AMAZING GRACE Former Cooperstown Trustee In New Home At 93

AMAZING GRACE

Former Cooperstown Trustee In New Home At 93

By LIBBY CUDMORE • Reprinted from this week’s AllOTSEGO.seniority

Grace Kull's lively personality is already having an impact on her new home, the Plains at Parish Homestead. (Ian Austin/AllOTSEGO.life)
Grace Kull’s lively personality is already having an impact on her new home, the Plains at Parish Homestead. (Ian Austin/AllOTSEGO.life)

ONEONTA – No matter where she goes, Grace Kull brings people together.  “We were the first family in my neighborhood to have a television set in 1950,” she said.  “My husband Al won it in a contest, and when Milton Berle was on, we’d have eight or 10 people over watching the small screen on that big box!”

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Recently arrived at the Plains at Parish Homestead, the retired Cooperstown village trustee has made a new home – and a whole new circle of friends.  “I taught a group here to play Kings in the Corner,” she said.  “It’s an old, old card game that I learned from my grandmother.”

“She’s a real mood-booster,” said Plains Executive Director Trudy Claudy.  “She isn’t shy about anything, and she’s a good example for other residents.”

 

The fourth of five children from Newark, N.J., Kull moved to Cooperstown in 1957 after when her husband, Al, discovered “America’s Most Perfect Village” while working as a bank vault inspector for Diebold & Eaton Corp.; (based locally, he continued to work the company until 1977).  “I thought it was the end of the world,” she said.  “But it turned out to be a very good move.”

Though she hadn’t gone to collage, Kull quickly found work with Bassett Hospital and NYSHA, and volunteered to develop programs for a mechanical typewriter in an early autism study.  “The children responded so well to this typewriter that the New York Times printed an article,” she said.  “People were bringing their children to Cooperstown to try it.”

While living in Cooperstown – and raising three children, Mary, David and Dianne – she wrote letters to her sister-in-law, Bert Chapin, about life in the little village.  “She later moved up here, and she still had all these letters – we were going to burn them, but we got such a kick out of them!”

At that time, a poet, Fielding Dawson, was staying at Nineteen Church Street, Grace’s B&B, and she showed him those letters and ones from her brother, John Ramos, a soldier killed in the Battle of the Bulge.  “’These have to be published,’ he told me, so he found me a publisher!”

The first, “Dear Bert,” was published in 2001, and the second “Traces: A Soldier Writes Home” was published in 2003. Proceeds from the books benefit a scholarship fund at Cooperstown Central School.

At the Plains, she continues her love of writing with the “Plain Talk” column for the newsletter, as well as being active in the book club.  “I love my Kindle,” she said.

At age 81, she ran on the Democratic ticket for village trustee in 2003, winning two terms and holding the position for six years.  Highpoints included chairing Village Bicentennial Committee in 2007.  “We had the biggest parade Cooperstown has ever seen,” she said.  “We brought in the Budweiser Clydesdales!”

“I worked with her on that committee and we became very close,” said Rich McCaffery, a fellow committee member who still lunches with her weekly.  “She was full of energy and great ideas, and although she challenged us to do the best we could, she worked just as hard to make it a wonderful occasion.”

Another challenge: voting for paid parking.  “I’m for it and still am,” she declared.

“She did what she thought was best for the village,” said then-mayor Carol B. Waller.  “She didn’t follow party lines, she followed her heart, and we were lucky to have her.”

When Grace retired from the board in 2009, she used her last $1,000 stipend to raise funds to build a well in Africa.  “I saw on Oprah that all it took was $6,000 to build a well,” she said.  “That’s not an awful lot of money for the good it would do, so I reached out to family and friends.”

CCS raised $700 from a penny drive, and in February 2011, the money was raised and the well installed in a village on the Gold Coast.

And at the Plains, she continues her charity work with her fellow residents. “I wrote the introduction to a cookbook we’re putting together,” she said.  “The proceeds will either go to a women’s shelter or to children in foster care – we haven’t decided.”

She’s even reached back to her Portuguese roots for a recipe to contribute.  “It’s a boatman’s fish soup, very good, very easy to make, but different,” she said.

And although her most recent “Plain Talk” was ruminations on getting older, at 93 Grace hosts family and friends for visits and keeps the laughs going around the card table.  “I like people,” she said.  “I’ve learned that you have to be a good listener, and to always be yourself.”