Christina and George

Christina and George Gamota. PHOTO BY JIM SHAW.

A LIFETIME OF GIVING BACK

By E. Ashley Rooney

When Christina Gamota lights up with an idea, she is unstoppable. What new project is she describing? What significant event is she helping to orchestrate? Christina sees a world filled with possibility and potential and is always willing to lend a helping hand. “We are immigrants; we were refugees. Now we are Americans, and we like to give back,” she says.

Her story began in 1944 when her parents emigrated to Obdach, Austria, from their home in Ukraine to escape the Soviet invasion. When the Soviets then invaded Austria, her family became homeless and was sent to live in barracks in Innsbruck. Because there was no safe playground, Christina played in a nearby cemetery, using natural objects to make houses, dolls, and other toys. Years later, she is still creating with style and panache, turning the ordinary into something beautiful.

Growing up, she lived in Austria, France, Switzerland, and Argentina. Her family arrived in Minnesota in 1959, where she met her husband George, who was also born in Ukraine. George has a doctorate in physics from the University of Michigan, and his professional career has spanned more than 50 years. He has worked in government for the Department of Defense, in academia at the University of Michigan and in the private sector. He has always been focused on science and technology. In 1986, when George became the president of Thermo Electron Technologies Corporation, they moved to busy, bustling Lexington, where their home and gardens became an ongoing project and a beautiful family oasis. Once a modernist, Christina, now believes life is too short to live amid just one period, and the eclectic result is a joyful interplay of styles at their home. They are avid art collectors and their collection is displayed beautifully throughout the spaces of their home with often dramatic results. It’s this environment that she shares with the many organizations she supports through the sophisticated and beautiful fundraisers that she is known for.

“I had seven fundraisers last year,” she laughs, “for five different organizations. That’s my life! And I love it because it has given me opportunities to meet so many interesting people and learn about so many things that I would never have thought of!”

Christina has a long history of volunteering. As a young mother with three children, she always found time to volunteer at the children’s school and their church. “When I was no longer working for money—when we moved to Lexington—I was so lonely. No children, no one that I knew, so I signed up for everything! First, it was the garden club!”

Christina is a long-time member of the Lexington Field & Garden Club (1988-present), the Lexington Historical Society (1988-present), the Lexington Symphony (2006-present), and the Antony Working Group (2010-present). She doesn’t just attend meetings; she is one of those hard-working members who make things happen. When Christina hosts fundraisers, she prefers to prepare the food with other volunteers to maximize the profit! Christina is nothing if not practical, and though her events are elegant and her tables are showstoppers, her first priority is making as much money as possible for the causes she serves.

Christina is the founding chair of the Emery Park Maintenance committee for the Lexington Field & Garden Club. She and other club members can be seen there throughout the year, weeding, cleaning, pruning, and watering. She has worked on the Hancock-Clarke Herb Garden and the Minuteman Statue since 1988.

For the Lexington Historical Society, she has chaired many unique fundraisers, often marrying her love of art and artists with raising money. No one will ever forget the grand event for the Lexington Symphony, where art was available for purchase and displayed casually throughout her gardens, or the painted chair auction, which featured local artists and also engaged the local business community. Christina likes to reach out and bring everyone in.

Lexington is a sister city to Antony, France. It is a relationship that allows the two communities to exchange governmental ideas, facilitate tourism, and promote student exchange programs. Attached to Tower Park on Massachusetts Avenue, is a unique monument dedicated to Antony. It is designed as an outdoor event space with full electricity, in which concerts and other community gatherings can take place. Christina has been actively involved in the aesthetics and fundraising for this project which is finally taking shape.

She has also extended her talents to fundraising for SNAP (Special Needs Arts Programs), which is beloved in the community. SNAP started with a sing-a-long chorus and has branched out to encompass a visual art program. As with many of the organizations that Christina aligns with, SNAP resonates with her onA a personal level. Through her work with SNAP, she is honoring the memory of her brother-in-law who was a quadriplegic and faced many challenges but was intelligent and lots of fun. She loves the way SNAP allows participants to express themselves through art and through music.

In 2007, after a Rachmaninoff concert by the Lexington Symphony, Christina wondered how Lexington could continue to support ambitious musical programs. She approached Maestro Jonathan McPhee about developing a partnership to sponsor a Concert Fund for the Lexington Symphony. She saw the fund as an opportunity to honor someone exceptional and at the same time to share music with others. During her eight-year tenure, it had 45 members. Maestro Jonathan said about Christina’s involvement, “Every successful organization has someone who is an important guiding light. You have been that person for nearly a decade.”

 


 

 


Since retiring, George has volunteered alongside Christina. He brings a rich background to bear on everything he does. George spent five years working for the U.S. Department of Defense. He has spent time in countries around the world consulting for the U.S. government on science and technology. “Once you work for the government, it keeps its hand on you,” he says. George spent time in Ukraine at the request of the State Department, bringing technology to the deaf community. He has taught entrepreneurship in Ukraine, Central Asia, and the Caucuses and still goes back to work in Ukraine twice a year. Christina explains that George’s volunteerism runs deep. “He was a volunteer for many years with the Ukrainians.”

George has really hit his stride chairing the 100th-anniversary committee to commemorate the end of WW I last year and has this year stepped up to lead the remembrance for the 75th anniversary of WW II (learn more on page 18). He has a keen interest in history and an understanding of conflict, having fled his own birth country Ukraine, and he finds great satisfaction gathering the stories of Lexington soldiers and honoring their memories. “World War I affected my grandfathers and father. World War II dramatically affected my family and me. On the ship to America, we met a GI returning home who offered us a place to live free of charge in Minnesota. Today, I am returning that favor, giving back to Ukraine and America.”

The couple agrees that their working styles are very different. “George does the general stuff, the rough stuff, and I do the details,” says Christina. George comments, “We used to work together on restoring homes. I would worry about whether the end product worked, and she would worry about how it looked.” Today they work just as well together, supporting each other’s work and showing mutual appreciation.

The difference in their styles benefits Lexington; George organized the World War I committee with its lectures, exhibits, and parades. With her focus on people, Christina saw the need to do something for veterans. She created 373 poppies in honor of the Lexington WWI veterans and organized the auction of the wooden painted wreaths for the Fallen 8. The proceeds were donated to the Matthew Allen VFW Post 3007 in Lexington.

Christina says, “As we mature and go through challenges in our personal lives, we understand how lucky we are and how grateful we should be for what we have.  Those of us who are refugees have many opportunities once here. For us to give back is a thank you for letting us live in this wonderful country.”

 

 

Share this: