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Medina woman follows passion and heart in creating dolls

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 10 December 2015 at 8:00 am
Elizabeth Cooper

Photos by Tom Rivers – Elizabeth Cooper has been making one-of-kind-dolls since 1980 with her business, Cooper Dolls. She has her studio at 107 Pearl Street and will be open during the weekends before Christmas on Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sundays from noon to 4 p.m.

MEDINA – The dolls are shipped all over the country and world, noting they are “Made in Medina, NY.”

Fisher-Price may have left town two decades ago, but a Medina woman, Elizabeth Cooper, keeps up a Medina tradition of producing desired and whimsical creations.

Cooper has worked for 35 years making dolls. Santas and fairies are her most popular, but she also has other series featuring immigrants and popular characters such as Peter Pan and Snow White.

She discussed the business and the art of making dolls during an interview last week at her studio on Pearl Street.

Elizabeth Cooper dolls

Some of the fairies created by Cooper are next to a Fairy House she also made.

Question: How did you learn how to do this?

Answer: My father (the late James Cooper) was an art teacher at Roy-Hart and he was always working in clay. He did a lot of sculpting and painting. Much of what I’ve learned is through observation. I grew up with clay and art materials. It’s just a matter of practice.

People will ask, ‘How long does it take to make a doll?’ If I’m having a good sculpting day, it may take a day but it’s 30 years of practice.

Q: I would consider your brothers, Tim and James, to both be artists. Certainly Tim has a knack for historic preservation. (Cooper’s studio in Medina is a building her brother Tim renovated.)

A: Tim (owner of Cooper Funeral Home) is very much into restoration and history. That is his creative outlet. He has worked on quite a few buildings in town.

Q: The other brother James is an artist.

A: He is a licensed architect who does quite a bit of painting. He does watercolor renderings of homes.

We’re all self-employed. It’s a generational thing because the Cooper family was in Medina for six generations. They started a grocery store on East Center Street. That’s where they started the Cooper building.

My mother (the late Rosemary Cooper) was a real estate broker in Medina and my grandfather on the maternal side, he owned O’Briens bar. We’ve all been self-employed.

Elizabeth Cooper's Snow White dolls

Cooper created these dolls of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.

Q: Were you a teen-ager dabbling in doll-making?

A: I grew up with art materials and clay. I’ve always loved figurative sculpture. After college – I had a psychology degree from Wells College – I decided I would get my art certification from Buffalo State. My mom got sick right after I graduated. We all kind of came back home after she got sick. We stayed in Medina.

As far as clay, having clay in my hand is something I’ve had for my whole life. I’m most comfortable with a piece of clay.

Q: Did your dad do clay work?

A: Yes, he did sculptures. He did soldiers. My father also did several paintings and sculptures on the canal. The grocery store that my great-great grandparents owned was built during the canal days.

Q: When people hear art, they might just think painting and drawing. But there is more.

A: We always had art projects going on.

Elizabeth Cooper sculpts a hand

Cooper sculpts a hand for one of her dolls.

Q: I wonder when you got serious about making dolls?

A: I started doing my first shows when I was living in Ithaca. It was the Kenan Center in Lockport about 35 years ago. I started doing that and did many, many shows just as a hobby. In 1993 after my mom had died I just decided to do what my heart said.

So I went out and got a studio. I researched the most collectible item in the country. In the early ’90s it was dolls and Santas. I said, OK, I will do that. I produced them and did every show I possibly could do. My business started growing. That’s pretty much how it started. I decided to follow my heart and do what I wanted.

Q: How do you term these, one-of-kind dolls?

A: The term is called artist dolls in the business. We produce our own dolls. In the country there used to be quite a few artists who did dolls. A lot of them decided to produce in China, but I would never to that.

Q: They would subcontract it out and have people make them in China?

A: They would design a doll and send it to China to be produced so they would have an edition of maybe 200 to 5,000, something like that.

Elizabeth Cooper's angel dolls

These are some of the angels made by Elizabeth Cooper.

Q: Yours seem to be all different.

A: The ones I have are all one-of-kind.

Q: They seem to have relatives or go together.

A: Once you do it thousands and thousands of times, they’re all cousins I think.
So I do a lot of shows. I was in Kansas City at a show in July. I’ve done Boston, Washington, D.C. and Disney. Disney used to host an artist doll show.

These are all conventions. That’s my market, collectible dolls.

Q: Are there a lot of people like you?

A: There’s not a lot anymore. I was just asked to do, as one of seven artist dollmakers, a convention in Washington, D.C. I was one of seven so that’s quite an honor.

Q: Why aren’t there more?

A: It’s a hard business to sustain. I don’t have any children so I can devote most of my time to my work. You have to be willing to travel.

Q: I know you have the studio here where people can come in and buy dolls, but how else do you sell them?

A: I sell through magazines and my website (click here), and I have a lot of collectors who will come to my studio.

Q: It looks like the dolls start at $95 for the smaller ones. I have to think the bigger ones are much more, as they should be, given the effort.

A: Sometimes they will have auctions and some of my work goes for $1,200. I do ornaments for $20 if somebody wants a gift for the office, just for the Christmas season.

Q: If you weren’t doing this what would you be doing?

A: When I was first looking into colleges, I really wanted to become an art teacher. My father, who was an art teacher, said get a liberal arts education, and then get your certification. So that is what I did.

After my mom got sick I got my studio. If life had turned out differently, I probably would have been an art teacher right from the beginning or something involved in the arts.

Elizabeth Cooper's Little Red Riding Hood dolls

Little Red Riding Hood and the Wolf

Q: There must be a lot of people who own a doll that you made.

A: There are, especially in this area because I’ve done the Kenan Center show for so many years and have built up a following. One of my ideas for my business was not to have something that people just want to buy one of. So I made them into collections, where people could add to their collections year after year. That was my business plan.

Q: What are some of the series?

A: The holiday themes. I do the Santas, children building snowmen or on sleds. Anything I did growing up comes out in my work.

Q: Why do you think people like these compared to grabbing something from Wal-Mart.

A: I think the uniqueness. They know it’s one-of-a-kind and no one else has it. It’s hand-made in this area, hand-made in Medina and I think that means something to people.

Q: Is that noted on the label, Made in Medina?

A: Yes.

Q: You make the dolls, but the clothes also seems a talent.

A: I usually look for vintage materials, vintage silks and vintage velvets. The fur trims on the Santas, I cut up old fur coats. I do all of the sewing and costuming myself, too. So it’s a full-time job.

Q: And you can make money at this?

A: I’ve done OK.

Q: You’ve had a presence in this building for how long?

A: I’ve been here for three years. My brother also owned a place on Park Avenue and I think I moved in there in 2000. My very first studio was in the Curry Building on the second floor in downtown Medina.

A lot of people don’t really know what I do. I’m open for the Christmas season but for the rest of the year I’m producing or doing shows. My place is really open from Thanksgiving to Christmas to the public, and then it’s by appointment. I host doll clubs that will come.

Q: You’re looking to move back to Medina?

A: I married Michael Leone in 1998. His father was a doctor in Medina. We lived two blocks apart but we never knew each other. When I moved back to Medina we met each other again.

Immigrants from Ireland

We both had also grown up on Lake Ontario so we built a house in 2003 at Point Breeze. Now we’re coming back to where our heart is in Medina. We really miss the sense of community.

Q: Could we look at some of your dolls. (Walks over to display room.) Do your early pieces have a similar style like your more current ones?

A: No. I first started in fabric as far as dolls went and then I went to polymer clay. These are my immigrants. Growing up we were always told the story of the immigrants coming over from Ireland.

Growing up we always went to Gallagher’s Hill for sledding so I had to recreate Gallagher’s Hill. I’m so pleased they are restoring the barn. It’s beautiful.

Sledders at Gallagher’s Hill

Q: Have you been written up in the doll magazines?

A: Many of the doll magazines have gone out of business, but I’ve been in most of them. I’ve won several awards for “Doll of the Year.”

Q: Are these Santas in their casual wear?

A: A lot of my Santas are European Santas. I do a lot of European Santas from different countries. I always like to include sheep or animals – I’ve always got dogs and cats.

I’m always doing something different. I’m never bored.

For convention shows I do storybook characters. I do Alice, Peter Pan, the Mad Hatter. I do a lot of fairies, which are very collectible.

Q: Do you get any creative help with all of this.

A: I always abuse my friends and family. They’re always helping me get ready for shows.

Q: How do you keep this interesting for yourself?

A: I don’t know what it is but I never get bored with it. Every year I try to bring in a new piece.

Peter Pan and Tinker Bell

Citizens for a Constitutional Sheriff survey sheriff candidates in Orleans

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 1 September 2015 at 12:00 am

ALBION – A group that wants a “Constitutional Sheriff” has surveyed the candidates – Tom Drennan, Randy Bower and Donald Organisciak, asking them if have training in the Constitution, if they would be willing to meet regularly with citizens’ groups, and how they would protect residents from “government overreach,” and other questions.

Orleans County Citizens for a Constitutional Sheriff is part of a grass roots movement in the country to have sheriffs knowledgeable about the Constitution and Bill of Rights, and who will use the office of sheriff to protect residents from government overreach and Constitutional infringements.

“We’re trying to educate the candidates and public about a Constitutional sheriff,” said Judy Larkin, a member of the Orleans County Citizens for a Constitutional Sheriff.

The group asked the three candidates for sheriff a series of questions and the answers are posted on the group’s Facebook page (click here). The candidates are asked about use of red light cameras and drones, which are opposed by the Citizens for a Constitutional Sheriff.

Drennan, Bower and Organisciak all responded in the survey that they would be willing to be trained on the Constitution, and also would gladly meet regularly with citizens around the county.

The Citizens for a Constitutional Sheriff are not endorsing a candidate for sheriff.

Here are some excerpts from the survey:

Question: “Are you willing to step out and diffuse the situation if there is a Constitutional breach by putside police agencies?”

Drennan: “Yes, it is important to build strong/positive relationships in an effort to diffuse a situation before it starts. Everyone needs to work together to mend strained relationships.”

Bower: “As sheriff, I would do anything in my power to uphold the Constitution of the United States.”

Organisciak: “Yes, I would diffuse the situation in order to protect the Fourth Amendment rights of every a county citizen.”

Question: “How do you feel about red light cameras or drones?”

Drennan: “We do not have any red light cameras in our county so I have not read any studies on them. I would only be guessing that awareness of the cameras has prevented accidents but don’t (know) if it is worth the cost vs. public safety or just another ‘tax.’ A drone would be a nice crime scene tool to take aerial photos vs. the cost of a helicopter that may not be available when needed.”

Bower: “I’m not in favor of red light cameras. I feel drones have a purpose, for example to aid in search and rescue and help locate missing children or lost hunters.”

Organisciak: “Both could be good tools if used properly in the law enforcement field.”

Each candidate was also asked an individual question.

Bower, who is paralyzed from the waist down after a car accident when he was 18, has worked the past 29 years as a dispatcher. He was asked, “How will you compensate for your disability in filling the requirements of this job?”

Bower: “Disability is only a perception. In fact, it has only driven me to succeed in anything I have put my mind to. There is nothing I have not been able to do as a parent or community member. My mobility limitation has not limited me in having a rich history of 29 years serving the public.”

Drennan has worked 23 years for the Orleans County Sheriff’s Office and is currently the chief deputy. He started as a road patrol deputy in September 1992 and has been promoted to lieutenant, criminal investigator, major and chief deputy.

He was asked if a law enforcement background is a prerequisite for the Sheriff’s Office.

Drennan: “Yes, I think it is important to have that background to draw from when needed. Even as an administrator in a small department you have to have that legal background and experience to draw from on a daily basis. Even as sheriff you will be expected to get involved and lead your personnel.”

Organisciak worked 30 years as a police officer for Medina, with 16 years as a patrolman, then a year as a sergeant and the final 13 years as the Medina Police Department’s first full-time criminal investigator. He retired in June 2008 and then worked two more years as the school resource officer for Lyndonville Central School.

He was asked what is his motivation for wanting to get back into law enforcement at the county level after retiring from the village police, and what he would bring to the Sheriff’s Office.

Organisciak: “Having served the village of Medina for 30 years, I believe my experience is most important and would be very viable to the office of Sheriff. I don’t know if you would call it motivation. I like to listen to people about their concerns about law enforcement and then help them to better understand the law enforcement side of things. I also entered the sheriff’s race to give people another choice for the candidacy.”

For more on the Constitutional Sheriffs and Peace Officers Association, click here.

Drennan says his experience in law enforcement would be an asset as sheriff

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 18 June 2015 at 12:00 am

Tom Drennan

ALBION – Tom Drennan sees his experience working his way up through the ranks of the Sheriff’s Department, as well as his vast training in a 23-year career, as a great asset for the next sheriff in Orleans County.

Drennan is currently the chief deputy for the Sheriff’s Department. He started as a road patrol deputy in September 1992 and has been promoted to lieutenant, criminal investigator, major and chief deputy.

Drennan, 50, has been endorsed by the Republican Party Committee to be sheriff, replacing Scott Hess, who is retiring on Dec. 31. Drennan faces election challenges from Randy Bower, a current county dispatcher who has the Conservative Party endorsement, and former Medina police investigator Don Organisciak. Bower said he intends to force a Republican primary on Sept. 10.

Drennan lives in Kendall and has been a member of the Kendall Fire Department for 33 years. He has been a fire commissioner the past 9 years, and is currently vice chairman.

His wife, Terri Drennan, is the crime victims’ services coordinator in Orleans County. The Drennans have three children ages 13, 22 and 24.

Before starting a law enforcement career, Drennan worked for a fruit farm in Kendall and a machining company in Rochester.

The following interview was conducted with Drennan last week:

Question: I didn’t know you worked at a farm and as a machinist.

Answer: I got to where I was machining and rebuilding motors, everything from lawn mower motors to big diesel bulldozer engines, machining them and then putting them back together again. I did that for a few years and went back to the original machine shop where I worked, Davenport Screw Machines. I went to the police academy on my own over at Genesee Community, not knowing what the economy was going to do.

Q: That was early ’90s?

A: Right. I started the academy in September 1990, a couple days after my father passed away, and graduated in March 1991. I continued working in the machining industry until I was contacted by then Sheriff Dave Green in regards to if I was interested in law enforcement and if I wanted to come on board. I said I was. I ran into him at the County Fair in July 1992 and on Sept. 1, I was hired.

That is when Civil Service started. I had taken the test, scored well and was actually the first Civil Service deputy hired by the Sheriff’s Department.

I had been an auxiliary police member and rode every other weekend with a deputy. I started that in ’89.

Q: Where do you think you got the interest in law enforcement?

A: I had been around law enforcement officers throughout my whole life. It really started in the fire service. I grew up in the fire service. My father (Jack Drennan) was a member of the Kendall Fire Department. He was a past chief in the ’70s. Since I could walk I have been at the fire hall. My father got me interested in public service. He was very big into the ambulance and EMT side of the fire service.

I grew up there at the fire hall. I was around law enforcement people coming in and out of the fire hall.

Photos by Tom Rivers – Tom Drennan leads a mass casualty training exercise on May 31, 2014 at Medina schools. The drill involved police officers and firefighters from several agencies. Drennan said recent school shootings in the country prompted local law enforcement to press for training to improve their response to try to minimize any chaos and casualties from an active shooter.

Q: Could you describe the chief deputy duties?

A: It has a lot of administrative parts to it. You’re still connected with the criminal investigation side of things or the road patrol and the day-to-day. I’ve been very fortunate I’m involved in almost every facet of the department on a day-to-day basis, hour after hour. I’m in the front office with the civil division, multiple times a day. There are questions coming in from the lobby, reports, and how things were handled, and questions being referred to me from the upfront office. They may have someone on the line who has questions.

I meet with the jail superintendent on a daily basis about what’s going on in the jail. Over the last three years I’ve really learned a lot about the operations of the jail and the construction work that has been going on over there.

I started on afternoons as a deputy, then I was named OIC (officer in charge). When the supervisor wasn’t there, I was in charge. From there I took the Civil Service Exam and became a lieutenant and got to run a shift, which is like running a small department. Sometimes it was me and one other guy. Others times it was me and four or five other people if we were doing a detail.

I had an opportunity to go into the criminal investigation side of things. I took that solely because Chris Bourke was the lieutenant on days and I could foresee him being there a long time. If I ever wanted to get off for concerts, sporting events and Little League games, I thought here was an opportunity to learn something and go into another direction with the criminal investigation side, and also be able to be home. I did that for quite a while.

Q: It does seem like you and department leaders are visible on many of the calls.

A: We’re big enough with about 100 employees that you have to be an administrator and delegate at times. But we’re also small enough, especially with the criminal division when you have three people working and they’re all be tied up, that you have to get involved.

If we get a call at the County Office Building, that there is somebody out of control at social services, you get up from desk and be the first person there. There could be a mental health situation and someone is out of control at Mental Health. You go over there and try to help out and get things under control or figure out what’s going on until the patrols can get there.

Q: Can having a presence diffuse situations if people see an officer?

A: Absolutely. Over the years we deal with the same people over and over again, or the next generation, so when we do show up sometimes you’ll deal with someone who remembers who you were and that you helped them. That can help diffuse the situation.

Q: Why do you want to be sheriff?

A: My qualifications, training and what I’ve done with my career, I just want to continue building on that and give back to the community. Public safety is priority one. I’ve been invested in it my whole life. I want to help bring that next generation up. We’re going through a transition in our department with a lot of young guys coming in. I’d like to be a part of that molding and shaping of that next generation.

Q: The county is looking at a study for policing services in the county. That study could point to a county-wide policing service, perhaps with substations at the eastern and western ends.

A: You would have to have substations. It wouldn’t make good sense to have those cars come to Albion for everything they have to do with the processing and the arrests. It would be nice to get in at a spot where you need to use a hard-wired computer.

Genesee County has it where a deputy goes to Le Roy and picks up a car and stays over at that end. Maybe you could do that here. I have to think with the study and anything that could potentially take effect, it could be years before they could hammer out any details. People don’t like giving up their law enforcement, and for good reason.

If the county took over and someone called 911 in Medina, how long would it take for that person to get there? Right now they’re used to a couple minute response time. They’re concerned they might not get that same service.

You’d have to make a lot of changes on how you ran the department to make sure you are providing the best coverage that you can. It would give you an opportunity to move some people around. Now we’re working on shared services. It will be interesting to see what they come up with.

Tom Drennan has been the face of the Sheriff’s Department at many events and press conferences in recent years. He represented the Sheriff’s Department during a public forum on Oct. 21, 2013 about the SAFE Act. Drennan, left, is pictured with Orleans County District Attorney Joe Cardone, second from left, State Assemblyman Steve Hawley, and Steve Aldstadt, state president of the Shooters Committee on Political Education or SCOPE.

Q: It seems like 20-plus years in law enforcement would wear on a person. You could retire.

A: I could, but I hope to finish my career and walk out with my head held high and know that I made a difference. With the sheriff’s position I’d like to go in there, make some improvements, and know that when I left the department is in a better place than when I came in, with some changes, some different philosophies and a different identity for the department.

Q: What are some of the different philosophies you might implement?

A: Where we are today with the Sheriff’s Department is different than how I envision it. I think we need to get back to be more involved in the community. We need more accountability and professionalism, so we’re out there working with the people, interacting at town events, career days at schools. We have increased our involvement and interactions with the schools over the last year and a half and I’d like to see that grow and strengthen.

When you get into the community you, people tell you their complaints. It’s finding out exactly what the peoples’ problems are. It might seem like something small to you, but to them it means something. All they want to know is if someone is listening to them, can somebody make a difference.

We can’t solve all the world’s problems. We can’t make everybody happy. I understand that. I’ve certainly dealt with that over my career. But we can be invested in the community and let people know that we are here for them, doing everything we can to make their community better.

Q: Do you have you have a sense if things have got worse around here, crime-wise, over your career?

A: We certainly have a major problem currently with heroin. It started a few years ago with the pills and spilled over with heroin. It’s something that can get out of control in a hurry. It always takes us a little longer out here (in Orleans County) to be affected, but once it creeps in and gets a foothold, people become dependent upon it.

We have our problems out here, just like the city does, but not at that volume.

Q: So the heroin is an issue in our county as we speak?

A: It’s a serious, serious problem.

Q: For a rural county, it seems like we have a lot of serious crimes.

A: We’re kind of made for that, being between Rochester and Niagara Falls. Batavia has also grown quite a bit, being near the Thruway. We’re also right here on the border. We don’t see a ton of problems coming across the lake. But this is a heavy traffic area for tourism passing through, with people coming to shop and whatnot.
A lot of our problems come out of the City of Rochester as far as the drugs and the kids travelling back and forth. We’re kind of made as the great little country county, yet we’re right in the middle of a lot of problems.

Q: Does that effect the Sheriff’s Department, in terms of having to prepare and respond to serious crimes?

A: You have to prepare for so many things with such a small foundation of workers. That’s another thing I’d like to see changed. So much has fallen on the shoulders of so few. I’d like to see that spread out.

Tom Drennan, pictured at the turtle race on Saturday at the Albion Strawberry Festival, said the Sheriff’s Department needs to be more visible at community events.

Q: With only 23 deputies, investigators or lieutenants, that doesn’t seem like a lot to work with for the Sheriff’s Department.

A: It’s not. We typically have 16 guys we can draw from. If something bad happens, we can get depleted in a hurry. Not only do we have to deal with a situation like the DeFilipps’ shooting, where you have to have the manpower to take care of that situation. But now immediately you have to get more personnel in to take care of the county.

That’s why we have developed a good relationship with the local police departments. They come out and assist us and we go in and assist them. The State Police often times on a major incident we will use their crime ID guys and their technicians to help us because we just can’t afford to lose two or three people or five people to start collecting evidence when we have so much other work to do. We have to have those relationships because we’re just not big enough.

Q: It seems tricky to get the staff you need while juggling the budget issues.

A: Yeah. You wear many hats at different times throughout the day.

I understand (if I became sheriff) my role would change to even more administrative tasks than I have now. But I hope to continue to be utilized as a resource. If someone comes out of the interview room, I can give some advice, I can draw from that experience.

That is what will be so important during this transition is being there for the people so they can rely on you. I think that is a huge part of this race, that I can draw from that experience, refer to a class that I went to or a I case that I had. If I don’t have all the answers, I can pull out my phone and reach into the contacts.

I have a desk drawer full of business cards of associates and people that I’ve met throughout the area that are in law enforcement. I can ask, “How did you guys handle this? I know you had this before.” There are a lot of resources out there that I’ve made contact with.

Q: People wonder who you would have as undersheriff?

A: I have been asked by a lot of people about that. I’ve been telling everyone that this race is about the sheriff’s position, not the undersheriff’s position. The undersheriff works at the discretion of the sheriff. He could be here today and gone tomorrow at the choice of the sheriff or on their own. They might decide to call it a career or to go on to something else.

I want to make this about the sheriff’s race and not the undersheriff’s race. I can assure you, (the undersheriff) will be a strong individual that will come in. I have been approached by a half dozen people. As we go through the process in the next few months, I expect I’ll be approached by more.

There will be a regular interview process. I want to see the background of anybody that is interested. Anybody can apply. We’ll go through it and when the election is over, it will be announced.

Q: If you’re elected sheriff, is the undersheriff your choice or does the Legislature weigh in?

A: With that topic and just about any other topic, I’m willing to talk to anybody. I’m not the sole source of ideas. I don’t have all of the answers. I’ll talk with people and get their ideas.

A deputy could have a good idea. I’ll listen to the supervisors, the deputies, the jailors, everybody. If somebody has an idea, let’s talk about it.

When it comes time to make a decision, it would fall on my shoulders. I am prepared for that.

Q: Does being married to the crime victims’ coordinator help you in your job?

A: Oh, definitely. I have learned a ton from her about victims’ issues. I take that into consideration. In investigations you have to think about them. It has strengthened me in my ability to do the job because of who she is and what she brings to my profession. It has had a tremendous impact on my ability to do my job.
I want to make sure the service that myself or the people in the Sheriff’s Office are doing is the best for victims.

It’s made me a better law enforcement officer.

Tom Drennan is pictured with his wife Terri, the county’s crime victims’ serives coordinator.

Q: Anything else you want to say?

A: I guess to make it as simple as possible, in this whole process, it isn’t about me. I could walk away knowing that I had a good career and find something else to do. It could be continuing on in investigations, doing an outdoor job on a farm, whatever it may be.

But it’s about the public and the community. I want to improve where we are today as a community with the protection we give them. I’m not a politician, I’m a cop. I’ll learn to do so of that politician stuff.

That’s where I’m coming from. This is about public safety, priority one, to make our schools and community safer.

‘I thought I was hurt. I thought I was definitely in trouble.’

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 1 June 2015 at 12:00 am

“I thought I was hurt. I thought I was definitely in trouble.” – Deputy James DeFilipps on March 21 shootout

HOLLEY – Deputy James DeFilipps feels grateful to be alive. He knows a gun shot an inch lower on March 21 could have ended his life.

DeFilipps was the first police officer on scene when James Ellis wrecked his vehicle in a high-speed chase at about 3 a.m. on March 21. Police were pursuing Ellis after a 911 call that he had threatened an ex-girlfriend in Shelby with a gun.

Photos by Tom Rivers – This front yard on Route 31A is pictured on March 21 with the marks from the vehicle driven and crashed by James Ellis.

Ellis, 44, of Wyoming County, crashed his vehicle into a telephone pole on Route 31A in Clarendon at about 3 a.m. DeFilipps discovered the wreck in a neighbor’s front yard while looking for Ellis. When DeFilipps left his patrol car to search for Ellis, the suspect opened fire from a wooded area near the vehicle, Sheriff Scott Hess said during a March 21 press conference.

DeFilipps was hit twice in the chest. A bullet proof vest stopped the bullets, although he was badly bruised in the stomach from one shot. The deputy returned fire and fatally shot Ellis.

A grand jury reviewed the evidence and found DeFilipps was justified in the shooting.

DeFilipps is a 12-year member of the Sheriff’s Department. He started his career as a Holley police officer. He continues to live in Holley, where he grew up. His mother Marsha is the long-time Holley and Murray historian.

DeFilipps, 38, has been a member of the Holley Fire Department for 20 years. He is currently a fire commissioner for the Holley Joint Fire District.

He sat down for an interview in his home last week. His wife Marie also joined the conversation at the end. Both expressed relief that DeFilipps wasn’t more seriously injured. They also said the mourn the loss of Ellis’s life, especially for his immediate family.

Question: I wonder how that initial dispatch came over to you. It was 2:46 a.m. and the call was for the incident in Shelby. I know you were on the other end of the county.

Answer: I was in Murray. I was the lead person that night. It goes by years, by seniority of the shift. Josh Narburgh actually has 18 years but he transferred over. I had the lead position because there were no other sergeants on.

Deputy James DeFilipps is pictured with deputies Brian Larkin, left, and Kevin Colonna, who also responded to the March 21 incident with James Ellis. The deputies and other first responders were recognized during an April 22 County Legislature meeting.

Q: How many other deputies were on that night?

A: There was a deputy working on the west side, who was Kevin Colonna. There was a center deputy, who was Josh Narburgh. He was training Brian Larkin. There was technically four of us on for the county that night.

There was also a double troop car (state troopers).

Based on the original dispatch, I was headed that was as an extra support car, make sure everything goes OK. Soon into it, I don’t know how soon, they had seen the car leave and head east on 31A.

Q: There are people out at 3 in the morning that saw him?

A: Our patrol cars saw him. He came straight down 31A. Two of our county cars turned and were going after him. He was a lot faster than we were. He was driving a Grand Marquis and we had Tahoes.

Originally I made it to Riches Corners Road (in Albion) and saw his car. It looked like maybe he was pulling over or turning around. I’m not sure what he was doing. He was pretty slow on the side of the road. I started slowing down and turned around. As soon as he seen me, he took off again, eastbound.

I pursued after him but he was gone in a minute. I didn’t even turn on my (emergency) lights on. He was gone. I didn’t have my emergency lights on until after he crashed.

Q: Having multiple cars pursuing him, were you hoping he would just surrender and not have it escalate?

A: That’s what I was hoping. He had a gun. I was just back up, covering everybody to be safe. It is so rare to have a shooting out here.

Q: Even though it’s rare, is that potential always in the back of your head?

A: We all hope, especially myself, to go a career without ever having to be in a gun battle. You try.

Q: So you’re at Riches Corners, and he takes off.

A: He takes off and I go after him. Around Powerline Road I had lost sight of him. The Holley car had come up and made it to 237 and 31A, to see if he crossed through there. (The Holley officer) had got there just before I got to the intersection. He hadn’t seen him. I continued on. He was going a pretty good speed and Monroe County was notified to keep an eye out for him.

I come around the corner and had run over the powerlines that were involved in the accident scene.

There were powerlines down from where the pole snapped. I’m not sure because I was into the scene and it happened so fast and then I went on the ambulance. I drove through, I had hit the lines, made a quick decision to continue past and turned around. I radioed the other guys that ‘Hey, there’s wires down and there’s a wreck.’

This new telephone pole was put up by National Grid on March 21 at this location at a bend on Route 31A. James Ellis hit the previous pole, taking down the power lines. This photo was taken during the afternoon on March 21.

Q: So you’re the first guy on the scene by yourself?

A: The troop car I knew wasn’t far behind me. I had seen their lights in the Clarendon area.

Q: Could you tell the car driven by Ellis was in the neighbor’s lawn?

A: I hit the power lines and I made the decision to drive through to be safe. I could see the car up on the guy’s lawn. The doors are closed and looked like the air bag and he were in the vehicle. I go through the scene, try to make a safe distance to turn around and then put my spotlight on the vehicle.

He had a gun, and we had time. There is no reason to rush in and get hurt.

We have rifles. At that point I’m a safe distance away from the scene so I grab the rifle just in case. We can sling them on us and we still have our hands free. I get out of the car and I put my rifle on. I radio to those guys to be careful of the wires because they’re on the other end of the scene and they’re showing up. I get around to the passenger side of my car. I charge my weapon. That’s when shots start going off. I have no idea where they’re coming from. They are close.

Q: At that point how many officers are there?

A: All of our cars were there. The trooper car was there on the other side. We formed a triangle on the car.

Q: Did you drive up on the lawn?

A: No, we were still in the road. When I stopped in the road, my first thought is, ‘I got to block traffic.’ That’s when my lights came on, to stop traffic. They’re far enough back so they can approach and be safe. So they were all on scene because they were hearing the shots whizzing by them, the first rounds. I knew they were close but I couldn’t see.

We were focusing on the car. I don’t see him (Ellis) behind me. It was too close for comfort. I wanted better coverage. By the side of the road it was a little bit darker. It was away from the lights of my vehicle, maybe a little better coverage.

As I got by the side of the road, into the wood line, he had seen me first and I felt two shots to me. At that time I could see where he was and I returned fire.

At that point he went down. I backed up some. I knelt down. Radioed that he was down. Radioed that I had been hit. Radioed that we needed an ambulance to come on the South Holley Road side. Someone asked if suspect is down, and I said yes, suspect is down.

Those guys then ran right in. They ran in, they knew I was hit. They ran in and secured him, made sure the gun was away from him. He was kind of hunched over into a tree. They made sure he was safe and then they checked me.

They knew I was hit. Some of those guys ran back to their cars to get medic bags. One of them ran back and got the state police car and drove through the scene and then backed up to my area, knowing that I was hit. They were ready to throw me in their truck and get me to a hospital. It was amazing.

Then of course it was a relief when they were taking my shift off and my vest, and found out.

Q: So you and the other officers thought you had been seriously injured?

A: I thought my gut was blown apart. The shot was low enough. It was close to the bottom of the vest. They said it was within an inch of the bottom.

I thought I was hurt. I thought I was definitely in trouble. It was a hell of a relief to know (the bullets hit the vest).

The County Legislature on April 22 honored police, firefighters and dispatchers involved the incident, including from left: Deputy Kevin Colonna, State Police Trooper Kevin Bentley, Deputy Brian Larkin, State Police Trooper Scott Gregson, Holley Police Officer Guy Burke, County Legislator Lynne Johnson, Deputy James DeFilipps, County Legislator Ken DeRoller, Albion Police Sergeant William Scribner, Orleans County Dispatcher Julie Vendetti, Dispatcher Michael Schultz, and Jon DeYoung, fire chief for the Clarendon Fire Company. Orleans County Sheriff Deputy Josh Narburgh also was recognized, but he was not present at the meeting.

Q: I wonder how Ellis got over to the woods with his vehicle crashed across the street?

A: When I came through there was still dust and the air bag was peering up. I really thought he was in the car. We all thought he was in the car. We had no idea he had crossed the road and went down. I ended up parked just about in front of him.

Q: I know there has been some controversy about the cross put in the woods where Ellis died.

A: My wife and I talked about that cross and we believe everyone deserves a cross. I believe there is good in everybody, I really do.

I know a lot of people were upset about the cross and wanted it moved. I’m fine with it. I really am. I feel bad for his family.

It’s affected a lot of people. It really has. It’s upset the jurors. They have to look at all the pictures and hear the tapes. It’s really emotional. The CD and radio transmissions pretty much gets everyone crying.

Q: Why is that?

A: You hear me saying that I’ve been hit. It’s emotional.

Q: It seems like there could have been a very different ending for you and the other officers.

A: My back was to the guy. He could have shot me very easily. It’s all speculation. Maybe he was fixated at the other cars and I had gone past and he wasn’t paying attention to me. Maybe he didn’t see me until the very end. It could have been a lot worse.

There were shots that were very close to the guys on the other side. They could hear the shots going by them.

Q: In the shootout could you see Ellis? Were there flashes from his gun?

A: Was there a muzzle flash? I can’t recall the visual on that. They say I may never be able to.

Q: It seems like a tough scenario with the dark woods.

A: All of our lights were focused on his car. We all truly thought he was in the car. Everything led you to believe he was in there. So we’re not even thinking across the street in the woods at all. It was definitely a surprise.

Q: If the police hadn’t got there at that time, you could see how Ellis may have gone to a neighbor’s house.

A: He definitely wanted to flee. He could have gone for one of their (neighbors’) cars. If he had got to somebody else it could have been very bad.

Christopher Wing talks to reporters on March 21 and points to his front yard on Route 31A, where a deputy was in a shootout with a man from Wyoming County.

Q: Does everyone in the incident get a stress debriefer?

A: This time they used the state police. The state police has a group of guys that go around if there has been a very high stress situation. They will be debrief you. They are like counselors, although they are not certified, but they will steer you in the right direction. It’s a very good team and I think they helped a lot of the guys.

Another thing I want to say is the guys are worked with were very brave. With all that gunfire and then to run right into that scene. Those guys, I can’t thank them enough.

Q: So you’re returning to work?

A: Yes. They did a mental health fit test to make sure I was fit for duty. I cleared that. I just have to be cleared medically.

Q: The medical clearance is the wound to the stomach. It certainly looks gruesome.

A: It’s new skin so it’s tender. The scab is uncomfortable. It’s thick. I don’t think people realize the damage it did under the vest. It looks like a burn. It’s amazing to me to see the damage. It looked instantly like a paintball had hit.

I should be back in a couple of weeks. I chose to stay with the midnight shift.

Q: So what happens after you are released from the hospital (about two hours after being admitted)?

A: Some of the things after were overwhelming. The adrenaline rush doesn’t come down for a few days after something like that.

The community has been overwhelming. That afternoon Dustin’s Pizza had come over and delivered some food. Sam’s Diner brought some stuff. The next day the American Legion Women’s Auxiliary brought by a whole huge spaghetti dinner.
Father Mark (Noonan) came right over.

I have received letters from all over, from California, from a lady in Arizona whose father and his partner were both FBI agents in the ’70s and who had both been killed. She wanted to send a card to say, “Get Well.” That’s pretty amazing, I thought.

For the American Legion to recognize me on Memorial Day is just overwhelming.

Another thing, the ambulance crew that night, I knew everybody with (Clarendon Fire Chief) Jon DeYoung and Kerry McCormick.

Q: I wonder if it hits home more with you being a guy who grew up in the community?

A: I’ve always tried to stay out of the limelight.

I would say the support has just been overwhelming and the community has been great.

Q: This must have been difficult for your family?

A: Yes, my poor wife (Marie). She gets woken up at 4 in the morning.

Q: Who would be at the door with that news?

A: Investigator Shannon Brett and the sheriff. They said to my wife to get everything ready and we’ll take you up there.

A: (Marie DeFilipps) They asked me what I wanted to do. What did I want to do with the baby? I was in shock. I said I wanted to bring the baby to mom’s in Henrietta which is near the hospital. Fire Chief Pete Hendrickson drove my car behind Shannon’s.

Q: So what did they say at first?

A: When Shannon came to talk to me she didn’t know too much. She knocked at my door and offered to drive my car to the hospital.

First I came down the stairs because I heard this noise. The cats jumped off the bed. I came sneaking down the stairs. I thought maybe the cat had knocked something down. But I checked out the front window. I checked in front of the door and saw Shannon there. I kept pacing back and forth even before I opened the door. It was like the movies. I knew who they were and I was expecting to open the door and have them say my husband is dead.

I opened the door just this much (holds fingers close together) and I said, ‘Shannon,’ and I covered my mouth. She said, ‘Let me say before anything that Jimmy is OK. I’ve seen him on the ambulance and he has been shot. I don’t know too much information. As soon as I find out more information I’ll let you know.’ She kept saying, ‘Whatever you want to do,’ and ‘We want to get you up to the hospital.’

Deputy James DeFilipps is pictured with his wife Marie and their infant son Jake at the Orleans County Public Safety Building on May 19 during a recognition program.

Q: That’s at 4 in the morning?

A: I don’t know what time it was. I thought it was Shannon that came over but it was actually Pete (Hendrickson, the fire chief) who came over to drive my car to the hospital.

I didn’t want to call my family until I got to the hospital and I saw him.

Q: So when you saw him was that a big relief?

A: Very much so. All of the people he works with were there. It was very emotional when I saw him. I was very glad to see him standing on his own two feet.

Q: So Jim, you were able to come home soon?

A: I was in the hospital for a couple hours and then we were on our way home. They got me right in and out and took X-Rays and CAT scans.

Q: Anything else you want to say?

A: (Jim DeFilipps) It’s been life-changing for both families, forever.

A: (Marie DeFilipps) You mourn for that family. Even though he could have taken my husband’s life, I still think about him and his family.

Quick Questions with Chris Wylie

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 23 February 2015 at 12:00 am

Cerebral palsy doesn’t keep pastor from pulpit in Knowlesville and Millville

Chris Wylie

Photos by Tom Rivers – Chris Wylie shares the children’s message during Sunday’s service at The United Methodist Church of the Abundant Harvest in Millville. Wylie preaches there at 11 a.m., following a 9:30 a.m. service in Knowlesville.

Chris Wylie was born struggling to breathe. He had cerebral palsy and doctors said he would never walk. He was put up for adoption.

Wylie, now 46, was welcomed into a loving home as a young boy, and he would learn to walk chasing after his sister. He played lots of sports as a kid and went on to a career as a banker for 10 years in downtown Buffalo with HSBC.

He felt a call to the ministry about a decade ago and attended the former United Theological Seminary in West Seneca, a pastoral training program run through Houghton College. He would lead United Methodist churches in Hartland, Alden, and Pavilion before being appointed as pastor for the Millville and Knowlesville United Methodist churches almost two years ago. For more than two decades, the churches shared a pastor while maintaining their own congregations and buildings.

Under Wylie’s leadership, the churches have merged into The United Methodist Church of the Abundant Harvest. That merger became effective on Jan. 1, following approvals from each congregation, and the Upper New York Conference of the United Methodist Church.

“It ties the two churches,” Wylie said. “They have two distinct talents. By tying them together you can compound those talents for one great tool for God.”

Wylie leads a 9:30 service on Sunday mornings in Knowlesville at this church, which put on a new roof last year and also started a pie shop across Knowlesville Road at its fellowship hall.

Wylie built support for the merger by listening to members in both churches, and guiding the process, said long-time member Peter Beach of the Millville church.

“He tries to make changes without rubbing people the wrong way,” Beach said.

Wylie preaches while sitting down and uses a cane or a wheelchair to move around church.

“He’s overcome a lot in his life,” Beach said. “Things we take for granted are a struggle for him. What he does is inspiring.”

The Knowlesville church has about 40 regular attendees and last year completed a $15,000 project to put a new roof on the building at 3622 Knowlesville Rd. The congregation also started as coffee and pie shop at its fellowship hall from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays. “That has taken off more than we expected,” Wylie said.

About 60 people attend the Millville location. Both sites have upgraded their projector screens, multi-media equipment and sound systems. Wylie enjoys using videos and pictures in his sermons.

(His wife Jennelle, director of academic support and training at Roberts Wesleyan College, helps with the church’s technology and multimedia issues. The Wylies have an 8-year-old daughter, Hope.)

Each church, or campus as Wylie calls the two sites, has its own service. Wylie leads church in Knowlesville at 9:30 a.m. and then goes to the Millville location at 11 a.m.

That hasn’t changed from before the merger. But Wylie said the congregations are doing more sharing, and will have a unified web site, social media presence and other collaborations.

The service in Millville on Maple Ridge Road starts at 11 a.m. on Sundays with a lunch to follow.

Wylie chatted for an interview on Sunday at the Millville site. The church was busy with its weekly luncheon after the service. Wylie is happy to see several families with young children stay for the lunch.

On Sunday, Wylie preached about “restoration,” a message that included photos of a beat-up El Camino that was repaired. He said there is symbolism in that vehicle and God’s restorative work in people.

Q: Is part of your ministry showing people that you shouldn’t hold yourself back and not let fears or limitations prevent you from trying?

A: I would say, and in fact I often say, ‘Don’t let what you can’t do stop you from doing what you can.’ I try to live that way. That doesn’t mean that it’s easy and that doesn’t mean there won’t be times of discouragement, but that’s where the support comes in. That’s what we have, the community.

Q: It seems like these churches are not very accessible for people in wheelchairs or who may have challenges getting around?

A: This one (Millville) is, while Knowlesville isn’t so much. We’ve looked at making modifications for handicapped accessibility. I can get up the stairs, but certainly there are times of the year when that is a problem.

In Knowlesville there are people who come to a point in their life where they can’t come to church because they physically can’t get in. So we try to address these things as we go. Sometimes it’s as simple as railings, or other things that were never there that were put to help Chris, and then you see other people also using them.

Chris and Jennelle Wylie

Chris Wylie is pictured with his wife Jennelle inside the fellowship hall in Millville.

Q: I wonder too if people see you getting a little help then they realize that that is OK for all of us as human beings, that we don’t have to do everything on our own?

A: Yes, they see it’s great to lean on each other.

Q: I think some people might have too much pride and may not want help, especially in a public way.

A: I think there is absolutely that. I talk about this a lot. As people, especially as people get older (and I’m living some of that now), you want to do the things you always used to be able to do, and sometimes that’s not possible, sometimes that involves doing things a little bit differently, and other times that involves asking for help.

That was part of my message today at church that it’s not about Chris trying to everything, because Chris, even in an able body, can’t do everything. It’s about what we can all do together.

Q: What do you like about being a pastor?

A: The people.

I’ve had a lot of people reach out to me in my life and help me. I’ve had people help me who didn’t have to do what they did. They went beyond themselves to be connected to others.

Q: Do you think your condition has made you a more compassionate person and helped you connect with people?

A: I can see it. It gives me better understanding. I have not been through every situation, but I definitely have some understanding that maybe others might not have because they haven’t been there yet.

Q: (People are talking in background at fellowship hall.) I’m struck by the number of children and younger families that attend church here. You have a good intergenerational mix.

A: I connect with the older people because of the body in which I live. But I’m also, even at my age, fairly young for a pastor, and having the young daughter, and knowing that I like a different style of music and knowing that I sometimes experience things in a different way so we’re bringing in the multimedia, we’re connecting with younger people on a different level and being intentional about that.

We’re not only saying we want you to come, but we’re giving them a voice as part of the community. That’s so important because no matter what you’re doing, if you don’t have a voice you’re not going to be connected.

Knowlesville has teen-agers and here at Millville with have a lot of younger kids.

Chris Wylie leads the congregation at Millville in prayer during the service this past Sunday.

Q: So many of the rural churches seem to be struggling. What do you think has been working here?

A: It’s as simple as being part of people’s lives, just sitting down and talking with them. We did that when we first started. I don’t come and tell them what I wanted. I asked them, ‘What do you want to see here?’ So not having it be Chris-centered, but instead what do we want, what is our hope here, what to we want to be? So it’s listening and moving into that.

Q: Is the fellowship hall and food a big part of that, of doing life together?

A: That’s exactly what it is. If you look at the Book of Acts, Chapter 2, it says that they ate together, they worshipped together, they did life together. That’s what we’re trying to do. It’s connection.

That’s something the church here was doing before I got here. We also have had people in to the parsonage for dinners in smaller groups, from anywhere between 1 to 5.

Q: Do the churches work together on the popular Lenten fish fries?

A: We’re working on that. We’re still at the early stages of making us-and-them just us. That’s the hope here.

Sunlight pours through a stained-glass window at the church at Millville.

Q: You do basically the same service at both places?

A: I do, yes. The bulletin, in general, we keep the same. There is a choir here (Millville) but there is no choir at Knowlesville. But mostly it’s similar.

Q: You could see how having the choir in Knowlesville, if someone wanted to sing from Millville, they could be part of the choir. And maybe the choir would sing at Millville on some Sundays.

A: That’s exactly what we’re trying to do.

Q: It looks like you have to work harder than everyone to get around, especially in the winter.

A: Some days. We all have those challenges. Mine are just more visible. We all have challenges in one way or another. Some people have things you don’t readily see, and to me that’s harder because you look healthy. With me, everything that Chris is going through is on the surface.

I know my body is breaking down faster than I’d like, but I don’t know what it’s like to be an able body, so to speak, so I’ve always had to adapt. I’ve had to do things outside the box a little bit, but you still get them done.

Q: You mentioned you could have been on disability and not worked?

A: Nobody can deny I am disabled, just look at me. I could have done that, but as long as I can find a way to keep moving forward, I’m going to keep moving forward.

There will be a day for all of us, sooner or later, when we can’t do, but while I can do, I’m still going to do.

Mary Zelazny has seen lots of changes in 37 years with Medina bank

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 13 February 2015 at 12:00 am

Quick questions

KeyBank branch manager retiring today

Photos by Tom Rivers – Mary Zelazny, fourth from left, is pictured with KeyBank staff in Medina on Thursday. The group includes, from left: Bob Rice, Evie Osborne, Sharlene Pratt, Mary Zelazny, Jacky Organisciak and Tina Sheeler. Two other employees, Laurie Newton and Kathy Kepner, were working at the drive-through on Maple Ridge Road.

MEDINA – Mary Zelazny was 18 and working at Jubilee when she was approached to work at Marine Midland Bank in Medina as a teller. That was 37 years ago. Zelazny also typed loan documents early in her banking career.

She worked her way up through the ranks and became branch manager about a decade ago. Marine Midland would become HSBC Bank and about two years ago KeyBank bought the HSBC sites in Medina at 514 Main St. and also a drive-through on Maple Ridge Road.

Today is Zelazny’s last day at the bank. She is retiring. She will still be a Main Street presence. She will join her husband, Michael Zelazny, across the street at his accounting business. The Zelaznys have two grown children: Jacob works with Michael at the Walter Zelazny and Sons farm and Nicole is the marketing manager for Smokin Joes in Niagara Falls.

The following interview was conducted on Thursday at Zelazny’s office at the bank.

Q: You started as teller and typed loan documents, and then what happened in your banking career?

A: I worked my way up. I didn’t like staying in one spot. I liked learning. I wanted to help the customers. If we were slow at one time and we were idle I would ask if there was something I could do and that’s how I learned.

Q: You’ve been in this building the whole time?

A: I have been here the whole time which is kind of unusual for banking. I raised here. I’ve been here my whole life and I’ve been here my whole career.

Mary Zelazny is pictured outside KeyBank’s historic site on Main Street, a site that was originally Central Bank of Medina.

Q: Were you thinking 37-year career in banking when you started?

A: Absolutely not. I had just turned 18, just graduated and I was working at Jubilee. Ken Sylvester came in and asked if I would be interested in putting my name in. I thought, “Maybe.” I didn’t really pursue it but he came in and asked me again. I thought I’d try it. I put my name in and got hired and I’ve been here ever since.

Ken used to go to the little grocery stores and that’s where he hired a lot of his people because they had cashier’s experience and customer service.

Q: What have you liked about this for 37 years?

A: My customers. I have to say I’ve made some great friends, great relationships along the way. I’ve been on all kinds of journeys of their lives, from going to school, graduating, going to college, getting engaged, getting married, buying a house, having children, going through everything in their lives. That’s been very exciting for me and now the next generation has come up.

It’s just knowing your customers, and not just waiting on them. It’s getting to know your people, building that relationship is what it is about. That’s where you get the trust from the people.

At this bank we’ve always been very family oriented. I don’t just treat them as a customer. I treat them as a family member because that is how I would want to be treated.

Q: It seems like there has been a lot of new technology in banking.

A: When I first started we had what you call scratch pads. You didn’t have adding machines and all that. It was a little scratch pad and you would write the customer’s name on and if they had a check and they were going to make a payment, you would write that down. You would actually do the adding and subtracting right in front of them.

The difference between then and now, you put the information in a computer and it tells you if you owe them money or if they owe you money. It tells you everything now. It was more manual back then.

Some of the other things that are different are your mobile banking today. You can take a picture of the check you are going to deposit, the front and back of it, and it’s automatically into your checking account.

Q: Do you mean take a picture with your phone?

A: With your iPhone. You have to sign up for the mobile banking. You just take a picture. Say you’re out of town and you can’t get to the bank. You just take a picture of it and it credits to your account immediately. That has become quite popular. It’s more for the younger customers.

ATMs, who would have thought years ago that you would drive up to a building and put a card in? You’re going to a wall and money comes out. Who would have thought that? ATMs are huge now.

Your on-line banking, internet banking, bill pay, transferring between accounts. When I first started here that had what they called a microfiche and it was like a screen. Everyday you would put in a fiche, and it would come up on a screen and give you the customer’s account number and the activity they did for the day.

Now you just put their name or account number in and it all comes up on a computer.

Bob Rice, the relationship manager at KeyBank in Medina, has an old piggy bank given out by the Central Bank of Medina, which used to operate out of the site at 514 Main Street. The piggy bank belonged to Rice’s father, Leonard. Technology in banking has evolved in a big way since Leonard Rice was a boy. (KeyBank still gives out piggy banks for kids.)

Q: With all the new technology, it seems like there would be fewer customers who actually come inside a bank these days.

A: There is a lot less traffic now, any bank will tell you that because they are using on-line banking and the ATMs, especially your younger generation.

Q: What do you see the roles being for the branches in the future, and the employees here?

A: They’re going to be here for a while. I’m sure as time marches on there will be changes. I still think you need that personal touch. If you got a problem, you have someone you can come in and see or call.

Banking is a lot different now. When a customer comes in, we look at the entire relationship. It’s not just a checking account. We look at the whole package. We talk to you about insurance, we talk to you about mortgages, refinancing. We’re trying to help you out and save you money.

It used to be you can in for a checking account and that’s all you got. Now we talk to you about your whole entire package: retirement, investing, everything.

Q: What are you doing for your husband’s accounting business after you retire from here?

A: I’m going to be smiling, filing and answering phones.

Q: It’s great that you’ve been able to stay and work here your entire career in the same building given all the changes in the banking industry.

A: I’m very happy I was able to do that.

Q: Do you sense a resurgence in Medina?

A: I think you can see in Medina, at least on Main Street with some of the new shops, you can feel that people are excited again. You have younger people coming in. I like the old in Medina with all of the history and believe it or not I think the younger people do, too. There are not many empty offices or buildings. There is some excitement. I think you will see more.

When KeyBank took off the HSBC sign about two years ago, the original bank sign was underneath.

Q: Wasn’t there something about the sign on the bank, a discovery of some sorts when KeyBank bought the building?

A: When they took off the HSBC logos, one of the engineers got excited to see the original Central Trust sign behind. We wanted to keep it. Key is very much into the community and the history, so we kept it and the people have been very happy about it.

Q: Any other comments?

A: I just want to say thank you, thank you to my staff and my customers.

Quick Questions with Larry Montello

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 26 January 2015 at 12:00 am

American Legion leader enjoys honoring veterans, connecting with community

Photos by Tom Rivers – Larry Montello is pictured with the memorial next to County Courthouse for victims of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. Montello, the American Legion and county officials dedicated the memorial on the 10th anniversary of the attacks. The First Presbyterian Church is pictured in the background.

ALBION – Larry Montello has been an active community member and leader for the American Legion since he moved to Orleans County about 13 years ago after marrying an Albion woman. Montello, a Ridgeway resident, drives bus for Community Action Transportation System.

He grew up in the Adirondacks and joined the Army in 1979 after graduating from Fort Edward High School. He served 14 years in the military.

Montello, 52, is a past county commander for the American Legion, and a past post commander in Albion and Medina.

He organizes the annual memorial service for the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks that killed nearly 3,000 people. Montello has visited all of the memorial sites for victims of the attacks at the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and Shanksville in rural Pennsylvania.

He raised the funding to have Sept. 11 memorials in Orleans County by the County Courthouse, Legion Post in Albion and Rotary Park in Medina.

He is organizing an upcoming Feb. 1 service for the “Four Chaplains.” That 9:30 a.m. service will be at the First Baptist Church in Holley on Geddes Street. The Four Chaplains all were Army chaplains who gave their lives to save other civilians and military personnel as a troop ship sank on Feb. 3, 1943.

Montello assists with other Legion and community events, including the annual oratorical contest, flags on veterans’ graves and other events.

He was interviewed last Monday at Tim Hortons in Albion.

Q: Why did you join the American Legion?

A: I started out as a Son (of the American Legion) underneath my dad. My dad got me going along with my brother. I joined the service with my sister. We joined the Army together. She went to Fort Leonard Wood in Missouri and I went to Fort Dix in New Jersey where my dad went.

Orleans County Legislator Don Allport, left, teams with State Assemblyman Steve Hawley and Larry Montello in raising the 9-11 flag last Sept. 11 during a service at the Elk’s Club in Albion. Montello organized the memorial service.

Q: For a newcomer in Orleans County, you quickly made a mark and emerged as a leader.

A: I was the commander in Albion for four years, the commander in Medina and also the county commander. I went up the chain.

Q: What is your role right now?

A: Right now I am sergeant of arms for the county because I want to go in rank in the district. I gave up some of the county duties, but I don’t want to totally give something up.

Q: How long have you been organizing the 9-11 services?

A: I started in 2005, not long after I first got here.

I’ve put a lot of time working on the memorials. I got a nice surprise from the county when they put in a new flag pole and big cement base for the stone.

I do it partly because my sister was working down there (in Manhattan) in Building 7 near the Twin Towers. By the grace of God her boss sent her out on an errand so she wasn’t there when it happened.

When I was in the Sons (of the American Legion) I went down there when it was pretty much cleaned up and when they dedicated the new 9-11 building (The Freedom Tower). The year before last we went down to New York and I actually got to go in Building 7 where my sister worked. It was emotional.

Q: Why do you keep the local memorial service going and try to include many of the first responders?

A: I get them all involved (local and state police departments, COVA, fire departments, Mercy Flight) because they were all involved.

Q: I remember you also did a Pearl Harbor service.

A: Hopefully this year we will do it again.

The Orleans County Legislature was presented an official 9-11 flag on Sept. 24, 2014, from Larry Montello, past commander of Medina’s Butts-Clark American Legion and also the coordinator of 9-11 memorial events in Orleans County. The flag given to the Legislature was the first one to fly in front of the courthouse about four years ago. Montello, left, presented the flag to David Callard, Orleans County Legislature chairman.

Q: Why do the Four Chaplains service?

A: I did it back home. It’s part of history and it shouldn’t be forgotten just like 9-11. I started it with Jean Johnston, who has since passed away. I’ve been doing it in her honor since.

At the service we bring in all of the colors. It’s in Holley this year so we’ll bring in Holley’s colors, the county colors, the auxiliary county colors, the VFW county colors, the POW flag and then the Canadian flag and American flag.

We have a Color Guard to bring it in. And then we have members get up and do a part of each of the chaplains, sharing their biographies. When they are done, they go down from the podium where I have a wooden box with each of the chaplain’s names. They lay a rose down on it and a light a candle.

We carry an American flag in for everybody that went down on the ship and a wreath. After that we play Taps.

We go to different churches (every year) in the community, a Catholic church, a Protestant church, a Baptist church.

Q: How is the Legion membership doing, locally and nationally?

A: It has ups and downs. Right now we’re down a lot. On average we lose 10 to 15 World War II veterans a day nationally.

Q: I think people might think, with the recent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, there would be a new group of veterans who could join the Legion. Do many of them join the Legion?

A: No. When they get home they go back into society and that can take a long time.

Q: How much worry is there about the future of the Legion and VFW?

A: I don’t think there is worry, we just have to promote what we do. We’re not just a bar. Everybody thinks we’re just a bar. We do a lot of things for the community. Since our county is so small, I put all of the posts together to work as one. We get more out of it that way.

Q: I know you do the oratorical contest, and the Honor Guard at funerals.

A: Each Legion has its own Honor Guard, but the Posts and the VFW will join together. You get more people that way. They’re all people from the older generation. For a lot of the younger generation when they get out of the service the first thing on their mind is to get a job. That’s what was on my mind.

A lot of the ones on the Color Guard are all retired.

Larry Montello, front center, waves while he joins other walkers at the start of the “Making Strides Against Breast Cancer” at Watt Farms in October 2013. Montello was part of a team from Community Action that walked in memory of Kathy LaLonde, a former Community Action employee.

Q: Why have you stayed active with the Legion?

A: I like working with kids, I like working with the community, and I like working with the veterans. I’ve always said if I knew back home in high school what I know now I would have aced history. I have friends of mine in the Albion Post that were in the Death March. I have a friend from back home who was a POW.

Listening to their war stories is unreal. A lot of people don’t realize this is part of history.

I enjoy doing the 9-11 service because it’s part of history. The community can’t forget that day. When it first happened everybody in town had a flag up. Now, it’s hardly ever.

Q: What else do you want to say?

A: I wish more of the public would get involved with our events, and don’t just think the American Legion is a bar. There are a lot of other things the Legion does. We make sure all of our veterans have flags on their graves for Veterans’ Day.

I just wish more of the public would get on the ball with us and know that when we’re going out for donations we’re not using that for the bar but for flags, the 9-11 service and for veterans.

Quick Questions with Lora Partyka

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 20 August 2014 at 12:00 am

Kendall woman has grown roadside stand to multi-faceted farm market, and community hub

Photos by Tom Rivers – Lora Partyka is pictured on a tractor at Partyka Farms, 1420 County Line Road (Route 272). Behind her is a quilt block, Farmer’s Daughter. Partyka has maps for the Country Barn Quilt Trail of Western New York.

KENDALL – Lora and Jeff Partyka have built a popular farm market in Kendall at the corner of routes 18 and 272. They have been farming together since they were married in 1985.

Their two sons, Scott and Steve, are now partners in the business. They sell sweet corn and fruit from their farm market, and also go to several farmers’ markets and supply Wegmans.

Mrs. Partyka grew up on a beef, cattle and hog farm in Niagara County. Her husband grew up on a dairy farm in Churchville. A friend introduced the two.

Mrs. Partyka spearheaded the barn quilt trail in Kendall, and has a block, The Farmer’s Daughter, at Partyka Farms. The business also has maps and hosts bus tours for the barn trail.

The family is involved in numerous community events, and will host a “Sundae Smack Down” on Sunday from 3 to 5 p.m. Teams from the Town of Kendall will square off with eaters from the Town of Hamlin. The winner is the town that finishes a 7-scoop ice cream sundae in the quickest time. Proceeds will go to charities in the towns.

Lora Partyka is pictured with her sons, Steve, 28; and Scott, 25. They are partners in the business with their mother and father, Jeff.

Partyka was interviewed recently by Hub editor Tom Rivers inside the farm market.

Q: This started when you had a wagon by the road. Did you ever think it would turn into this?

A: I didn’t really think about it. I was originally from Niagara County. I worked at a beauty salon. I grew up on a family farm, my parents’ farm in Barker. Then I worked at a beauty salon in Lockport. Then I worked a night job because I was young and wanted to make money.

Jeff and I met through mutual friends. He worked for a farm in Knowlesville. That’s where I met him. He had just purchased this farm (in Kendall). We were going to get married. I moved over here. I didn’t know anybody or even where to start to go back to work.

Within a few months I was pregnant so it wasn’t like I was going to go out and get a new job. I grew up selling produce. My father had a big beef and hog farm and we sold tomatoes and sweet corn by the road. My grandparents went to market in North Tonawanda. Their farm was in Ransomville. Growing up, sometimes I went to market with grandma. We all did that.

So we had some produce here from the all of the fruit. I had a table under a tree first. Then Jeff built me a wagon and then I needed another wagon. This used to be orchard all up to the road. We needed to get cars off the road so we took out some trees.

Q: The community responded to the Partyka produce?

A: We had a good year in ’91. Jeff wanted to build an apple storage to store some of our apples so in ’92 we put up this building as an apple storage. I said to Jeff, ‘Why don’t you put a front on it and I can put the produce under there?’ I never thought we’d go any further with it.

We are very conservative. We had just enough money for the building. The next year we laid a little cement and I put tables out there. And in here was just dirt. Our boys were babies. They dug ponds and played with their Tonka trucks. I had a little cooler in here to feed them, and I worked out of the front. That’s how they grew up.

My husband said, ‘Why don’t we put ice cream in?’ I didn’t want ice cream. I wanted greenhouses. But we went with the ice cream. It was smaller then. We made our own cider and that was here. Over the years we just did a little bit more. We never wanted it to get real big because we don’t feel in our area you could maintain it. You’d have to have so much labor and everything else.

We’re at a nice size where everything just kind of flows together.

Partyka added these signs showing the distance of Kendalls and Holleys in other states, as well as other distant towns that share names with local communities.

Q: You’ve steadily grown?

A: We just did a little bit at a time as we had money. It’s grown into a solid business but we’re very diversified. You’re not going to live off ice cream. You don’t make a lot of money with ice cream. But we have the grills and the gift shop and the produce. As far as produce, there is a wagon on every corner now. People have to like your stuff. We’re kind of known for our sweet corn and peaches. For our little area in the middle of nowhere, we’re doing pretty good. But we have different events. We have Christmas in July. On Father’s Day we had a beef on weck with 230 people. We’re trying to do a different event to be a little different.

Q: You also have a nice playground here.

A: It’s the same thing where we’ve done a little bit at a time. The pavilion we just put up three years ago. We’ve had different birthday parties here, and wedding receptions and showers. We make it really relaxing.

Q: Besides this market, you go to farmers’ markets as well?

A: I go to Batavia two days a week and North Chili one day a week.

Q: You physically do it?

A: Oh yeah. I load the trucks and go with my help. I always feel when your owners get off the trucks, they go in half. The customers want to know what’s coming next. I’ve seen people get off their trucks and the trucks go down.

On Thursday nights Jeff goes to Irondequoit and on Sundays he goes to Brockport. I’d like to see him not go anymore because he’s busy and I’m busy. On my trucks people are so used to me being there. I have some customers who will wait for me to wait on them.

Partyka Farms includes a gift shop with ice cream and baked goods.

Q: What is the secret to making this work over 25 years?

A: I was born one of 8 children and I had fantastic parents. They never handed us anything. We were pretty much on our own. We’ve all done pretty good. I don’t need material things to say I’ve done good. I feel I’ve done good with my family and my business. I feel very blessed with everything.

You’ve got to believe it and go after it. You have to try.

Q: You’re involved in many community projects, including the barn quilt trail. Wasn’t that initially just going to a block on your greenhouse but it definitely grew from there?

A: It’s grown. I think it’s up to 90. I read an article about another community doing it and I decided we needed to do it in Kendall. It’s worked out well. It’s kind of quieted down because they have been around for a while. However, we printed 250 maps this year and we’ve gone through that many. It’s amazed me from the beginning that so many people are interested in it.

I think ours was the first one done out in the country. Now a lot of them are. The people picked out their own things and meanings. In other places they were picked out by committees. It’s been good for the community and Kendall.

I give Kendall so much credit for being supportive of it. They didn’t make us get permits. I told them to let the people clean up their properties. It’s not a written word. It’s not a sign. Let them enjoy their town.

Steve Partyka, 28, works the land at the corner of routes 18 and 272 in Kendall.

Q: It’s great that it worked.

A: I hate to say I never sat down and planned it all out. They say you should have a business plan and this and that. I would be driving in my market truck and would think, ‘This thing is getting crazy and I think we need a headquarters. Well, the Town Hall won’t work because they’re not open on weekends and that’s when most people would be out. Well, we’re open seven days a week so I guess it’s us.’

The first time a bus company called me I said we could put a guide on for them. Jean Hart and Cathy DeMarco said they would do it. They went around and took pictures and got a book together. It wasn’t all planned but it worked out.

Q: Did you design and paint the blocks?

A: The people picked their own design. We painted them. I painted them, my employees painted them. Any time we had extra time we went back and painted them. I’m not a gridder as far as putting the design on. Cathy DeMarco, Kathy Kast and Jane Ferris took their time to come and do it. They were awesome. I wouldn’t have been able to do it without them or my employees.

Q: What else do you want to say?

A: I feel really blessed to have such an incredible family and to live in a great town. I have great employees. I couldn’t ask for better employees. I was given a chance so I went with it.

Quick Questions with … Jennifer Stilwell

Posted 4 August 2014 at 12:00 am

Olde Dogge Inn owner caters to pets

Photos by Sue Cook – Olde Dogge Inn owner Jennifer Stilwell sits out front of the business with Frank the pug.

By Sue Cook, staff reporter

GAINES – Since 2000, the Olde Dogge Inn has been a staple in the community as one of the only stand-alone pet stores in the county. Jennifer Stilwell opened the business on Route 104 in Gaines.

The store carries a wide variety of pet products to help keep pets healthy and happy. Olde Dogge offers an assortment of services to assist owners with pet care and boarding. Some small animals are also for sale including several species of fish.

The business will be featuring its pet festival on Saturday, which Stilwell plans to make an annual event. Stilwell is excited to see how far the business has come in its 14 years.

Stilwell holds William. Some of the birds that Olde Dogge Inn sells are behind.

Q: Tell me a little about yourself.

A: I have four kids. They’re 15 to 20. I live right here in Gaines about 2 miles from the kennel. I grew up in Albion. I’ve been here since 3rd grade. I graduated from Cornell University with an Animal Science degree and started dog grooming out of college. That’s kind of what led me to this.

Q: Did you always plan to open a pet shop?

A: When I was 15, I worked for Starrview Kennels (in Barre). I remember saying, “This is what I want to do with my life.” They looked at me and said, “You’re crazy. It’s a 365-day-a-year job.” I said, “I don’t care. This is what I want to do.” So since I was 15, I wanted to open a kennel.

Q: Was this business originally yours?

A: I opened this business in 2000. Right out of college, I bought a kennel in Rochester called Lakewind Kennels. I still own it, although I’m in the process of selling it. In 2000, when I started having children I wanted to be closer to home when I worked. This was just an old rundown building. It hadn’t been opened in probably 15 to 20 years. So we renovated it and opened The Olde Dogge Inn.

Q: What sort of services do you offer here?

A: We have boarding for dogs, cats, small animals and birds. We also offer grooming and training, then we have the store on top of that.

One of the back rooms contains the aquariums, as well as fish care products.

Q: What are some of the types of products you offer here?

A: We have premium foods, some small animals like birds, all kinds of pet health products, plus lots and lots of dog and cat toys. There are items like leashes, harnesses, even some outfits and we have plenty of treats! We have tropical fish and all sorts of aquarium products, too. We have 23 tanks of aquarium fish and I think a lot of people aren’t aware of that.

Q: Do certain breeds present a challenge for the groomers?

A: The huge hairy ones are time consuming, but not especially difficult. You’d be surprised because sometimes it’s the smallest dogs that are difficult. It might take three people to calm down an upset little poodle. For grooming, if it’s a difficult dog, we will assign two groomers, or even three, and help to distract the dog or help to hold it. We try to make it as easy as we can on both the pet and the groomer.

Groomer Lindsay Moore is giving a bath to a happy little customer.

Q: How do you handle some of the naughty or scared animals for boarding?

A: For boarding, our runs are set up so that we don’t have to touch the animal if it doesn’t want to be touched. We would prefer to give it attention, but there are some dogs that just do not want us touching them. They can get outside on their own, we can feed them and clean their runs without touching them.

A lot of people have a fear about boarding their dogs and think it’s terrible, but the dogs usually settle in within a couple hours of coming here and the people worry the whole time they’re on vacation. I’d like people to know the dogs are almost always settled and calm. We’ll send videos to people or pictures on cell phones to show them how well the dogs are doing. A woman called her dog from England and we held the phone up to the dog’s ear so she could talk to the dog. A lot of people worry about the whole boarding thing, but the dogs do great.

We provide lots of blankets so it’s nice and cozy. We also have an “uptown area” of upscale runs where they can watch TV. They’re very quiet runs segregated from the rest of the dogs. They have raised brass beds. They’re a kind of fancy area.

We also the puppy room, which is for small dogs, not necessarily just puppies. It’s for the small dogs who would be nervous about the big dogs barking in the regular runs. They can play together with other small dogs and there’s a big yard they can all go out in. Senior dogs could go in there, too.

We try to make it as comfortable as possible for the dogs they are. So nervous dogs or older dogs can be separated.

This is just one of the many kennel areas at Olde Dogge Inn.

Q: How many employees do you have here?

A: I have 10 employees. The sales clerks are also kennel attendants. Anybody that runs the desk has the job of making sure animals are okay in the back. We have groomers that also are kennel attendants when they are not performing grooming duties. Everybody that works here knows how to do just about everything, so if there’s a question, people can come in and ask almost anyone.

Q: What about the trainer?

A: We have a trainer that comes from Harmony Dog Training and has years and years of experience. She does it on her own and rents space when she comes here.

Q: How did you choose and hire your groomers?

A: Right now in New York state there’s no certification or licensing requirements. All of the groomers here have been trained personally by me. They started out interning by bathing, grooming and brushing and slowly worked their way up to clipping and learning the styles. All of them have learned this from me. Most of them have been here since day one. So we’ve been open almost 15 years and three out of four of them have been here since day one.

Q: Who are the store pets?

A: We have Edward the white cat who is pretty well known to customers. He was a stray that we brought in. We also have Carlisle, the black and white cat, who was left on our doorstep. He was left on Christmas Day about six years ago. He and Edward just fell in love immediately so we kept him. We have Bob the pitbull. He’s just a big doof who’s very sweet. We have Ruby, a chow mix. We also have Present, a pitbull corgi mix. All of these dogs are rescues. I also bring Frank, William and Josephine with me to work every day and then they go home with me. Frank is a pug, William is a Chinese crested and Josephine is a Boston terrier.

Q: On Valentine’s Day, Edward was pink on his ears and tail! How did he end up like that?

A: We tell Edward that he has to pay rent to live here. He does our grooming advertisement and on holidays we use our pet dyes on him. He’s been lots of colors like green, purple and pink. He’s been red, white and blue for the Fourth of July, too.

The pink lasted a long time. You can’t wash it out, so we wait for it to grow out. We kept saying we’d pick a new color for Easter, but he was still pink so we left it.

Stilwell and Josephine show off one of the walls of dog toys in the store.

Q: What sorts of events does Olde Dogge have throughout the year?

A: We did a free toenail trimming clinic in January. We usually do holiday photos, too, around Christmas time. We’re going to do them again this year with an old-fashioned vintage Santa and vintage costumes.

Q: You have the pet festival coming up on Saturday, Aug. 9. What will be happening there?

A: It’s the second time we’ve had the pet festival and we want to make it an annual event. We’re doing old-fashioned dog photos during that. My son is a photographer and he’ll be doing those. Cindy the Pet Psychic is coming. The Orleans County K-9 Unit will be here doing demos with their dog. The 4-H kids from Orleans County Heelers will be doing agility, obedience and flyball demonstrations and they’ll be selling some concessions. There’s going to be pet costume and talent contests.

From 1 to 2 p.m. there will be a power hour sale! There’s also going to be a $5 nail trim clinic. Rescue groups will be there with adoptable pets. We’ll have food companies with info and free samples. We’re also going to have $5 pet ID tags, too. There’s going to be lots of stuff going on throughout the day and the festival runs from 10 a.m. until 4 p.m. Petpalooza Magazine’s Petmobile will even be there!

Q: So I thought the psychic sounded like kind of a cool thing. How did you get in contact with her and what are her readings like?

A: We had a pet psychic here our first year of the pet festival. A friend had recommended her to come. She had done a reading on my English bulldog. She said that we were going to have a litter of puppies coming up and that Annabelle wanted to make sure we kept one of her babies. Shortly after that, we did have a litter. The psychic had said it would be five puppies and we had five puppies. We kept one of the babies for Annabelle and they were best buddies. I was at a Petpalooza event in Rochester and Cindy the Pet Psychic was there and she did some readings for some of my employees. They said they were dead on. We had her come to our Christmas party and she did readings for all of us. She was really really accurate. She just seems to tell you what your dog is thinking, so we wanted her here for this festival.

Q: So what are future plans for Olde Dogge Inn?

A: We work alongside PAWS animal shelter adopting cats out for them. We’ve adopted 12 or 13 cats out for them. We’d like to continue that. We’d also like to continue our free toenail clinic every six months. For people who can’t really afford it, we don’t want their dogs suffering. We’ve talked a little about expanding. This building is huge and we thought we’d never run out of space, but now we actually are running out. Maybe down the road we’ll talk about it more. We want to focus more on community-based events that are helping dogs out and keeping them healthy at reasonable prices. I’ve found a lot of people in this area can’t afford a lot of the services, so we try to make costs reasonable and give them options.

To learn more about Olde Dogge Inn or the pet festival, click here.

Quick Questions with Amy Sidari

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 7 July 2014 at 12:00 am

Dance Studio owner has embraced arts and music

Photos by Tom Rivers – Amy Sidari has given her dance studio a dual purpose as the cabaret with live entertainment and desserts.

ALBION – Life-long Albion resident Amy Sidari opened her own dance studio in 1997 at the corner of West Bank and Liberty streets. She and her dance instructors work with hundreds of children (and some adults) each year.

Sidari, 46, expanded the scope of Gotta Dance last July, opening the Cabaret at Studio B. More than 20 different acts have been in Studio B in the past 12 months and Sidari will debut a variety show this Saturday. (The site at 28 West Bank St. has professional sound and lighting.)

Sidari will be one of the performers, along with high school music teacher Gary Simboli and Gloria Lear, one of Sidari’s dance instructors. Marcy Downey will join the variety show in the beginning and other community members will perform with the group in later dates.

Marcy Downey, left, and Amy Sidari pose in front of the curtains at the Cabaret at Studio B in this photo from a year ago, when Downey was the debut act in the Cabaret. They will be part of a new variety show starting this Saturday at the Cabaret.

The Cabaret Variety Show will be a throwback to the variety shows of the Dean Martin and Lucille Ball era. Sidari wants to bring humor and showcase local performers in the new show.

She talked with Orleans Hub editor Tom Rivers on Thursday about the latest venture and career with Gotta Dance.

Q: I remember when you started here. It was the former DA’s office.

A: We just had the one room. There wasn’t even a waiting room. Blessings to my dad (Ace Caldwell) for all of his craftsmanship. I tell him I’m the creator and you’re the builder so let’s do it, and we do it.

Q: Why is this fun for you, working with all of these kids and some adults?

A: I think it is what God wants me to do. I just think my gift is loving people. I love them through any way that I can and music seems to be the easiest way to love people.

Q: It seems like there are a lot of dance options with several studios. I wonder why it’s so popular because when I was a kid I don’t think we had any dance places.

A: It was a different time when we were kids. I think it’s because we have good teachers. No matter where you are dancing kids are being more inspired to take on the performing arts.

I think our school programs with the dynamic music and drama inspires the children as well. When they come to me they already understand music. There is sense that this is a passion for them. I think it’s a credit to all of the studios. Everybody is doing a good job.

Some of the Gotta Dance students perfomed on Main Street during the Strawberry Festival Parade on June 14.

Q: What is the benefit for a kid to do this?

A: There are a lot of benefits. When they’re in that awkward age, their puberty time, it doesn’t appear when you’re a dancer. There is a sense of grace, centering, elegance that comes through.

I would say that mathematically, the right side of the brain, it’s been proven it’s a little more engaged. There is memorization, patterns, muscle memory. There is a fluency and things become more natural to put yourself and your mind into the sequence.

These kids are sharp. When they’re coming in they’re not just doing dance. They have other clubs and other activities. They might come in and go through four different dances flawlessly. Their minds are working.

You know what if they’re here with me they’re safe. They’re not doing things that aren’t good for their body or good for them. The environment is only a positive, acceptable environment. They learn a lot of respect for each other and how to work through relationships here that maybe are uncomfortable because we all have to work together.

Q: I know you have the dance studio, but you also started the Nicholas Kovaleski Hometown Christmas.

A: That’s been four years. That was really God.

Q: You’ve added more besides the dance studio. You added the Hometown Christmas and then the Cabaret last year. The Cabaret seems to be working, don’t you think so?

A: There is a need. When I see people walk through my door for the first time, and the puzzled look on their face, and then they walk through this door. You watch their face and there is a sense, ‘Wow, this is Albion?’ You watch them leave and they have tears in their eyes because they are so happy they came. It’s a good, good feeling.

Q: You took a leap trying the Cabaret?

A: I wanted something more in my life. It was very peaceful once I decided to do it.

Seamus Kenney, a 1993 Albion graduate, returned home for the Christmas holiday and also put on a concert in December at the Cabaret. Kenney, a professional musician, lives in Durham, North Carolina. For a decade he traveled and performed with the band SNMNMNM.

Q: Can you talk about the new variety show?

A: Gary (Simboli) will open with an original jingle that he did lyrics and orchestration for. Gloria (Lear) is kind of like the Ed McMahon on the Tonight Show to me. She is there to help my transitions run smoothly. Gloria is really funny. The three of us with Gary included have a really good chemistry. We’ll do a little comedy, the three of us, with what’s going on in real life.

We have skits involving the community. I’ve got a hilarious skit that Gary can hardly play the music through because he gets too hysterical. That’s with Jill Albertson, Mary Dunham, Sandra Monacelli McNall, Danny Monacelli, June Schuck and David Sidari.

Later on in the evening Jim Babcock comes out, but you won’t recognize him. He closes my show.

We have a special guest appearance with Marcy Downey, and it’s something that’s on her bucket list. She’s always wanted to do a dance with me, and I’ve always wanted to sing with her. We’re doing a little trade-off and it’s pretty funny.

We’ll have comedy skits with Kyle and Gina (Sidari’s children). I told Mr. Simboli don’t be shy this time and hide behind the piano when you sing your solo. It’s center stage, spotlight on Gary and I want to hear something deep from your soul.

The Reverend Mother kept a crowd in stitches last August at the Cabaret at Studio B. Phyl Contestable is the comedian. She passed out buttons that said, “JESUS LOVES YOU, but I’m his favorite.”

There will be audience participation. If you’re in the audience you don’t know what your job may be. You may be on that stage helping me do something pretty funny. It will be good and I’ll try to feel them out ahead of time so I don’t traumatize them.

We’re going to go back to old-fashioned live commercials and Brown’s Berry Patch is my first business. We’re going to interview each business that presents with us and to see what’s new in their business.

We have a ventriloquist act, a special visitor or a character from the Laugh-In Show. We’ll share some family secrets and take questions from the audience.

A: All in 1 hour, 15 minutes.

Q: It will be a brisk pace, but with enough time to laugh until you can’t control yourself. I want my audience, my community actively engaged in it. I want them to send me videos of their talents. I want to pull in people with different acts and varieties.

My future plan is I would like this to go all year. I feel more than anything it’s time to have a joy in laughter.

(Reservations are required and may be obtained by calling Ticket Team 585-354-2320.)

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