IN THE PEWS: A conversation with Sharon Kukowski

Sharon Kukowski has many loves — pets (she has eight), primitive art, vintage movies, her family and her parish. She’s always looking for the good in everyone and treating everyone with dignity and respect. She learned a lot of that from her parents and family growing up in Utica, and now she passes it along to her son and everyone she meets.

Animals have found a soft spot in your heart. You have five beagles and three kitties, all rescues from local area shelters. Why do you do it and from where does this love emanate?

I had a beagle growing up that my brother rescued and an abandoned kitten that my aunt had saved from drowning and gave to me. It’s in the genes. Our family will tell you that a rescued pet makes the best pet. They know that they were chosen and given a second chance to be loved and taken care of. When you look in their eyes and see the love they have for you, there is a bond there that is all that more special.

What’s life like in your house with all these animals running around?

I can honestly say that if I wasn’t able to work from home, the menagerie would not be quite so large. The older ones are just living out their golden years nested in their own comfy spot, and the younger ones keep each other busy playing or investigating the backyard. The kitties are self-sufficient and stay hidden; they choose to make their presence known at their convenience — usually when it’s their dinner time.

Your interests include collecting primitive folk art, decorating and being artsy in any way you can. Where did you learn to be so creative?

This goes back to my childhood. School projects always provided a chance for me to display my creativity and be unique. My Dad had this gift to create things that my brother and sisters and I just seemed to inherit. If it was an idea, there was a way to bring it to life. Both of my parents always supported us and made sure we did our best to share our gifts and bring out the best in each other.

You also love vintage movies, watching them with your husband and son? How did you get into this and what do old movies have that modern flicks do not?

This is my Mom’s gift to me. As far back as I can remember, I would sit and watch an old movie with her. She probably saw a great deal of these movies when she was a little girl back in the ’30s and ’40s at either The James Street Theater or, if she had the 50 cents, a trip to the Stanley on a Saturday for a special treat. She could tell me all about the actors/actresses, what other films they were in, who they were married to. Her knowledge became my hobby and our enjoyment. Those movies had original plots, music, just classic. They didn’t require the language or the sex to be entertaining.

Watching movies also seems to be a great bonding moment for your family. What’s it like when you’re able to get together for these times?

We have a cozy small family, just the three of us and we’re all huge old movie buffs. Keaton’s name is even taken from one of our favorite silent comedians, Buster Keaton. When we’re at home, we take turns picking out a flick and it’s almost always accompanied by a huge bag of buttered popcorn made the old-fashioned way, oil and pan on the stove. We also support The Capitol Theater at least once a month; they always have something of interest for us, pre-1950. It’s a gem located in Rome.

You attended Blessed Sacrament grammar school and Notre Dame High School. What were your school days like?

I have happy memories of both. I grew up on Howard Avenue, so I was able to walk the eight blocks to and from school with a close group of neighborhood friends. My very first friend from kindergarten is still one of my best friends today and our vet — Dr. Suzie Petrillo. I met my future husband, Stephen, in our freshman year at Notre Dame. I can only recall the good times filled with laughter, ’80s music and some pretty interesting fashion trends.

You’re also very involved in parish life, being a ninth-grade Faith Formation catechist, choir member and lector. Why do you choose to participate so much?

I started in the children’s choir at Blessed Sacrament under the direction of Sister Teresa Waldron in third grade. In sixth grade, they invited the students to become lectors. I was asked to assist in teaching the first-grade students while I was a Confirmation candidate in 1983. It has always been a part of my life, and when the parishes merged, it took me a little while to find my footing to see where I was needed. Each task provides a different level of faith to a specific area. I love singing and lectoring and the ninth-graders that I teach are a joy. I have to say that those that I volunteer with and for are an amazing team. 

What were the emotions when Blessed Sacrament Church closed and you had to choose to go elsewhere?

My mother was born and raised on St. Agnes Avenue right next to the Blessed Sacrament convent so we always had a close bond with the parish. She was a child when the school was built and my aunt was in the first graduating class in 1937. It wasn’t just a church; it was an entire community of families and neighbors that grew up together. As we all know, many of those friends and loved ones have moved from the area or have passed on and the enrollment just wasn’t enough to keep it going. Blessed Sacrament and St. Mary of Mount Carmel had already put a contingency plan into place for the changing times and the possibility of losing one of our pastors. Many of our organizations merged together before the closing and it was a chance to meet new friends. June 25, 2005, was a very somber day for goodbyes, but it was also the beginning of a new chapter of faith in our lives. I sometimes go to the Christ anchor that hangs in the side room off of the sacristy and offer up a little prayer. This came from the altar in Blessed Sacrament and I’m so glad that it is there. It’s a happy reminder of where my faith began.

What have you found at Mount Carmel / Blessed Sacrament that nourishes your spiritual life?

The new friends that we have made, in addition to those that made the journey with us, are such an important part of our lives. We have laughed, cried and prayed together. Our shared faith is the basis for our friendships and I feel blessed to have that. I look forward to being here because we are among family.

Sharon (Nichols) Kukowski

Age: 50.

Education: Blessed Sacrament (1982), Notre Dame (1986), attended Marist College.

Family: Husband Stephen, son Keaton (19).

Occupation: Billing director for Custom-Tel LLC.

What you like to do in your spare time: Antiquing, watch old movies, walking our pups.

Favorite TV shows: “Downton Abbey,” “Father Brown,” “Sherlock” (with Benedict Cumberbatch). I really enjoy the BBC shows.

Favorite movie: Alfred Hitchcock’s “Rebecca” and “It’s A Wonderful Life.”

Favorite musical artist or genre: 1940s Big Band/Swing

Favorite quote: “Live simply, remain grateful, be kind.”