SARANAC LAKE - The Winter Carnival Committee expects to spend a long time figuring out all the behind-the-scenes things Katee Morgan Fobare did over the last 30 years. Then it will have to cover those bases without her.
"She knew the ins and outs of Carnival like nobody else could," fellow Carnival Committee member Barbara Martin said. "She knew everything, and she had it in her head. If she didn't know it, she would look it up. She had notes, and her notes were everywhere. But we don't have notes."
Fobare's death Wednesday at age 79, after a long struggle with cancer, comes six months after the death of Don Duso, longtime chairman of the Carnival Committee. Together they anchored the committee's old guard. Fobare had been chairwoman for three years in the early 1980s and longtime secretary until her death. In a statement on its website, the Carnival Committee called her its "matriarch."
Longtime Saranac Lake Winter Carnival Committee Secretary Katee Morgan Fobare accepts a plaque from Chairman Jeff Dickson at the Coronation that launched this year’s Carnival in February. The plaque was a gesture of thanks for Fobare’s three decades of service.
(Photo — Mark Kurtz)
"She kept Winter Carnival together through the lean years and fat years," said Jacques DeMattos, a committee member since 1997. "She was Winter Carnival, really - willing to do anything."
"There was so much stuff that she did that we don't even know that she did because she just did it," said Jeff Dickson, who took over from Duso as chairman last year after joining the committee in 2002. "She will be tremendously missed, both for her personality and for her knowledge. It leaves a big hole in the committee. ... She and I always got along very well, and so it leaves a big hole for me, too.
"She did a tremendous amount of the detail work that makes something happen - remembering to ask the village to put up the fence so we can have the fry pan toss ... those things that you don't notice when they're done, but you sure would notice them if they weren't done."
Fobare had been frank about her difficult battle with cancer in recent years, and knowing that, the Carnival Committee honored her with a plaque at the Coronation that opened this February's festivities. It was a major accomplishment that the honor surprised her, Martin said; it was hard to keep any Carnival-related secrets from her.
But there was no planning for Fobare to transfer her many Carnival duties to the next generation before she died. She let Martin take charge of the buttons and Dickson assemble the program, but that was because she was too busy with other things, not because she was sick, Dickson said.
Martin agreed: "She let little things go here and there. No one could do everything that she did, she was so tireless."
"She never missed a meeting, and some of those meetings she was really sick," Dickson said. "There was never any hint or any word on her part that, 'Hey, this is what you all need to know because I'm not going to be around.'"
That's both good and bad, Dickson said: "It means we're going to really have to scramble, but it also means she got to do things her way."
DeMattos described Fobare and Duso as both "the CEOs" and "the encyclopedias" of the Carnival Committee. Both were organized and kept detailed lists of what had to be done.
They were also strong personalities, and DeMattos recalled that "there was a love-hate relationship between Don and Katee at some times." For example, he remembered them butting heads on parade bands: "Don would go ahead and sign the contract for one price, and Katee would say, 'That's not what we paid them last year. ... They're taking advantage of us.' And Don would call the guy back, and they'd work something out."
Photographer Mark Kurtz has worked with Fobare ever since he started doing the Carnival slide show 20 years ago.
"She was the epitome of a Winter Carnival volunteer and beyond," he said. "Her attention to detail was amazing. She would be watching for so many little things behind the scenes and make sure they were covered - she made the rest of us look good. Her memories of years-, even decades-ago Winter Carnivals were so valuable."
Martin said that while the transition will be hard, things won't fall apart. She said this year's Carnival ran smoothly after Dickson replaced Duso, and that change can be good.
"It's OK for new ideas here and there, but the thing is, she knew what was tried before - so did Don," Martin said. "It's gonna be tough, but we will do it because she'll be looking at us."