LETTER from ED LEONE
To the Editor:
It’s always the right time to be thankful for our veterans who have served selflessly around the world so that we at home can live in peace.
The 75th anniversary of the Battle of the Bulge reminds me of the privations and sacrifice these magnificent soldiers faced all those years ago.
I recommend Academy Award winning movie, “Patton,” to see a depiction of the frozen hell that came crashing down upon the hundreds of thousands of American heroes who were literally sacrificing life and limb to free the world from the grip of Nazi tyranny.
And, yes, we have two of those heroes living and thriving among us, the incomparable Tony Drago and Sam Nader.
HoF, Delgado Send Regards, Too
Outgoing National Baseball Hall of Fame President Jeff Idelson, above, a speaker at this evening’s recognition at “Mr. Baseball” and “Mr. Oneonta” Sam Nader’s 100th birthday celebration at Damaschke Field, snaps a photo of Sam with fan PJ Harmer. Former mayor Nader, who turned 100 on July 8, brought the Yankees minor league franchise to the City of the Hills 50 years ago, and both milestones were recognized in an on-field ceremony that also featured state Sen. Jim Seward, R-Milford, and Mayor Gary Herzig. Oneonta Outlaws owner Gary Laing and Outlaws Manager Joe Hughes, who retired in June as OHS athletic director, shared emcee responsibilities. Nader was presented with a flag that had been flown over the U.S. Capitol for a week, a gift from U.S. Rep. Antonio Delgado, D-19; Sam’s name will now be included in a permanent record in Washington, D.C., of those so honored. Also present were many members of the 1969 team, which won the NY-Penn championship, including, inset, OHS graduate Randy Georgia. Behind Nader is his son, John, himself a former mayor and now president of SUNY Farmingdale. (Jim Kevlin/AllOTSEGO.com)
On this week’s “Morning Headlines” on WAMC/Northeast Public Radio, Jim Kevlin, editor/ publisher of www.AllOTSEGO.com (and Hometown Oneonta & the Freeman’s Journal), discusses Sam Nader’s Century, the celebration surrounding his 100th birthday, his careers in politics and baseball, and his many contributions to the city of his birth.
By LIBBY CUDMORE • Special to www.AllOTSEGO.com
ONEONTA – What do you get Oneonta’s most beloved citizen, Sam Nader, for his 100th birthday?
How about a birthday message from his favorite football team?
“My father has held season tickets to the Giants since 1952,” said his son, John. “So my cousin’s husband got Eli Manning to record a video sending him a birthday message, thanking him for being such a long-time fan and recognizing everything he accomplished. It was very nice of him to do that.”
Manning was there in spirit, but over 100 guests, friends and family members were, joining Nader to celebrate his birthday on Saturday, July 6, in his backyard at 95 River St. “It was a fun, low-key celebration,” said John. “My father was enormously pleased.”
Sam turned 100 on Monday, July 8, which Mayor Gary Herzig declared “Sam Nader Day” with a proclamation, which he gave to Sam at the party, “in recognition of the ‘too many to count’ contributions … to the well-being of the people of the City of Oneonta.”
Also present was Kim Muller, longtime friends of the family, for a total of four mayors at the gathering.
HERZIG PRAISES PREDECESSOR
ONEONTA – Mayor Gary Herzig today issued a proclamation declaring Wednesday, July 8, Sam Nader Day in the City of Oneonta, in recognition of the former mayor’s “too many to count” contributions to the City of the Hills.
Here is the text of the proclamation:
“In recognition of the “too many to count” contributions, made by citizen and Mayor Albert “Sam” Nader, to the well-being of the people of the City of Oneonta;
“I Gary Herzig, as Mayor of the City of Oneonta, hereby proclaim July 8, 2019 – the 100th birthday of Mayor Albert S. Nader – as Sam Nader day in the City of Oneonta. “Happy Birthday, Sam! Thank you and Enjoy!”
Sam Nader has that rare gift: When you talk to him, you feel there’s no one other than you he’d rather be talking to.
That, of course, is only one of the secrets of his success – there are many facets to his personality and accomplishment. Part of the rest of the secret is the City of Oneonta itself.
In the years before World War II, it was an exciting vital place, with locomotives streaming in and out of the largest roundhouse in the world, the streets busy, people working, even in the Depression to a great degree – the railroads had to move.
In the Sixth Ward, new arrivals – Italians, Russians, Poles, Lebanese like the Naders – were becoming Americans, celebrating America, adding their strains of culture, and family life, and religion, and food – all of it – to a changing nation.
After Pearl Harbor, virtually every able-bodied young man went to war and they returned – the ordeal behind them – to the city they called home, loved like a home can only be loved. And then, they prospered amid the admiration of their grateful fellow citizens.
For decades, Oneonta was a city of out-sized men, soldiers, citizens and friends, the sons of the war and often their fathers.
Bombardier Sid Levine, businessman, philanthropist and Sam Nader’s partner in the Oneonta Yankees, comes to mind. B-24 pilot Lloyd Baker, the revered OHS athletic director and principal.
The cheerful Tony Mongillo, Navy radio man on an aircraft carrier, who recorded his hometown’s
history in pen for the rest of his life.
Gordie Roberts, another B-24 pilot who returned home to dominate the insurance field; to the end (in 2010) he seemed to be everywhere.
Everyone knew these men, admired them and – even more unusual, liked them. Even loved them.
Time’s taken its toll. Today, two of the titans remain.
Tony Drago, 98, who returned from WWII to become Oneonta’s winningest coach, his OHS basketball team’s 1959-60 undefeated season still to be surpassed.
The other is Sam Nader, Drago’s friend of 85 years, who is turning 100 years old on Monday, July 8.
In everything he did, Sam Nader succeeded. At Bendix (now Amphenol), he was a counselor and mentor to many young Oneontans as he rose through the ranks to director of purchasing.
In love, the son of immigrants wooed a descendant of Oneonta’s first families, and their wedding at Colliscroft, the Greek revival mansion named for Collis Huntington, who from Oneonta became one of California’s Big Four, signaled the jointure of River and Walnut streets.
If not everyone got it, Sam’s elevation to mayor, despite being rebuffed by the then-dominant Republican Party, completed the inclusion of the “Lower Deck” immigrant families into the mainstream of Oneonta life.
Then in his baseball successes – he transformed Damaschke Field into Yankee Stadium North for a quarter-century – Oneonta got to know the National Pastime’s heroes, and the heroes Oneonta – simply cemented a legacy.
Sam Nader will be honored in various ways in the days ahead, with a proclamation from
Mayor Gary Herzig, “Sam Nader Day” in Damaschke Field, beginning at 5 p.m. Saturday,
July 13 – and much more.
When the celebrations pass, Sam Nader’s story will still be a gift to Oneonta and surrounding communities: That despite the current cynicism all around us, Sam Nader’s grit, hard work, humor, love of family and community was rewarded with success.
In Sam Nader’s story, the American Dream lives.
By JIM KEVLIN • Special to www.AllOTSEGO.com
ONEONTA – Sam Nader’s life is one great story after another.
Here’s a favorite one, about playing golf at the Oneonta Country Club with Hall of Famers Bobby Doerr and the legendary Ted Williams, and the club champion at the time.
Sam played one of the best 18 holes of his life.
“Bobby had a 76 – 3 under par,” Nader, who will turn 100 on July 8, recalled the other day. “I was 4 over par. We took them for 10 bucks.”
Ted Williams was so incensed, he broke five clubs – a golf club set – over his knee. (The Red Sox legend was working for Shakespeare, the quality golf-club maker, so he made good.)
With a laugh, Sam continued: Every time he would see Bobby Doerr and a Hall of Fame event in Cooperstown, the former Oneonta mayor and owner of the Oneonta Yankees would say, “Let’s go up to see Ted and see if he remembers.”
Sitting in the livingroom at 95 River St., the ranch house where he’s lived for many, many decades and where he and wife Alice raised their three children – SUNY Farmingdale president and former mayor John, and daughters Suzanne Longo of Pennsylvania and Alice O’Connor of Georgia – he spun off yarn after yarn.
- Of his boyhood in the immigrant-filled “Lower Deck” – Lebanese like his family, Italians, Poles, Russians. “They were all my pals.”
- Of learning life’s lessons early at St. Mary’s, going off to World War II, joining Bendix (now Amphenol), where he spent his career, rising to director of purchasing.
- Of marriage: in be-pillared Colliscroft, to Alice House, daughter of a prominent physician and descendant of Eliakim Ford, the first president of the Village of Oneonta, and key player in bringing the railroad here. The union breached the social divide between River Street and Walnut Street.
- Of politics: Spurned by the dominant Republicans after three terms as alderman, he formed the Good Government Party and, then endorsed by the Democrats, won the mayoralty. He would open the modern Oneonta Municipal Airport – now the Sam Nader Municipal Airport, 30 years of daily passenger service to LaGuardia followed – launch Urban Renewal, and learn which levers to push to bring federal aid here.
- Of baseball, bringing the Yankees franchise to Oneonta’s Damaschke Field (1969-93). Many of the great team’s greats, from Mickey Mantle to George Steinbrenner, got to know the City of the Hills – and Sam, them – over the years.
Albert “Sam” Nader was born on July 8, 1919, to Elias and Rose Nader, recent immigrants from Lebanon, who brought the baby home to 90 West Broadway in the Sixth Ward’s polyglot neighborhood.
Their apartment house, six apartments per floor, was popularly called “The Beehive.” By the time Sam reached high school, however, the parents had put aside enough to by their own home at 107 River St.
Growing up in the Depression, “we didn’t know we were poor” – everyone was in the same boat. But he remembers his dad, who worked for the D&H, coming home with a railroad tie under each arm, to be chopped up for firewood. That, and coal picked up along the tracks, kept the growing Nader family – two sons and four daughters – warm.
“I was very fortunate,” he said the other day. “I had the best heritage anyone could have.” His parents, “they couldn’t read or write in any language. They worked, literally, like slaves. They insisted the kids get an education.”
They, with the help of older brother Nate, also taught him right from wrong.
When young Sam, instructed by an errant cousin on shoplifting – pick up two jackknives, then just pay for one, he remembered – Nate found out.
When he got home, dad Elias had the boy kneel on a rail tie in front of a hot stove, reciting the Lord’s Prayer in Lebanese and English. When he flagged, his father smacked him with a razor strop.
The discipline stuck. “I never stole anything again,” the near-centenarian recalled.
A high-school freshman, Sam told his Latin teacher, Mrs. Stewart, he couldn’t stay after school to sharpen his language skills – he had to chop wood at home.
Brother Nate, then a senior, and who did most of the wood chopping at home, found that out, too.
Yes, Sam did spend THAT evening chopping that railroad tie, while Nate sat by in an easy chair. The next day, Mrs. Stewart lectured the class on “prevarication.”
“I never forgot that,” said Sam. “She became the best teacher I ever had. I took four years of Latin. I passed every Regents because of her.”
He grew up in downtown Oneonta’s heyday, and remembers Main Street’s packed sidewalks on Thursdays, pay day for the D&H’s workers. Saturday night was lively, too.
Saturdays his dad would give him 15 cents to take in the cowboy serials at The Palace movie house, where Community Bank is now – a dime for the movie, a nickel for a bag of candy kisses, that would last him all week.
He wistfully recalls Jack’s Restaurant, the Wagon Wheel, the nearby pool hall, The Klipnockie, The Royal, Henderson and Harris men’s stores, the jewelers, the department stores – “Oneonta was the shopping center for the whole area,” he said.
Asked about World War II – he was 21 when Pearl Harbor was bombed – he paused, in thought. A machine gunner with the 28th Infantry Division, he fought in the Battle of the Bulge. “I remember how cold it was,” he said. Another pause. “Bad memories,” he said.
Back stateside awaiting discharge, he volunteered to write sports for the newspaper at Camp Swift Baron in Texas.
“Who’d you ever work for?” the editor asked.
“Gene Ward,” the soldier replied, a reference to a famed New York Daily news columnist. That was partly true: “I caddied for him at the country club.”
Hired, Sam wrote sports in Texas and then at Fort Lewis, Washington, before heading back to Oneonta. As for Gene Ward, “I brought him here, back home, for one of my sports banquets,” he said.
At that point, Sam had two years of college – one at Hartwick, the second at Bates College in Maine – but returned to Bendix (Scintilla), where he had been working when the war broke out, and recalls the ensuing 43 years there fondly.
A rarity these days, Bendix had a heart, he remembers. His brother, Nate, was a supervisor of inspections. “He insisted, if you work for the company, you’ve got to give them 50 minutes” (out of 60 per hour), the younger brother remembers.
A young management trainee, Don Jones, just out of Cornell, was impressed. Years later, Nate came down with diabetes, had to take time off weekly for dialysis. His future had to be decided by the Bendix board, then in South Bend, Ind.
By then, Don Jones had risen to that corporate board and when Nate’s case came before it, declared, “As long as Nate Nader is alive, he will be on the Bendix payroll.”
Sam’s other Bendix memory – “I remember it vividly” – was flying to New Haven on a corporate airplane. Returning, a snowstorm had closed Oneonta’s airport. And Sidney’s.
“Gene, you got me up here,” he told the pilot. “It’s up to you to get me down … Finally, we crashed into a cornfield outside Cortland.”
Back home, he’d paid his dues on Common Council, and wanted to run for the top job in 1960, “but the GOP didn’t want me,” he said. “They said they couldn’t get me over the railroad tracks.”
“I had good friends, all over,” he remembered. About 1,000 people in Oneonta worked for Bendix, and the company’s data-processing office gave Sam a list of the names. “That didn’t hurt,” he said.
Election Day, Sam drove around the Sixth Ward, flashing “V” for victory. “Russians, Poles, Italians, they all rallied around me,” he remembered. “I carried this ward” – the Sixth – “by a large, large margin.”
He beat the Republican nominee, attorney John Dunn, by 17 votes, then handily defeated a former mayor, Roger Hughes, who challenged him in 1964 on the belief that candidates should not run unopposed.
As Democratic mayor in a traditionally Republican city, Sam drew national attention, meeting his all-time favorite politician, Bobby Kennedy – “a real man” – three times. “He had honesty and realism,” explained Nader. “He was very concerned about people.”
Running for U.S. Senate from New York in 1964, a dinner was hosted locally at the Armory.
“Why isn’t your mother on the podium?” Ethel Kennedy asked Sam. She pointed out that John Burns of Binghamton, then Democratic state chairman, had his mother next to him.
“Nobody invited her,” Sam replied.
“Well, I’m inviting her,” said Ethel. For his mom Rose, it was the thrill of a lifetime, the son remembers.
And then there were the famous ballplayers, including Joe DiMaggio.
“Would you like coffee?” Alice Nader asked the famous Yankee when he stopped by 95 River.
“Do you have Sanka?” he replied.
“Sure,” said Sam, and he hustled son John off to the corner store to get a jar.
He and DiMaggio stopped by to see Al Farone, the lawyer and Sixth Ward VIP, who took Sam aside: “Do you think Joe would go to my house and see my sister? She’s devoted to him.”
Sam took the Yankee to the Farones’ back door. Ida answered and was thrilled, “she hugged him and all.” Later though, “she gave me heck for not bringing him to the front door,” Sam recalled.
Through his years operating the Oneonta Yankees, Nader got to know many New York Yankees well – Whitey Ford, Yogi, Reggie. About the controversial owner George Steinbrenner, he’s emphatic: Steinbrenner should be in the Hall of Fame. “In my book, he’s a fine man,” he said.
When Don Mattingly Day was held at Yankee Stadium, Steinbrenner invited VIPs onto the field, and Sam was second. A poster-size photo of him waving to the cheering crowd has a place of honor in Nader’s basement, which is decorated with photos of his political and baseball successes.
So now, on to 100, and a summing up.
Sam’s wife, Alice, was killed in a car crash 29 years ago while the couple was driving to Florida, and she immediately comes to mind.
“My wife has to get the credit for raising the kids – I was too busy working, politicking, with baseball,” he said, “and one of the things I’m proudest about is my children’s success.”
“They’ve been very good to me,” he added.
“Make sure you have good parents. Don’t be afraid of hard work. And” – as baseball allowed him to be – “be around young people.”
“I’m proud to have so many good friends in such a great city,” he said. “The Lord’s been very good to me.”
“This was the single greatest point of pride in my dad’s life,” said former mayor John Nader, as he accepted a plaque this evening after Common Council unanimously voted to rename the Oneonta Municipal Airport as The Albert S. Nader Regional Airport. Nader, president of SUNY Farmington, who drove up for the event, read a statement from his father, who remarked, “I regret that I am unable to be with you tonight, but I want to thank each and every one of you for bestowing this honor on me.” The vote was broadcast on the city’s Facebook page, allowing Sam to watch from home. With Nader is Mayor Gary Herzig, who presented the idea to Council just before Thanksgiving. (Ian Austin/AllOTSEGO.com)
By LIBBY CUDMORE • Special to www.AllOTSEGO.com
ONEONTA – Mayor Gary Herzig will ask Oneonta Common Council to approve the re-naming of the Oneonta Municipal Airport in honor of Sam Nader at their meeting on Tuesday, Dec. 4.
“At our airport, I recently participated in the first graduation of Oneonta Job Corps’ Drone Operator program,” said Herzig. “While doing so, I could not help but think that this event would never have taken place if not for Mayor Sam Nader’s determination to realize his vision of an Oneonta Airport.”
When Nader ran for mayor in 1962, he supported a new airport, which newspapers at the time called “Nader’s Folly.”
“I said the issue was more important than any individual, and I would risk defeat to have an airport,” Nader said in an interview with the Hometown Oneonta in September 2016.
All Recall Former Mayor’s Vitality, Civic Duty, Humor
Jim Georgeson, 1919-2014
By LIBBY CUDMORE
Edition of Friday, Nov. 14, 2014
When Sam Nader succeeded Jim Georgeson as mayor in 1960, he found nothing that Georgeson had left behind. “I said to him, ‘You didn’t even leave me a sheet of paper’!” recalled Nader. “And he said, ‘I knew you were smart enough that you could figure it out’!”
Georgeson, 95, died Wednesday, Oct. 22, at The Otsego Manor, three days before the sitting Mayor Dick Miller’s unexpected passing. But he was remembered by 200 family members and friends at a service on Saturday, Nov. 8, at Lewis, Hurley & Pietrobono as a man who loved the community.
“He was a good counselor,” said David Brenner, SUNY Oneonta vice president emeritus, whose office across the hall when Georgeson served as the college’s director of community relations. “If you had a problem, he would give you good advice.”
Born in Oneonta in 1919, Georgeson lived most of his life here, although he graduated from Norwich High School in 1937. “He would always brag that he was part of the undefeated football team there,” said Tony Drago, the retired OHS coach and athletic director.
Georgeson began his education at Hartwick College, but when World War II broke out he joined the Army Air Corps and served as a supervising officer in Tyndall Field in Panama City, Fla. Though he was discharged in 1946, he remained active with the Air Force Reserves until 1969, retiring as a lieutenant colonel. “He stayed in as long as they would let him!” said Drago.
In 1959, he was elected mayor on the Democratic ticket at a time when Republicans outnumbered Democrats two to one. “He worked across the aisles,” said Brenner. “If someone brought him an issue, he would say, ‘I’m going to check with a few people, because this affects them too’ rather than just confronting the issue head-on. He would tell people who came to him, ‘I won’t forget you, don’t worry,’ and take the message there personally.”
And although he was only in office for two years – he was the last mayor to serve in this term – he started applying for many of the programs and grants that would begin Oneonta’s urban renewal. “He helped secure grants for housing and infrastructure,” said Brenner. “The new water treatment plant needed money, so he went to Albany and got that from the state.”
But even more than mayor, he was remembered as the city’s predominant master of ceremonies. “If you went to an event and he didn’t refer to you at least once, you didn’t belong in Oneonta,” said Tony Drago. “He could play a crowd like nobody could.”
For 20 years, he was in demand as the emcee at fundraisers, banquets and dinners. “He always had a zinger,” said Brenner. “He’d pick out something that happened to you 20 years ago, something you hoped people would forget, and he’d zing you for it!”
But just as he could dish out a jab, he could take it too. “One time he lost control of his lawn tractor and drove it right into Goodyear Lake,” said Drago. “Nobody ever let him forget that!”
His active citizenship wasn’t limited to his stint in City Hall. He was president or board chairman of the Greater Oneonta Chamber of Commerce, Oneonta YMCA Board of Directors, Oneonta Kiwanis Club, Hartwick College Alumni Association, Oneonta City Democratic Committee, the Community Chest (now the United Way) and Parent Teacher Organizations of Center Street and Oneonta Junior High Schools.
In 2003, he and his wife, Charlotte, were honored by the Future for Oneonta Foundation as Mr. and Mrs. Oneonta, as well as Hartwick College Outstanding Citizen and service awards from SUNY and the YMCA.
He was also honored with a street named in his honor. James Georgeson Avenue, which runs through Neahwa Park, was renamed from Gas Avenue. “We told him that was a perfect street for him, because he was so full of it!” said Drago.
“He was a first-rate citizen,” said Brenner. “You couldn’t ask for a better person.”