2020 Volunteers of the Year

~ By Jim DeVinney

In past non-pandemic times, the Corn Hill neighborhood celebrated its many volunteers with an “appreciation picnic” that evolved into an “appreciation dinner.” It takes a legion of residents, former residents and sometimes friends of residents who give their time and hard work to sustaining the major events on the Corn Hill calendar—the Arts Festival (the only all-volunteer festival in the city of Rochester), the Holiday Tour of Homes and the periodic cleanups of the streets and public gardens throughout our neighborhood. Each September, those volunteers were feted to show our appreciation for their service. Several years ago, a little excitement was added to the event by recognizing a Volunteer of the Year. The late Janet Mlinar was the recipient of the very first award in 2014. In 2019, for the first time, the “volunteer” was a couple—Joanie and Pete Fraver.

Janet Mlinar
Janet Mlinar, first winner of the Volunteer of the Year Award.

Alas, this year there was no Arts Festival, no Holiday Tour of Homes. The cleanups still attracted a determined group of volunteers who wore masks, sometimes face shields, and practiced safe-distancing as they worked. Although the annual dinner had to be canceled because of COVID-19 concerns, the Corn Hill Neighbors Association asked residents to submit nominations for the 2020 Volunteer of the Year. The CHNA board determined that there would be multiple winners: another married couple, Sue Porter and Bob Conklin, and Rob Goodling.

Rob Goodling

Rob Goodling
Rob Goodling receiving his selection as a Volunteer of the Year.

When Jeff Holdsworth, president of the CHNA, and Joanie Fraver, vice-president, showed up at Rob’s home on a recent Saturday morning to inform him of his recognition (I tagged along as photographer), he was startled when he opened his door to see us gathered on his front steps. In addition to receiving a plaque with his name engraved on it, he was presented with flowers which he humbly accepted while trying to absorb the startling news.

The award could also be interpreted as a lifetime achievement award for Rob’s nearly forty years of contributions to Corn Hill, dating back to 1982 when he moved into his home on Adams Street. Since then, he has served on numerous committees and was elected to four two-year terms on the CHNA Board, including five-year-long terms as its president. He has authored two books on the history of the Corn Hill Arts Festival: Corn Hill and Its Arts Festival: The First Forty Years and Corn Hill Arts Festival—50 Years of Poster Art.

One of his particular skills is getting other neighbors involved. If he knows you’re out there, he’ll find a spot for you! He approached me two months after I moved into Corn Hill and asked me to be the local historian. I knew nothing about Corn Hill’s history. In fact, I was still trying to figure out its streets so I could find my way home after weekly runs to Wegmans. Despite such concerns, I accepted. You can’t help but get sucked into Rob’s overwhelming energy and enthusiasm. As I often say, Rob Goodling can get you to say “yes” before you’ve even heard the question.

Sue Porter and Bob Conklin

Joanie Fraver and Jeff Holdsworth present the Volunteer of the Year award to Bob Conklin and Sue Porter
Joanie Fraver and Jeff Holdsworth present the Volunteer of the Year award to Bob Conklin and Sue Porter in Lunsford Park where many of their cleanup campaigns originate.

In 1971, when a friend moved out of his Troup Street home, Bob Conklin moved in to be closer to downtown. He’s been here ever since. A few years later, Sue Porter was selling wine at the Corn Hill Festival of the Arts and Bob approached her to buy a bottle (she thinks it was Bully Hill). Shortly thereafter, they went on their first date at Shep’s Paradise on Clarissa Street. Sue moved into Corn Hill in 1984 and they’ve been together ever since.

One of the neighbors that nominated them said, “For decades Sue and Bob have worked as a team to ensure that Corn Hill is a wonderful place to live. They have been active patrol members of the PAC-TAC team and have served as Neighborhood Watch Block Captains for their street. They’ve opened up their home for the Holiday Tour of Homes and impressed visitors with the extensive renovation efforts they’ve put into their house.”

In the spring of 2008, Bonny Mayer convinced Sue to work on the Beautification Committee, which she has chaired for more than a decade, the longest serving chair of any CHNA committee. Bob recently completed several terms on the CHNA board and continues to be a highly visible member of our community by his many contributions.

When brass plaques were stolen from the brick columns at Corn Hill street intersections, Bob and Sue researched appropriate replacements and Bob spearheaded the arduous task of replacing all those plaques in a manner that would prevent future theft. “Bob has provided many handy-man services at the Gazebo,” according to another nomination, “maintained our lawn and landscaping equipment and repaired our Lunsford swings [when they have gotten damaged].”

We may soon see another one of Sue’s beautification efforts brought to fruition when the west wall project is completed: a butterfly garden along the riverfront that she has long championed.  As one of their nominations stated, “They have been good neighbors and selfless participants in Corn Hill life and they exemplify what the Corn Hill Community is all about.”

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