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Piano incident strikes sour notes at park board meeting

April 5, 2014

The fate of a donated piano dominated conversation at what had been scheduled to be the March 19 meeting of the Culver park board, but which instead was an informal conversation due to the lack of a quorum.

None of the parties involved in the discussion -- which took place for the first time since a recent venue change, in the beach lodge meeting room -- disagreed on the basic facts of the matter: an upright piano which resided in the beach lodge meeting room for several years has been destroyed. Three volunteers -- one of them park board member John Helphrey -- attempted to deliver the piano March 14 to Jeanette Geiselman of Culver's Golden Agers group, after she requested (at the previous park board meeting) that it be moved to her home following the closing of the REAL Meals program in late February.

The details of what led from delivery to destruction, however, were more contentious.

Board president Tammy Shaffer said she had heard various versions of what happened from Helphrey as well as via rumor around town; she added that Geiselman had contacted park attorney Rachel Arndt about the matter.

"To cut through all the 'he said, she said,'" said Shaffer, addressing Geiselman, 'what would you like?'

Geiselman replied she "would like a good piano to replace the one that was destroyed.'

Helphrey, who along with Shaffer and Bob Osborn were the only board members present, offered his side of the situation, noting he and his family are "a volunteering family" and that his parents and sister have lived in Culver for more than 40 years. He said he has volunteered locally for the Lions and Kiwanis Clubs.

He said Geiselman had been "demanding the piano in the beach lodge without proof of ownership' for several months. During a recent park board meeting, said Helphrey, he offered "as a private citizen" to deliver the piano to Geiselman's house, and phoned her on the 14th to confirm delivery, at which point Geiselman suggested the park board should purchase the piano itself. Helphrey, however, reminded Geiselman she had been "adamant about wanting the piano."

He went on to describe the difficulty on the part of himself and two other volunteers -- Vern Chmliewski Jr. and Mike Stallings -- in getting the piano out the beach lodge door and into Helphrey's truck.

Upon arriving at Geiselman's house, the men noticed she had several stairs, and told her they wouldn't be able to lift the piano up the stairs. Instead, they suggested it be placed in her garage until she could find other means of moving it into the house.

Helphrey added the piano was scratched and had chipped keys, and he estimated it was around 40 years old. It had originally been donated to a church which met in the beach lodge and was subsequently sold to the Golden Agers.

"(Geiselman) said, 'You have to put it back in the beach house.' I said, 'We can't do that. If you don't want it here, we'll have to dump it.' She said, 'Go ahead and dump it,'" said Helphrey.

He and the other two volunteers then moved the piano to the town garage area on Mill Street, and with the help of a fourth volunteer, removed it from Helphrey's truck, took photos of its condition, and left it. Town utility manager Bob Porter told the men he would take care of it from there, Helphrey said.

"We were told to dump it; we followed directions."

Geiselman then called Helphrey, he added, and asked for a new piano.

"I don't feel very good about spending public money on a 40-year-old piano that was donated to begin with to a church," he said. "Nobody asked to reimburse us for our time and labor, or my gas of the wear and tear on my truck, but you are adamant about wanting a new piano...I think somebody wants to profit off other people's charitable contributions."

Audience member Sharon Coffee said the piano's condition was fine and added she played it every Tuesday for the past 10 years.

"It had scratches," she said. "That has nothing to do with playing the piano."

She added the Golden Agers had paid $100 for the piano, though Helphrey questioned if it was still worth that much. She also said she could have paid local high school students to help move it, had she had time before its destruction.

"If you're going to deliver something, you should have the equipment," said Geiselman, adding Helphrey had agreed to deliver the instrument to her house, not her garage.

Shaffer and Helphrey pointed out all conversation and effort relating to the delivery was not a board matter, but one between private citizens not representing the park.

"When I...heard about delivering pianos, I got a sick feeling," added Shaffer. "That's not the business we're in."

She went on to offer $100 of her own personal money to pay for the piano.

"It's not fair, but there are people out there without homes and jobs and I think this is silly. I understand that you value the instrument."
Helphrey said pianos and organs are routinely difficult to sell at Lions Club and other flea markets and resale events, though he added he regretted the outcome of the situation.

"It won't deter me from volunteering, but I will have to get smart about it," he added.

Shaffer acknowledged the situation was "an unfortunate thing," but added it was a "chapter closed."

PIER SLIP USE, OTHER MATTERS

Board members also discussed the park's policy and procedure manual regarding boat slip rental at park-owned piers, in which a few details have been changed. One question discussed related to renters who pay the rental fee with no plans to use the slip for the season, but do so to prevent losing their spot prior to the next season. Board members wondered if the spot could be sub-let to another renter during the unused season. Shaffer said she had received a phone call from someone planning not to use their space, but paying to keep it in their name this summer.

She added that each lease goes year by year and that no one "owns" a given spot at the park, but last year's renter does have first option to renew their place each year.

Attorney Arndt will look into the matter.

Audience member Russ Mason, on the park's building committee, emphasized the board should have plumbing downstairs at the beach lodge looked at "as soon as possible."

Audience member Ed Pinder, referring 10 tables and 40 folding chairs discussed at previous park board meetings, said Poplar Grove church in Culver would like to have them if the park board doesn't wish to purchase them.

At the previous park board meeting, Geiselman said the tables and chairs, which have been in the beach lodge meeting room for the past few years, were available to the board to purchase for $1,000. There had been some debate as to whether the Golden Agers or the park actually owned the items, which Pinder said they do, adding he knew the name of the (now deceased) anonymous donor.

Shaffer acknowledged there are "a lot of questions" regarding the items and others still located in the lodge which were used for some time by the Golden Agers and REAL Meals participants.

Tony Sellers of Sellers Services, which hung Christmas lights and decorations in November in the park, said his company would remove the items in the coming days. He added he planned to make "a good map" of the lights for easier use next year.

Helphrey also discussed removal of the park's skating rink, which was installed by volunteers, and the emptying of sand bags used in its installation, onto the town beach.

It was also noted the board has several candidates for the park superintendent position, and will schedule executive sessions for interviews. The board is scheduled to meet next on April 9.

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