Meet Gloria Kishton, longtime Stockade resident and champion of all things historic in Schenectady

Gloria Kishton, Chair of the Schenectady Heritage Foundation in front of her Stockade home on Union Street.
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Gloria Kishton, Chair of the Schenectady Heritage Foundation in front of her Stockade home on Union Street.

When Gloria Kishton moved into the Stockade back in the 1970s, she immediately began forming life-long attachments.

It was the neighborhood and its historic houses that initially lured her in and never let her go, and then she met the man who would become her husband for the next 50 years, and counting, Bob Lemmerman.

“I met my future husband, who was also living in the Stockade, and he really liked it because it reminded him of Germany where he had served in the army,” said Kishton, a Rotterdam native and 1968 Mohonasen High School graduate. “I had my own apartment, and I loved the ambience of the neighborhood. It’s a wonderful place, and if you show any interest in anything, somebody will grab you and pull you in. It’s very easy to get involved in things.”

Up next in Kishton’s life in the Stockade were two more Stockade neighbors, Jim Schmitt and Werner Feibes, who not only got her involved but would nurture her passion for history and art and take it to another level. Schmitt convinced her to get on the board of the Schenectady Heritage Foundation just a few years after it was founded in 1979, and she has served as the group’s chair since 2005.

“I was very close to both Jim and Werner, and they really were wonderful mentors to me,” said Kishton. “They knew when to make a ruckus, and when not to, and they knew what experts to call when they needed help with something. I went to listen to Jim give a presentation at the library once, and soon after that he called me and said, ‘hey, you have to get involved with the foundation.’ I had two young children when they first asked me, but slowly I got more involved and then one thing led to another.”

Schmitt and Feibes, both now deceased, were two architects and long-time owners of a house on North Ferry Street, who along with fellow architect Giles Yates Vanderbogart, helped create the Stockade Neighborhood Association six decades ago. That effort led to the Stockade being named the first historic district in the state a few years later, but they weren’t done there.

“Jim and Werner had an idea for a group separate from the Stockade Association to help with preservation projects, and not just in the Stockade,” said Kishton. “There were buildings downtown and throughout the county that were threatened. This idea of protecting existing structures was kind of new to people at the time and in some ways it flew in the face of property rights. It still does, but people are used to it now.”

Kishton says there are arguments to be made against preservation of just any old building, and she’s more than happy to engage in that debate. People purchasing a home in the Stockade, however, should know what they’re getting into.

“When somebody buys property in a legal historic district, they seem to like the idea of a nice community and a great neighborhood with wonderful architecture, so if you’re applying for a demolition permit and you don’t get it, you really don’t have an argument,” she said. “You knew ahead of time what you were buying.”

According to its web site, the foundation supports: historic district zoning laws, zoning protections for historic buildings and districts, code enforcement to stop demolition by neglect, preservation and adaptive reuse as economic revitalization tools, and heritage tourism. And, while The Schenectady Heritage Foundation keeps close tabs on what goes up and what comes down in the county, it also helps homeowners make improvements to their property while at the same time preserving the past.

Kishton’s group also help homeowners get grants to improve a certain aspect of their house, such as the facade or a front porch. Mary Zawacki, director at the Schenectady County Historical Society, lives in the Stockade and is a big supporter of Kishton’s work, which included helping Zawacki get a grant to save a crumbling front stoop.

“Gloria is a real force behind preservation in the city, and the foundation is doing essential work in making preservation affordable or even possible for many citizens,” said Zawacki. “I know first hand how much an impact the foundation makes to the city and am beyond grateful for their work. It’s inspiring to see such a positive force for preservation here and it’s a big reason me and people like me move here and stay here.”

Kishton’s group and the Schenectady County Historical Society are also working in unison to create new audio walking tours for the Stockade Neighborhood. (This Historical Society’s 58th Stockade Walkabout takes place next Saturday, Sept. 24, from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. For ticket information, call 518-374-0263 Ext. 5.)

“We value our relationship with the Schenectady Heritage Foundation, and we’re always pleased to work with them on projects and fundraisers,” said Zawacki. “Our missions may be different, but we share an outlook on the vitality and spirit of the city, and we’re always looking for ways to make this a special place to live.”

Kishton also draws praise from Stockade homeowner and neighbor Chris Marney, an attorney in the city.

“She has such a wonderful commitment to preservation, not only in the Stockade but in the city and county as a whole,” said Marney. “She’s always helping people with preservation questions and she has a wealth of knowledge and information in that area. She has records and documentation on just about any property in the Stockade you might be interested in.”

As chair of the Schenectady Heritage Foundation, she has had occasional confrontations with city officials, but never seems to burn any bridges. Kishton and Metroplex chairman Ray Gillen have at times been on opposite sides of issue, but they still maintain a good working relationship.

“We’ve had some differences on certain things, and we’ve won a few and lost a few, but I think it’s great what he has done for the city and I applaud almost all of his work,” she said. “The intervention of Metroplex helped restart downtown Schenectady when it was going downhill, and I think Ray has done a fantastic job.”

Gillen is also impressed with Kishton’s work.

“She is an ardent advocate for historic preservation, and I’m happy that most of the time we’re on the same side,” said Gillen. “She is very dedicated and focused in her efforts, and for the vast majority of the time we do work together to restore and renovate very significant buildings. She’s a fierce advocate, and I use that word fierce in the best sense.”

A graphic designer by trade, Kishton has always had a passion for the arts, and in her senior year at Mohonasen earned the “best artist” award.

“I was born an artist, but a professional artist wasn’t something I necessarily wanted to be when I was growing up,” said Kishton. “I always wanted to be a doctor, but I went in another direction. I was always asked to design covers for plays and whatever else was going on in high school. Then I went to college at Pratt Institute and everybody there was a fantastic artist. That was a readjustment for me.”

Her four years in Brooklyn in the late 1960s and early ‘70s was a wonderful experience.

“It was pretty wild because of the time, but I got an excellent education and I can’t say enough about it,” said Kishton. “They were great teachers and let you have plenty of freedom with what you wanted to do creatively. And you had the whole city for inspiration.”

Kishton came back home to Schenectady after graduating and got a job working at a small art studio on Erie Boulevard. Life was pretty good, and when she was laid off in 1975, that didn’t seem to slow her down one bit.

“I had a small apartment in the Stockade, I was dating Bob and we went to Europe for a month, and when we came back we would hang out at the Beef ‘n Brew in Schenectady or head up to Saratoga and listen to folk music,” she said. “I felt bad about losing my job, but I started freelancing as a graphic designer and just never looked back.”

Kishton soon married Lemmerman and the couple bought a house at 207 Union St. where they still live today.

“The community is a great place to live, and when you do move in you can choose to stick to yourself if you like,” said Kishton. “But we have a lot of people, renters and homeowners, who do get involved and make good friends. It’s a great place. A very diverse and unique neighborhood.”

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