If you’ve ever attended a performance or lecture, you’ll know firsthand how hectic and crowded a lobby can seem, especially if it’s your first time in a venue. If you’ve been lucky enough to attend one of the wonderful offerings at The Kentucky Center for the Performing Arts, chances are one of their amazing volunteers helped show you the way.
“Volunteers have been an integral part of The Kentucky Center’s team since it first opened its doors in 1983,” says Amelia Reesor, manager of volunteer services. “In recent years, we have been blessed to be served by nearly 500 volunteers, who donate thousands of hours each year to providing quality experiences to patrons of the arts. In the 2015-2016 season, volunteers donated over 55,000 hours to The Kentucky Center.”
While some volunteers started a year ago, others have been around for decades. Bob Kessinger is one of the latter. Now on his 33rd year of volunteering at The Kentucky Center, he was there when the doors first opened. A Louisville native and University of Louisville graduate, Kessinger served in the U.S. Army and later worked in information technology.
“After the children were grown up, there was an ad in the paper about the Center being built, and I thought it was a great time to get involved and in on the ground level,” Kessinger remembers. He helped with some of the original tours and even traveled across the state on behalf of The Kentucky Center. “I would introduce the Center and let them know that it’s theirs too. It belongs to the whole state and not just Louisville.”
Kessinger attributes the longevity of his volunteer service in part to the interesting people he’s gotten to meet and the arts they’re bringing in to Louisville. “I enjoy it and never thought it would last this long,” he says. “I like meeting the people, welcoming them and getting them to the right place, so they can take pleasure in whatever time they have there.”
He is especially fond of the memories shared among young kids and getting to show them behind the scenes. “I remember one of the earlier tours and taking a group of kids backstage,” he says. One of the girls around the age of 8, began asking about Lena Horne who was recently there. “I showed her the dressing room and she got to sit in the same chair that Lena Horne would have used. She kept thanking me and it made such an impression on her.”
Volunteer Wendell Townsend echoes that sentiment. “The Kentucky Center offers StageOne Family Theatre with the idea that exposure to the arts at a young age is invaluable. In that regard, I have enjoyed watching kids get off school buses and then enter the theatre for a show. It gives many children their first exposure that might not otherwise be available. Being a part of those experiences has been very satisfying.”
Townsend grew up in southwestern Kentucky, served in the U.S. Air Force and worked for more than 30 years in finance, sales and marketing. “Having retired, I wanted to get connected with some new areas of community involvement. I felt The Kentucky Center would offer an opportunity for additional exposure to the arts and cultural offerings in the community,” he says.
Now in his fourth year of volunteering, Townsend still enjoys seeing patrons have a good experience. “It’s wonderful to be able to assist patrons in any way to help be sure their show experience was on par with their expectations; particularly new patrons who may not be aware of all the diverse offerings,” he says.
Another Louisville native and UofL graduate, Dina Vuturo, has been volunteering since 2009. After serving in the U.S. Air Force as an intelligence officer, she worked for the post office. “About five years before retiring, I began asking myself what I wanted to do with the rest of my life,” she says. With a love of face-to-face interaction with people, The Kentucky Center was a natural fit.
“I have been hooked on the arts for 53 years,” Vuturo explains. “My grandparents were from Sicily, so opera is in my genes. I like to surround myself with creative people.” Volunteering three to four times a week, has provided her ample opportunity to be inspired while working with the public. Her neighbor often jokes that she was home more when she worked full time.
Having volunteered 489 hours last year, she’s quick to correct anyone who refers to her service as work. “I love everything I’m doing now, and it’s not work when you love it,” she exclaims. One of her fondest memories from her time volunteering was when The Kentucky Center partnered with 21c a few years ago for Art Without Walls.
Dresses from the New York City Opera were installed and hanging from the ceiling. “Since I did some acting in college, I would act out the parts of each dress and give a synopsis of each opera,” she recalls. “They gave me a standing ovation, when I finished that tour.” Vuturo loves to give back and considers it an honor to be able to be a member. The dedication of each volunteer has not gone unnoticed.
“Our volunteers do not simply show up,” says Reesor. “They treat their duties like a job and go to great lengths to make every person feel welcomed at The Kentucky Center. The care and concern that these men and women demonstrate for each person who visits, makes The Kentucky Center the warm and inviting place that it is!” VT
Story by Sara Giza | Photo by Steven Anselm