B y Derek Liebig
For Joan LaCroix and Jean Vladyka, this is the most wonderful time of the year.
Every November, the twins spend most of their free time at the Skene Manor preparing for the non-profit organization’s annual basket party, which will be held on Sunday, Dec. 1, at Whitehall High School.
“My husband says it’s (the Skene Manor) my second home,” Vladyka joked.
LaCroix and Vladyka are Whitehall’s unofficial basket party gurus. They have been helping coordinate the Skene Manor’s annual basket party for at least 14 years—by their own estimates—and play a key role in organizing similar events for Our Lady of Hope Catholic Church, Whitehall Distinguished Young Women and the Glens Falls Hospital Guild, whose annual basket party attracts upward of 500 people. But it’s the Skene Manor’s basket party that holds a special place in their hearts.
Both women began volunteering at the manor following their retirements.
“We love doing it,” Vladyka said. “The Skene Manor is a jewel to Whitehall. People from all over the world stop and are impressed.”
Organizing the basket party is huge undertaking.
“It takes a good month,” LaCroix said. “Its lots of hard work, but everyone enjoys it.”
The women estimate between 50 and 60 people contribute to the party in some form or another, whether it’s preparing sandwiches or cooking baked goods for the event, transporting baskets from the manor to the school, setting up the venue on the day of the event or selling tickets.
Each basket and the items within are all donated by volunteers, friends of the Skene Manor, local businesses and individuals. Donors can also sponsor already-assembled baskets. Once the items have been received, LaCroix and Vladyka bundle and package the contents into neat and attractive packages.
Last Friday, the twins were busy arranging, packing and wrapping baskets of every imaginable shape and size. Baskets were scattered throughout the manor, piled on tables, under Christmas trees, in the dining room, the kitchen, foyer and a few side rooms.
The assortment of baskets is mind-boggling. There are baskets full of baked goods, tools, Christmas decorations, bathroom supplies, arts and crafts supplies, honey, bedding and even one that contains an electric stove.
“There’s an assortment of baskets for everyone,” LaCroix said.
Last year’s event included 131 baskets and the sisters guarantee at least 100 baskets each year.
That variety helps to draw in people from throughout the area and beyond. Organizers sold tickets to 354 people last year.
“I think the event has gotten more successful as its reputation has built,” Vladyka said.
Although the event is a joyous and festive occasion, it serves an important purpose: Helping raise money for the upkeep and maintenance of the venerable estate atop Potter Terrace.
“It’s the Manor’s biggest single-day event,” Vladyka said. “The object of the game is to take in money for the manor.”
Besides baskets, there will also be a number of door prizes given away as well as the manor’s annual fuel and quilt raffles. The fuel raffle, which awards $1,000 to one lucky winner, helps raise money to cover the expense of heating the manor each winter.
Sunday’s event will be held in the gymnasium of Whitehall High School. Doors will open at 11 a.m. and drawings will begin at 1 p.m. Admission costs $5 and includes a sheet of tickets. Additional tickets will be available for $2 and raffle tickets will be available at the event.
“It’s a fun afternoon,” LaCroix said. “People really look forward to it.”