Everyone who was anyone in the world of Otsego County EMTs – hundreds of them, past and present – gathered at Bassett Hall in Cooperstown for four hours this afternoon and evening to celebrate Fred Lemister, primer inter pares in the local EMS world, who recently stepped down after 48 years of service to Cooperstown’s emergency squad, where he responded to 9,600 ambulance calls. Even more significant, a top-notch instructor, he trained nearly every EMT serving in Otsego County over many years. In top photo, Brinton Muller, Bassett Healthcare’s network director for emergency preparedness, announces the EMS Room in the ambulance bay at the Cooperstown hospital’s emergency room will be renamed in Lemister’s honor. As Muller congratulates Fred, wife Karen examines a souvenir aerial photo of the hospital presented to the honoree. At the podium is Cooperstown EMS Captain Eric Pierce, who helped organize today’s testimonial and emceed the event. Inset right, David Butler, former Hartwick town supervisor and EMS mainstay there, pours 100 M&Ms into bowl that, by evening’s end, contained one M&M for every call Fred made over a half-century of service. In concluding remarks, Lemister, inset left, praised his EMS colleagues, comparing them to the Biblical Good Samaritan. “Life is a gift, people,” he said. “And we need to give back for that gift. You people here have given back for that gift.” (Jim Kevlin/AllOTSEGO.com)
COOPERSTOWN – Mary Margaret Robbins Sohns, whose years-long battle against Lyme Disease, culminating in a heart transplant last summer, inspired the community, was nominated this morning by village Republicans to run for the Village Board in the March 18 elections.
The party’s sole nominee for the three open vacancies represents the first time in almost a decade, since Jeff Katz’s election as mayor in 2012 swept the Village Board for the Democrats, that local elections will be contested in Cooperstown.
“It’s time to give back to the community that’s given me so much in terms of support,” said Robbins, accompanied by husband, Matt, a Morgan Stanley senior vice president and financial adviser with a local office at 21 Railroad Ave., and their daughter, Maggie, 9.
COOPERSTOWN – Video evidence, District Attorney John Muehl said, placed accused arsonist Gabriel Truitt inside his Tru Cuts Barber Shop at 4:30 a.m. the night of the fire that killed John Heller.
“He walks in the back door, turns to the right and squats in front of a cabinet,” Muehl said in his opening remarks. “He lights a lighter, takes out two bottles, puts them in his pocket and walks out.”
Those bottles, Muehl told the jury, were isopropyl alcohol.
COOPERSTOWN – Just before the noon break, District Attorney John Muehl brought Bill Haynes, an origin and cause investigator with Sotera Investigative Group, to the witness stand in the case against Gabriel Truitt, the Oneonta man accused of setting the fire that killed John Heller at his 5 Walling Avenue apartment in December 2018.
“The way the burn and char pattern on the inside of the door,” – of Apartment C on the second floor of the building – “indicated a liquid was splashed there,” he said.
District Attorney John Muehl, above, makes his opening remarks to the jury during the opening day of the People Vs. Gabriel Truitt, now underway at the Otsego County Courthouse in Cooperstown. Truitt, seen at right, is charged with arson in the first degree and murder in the first and second degree for his alleged involvement in the fire that claimed the life of John Heller at 5 Walling Ave. in Oneonta on Dec 29, 2018. Check back throughout the day for developments in this case. (Ian Austin/AllOTSEGO.com)
COOPERSTOWN – By acclamation, the Democrats caucused a few minutes ago and nominated the three incumbents – Mayor Ellen Tillapaugh Kuch and Trustees Joe Membrino and MacGuire Benton — to run for reelection in the March 18 village elections.
“It’s not a given that productive government continues,” former mayor Jeff Katz said in nominating his successor for her second term. Patty MacLeish seconded the nomination.
Lynn Mebust chaired the caucus, with Ann Brown as secretary.
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.
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.
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.
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.
COOPERSTOWN – Only once did Allen Ruffles feel he was in any danger.
A sergeant in the 403rd Civil Affairs Battalion, Army Reserves, he was living in a small wooden house in Uganda, training local wildlife rangers in anti-poaching techniques.
One morning, Ruffles – Otsego County treasurer in civilian life – heard a rumble and looked out the window at a herd of a few dozen elephants. Grabbing his cell phone, he slipped outside to capture a video.
He must have made a sudden noise or movement, because suddenly the video is flailing as Ruffles scrambles back into the house.
Eventually, the herd settled down and went sedately on its way.
Other than that, Ruffles’ 12-month assignment – he returned Sunday, Jan. 19, from Camp Lemmonier in Djibouti to his Beech Street home and wife Amy, daughter Mia, 11, and son Cooper, 6 – was uneventful.
Except everything was eventful, he related in an interview the following day: the people, the food, the weather, and his forays from his home base to conduct anti-poaching training in Tanganyika, Uganda, Burundi, “the second or first poorest nation in the world,” and a short stint in Ethiopia.
The house in Uganda was a luxury. Mostly, Ruffles and his team lived in tents.
“Everything’s so simple,” he said. “There’s no electricity,” and when in the bush, Ruffles would have to charge up a generator to power his laptop so he could confer with the Otsego County. The latrine – a hole in the ground.
The wildlife rangers his unit was training “know their stuff. They can tell you everything about the animals,” but mostly lacked education and basic skills. For instance, they would fire off their rifles randomly, and part of the training was in basic marksmanship.
Ruffles’ tent mate was a medic, training the rangers in how to treat a wound or tie a tourniquet.
For his part, Ruffles focused on “land navigation.” For instance, if a path is winding back and forth, you can make better time by going forward in a straight line.
If you come upon a gang of armed poachers, don’t confront them head-on. Sending out a flanking movement, and when they move toward the main unit, surprise them from the side.
Another area of instruction was what Ruffles characterized as “ethics” or “human rights.” Stumbling upon poachers, the wildlife rangers’ first instinct was to shoot them dead. The goal was to give the rangers a sense of due process – that not every offense was a capital one.
Coming from a culture where fruits and vegetables are treated to last for days, even weeks, on grocery shelves, Ruffles experience the real thing for the first time.
Once, in Burundi’s Kibira Mountains, stopped at a home surrounded by fruit trees – mangoes, bananas, berries – and the owner put together a salad bowl for the visitors. “It was like candy,” said Ruffles. “The fruit was so juicy.”
In Tanganika, the unit had a local cook, Grace, who would whip up a fresh chapatti for breakfast, or a salad – flavor-filled, like the fruit – with Pili Pili dressing, made with hot Habanero peppers. “When Grace made salad, that was the whole meal,” he said.
Back at Camp Lemmonier, the food was like your typical college dining hall.
There was little to do at headquarters, so Allen played a lot of basketball and worked out. With that, and his assignments in the field, he left weighing 238 and returned a trim 205, some 33 pounds lighter.
More moderate on assignment, the heat and humidity back in Djibouti was something to watch for, with the mercury rising into the upper 120s. When that happened, a “black flag” was flown, cautioned the soldier from any exertion. “Just walking to where we worked, I was drenched with sweat,” he said.
Ruffles was interviewed amid a family giddy with delight on his first day back. He, Amy and the kids went out to lunch on Monday the 20th, and then took off to Utica on a shopping trip that afternoon.
And absence did make the heart grow fonder. “Cooperstown is an amazing place,” he said. “I just wanted to get back to Cooperstown.” CCS school board President Tim Hayes lives up Beech Street, and made sure Amy and the kids’ driveway was shoveled every time it snowed.
While Ruffles’ commitment to the Army Reserves continues until mid-2021, he’s fulfilled his overseas responsibilities. (In the last few days, Ruffles predecessor, Dan Crowell, also a reservist, returned from Somalia, and has fulfilled his military commitment.)
Ruffles is taking a couple of weeks R&R, but expects to be back in the county treasurer’s office Monday, Feb. 3, to get acclimated before the county board’s February meeting on the 5th.
He’s already issued an invitation to the three new county board members who took office Jan. 2 – Rick Brockway, Jill Basile and Clark Oliver – to brief them on county finances.
“I met a lot of good people,” he concludes, “and it was a really good experience to see what we have here compared to what they have there.”
RICHFIELD SPRINGS – John B. Barown, 67, an Air Force veteran and former Milford postmaster, died Tuesday, Jan. 7, 2020, at his home in the Village of Richfield Springs after a period of declining health.
John was born May 31, 1952, in Jersey City, N.J., the son of Bartholomew and Inge (Wappler) Barown, Sr. When John was young, he and his family moved to Hartwick, where, for many years, they engaged in farming.