COOPERSTOWN – Gretchen Sorin has a clear memory of how family vacations always started.
“We would get up at 3 a.m. and get on the road,” the director of the Cooperstown Graduate Program in Museum Studies remembers. “We wouldn’t stop at a restaurant or a hotel, and my parents only stopped at Esso gas stations.
“We drove straight through from New Jersey to North Carolina, where my mother’s family lived. I thought that was just how people took vacations.”
But as she got older, she realized that they had a reason for driving that way. “It was all about not wanting to be denied service when they stopped.”
Her new book, “Driving While Black” compiles many of these stories, as well as research into how car travel facilitated and aided the Civil Rights movement.
“If you’re boycotting buses, how else are you going to get to work?” she said. “During, for example, the Montgomery Bus Boycott, leaders bought fleets of cars and drove people to work. If you were black and you flew into an airport, cabs were segregated, but you could rent a car at the airport.”
Driving gave African Americans freedom that Jim Crow-era buses and trains did not.
“It was accepted that African Americans would be drive trucks or be chauffeurs,” she said. “I heard many stories about black men who would save their money and buy a Cadillac, but would keep a chauffeur’s cap on the seat next to them – if he was pulled over by police, he would show them the cap and say it was his boss’ car.”
The book, which comes out Feb. 11 from Liveright, a W. W. Norton imprint, had its earliest roots in Sorin’s Ph.D. thesis at SUNY Albany, which focused on “The Negro Motorist’s Green Book,” a travel guide for African American travelers.
“I don’t know if my parents had a copy of the Green Book,” she said. “But 90 percent of the people I spoke to said their parents always went to Esso gas stations.”
Esso was a sponsor of the annual Green Book and was known for its policy of opening its gas stations – and just as important, bathrooms – to black travelers.
“A lot of places would be happy to take your money, but wouldn’t let you use a bathroom,” said Sorin. “But Esso was owned by the Rockefellers, who were Baptists, and they did not believe in discrimination.”
But more than the Green Book, her research, which was also used by documentarian Rick Burns, Ken Burns’ brother, for a PBS program, “The Green Book,” delved deep into car culture in the African American community.“
One of the things that was fascinating was that your ethnic group determined what kind of car you bought,” she said. “For instance, Jews didn’t buy Fords, but African Americans did, because Henry Ford employed black workers.”
Most importantly, she said, black families bought cars that were fast, heavy and reliable. “They liked Buicks because you could carry food and water, spare parts, and blankets and pillows,” she said. “They were also too heavy to turn over, and could accelerate fast.”
Speed and weight were crucial, she said, in case you found yourself in a “Sundown Town,” where African Americans were faced with violence if they remained after dark.
“Thurgood Marshall has a story from when he was a lawyer for the NAACP that he was waiting for a train to Shreveport and a man came up to him and said, ‘(Expletive) the last train is at 4 p.m. and you had better be on it, because the sun is never going down on a live (expletive) in this town’,” she said. “So travel guides like The Green Book were crucial to telling you where it was safe to go.”
Sorin will give a reading and do a signing from the book at 4 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 12 at Roots Brewing Company.
A one-hour cut of the “Driving While Black,” documentary, meanwhile, has been making the rounds at film festivals, including ones in Martha’s Vineyard and Albany. “It got a very positive reaction,” she said. “We still have an hour’s worth of footage to record to make it a two-hour documentary.”
A regional belly-dancing group called the Lunachix is trying to shake things up in the world of body positivity and women empowerment.
“The Lunachix is a place where real women can be their best self,” said Jo Boring, director of the belly-dancing troupe that she says is really about body positivity and women’s empowerment.
“Some days that means being the star of the show, other days it means eating dinner together and having an ugly cry,” she said.
The all-women’s group began with a class, but it soon evolved into something more than just dancing.
“It started out as a class, but it very quickly became about each other. Something like dance is physical and creative, but it’s also social,” said Boring.
“As much as we are about performing and doing shows, it’s equally as important that we get together every week and support each other. It became a community of friends so the goal superseded dance at some point.”
And welcoming all women became a crucial component of that community.
“…We represent regular women who work hard to be showgirls. Very few of us had childhood dance training. We’re just regular girls.”
Boring first entered the world of belly-dancing in the early 2000s after seeing the Goddess Hour troupe perform at a festival in Rochester.
“I never was a dance kid and never took dance classes when I was younger. I didn’t have a lot of exposure to it, so it was something I saw and thought was beautiful. I had a little part of me that wanted to be a showgirl.”
After joining and dancing with Goddess Hour for several years, Boring moved back to Delaware County.
“I thought I would never find anyone who belly-dances,” but then she met Caroline Huxtable, who was teaching it at Oneonta’s Armory, and took classes with her from 2008 to 2015.
In 2013, Boring started a beginners’ class of her own at Delhi’s Cardio Club, and those beginners eventually grew into today’s Lunachix.
Elizabeth Raphaelson of Oneonta was is that first class.
“I’ve always been into dancing so I was looking for a way as an adult to do a new kind of dance,” she said. “I also loved the aesthetic of it and I think those were the main attracting factors for me.”
She also embraced Boring’s concept: “One thing that is particularly neat about belly dance is that, as Jo says, ‘every body’ can dance.
“I also felt that Jo was really encouraging us to keep going and to get something as close to perfect as possible, but in a fun way.”
And after seven years, the Lunachix show is still shaking things up and going strong.
“I think a lot of times when you become an adult and you have a job and a family, you forget to nurture your creative expression. This is a place that all of us can do that,” said Boring.
The Lunachix have danced on stages nationwide and internationally, with plans to travel to England for a performance in April.
No Snow – Track Clear: Reports from the Pacific Railroad to January 20 say there is no snow on the Great Plains nor in the Black Hills, nor in the passes of the Rocky Mountains, nor in the lofty chain of the Sierra Nevada, to obstruct the trains – but a clear track from ocean to ocean. At the same time the record shows the Hudson open to Albany and the same is reported of all the European rivers emptying into the North Sea and the Lower Baltic, which are usually fast-locked in ice in mid-winter. Surely some wonderful things in the heavens and the earth, in the sun and his satellites are going on of momentous import to our little planet of which we know nothing.
125 Years Ago
General County News – Miss Bertha Matteson of Morris, Raymond Snyder of Salt Springville Almon T. Olney of South Edmeston, and N.D. Root of Oneonta are among the students now at the Albany Business College from Otsego County. The revival of business is making an increase in
the demand for graduates of the college and the outlook for those who attend is highly encouraging.
H.W. Smith of Wells Bridge, recently sent a case of fresh eggs to New York City and the other day received word from the commission merchant that they were all hard-boiled when received. The cause can hardly be understood. But, it is supposed that they came in too close contact with the steam pipes in transportation.
Collections were taken in several of the village churches in Oneonta last Sunday in aid of the proposed hospital. The total amount secured was $137.81.
100 Years Ago
Dorothy Garrique, playing a leading role with the musical comedy “My Soldier Girl,” coming to the Oneonta Theatre Monday, January 26, is a niece of Thomas Garrique Massaryk, president of Czecho-Slovakia, the new republic in Europe. Mr. Massaryck, previous to the war, was president of the University of Bohemia. He was a believer of free speech and at the outbreak of hostilities made many fiery speeches in behalf of the Allied cause. This so enraged the Central Powers that he was arrested, cast into prison and an order went forth to execute him. He avoided the death penalty only by a remarkable escape from prison. He succeeded in reaching London and afterward came to America. During his time in this country he visited relatives in Chicago and there met Miss Garrique.
80 Years Ago
Hartwick Head Addresses Lions – “The whole world is in dire need of more and stronger centers of intellectual and spiritual activity which will leaven modern culture with Christian education and Christian philosophy of life,” Dr. Henry J. Arnold, President of Hartwick College, declared at last night’s meeting of the Lions Club at the Oneonta Hotel. Dr. Arnold talked on “The Education Democracy Needs.” He opened his address with a reference to a story in Rudyard Kipling’s second jungle book and said that “it is hardly necessary for us to use our imagination as to whether the jungle is creeping into our civilization. In international affairs, the jungle of might, of fear, of suspicion is quite wide-spread. In national policies, the Christian form of government – democracy – is giving
way to the totalitarian state, which controls the affairs of business, industry, the school, and to a large degree the church, and where men cannot read, cannot write, and cannot speak about what they wish. In secular education, naturalism has reduced man to matter, so that it does not matter what he does. Morals and morality are relative in such a philosophy and the end justifies the means. To the lawless, America means only a place in which to rob, to thieve, to destroy and plunder.”
40 Years Ago
The SUCO Student Association wants to establish a center to distribute information on sex problems and sell birth control devices in spite of administration objections to the plan. S.A. President Greg Floyd said students need more information on venereal disease and other sex-related problems. “We wouldn’t be counseling or anything like that. We’d just be acting as a clearing house for information. We’d just give out pamphlets and things like that,” he said. In addition to passing out literature, the center will also sell birth control devices at a “reduced cost,” he said. “We have volunteers ready to man the thing. The only real problem is where to put it.” Dean of Students Francis Daley said Monday he won’t provide a home for such a center. “I wouldn’t provide them with a spot for their center if they asked me for one. It’s not the place of the college to provide an outlet for birth control devices. We do provide counseling and information on sex as part of our function as an educational institution.” Daley said SUCO has no more cases of venereal disease than most colleges its size. Daley had no information on the numbers of pregnancies on campus. “If we can help just one person avoid a pregnancy or keep them from getting VD, it would be worth it,” Greg Floyd said.
20 Years Ago
Josh Brown, an Oneonta High graduate, hit a 15-foot jump shot at the buzzer to lift the Hartwick College men’s basketball team to a 62-60 victory over Alfred University on Saturday. Brown finished with 19 points on 5 for 8 shooting from the field and 8 of 10 from the charity line. The Hawks are 8-5 overall and 2-3 in the Empire Eight circuit. The Hawks have won four of their last five games.
10 Years Ago
New York Governor David Patterson was among the estimated 2,000 mourners who paid their respects at the funeral of New York State Police trooper Jill E. Mattice. She was the first female trooper to die in the line of duty. There were 500 members of the state police – including
150 members of Mattice’s Troop “C” – attending the ceremony. Mattice, 31, had been a member of the state police for more than six years and had worked the past five years as a school resource officer, most recently in the Franklin and Unadilla Valley districts.
SCHOHARIE – Chris Tague, Schoharie, 21-month assemblyman in the 102nd District, plans to decide by the end of the week whether he will seeking to succeed state Sen. Jim Seward, R-Milford, in the 51st District.
Calling Seward “a dear friend,” he said he was “distressed by the news” that the 35-year senator has decided not to run again as he continues to recuperate from a cancer diagnosis.
“The most important thing right now is Senator Seward’s health,” he said. “People really know what a great senator he has been.”
Nonetheless, he said in an interview Tuesday, Jan. 21, that he’s “very humbled” by support he’s been receiving from county chairman in the nine-county district, and he is consulting with family and friends before making a final decision “late this week.”
Otsego County Republican chairman Vince Casale said he would support a Tague candidacy. “Chris bring enthusiasm, vigor, all the things you need to be a successful candidate – or representative,” he said.
If Tague decides not to go forward, Casale ticked off three potential candidates from the county board: chairman Dave Bliss, vice chairman Meg Kennedy and the Schenevus representative, Peter Oberacker. “All of them would be good candidates,” he said.
Amy Swan wasn’t immediately available on this matter, but Casale pointed out Oneonta’s Dan Buttermann is seeking an Assembly seat (vs. incumbent Republican John Salka) as a stepping stone to the Senate; perhaps he would go for it directly.
Other leading local Democrats who have the statue to run include two mayors, Oneonta’s Gary Herzig and Cooperstown’s Ellen Tillapaugh Kuch, as well as Tillapaugh’s predecessor, Jeff Katz. (In an email exchange, former Oneonta Mayor John Nader said he’s fully committed to his current position, president of SUNY Farmingdale on Long Island.)
A contested campaign would cost in the neighborhood of $1 million, Casale estimated. “It would be 10 years before it’s open again,” he said.
Tague, while not an Otsego County resident – Seward is a county native – represents four towns in the county: Cherry Valley, Roseboom, Decatur and Worcester.
The 51st District encompasses three counties – Otsego, Schoharie and Cortland – plus pieces of Tompkins, Herkimer, Chenango, Cayuga, Delaware and Ulster counties.
Chris Tague joined the Assembly after a special election April 24, 2018, succeeding Republican Pete Lopez, whom Donald Trump had appointed regional administrator of the EPA.
Elected to a full term that November, he created a bit of a splash New Year’s Day 2019 when he took two vows in SUNY Cobleskill’s Bouck Hall, the first as an assemblymen, than marriage vows with Dana Buzon of Schoharie, his significant other for eight years.
The biography on his website pledged Tague is focusing on “key issues that affect his constituents: access to broadband internet, reducing taxes, providing support for local farmers, and fixing Upstate’s failing infrastructure.”
On graduating in 1987 from Schoharie Central School, where he was student council president, he became a dairy farmer, growing his herd from 25 to 75 cows.
He sold the farm in 1992, joining Cobleskill Stone Products as a laborer, soon winning promotion to foreman, rising to general manager of the entire operation, where he worked until his election to the Assembly.
COOPERSTOWN – It was the moment baseball fans have been waiting for – and expecting: Derek Jeter has been named to the 2020 Baseball Hall of Fame.
“Derek Jeter is one of the most respected ballplayers of his generation,” said Tim Mead, Hall of Fame president, on the MLB Network Tuesday evening, Jan. 21, in his first induction announcement since taking the helm last summer.
“He has defined consistency and leadership and joins a distinguished list of Yankee greats as he takes his rightful place in the Baseball Hall of Fame.”
Widely anticipated to be inducted in his first year of eligibility, Yankees shortstop Jeter received 396 of the 397 votes cast, just one vote shy of unanimous and second only to former Yankees teammate Mariano Rivera’s 100 percent in 2019.
Joining him in the Hall of Plaques is Colorado Rockies outfielder Larry Walker, the first Rockies player to enter the Hall of Fame and only the second Canadian player to do so. He received 304 votes (76.6 percent) on his tenth and final year on the ballot.
“Walker has always been respected for his instincts,” said Mead.
Both will be honored as part of the Hall’s Induction Weekend July 24-27 in Cooperstown, along with catcher Ted Simmons and the late Major League Players Association executive director Marvin Miller, who were elected in December by the Modern Baseball Era Committee.
Also being honored that weekend will be the Ford C. Frick Award winner for broadcasting, Ken Harrelson, and the J.G. Taylor Spink Award winner for writing, the late Nick Cafardo.
Jeter, 45, spent all 20 of his MLB seasons with the Yankees, 1995-2014, was a member of five World Series championship teams, captained the Yankees from 2003 through the end of his career and finished with 3,465 hits, the sixth highest total in history.
He was the American League Rookie of the Year in 1996, was the runner-up for the AL Most Valuable Player Award in 2006 and finished third in AL MVP voting twice, in 1998 and 2009, and won five Gold Glove Awards for fielding.
He also won the Hank Aaron Award for hitting in 2006 and ’09, the Roberto Clemente Award for community service in 2009 and the Lou Gehrig Memorial Award for philanthropy in 2011.
Born in Maple Ridge, British Columbia, Walker, 53, batted .313 with 383 home runs over 17 seasons with Montreal, Colorado and St. Louis. A five-time All-Star, Walker was the National League MVP in 1997, won seven Gold Glove Awards for fielding and three Silver Slugger Awards as an outfielder.
With 70 percent of the vote, pitcher Curt Schilling once again failed to meet the 75 percent criteria. Roger Clemens received 61 percent of the vote Barry Bonds received 60.7 and shortstop Omar Vizquel received 52.6.
ONEONTA – By the end of the year, Bob Brzozowski hopes, the newly revived Friends of the Oneonta Theater will have site control of the theater.
“We’ve seen places like Walton, Norwich, Bainbridge and Worcester re-open their theaters,” he said. “If small towns can do it, so can we.”
Brzozowski, Greater Oneonta Historical Society executive director, is one of three new board members of revived FOTOT. Elaine Bresee was elected president; Elizabeth Dunn, SUNY Oneonta Dean of Liberal Arts, secretary, and Brzozowski, treasurer. Ellen Pope, Otsego 2000 executive director, also joined the board.
The original Friends of the Oneonta Theatre formed in 2008, when the theater went up for sale.
When entrepreneur Tom Cormier bought it in 2009, FOTOT helped him with theater restoration. But they soon parted ways, and although the group became less and less active, it still maintained its not-for-profit status.
When the Oneonta Theater went up for sale in 2015, GOHS, in collaborate with FOTOT members and other interested people, won a $50,000 Technical Assistance grant a hired Duncan Webb, Webb Management, one of the country’s leading theater consultants, to do a feasibility plan.
Webb’s recommendations are available on the GOHS website.
“The theater has good bones, but there’s work to be done,” said Brzozowski. “It’s going to take some major renovation projects.”
$2 million could not only restore the theater to working order, but re-open the two balconies and expand the lobby, Brzozowski said.
“It would be a completely different building,” he said. “We could go in and uncover the original murals, we could do an exhibit on all of the people who performed there. There’s so much more we can do beyond just getting it open.”
Rather than forming a new not-for-profit to buy and restore the theater, Brzozowski and the remaining FOTOT members revived the Friends organization.
“As we got closer and closer to what we wanted to do, we realized it was just easier that way,” he said.
The reformed FOTOT will work to update some of its rules and bylaws to make sure it is in compliance with newer New York State regulations. “The past members did a great job in setting things up, but there are a lot of other things that have changed at the state level,” he said.
At an organizational meeting Friday, Jan. 17, at GOHS, attendees voted to join the New York Council of Nonprofits (NYCON), whose local office is managed by Andrew Marietta, the county representative.
“We also joined the League of Historic American Theaters,” Brzozowski said. “We weren’t part of that before.”
In the spring, Brzozowski hopes to launch a capital campaign, after the group determines how much they want to raise – and how people can get involved to help.
“One of the models we’re looking at is like the State Theater in Ithaca,” he said. “When people make a donation of a certain amount, they own a share of the theater, so it’s really a community-owned theater.”
And more than that, they hope to get support from other institutions, including SUNY Oneonta and Hartwick College, and said a “shared booking agent” would go a long ways to strengthening ties to Foothills
“Wouldn’t it be great to have the Catskill Symphony Orchestra play in that beautiful theater?” he said. “We could open it up to the Glimmerglass Film Festival as an additional venue. It’s got great acoustics, and it’s a shame it’s not being used.”
I saw in your papers where there was going to be a presentation Tuesday, Jan. 21, to discuss increasing the county lodging tax 2 percent, with the new $1 million in projected revenue, dedicated to support road improvements throughout the county.
Let me offer my general support for the idea, whatever good that might bring.
However, I do believe dedicating the funds to road improvement is shortsighted, missing a wonderful opportunity of doing something meaningful to support improving the quality of life throughout the county. Perhaps there should be a proposal for a 3 percent increase, understanding that the added 1 percent be dedicated and used for commerce-building initiatives within the county.
For example, the increase legislation should consider returning just the proportion of the 1 percent share generated from within the Oneontas, back to the Oneontas and dedicated to growing economic and tourism development within the community; not to underwrite municipal operations.
For far too long, the Oneontas, the county’s only urban center, have been terribly shortchanged of the local capital resources needed to seed the growth of commerce within the Oneontas; the county’s most important commercial hub.
This source of annual lead funds would provide the capital resources, making it a real economic, job-creating kick starter for the community at large; and by extension the county.
COOPERSTOWN – Nov. 6, 2019, came the troubling news to his many fans and well-wishers in Otsego County and the 51st state Senatorial District.
Veteran lawmaker James L. Seward’s cancer, vanquished in 2016, was back.
Treatment followed, “and a scan at the end of December found I’m responding well. The tumor shrank,” he said in an interview following his Monday, Jan. 20, announcement that he won’t seek another term – it would have been his 18th – this fall.
As the legislative session began Jan. 7, he was back in his Albany office, and in his seat on the Senate floor, where he’s been a familiar figure since 1985, ticking off a list of goals for this year’s session, ranging from blocking the commercialization of the marijuana industry, to cutting taxes to stem the state’s – and Otsego County’s – outmigration.
“But I was going to have to continue to have treatment, one day a week. For two, three days after that, I’m tired,” he said, concluding, “It limits my ability to maintain a busy schedule needed in a reelection campaign. If I can’t go 100 percent in a campaign, I’ve opted to not run this year.”
He plans to pursue his duties fully in his district and in Albany, including as ranking member of the Finance Committee, which will be holding all-day hearings for the next two weeks. “I will participate in that,” he said.
But the decision, if it holds, signals the end to one of the most remarkable political careers in Otsego County history, dating back to 1972 when, still a student at Hartwick College, he challenge incumbent Assemblyman Harold Luther of Dolgeville in a Republican primary. He got losing out of the way early in his career, and has won every race that followed.
The next year, when he collected his Hartwick degree in political science – lively debates in OHS teacher Bud Pirone’s classes (Pirone, 80, died last week) inspired his career – he was already a member of the Otsego County Republican Committee. When County Vice Chair Hazel Fields was elevated to chair in 1974, he succeeded her.
The next year, he rose to chairman, at 24 the youngest in county history, where he served for 12 years until his election to the state Senate. As chairman, he attended three nation conventions. He also served as an aide to Assemblyman Pete Dukovitz of Oneonta, Sen. Charles Cook of Delaware County, and Sen. Steve Riford of Auburn.
When Riford retiring at the end of 1984, the still-young Seward beat two more seasoned Republicans in a primary, then turned back a Democratic opponent that fall. He faced challenges in the years that followed, but never a serious one.
“Jim is one of the hardest-working people I’ve known,” said former assemblyman Tony Casale of Cooperstown, in explaining that success. “He always focuses on the job at hand. And he never takes anything for granted. As a result, he has a reputation in Albany as someone you can depend on, someone you can trust, someone who gets the job done.
“In the district, he has the reputation of being successful, for being a good listener, and for following through on every request that’s made of him,” said Casale, a contemporary of Seward’s; their friendship goes back to the 1970s when both were young aides to successful politicians.
“That combination is unbeatable in politics,” said Casale, whose district overlapped with Seward’s for part of their careers.
Jim Seward has been supported all along the way by his wife of 48 years, the former Cindy Milavec. A member of the Cooperstown Junction Methodist Church, the teenaged future senator was testing his organizing skills by start Methodist Youth Fellowship chapters in surrounding churches. In Schenevus, he saw a young woman enter the hall and said to a friend, “Let’s get her involved.”
The two raised two children, Ryan and Lauren, the mother of their two grandchildren, Norah and Vivian.
Asked about his fondest accomplishments, he cited the “Power for Jobs” campaign that provided cheap electricity for companies and the School Tax Relief (STAR) program, which provided property-tax relief to all homeowners earning less than $250,000.
And, and obtaining funding for SUNY Oneonta’s Dewar Arena, the Foothills Performing Arts Center ($6 million), the former National Soccer Hall of Fame in Oneonta ($4 million), which continues to live on as Ioxus, and innumerable other projects.
“I would mention constituent services,” he continued. “It’s given me a great deal of satisfaction. To help people straighten out problems they’ve having with state government, to help individual people with their problems.”
Most satisfying was people coming up to him and saying, “You saved my life.”
“What do you mean?” he would ask.
“My insurance company was not going to pay for treatment. I called your office, you turned that decision around,” more than constituent has told him.
“That’s very, very satisfying,” the senator said.
For now, he said, “I have no plans. I want to get healthy. But I want to stay engaged and acrtive. I have a deep commitment to my community, our region. I will certainly, in one way or another, continue my service, continue to improve the lives of the people who work here.”
I’ll admit first off that I’m not writing this on my front porch. It’s as cold as, well, January out there, for heaven’s sake! And so I’m settled on a comfortable couch back in the family room. Cassey the dog is with me, sprawled on her back, nose almost on my keyboard. Though her face is upside down, she is staring at me fixedly, intent on willing my fingers away from their silly drumming so they can be used to scratch her stomach.
I press on, pretending not to notice the tractor-beam pressure coming from her. It’s a battle of wills, and who wins? No contest. I couldn’t match that dogged determination.
All right, the scratching done, I’m back to giving you full attention. I think you’ll enjoy what I have to tell you. It’s about a recent visit to my old hometown and the special joy of seeing old friends. I don’t mean Annapolis, place of my birth. I’m talking about Fly Creek, the place that birthed me into life in Leatherstocking Country.
Early on a recent Sunday morning, Fly Creek General Store owner Tom Bouton showed up to take me out to breakfast. We’ve been friends for 25 years now, he having bought Aufmuth’s Store just about when I moved north.
Tom knew that my Anne was away just then and I was home alone, tending that determined dog and Gracie our cat, placid but as tough as the dog, any day.
As we left the house, Tom suggested we drive out to the “crick” and eat at his store. Great idea, I thought. I’d likely see some old friends.
Well, it turns out that two congregations meet in Fly Creek every Sunday morning. The first gathers at 11 in the handsome 19th Century Methodist church, its congregants well dressed and ready for prayer, fine music, and a good sermon.
But the second congregation gangs up earlier in Tom’s store. Usually all male and casually dressed, they show up for coffee, jokes and lots of bustin’ chops with one another. When Tom and I walked in, there were whoops and shouts of “Hey, Jim! Welcome back!”
They’d saved my old seat by the front window – no one, one bozo said solemnly, had been allowed to sit in it since I was last there. It’s the “Atwell Chair of Distinguished Bull—-,” he continued, and no match for me had yet been found.
Tom and I sat with that wondrous, raucous crowd for close to two hours – and we did manage to eat breakfast, too. What a great time!
“Old times there are not forgotten.” And I’m not just whistling “Dixie.” Though I did just quote it.
He has been Otsego County’s state senator since 1986. Many of us – most of us, perhaps – have never known another one.
He is everyone’s friend. If you’ve ever observed him walk down the street. Or cross a crowded restaurant on his way to a table. Or appear at a parade or fair or other public gathering. The congenial legislator can’t make it more than a few steps without someone stopping him for a greeting, a friendly word or a handshake.
This newspaper named him “Citizen of the Year” in 2013. On learning that cancer had returned last year, we realized the 2000 and 10s qualified as “The Seward Decade.” Now we must sadly acknowledge the end of “The Seward Era.”
He’s been part of the Otsego County picture, and has been for his 69 years, raised in Milford, attending Valleyview Elementary, Oneonta High School, then Hartwick College.
Commuting, he immediately began work as a legislative aide in Albany, and soon was the youngest Republican county chairman in our history. Politics is the sea he’s swum in, going back to such early ventures as organizing a countywide Methodist youth group in his teens.
Elected in 1986 at age 35, he was the youngest state senator in county history, and the first to hail from Otsego County since 1952, when Walter Stokes, laird of Cooperstown’s Woodside Hall, retired.
His fingerprints are on every major Otsego County project in the past 34 years. Think of him next time you see a game at SUNY Oneonta’s Dewar Arena, or attend a concert or gala at Foothills, or celebrate Hall of Fame Weekend events this summer at the renovated Doubleday Field.
The two Seward Summits – 2012 and 2013 – revolutionized economic development here. We’re now a contender.
Not surprising, though, it was the more personal interventions – constituent service: easing people’s interactions with a mostly faceless state government – that are dearest to his heart, he said in an interview Monday, Jan. 20, after he announced he will leave office at the end of the year.
Facing a second bout of cancer treatments, he’s handling his state Senate duties, but “giving 100 percent” to a reelection campaign leading up to Nov. 3 is just not prudent right now Looking back, he most treasures when someone would come up to him and say, “You saved my life.” As longtime chairman of the state Senate Insurance Committee, a query from the senator’s office was often sufficient for a medical insurance company to revisit the rejection of coverage and discover it was warranted after all.
Never been sick? He’s nonetheless enriched everybody’s life in the county of his birth. Thank you, senator.
But let’s say hasta luego, not farewell. A year or two of treatment, rest and recuperation, may bring you back to full strength.
Who knows what the future holds? After all, Joe Biden is 79.
Editorial – Notwithstanding the business talents of Congress, they do not appear to progress very rapidly. Not a single important object of the session has been brought into consideration, other than creating a multitude of enquiries in relation to the expenditure of public moneys. True, there is need enough of investigation upon this subject, because, unless they retrench somewhere, the deficit of five millions, mentioned by the secretary of the treasury, must be put upon the shoulders of the people, and in these times, they would prove restive under the burden.
January 24, 1820
175 YEARS AGO
Great Voyage – The Magnolia arrived yesterday with 3,900 pounds of whale and sperm oil. She has been out 25 months and brings a clear profit to her owners of $12,000 or $15,000. Captain Simmons and several of her crew are Vermonters. It takes the Green Mountain boys to grapple with the leviathans of the deep.
Letters addressed to the following persons are among those remaining in the Cooperstown Post Office at the conclusion of December 1844: E.C. Adams, Oliver Burdick, Mrs. M.A. Cooper, Lorenzo D.
Davies, Mrs. Emily Elson, E.E. Ferrey, Elizabeth Green, Ira Hyde, Edwin Johnson, N.C. Knapp, Mary Lovejoy, Amos W. Mathewson, Hurane Olmsted, Benjamin Pitcher, Hannah E. Rider, W. D. Stocker, Stephen Thorn, Dr. Van Alstine, Isaac Walrath.
January 20, 1845
150 YEARS AGO
Ed Note: So-called Minstrel Shows (viewed today as shamefully racist in every respect) were comprised of white performers disguised as African-Americans. Such were common, public entertainments in the post-Civil War era and featured both professional and amateur actors. The following advertisement is typical of the professional, touring genre: “The Band of the Period” at Bowne Hall, Cooperstown, Thursday Evening January 20, 1870 – The Original and Only Happy – Cal Wagner’s Minstrels and Brass Band, with an entire change of programme (not yet copied by “The Great I Am”) – New Songs, New Acts – In Fact Everything New. Peasley and Fitzgerald in their Silver Stature Clog; Happy Cal with his Wonderful Elephant; The Great Burlesque of The Cardiff Giant – The Best Bill of the Season. Admission 35 cents; Reserved Seats 50 cents. Doors Open at 7 p.m. Happy Cal Wagner, Proprietor and Manager. Geo. McDonald, Agent.”
January 20, 1870
125 YEARS AGO
Hops – There has been considerable activity in this place and Oneonta during the past week. It is estimated that the agents of shippers have bought not less than 800 bales of Otsego County prime to choice hops and 6.5 to 11 cents, according to quality. We still incline to the opinion that really choice hops are likely to advance two or three cents a pound in the spring, especially if there is a general revival of business in this country, when more beer will be manufactured.
January 24, 1895
100 YEARS AGO
As Cooperstown church bells rang in celebration of the advent of constitutional national prohibition, Otsego County sustained one of the severest blizzards in a number of years. A three-days snow, starting on Friday of last week culminated in the force of the blizzard being received Saturday night and Sunday morning, with a 50-mile per hour gale blowing nearly all day Sunday. Traffic suffered most during this period, not only on the trolley and steam lines, but in the rural districts as well. The Fly Creek Valley, the original home of snowdrifts, was almost impassable in most places until Monday. The state road from Cooperstown to Index was in the same predicament. Forces of men were at work Monday morning endeavoring to eat their way through the snow drifts which in some instances almost reached the height of the cars of the Southern New York lines. Lake roads and roads in Middlefield likewise were impassable.
January 21, 1920
75 YEARS AGO
Japanese soldiers in the jungles fell in considerable numbers before the rifle fire of Pfc. Claude Graham, aged 26, an infantryman from East Springfield. Private Graham, the son of Mrs. Reuben Roberts of East Springfield, was a rifleman in the 24th Infantry Division. In the Hollandia campaign he earned the Combat Infantryman Badge, awarded for exemplary conduct in action against the enemy. “The most satisfying thing to me in combat,” he declared in an interview, “was shooting snipers.
We never feared the Japs, because we could see them, because we figured that the superior fire power of our M1 rifles gave us the edge over any one visible. It was the invisible ones that bothered us, and the snipers mostly were invisible. So, when we located a sniper and brought him down, we always felt that we’d accomplished something.
Despite their cleverness at concealing themselves, we located plenty of them, too.” Private Graham’s infantry regiment took hundreds of prisoners, a feat regarded as unusual since Japanese determined to fight to the death, are difficult to capture. He added, however, that he had seen a number of instances of “hara-kiri” in which Japanese soldiers preferred to kill themselves with bayonets and hand grenades, rather than surrender.
January 17, 1945
25 YEARS AGO
Tom Heitz, formerly librarian for the National Baseball Hall of Fame since 1983, has hired legal counsel to negotiate a separation settlement in the wake of his termination on January 2. Heitz is represented by Robert Abrams, the former New York State Attorney General. No reason has been given by the Hall for his departure. When asked if Heitz was fired, William Guilfoile, Vice President of the Hall of Fame declined to comment. Abrams also declined to comment stating, “I believe it would be imprudent to comment on anything at this point.”
Ed. Note: With the help of Robert Abrams I did reach a satisfactory settlement with the Hall of Fame. I remain a Life Member of the Hall where I am welcomed as an occasional visitor in the museum or researcher in the library. The baseball library, its staff and its extensive collections are in the excellent care and direction of my successor Jim Gates, whose now 25-year tenure has brought the library to the first rank of sports-related libraries in the country, if not indeed the world.
MILFORD – Milford and Charlotte Valley have emerged as possible refuges for Schenevus Central students if that financially strapped school district is force to close its doors.
At 6 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 16, Worcester Superintendent of Schools Tim Gonzales announced “tuitioning-in” Schenevus students wasn’t in his school district’s best interest.
That came after a month of conversations after Schenevus looked to Worcester as the most sensible place to educate its students if it can’t continue on its own.
“In the beginning, tuitioning for both sides looked good. But as we dug deeper and looked more into the legal side, that’s where it got muddy,” Gonzales said.
Schenevus Superintendent Theresa Carlin, while disappointed, may have found two new angels.
“Milford and Charlotte Valley had indicated to me that they would be interested in having a conversation about tuitioning-out,” she said.
“I told them that I would love to have these conversations, but I would ask that you do your research before we do this, because I’m not going down this road again.”
Should the schools agree to tuition-in Schenevus students, however, it may be too late for the 2020-21 school year.
“All of those decisions need to be made by April 1. I don’t think between now and April 1 we have enough time,” she said. “The feeling that I’m getting from the board is that we’re not going to rush into anything.”
For his part, Gonzalez said staffing seniority rules was part of the reason for the change of mind.
“The way the statute is, any staff that’s let go becomes part of our staff. They’re put on the eligibility list for seven years,” he said. “We would have to hire their current math teacher, whoever their most senior person is.”
And should tuitioning cease for any particular reason, Worcester would be obligated to keep the more senior staff member, even if that means terminating a Worcester teacher.
Schenevus’ Carlin said her school board is disappointed. “We were hoping this would be a way for us to maintain our sustainability for a little longer, therefore benefiting our students greatly. For Worcester, it would be an opportunity to enrich their programs,” she said.
“The other thing that brings some disappointment to it is that ultimately our district would like to merge with them. And having tuitioned out, it would’ve been a positive step towards a merger.
“So now I feel like we’ve taken a couple of steps back.”
Regardless, with a merger grant awarded last month, Schenevus and Worcester will nonetheless begin the process of determining if a merger will work for both schools. There will be a special presentation from Syracuse educational consulting firm Castillo and Silky, who have been selected to facilitate the study, at a Board of Education Meeting at Worcester Central at 6:30 p.m. Jan. 22.
Editor’s Note: This is an excerpt from Congressman Antonio Delgado’s Sunday, Jan. 19, address at the Schenectady County Human Rights Commission’s MLK Day commemoration. Delgado represents the 19th District, which includes Otsego County.
Dr. King has long been my North Star. The power of the man spoke to me even before I fully grasped the magnitude of his legacy. And to stand here today, provided with the opportunity to honor his life – having myself become the first African American to represent Upstate New York in Congress – is incredibly humbling. For I know that without him, there is no me.
But to be clear, I’m not here to talk too much about the past and how it brought us all here today. I’d rather speak about the present, or even better, what Dr. King once called the “fierce urgency of now.”
You see, Dr. King long warned us about the moment we find ourselves in now. Indeed, he gave his last warning nearly 52 years ago, on April 3, 1968 – the day before he was assassinated. At the time, he was delivering what would become his final speech, “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop,” at Mason Temple Church in Memphis Tennessee. He was in Tennessee to support the sanitation workers strike for job safety, better wages and benefits, and union recognition. Importantly, by that time, Dr. King had made a critical shift in his strategy to achieve justice and freedom for all. Rather than focus just on the legal and political obstacles for black Americans, he took on broader issues like poverty, unemployment, education and economic disenfranchisement for all of the nation’s poor – black, white and brown. And it was in the midst of promoting his Poor People’s Campaign that Dr. King was summoned to
Memphis to lend his voice to the sanitation workers’ strike.
In his speech that night, Dr. King said the following. “The contemporary tendency in our society is to base our distribution on scarcity, which has vanished, and to compress our abundance into the overfed mouths of the middle and upper classes until they gag with superfluity.” He continued, “If democracy is to have breadth of meaning, it is necessary to adjust this inequity. It is not only moral, but it is also intelligent.”
Now the way I read this, what Dr. King is saying is that as inequity grows in a democratic society, so too does the illegitimacy of that society’s democracy. And after a while, the inequity can be so extreme, that the people stop believing in democracy all together – which, is a very dangerous place to be. Why, you might ask? Well, at that point, only certain voices need matter, and only select groups need abide by the rule of law, or warrant protection under the law. And what you end up with is a society where might makes right and where greed triumphs over fairness. It’s a scary situation, and its one we are not too far removed from today.
We’ve stopped believing in democracy, and it’s not without good reason. Let me explain. When I was growing up, America was number one in the world in upward mobility. Now, we are dead last in the western world. As a young kid I had a better than 50/50 chance to end up better off than my parents. Now, more and more of our young people are worse off than their parents. Tragically, as more and more wealth has been generated in our economy, economic inequality has only worsened. Consider the fact that while the economy has doubled in size over the last 40 to 50 years, and worker productivity has increased, wages have remained stagnant over that same period of time. The wealth remains concentrated at the top. Indeed, the top .1 percent owns one-fifth of all the wealth, and the top 1 percent owns 29 percent, which is more than the combined wealth of the entire middle class. Meanwhile, the bottom half of all households own just 1.3 percent of total household wealth, two-thirds of Americans are living pay check to pay check, and half the country couldn’t survive a $500 medical emergency bill without going into debt.
It is hard to believe, but 95 percent of all the economic gains post the Great Recession have gone to the top 1 percent.
These numbers are staggering, and when combined with the fact that unlimited amounts of money are allowed to influence our elections and the decision making of elected officials, the result is that a great many of us our actually shut out of our democracy. It is no longer government for the people and by the people, but rather government for the powerful few and by the powerful few.
In response to this cold reality – where perceived scarcity becomes the norm – it is human instinct to want to close ranks and only look out for yourself and those closest to you. When faced with a zero-sum game – even if just an illusion – we take sides, lose our center – and become hollow at the core. Partisanship and divisiveness intensify and democratic norms like mutual toleration erode. Rather than accept our partisan rivals as legitimate we treat them as enemies or traitors and exhibit no restraint – anything goes. This type of environment allows for the rise of strongman politics and demagoguery, where those seeking political power appeal to the desires and prejudices of disaffected people rather than by using rational or fact based arguments.
To be clear, race-baiting, fear-mongering and scape-goating become the predominate methods for political ascent. And the result is a more hostile environment that’s feeds off of anger, and ultimately leads to hatred of the other – from racism, to anti-Semitism, to Islamophobia, to xenophobia.
And as far as I can tell, this is where we find ourselves today – this, my friends, is the urgency of now. Hate is on the march, and our very democracy is on the line. So what’s the answer? The answer, my friend, is the power of love. Now stay with me on this.
As Dr. King once preached, “I have . . . decided to stick with love, for I know that love is ultimately the only answer to mankind’s problems.”
It is the only force, said Dr. King, “capable of transforming an enemy to a friend.” For “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that . . . Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”
And I couldn’t agree more. When you think about it, love is at the heart of democracy. For love enables us to see the humanity in each other – beyond our surface level differences. Love acknowledges the equality of human dignity in us all. And as Aristotle once wrote, “democracy arises out of the notion that those who are equal in any respect are equal in all respects.”
Thus, as we are all equal in our humanity and before
God, we should also be equal in the eyes of our laws and government.
One person, one vote. We all matter, regardless of the fact we might not look like each other, pray like each other, dress like each other, or eat like each other. We all should be free to speak our minds, practice our religion, cast a vote, and pursue our happiness.
This is America’s promise; and it’s why our land has long been a beacon of hope and democracy for people everywhere. It’s why we gaze upon the Statue of Liberty with pride, and seek to embody its inscription – “give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses, yearning to breathe free.”
All of this is born out of a profound love for humanity.
And this is why I love America so deeply. I love our steadfast commitment to perfecting our union, through all the ups and downs. I love how we were not founded on language or geography, but rather a set of democratic ideals and principles, designed to morally anchor our collective will, from freedom, to equality to fairness. I love our diversity and how it makes our endeavor as a nation, human history’s grand experiment in democracy. And I love how in America, a little black boy from a working class family in Schenectady can one day grow up to be a Congressman with a rap album and represent a district that is nearly 90 percent white, and the eighth most rural in the entire country.
As our old friend, Paul Harvey used to say, ”Now for the rest of the story”.
This is not the first “boom or bust” deal to pass through our community. A couple of us old timers remember a land buyout in the ’60s. Nothing came of it, but it was fun to watch.
In the 70’s, a gas company showed interest in this area and many of us signed leases for $1 per acre per year.
In early 2000, we signed new 10-year leases at $3 per acre. All went well until someone asked me, “Where do you spend all your gas lease money?”. My reply was, “400 acres at $3 per acre equals $1,200 per year. The 10-year lease totaled $12,000 which just covered one year’s taxes.”
So here comes a new game in town – “Solar”.
I’ll preface the subject by saying from the beginning until now, the Marcy South has been a blight in our town and of no income for the landowners. We view 11 towers from our property. Nor do I vision thousands of solar panels as a huge beautification project. However, on the flip side of this coin, if leasing land to solar companies will financially benefit farmers and land owners, time is way overdue.
In the past 70 years, I have seen dozens of farms either foreclosed on, sold at tax sales, or farms just walked away from.
The four dairy farms still operating in our town is a small testament to the good old days. At least we still have four; some towns, none.
For some of you people who plan on coming to West Laurens to visit your wealthy cousins, don’t be in a hurry. If this solar project does proceed (questionably), we were told it will take three to five years to complete.
The difference between a gas lease and a solar lease is that a gas lease includes your total acreage, and a solar lease is only for the number of acres used. For example, 250 acres may only consist of 15 useable acres. Run the numbers – 15 acres at a $1,000 versus 250 acres at a $1,000.
When asked what I’d do with my windfall, after some serious consideration, I came to the conclusion that if there was any money left after the federal, state, county, town and school administrations took their cut, I might have enough money left to pay my taxes, insurance, and maybe buy a used farm truck to replace my 22-year old Chevy S-10 that is still trying to make a few more trips up the hill.
For my friends and neighbors who have already leased farm land or intend to lease – Go For It and Good Luck! I am with you all the way because for way too long you have been over-worked, over-taxed, under-appreciated, and under paid.