COOPERSTOWN – William Walter Dornburgh, 87, a community leader whose grounding in banking enabled him to predict the sale of Otsego Manor, the county’s nursing home, to Focus Otsego was doomed to fail, died Sunday morning, May 26, 2019, at his home.
He was born Sept. 26, 1931, in Jersey City, N.J., a son of Edmund and Elizabeth (Meehan) Dornburgh.
Bill attended Jersey City public schools, where he was high school class president. He received a BS degree in economics from Saint Peter’s College in 1954, where he said the Jesuits had left an indelible Catholic mark on his life, as he put it, “warts and all.”
He enlisted in the Marine Corps Reserves in 1951, served at Parris Island and received an honorable discharge in 1952. He then earned an MBA in finance from Seton Hall University in 1964.
After his father died in 1936, Bill and his brothers spent summers on the family farm in Middlefield, which led to a lifelong love affair with Cooperstown. He worked summers at The Cooper Inn and The Otesaga from 1947 to 1953.
During those summers he met Patricia Ann Butler, a Native Daughter of Cooperstown who became “the essence of his existence.” They were married at St. Mary’s “Our Lady of the Lake” Roman Catholic Church in June 1954, a marriage that lasted 60 years, seven months and two days. They raised their family in Glen Ridge, N.J.
Bill was an officer of the Bank of New York in New York City, and was subsequently a senior vice president of UJB Financial Corp. in Princeton, N.J., from which he retired in 1994. He was president of UJB Leasing Corp., and had also been an adjunct assistant professor of economics at St. Peter’s College for 10 years.
He also served as chairman of the Board of Governors of West Hudson Hospital in Kearney, N.J., and was a member of the Board of Directors of Accel International Corp. in Dublin, Ohio.
Before he and Patricia retired to Cooperstown, he volunteered as a tutor at a Newark, N.J., elementary school where he said he learned more that he taught.
In 1973, Bill and Patricia purchased a portion of the old Hinman/Dornburgh family farm in Middlefield, where they built a small summer cottage which they redesigned into their retirement home in 1995. They resided there until they moved into the Village of Cooperstown in 2004. They had wintered in Pinehurst, N.C., from 1995 until 2006.
After retiring to Cooperstown, Bill was appointed by the county Board of Representatives to the board of a county Health Facilities Corp., created to sell the county’s nursing home, Otsego Manor.
He was one of three board members to vote in 2013 against the sale to privately owned Focus Otsego, and recalled telling Focus President Joseph Zupnik that the purchase price of $18.5 million couldn’t be supported by the revenues.
Dornburgh was proved right by a death and an abuse case arising from neglect at Focus, and Zupnik and his CFO were arrested in 2018 and pleaded guilty to related charges. And Focus had to be sold.
Through letters to the editor and interviews with local reporters, he continued to be an authoritative source on the former Manor’s operations.
In Cooperstown, Bill was also an active parishioner of St. Mary’s “Our Lady of the Lake” Roman Catholic Church in Cooperstown, where he served as a lector, Eucharistic Minister and a member of the finance committee. He served on the board of the Town of Middlefield Historical Association and volunteered at The Fenimore Art Museum, The Farmers’ Museum and Mary Imogene Bassett Hospital. He was also president of the Glimmerglass Opera Guild and was a member of the Center for Continuing Adult Learning in Oneonta, where he taught courses in economics and political science. In addition to serving on the Heath Facilities Corp. board, he was an advocate for affordable housing in Cooperstown, single-payer health insurance, legalization of undocumented immigrants, a married priesthood and, most of all, of civil discussion. He was also a member of the Clark F. Simmons American Legion Post No. 579 in Cooperstown.
He was predeceased by his beloved wife, Patricia, in 2015, who he “loved with all his heart and soul and every fiber of his being”. He was very proud of their five children who survive him: Kathleen Stuart of Apex, N.C., Leigh Dornburgh and his wife, Paula of Elmsford, Annie Hannah of Rochester, N.H., Barbara Santurri and her husband John of Woonsocket, Rhode Island, and Edmund Dornburgh and his wife, Elizabeth of Arlington, Mass. He is also survived by eight grandchildren and two great grandsons. He was predeceased by two brothers, Edmund in 1944, and Leigh in 1948.
Bill’s full name was William Walter Joseph Dornburgh. His initials WWJD could be translated as “What Would Jesus Do?”, a moral imperative by which he lived.
Friends may pay their respects to the Dornburgh family 6-8 p.m. Friday, May 31, at the Connell, Dow & Deysenroth Funeral Home.
The Liturgy of Christian Burial will be offered at 10 a.m. on Saturday, June 1, 2019, at St. Mary’s “Our Lady of the Lake” Roman Catholic Church in Cooperstown, with Fr. John P. Rosson, presiding.
The Service of Committal and Burial will follow in Lakewood Cemetery, Cooperstown, where Bill will be buried beside his beloved Patricia.
He will be greatly missed by his loving family, especially for his unending guidance and support.
In addition to flowers, the Dornburgh family respectfully requests that memorial gifts in memory of Bill be directed to Catskill Area Hospice and Palliative Care, 297 River Street Service Road, Oneonta, NY 13820.
Arrangements are under the care and guidance of the Connell, Dow & Deysenroth Funeral Home in Cooperstown.