviser, helped her through trying times and gave her a lot of confidence in her choices.
Another Oswego influence was her work-study job in the Alumni Relations Office. Shelmidine credits the alumni staff for teaching her to be a professional, independent woman, advice that helped her in temp jobs when just starting out and now in organizing her stunt career. She fondly recalls being the Reunion coordinator, appropriately organizing the Road Rally, and helping with alumni programs, which instilled in her the value of giving back. She is looking forward to returning to campus to lecture in classes and workshops for current students.
It’s Shelmidine’s way of repaying Oswego for the start to her career. Looking out from the stage in Waterman Theatre, the no-nonsense, athletic stuntwoman gets a bit of a wistful look in her eye. “I’m just so thrilled to have it come full circle,” she says.
- Michele Reed
ONE DAY LAST WINTER MY DAUGHTER texted me, “Check out this cool website! Is this where Grandpa worked?” I followed the link to pictures of the abandoned rug mill in Amsterdam, N.Y., where my father ran the boiler for more than a quarter century, and scrolled through photo after photo of the ruins. There were the stairs my father climbed on his way to work. Here was the control panel, now rusted, that regulated the mighty boilers. A photo hangs in my living room of my father standing in front of the same dials. My father died seven years before Katie was born, but now she — and I — could share his world in a way never before possible. I recognized the photographer’s name: Rob Yasinsac ’99 was one of our “40 Under 40” alumni from the Summer 2005 issue. The next morning I excitedly showed the website to Associate Editor Shane Liebler. Within moments he found photos of the East Town Theater in Detroit, where his father heard the J. Geils Band and saw Emerson, Lake and Palmer play their U. S. debut for $2 on “new band night.” We knew we had to share Yasinsac’s photos with all 77,000 Oswego alumni through the magazine. Only a handful of the images could be printed in these pages, but you can visit Rob’s website, www.hudsonvalleyruins.org, for a look at the lost factories, churches, theaters and homes of a bygone America. Maybe you’ll see a memory from your own past!
Most days, when I’m pounding the keyboard to write a story or poring over proofs, red pen in hand, I stop to think how fortunate I am. I have been able to build a career around my passion for the written word. So when I looked at this issue’s feature stories, I was naturally struck by the art alumni feature.
An alumnus who was the first in his family to have a passport and had his life changed by a study abroad experience through Oswego has made a generous gift to the college to pass on the opportunity of international experience to current and future students.