Elaine grew up in Aliquippa, Pennsylvania, and attended IUP from 1967 to 1971. She graduated with a B.S. in Music Education, completing majors in both piano and harpsichord and also a minor in voice. Her first job out of college was teaching sixth to twelfth grade chorus at a private school in Richmond, Virginia.
When that teaching job ended, few others were available in the Washington, D.C., area, so Elaine found work performing cardiology research at Georgetown Hospital. During the next few decades, Elaine undertook many interesting projects, including planning and running study tours to Europe and the Far East for the Smithsonian; event planning for the first-ever visit of the patriarch of the Greek Orthodox Church to the United States; and opening and running multiple restaurants with her partner, Chef Francesco Ricchi. The pair established Cesco Trattoria in Bethesda, Maryland, and recently opened their fifth eatery, which is located on Washington Harbor in Georgetown.
Through all these endeavors, music remained a vital thread in Elaine’s life. She taught private piano lessons for many years, published a number of her own compositions, and is currently working on a piano method for beginning students. Now, after forty years of instructing, she’s become a student herself again by taking up jazz piano with a musician who studied under Duke Ellington.
What led you to attend IUP?
I grew up in a very musical family, and started taking piano lessons at age five. I was blessed with a wonderful piano teacher who also taught Henry Mancini. You had to audition to be accepted as her student.
I realized very early on that I wanted to study piano in college, and I chose IUP because it had the best reputation in Pennsylvania for music education. It was then, and still is, one of the top programs in the country.
Tell me a little bit about your time at IUP as a student. How involved were you in and out of class?
I participated in as many on-campus music events as possible. I was a member of the women’s chorus and the mixed chorale. We performed all over the state. I also worked in the music library. At that time, it was just a few shelves on the second floor of the main library. I returned to campus recently, and was amazed at how huge the music library is now.
I also recall how competitive it was trying to get a practice room in Cogswell back then. I gave up and decided to just use the practice rooms in the basement of Sutton, which was my dormitory at the time. I’d spend six hours a day practicing on old pianos that were out of tune. I usually woke up at midnight and practiced until 6:00 a.m., then got ready for class. Squirrels used to come and scratch at the windows while I was down there. It was a bit eerie.
How often do you return to IUP? Have things changed much? Is there anything you miss, or tend to revisit, when you’re back in town?
I try to get to IUP at least three or four times a year. My position on the board of directors of the Alumni Association allows me the chance to be involved in what is happening on campus and around the country.
I am so impressed with the new and improved Cogswell Hall and with those gorgeous Steinway pianos—we are an all-Steinway school now. The music students have it way better than we did.
A couple of weeks ago I attended a concert on campus performed by IUP students and the Pittsburgh Symphony. I could not have been prouder. The students were playing very difficult music right alongside seasoned musicians. Indeed, a credit to the faculty.
You mentioned the IUP Alumni Association Board of Directors. What do you do in that capacity?
Our main purpose is to develop opportunities and programs to keep alumni involved with IUP after they graduate—networking, reunions, etc. We’re involved in Homecoming, and, every March, we host the Distinguished Alumni Awards ceremony. We also provide input to the other decision-making bodies at the university.
And you’re also involved with networking events in the D.C. area?
Yes. I like to stay involved with networking opportunities sponsored by the alumni association in the D.C. region. On occasion, we have hosted events at one of our restaurants.
There are quite a lot of alumni who move to the D.C. area after graduation. It is always gratifying to meet new grads and to help them with networking, or to just let them know an alumna cares and is there for them.
What would you want other alumni to know about your experiences in these positions, or about giving back to IUP in general?
I had a wonderful four years of education at IUP that still shapes my life today—my career, my values, my future. Its effect just can’t be quantified. So, I stay involved to give back some of what was given to me. My message to other alumni is simply to do something—give money, or show up and get involved. If you haven’t been back to campus, come see all the wonderful changes. Stay connected to what’s going on.
Do you have a favorite moment or memory related to your service in these positions?
My positive experiences at IUP didn’t stop after the four years I spent there. I constantly meet people who are alumni. I still see the roommates I had at Sutton Hall. We’ve been friends for forty-three years.
At the Distinguished Alumni Awards gala a couple years ago, I met one of the awardees, Stephanie Lambidakis ’81, who has become one of my dearest friends. We didn’t attend IUP at the same time, but the IUP connection has bonded us forever.
Profile published on 5/12/10