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Message in a Bottle

The following tribute was presented by Ann Hauprich at the celebration of National Bottle Museum Executive Director Jan Rutland’s life on November 12, 2010. Jan – who used to let me call her “Bubbles” as long as I responded to the nickname “Troubles” -- would sometimes joke that while there was plenty of history on tap inside of the walls of the National Bottle Museum, she had yet to find a way to put TIME IN A BOTTLE. But if time had permitted her to place a MESSAGE IN A BOTTLE before her recent passing, it would surely have included some of the things I feel honor-bound to share with you today.
I say this because – in a sad twist of fate -- I was to be the last to formally record her words and wishes before her spirit passed over as she slept in the wee hours of the morning on Tuesday, October 26.Her very last two messages were left on my answering machine while I was out after dusk on Monday, October 25. I will never erase them because they are a comforting reminder that her spirit was as joyful as ever before she went to bed for what would be the last time inside of her beloved Greenfield Center home which she also referred to as her sanctuary or her retreat – NO TV allowed.Jan – who could have given Joan Rivers or Loretta LaRoche a run for the money as a stand-up comedienne -- had quipped earlier in the day that the interior – with its many sliding glass doors and skylights -- was starting to resemble “The Brooklyn Botanicals.” Although she loved gardening, Jan hoped the colder weather would bring with it a chance to spend more time reading some of the “10-million books” that were on her shelves. “I will never have enough books and I will never have enough knowledge,” she explained, adding: “I have a passion for learning about life that I hope will always stay with me.”Although I’d had the pleasure of interviewing Jan at least 20 times in the 20 years since I was first dispatched by The Saratogian to get the scoop on a story involving the museum when it was located inside of the Verbeck mansion on Church Avenue, our latest interview was proving to be far different than any of the others I’d done.I should probably interject here that because of Jan’s incredibly diverse interests and hobbies, I’d also interviewed her between 1990 and 2010 for such magazines as ADIRONDACK LIFE (The Saga of Old Glass Factory Mountain), GRIT: AMERICAN LIFE & TRADITIONS (Button Collecting), SARATOGA LIVING (about a Christmas tree so tall it could be in Rockefeller Center!) as well as for some local history books.The thing that made what turned out to be my LAST interview with Jan so unusual was that it evolved into a series of interviews over a period of days. There was, Jan would explain each time she called me back “just one more thing” that she hoped I could squeeze into the profile I’d been assigned to write for Ballston Spa Life, a sister paper of The Saratogian. I have since come to think of the notepad I used to record our final conversations as a bottle the size of a demi-john . . . in which Jan was trusting me to place a very special MESSAGE IN A BOTTLE. As always, Jan was brimming with enthusiasm as she talked about a grant application she was completing in the hope of remodeling the front of the Museum Glassworks on Washington Street. She was also eager to get the word out that renowned scientific glassblower Sally Prasch would be coming there on Sunday, Nov. 14 to offer instruction in creating glass holiday ornaments. Jan added that she and Larry were looking forward to having Sally as an extra special tree-trimming guest in their home -- which has something like an 18-foot high ceiling. She said she loved trimming the tree with Sally because the glass ornaments were like “old friends” to them. And she was also incredibly excited that Sally and Judy Cottone had agreed to lead a NEW “Friends of the National Bottle Museum Committee.” Looking ahead into the New Year, Jan said she hoped to find a way for the public to watch flame-working demonstrations at the Museum Glassworks when representatives of the American Scientific Glassblowers Society’s Northeastern Region met at the bottle museum in the Spring of 2011. Also on her mind was the matter of locking in the date when the 2011 National Bottle Show & Sale could take place at Ballston Spa High School. Jan wanted to step up efforts to raise awareness of the annual event as a NATIONAL EVENT that just happened to be taking place in a tiny village. Jan was equally delighted to rave about exhibits that had drawn visitors to The Artists’ Space on the Second Floor of the NBM and she spoke of her dream of having the museum’s third floor one day converted into dormitory space complete with a dining area where visiting students could bunk and eat affordably while in the area. At the same time, she made it crystal clear that it had been “a never-ending challenge” over the past two decades to educate the local community about the treasures they had in their own backyard. It was a source of regret to her that although 4,000 to 5,000 visitors came to the NMB from all across the USA and Canada as well as parts of Europe each year, only a small percentage of patrons were from the village where the national educational institution was based. “Our FUTURE is in our PAST! We have a duty to preserve that history and to pass it along to future generations,” she stated, adding that she yearned to find a way to entice educators to bring students in to see bottles as historical artifacts that were precious links to our past. Asked less than 24 hours before she passed away what she thought her legacy would be, Jan stated: “I’m not sure what it will be, but I hope it will be that I gave young people a gift for life by encouraging them to learn more about glass-making and introducing them to the joy of collecting old bottles both for their beauty and for the history lessons they hold.” Not surprisingly, she took a few minutes to rave about her four children: Linda (Ryder) a talented artist who now makes her home in Troy; Scott, an amazing chef in Virginia; Mark, who has taken up farming in Maine; and Eric, an architectural draftsman who is now also a building inspector in Malta, and their respective families – including FIVE grandchildren and FIVE great-grandchildren of whom she was very proud. But at the top of her list was the man who first lit a flame in her heart more than half a century ago: Larry. She spoke of the fun the two of them had shared the previous weekend when they logged 900 miles on bottle business. Their SUV had taken them first to an American Scientific Glassblowers Society event at Princeton University. Arriving home around 10 p.m. that night they were back on the road at 4 a.m. the next morning bound for a Bottle Show in Keene, New Hampshire. I never realized it before, but Jan said the two of them journeyed thousands of miles a year “to support the clubs and represent the National Bottle Museum at their events.” While others might have gotten by communicating via phone, fax, email and Snail Mail, Jan and Larry literally went the extra mile – with a smile. Jan was so extremely proud of all Larry had achieved both in his own engineering business and as the main instructor at the Museum Glassworks. She made it very clear that it would not have been possible for her to donate between 60 and 80 volunteer hours A WEEK to her duties as the NBM’s executive director over the past 20 years had it not been for Larry’s unconditional love and support. His bottle – like hers – was always half full. She cherished him. Among the others whose dedication and expertise she valued highly were Evelyn Kramer, her friend of four decades and a tireless longtime volunteer who Jan was elated to share had risen to the ranks of the Museum’s President AND Museum Collection Manager Gary Moeller, who had been her right-hand-man for 16 years yet had never lost his passion for the museum and the history in its bottles. Trustee Michael L. Noonan was lauded as a photographer whose knowledge of the history behind archival images never ceased to amaze her. Jan also wanted readers to be aware of the enormous contributions of Recording Secretary Roy Topka and Trustee Phil Spaziani whom she described as “an especially good sounding board.” She also asked that readers be made aware that Treasurer David Schoch also had a long history of volunteering at the museum. Jan also had high hopes for newer members of the museum’s Board of Trustees (Miles Cornthwaite, Barry Haynes, Lewis Brown and John Golley) and its two new volunteers: Dawn Rodecker and Claudia Gregiore. Special mention was also to be made of the contributions of Lisa Daigle at the Museum Glassworks, Artists Space co-director Fred Neudoerffer and web master Mary Reilly, who I am proud to say also happens to be my sister. Jan was in awe of the hours Mary – a mother of four who holds down a full-time job in Albany – had donated to creating and maintaining what she called “an absolutely beautiful” web site for the museum. Also applauded was Dr. Burton Spiller who had named the NBM as a beneficiary in his life insurance papers – though she hastened to add “we’re not in as hurry to get his money!” If I could put time in a bottle . . . I would include the names of everyone to whom Jan paid tribute in those final days of her life as they included – but were not limited to -- such remarkable souls as Mayor John Romano and the late Bernie Puckhaber. She was forever indebted to the latter for elevating her to the position of Executive Director at the NBM after she failed to step back fast enough when that subject came up 20 years ago. Those interested in reading the complete text of Jan’s final MESSAGE IN A BOTTLE will be able to do so soon via this web site. (Also to be posted before the end of this year will be tributes others have penned in honor of Jan’s incredible life and legacy. In the meantime, I hope Bubbles – who, believe it or not, was a few inches shorter than I am -- doesn’t mind that I’ve tweaked the lyrics of one of her favorite songs just a wee bit:
“TINY BUBBLES . . . in the bottle museum How she wanted folks to come & see ‘em! TINY BUBBLES . . . she made us glad all over Which is why we’re going to love her till the end of time.”
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