Longtime DPN director announces retirement

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JoAnn Ballard, who has been at the helm of the Dodge Pratt Northam Art and Community Center (DPN) for a decade, has recently retired from her role as Executive Director. 

She has spent her time there adding more art, music, and education programming. As she steps down, she is grateful for the team of people she has worked with through the years. 

“I certainly wasn’t the only person making this happen,” she said. “I’m thankful for the people that made all this happen. My board was intricately involved in all aspects of what I did there. Plus wonderful community support.” 

Throughout her tenure, one of Ballard’s chief goals was the meticulous restoration of the historic home that serves as the community center. 

“I knew restoring the building was going to take a lot of work,” she said. “And we did it piece by piece. We were able to make the first floor handicap accessible for the first time. That was wonderful.”

She credits area foundations, such as the Community Foundation and the Kenneth and Jeannette Remp Sawyer Fund for making projects like that possible. She is especially proud of the work she did with her team to open the historic triangle on the corner of Post and Schuyler Streets, removing the dilapidated building and creating parking space for the DPN and library. 

“Every time I pull in there, I think of the work that went into that and the benefit to the community,” she said. “That’s up there for me.”

Prior to her role as executive director at the DPN, Ballard had a robust 25-year career as a registered dental assistant with Dr. Slavin’s office in Utica. 

Ballard will remain connected to the center doing some bookkeeping and leading genealogy classes. Now she plans to spend more time with her husband, enjoying her family and her home, with her animals, and on the Black River, which is one of her favorite places. 

Ballard was recognized at a special reception Friday night which included some special guests, including the first DPN board president, Sandra DeVisser. She was honored with a speech by the current board president and presented and a crimson maple and apple trees.  

The DPN, which is located at 106 Schuyler St., right next door to the Erwin Library, provides area residents with the space and opportunity to enjoy locally-produced, high-quality, and affordable cultural programs. Programs, classes and workshops are offered throughout the year for all ages, from children to adults. The organization is overseen by an all-volunteer board.

It was formed in 1974 by a dedicated group of civic minded residents. It was added to the national Register of Historic Homes in 1975. The house was built in 1875 by Clark Dodge, who was a merchant and one of the founders of the First National Bank. His son Eugene Dodge was a banker and sold the house to Charles Pratt in 1894. His son Walter left the house to his cousin, Hazel Northam, a Brooklyn undertaker, who died in 1972. Miss Northam willed the house to the Erwin Library, who still owns it today. The house is built in the Neo-French architectural style of the late Victorian period. The architect, Azel J. Lathrop of Utica, also designed the old First National Bank in Boonville, now the Dodge Memorial Building, the Butterfield house in Utica, and the Herkimer County Courthouse.

Ballard’s successor, Amy Simanowski, has been involved with the DPN for eight years. She has served as an instructor for the afterschool STEAM program, musical theatre director, and Lego robotics coach.

“Growing up here, I was always involved in music in the community, both vocal and instrumental,” she said. “Between music and my grandmother, Nancy Trainor, having heavy involvement in Dodge Pratt, I first attended Christmas in the Country at the Center as a child, and later on provided music for the open house. I always looked forward to that and also to visiting all the crafters (including my Aunt Diane) at the annual Woodsmen’s Craft Fair there. I always looked forward to these events, and for the last few years as an employee, it’s been exciting to be on the other side.”

Simanowski grew up in Boonville, graduating from Adirondack in 1993. After that she attended the Crane School of Music and graduated with a bachelor’s degree in music education in 1997. 

“For now, I plan to keep all of the programs that JoAnn has established during her tenure, and continue to help them grow,” she said.

“I would love to continue to forge strong relationships with, and work in conjunction with other music and art organizations in the area to provide programming and events for the community,” she added.

Being in the center of town, we are in a unique spot to host a variety of concerts, classes, and programs. I am very much looking forward to carrying on the successful programs at the Center, and look forward to looking for more ways to bring the arts and programs to the community.”

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