Located in the heart of the Finger Lakes Region, Geneva, N.Y. has been host to the Colleges for nearly two centuries— a city that has welcomed our students, supported our efforts and advanced our mission. But for many Hobart and William Smith Colleges alumni and alumnae, the region is simply home.
Kelly Mittiga '94, senior vice president at First Niagara Bank, stands in front of the vault at the former Farmers and Merchants Bank (and later Geneva Savings Bank) on Linden Street in Geneva. Newly restored by local entrepreneur Sophie Paillard Elkin P'07, The Left Bank now operates as an event venue and an art gallery. It is the only surviving bank building from the early 20th century located in Geneva.
by Ellen Mitchell
When Kelly Johnson Mittiga '94 talks about life in Geneva, she uses words such as "embrace," "potential" and "wonderful." She's not only bullish about the future of her adopted hometown, she's part of the reason it's such a desirable place to live and work.
Originally from Baltimore, she returned to Geneva after graduating from William Smith as a part-time teller for Savings Bank of the Finger Lakes, which was acquired by First Niagara Bank in 2003. More than 18 years later, Mittiga is senior vice president, customer experience executive, and one of First Niagara's top executives.
When Mittiga isn't traveling for work, she takes every opportunity to engage in her favorite extracurricular activity – watching her eighth-grade son and daughter and fifth-grade son play sports. Kelly and her husband and children live in Geneva and their kids attend Geneva public schools.
Mittiga has influenced Geneva's civic success as a past member and chair of the Area Chamber of Commerce. And she has been instrumental in improving the quality of life of its citizens, first through her involvement in Geneva Community Projects, which originated the Whale Watch festival and the first community playground, and later as a result of the ten years she spent on the board and as chair of the Boys & Girls Club. She helped oversee the building of the new Community Center, which she says has been the highlight of her time in Geneva.
"This is the most philanthropic community I have ever known," she says. "It was truly a public-private effort. We all came together to turn a vision into a reality. Thousands of people - young kids, teens, seniors - use the Community Center. Genevans have flourished as a result of the resources there."
Mittiga's career accomplishments and volunteer contributions were celebrated in 2012 when she received the Athena Geneva Award, which recognizes women leaders in U.S. communities who strive toward the highest levels of personal and professional accomplishment, who excel in their chosen field, devote time and energy to their community in a meaningful way, and forge paths of leadership for other women to follow.
Her current positions on the boards of the Ontario County Industrial Development Association and Finger Lakes Health reinforce her optimism regarding Geneva's future.
"The improvements that have taken place downtown and the business activity along the Routes 5 and 20 corridor have had a positive impact," she says. "The lakefront provides an economic development opportunity, too, though we don't want to compromise it. We want visitors to see Geneva as a destination and stop here rather than just pass through. The lovely new Visitors Center on the lake is a positive step toward making that happen."
She adds, "As much as we have done, I still see a lot of potential in the way that folks from Geneva choose to embrace what we have. We need to show people who work here that they should live here, too. Geneva is so wonderfully diverse – it offers so much to so many. We are fortunate to live in such a beautiful place."
Mittiga has been active in forming the Geneva 2020 Initiative, a collaborative effort between the Colleges and Geneva to advance the Geneva schools and build a stronger community. By harnessing the resources of non-profit organizations, businesses and individuals, the initiative is improving school district graduation rates, increasing literacy and ensuring that every high school graduate is ready for college or a career.
Mittiga is particularly pleased with the way HWS faculty, staff and students have become an integral part of Geneva 2020 and many other initiatives. She cites the progress HWS has made in "weaving the students into the fabric of Geneva.
"I see it every day. It has made Geneva a better place to live and to PHOTO BY GREGORY SEARLES '13 raise a family. I am a very proud alumna," she says.
Tracking The Renaissance