Each year since the Orleans Hub started in 2013 we’ve honored a group of Outstanding Citizens who stood out the past year for extraordinary contributions to improve the community.
Orleans County is fortunate to have so many citizens who give of themselves without seeking any fanfare.
4 Boy Scouts lead effort to build war memorial in Kendall
Four Boy Scouts in Kendall teamed to build a war memorial in Kendall. Each Scout took a different phase of the memorial as part of their Eagle Scout service project.
The memorial was dedicated on Sept. 29 with about 500 people attending the ceremony. It culminated a year-long effort by the four scouts – Jayden Pieniaszek, Noah Rath, Brian Shaw and Ryan Barrett.
The Scouts first presented the plan to the Kendall Board of Education in the fall on 2018. The plan quickly gained momentum in the community and was complete within a year of that initial meeting.
Ryan Barrett led the first phase, which included putting in the foundation for the wall, a stone memorial and three flag poles. Two of the poles are 30 feet high and one for the American flag is 35 feet.
Jayden Pieniaszek led the second phase which includes construction of the brick wall, which is 39 feet long, 3 ½ feet wide and 4 feet tall.
Noah Rath headed up phase three which includes the medallions for each five branches of military. Rath also had the electricity set up so the memorial and sidewalk can be lighted up at night.
Brian Shaw coordinated phase four which includes final grading and planting of cedar trees behind the memorial, which provides a buffer for the neighbors and also enhances the site. Shaw also led the work for the plaques on the memorial for the different wars where Kendall soldiers served.
The four scouts were praised for their work in creating an enduring memorial that is a new focal point for the town.
“This remarkable memorial would not be possible without these four Eagle Scouts,” Town Supervisor Tony Cammarata said during the dedication service on Sept. 29. “Because of them we can, from today and going forward, have a lasting tribute to all those who have served. From the soldiers that shivered and starved through the winter at Valley Forge to the doughboys crouched in the muddy trenches of France to the platoon who patrolled the hazy jungles of Vietnam and the young man or woman patrolling the mountains of Afghanistan, we remember and never forget them.”
Kendall Scoutmaster proves excellent motivator for scouts
It was an ambitious project: build a war memorial for the Kendall community and coordinate different phases of the project by four Boy Scouts.
Ken Spohr was up for the challenge. He offered guidance to the Scouts, but let them lead each phase, their community service project to become an Eagle Scout.
Ryan Barrett, Jayden Pieniazek, Noah Rath and Brian Shaw were able to turn an idea into a completed war memorial within a year. The project was dedicated on Sept. 29 with about 500 people at the ceremony.
“Ken is definitely one of the most outstanding people I’ve met,” said Ryan Barrett, one of the Scouts who worked on the project. “He is the anchor of our group. He is the light that shines on our path.”
Spohr tracked the donations and expenses for the project. He drove the Scouts to community presentations, as well as one in Albany at the State Capital.
He also has many connections with businesses and organizations, and he was able to point the scouts to people who could handle the masonry, and other work with the memorial.
When the four Scouts presented their plan for an ambitious memorial, Spohr didn’t flinch. He was a calm influence and constant encourager.
“His commitment to this project and all of us boys is incredible,” Barrett said. “He has been the unspoken hero behind this project.”
Spohr also motivates the troop for other community service projects, including a food drive for the local food pantry. He also recently agreed to take many pies in the face during a fundraiser for the troop.
“He does it all to ensure the future of Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts in Kendall is secure,” Barrett said.
Bellavia, after receiving Medal of Honor, becomes ambassador for Orleans County
David Bellavia received the Medal of Honor on June 25 in a ceremony at the White House. He is the first living veteran of the Iraq War to receive the nation’s highest military honor.
Bellavia, 44, has been in high demand since then, traveling the country to give speeches about his service, and his acts of valor on Nov. 10, 2004 in Fallujah, Iraq. That day, his 29th birthday, he led an infantry squad clearing houses of insurgents, saving the lives of the members of his unit.
Bellavia praised his experience in the Army. He encourages people to enlist and serve. He said military service brings together people of varying backgrounds, beliefs and skin color, uniting them in a common goal.
In his message, Bellavia speaks of his upbringing in Lyndonville, where he played on the soccer, basketball and baseball teams, and performed in the school musicals and with the band. He has become an ambassador for the county and small-town America.
Bellavia also has given several speeches in Orleans County since October, receiving a standing ovation each time. He spoke at his alma mater on Nov. 21 and told the student body they live in the greatest small town in the world, a place where people are engaged in service to others.
At Lyndonville, they can be in multiple school activities – several sports, the band, the musical and more. They know their classmates and the kids in the grade levels above them and below them.
It’s a great place, but Bellavia didn’t realize that when he was in school.
“I spent my childhood just wanting to get out of here,” he told the students. “You get out in the world and you realize I have the best hometown in the world.”
Bellavia, in his local appearances, gives everyone a chance to hold the Medal of Honor. He said he feels like the community raised him and shaped him.
Bellavia enlisted in the U.S. Army as an infantryman in 1999 and worked about two years in recruiting for the Army while his infant son received medical care in Syracuse. Bellavia, during a June 11 news conference, said he appreciated that compassion from the Army.
In 2001, Bellavia had a decision to make. He could change his military occupational specialty, submit a hardship discharge, or remain as an infantryman. He chose to stay in the infantry after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
Bellavia’s unit in 2003 deployed to Kosovo for nine months and then was sent directly to Iraq to support Operation Iraqi Freedom. From February 2004 to February 2005, Bellavia and the 2nd Battalion, 2nd Infantry Regiment, were stationed in the Diyala Province along the Iranian border. His task force took part in the battles for Najaf, Mosul, Baqubah, Muqdadiyah and Fallujah.
“I’m forever grateful to the United States Army,” Bellavia told reporters at the Army Recruiting Station in Cheektowaga. “They gave my life purpose and direction. They gave my life meaning and value. I’m a better human being because of my service and I think most of the people I served with can tell you the same thing. I encourage any man or woman that wants to become an individual in their community to serve the United States military.”
Ridgeway woman led effort for banners of Hometown Heroes in Medina
Downtown Medina has been enjoying a renaissance with new businesses and millions of dollars of private investment in recent years. In 2019, the downtown became a display for Hometown Heroes, with 38 banners of soldiers from the community, going back to World War II.
Mary Woodruff saw a similar effort in the Alfred community. Her father-in-law, Burr Woodruff, was one of the soldiers honored in Alfred. She thought the display was reminder of the sacrifices of soldiers and families from Small Town, America.
“I want people to feel patriotism and restore pride in the USA,” she said. “When you see a vet, say thank you.”
She did the research and pushed for Hometown Heroes’ banners in Medina. She convinced the Medina Village Board to back the effort, and lined up support from Ridgeway and Shelby town offices as well.
She had a short window to get the local approvals, and then send the information and photos to the company that made the banners. In all, there were 38 banners the first year. Woodruff is planning to add more in the following years.
“I was extremely pleased,” she said when saw the banners after they were delivered in May. “I had goosebumps.”
The banners are $200 and the families or sponsors can keep them after about three years. Before they were displayed in the downtown on village-owned poles, there was a reception with all the banners in the Orleans County YMCA, which is a former armory where many of the local soldiers trained.
Many of the families were moved to tears seeing the faces of grandfathers, fathers, brothers and friends on the double-sided banners that are 5 feet tall by 2 ½ feet wide.
Woodruff, a retired social studies and math teacher at Roy-Hart, also is a member of the Ridgeway Town Board.
Joe Cardone, the Orleans County district attorney, thanked Woodruff for organizing the banners of the Hometown Heroes. He attended the reception on May 19. His father, the late Vincent Cardone, served in the Army during World War II and is on one of the banners.
“It’s not every day you can look into our past and see the faces of the people who contributed so much to our community and country,” Cardone said.
Clarendon firefighter committed to training new generation in fire service
Bob Freida has been involved in the volunteer fire service since he was 16, starting as an explorer with the Clarendon Volunteer Fire Company. Freida, now 50, worries about the declining number of firefighters and the increasing demands on those volunteers, particularly with EMS calls at all hours of the day.
Seven years ago when he was fire chief at Clarendon, he teamed with the leaders of the Holley and Fancher-Hulberton-Murray fire departments to start a First Responders Youth Group where students would learn some of the basics of firefighting and could be connected to their local fire department. The program is run as an activity through the Holley Central School.
Freida has stayed an active mentor in the program, which meets every Monday evening. Some of the youth group members have become adults and joined their local departments. One member, Dalton Major, is in college and wants to become a career firefighter.
The youth group has maintained a steady core of about 10 to 15 students. Freida has been a constant, a dependable mentor for the group. He teaches them teamwork and some firefighting skills. He also will join the students in parades and on trips, including one to New York City to see the Sept. 11 memorial site.
“I love doing it,” Freida said about his role with the youth group. “I want them to be kids and have fun. At the same time there needs to be some professionalism.” Freida has struck the right balance. The past two Mondays the students were on break and there wasn’t a schedule youth group meeting. But the students insisted on a meeting, and Freida obliged.
Freida also was among the fire officials who wanted to find a solution to improved response time to fire calls during the day on Wednesdays, which tend to have the highest call volume during the week. Nearly every Wednesday this year, Freida has been at either the Holley or Clarendon fire hall from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m., ready to jump in a fire truck for a call.
He also led a committee the past 2 ½ years to upgrade two Clarendon fire trucks. A new squad truck arrived in November. That will be Clarendon’s primary EMS vehicle. A new combination pumper-rescue truck is due to be delivered in January.
Freida ran for town highway superintendent in November. He didn’t win. The next day after the election he was back at the fire hall to volunteer for a 10-hour shift. He hasn’t let the election defeat sap his enthusiasm for community service.
Dave Smith of Holley has a son, Nate Smith, in the youth group. Dave, a past fire chief at FHM, said Freida is committed to developing a new generation of firefighters and maintaining quality service to the residents.
“He puts a lot of time and sweat into this building and these kids,” Smith said Monday during the youth group meeting at the Clarendon fire hall. “We couldn’t do it without him.”
A generous gift ensures Lyndonville veterans will forever have wreaths on graves during holidays
Anna Stelianou wanted to do something to honor veterans – every one of them in Lyndonville. She read about the Wreaths Across America program. Medina has been doing that at Boxwood Cemetery since 2013. Each year, a wreath at $15 each can be set on a veteran’s grave in December.
Stelianou liked the idea. She saw Steve Goodrich, commander of the American Legion in Lyndonville, while they were each pumping gas. She told him about an idea. She wanted to purchase a wreath for every veteran’s grave in Lyndonville. That adds up to 402.
Goodrich said that would be a nice tribute. He thought Stelianou was making a one- or two-year commitment. The annual cost is about $6,000.
Stelianou said she wanted to do it – forever. Goodrich and Stelianou then met with the Lyndonville Area Foundation and she gave the funding. The anticipated interest on the donation is enough for an endowment to pay for the wreaths for long into the future.
Stelianou said she is doing it in appreciation for the community’s kindness to her parents, Ary and Konstantina. They emigrated to Lyndonville from Greece after WWI. Stelianou also donated the money for the program in honor of her five brothers who served in WWII and the Korean War.
Stelianou said the community looked after her parents and their children, especially during the lean years of the Great Depression. Farmers in particular made sure the family had enough food to eat.
The Stelianou couple ran a small store on Main Street serving lunches, candy and ice cream. Anna Stelianou said the Lyndonville community welcomed her parents and helped them achieve the American dream.
With the funding available for the wreaths, Goodrich worked with Wreaths Across America to arrange for the delivery and the placement of the wreaths. He had identified all the veterans’ graves about five years ago. At the time, he was researching the veterans’ graves for when the Legion organizes placing American flags on each veteran’s grave just before Memorial Day. He was prompted to research the grave sites after a discussion with Peter Stelianou, Anna’s brother and a long-time Legion member. Peter served in World War II. He was 94 when he passed away on Nov. 8, 2018.
Orleans Hub wants to recognize both Anna Stelianou and Steve Goodrich for making the wreaths possible in Lyndonville.
Gooodrich and Stelianou are both pleased to see the wreaths at six Lyndonville cemeteries. They stand out in the snow, and are a physical reminder that a local resident served the country in the military.
“For me, every single one of them is hallowed ground,” Goodrich said about the 402 veterans at Lyndonville cemeteries. “People like to put down the small towns, but this is the history of our country. They went out and did amazing things. You can see it right here.”
Albion man promotes participation in the great outdoors
Dan Conrad said he just wanted to create a forum where hunters and fishermen could encourage each other and share some tips. He started a Facebook page, DC Outdoors in October 2018.
That group quickly gained members and created a community of people who enjoy the outdoors. It now has 2,500 members and counting.
“I just wanted a nice family-oriented page,” Conrad said. “I thought it could be a place where people could post pictures of deer and fish.”
Conrad noticed the strong camaraderie in the group and decided the members could do more than post on social media. DC Outdoors on July 13 held its first fishing derby, with 60 kids participating. DC Outdoors members served as mentors and provided the equipment. Charlie Miller and Joe Rotoli were the leaders of that effort, Conrad said. DC Outdoors also lined up prizes and food that were donated by businesses and the community.
During the fishing derby, Conrad and the DC Outdoors members noticed a lot of trash at Point Breeze. So the group had a trash pickup in August, filling 8 garbage bags.
Conrad and the group have also collected Christmas presents that were given out by the Hands 4 Hope ministry, where Conrad is a volunteer. Conrad even wore the Santa suit to help collect the presents as part of a fundraiser at Oak Orchard Lanes in Albion.
Conrad, 37, said he enjoys community service. This year he joined the Albion Lions Club and the Hoag Library board of trustees. He also volunteers at the Warrior House in Shelby, taking veterans out hunting. He also started a new job as a UPS driver.
“It makes me feel good,” he said about volunteering.
Benefactor pays to have World War I cannon restored at Medina park
The World War I cannon at State Street Park was rotting away. The paint flaking off and the metal corroding.
Local veterans and community members were alarmed about the deteriorating condition. They thought it sent a disrespectful message to veterans, to have a prominent display in shabby condition.
But it would be a big price tag to restore the cannon – $40,000. Local veterans in 2018 began an appeal. They expected it would take years to come up with the money.
They went to George Bidleman, owner of Orleans Ford in Medina. They hoped for a contribution. Bidleman thanked the group for their service to their country, and for their continued involvement in the community with the American Legion and VFW.
Bidleman told them he would pay the entire restoration cost. They didn’t need to do a collection effort that would take years.
The cannon was hauled away in March 2018 and returned to Medina on May 1, in time to be rededicated for Memorial Day. Seed Artillery Reproduction and Restoration, in Altoona, Pa. The company completely stripped and disassembled the cannon, and needed to fabricate some new parts. The big 15,000-pound gun was reassembled and painted with historic accuracy.
“It’s absolutely stunning,” Bidleman said when the cannon returned on May 1. “It’s beautiful.”
Bidleman is notoriously low key and doesn’t want publicity for his good works. He serves on the United Way board and he and his employees support that organization.
He has expanded his car business to include the Chevrolet Buick GMC dealership in Albion with Sam LaNasa.
The B.L. 60 Pounder British field gun has been a fixture at State Street Park since 1935. There are only 10 of the cannons like this remaining, with five in Europe and five in the United States, said Jim Freas, a past commander of the Butts-Clark Post for the American Legion in Medina.
“We have one of them,” Freas said. “It’s priceless.”
Glenn Whitmore, commander of the American Legion Post in Medina, said Bidleman’s donation was a big relief to the veterans’ organizations.
“When George stepped forward we couldn’t believe it,” Whitmore said. “His heart is bigger than he is.”
Orleans Hub will have an awards celebration in early 2020 for the Outstanding Citizens.