With the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol, the summer-long riots following George Floyd’s death and debates over race relations, we can forget: We live in a great country, where ambition and hard work are almost assuredly rewarded.
A case in point – a life in point – is Sam Nader, the respected and beloved former mayor of Oneonta, who passed away Tuesday, Feb. 9, at age 101.
When Sam Nader was born in 1919 in Oneonta’s Sixth Ward, you might have thought his prospects were limited.
His parents, Elias and Rose, had married in the old country in 1907, and had come to America in hopes of a better life. He joined the Delaware & Hudson in 1911 as a stationary fireman, tending the fire that heated the boiler and created the steam to power the steam engine – hot, dirty work.
But young Sam’s boyhood in “the Beehive,” a six-apartment house on West Broadway, next to the busy, noisy D&H yards, didn’t weigh him down. Quite the opposite.
It launched a life of joys and accomplishment (and, of course, some tragedy, too), as he related in an anecdote-filled interview on his 100th birthday in his living room at 96 River St., when he spoke:
• Of his boyhood in the immigrant-filled “Lower Deck” – Lebanese like his family, Italians, Poles, Russians. “They were all my pals.”
• Of learning life’s lessons early at St. Mary’s School, fighting in the Battle of the Bulge during World War II, then joining Bendix (now Amphenol), where he spent his career, rising to director of purchasing.
• Of marriage: in be-pillared Colliscroft, to Alice House, daughter of a prominent physician and descendant of Eliakim Ford, the first president of the Village of Oneonta, and key player in bringing the railroad here. The union breached the social divide between River Street and Walnut Street.
• Of politics: Spurned by the dominant Republicans after three terms as alderman, he formed the Good Government Party and won the mayoralty. He would open the modern Oneonta Municipal Airport – now the Sam Nader Municipal Airport – and 30 years of daily passenger service to LaGuardia followed. He forged a friendship with Bobby Kennedy, then New York’s U.S. senator, hosting him at a packed dinner at the Academy Street Armory. He figured out how to bring federal largesse to his needy city.
• Of baseball, bringing the Yankees franchise to Oneonta’s Damaschke Field (1969-93). Many of the great team’s greats, from Mickey Mantle to George Steinbrenner, got to know the City of the Hills – and Sam, them – over the years.
That was accomplished in one American lifetime, set in motion when his family arrived in this country of ours, much abused today, seeking a better life for their children.
As Sam’s son, John Nader, himself a former mayor, now SUNY Farmingdale president, described it the other day, it was a life centered on family, hard work and community, as he learned in his Sixth Ward boyhood that it should be.
There was more. Those of you who knew him, or met him only once, recall his warmth and curiosity. When he spoke with you, he gave the impression there was no one he’d rather be speaking to at that particular moment than you.
Of course he would succeed, as he did.
Three generations that spanned a century. One generation, newly arrived immigrants. A second generation, a son rises to the peak of the family’s adopted city, embraced and heralded by his fellow citizen. A third generation, where the grandson follows his father in political achievement, then rises to president of a college in the nation’s largest university system.
John Nader recounted the other day how, when he was installed as SUNY Farmingdale president in 2016 in SUNY headquarters, the ornate former D&H headquarters at the bottom of Albany’s State Street, he had a family story to tell:
A half-century before, his grandfather had been presented with a gold watch in that very building, in honor of his 50 years of service to the D&H.
Audience members were in awe. They must have been saying to themselves: Yes, this is a great country.
And it is: The Naders – father, son and grandson – prove it.