4 ‘Heritage Heroes’ get thanks for efforts to improve community

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 25 April 2015 at 12:00 am

Photos by Tom Rivers  – Genesee Community College and Orleans Hub honored four “Heritage Heroes” on Friday during the Civil War Encampment at GCC’s Medina campus center. The following were recognized, from right to left: Doug Miller (accepting for his wife Susan Starkweather Miller), Andrew Meier, Holly Ricci-Canham, and William Menz.

MEDINA – Four Orleans County residents were honored with the second annual Heritage Heroes awards on Friday for their efforts to preserve local history and promote community pride by celebrating the county’s past.

The honorees have varied interests and passions, from genealogy, building a monument to veterans, redeveloping historic buildings and working with students on service projects.

All have exhibited fortitude and a love of community in seeing their projects to fruition.

The group was called “really remarkable” for their dedication to many efforts in the county, said Derek Maxfield of GCC, a history professor and coordinator of the Civil War Initiative and Encampment. Friday was the first day of the Encampment in Medina, which continues until Sunday.

The honorees include:

Holly Ricci-Canham is a founder of Orleans County Genealogical Society, and has a passion for educating the public about the Orphan Train Movement. That included a re-enactment at the Medina Railroad Museum.

Ricci-Canham has spent may hours recording and transcribing oral histories of veterans for permanent preservation by the Library of Congress, and she has written two books about local history with another in the works about “mom and pop” farms in Orleans County.

Ricci-Canham is leading genealogy workshops at the Civil War Encampment. She urged people to look into their family’s past.

“Genealogy is a lot of fun,” she said. “There is no history that is more interesting or more fun than your own.”

Orleans County Historian Matt Ballard said Ricci-Canham’s efforts, helping people with genealogy, has eased that workload for local historians, allowing them to spend more time on other projects.

Susan Starkweather Miller has worked with Albion Central School students on many service learning projects in the past 20 years, from erecting memorials for veterans and pioneer black residents of Orleans County. She was part of a team from the school district, mostly the seventh grade class, that helped reclaim a cemetery for the County Alms House on Countyhouse Road in Albion.

Students helped research who was buried at the cemetery, reset stones and put up a historic marker about the site.

Starkweather Miller also is a coordinator of the annual Ghost Walk at Mount Albion Cemetery, where students portray residents from the past who are buried in the historic cemetery.

Starkweather Miller was in New York City on Friday as a chaperone with the high school chorus. Her husband Doug Miller accepted the award.

“She does anything and everything for any group,” her husband said.

His wife wanted to say she is blessed to work at a school district and in a community “that wants students so civically engaged.”

Students are currently trying to help develop a history trail the former Civilian Conservation Corps/WWII POW Camp at Hamlin Beach State Park.

Medina Mayor Andrew Meier has been a key part of downtown Medina’s renaissance, renovating the R.H. Newell Building, pushing to save the Bent’s Opera Hall, and proving to be a strong partner as mayor for the downtown businesses.

Meier was in his late 20s when he bought the Newell building six years ago. He has steadily worked to improve the building and find tenants for the historic three-story building that is home to the Shirt Factory Café, 810 Meadworks, a law office and a boutique hotel.

Andrew Meier sees the county’s many historical assets as a key building block for the future, including a more vibrant local economy.

Meier is a church organist and he was instrumental in bringing a rescued Holtcamp organ from Cincinnati to Trinity Lutheran Church in Medina.

Meier said the county is fortunate to have several historic downtown business districts. Residents from more than a century ago committed to building the commercial structures and generations of stewardship have followed.

“We have a great legacy to build on in our county,” he said. “We are uniquely positioned to capitalize on our historic assets.”

William Menz has been instrumental in projects at the former Medina Armory, beginning with the Armory Action Committee which formed in 1977 after the National Guard left the site. The committee helped bring the YMCA to the historic site.

Many of the Armory Action Committee members would help form the Medina Sandstone Society. Menz was a founding member of that group, which has published several local history books and promoted preservation projects.

Menz has been fascinated with the Armory’s history, its role in training local soldiers to serve in wars from the Spanish-American War to the Cold War. While grateful to have the Y using the building, Menz didn’t want the Armory’s role in shaping soldiers to be lost to the community.

He set about having a monument made, listing names and detailing the service from Company F.

“Why not have a memorial for the men that trained in this facility and went to war,” he said on Friday.

He recalled when 120 men who trained at the Armory boarded a train in 1940. They were gone for five years during World War II.

Menz did much of the stone work himself for the monument, and is now determined to have a bronze statue of a soldier on top. Menz said bids will be opened next week for the statue.

“We’re going to get that money and it’s going to get done,” he said.

Another person critical to the success of the Civil War Encampment was honored on Friday. Tom Bowers coordinates the Civil War re-enactors. The Albion native has been successful in drawing about 100 to 120 re-enactors for the Encampment.

Maxfield presented Bowers with a “special recognition” award and a bust of Abraham Lincoln.

Bowers, who now lives in Chili, has been with GCC since the first Encampment at the Lima campus in 2012 and the past three at GCC in Medina.

Bowers said he became interested in the Civil War 35 years ago when he got his first job working for The Journal-Register in Medina. Robert Waters was the publisher and he urged Bowers to take a bike ride down south and send back dispatches for the local paper.

Bowers visited many Civil War battlefields.

“It touched me to see what this country is really about,” he said.

The GCC Encampment tends to be one of the first of the year for re-enactors. They use the Medina weekend to train new re-enactors, while veteran re-enactors brush up on their skills. Bowers said re-enactors are very busy with events in the summer.

He is pleased to see how Medina has embraced the Encampment, which has included parades in the downtown. Today there will be a skirmish and then a surrender ceremony at about 10:30 a.m. in the downtown.

“People in Medina are more than my friends,” Bowers said. “They are my family.”