Photos by Tom Rivers – Five Orleans County residents were honored on Friday for their efforts to preserve Orleans County history. The group includes, from left: Melissa Ierlan, Delia Robinson, Peg Wiley, Al Capurso and Tim Archer.
ALBION – Three people were recognized as Heritage Heroes on Friday for efforts to preserve and promote local history. In addition, two other Orleans County residents were given special awards for their heritage efforts.
Genesee Community College recognized the third class of Heritage heroes on Friday during an awards reception at GCC in Albion. The college first recognized Heritage Heroes in 2014 as part of GCC’s Civil War Encampment. The 150th anniversary of the Civil War has passed and GCC no longer hosts the encampment.
But GCC plans to continue to recognize Heritage Heroes, said Jim Simon, GCC dean of the campus centers in Albion and Medina, and Derek Maxfield, GCC history professor. They also announced plans for a new Orleans County Heritage Festival on Sept. 9-11 featuring historic sites and attractions around the county.
Simon and Maxfield both said the county is fortunate to have many energetic citizens working to preserve historic sites and share stories of pioneer residents and others from many generations ago.
Derek Maxfield, a history professor at Genesee Community College, speaks during the Heritage Heroes awards celebration on Friday at GCC in Albion. Maxfield serves on the selection committee. He announced plans for a new Orleans County Heritage Festival this year from Sept. 9-11.
The Heritage Heroes recognized for 2016 include:
Al Capurso is a retired case manager for the Department of Social Services, Probation and Mental Health. He worked there for 24 years. He also owned the Bait Barn shop by his home on Route 279.
Since retiring he has tackled many local projects, including new historical markers at the Courthouse Square for the first pioneer settler and also one by a cobblestone schoolhouse on Gaines Basin Road. Capurso has led efforts to save that cobblestone building, with volunteers repairing windows and paying to have a new roof put on the site, which could become a meeting house and building used to display historic artifacts.
Capurso also gained government approvals to have a local stream named Gilbert Creek in honor of pioneer settler Elizabeth Gilbert. Capurso said many community members have stepped forward to help preserve the former schoolhouse.
Peg Wiley and her husband Richard moved to Point Breeze in 2002 to run their business, Wiley’s Riverside Marina. Mrs. Wiley soon became involved in community projects, including leading the effort to build a replica of the Oak Orchard Lighthouse that was toppled in 1916 during a wind storm.
Wiley helped raise $300,000 for the new lighthouse, which was completed in 2010 and now serves as an iconic symbol for the county featured in tourism guides. The lighthouse also includes a small museum telling the history of the original lighthouse.
The project helped inspire other community fund-raising efforts for a new public library in Albion, a new Education Center at the 4-H Fairgrounds and the new Hospice residence in Albion.
“The lighthouse was built by the community,” Wiley said at the awards program. “The community became empowered. They believed they could do it.”
Wiley said many people helped with the project, including the late Cheryl Staines, who served as treasurer of the project. Staines died on Friday after battling cancer.
“We couldn’t have done it without her,” Wiley said.
Tim Archer is the service learning teacher at Albion, working with seventh graders. He has led them on several historic preservation efforts in Albion and beyond.
They have cleaned up the Prisoner of War Camp from World War II in Hamlin, and are working to have a historic marker at Hillside Cemetery in Holley for Charles Herbert Taylor, the only known resident of the county killed in the battle of Gettysburg.
Archer and Albion students cleaned up the cemetery at the former County Alms House on County House Road in Albion, resetting stones, clearing brush, researching the names of residents and erecting a memorial in their honor.
Archer said he has 140 students each year to work on projects. The students are determined and feel pride in the efforts.
“They need to take ownership of their community,” he said.
Bill Lattin, retired Orleans County historian, presents the first C.W. “Bill” Lattin Award for Excellence in Municipal History to Melissa Ierlan, the Clarendon town historian.
The Heritage Heroes program this year included two new awards to recognize municipal historians, who were excluded from previous Heritage Hero recognition. Maxfield said the Heritage Hero Committee wanted to recognize municipal historians, who he said are “unsung heroes,” often working long hours for little pay.
The committee created the C.W. “Bill” Lattin Award for Excellence in Municipal History in honor of Lattin, the county’s historian for nearly four decades. He also led the Cobblestone Society Museum for about 40 years.
Melissa Ierlan is first recipient. She works as Clarendon’s historian and code enforcement officer. She also is active in the Clarendon Historical Society and has spearheaded efforts to save the chapel at Hillside Cemetery.
Ierlan has also repainted 15 historic markers in the county (including one in Elba for the mucklands). She scrapes the paint off the markers and meticulously repaints them, projects that take several days. She has volunteers who help re-weld some of the markers.
Lattin said Ierlan has a can-do attitude. He compared her to former Olympic gymnast Mary Lou Retton.
“Melissa is supercharged,” Lattin said. “She sees things to do and does them.”
The Committee also created the Robert E. Waters Award for Lifetime Achievement in honor of the late Waters, a newspaper publisher who was active in many community causes. Waters was in the inaugural Heritage Heroes class.
Delia Robinson is the first recipient of the award. She served as a Gaines town historian for more than three decades, writing books on cobblestone buildings, Gaines history and contributions of women to the county’s history.
Robinson was influential in many historical markers being placed in the county, noting efforts by women. She continues to give monthly historical talks at Hoag Library.
“You never know all of the history,” Robinson said. “History is never done. There’s always something to find out.”