James Dean, Village Trustee, And Much More


James Dean, Village Trustee, And Much More

By JIM KEVLIN • Special to www.AllOTSEGO.com

Retiring Trustee Jim Dean, with wife Eileen by his side, holds up a newspaper report from when he played the Cardiff Giant in CBS’
“Ripley’s Believe It Or Not” in 1982. (Jim Kevlin/AllOTSEGO.com)

James Dean, a Cooperstown village trustee since the Democratic sweep in 2012 began his party’s almost decade-long control of 22 Main St., is stepping down.

While known today as a trustee, Dean has been part of the civic landscape long before that:
• Since early 1981, when, recently arriving (in 1977) from New Jersey, he launched a fundraising drive to acquire Smith Ford’s Ed Smith’s property at the bottom of Pioneer Street to double the size of Lakefront Park. The drive failed and Smith eventually built a house there.
• Since December 1981, when future mayor Carol B. Waller, active in the 4Cs Christmas Committee, recruited Jim – a maker of fine staircases – to build Santa’s Cottage in Pioneer Park, which youngsters are still enjoying two generations later. “We manufactured everything,” he said, “the doors, the trim, the windows.”
• Since 1982, when a production executive knocked on the door of his workshop, in the parking lot behind what is now the NBT Bank branch, and asked him, “Have you heard of ‘Ripley’s Believe It Or Not’.” He hadn’t, but he agreed to play the role of the Cardiff Giant on the CBS serial, publicizing the story nationwide.

Dean, 80, who has always characterized his role on an activist Village Board as “supportive,” said he decided not to run again when Hanna Bergene, 29, formerly with the Cooperstown Chamber of Commerce, decided to run.

“I think she’s a good fit today with where Cooperstown needs to go,” he said.

Also, Village Trustee Cindy Falk, the deputy mayor, said she will seek nomination for another term at the Democratic caucus at 7 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 21, in Village Hall.

Jim was born in Manhattan and raised in nearby New Jersey. He was aware of Cooperstown – as a boy, his father, James Patrick, worked at The Otesaga during summers just before the Depression. In 1968, he and wife Eileen built a camp on Cornish Hill.

“Then we moved up here in 1977,” he recalled the other day, buying the house that, their three children grown, he and his wife still occupy on Delaware Street.

“I didn’t have a clue as to what I was going to do,” he said.

As it turned out, his talents in architectural stair-building and hand-railings, were sought after in the New York Metropolitan Area, and he made a living going back and forth to the city, serving the rich and famous. When Dick Cavett’s house burned down in Montauk on Long Island’s east end, Dean rebuilt the staircase just as it had been before.

Meanwhile, he and Eileen raised three children, Coleen, a successful acupuncturist in Manhattan, living in Union City, N.J., with husband Gerry; Janice, a lawyer, currently NYSERA deputy counsel in Albany and Jeff, a software engineer and partner in a small firm in Lafayette, Colo., near Denver, with wife Emily Clark, a Laurens native, and their daughter, Lola, 13.

“Cooperstown’s been very good to us,” said Dean.

He credited Richard Abbate, the former village and county Democratic chairman, with recruiting him for the Village Board, and he credits Abbate for putting together the activist team that has renovated the Main Street area – current Mayor Ellen Tillapaugh Kuch, Dr. Walter Franck, Cindy Falk.

“Without Abbate, the last 10 years wouldn’t have happened,” he said.

With the completion of the Doubleday Field renovations, new issues are arising and it’s a good time to move on, he said.

“Outreach, technology, young people” are moving to the fore, he said. “Now we have to build an economy. I’m not sure what that will be. I tend to hope and think it would be more people and businesses coming here permanently, and a little less tourism.

“I do believe New York State is going to rise again.”

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