MEDINA – Orleans County lost one of its biggest boosters last week with the death of Robert E. Waters. The former publisher lived a full life, leading the local newspaper, raising two daughters with his wife Barbara, and playing an influential role in civic affairs.
Waters was a community dynamo for nearly a century. In addition to leading the local newspaper, Waters was a key leader in finding a new use for the Medina Armory when it closed in 1977. It would become a YMCA. (The Y recently completed more than $500,000 in upgrades to the former Armory, setting the building up for years of more use.)
Waters relished life in a small town. He was pleased with the recent resurgence of the downtown Medina business district, with the influx of investment and young entrepreneurs.
“It used to be young people couldn’t wait to get out of here,” he told Orleans Hub in April 2014 when he was being honored as a Heritage Hero by Genesee Community College and Orleans Hub. “I’ve always been a small-towner. Maybe the small town is coming back.”
The Heritage Heroes were honored for the first time in April 2014 as part of the Civil War Encampment. Waters stood out for a lifetime of commitment to the community.
He used the written word to preserve local history. He has written publications – he wouldn’t call them books – about Medina’s sandstone past, the community’s boom years from 1900 to 1930, and a publication of penny post cards about Medina in 2012: “Greetings from Medina, New York.”
While Waters loved the written word, he has also provided leadership and some of the heavy lifting for community projects, perhaps most notably the reuse of the former Armory on Pearl Street.
That 90,000-square-foot structure was built in 1901. After the state closed the building in 1977, Waters and the Armory Action Committee met weekly and negotiated with the state to keep the utilities on, make needed repairs and eventually transfer the site to the community so it could be used as a YMCA.
“When the National Guard left, the property could have gone down hill in a hurry,” Waters told Orleans Hub last year. “Now the Y is just running with it.”
Even at 90, he was leading the Medina Sandstone Society as the group’s president. Waters turned the Sandstone Society into a dedicated group that relishes the rich local history of the area. He backed efforts to create a Sandstone Hall of Fame that inducts buildings and landmarks made of the local sandstone.
Waters also pushed to create the Sandstone Trust that doles out small grants to community projects, from restoring stained glass windows, boosting the archives at the Lee-Whedon Memorial Library, and repairing stonework at the former Armory, as well as numerous other initiatives.
Waters was meticulous in his dress, wearing suits and bowties. But he was far from pretentious. Many residents received notes from Waters over the years, praising them for their good works, whether opening a new business, planting flowers or painting their house.
Waters exuded enthusiasm for the community.
“He loved the character of small-town life,” said his daughter Julie, who works in central communications for Cornell University. “He believed that small towns have a lot of vitality.”
Waters graduated from Medina High School in 1942 and served in World War II with the Army. After he earned a degree from Miami University of Ohio, he joined the family business, The Journal-Register in Medina, in 1949.
The paper would expand its coverage under Waters, with a big push to cover all of Orleans County. Mike Wertman was hired as a reporter in 1978. He covered local sports and other community news, including local government.
At that time, Waters wanted more in the newspaper from outside Medina. He pushed Wertman and the staff to be a county-wide paper, and Waters embraced coverage of girls sports. He would make sports a full-time job for Wertman. Waters gave this advice to Wertman: “The more names you could get in the paper, the better.”
Wertman said Waters was influential in the careers of many journalists. Many got their start at The Journal with Waters as their mentor. Behind closed doors with staff, Waters was optimistic, looking for the good in the community and its residents.
“He was always positive and pro-Medina,” said Wertman, who now covers sports for the Orleans Hub.
After selling The Journal and the former Albion Advertiser to a large newspaper chain, Park Newspapers, in 1985, Waters would work 10 years as communications director for State Sen. John Daly and his successor, George Maziarz. Waters also served on the Ridgeway Town Board for a decade, and was deputy town supervisor.
He stayed active and engaged in community issues, and found time for golf at Shelridge. He enjoyed playing the game with friends, and his grandson, Cody. Bob was one of five founders of Shelridge Country Club and was its first president.
Julie Waters said the family nearly lost him when he was 40 and in the backyard with his kids. A stray bullet from a target shooter struck Waters in the cheek and left his neck. The injury gave him problems the rest of his life, but Waters and family were grateful for 50 more years.
“He almost died, but he survived,” his daughter said. “We always felt it was a gift that he lived and we had a father.”
Julie said she is grateful to the community for the outpouring of tributes for her father.
“People have expressed a lot for his love of community and family,” she said.
On a personal note, I’ve been friends with Bob for 20 years since I moved to Orleans County and had my first newspaper job with the Albion Advertiser. I often went to the Medina office of The Journal-Register to drop off film and lay out the Albion paper.
Bob would often stop by. He sprinkled kind words around the news room, especially for the reporters. He offered some background on the issues of the day.
We remained in touch when I joined The Daily News in Batavia. We became closer friends the past two years. I really enjoy learning about the area’s Medina Sandstone history, and the seeing how far the stone travelled in building mansions, churches and other important community buildings all over the state and beyond.
I thought a Sandstone Hall of Fame would be a nice way to celebrate that heritage. I pitched the idea to Waters and some of the Sandstone Society members. They endorsed the effort – and did all the work.
Bob, like a lot of newspapermen, watched the grim state of the industry with concern. The Journal-Register closed last year. Other small-town papers have also shut down and many larger papers are a shell of themselves.
Bob was a big encourager when the Orleans Hub started. He wanted the local news covered. He even declared himself a “Hubster” in a recent email.
He has been a role model for many in the community, showing the importance of valuing people and history. He was unapologetic in his love for Medina.
He also showed it doesn’t always take a big capital campaign to make a difference. Sometimes it just takes a hand-written note.