“I feel privileged to say I live in Corn Hill,” says Jake Bertch, who has been a Critical Care Nurse at Strong Memorial Hospital for over ten years. Jake and his partner Jeff Holdsworth, who has worked at Wegmans for 33 years, have lived in the neighborhood since October 2005. When starting their life together, they realized that their small rental property in Northeast Rochester was not going to work anymore. They wanted to stay in the city, but they did not want to be in a neighborhood where “everyone pulled into their garages, spent all their time inside or solo in their own backyards. We wanted a neighborhood that had a wide variety of people that we could get to know,” says Jeff.
After looking at neighborhoods like Browncroft, Park Avenue, and South Wedge, they realized that their next home was still alluding them. Their realtor gave them a call that a more than 160-year-old home in Corn Hill was available. When they visited the house at the corner of Tremont and Clarissa, they were immediately drawn to the “front porch, timeless character and a spacious yard”—they had found what they were looking for. Jeff and Jake purchased the home from Bill and Shirley Lowe, who had lived in the house since the late 1970s. Shirley, who had once served as President of the CHNA, provided them a map of their new street, with a few “insightful notes” to help them get to know their new neighbors and start off on the right foot. “For me personally, the best part of this neighborhood is the mix of veteran and rookie neighbors. Our neighbor Sam Greggs and his family welcomed us with open arms,” says Jake.
Jeff agrees. “We have built some great friendships through our time as part of the neighborhood. There have been marriages, children, and new pets. Some have moved to other neighborhoods or retired south, but the relationships have all been born out of the shared investment in the neighborhood.”
Most of Jeff’s involvement in the neighborhood has been through the Corn Hill Arts Festival. He started working with the Festival Management Team in 2007 focusing on parking and shuttles. Elizabeth Holley, Eagle Street resident, and former office manager for the Corn Hill Neighbors Association, managed to “sweet talk” him into helping out in other ways, eventually convincing him to take on the role of Festival Chairperson in 2009. Jake also volunteered to step in and help wherever needed, becoming the Site Chairperson, a position he has held since 2013. Supporting this neighborhood with their passion, time, and energy is very important to them both. It was the neighbors just like them that helped Corn Hill’s recover from its decline in the 1960s and ‘70s and set the neighborhood on a path to stability and growth. “It is inspiring to be a part of that history while helping to influence what the next 50 years will look like. We hope that our efforts will be additive to the long-term prosperity and health of the neighborhood as a whole,” says Jeff.
Over the years, the neighborhood has gone through changes but in Jeff and Jake’s eyes, the heart of the neighborhood has remained constant. “One of the things that draw people to the neighborhood is a shared desire of an engaged, urban community where you get to know your neighbors,” says Jake. They have a long list of things they enjoy about living here, and at the top of the list is the Corn Hill Arts Festival. Thanks to the hard work of the festival team to expand the appeal of the festival, they have seen more families with children attending, as well as younger, more diverse people in attendance. He says, “We both enjoy the annual Arts Festival because it creates an opportunity to engage and meet new and old neighbors alike.”
The community pride the neighborhood feels after another successful festival lasts the rest of the year through the different committees. Jeff and Jake also enjoy the summer Gazebo Concert Series as a nice way to wind down after the hard work at the festival and stay connected with neighbors while enjoying some great music. Now as CHNA President, Jeff and the Board are ready to get to work on several key areas that will be addressed in the coming years.
The first being physical development and improvements within the neighborhood. The sights and sounds of the West River Wall project are the culmination of many years of hard work. That brings up the question of what is next for development within the neighborhood and what it should look like as well as what is next for School #3.
The next area would be the changing landscape of public Art Festivals and its impact on the Corn Hill Arts Festival. The festival has changed a lot over the years from originally focusing on raising money to restore old homes in the neighborhood to a cultural hub with participation from people from New York State and beyond. All of the progress brings up the question: What will the Festival look like in 5 years?
Lastly, the Board will continue to build cohesiveness and engagement within the overall Corn Hill Neighborhood. It is important to “encourage both social and volunteer engagement from old and new neighbors alike” to continue to grow and sustain our great neighborhood. “The past 50-plus years of successful festivals and fiscally responsible board stewardship has put the neighborhood in a very strong position to face whatever challenges the future has in store,” says Jeff.