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Former newspaper publisher has spearheaded many heritage projects

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 13 April 2014 at 12:00 am

Heritage Hero: Bob Waters

File photo by Tom Rivers – Bob Waters, president of the Medina Sandstone Society, gives a rousing speech during the first Hall of Fame program on Dec. 12 at Medina City Hall. Six inaugural inductees were named to the Medina Sandstone Hall of Fame that day.

(Editor’s Note: Genesee Community College is honoring its first class of five Heritage Heroes during the Civil War Encampment on April 25 in Medina. Orleans Hub will profile the honorees. Tom Rivers, the Orleans Hub editor, served on the committee that helped pick the winners.)

MEDINA – He made a living telling the stories of Medina and the Orleans County community. Bob Waters served as publisher of The Journal-Register in Medina.

Since leaving the business more than three decades ago, Waters has made telling – and preserving – the community’s heritage a priority.

He has written publications – he won’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.”

Waters loves the written word, but 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.

Waters served on the Armory Action Committee that helped find a new purpose for the building after it was shut down by the state in 1977.

That 90,000-square-foot building was built in 1901. It was closed in 1977 by state officials. 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. That organization now has more than a 1,000 members and it is investing about $400,000 in a capital improvement project.

“When the National Guard left, the property could have gone down hill in a hurry,” Waters said. “Now the Y is just running with it.”

The building is one of the most iconic structures in the county. It resembles a fortress. In December it was part of the inaugural class of the Medina Sandstone Hall of Fame.

Waters is president of the group. He praised Sandstone Society members Jim Hancock, Dave Miller and John Slack for working to get the Hall of Fame established. The six inductees and other historical photos of quarrymen are displayed inside the meeting room at City Hall.

Photos courtesy of Dave Miller

Medina Savings and Loan celebrated its 125th anniversary in June. As part of the celebration, the Medina Sandstone Society unveiled a sandstone plaque by the bank’s front door. Pictured, from left: Medina S & L President Tim Moriarty, Sandstone Society President Bob Waters, and Charles Slack, chairman of the board for the bank.

The Sandstone Society has given many sandstone signs to recent projects or institutions that have invested in the community.

The Society has established a community foundation that helps fund community projects, which could be restoration of stained glass windows or putting old newspapers and photos in microfiche or digital files, among the many preservation efforts.

Waters also speaks with students about local history and also leads tours of historical buildings and sites in the Medina area.

He sees an interest in local history – from high schoolers and young adults. He thinks Facebook has helped fuel a love for local heritage.

File photo by Tom Rivers

Bob Waters signs a copy of the organization’s latest publication, “Medina, My Home Town – Fond Memories,” during the Orleans County Chamber of Commerce’s Home and Garden Show last April.

The Sandstone Society’s latest publication, “Medina, My Home Town – Fond Memories,”  includes reminisces from writers about Medina. Many of the anecdotes came from the Memories of Medina Facebook page, which has nearly 3,500 members.

“There has been a resurgence of interest in hometown history,” Waters said.

And he thinks that has helped spark a new wave of entrepreneurs who are investing in the downtown and the community.

“It used to be young people couldn’t wait to get out of here,” he said. “I’ve always been a small-towner. Maybe the small town is coming back.”