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2 Albion boys plead guilty to conspiracy in case with threats against school

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 8 January 2020 at 8:54 am

ALBION – Two boys, age 13, pleaded guilty in Family Court on Tuesday to conspiracy in the second degree for a plan to bring weapons to the middle school to harm classmates.

One of the boys also pleaded guilty to aggravated harassment for sending a “disturbing image” to a female classmate, said Joe Cardone, the district attorney.

The two boys will be sentenced on Feb. 25 by Judge Sanford Church. There are no sentencing promises as part of the plea agreement. The judge could decide the boys need to be detained at a juvenile detention facility, or he could give them a lesser punishment.

A third boy charged in the case has an upcoming court appearance and has been cooperative, Cardone said.

Because they are juveniles their names aren’t to be publicized by the media.

Cardone said the boys remain suspended from school and are under adult supervision. They also need to continue their mental health appointments.

The three were charged on Nov. 7 after law enforcement discovered a credible plot against the school.

The students allegedly used Discord, a social media platform for gamers, to make grave physical threats to at least one other student. The threats spread to other social media platforms as the threads were shared.

Police seized various items that included legally purchased firearms, Police Chief Roland Nenni said during a Nov. 8 press conference.

There was concern last week on social media that the alleged attack from November had a target date for Friday, Jan. 3. Nenni responded on the district website and in a news release that there was no evidence last week of a planned attack for Friday.

Albion police had seven officers at the school at different times of the day, including an officer in each school building. There weren’t safety incidents.

“Once again our police force has given us wonderful support,” Michael Bonnewell, the district superintendent, said at Monday’s Board of Education meeting.

The attendance on Friday was only 50 percent throughout the district which has about 1,800 students.

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Albion High School receives $1,000 for STEM programs

Posted 7 January 2020 at 7:54 pm

Provided photo: Crosby Stores and ExxonMobil presented $1,000 to for a STEM program at Albion. Pictured from left include: Brenda Thompson, Crosby Stores District Leader; Sabrina Lipowski, Territory Sales Advisor for Reid Petroleum; High School Principal Jennifer Ashbery; and Superintendent of Schools Michael Bonnewell.

Press Release, Albion Central School

ALBION – Charles C. D’Amico High School is the recipient of $1,000 in grant funds that will be used to boost the school’s STEM programs.

Albion received $500 from the ExxonMobil Educational Alliance Program, and Reid Petroleum and Crosby Stores matched that award with an additional $500 to be used to support math and science education.

Executives from Crosby Stores stated, “Since its inception, the Educational Alliance Program has provided grants to help with funding to support Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) education programs. Partnering with ExxonMobil, the Reid group strives to help give students the tools and technology they need to connect what they see in the classroom with what they see in the real world. It is part of ExxonMobile and the Reid Group’s efforts to support STEM education within the communities we serve.”

Some of the funds will be used in the High School for the Python computer programming class. Micro:bits were recently purchased for the Python class. A Micro:bit is a programmable device which can be programmed using Python or graphical code blocks.

Students can program the device to respond to changes to motion, light, magnetic field or button presses. The Micro:bit is used to teach the Python programming language to students while providing the opportunity to solve open ended problems. The students enjoy working with the Micro:bits and these new funds will be used to purchase additional Micro:bit accessories.

Funds will also be used to support project-based learning in the science and technology classrooms. Accessories for the technology department’s router table will be purchased, allowing our students to design and create projects with materials that can be milled down to 1/16 of an inch.

Also, a steam generator will enable students to bend wood in the production of fishing nets here at the high school. Additional supplies will support the new aquarium for our Living Environment classroom as students study and research the small scale ecosystem and its relation to our local community.

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Albion Police say no credible threat against school, will increase presence on Friday

Posted 2 January 2020 at 10:08 pm

Press Release, Police chief Roland Nenni

ALBION – The Albion Police Department has learned that there have been numerous social media posts indicating that there is a concern for violence on the Albion Central School campus tomorrow related to the previous threat made against the Albion Middle School.

The Albion Police Department has investigated the allegations contained in these posts and determined that there is no evidence or indications of impending violence.

The Albion Police Department is in constant communication with the School District and the Probation Department, who is tasked with monitoring the defendants who were arrested in November for the previous threat.

Even though we have no credible information supporting a threat, we understand the community’s concern and heightened sense of awareness. Since the incident in November we have had an increased law enforcement presence on the school campus. Tomorrow we will increase the amount of law enforcement to a greater level.

We encourage anyone with direct information regarding threats to contact the Albion Police Department at 585-589-5627.

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Peebles in Albion will open as Gordmans on Feb. 18

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 30 December 2019 at 1:52 pm

Provided photo: Gordmans will be converting Peebles stores to look like the store in this photo.

ALBION – The Peebles store at the Route 31 plaza in Albion will be changing over to a Gordmans, another retailer with designer name brand apparel, home decor, gifts, fragrances, clothing and other items.

The change will happen on Feb. 18, Gordmans said in a news release.

Gordmans and Peebles are both owned by Stage Stores. Stage bought Gordmans in April 2017.

Peebles uses 16,240 square feet of the Route 31 plaza, which also includes Save-A-Lot and the Dollar Tree. Peebles opened in the Albion plaza in 2007.

Gordmans is changing over 13 Peebles in upstate New York. The apparel and home décor retailer is hiring at the 13 stores.

All of the sites, including the Albion store, will host a job fair on Jan. 7 from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Walk-in applicants are welcome. Candidates are encouraged to first apply online at

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After busy summer at Hamlin Beach, Snack Shack finds warm welcome in Albion

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 27 December 2019 at 8:35 pm

Photos by Tom Rivers: Heather Drew is co-owner of The Snack Shack at 50 North Main St. in Albion. She and Donald Buchanan started The Snack Shack this past summer at Hamlin Beach State Park. They decided to keep the business going in Albion.

ALBION – This summer, Heather Drew and her boyfriend Donald Buchanan ran the restaurant at Hamlin Beach State Park. Their business, The Snack Shack, proved popular at the state park.

“We got the best feedback in the world,” Drew said today.

When the season ended, the Albion couple looked for a spot for The Snack Shack in their hometown, and found that 50 North Main St., the Hazy Jade Gift Shop’s location for several years, was available. Drew and Buchanan opened in October.

Donald Buchanan and Heather Drew have a food trailer behind the Main Street building where the food is cooked. They plan to take the food trailer to special events in 2020.

In November, they added a food trailer behind the Main Street building. That is where the food is cooked. They do a lot of the food prep at Brightly’s Farm Market in Hamlin, where ther eis a commercial kitchen. Drew’s mother, Elizabeth Brightly, runs the farm market in Hamlin.

The Snack Shack is open Wednesdays through Saturdays from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., and then from 5 to 8 p.m. Most of the orders are takeouts, but there is dining available. The Snack Shack offers free delivery within the Village of Albion.

Heather Drew peeks through the window of the food trailer. She has worked in the food business half of her life, beginning when she was 17.

Drew and Buchanan each have many years working in the food service business. Buchanan, 30, spent a decade at Uncle Sal’s in Albion. Drew, 33, started as a hostess at a restaurant when she was 17. She would later work as a bar manager at the former Crooked Door Tavern.

The couple was going at a brisk pace today with fish fry orders, and others from their menu. Some of their more popular dishes are crab rangoons, coconut shrimp, garbage plates and salads. They wanted to offer more than burgers and fries, but they have those as well.

They said 2019 was a great start for the business and they are looking forward to 2020. They want to take the food trailer to special events, including the concerts by the canal. They also will offer catering.

Drew and Buchanan both said they enjoy the fast-paced food service business.

“We want to offer something different,” Buchanan said. “We like satisfying everybody.”

They expect to be back at Hamlin Beach State Park this upcoming summer, but will be available for other events in Albion. During the park’s offseason, they plan to run The Snack Shack at the Main Street location.

For more information on The Snack Shack, click here.

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Jason Johnston, soldier from Albion, was killed in Afghanistan 10 years ago today

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 26 December 2019 at 6:00 pm

Photo by Tom Rivers: The Elks Lodge dedicated this memorial for Jason Johnston on Aug. 17. The Albion Elks Riders do an annual dice run and fundraiser for a memorial scholarship given each year for an Albion who is pursuing a helping profession.

ALBION – It was 10 years ago today when Jason Johnston of Albion was killed by a roadside bomb in Arghandab, Afghanistan.

Johnston, a specialist and paratrooper in the Army, was 24. He is the only soldier from Orleans County to be killed in combat during the Afghanistan War.

He was on his second tour in Afghanistan. He completed a 13-month-deployment in 2008 and left again for the war-torn country in October 2009.

I think about his family every year around Christmas. Today is the 10thanniversary of his death. I thank his parents, Brad and Jenny Johnston, for his sacrifice. And for his sisters – Carrie, Heather and Holly – and several nieces and nephews, too.

The Johnston family has stayed active in the community. Jennie and her daughter Heather are members of the Albion Fire Department and they proudly march with the Fire Department in parades, especially on Memorial Day.

Brad joins the Albion Elks Riders are their dice runs to help raise money for his son’s memorial scholarship. He led the explorers post in the Fire Department when he son was a teen-ager.

I remember when Jason was brought home on Jan. 3. Word got out in the community and many people stood for an hour in snowbanks along Route 31 to welcome his body home. It was 10 degrees outside and many of the people who lined the snow-filled sidewalks were elderly.

I’ve told people about that day many times since. It made me proud to live in Orleans County, to see a big homecoming in such frigid conditions.

The community would do it for Trevor Cook when he was brought home at 2 in the morning on July 15, 2011. Cook was 25 when he was killed in a helicopter crash during a training exercise on July 6, 2011. More than 1,000 people crowded into downtown Medina to 2 a.m. to show support for Cook’s family and respect for the young Marine.

Another large group of several hundred people was in Medina on June 9, 2014 and saluted as a motorcade passed by carrying the body of Sgt. Shaina Schmigel, 21. Schmigel, a Medina native, was killed May 30, 2014 during a night-time training drill. She was a paratrooper at Fort Bragg with the 82nd Airborne Division. She was in the Army for four years, and was promoted to sergeant that January.

File photo from Albion Central School: Albion students stood in the cold to show respect for Jason Johnston and his family during a motorcade processional on Jan. 5, 2010.

Two days after Johnston’s homecoming, it was his funeral at St. Joseph’s Catholic Church. It was a full church with 450 mourners at his funeral.

Dan Allyn, a major general with the U.S. Army at Fort Bragg, was among the speakers at the funeral.

“He always fought to be out front on the mission,” Allyn said about Johnston. “He was an extra-courageous man.”

Johnston was an “elite soldier,” the top 1 percent of Americans, Allyn said at the funeral service for the first Albion soldier to die in combat in 42 years.

Johnston, 24, felt such a devotion to his fellow soldiers that he insisted on joining them for a second deployment to Afghanistan.

“He volunteered not just once, but twice to join his teammates in Afghanistan,” Allyn said at the funeral. “He was an extraordinary teammate and brother.”

After that funeral service, the motorcade then headed to Mount Albion Cemetery. About 2,400 Albion students were out in front of the school to show support for the Johnston family and pay their respects. The students held 1,000 American flags. That is a sight I won’t forgot.

Later in June during high school graduation, Michael Bonafede, president of the Board of Education, presented a high school diploma for Johnston to both of his parents. Johnston earned a GED before joining the Army. Bonafede spoke with each parent at length, and the crowd in the gym gave a standing ovation.

The community has continued to remember Johnston, giving towards a $1,000 annual memorial scholarship that goes to a student pursuing a career in a helping profession, such as a nurse, doctor, firefighter, counselor or other social services.

“The recipient of the award should be of good character, show dedication, effort and potential while working to the best of their,” according to a description of the scholarship provided by the Elks.

“Specialist Johnston believed in the Golden Rule – ‘Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.’”

The Albion Elks Lodge in August unveiled a new memorial by the lodge on East State Street in Johnston’s honor.

The monument at the Elks Lodge states: “In honor of Spc. Jason M. Johnston, 82nd Airborne U.S. Army. Orleans County’s only soldier killed in action since Vietnam. May his spirit keep this country and county safe. A truly honored soldier. One man in one unselfish act to save us all.”

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Christmas garlands, streamers return to Albion downtown

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 25 December 2019 at 10:10 am

Photos by Tom Rivers

ALBION – Some of the Christmas garlands and streamers are back in the downtown, including these decorations on the Pratt building on Main Street.

The Village Board declared some of the decorations as surplus and they were purchased by Liz Groat, president of the Downtown Browsery. Groat repaired many of the decorations and convinced some of the merchants to hang them on their buildings.

Krantz Furniture was the first to display the decorations. The village didn’t want to hang the garlands and streamers across the street because of concern the buildings didn’t have attachments to securely display the decorations across the street.

The decorations gradually fell into disrepair and were declared surplus. The village sold eight stream liners which include two 22-foot lighted garlands with a lighted wreath. Groat submitted the highest bid of $360. She spent more money and time repairing the decorations.

The Pratt and Day buildings, owned by Michael Bonafede and Judith Koehler, give the decorations prominent display.

The Village of Albion DPW this year set up the Christmas tree in the downtown at Waterman Park by the mural showing Albion native Charles Howard as Santa, flying over the downtown and Courthouse Square.

The DPW also put up many wreaths and banners about the holiday season. This banner celebrates Charles Howard, who ran a Santa School in Albion from 1937 to 1966.

The Albion Merchants Association announced the winner of the Hometown Holiday Window Decorating contest. Frontier Heating & A/C Service Inc. won for this display at its storefront on East Bank Street.

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Elizabeth Babcock, maker of ‘the finest Santa suits in the world,’ going into Santa Claus Hall of Fame

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 24 December 2019 at 10:16 am

Courtesy of Santa Claus Hall of Fame

The International Santa Claus Hall of Fame announced today that an Albion woman will be inducted with the Class of 2019.

Elizabeth Babcock made Santa Claus suits at Christmas Park, which was run by Charles Howard, the founder of a Santa Claus school. After Howard’s death in 1966, Babcock continued the Santa suit business.

Howard was inducted in the Santa Claus Hall of Fame in 2010 (Click here for more about Howard from the Hall of Fame). He was one of the charter members. The Hall of Fame is located at Santa’s Candy Castle in Santa Claus, Indiana.

Babcock’s Hall of Fame inscription reads:

“For over thirty years, Elizabeth Babcock made Santa Claus Suits that were worthy of the Howard name. Before she took over the suit business, Elizabeth worked at Christmas Park for many years in many roles. When the suit business became available, she was the perfect person to keep the tradition going. Elizabeth knew business, book-keeping, customer service, and most importantly, she could sew.

“She never strayed from the original concepts of the suit and was loyal to the Howard philosophy to the end of her life. She made the finest Santa Claus Suits in the world. She used the finest materials. She sewed them to specification to keep the high standard. But the component she added that was the most important to the suit was … Elizabeth Babcock’s Santa Claus Suits were made with love. Elizabeth Babcock passed away in 2006 at the age of 92. She left behind her own legacy of integrity and quality for the sake of keeping Santa looking like he should.”

Babcock is one of 13 inductees in the Class of 2019. Click here to see more on all the new members of the Hall of Fame.

Photo by Tom Rivers: This Santa suit made by Babcock is on display at the Christmas Cottage in Lockport.

Babcock is the third person connected to Christmas Park to go into the Santa Claus shrine. After Howard was inducted in 2010, George Cond went into the Hall in 2016.

Cond, a Holley resident, was trained as a Santa by Charles Howard. Cond was so good at portraying Santa that Charles Howard embraced Cond to be the Santa at Christmas Park in Albion, Howard’s entertainment venue at Route 31 on Phipps Road. (Click here to see the Hall of Fame’s write-up on Cond.)

The International Santa Claus Hall of Fame is an ongoing project that celebrates, studies and preserves the historical documentation of the many men and women who have greatly contributed to the Legend of Santa Claus, the organization states on its website.

A 15-member Hall of Fame committee reviews the candidates and considers their overall career, service to their community, range of appearances, contribution to the Santa world, length of service, uniqueness of career, originality, and charity.

Profiles are reviewed with a point value in each standard. The top 21-point value profiles are submitted for a 1 through 21 percentage vote. Those candidates who receive 75 percent are elected to the International Santa Claus Hall of Fame.

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Santa spreads holiday cheer at nursing home in Albion

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 22 December 2019 at 10:07 am

Photos by Tom Rivers

ALBION – Santa visited residents at the Villages of Orleans Health and Rehabilitation Center on Saturday as part of an event organized by the Albion Betterment Committee and the nursing home staff. Santa is joined by “Elfredo” – Liam McKenna, 8, of Lyndonville.

Diana Dudley played songs on the piano. A choir from the Mennonite community also was there to sing several songs.

These sisters, Bailee (left) and Ericka Christ of Holley, were able to meet Santa and share a request for Christmas. The two sisters have a relative at the nursing home and they spent time with him.

Other children stopped by to see Santa and some of the residents. Some of those kids stayed to color and play games with the residents. The kids also received a stocking with holiday items.

Gary Kent, a director with the Albion Betterment Committee, greeted residents at the Villages of Orleans. He is a frequent visitor to the site and knows many of the residents.

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Credit union manager to retire after 28 years

Photos by Tom Rivers: Nancy Zielonko, left, has been manager of the Cobblestone Country Federal Credit Union for 28 years. She is retiring on Dec. 31 and will be succeeded by Chris Ranallo, right, the current assistant manager.

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 17 December 2019 at 3:26 pm

Nancy Zielonko led Cobblestone Country Federal Credit Union through expansion

ALBION – The manager of the Cobblestone Country Federal Credit Union is retiring on Dec. 31 after 28 years of the leading the credit union during a time of significant growth and upgrades.

Nancy Zielonko said she has enjoyed a career with a dedicated group of employees, who have helped many residents obtain loans and improve their credit scores.

The credit union has grown its assets and shares from $2 million in 1991, when Zielonko started, to $12 million now. The credit union was out of garage on Liberty Street when she started. It moved to a house next to COVA on South Main Street and about five years ago purchased its own building, a former medical office at the corner of Route 31 and Hamilton Street. That site has high visibility in the community, Zielonko said.

“It has really been my privilege to take something small and create a viable entity that will last in the community,” she said Monday at the credit union, 299 West Ave. “We have created a viable place that really helps people.”

The credit union started in 1965 as the Liptons Federal Credit Union. It then changed its name to the Central Orleans Credit Union. About 15 years ago it became the Cobblestone Country Federal Credit Union.

The not-for-profit organization at that time expanded its service area from the central Orleans County towns to all of Orleans – “anyone who lives, works or worships in Orleans County,” Zielonko said.

Nancy Zielonko said she has been blessed to work with a core group of dedicated employees. These four have all worked together for at least the past 20 years. From left include Nancy Zielonko, manager for 28 years; Chris Ranallo, current assistant manager who will become manager, employee since 1999; Audrey Christopher, head of customer service since 1993; and Teresa Radka, loan officer since 1995.

The financial institution is federally regulated and loans money, and has checking and savings accounts, and other banking services. Because it’s not-for-profit, it doesn’t charge its customers with higher fees, Zielonko said.

While banks have merged and consolidated, often closing offices in smaller towns, Zielonko said Cobblestone Country has grown and solidified its commitment to the county.

The credit union provides loans, from a few hundred dollars, up to a $100,000 home equity project. It doesn’t do mortgages as the originator, but can do other financing.

The local credit union also has its own checking accounts, live banking where deposits are immediately put into accounts, direct deposit and other services.

Chris Ranallo started as an accountant in 1999 at the credit union. She has been the assistant manager and will become the manager after Zielonko retires.

“She is very dedicated and loyal and gets excited about serving everyone and getting them help,” Zielonko said about the new manager.

Zielonko said Ranallo has been a big part of the team at the credit union. She is one of four employees at Cobblestone Country with at least 20 years of service. Audrey Christopher, head of customer service, has worked there 26 years and Teresa Radka has been a loan officer for 24 years.

Zielonko said the dedicated employees and a board of directors have all backed the efforts to add programs at the credit union.

“Here, you’re not just a number or a credit score or a risk score,” she said.

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