News of Otsego County

Serving Otsego County, NY, through the combined reporting of Cooperstown's Freeman's Journal and the Hometown Oneonta newspapers.


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Ice Harvest

Ice, Ice, Baby!

Crowds Flood Hanford Mills

For Annual Ice Harvest

It was a perfect winter day for the festivities at the annual Ice Harvest this morning at the Hanford Mills Museum. Above, Steve Kellog, left, Watertown, a volunteer blacksmith at the event, works with Lucas Nouko, Oneonta, and Nathanien Francisco, West Oneonta, as the demonstrate making cooking forks for visitors. At right,  Erin Neal, Walton, and son Tanner, try their hand at cutting blocks of ice from the lake alongside volunteer Jim Decker, East Meredith, Tanner Matz, East Meredith, and volunteer Robert Dianieh, East Meredith. The ice was then hauled to an ice house, where it will be stored until July 4th where it will be used to make free ice cream for museum guests.(Ian Austin/

The Snow Must Go On!

The Snow Must Go On!

OCCA Program Director Jeff O’Handley, right, leads Bridgette Hulbert, daughter Vivian, Jack and William Mokay, and Andrew Rock, all of Delhi, and Erin and Kathryn Dailey, both of Oneonta, on a snowshoeing hike at the annual Winter Fest at Gilbert Lake State Park this afternoon. At right, Tami-Lee Volgari, Oneonta, sleds down a hill with her daughter Eama-Lee. Visitors also enjoyed skiing, information sessions on winter camping and survival, as well as a bonfire. The event was hosted by OCCA and Five Star Subaru. (Ian Austin/

It Begins

It Begins!

First Flurries Of Weekend

Winter Storm Harper Arrives

Steve Menendez, Oneonta, shovels the first layer of snow outside of the Elks Club in Oneonta this morning. The main storm is expected throughout the weekend with total expected accumulations between 12″-20″. Check for weather-related updates and cancellations in our area. (Ian Austin/
Farewell, Mrs. Claus!

Farewell, Mrs. Claus!

Mrs. Claus, aka Vera Stewart, seen at her post outside of JCPenney at the Southside Mall (Ian Austin/

By IAN AUSTIN • Special to

Steve Hughes, Gilbertsville, gives Mrs. Claus a big Christmas hug.

ONEONTA – The end of the Christmas season will mark the end of an era for a Southside Mall mainstay.

For over two decades, Vera Stewart, aka Mrs. Claus, has been volunteering for the Salvation Army by ringing bells and holding doors at her station outside of JCPenney, spreading cheer to holiday shoppers. Dressed in red velvet with white trim, the Southside Mrs. Claus has become a mainstay of the Christmas season to many visitors young and old.

“When they first asked me to be a bell ringer for the Salvation Army, I decided to try it.” said Stewart, “I began doing it only on weekends, then I went to five days a week.”

Christmas Comes Early At Community Dinner

Christmas Comes Early

At Community Dinner

By the end of the first hour, over 120 people had attended the Community Dinner at Oneonta’s First United Methodist Church this afternoon, with more continuing to come in.  Visitors like Andrew Winters-Bell, left, could enjoy plates of ham, turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, coleslaw, sweet potatoes, Chobani yogurt and a wide selection of pies served by Carol Heller, Scott Lewis, Terri Fisher, Ambrose Santiago and other volunteers from St. Mary’s Catholic Church, Saturday’s Bread and First UM. The event, usually held on Christmas Day, was early the last couple years so it would not conflict with the church’s Sunday and Christmas services. “Next year, Christmas will be on a Wednesday,” said event coordinator Ann Steen.  “So we are excited that next year it will be back on the usual day.” (Ian Austin/

Fortin Park Becomes A Tobacco-Free Zone

Fortin Park Becomes

A Tobacco-Free Zone

Oneonta Town Supervisor Bob Wood and Town Clerk Cheryl Shackelton, left, stand with Deyanira Cisneros and Bonnie Peck, right, from SUNY Cobleskill’s Research Foundation, who presented them with several signs this morning at Town Hall. The news signs will soon be hung in Fortin Park in Emmons, proclaiming the area a tobacco-free zone. That means no cigarettes, vaping and or chewing. The signs are part of the Advancing Tobacco Free Communities program , funded by a grant from the state Department of Health’s Bureau of Tobacco Control. “Ten years ago I owned a grocery store that sold cigarettes,” said Wood. “If I was to own a grocery store today, I would not sell tobacco at all. (The town) is glad to get ahead of the advancing tobacco technology to protect our youth.” Although the signs throw a little bit of a misconception, vapes are to be shown as crossed out and therefore ban the use of them in these areas which is the right move, although vapes don’t contain tobacco as you can in this Vape Starter Kit, a chemical in tobacco – nicotine (the addictive substance smokers crave) should be the slogan for the poster, instead reading ” This is a nicotine-free zone” (Ian Austin/
Indoor Rock Climbing Coming To Oneonta

Indoor Rock Climbing

Coming To Oneonta

A new facility opening on New Year’s Eve will soon have people of all ages climbing the walls…literally! Above, Luke Malone, facility manager of Table Rock Bouldering, demonstrates a climb this afternoon at the location at 6 Market St., Unit 9, next to The Green Earth. At right, owner Jay Shultis, below, spots Lucas as he scales the wall. The facility is currently in the final stages of completion, but the public will be able to experience the space for themselves at the Grand Opening at 4 p.m. Monday, Dec. 31, during Oneonta’s annual First Night celebration. (Ian Austin/

Sounds Of The Season

Sounds Of Season Ring

At Handbell Concert

Director of Music John Jurgensen, Oneonta, leads Alan Franks, Rachel Hansen and Dylan Sorensen and other members of the Buckingham Ringers and the Klipnocky Klangers in heir rendition of “Jingle Bell Rock”, “Frosty The Snowman” and other holiday favorites at the annual handbell concert earlier this afternoon at the First United Methodist Church. (Ian Austin/

Pomp & Pizazz At OPA Drag Show

Pomp & Pizzazz

At OPA Drag Show

With thumping music and flashing lights, Opal Essence, Albany, struts her stuff in front of Granny Bola, Oneonta, and the rest of the crowd who filled My Father’s Place for the second annual Winter Wonderland all ages drag show on Saturday evening. At right, Ryder Knightley, Oneonta, brought his A-game with a bedazzled shirt and pants during his dance performance.  All proceeds from the event go towards the 2019 Pridefest. Their next show is slated for February. (Ian Austin/

Santa’s Helpers Bring Cheer To 205 Seniors

Santa’s Helpers Fill

Shoeboxes For Seniors

The back room of Oneonta’s Green Earth filled up quickly this morning as locals brought in over 200 shoeboxes full of food, toiletries, clothes and more for the annual Shoeboxes For Seniors drive in partnership with Office For The Aging. Above, volunteers Eli House, Skyalr Gargash, Sharon Poon and Grace Schultz help carry the packages to the back of The Green Earth for counting and sorting. At right, event organizer Lisa Nunez stacks the numerous packages, many with personalized notes and cars from elementary school students, into piles for counting. The packages will be delivered throughout the area in time for the holidays. (Ian Austin/

Creches On Display At Cavalry Hill

Calvary Hill Displays Creches

Debbie Kabat and Bev Carpenter look over a collection of manger scenes from Abbey and Gary Koutnik at the Creche exhibit at Cavalry Hill Retreat Center on Saturday. The collection includes many small whimsical depictions of Christ’s birth,  including one on top of a VW bus! At right, Kabat shows off another addition: a handmade plush scene made in 1991 by Patricia Follett. The annual event features dozens of manger scenes from many different countries and mediums. (Ian Austin/

Sounds of the Season

Sounds Of Season

Riverside Students Celebrate Tradition

Friends and family gathered to enjoy sounds of the season as music teacher Domnick D’Imperio, center, directs a group of Riverside Elementary first graders singing holiday songs in Oneonta’s Muller Plaza earlier this morning. This is the 17th year Riverside first-graders have sung carols at Community Bank and Ruffino’s, but with the latter business now closed, they moved to the plaza. After singing, the children enjoyed a walking tour of the gingerbread houses in business windows before returning to class. (Ian Austin/
Nutcracker Dazzles On Opening Night

Nutcracker Dazzles

On Opening Night

The Fokine Ballet opened it’s 30th year this evening with it’s annual production of Tchaikovsky’s holiday classic “The Nutcracker”. Above, dancers Sabrina Blacklock, Zherlin Ndudi, Sarah Vesterfelt, Chase Vining,Bel Pickering, Micheal Wozniak, Hilary Reiter, Joseph Oster, Natalia Chersia and Patrick Lennon fill the stage during one of the final numbers. Below, guests of the Silberhouse party marvel at the mechanical soldier dolls (Sariah Vesterfelt and Juliana Fauth). Performances continue tomorrow at 1pm & 7pm. (Ian Austin/

Merry And Bright

Merry & Bright

Tree Lighting Brings Out

Animals, Dancers, Food

Main Street was a flurry of activity as holiday revelers hit the streets to attend the annual Christmas Tree lighting this evening in Muller Plaza. Applause and cheers filed the air after a countdown by Mayor Gary Herzig, Town Supervisor Bob Wood and Santa Claus. Afterward,  Santa, seen above giving a high-five to Oneonta’s Avalon Hermann and her parents Brian and Loren, met with children in his holiday house to discuss their wish lists. Dancers Chase Vining and Sariha Vestefeld, right, and other members of the Fokine Ballet, could be seen twirling in windows throughout downtown promoting this weekend’s presentation of “The Nutcracker.” While children from local schools searched for their ornaments on the tree, local organizations served refreshments, sang carols, gave horse-drawn carriage rides, and gave out hand warmers.(Ian Austin/

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