News of Otsego County

fred lemister

Next Generation Buys Rudy’s
Business Partners Rethink Village Mainstay

Next Generation Buys Rudy’s

By JIM KEVLIN • Special to

Business partners Matt Denison, left, and Joe Festa have bought Rudy’s. (Jim Kevlin/

Matt Denison, new proprietor of Rudy’s with Joe Festa, remembers running into Karen Lemister in the alleyway between the liquor store at 143 Main St. and Alex’s Bistro.

“I think this is something you would have a lot of fun with,” said Lemister, who owned Rudy’s for 48 years with husband Fred. One thing led to another, and over the Christmas holiday the venerable business changed hands – and generations – from the retirement-age Lemisters to the 30-something business partners.

Karen calls the new owners “the three Es” – “They have never faltered in energy, exuberance and excitement.”

The transition from one generation to another “is really exciting,” said another 30-something merchant, Jess Lanza, Cooperstown Chamber of Commerce president, who operates Kate’s Upstate with his wife, across from Rudy’s.

What happened is the ideal, Lanza said: “Instead of having a business closed by retirement, it’s passed on to new owners who can bring new ideas and new vitality.”

Denison agrees, pointing out that Alex Guenther, a partner with her dad Brian Wrubleski in Mel’s at 22, was a classmate at Cooperstown Central. “2007 dominates!” he declared.

Matt is a member of Cooperstown’s Haggerty clan, which until recently operated Haggerty Hardware. His mother, Trista Haggerty of Cherry Valley, has also been in retail, he said.

Graduating from CCS, he attended Bennington College, finishing his degree at New York City’s Pratt Institute. Then – after a year producing videos for Sports Illustrated and other Time magazines, 70 hours a week – he came home to bartend at Alex’s Bistro, where he found he enjoyed the public contact and associated salesmanship.

Festa, The Fenimore Research Library’s special collections librarian, has a bachelor’s in art history from SUNY New Paltz, followed by two masters: in art history from Hunter College and in library science from Queens College.

He was a reference librarian at the New-York Historical Society before joining The Fenimore in 2014. “I fell in love with Cooperstown,” he said, “with the museum, with the culture, with Main Street.” A patron at Alex’s, he met Denison there.

The idea is for Matt to work days, and Joe to continue at The Fenimore – he loves that job, too – and fill in evenings and weekends.

The two have been thinking about adjusting the inventory. Matt has some ideas for the tequila section; Joe is interested in bourbons and whiskeys. They are exploring “more price-affordable wines that are good.”

They also have some ideas for social media marketing. A virtual wine-tasting, for instance, where customers buy samples and taste them with Matt’s guidance. Or a cocktail-making class. Or how to make white sangria. (Hint: It includes peach brandy and a pear liqueur.)

Over New Year’s weekend, as the partners were trying out their high-tech calculator, a patron bought a $75 bottle of Cooperstown Distillery’s premium bourbon.

The next morning, the patron came back and bought another $75 bottle.

The new merchants were thrilled.

Denison and Festa closed the deal with the Lemisters on Dec. 16, and received a certification to charge sales tax on the 24th. The store was open over the New Year’s weekend, but closed this past

Monday for two weeks of renovations – painting and reorganizing the inventory.

“This is something new, but holding onto the old tradition,” said Joe. “It’s like having a piece of Main Street to maintain and update.”

“There are ’70s vibes we really don’t want to replace,” said Matt.

Lemisters’ Downtown Dynasty Ends With Rudy’s Liquor Store
Family Cooperstown Mainstay Since 1952

Lemisters’ Downtown Dynasty

Ends With Rudy’s Liquor Store

Last September, Rudy’s Liquor Store proprietor
Fred Lemister reflects on what would be his final 9/11 window display at the 143 Main St., Cooperstown, establishment. (Jim Kevlin/

Among other things, Fred Lemister was famous for decorating the front window of Rudy’s Liquor Store, which he and his wife Karen operated for 48 years.

His final window – the Lemisters sold Rudy’s to Matt Dennison and Joe Festa at year’s end – was the simple crèche you may have noticed walking by 143 Main St. this Christmas season.

A perennial was Fred’s Titanic window. “I’m a Titanic buff,” he said, also noting the local connection: Arthur L. Ryerson, president of Ryerson Steel, Chicago, who owned a summer estate on Otsego Lake, died in the sinking, although his wife Emily and four children rode on Lifeboat Four to safety.

“The one that meant the most to me was our 9/11 window,” said Lemister, himself the celebrated responder to 9,400 calls in a half-century with Cooperstown’s EMT squad. “I always found it extremely hard to put up. Tears would come to my eyes thinking of the young men and women who passed away on that day.”

The Lemister family has been a force on Main Street since 1952, when Andrew Lemister, Fred’s father, bought Sherry’s Restaurant in the three-story red brick block “at the light” where Mel’s at 22 is now.

In 1970, a few years after his father’s passing, Fred’s mother Evelyn married Rudy Omerzu, a local painting contractor.

Fred and Karen Lemister last February when EMTs from around the county honored his 9,400 calls over 50 years, and her sacrifice
that enabled his responsiveness.

Looking for a less strenuous occupation for her new husband, Fred’s mother and her son approached Cyril T. George, who had opened the liquor store, called George’s, in the late 1960s.

George also operated the Hitching Post at 149 Main, next door to the liquor store, where Alex’s Bistro is now, and he offered mother and son a two-business deal: Buy the restaurant now (1970), and the liquor store at a future date.

On Aug. 7, 1972, the Lemisters did buy the liquor store, renaming it Rudy’s, although things didn’t turn out as anticipated. That Christmas, Rudy Omerzu suffered a fatal heart attack while bowling at the Bowl-A-Rama (today’s Price Chopper).

So Fred, his mother and Karen found themselves running three establishments: Sherry’s, the Hitching Post and – keeping the name in Omerzu’s memory – Rudy’s.

In 1989, an electrical fire in the kitchen damaged the Hitching Post, and former Bruce Hall partner Richard White bought and renovated it for his daughter Ellen Weir’s Homescapes.

It became a restaurant again in 2007.

In 2018, the Lemisters sold the former Sherry’s property to restaurateur Brian Wrubleski, who operates Mel’s at 22 there.

So the Rudy’s sale, which includes the building, signals the end of a 67-year family and Main Street legacy.

In an interview, the Lemisters said they plan to put their Eagle Street house on the market in the spring. Son Andy lives in Jacksonville, Fla., and daughter Kim Knapp, near Orlando, so the parents are looking at the St. Augustine area, in between.

The four grandchildren are also a draw: Andy’s twins Addison and Andrew (A.J.), and Kim’s Makenna, 10, and Kassidy, 8.

In addition to the window displays, the Lemisters’ landmark Rudy’s is remembered for Bassett hound Barclay, who in the early days greeted patrons at the door.

When he passed away, the Lemisters commemorated him with a front window display of Bassett hound memorabilia.

“For 14 and a half years, he was the ruler,” Karen remembers.

In Time Of COVID-19, Low-Key 9-11 Arrives


In Time Of COVID-19,

Low-Key 9-11 Arrives

Rudy’s proprietor Fred Lemister ponders the lessons of 9-11 while inspecting the memorial that has been growing year to year in his front window on Main Street, Cooperstown, since terrorist hijacked airliners and drove them into the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001, 19 years ago tomorrow.  The exhibit includes a portrait of Father Michael F. Judge, the NYFD chaplain, who suffered a heart attack and died on arriving at the scene; Lemister, a retired EMT and firefighter, considers Judge to be the first victim of the attack.   Again this year, Cathy Raddatz, whose brother George Morell, a Cantor Fitzgerald broker, died in the Towers, is placing hundreds of small flags around the village, including displays at St. Mary’s Catholic Church, Christ Episcopal Church and Lakefront Park.  Lemister reported some patrons at his store ask him, “What’s 911?”  He said, “Those who don’t understand history are doomed to repeat it.” In all, 2,977 died in the Twin Towers, the attack on the Pentagon, and the airplane crash in Shanksville, Pa., famed for the famous cry, “Let’s Roll.” (Jim Kevlin/

Fred Lemister Room Dedicated At Bassett

Fred Lemister Room

Dedicated At Bassett

Bassett Hospital’s President Bill, left, flanked by COO Ronette Wiley and Emergency Preparedness Chief Brinton Muller, Friday afternoon holds the plaque that will be installed in the hospital’s EMS room in honor of Fred Lemister, center in black overcoat   Fred was toasted last month by fellow EMTs from across the county at a Bassett Hall reception for 48 years with the Cooperstown Emergency Squad, where he responded to a record 9,400 call.  The plaque reads, “A. Fred Lemister EMS Room, dedicated in honor of A. Fred Lemister’s 48 year EMS volunteer.”  In his remarks, Fred said the plaque should read “Mr. and Mrs. Lemister” because of wife Karen’s sacrifices as he would dash off to emergencies.  Fred credited those who went before him in emergency medicine and set the example for others to follow. “There are a mess of other people behind this plaque,” he said. “We owe them a debt of gratitude.”  (Bassett Hospital photo)
On WAMC’s ‘Morning Headlines’, Editor Describes Fred Lemister’s Amazing Career

On WAMC’s ‘Morning Headlines’, Editor

Describes Fred Lemister’s Amazing Career

Honoree Fred Lemister, left, is congratulated by Larry Lamb, former chairman of the county’s Fire Advisory Board, at Saturday’s testimonial at Bassett Hall. (Jim Kevlin/

In this week’s “Morning Headlines” on WAMC/Northeast Public Radio, Jim Kevlin, editor/publisher of (and Hometown Oneonta & the Freeman’s Journal), talks about last Saturday’s testimonial at Bassett Hall, where more than 200 wellwishers thanked Fred Lemister for his 9,400-call career as an EMT and EMT trainer.


Hundreds Of County EMTs Salute Fred Lemister, And He Praises Them In Return


Hundreds Of County EMTs

Salute Fred Lemister, And

He Praises Them In Return

Fred Lemister pauses to chat with EMT Donna Hribar during the Saturday, Jan. 25, testimonial at Bassett Hall, packed with hundreds of wellwishers.  At right is Harry Winnie, Fly Creek. (Jim Kevlin/

BY JIM KEVLIN • Special to

After Lemister’s praise for the gathered EMTs, the audience rose as one in a standing ovation. At center is Frank Capozza, Cooperstown.

COOPERSTOWN – For decades, they had learned from him.  They had emulated him.  They had admired him.

And Saturday, Jan. 25, hundreds of EMTs from around Otsego County gathered to celebrate Fred Lemister and to thank him for his prowess as a trainer and his 48 years of service to the Cooperstown Emergency Squad, where he responded to a record 9,400 emergency calls.

“No one’s going to surpass those numbers,” said John Phillips, a member of the Fly Creek Volunteer Fire Department and its ambulance squad.

For an hour following a two-hour reception, Lemister, with wife and helpmate Karen by his side, was showered with praise, gifts and fond remembrances.  But, true to form, he turned it around.

Taking the podium as the evening neared the end, he declared to the rapt gathering, “You are a unique breed, people.  Don’t ever forget that.  You are different.  Fortunately different.  You are not like most people, and be thankful for that.

“Life is a gift, people,” he continued.  “And we need to give back for that gift.  You people here have given back for that gift. I look upon you as being Good Samaritans, as helping other people in need without any thought of reward.

“You are indeed doing God’s work.”

The audience erupted into a standing ovation.

It was an evening for laughs and good fellowship. Sharing the fun were, from left, Paul Bedworth, Cooperstown, John Phillips, Fly Creek, Mickey Ward, Cherry Valley, and Vincent Ruggiero, Fly Creek, also active in the Otsego County Fire Police.

Young Fred, shortly after returning from Holy Cross College in Worcester, Mass., joined the year-old Cooperstown squad in 1970, two years before taking over his family’s restaurant, Sherrie’s, where Mel’s at 22 is today.

His first call, in March 1971, involved a Fly Creek man who died while snowblowing.  The young recruit was devastated, but “Dunnie” – Alton G. Dunn, Jr., one of the founding squad members – “applied verbal first aid to me.”  And he stayed, and soon was mentoring others.

On arriving from Long Island in 1989 with two years’ professional experience in Queens, Bob Satriano – to Fred, “Babalouie” – was immediately drafted by Lemister into the Cooperstown squad.

In his remarks, Satriano recounted one of his first experiences, wading through chest-high snow in response to a call at a German Flatts trailer with the unflappable veteran, who handled such challenges routinely.

Soon recruited to help Fred with EMT training, he recalled how, just before a state exam, a student admitted she had never taken blood pressure during six months of training.

Bob Satriano, Cooperstown, delivered a touching and hilarious reminiscence of Lemister’s career.

“I thought Fred would need HIS blood pressure taken.  ‘Babalouie, take her into another room and do not come  out until she can take blood pressures – and accurately,’” said Satriano.  “I think we finished about 1:30 a.m.  Exam night, they all passed with excellence.”

And that wasn’t unusual. “I remember an EMT final exam given and whole class did unbelievably well,” said Fire Chief Jim Tallman in his remarks. “So much so that the State of New York said the whole class had to take the test over again.

“On the retest, everyone did just as well or better.”

Eric Pierce, Cooperstown’s squad captain, chaired the organizing committee (and emceed the evening), and said he had no trouble lining up support.  Brian Wrubleski, Mel’s at 22 Proprietor, organized the catering – built around beef tenderloin – from his vacation in Hawaii.

In addition to Pierce and Satriano, the organizing committee included Monica Carrascoso, Diane Nicols, Mike Simons, Victor Jones, Alicia Lasher and Allison Phillips.

Fred and Karen, who are also Rudy’s Liquor Store proprietors, have been spending as much time as they can in Florida with the families of son Andrew (including twins Addison and AJ, both 11) in Jacksonville, and daughter Kimberley and her family (including McKenna, 9, and Cassidy, 7) in Oviedo.

Larry Lamb, Hartwick Fire Company #2 and former chairman of the county board’s Fire Advisory Committee, congratulates the honoree.

So one of the gift they received were airline tickets, as well as a Cooperstown Bat and a bowl of 9,400 M&Ms, one for each of Lemister’s calls.  Brinton Muller, Bassett Healthcare’s network director for emergency preparedness, announced the EMS Room in the ambulance bay at the Cooperstown hospital’s emergency room will be renamed in
A. Fred Lemister’s honor.

In his remarks, Chief Tallman also picked up on the family theme, thanking Karen “for loaning Fred to us,” and for “the missed dinners, the holidays, the birthday parties, and times you were left at a table in a restaurant … That is dedication.”

He pointed out Fred would have been in the fire department 51 years this March, in addition to joining the squad in 1970, the year after it formed.  He recalled the many calls and his success as an instructor.  “That is dedication,” he repeated.





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/

Step Dancers, Corned BeefFeatured At St. Pat’s Dinner

Step Dancers, Corned Beef

Featured At St. Pat’s Dinner

Hartwick’s O’Donnell-Kelly School of Dance brought the sounds and steps of Ireland to The Knights of Columbus Tekawitha Council 10968 annual St. Patrick’s Day Dinner this evening at St. Mary’s “Our Lady of the Lake” Parish Hall in Cooperstown. High-stepping out front is Tess DiLorenzo. Behind her, from left, are McKenna Selleck, Morgan Kelley and Maya Stevens. Inset at right is Fred Lemister, the evening’s official Leprechaun. At left is Chef Joe Carentz, who’s been contributing his expertise in the kitchen for years. (Jim Kevlin/

Following In Fire Chief’s Footsteps,Tallman Grandkids At Open House

Following In Fire Chief Footsteps,

Tallman Grandkids At Open House

Village Fire Chief Jim Tallman’s grandkids dipped their toes in the water this morning at the Cooperstown Fire Department “Heroes” Open House at the fire hall on Chestnut Street this morning, part of the 26th annual Cooperstown Winter Carnival. Visiting from the Albany area, Chief Tallman’s daughter-in-law Allison brought Claire, 4, and Nolan, 20 months, to witness firefighting demonstrations and other activities. The state police had a contingent, and the dean of the EMS squad, Fred Lemister, was demonstrating the Autopulse, a new apparatus that allows CPR to be administered automatically in the ambulance en route to the emergency room. How often has it been used? “Too often,” Lemister replied with his characteristic dry wit. (Jim Kevlin /
Cooperstown Landmark Gets Facelift

Cooperstown Landmark Gets Facelift

The three-story former Sherry's Famous Restaurant brick block "at the light" in Cooperstown – now home to Mel's – is getting paint job. Steve Eldred, proprietor of Eldred Contractors, was on the job atop a ladder this morning. The building is owned by Fred and Karen Lemister; his parents were Sherry's proprietors. (Jim Kevln/AllOTSEGO.comO)
The three-story former Sherry’s Famous Restaurant brick block “at the light” in Cooperstown – now home to Mel’s – is getting a facelift.  Brush in hand, Steve Eldred, proprietor of Eldred Contractors, was on the job atop a ladder this morning. The building is owned by Fred and Karen Lemister; his parents were Sherry’s proprietors. (Jim Kevln/
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