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Michele Riggi: Independent Spirit. Passionate Heart.

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If you live in the Capital-Saratoga region, the name Michele Riggi is a familiar one. At first glance what comes to mind is a Saratoga-based philanthropist and socialite. But there is more to this woman than meets the eye. She has an independent, passionate spirit. She and her husband, Ron, truly believe in giving back to their community and their name is often seen headlining many charitable events in the area. But to know Michele is to appreciate how she unapologetically is passionate about certain aspects of her life.

Anyone who knows Michele knows that her family comes first. She is a doting wife to her husband and a dedicated mom to four children who are now grown. Now she sees her family continue to grow with the addition of grandchildren.

More than Puppy Love
Then there are her dogs. It’s easy for people initially to think that Michele is just a woman with a lot of dogs. She has 36, to be exact, along with one cat, two canaries, ten saltwater fish and 15 Koi fish. But there is more to it than that. Michele is an animal advocate. Many of her dogs have been rescued from puppy mills or are adopted special-needs dogs. Michele has passionately raised money and supported organizations that rescue animals; she has spearheaded Dogs, Divas & Dudes, a gala event that helped raise money for Cornell’s School of Veterinary Medicine’s Oncology Department. This past June, Michele appeared in a public service announcement that aired on television encouraging National Pet Adoption Month.

As a philanthropist, dedicated arts advocate and President of the National Museum of Dance, one might think she has help to manage all of the furries in her household. “We do have help during the day but during the evenings, it is just my husband and me taking care of our pets. Ron and I administer the medicines, special diets and needs of these babies,” Michele explained. “Each month I prepare homemade dog food for every little mouth. I make their food using about 180 pounds of organic beef and chicken.

Michele and Ron have been married for 39 years; they are a team with their pets, love for the arts and all of their activities. “My husband is the smartest person I know. I enjoy listening to him and there is never a dull moment with Ron,” Michele smiled. “He makes my world complete. He is the love of my life! We do everything together.”

Lake Placid Living
What you don’t know about Michele is that her independent spirit shines bright in her hobbies and the places she loves. In addition to her home in Saratoga, she and Ron have had a place in Lake Placid, New York, for 30 years. This home is where they really love to get away and spend time with their family and close friends. It’s a compound named Casa de Paradiso, or House of Paradise in Italian. “There is something about the Adirondacks that is spiritual,” Michele mused. “The mountains and fresh air and getting close to nature are so invigorating.”

When the HERLIFE Magazine team visited Michele at their Lake Placid house, we were pleasantly surprised to see that she enjoys activities that are very down to earth. How do we know this? First of all, she is an avid motorcyclist. She had her Indian bike with her, and she was eagerly waiting for the rain to clear so she could go for a ride. “I love being on a motorcycle. Riding on the open road gives me a sense of freedom.” She has a Harley Davidson softail motorcycle as well.

Her favorite car is her Jeep Brute, and she showed us their shooting range. Yes, a shooting range! Michele is an avid target shooter, using rifles and revolvers. “Target shooting requires tremendous focus and concentration. Those are good skills to practice, and I enjoy target shooting with my husband.”

Family Priorities
Originally from Broadalbin, New York, Michele grew up on the shores of Sacandaga Lake. She has enjoyed the lifestyle the area offers, and her parents, Frank and Angela Fusco, now in their 80s, still live in Broadalbin. “I would not be who I am today without my parents, who instilled great values in me from an early age,” she smiled. “My mother was a dance instructor, so theater and dance have been very much a part of my life. I became a dancer and followed my dream. My father is a great artist and very creative and I was gifted with things I do in daily life from him as well.”

Michele is blessed with three grandchildren and she expects more. To her grandchildren, she is affectionately known as Fancy Mimi. Even though we can catch her hanging out in jeans and cowboy boots enjoying country music, we know Michele’s essence is glamour and she, more than anyone else, enjoys being dressed to the nines.

As her family grows, and as Michele and Ron get older, they are stepping back to enjoy more quality time with their family and each other. This means that last year was the final year for the wildly popular Halloween Extravaganza and Easter celebrations held at The Palazzo Riggi, her Saratoga Springs home. She and her family dress in character during these events and she invites the community to her home to participate in the festivities, providing refreshments, photo opportunities and giveaways. “I have enjoyed the events that we have done at the house and all of the charity events we have participated in, but now it is time for us to enjoy each other, so our event calendar will be trimmed down and we will no longer be hosting the Easter or Halloween events,” Michele reflected.

National Museum of Dance Anniversary Celebration
She is still going full steam ahead as president of the National Museum of Dance and she will host the 30th Anniversary Pearl Gala in August with famous Broadway celebrity Tommy Tune as honorary co-chair. The event is set to honor museum founders Marylou Whitney and Lewis Swyer, who will be inducted into the Cornelius Vanderbilt Whitney Hall of Fame at the National Museum of Dance. Michele and Ron are major benefactors of the Museum and recently built the Riggi Theatre there. It is an intimate, 48-seat theatre in the museum used for performances by the School of the Arts students, workshops and performances by local theatre companies, opera and musical performances.

Michele is dedicated to staying fit and eating healthy. Boxing, Pilates and weight lifting are regular activities for each morning as she prepares for her day ahead. “I’ve been working with three professional instructors, who come every day, one for Pilates one for boxing, and one for weight lifting,” she shared. “I’m a country girl at heart. I love fishing and being in the country with wildlife. I am a super patriotic person, and when I’m in the country, I’m always styling in stars and stripes.” Michele and Ron are nightly regulars at the many restaurants in Lake Placid and Saratoga Springs. Grilled fish and vegetables are her go-to choices. She eats no red meat, but she may splurge on a burger when on vacation.

This vivacious woman just turned the big 6-0, and it has not slowed her down in any way, shape or form. She extends advice from her own experience to women wishing to follow their dreams in life. “Whatever you choose to do in life, make sure you enjoy doing it. Follow your dreams and never give up!” Michele noted.

These are wonderful words to take to heart and live by. ■