5 honored for selfless efforts as ‘Heritage Heroes’

Photos by Tom Rivers: Five people were honored as Heritage Heroes during an awards celebration on Friday at GCC’s campus center in Medina. The following were recognized, from left: Todd Bensley, Harriette Greaser, Tom Taber, Lynne Menz and Dr. Neil Johnson.

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 27 April 2019 at 1:51 pm

MEDINA – Five Orleans County residents were honored for their efforts to preserve and promote local history during the sixth annual Heritage Heroes awards on Friday evening at the GCC campus center in Medina.

The annual awards are sponsored by GCC and Orleans Hub. The program included a keynote speech by Dr. Rozenn Bailleul-LeSuer, who is the historian of the Western Monroe Historical Society, which has its headquarters at the Morgan-Manning House in Brockport.

The Morgan-Manning House, built in 1854, was badly damaged by fire in 1964. Brockport area residents rallied to save and restore the house, which remains an important landmark for the community, Bailleul-LeSuer said.

Derek Maxfield, a GCC professor, welcomes a crowd of about 35 people to the Heritage Heroes awards celebration on Friday evening. Jim Simon, left, is dean of the GCC campus centers in Albion and Medina. Maxfield and Simon are part of the Heritage Heroes Committee, along with Tom Rivers, editor of the Orleans Hub. Dr. Rozenn Bailleul-LeSuer (center), who is the historian of the Western Monroe Historical Society, was keynote speaker for the event.

The 2019 Orleans County Heritage Heroes include:

• Tom Taber of Albion, who has devoted many years to chronicling local connections to the Civil War. In 2003 he completed his first book, “Hard Breathing Days-The Civil War Letters of Cora Beach Benton.” Taber transcribed, edited and researched 160 Civil War period letters of historical and genealogical interest from the Orleans County wife of a soldier. He tracked down her letters, including 40 that were at Notre Dame University.

He followed Hard Breathing Days in 2012 with a 320-page book, “Orleans Battery – A History of the 17th New York Light Artillery in the War of Rebellion.” The book details the service of 240 men from Orleans County who served in the war. Taber worked dutifully for 15 years to track down stories about Orleans County men who fought in the war.

• Harriette Greaser and her late husband Philip restored two grand homes in Orleans County, including a prominent house in Albion’s historic Courthouse Square, earning them the Landmark Society of Western New York Historic Home award in 2002. That house was built in 1893 at the corner of East State and Platt streets as the manse for the First Presbyterian Church in Albion.

When the Greasers bought the house in 1987, it was in rough shape. The Greasers restored it, scraping away old paint, bringing back original woodwork, planting trees, hedges and a big garden of flowers and vegetables. The house had been the home for the church pastor since the house was built in 1893. The house was designed by acclaimed Rochester architect Andrew Jackson Warner, and was constructed in the Queen Anne style.

The Greasers also restored a 7,000-square-foot house in Eagle Harbor before “downsizing” to the 4,000-square-foot home in Albion. In addition to her restoration efforts, Mrs. Greaser has been the organist for Holy Family Parish/St. Joseph’s Catholic Church since 1987. She praised her late husband for pushing to create a “home” that was a welcome place for their family. That was always the main motivation for the work in the houses.

Lynne Menz accepts a Heritage Hero award on Friday. Her late father, Bill Menz, also was a Heritage Hero in 2015. The two worked together on a monument for the soldiers who trained at the former Medina Armory and went to war.

• Lynne Menz is a strong supporter of making historical artifacts and local heritage preservation an attractive destination for young and old in Orleans County. Her direct assistance with GCC’s Civil War Initiative (2013 – 2015) and her leadership on the event committee for the Orleans County Heritage Festival (2017-2018) were instrumental in highlighting the noteworthy history of Orleans County people, places and things. Her recent efforts are culminating a labor of love started by her father, Bill Menz, to honor Orleans veterans who mustered to go to war through the Medina Armory (now the YMCA) with the installation of a 7-foot bronze World War I soldier on the grounds of the YMCA. The statue was erected last week and will be dedicated this fall. Menz has also been active with the Orleans Renaissance Group, Medina Sandstone Society, and the Oak Orchard Neighborhood Association. She said the community is fortunate to have been people with passion that work on projects, benefittign everyone.

Todd Bensley, Medina village historian, accepts his award on Friday. He said the community has people of all ages interested in promoting history.

• Todd Bensley received the Bill Lattin Municipal Historian Award, named in honor of the retired county historian. Lattin presented the award to Bensley and praised his many efforts to promote Medina history. Lattin said Bensley has shown tenacity and dedication in his role as Medina historian.

Bensley, a Medina High School history teacher, has worked as the village historian since 2004. Prior to that he was president of the Medina Historical Society.

He has led numerous historical tours of Medina, engaging students in local history. Last year he published a 314-page book on the community’s historic cemetery, Boxwood. He teamed up with the Medina Sandstone Society to establish the John Ryan School of Historical Excellence in 2015 at the high school. In 2014, he worked with the State Historic Preservation Office to designate Boxwood Cemetery on the National Register of Historic Places. That effort led to more research on the cemetery, which culminated last year with his book, “Boxwood Cemetery: Where the Past is Present.” Proceeds from the book are donated to Friends of Boxwood Cemetery.

Dr. Neil Johnson was recognized for about 40 years of dedicated service as a local historian.

• Dr. Neil Johnson of Albion received the Bob Waters Lifetime Achievement Award. Johnson has been the Albion village historian since 1980. He wrote a weekly column, “Albion, Oh Albion,” in the Albion Advertiser for 26 years, compiling 1,313 columns about village history, often highlighting regular folks in the community. He has written books about the history of Swan Library and the Orleans County 4-H Fair.

He teamed with historian Bill Lattin to do an inventory of all the historical markers in the county. They are included in a book in 2001. Johnson was critical to the effort in 2000 for the establishment of a monument at Mount Albion Cemetery for at least 50 pioneer black residents in the county. Neil also has been honored by the Cornell Cooperative Extension with the Legacy Award for serving as a 4-H leader for a rabbit club for more than 40 years. Johnson worked as an archeologist and taught anthropology at The SUNY College at Brockport. He continues to do monthly lectures – “Take a Bite Out Of History” – about local history at Hoag Library.

Matt Ballard, the current county historian, presented the award to Johnson and called him a role and inspiration. Ballard said the two served together on Albion’s Historic Preservation Commission.

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