IN MEMORIAM: Gary ‘Mike’ Newell,
Developed Alternate School In Hartwick
HARTWICK – Gary Michael Newell, firefighter, poet and teacher who helped develop an alternative school in Hartwick, died peacefully at home on Friday, Dec. 23, 2016.
Mike was born in Whitehall, the son of Patricia Newell (Cooper). His maternal grandmother, upon first peek, declared, “He’s not a Gary. He’s a Mike!” and hence he became known as Mike. His childhood home, with the mountains in his backyard, provided the perfect setting for him to develop a relentless curiosity and imagination, a life-long penchant for risk taking, and a love of the Adirondacks.
Upon graduating from high school and attending Adirondack Community College, Mike hitchhiked to Alaska, a land he loved. He worked as a fire warden and fire planner for that state’s Bureau of Land Management from 1973 to 1981. His love of fighting fire never waned and led him to work with the New York State forest rangers as a wild land firefighter from 2000 to 2007. His assignments included mostly western forest fires, but also natural disasters, such as Hurricane Katrina.
In 1983, Mike joined with Mark Rathbun of Cooperstown to create an alternative high school for non-traditional students for ONC BOCES. The program and its students prospered, especially when they made their home in the “old Hartwick School”, where they were incorporated into and embraced by the Hartwick community.
He taught English and reading at the “Upward Bound” school for 22 years and up to the present continued to receive calls and letters from former students thanking him for “recognizing their talents, challenging them, giving them a purpose, and teaching them to question themselves”.
His enthusiasm and talent for teaching alternative populations propelled him to seek work at a variety of other venues, including the Migrant Tutorial Program; as a GED teacher; as a Reading/English teacher at Summit Incarceration Facility, Oneonta Job Corps, Allen Residential Center and Brace Residential Facility; and as an adjunct writing instructor at SUNY Oneonta.
Upon his retirement from education in 2004, Mike worked as an ER clerk at Bassett Hospital, a tribute to a beloved grandmother who had been a nurse. He was most proud of developing a Compassion Fatigue program for caregivers while working at Bassett.
In full retirement Mike became a volunteer with the Albany Pine Bush on prescription burns and was currently a naturalist-in-training there. Other pursuits included stints as a 911 dispatcher, commissioner of the Otsego County Local Conditional Release Commission, and elections inspector for the Otsego County Board of Elections.
Mike had an unending love of literature and was greatly influenced by the work of Barry Lopez. In 2008 he wrote “No Bottom: In Conversation With Barry Lopez,” a critical inquiry into the author’s work. He also enjoyed reading and writing poetry and had numerous poems published in literary journals. He authored three books of poetry: “uNderground Fires”, “The Unlived Life” and “Aestivation”, and is listed in the Poets and Writers Directory.
Mike received his BS in fire ecology from Empire State College in 1981; a masters in environmental law from Vermont Law School in 1984; and a masters in education from SUNY Oneonta in 1989.
Mike married his wife, Phyllis, on Sept. 22, 1989, and together they built a log cabin in the hills of Hartwick and created their own small “piece of Paradise”.
Along with his wife, he is survived by two daughters, Sara Beth Newell and Meggan (Stephen) Flaherty; two stepdaughters, Trisha (Chuck) D’Imperio and Jo Ann Furlan; one stepson, Dan (Sara) Schallert; eight grandchildren, Katja and Gavin Flaherty, Abby and Joseph Rodenas, Gabriella and Maralina Furlan, and Graham and Hadley Schallert. Also, four brothers, Bob (Susan) Newell, Edwin (Mary) Cox, and Tom and Mark Cox; one sister, Gail (Tom) Todd; and his wife’s siblings, Jacqueline Parshall and Tim (Lora) Bridger; as well as several aunts, cousins, nieces and nephews.
Calling hours are 11 a.m.-1 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 29, at the Connell, Dow & Deysenroth Funeral Home in Cooperstown.
A Memorial Service will be offered at the funeral home at 1 p.m. on Thursday, with the Rev. Betsy Jay, Bassett chaplain, officiating.
Memorial contributions may be made to the Susquehanna Animal Shelter, 4841 State Highway 28, Cooperstown, NY 13326, the Kinney Memorial Library, P.O. Box 176, Hartwick, NY 13348, or the Adirondack Mountain Club, 814 Goggins Road, Lake George, NY 12845.
Arrangements are entrusted to the Connell, Dow & Deysenroth Fu