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In praise of Rene and Jane! Wood benefit honorees

By Cathy DeDe, Chronicle Managing Editor

Friday evening, the Wood Theater will have its annual fund-raiser — billed as a party, not gala, semi-casual, for the second year a multi-station exploration of all things Manhattan, from food to different kinds of entertainment ranging throughout the facility.

There’s no formal program so far as I’m aware, but guests of honor are sisters Rene Clements and Jane Gibbs.

It’s about time.

Rene and Jane are — everywhere! — particularly in the performing arts and community events.

They get to more things than near anyone I know, including me. They’re usually together, peas in a pod, close as any pair I or couple I can think of.

Sisters Rene Clements, left, and Jane Gibbs are guests of honor at the Wood Theater fund-raising party this Friday night. Chronicle photo/Cathy DeDe

Glens Falls Community Theater — they’ve been on the board, on the stage, backstage, on committees, ushers.

Adirondack Theater Festival — board, ushers, massive boosters.

LARAC — Rene is currently board president. Wiawaka, The Conkling Center, The Girl Scout Council, their church groups, Glens Falls Hospital Guild, Glens Falls Symphony: The connections over the years have been myriad.

They catch all the Youtheatre shows in the summer, kid dance companies, school musicals, Broadway Upstate. This year, I caught them in the crowd after one YT performance carrying bags filled with little “Congratulations” balloons. Each sister had her checklist of kids, to be sure they’d gotten to every one they knew. Long lists.

On stage, they shun the lead, more typically swelling the chorus. Running gag: With some regularity, directors cast them as a pair of nuns in the crowd, Yes, sisters — who also happen to have graduated from St. Mary’s Academy, so they know whereof.

You’ll find them selling the tickets at Glens Falls Collaborative events, sitting the desk at a non-profit party, showing up in the audience, on the sidelines, in the wings, under the radar.

Not unusual to find them wearing coordinated, themed outfits — they swear, without pre-arrangement (though they’ve also conspired together on what they’ll be wearing on Friday, they tell me).

Name a fund-raising supper or party and they’re likely there — probably less the fanciest galas, more the fun, down-to-earth ones whose causes speak to them.

Most of the time, and rightfully so, we honor the big donors, high-power business leaders who also run boards, generously sharing their typically considerable wealth and experience.

Rene and Jane are “big donors” of a different ilk. I suspect theirs are not particularly deep pockets. Their boosterism is just as genuine, unflagging, and they put it into action. They show up.

‘The Hammond sisters’

Who are these two ladies? Some call them The Hammond sisters, from their maiden name. They credit their mother Antoinette with an ethic of “respect and community.”

Between them they have four grown sons, who mostly participated in the performing arts, with a little sports here and there.

That’s when they started showing up — for their own and each other’s children’s shows and games, for PTA and Boy Scouts, for extended family’s children’s events also. Kids grown, they’ve simply continued being there, with Rene’s husband Brian sometimes along as well.

Four nights a week, sometimes more they say, they’re out, usually together.

Rene pulls out a calendar, with events penned in nearly every day of the week. They check in, plan and deploy, they say.

Sometimes they flag, Jane offers — but usually, if they can be there, whatever it is, they will.

Running gag — The two, also known as The Hammond Sisters, often get cast in the chorus as nuns.

It’s a lot of fun, they say. Jane laughs that her house shows the neglect. They both offer that neither cooks — hold a potluck, and they’ll be bringing the rolls and paper goods, Rene offers, as if that were a shortcoming.

Jane is the older one, the quieter, with plenty of insight when she shares it. She’ll be 72 next month, worked for years at Native Textiles until it closed, now at SCI Services.

Rene (short for Irene), is the more outgoing, quicker to talk and to laugh. She’s 69, retired as director of the Glens Falls Senior Center, previously with the United Way and before that a Vice President in the Commercial Loan division of what was then First National Bank.

She and Brian will have been married 49 years in April.

Both women get teary when you ask them what they like so much about the other, why they do so much together, though they don’t know what to say either.

Then Rene cracks a joke.

More seriously, they recall their brother Gerald, known as Buddy, who was killed in the Vietnam war. The sting of that loss is undiminished and defining for both.

They just received Post-Star awards for Senior Citizens who contribute to the community. I wasn’t there, don’t know if anyone “got” or said explicitly how in their case one and one equals infinity.

You couldn’t buy more positive or committed contributors, happy to do the work. I can’t think of a harsh word I’ve heard from either of them, and we talk a lot.

To my understanding, Friday’s Wood Theater party will not include anything like speeches or that sort of group accolade.

Rene and Jane are honored guests, mingling with the crowd.

They won’t be buying tables of ten. Theirs is no particular constituency, although the number of groups they’ve impacted is vast.

I’m hoping that’s what draws the appreciating crowd they deserve.

Meanwhile, here’s my two cents, thoughts I’ve long had about a couple of hometown women, decent human beings, role models.

Wood’s NYC party is Friday

New York, New York: More of Manhattan, the Wood Theater’s second annual NYC-themed benefit party is Friday, Oct. 5, at 6 p.m. at the Theater itself, downtown Glens Falls.

Casual attire is encouraged.

On tap: Seven “New York City Hotspots” — from jazz in the cabaret space to Reality Elite Dance performances on the main stage, comedy in the basement, opera by Gisella Montanez Case, and food by [forged] channeling street vendors, Chinatown, coffee shops, Little Italy and more.

Tix: $75, $125 sponsor. Purchase online at www.woodtheater.org, or call 480-4878.

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