Holley mourns loss of 2 dynamic community leaders

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 24 December 2020 at 8:40 pm

George Bower and John Heise both made a lasting impact and delighted in small-town life

HOLLEY – The Holley community has lost two of its most dedicated leaders with the recent deaths of former County Legislator George Bower and John Heise, a retired Holley school administrator who remained active on the Board of Education and the Rotary Club.

Photos by Tom Rivers: George Bower is pictured in December 2013 at Holley Public Square after a breakfast at Sam’s Diner. He and his wife Sandy raised their four children in Holley and all remained in the community as adults.

Both enjoyed life in a small town and attended numerous school events and community activities.

Bower was at Sam’s Diner almost every morning where he relished being one of the guys. He didn’t want to talk about county business or politics. Instead, it was updates on the grandkids and the Holley sports teams.

Bower passed away at age 83 last week. He had a long career at Kodak and 45 years of local public service, with 21 years as a Murray town justice and 24 years on the County Legislature, including a term as the chairman and six years as vice chairman.

“We remember George as a very dedicated family man,” Legislature Chairwoman Lynne Johnson said in leading a moment of silence for Bower during last week’s Legislature meeting. “He also was very involved in the community.”

Heise worked as a Holley school principal. He waited two years after he retired before joining the Holley Board of Education. He was the board president for 9 years. He served on the Library Board and the Village Board. He was Holley’s representative on the board for the Monroe II-Orleans BOCES.

“I know it’s a cliché but I want to give back to the community because the community has been good to me,” Heise told me in an interview in 2013. “It’s a good little community. We love it here.”

John Heise gives Holley’s commencement address on June 28, 2014. He was heavily involved with the school district the past 40 years.

Heise was very active with the Holley Rotary Club and the Rotary District 7090, which includes about 70 Rotary clubs in Western New York and Ontario, Canada. He was district governor in 2011-12. He led Rotary’s youth exchange programs and brought many foreign exchange students to Holley. He delighted in taking them to sites around Western New York, and attended many of their school events as a doting supporter.

Heise passed away on Wednesday at age 73.

“It is with heavy hearts that we share the loss of an extraordinarily beloved, irreplaceable member of our Rotary Club and a pillar in the Holley community, Mr. John Heise,” The Holley Rotary Club posted on Facebook today. “John was a selfless soul, always ready to help and give whatever the goal. He was a leader and a friend to all of us. He touched so many lives both here and abroad over the decades and personified the Rotary motto of “Service Above Self,” enriching everyone he came across with a spirit of joy and enlightenment.”

Bower was often outspoken on the County Legislature, willing to cast a lone nay vote. He opposed the effort to sell the county nursing home, for example.

Bower say the nursing home as a source of pride. He often stopped by and visited with residents, especially on the major holidays of Thanksgiving and Christmas.

When the county completed a $10 million expansion and renovation of the nursing home in 2007, Bower proudly led tours of the site.

Bower made friends with the residents, many who seldom were visited because their families are out of town. He offered encouraging words to the staff, who Bower said do the hardest jobs in the county, with the least appreciation.

“I think the workers are special,” Bower told me in an interview back in January 2006. “I understand what they do day in and day out. They make the nursing home the best asset in the county.”

George Bower, left, and Carson Bailey walk through The Villages of Orleans after a $10 million addition and renovation project was complete in 2007. Bower was proud of the nursing home when it was owned by the county.

Bower enjoyed the community, whether the annual bocce tournament at St. Rocco’s Italian Festival the Sunday before Labor Day, snowmobiling on local trails or attending the many sporting events for his grandchildren – Holley soccer, basketball, baseball or softball games.

Bower was proud of his kids. His late son, Ed, worked at Kodak and was a Murray Town Board member for more than 20 years. Randy was a dispatcher before being elected Orleans County sheriff. Mike owns the Erie Way Tree Farm in Clarendon with his wife Jill. Bower’s daughter Lisa Logsdon has run a  popular dance studio in the Public Square, Lisa’s Dance Boutique, for more than 40 years.

Bower lived in the Holley area all of his life. He grew up in the Erie Canal hamlet of Brockville, only a few miles from Holley. His wife Sandy grew up nearby in Hulberton. They were married 62 years.

He resisted moving closer to the city for his job at Kodak. Bower worked 48 years for Kodak, starting as a draftsman and working his way up to head of patent researching, a job that took him to Washington, D.C. monthly for more than 25 years. He went to D.C. to the U.S. Patent Office to check patents. He would make sure other companies weren’t infringing on Kodak, and vice versa.

Bower told me in previous interviews that as the town justice he abhorred fines, preferring to assign community service. If teen-ager was in trouble, Bower scheduled appointments were the teens had to meet with him and prove they were doing their homework. But court got busier near the end of Bower’s tenure, and he didn’t have the time to work with some of the troubled teens.

“The job wasn’t as rewarding,” he said.

With the Legislature he quickly found his niche. First off he pushed to start a work crew were welfare recipients would build sidewalks and do other public works for local municipalities. Rather than sitting at home and “wasting time,” Bower said they people on the crews were learning work skills. The program drew attention to the county from throughout the state.

Bower in previous interviews also was pleased with the development of the Holley Business Park, where Holley’s low-cost village electricity was a draw for companies.

Provided photo: John Heise took Milla Steenholdt, Holley’s exchange student from Greenland, to Niagara Falls last year. Milla was at Holley for the 2019-2020 school year. Heise welcomed many of the exchange students at Holley, and took them to many of the popular sites in Western New York, as well as attending many of their athletic events and activities at Holley.

John Heise enjoyed life in Holley, and frequently posted on Facebook about how proud he was of students at Holley Central School. He shared his photos from athletic games, school musicals, concerts and other events.

His daughter, school social worker Samantha Zelent, leads the Interact Cub, which is affiliated with Rotary. Those students tackle numerous community service projects throughout the year and Heise loved to talk them up on Facebook.

Heise was one of Holley’s most enthusiastic cheerleaders, and one of its most dedicated workers.

Heise and his wife Sandy, a retired Albion teacher, were married more than 50 years. Besides Samantha, they have a son, Kevin. The family lived on North Main Street. Heise loved to read the New York Times and a novel from his porch. He often posted book reviews on Facebook, or his thoughts on a news article. He shared his feelings on the emotional roller-coaster ride as a Buffalo Bills fans in recent years.

He came to Holley after 11 years in the Rochester City School District. He was first hired at Holley Elementary School principal and then went to the high school as principal.  He ended his career as the district’s Director of Special Education, retiring in 2002.

Heise in his role as Board of Education president congratulated and handed diplomas to about 1,000 students in a decade. He was picked to give the Holley commencement address on June 28, 2014.

“No matter what your path, you have an opportunity to reinvent yourself,” Heise told the graduates. “Keep what is good, get rid of what is not, and move forward. There will always be new skills to learn. Listen to others. Choose your friends wisely. Anything you achieve will come from hard work.”