2013’s Outstanding Citizens in Orleans County

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 31 December 2013 at 12:00 am

They performed many good deeds, often when not asked and at no gain to themselves. Orleans Hub would like to recognize some outstanding citizens from 2013.

Good Samaritan helps police catch bank robber

Before he robbed the Bank of America in Albion, Jeremy Rothmund of Rochester twice got away with similar crimes in the town of Greece. His girlfriend had a getaway car near the banks and Rothmund escaped.

But Rothmund didn’t get away on July 2 when he robbed a bank in Albion. An Albion businessman pulled up to the drive-through at about 4 p.m. that day, ready to deposit a check at the Bank of America.

He looked inside the bank window and saw a man wearing sunglasses with a hat on, and an ace bandage wrapped around his chin and neck. The teller indicated to the drive-through customer that the bank was being robbed.

The local merchant then hopped out of his car, leaving it running in the drive-through. He went towards the front door of the bank and the robber said he had a bomb and thrust a box covered in wires into the merchant’s face, telling him, “I don’t care if we both die and go to Hell.”

The businessman, who has requested anonymity, backed off. “I’m not an Arnold Schwarzenegger, and I could tell he was under the influence of something,” the merchant told the Orleans Hub on July 3.

Although he backed off, the businessman knew the robber was likely fleeing to a getaway car. So the merchant followed the robber behind the bank and along the railroad tracks. He watched the robber tear off his mask and get into a blue Ford Focus. The merchant then relayed that description to police.

Ten minutes later Holley police stopped the car at Woodside Court, an apartment complex off Route 31 on the west side of the village.

Rothmund and his girlfriend Elyse A. Hoffer, 22 have both pleaded guilty. Rothmund faces up to 15 years in state prison.

“I just wanted to help and be a good citizen and a Good Samaritan,” said the resident. “It all happened so fast.”

Apple grower helped bring new varieties to market

Photos by Tom Rivers – Roger LaMont is chairman of the New York Apple Growers LLC, a group of farmers that worked with Cornell to grow and market new apple varieties.

Apples are big business in Orleans County. We’re New York’s second-leading apple county behind only Wayne County.

The future of the industry is brighter, and a local grower played a key role in two new apple varieties reaching the market this year. In August, Cornell University and the New York Apple Association unveiled SnapDragon and RubyFrost.

Roger LaMont, an Albion apple grower, served as chairman of a group that formed to grow and market the apples. The new varieties are exclusive to New York growers. They won’t be released to growers in other states, which will give growers in the Empire State an edge. That should lead to bigger returns for the farmers, making their farms stronger financially.

LaMont is nearing retirement. He took the lead on the initiative, wanting to set up the industry for a more viable future. That should make these farms key contributors to the county’s economy for years to come.

Pole vaulter gives back by competing in Lyndonville

Jenn Suhr competes in a pole vaulting competition May 31 at the White Birch Golf Course in Lyndonville.

Jenn Suhr, the Gold Medal-winning pole vaulter, is married to Lyndonville native Rick Suhr, who is also her coach. The couple has a home in Kendall.

Mrs. Suhr is thankful for the support of her fans in Western New York, but she said many of them have never seen pole vaulting live. When Suhr was prepping for the world championships in August (where she won the silver medal), she helped orchestrate three sanctioned vaulting competitions in Lyndonville, using the White Birch Golf Course for the meets. Her brother-in-law Harold Suhr owns the course. He used the second fairway as a runway for three vault competitions between May 31 and July 4.

Suhr cleared the top outdoor height in the world when she went over 16 feet, 1 inch at the White Birch, giving the course a distinction normally reserved for major sporting arenas in the world.

“We wanted to bring the pole vault out here so people don’t have to travel and spend tons of money to see it,” Suhr said.

Resident rallies to save Clarendon Stone Store

The old Stone Store building, currently an eyesore at the corner of routes 31A and 237 in Clarendon, is being turned into an attractive asset for the town.

The old Stone Store, once a key focal point to community life in Clarendon, had fallen into disrepair and was considered an eyesore. Many residents two years ago were calling for the building to be torn down.

But one local resident convinced the Town Board to call off the wrecking ball. Erin Anheier, chairwoman of the Old Stone Store Preservation Committee, mobilized volunteers to clean up the property and find a buyer for the site, which dates back to 1836.

She helped get the site on the National Register of Historic Places. She also helped get Hillside Cemetery in Holley on that list this past year, designations that bring prestige and the prospect of grants for building improvements.

Joe and Sue Fertitta are rehabbing the Stone Store. They are gutting and renovating the building, and the couple plans to put on a front porch to match the building’s original look. They expect to have the project done next summer, with a tenant living in the upstairs and the first floor available for offices.

“This shows it can be done,” Anheier said. “These buildings can be saved.”

Anonymous donor has helped beautify Medina

This home at 204 West Center St., Medina, was one of 17 houses in the village to receive matching funds for improvements through a grant administered by the Orleans County Chamber of Commerce. The $200,000 grant also provided money to 11 businesses for façade and sign upgrades.

It has been a busy year for painters in Medina. An anonymous donor offered matching funds for people who painted their houses or worked on other beautification efforts.

Contractors worked on 28 properties in all as part of $200,000 in matching grants. The grants will continue in 2014. The Orleans County Chamber of Commerce is administering the program.

“It’s just been amazing,” said Kathy Blackburn, Chamber executive director. “We are thrilled with the work that has been done. It’s encouraged others to work on their properties as well.”

The grant in its first year funded projects at 17 homes and 11 businesses. The initiative is aimed to boost the curb-side appeal of the community, and make needed improvements more affordable for property owners. The money has given many neighborhoods a lift.

Kent helps lead the fight for ‘Concerned Citizens’

Adolf Genter, a member of the Concerned Citizens of Orleans County, protests the sale of the county nursing home.

These are apathetic times when it comes to pubic participation in civic affairs. Voter turnout is low. Membership is way down in service clubs, and many political candidates run unopposed.

Gary Kent helped reverse that trend in Orleans County, leading hundreds of residents in a protest against the sale of the county nursing home. Many will say Kent lost the fight because the sale will likely be approved early in 2014 and he failed to be elected to the County Legislature. (Kent was one of six candidates to try to unseat the Republican-endorsed candidates, the most opposition the GOP has faced for the Legislature since it formed in 1980.)

But Kent, a retired social studies teacher, inspired a sustained protest from people of all political parties against the county’s move to sell The Villages of Orleans.

They stood in the rain outside Legislature meetings. They carried petitions. They filed lawsuits. The Concerned Citizens raised money at spaghetti dinners. They tried every route possible in voicing their opposition to the sale. That’s what good citizens do: They engage in the process.

Young mom leads fight against SAFE Act

Gia Arnold speaks at a rally against the SAFE Act in April outside the Orleans County Courthouse.

A new movement took off this year, and it was led by a mother of three young children. Gia Arnold of Holley helped create the New York Revolution, a group opposed to the SAFE Act. The group was born after the State Legislature and Gov. Cuomo in January passed the SAFE Act, legislation that NY Revolution saw as an infringement on the Second Amendment rights.

The group has a following state-wide but it may be it’s most powerful in Orleans County. Arnold attended numerous community events and municipal board meetings, and swayed every elected board at the village, town and county level to pass resolutions opposing the SAFE Act. A top goal is unseating Cuomo as governor in November 2014.

Arnold planned a rally in April attended by about 200 people outside the County Courthouse.

“It’s not just a guns issue,” she said. “It’s more of a rights issue. They are taking away our freedoms.”