Spotlight on Patty Wagner
Patty Wagner is such a regular presence in the CSO and Pops administrative offices, where her cheerful yet unassuming demeanor makes her a welcome teammate, one might understandably assume that she is a member of the staff. If that were the case, however, she would certainly qualify as the most underpaid employee—Patty instead is one of the Orchestra’s most dedicated volunteers.
She and her sister, Nancy, grew up with music around the home; their father enjoyed listening to classical music while their mother preferred Broadway and popular music. They did not have music class in school most years, and while she tried piano and guitar lessons, they didn’t take. “I gave up on playing any instrument besides the stereo,” she jokes. However, a high school teacher periodically took her class to Friday morning CSO concerts. As adults, Nancy and Patty starting attending concerts, starting with Pops before morphing into CSO as well. The sisters have been subscribers for over 25 years.
In 1991, Erich Kunzel announced at a concert that there was a group being formed that would come to be known as Friends of the Pops. Patty and Nancy thought that sounded like something interesting to get involved in, socially if nothing else. Thus began the start of their volunteer “career,” which has seen countless hours of work, fundraisers, concerts and more—most of it unsung behind the scenes. The beginning of Patty’s 15 years as part of the Friends of the Pops saw several fundraisers, the biggest of which was a two-year “musical squares” quilt project, which raised $25,000. In addition to Friends of the Pops, Patty has also been very involved with Parties of Note for about 20 years, including two seasons as the Chair. Patty was also a key player in the CSO’s annual New Year’s Eve silent auction, which she cites as one of her most rewarding projects. “It was always so much work, especially around the holidays, but when you saw the results it was always good,” she said.
As the 2016–17 season draws to a close, so too does Patty’s two-year tenure as President of the Cincinnati Symphony Volunteer Association (CSVA) and, by extension, the Orchestra’s Board of Directors. During that time, one of her biggest achievements has been creating a volunteer handbook, to help orient new or potential volunteers to the Orchestra and the various volunteer opportunities available. She has also been working on facilitating more cross-pollination between the various CSVA interest groups.
Now, she is moving into a new Senior Counsel role, and will serve as an advisor to CSVA. She hopes to bring a greater awareness of the CSO’s and CSVA’s rich history, and build on it. “The Orchestra is founded by volunteers, and the volunteer group [now CSVA] is 80 years old and remains strong. I’d like to be able to bring information when it’s needed of things that have worked in the past, what didn’t and why, and what could work again,” she said. Volunteerism has changed over the years, as have the needs of the organization, but she says what sustains it all is passion. “This orchestra is so fantastic, and to have an orchestra this caliber in a city this size is incredible, and locally we still don’t always appreciate it. We as volunteers want to make sure that it’s here for the next generation, and make sure the next generation wants it.”
“Retirement” seems to be relative for this former systems manager for Western & Southern. In addition to her work with the Orchestra, she is instrumental to the annual “Action Auction” and “Live on CET” fundraisers for WCET. She also serves on the Board for the Three Arts Scholarship Program, which distributes $250,000 in scholarships every year to female students in Greater Cincinnati colleges and universities, as well as her parish council, the Visiting Nurse Association committee and the Cincinnati Symphony Club. She’s also a CSVA representative on the American Major Symphony Orchestra Volunteers Board, where she can network and share ideas with other orchestra volunteers.
What’s the secret to finding the time and energy for so much volunteerism? The cliché answer is “the reward in giving back,” but Patty says that is truly what it comes down to. “It’s hard work, it’s not always fun and there is not always immediate gratification, but when you see some of the results it makes it worthwhile. You find organizations that not only need what you give them, but appreciate what you give them. Find something you’re passionate about, and then you’ll work like a dog.” —Meghan Berneking