Eric Wilson was not about to see a piece of his childhood leveled.
“I was at my men’s group and one of the members was a realtor,” he said. “I saw he had the Unadilla Drive-In listing, and someone said that it might be bought and torn down.”
With his wife, Marcia, and his friend Jack George, who owned a successful leather business in New Jersey, Wilson bought the drive-in. “I was never in it to get rich,” he said. “I used to go there as a kid, and I wanted to make sure it was preserved.”
And preserved it is.
“The first year we screened ‘Runaway Bride’” – the 1999 Julia Roberts/Richard Gere vehicle that critics generally panned – “and even though it was raining, 377 people showed up,” said Eric. “I knew we had something special.”
The drive-in was originally opened in 1956 by John Gardner and Al LaFamme. Michael and
Beatrice Chonka ran it through the ’70s and ’80s. They sold it to Trevor Ladner and Thomas Owens, who sold it to the Wilsons. All of their kids – Spencer, Austin, Tara and Onilee – worked for the business, and now, Spencer is the manager.
“I remember being there as a little kid in the ticket booth!” he said.
At one time, there were two drive-ins in Otsego County, the other being the Del-Sego, where Brooks BBQ got its start selling their famous chicken at the snack bar.
The Wilsons made sure that the Unadilla remained a summer staple for families looking for budget-friendly entertainment, screening first-run movies Thursday-Sunday from May to September.
The movies start at dusk, and for $8 (adults) and $5 (kids) visitors can see two films – if they can stay awake long enough.
“On an average night, we have between 300 and 500 people,” said Spencer. “We had ‘The Lion King’ and ‘Toy Story 4’ a few weeks ago, and we had 1,200 people there.”
“For both ‘Indiana Jones 4’ and ‘Jurassic World’ we had cars lined up to the bridge,” said Eric. “We were completely sold out. Those are good drive-in movies.”
Since taking ownership, the family upgraded the theater considerably. “We fixed all the standing speakers when we first bought it, but people kept driving off with them and pulling them out of the ground!” said Eric.
The 2006 flood destroyed the free-standing speakers, and an FM transmitter was put in. Shortly thereafter, a windstorm took down the screen, requiring a replacement. “My dad and his buddies fixed it,” said Spencer. “They’re contractors, but it was still an expensive upgrade!”
The most recent upgrade has been the switch to a digital projector. “It’s been great,” he said. “There are so many ways a film can go wrong, but with this you just download and press play.”
They’ve always shown double features, and because families are their target audience, they rarely screen R-rated movies, although this year has had two notable exceptions. “We did our first triple feature,” said Spencer. “’The Secret Life of Pets 2,’ ‘A Dog’s Journey’ and ‘John Wick 3’.”
“Next week,” Eric said, “We’ll have ‘Once Upon a Time in Hollywood’,” – this year’s new Quentin Tarantino flick that pairs Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt, and revisits the Manson murders.
But one of the biggest draws, said Spencer, is the snack bar. “People tell us they come out just to have dinner,” he said. “Our candy is cheaper than many places, or we let people bring their own food in.”
However, you may still want to save room for their famous popcorn. “We use real butter,” he said. “Not that fake stuff.”
BINGHAMTON – KellyAnn Wolner, 54, an award-winning 30-year teacher and coach at Unatego Central School, died at her home in Binghamton, on Tuesday, July 23, 2019, after an 18-month battle with colon cancer.
Born on Oct. 24, 1964, in Spain at Naval Station Rota, Kelly lived in a variety of places before her family settled in Rome, N.Y.
She graduated from Westmoreland Central School in 1982 and went on to pursue her dream of becoming a physical education teacher at Mohawk Valley Community College, earning her associate degree in physical education in 1987, and SUNY Cortland, where she completed her bachelor’s degree in physical education in 1989 and master’s degree in health education in 1995.
UNADILLA – A 69-year-old Unadilla woman was critically injured Saturday when she was struck by a Jeep that drifted into the shoulder where she was walking, Trooper Aga Dembinska, Troop C public information officer, reported.
Susan Haney was walking southbound on the east shoulder of County Route 4 when she was allegedly struck by a 2007 Jeep Patriot driven by Nicole L. Wilber, 34, Unadilla, who was driving north. According to police, the passenger-side headlight and mirror struck Haney, who was then thrown several feet onto the shoulder.
UNADILLA – Katherine E. (Russell) Mehlenbacher, 97, formerly of Unadilla, passed away June 21, 2019, in Crystal Lake, Ill.
She was born April 7, 1922, in Fort Fairfield, Maine, daughter of Charles E. and Mary Jane (Reid) Russell. Katherine graduated from Fort Fairfield High School, Maine School of Commerce (Bangor, Maine) and Ulster County Community College.
She married Richard C. Mehlenbacher of Cohocton, Steuben County, on July 31, 1951. He joined Bendix (Amphenol) in Sidney, and the couple raised their six children in Unadilla.
UNADILLA – Timothy Robert Woodard, better known as Woody, 61, a beloved local bartender and restaurant manager, passed away on Tuesday, June 25, 2019, at Bassett Hospital.
Born in Sidney on Nov. 14, 1957, he was the son of the late Robert Stanley and Arlene (Hadden) Woodard.
Shortly after graduating from Franklin Central School, Woody started working at the Unadilla House and Bert & Ernies in Unadilla, beginning his 36-year career as a local bartender and Bar/Restaurant Manager.
UNADILLA – Douglas Alexander MacArthur, 77, a professional truck driver who eventually founded his own company, MacArthur Trucking, passed away peacefully at home in Wellington, Colo., on June 4, 2019, surrounded by his family in Northern Colorado.
Doug was born in Sidney on Jan. 11, 1942, to Mary Beardsley and John MacArthur. He spent most of his childhood in Riverside, Calif., where he enjoyed working in the orange groves with his uncles, riding his horse and fixing up old cars.
The MacArthur family resettled in Unadilla when Doug was a teenager. He enjoyed working in his father’s car shop on Route 7 and became a proud Unadilla athlete. He enjoyed playing football and basketball.
UNADILLA – Doren L. Slade, 74, who authored the book “Making The World Safe For Existence,” died on June 11, 2019.
Doren was born on Jan. 17, 1945 . She was a woman of great scholarship receiving her Ph.D. in Anthropology in 1973 and becoming a certified psychoanalyst in 1986. She wrote the book Making the World Safe for Existence…, and has been published in psychanalytic journals.
Doren was an avid traveler and had a passion for Mexican culture and cuisine. She was always an understanding, insightful, and empathic person and helped many people who are now living enriched lives.
UNADILLA – Felix (Lex) Smith Verity, 104, a former diplomat and executive who owned property in Unadilla as well as Cold Spring and Manhattan, died May 19, 2019.
(Lex) was born Feb. 27, 1915, in Readville, Mass., the son of John William Verity of Yorkshire, England, and Anna Evangeline Appleby of New Brunswick, Canada.
Anna was the descendant of one of five Appleby brothers who left New York State about 1750 for residence in New Brunswick. Lex’s early youth was spent in Canton, Mass., with his parents, where his father’s siblings also resided.
UNADILLA – Raymond Johnson, 90, career Amphenol employee and Unadilla town assessor for almost a half-center who rose to vice commander of the state’s American Legion, passed away at Valley View Manor Nursing Facility in Norwich on Tuesday, May 21, 2019
He was born Oct. 7, 1928, son of the late Orville and Bessie (Schmerhorn) Johnson in Mount Upton. Ray graduated from Mount Upton Central School, Class of 1947.
He served his country in Army from 1948 to 1952, and was honorably discharged at the rank of sergeant.
UNADILLA – Remember “Big Bling,” Martin Puryear’s Glulam-based sculpture unveiled New York City’s Madison Square Park in 2016?
Sunday, “Swallowed Sun,” a new collaboration between Puryear and Glulam manufacturer Unalam of Unadilla will be unveiled in the U.S. Pavilion at La Biennale Arte in Venice, Italy, part of Puryear’s “Liberty/Libertà.” The sculptor was chosen to represent the U.S. this year at La Biennale.
“When the call came in to be a part of Martin’s sculpture team for this exhibition, we didn’t hesitate to say yes,” Unalam CEO Craig Van Cott said. “The hardest part of all of this has been keeping the entire project a secret,” as required by La Biennale Arte, known as “the Olympics of the art world.”
UNADILLA – William Lemaster Yeager, 97, former president and owner of Tieco-Unadilla Corp. and a community leader in the Tri-Town area, died May 5, 2019, in Naples, Fla.
He was born on Aug. 9, 1923, in The Bronx, then attended school in New Rochelle. He graduated from New Hampton School in New Hampshire, attended Brown University before World War II, and graduated from Babson College in Massachusetts.
Bill served in the Army Engineers in the South Pacific from 1942 to 1946.
He was very supportive of his community. His leadership positions included serving on the boards of Babson College, New Hampton School, The Hospital, Sidney. He was president and board member, Oneonta YMCA; founding board member, Community Foundation of Unadilla, and secretary and founding member of the Sidney Area Hospital Foundation. He was a president and longtime secretary of Unadilla Rotary Club, and he and his wife, Barbara, were Paul Harris Fellows. He was a member and elder of the Presbyterian Church of Unadilla.