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Albion voters approve school budget, elect Kast, Kinter and Schmitt to BOE

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 18 June 2020 at 9:59 pm

District had 3 times as many voters as last year

ALBION – The school district’s $36,841,032 million budget passed overwhelmingly, 1,327 to 321, and district voters elected John Kast, Chris Kinter and Kurt Schmitt to the Board of Education.

The district counted absentee ballots today and announced the results tonight. The 1,648 votes for the budget was about three times as many as the 562 who voted for the budget during the last election on May 21, 2019.

This year’s election was done with absentee ballots due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

The $36,841,032 school budget is up 3.62 percent or $1,285,522 from the $35,555,510 in 2019-20. However, the budget keeps the tax levy at $8,449,094 in property taxes, the same as in 2019-20. This is the 12th time in the past 14 years the school district has either kept taxes flat or reduced them.

The district’s state aid includes $250,000 for a Covid response. With students out of in-person school since mid-March, some students are expected to need academic intervention services next school year to help catch up. The district is expecting it will need to hire more staff to help students after this prolonged time out of school.

The budget also includes funding for a superintendent’s search with Bonnewell to retire on June 30, 2021. The Board of Education would like to have an interim superintendent to start the school year with Bonnewell switching to a different administrative role in evaluating teachers.

Albion also is budgeting $85,200 for its share of a grant program to replace school doors and add more security cameras. That expense depends on Albion receiving a COPS grant that covers 75 percent of the cost.

• Proposition #2 (Bus Purchase) – 1,314, Yes; 328, No.

The proposition authorizes the district to spend up to $525,000 from the Bus Purchase Reserve Fund to purchase buses for the 2021-2022 school year.

• Proposition #3 (Hoag Library) – 1,128, Yes; 518, No.

This proposition would allow the district to collected $713,000 for Hoag Library. That is down from the $714,920 in 2019-20.

• Board of Education election results, with three seats available:

1. John Kast, 945 votes. He will serve from the election until June 30, 2025.

2. Christopher Kinter, 780 votes. He will serve from July 1, 2020 until June 30, 2025.

3. Kurt Schmitt, 759 votes. He will serve the remainder of a term through June 30, 2021.

4. Marlene Seielstad, 626 votes

5. Joyce Riley, 614 votes

6. Gregg Boose Sr., 426 votes

7. Kevin Doherty, 375 votes

Boose and Riley are current board members. Chantelle Sacco is finishing a five-year term and didn’t seek re-election.

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Fireworks in Albion, Medina frustrate residents

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 17 June 2020 at 3:02 pm

Residents in the villages of Albion and Medina are annoyed about fireworks being set off in recent days and weeks.

It’s a problem in other communities, too, Medina Mayor Mike Sidari posted on Facebook today.

He said the Medina Police Department has arrested one person so far due to the fireworks displays.

Sidari urges people to call the police at 585-798-5602 if they know who is setting off the fireworks, where they are being set off or where they are being sold.

Albion Police Chief Roland Nenni said fireworks are becoming a problem. The ony legal fireworks in the state are “sparkling devices that are ground-based or handheld devices that produce a shower of colored sparks and or a colored flame, audible crackling or whistling noise and smoke.”

Firecrackers, aerial fireworks and those that make noise from an explosion are not legal to use or possess, Nenni said.

“We usually allow for a not as strict enforcement approach around the 4th of July, but there have been excessive uses of them for the past several weeks,” he said. “The main issue that we are seeing is that certain people are not just using loud illegal fireworks for a one time ‘show,’ they are doing them days on end and causing annoyance to neighbors and others.”

Albion police officers have been instructed to charge persons who are creating a nuisance with them. Charges can range from violation noise level charges to misdemeanor unlawful possession of fireworks.

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Albion will count ballots for school budget, BOE on Thursday

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 17 June 2020 at 10:32 am

ALBION – The school district will count the absentee ballots for the budget, propositions and the candidates for the Board of Education on Thursday.

That differs from most local school districts, which counted the ballots on Tuesday.

Albion is giving the public a chance to review a list of people and their addresses who submitted more than 1,700 ballots. The district website has information about the list and the election.

To be an eligible voter, a person needs to be at least 18 and a resident of the district for at least 30 days at the time of the vote.

People who want to challenge a ballot must do so in person at the district office today.

The district plans to start counting the ballots at 10 a.m. on Thursday, with a special Board of Education meeting scheduled for 7:30 p.m. to accept the results of the election and vote.

The 1,700-plus ballots is about three times more than the 558 who voted in person in the last election on May 21, 2019.

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Albion teachers will do parade through district on Thursday, starting at 7 p.m.

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 15 June 2020 at 9:12 pm

ALBION – The members of Albion Teachers Association want to see their students one last time before the school year ends.

Teachers will be in a parade of vehicles on Thursday, departing the Save-A-Lot parking lot on Route 31 at 7 p.m.

About 25 vehicles are expected in the parade, with each vehicles expected to have two or three teachers. The route will go through Albion, Barre, Gaines and Carlton.

The parade route includes:

  • Start at Save-A-Lot parking lot
  • Left on West Avenue
  • Right on King Street
  • Right on Washington Street
  • Left on S. Clinton Street
  • Left on West Park Street
  • Right on King Street
  • Right on West State Street
  • Right on Main Street to Barre
  • Right on West Barre Road
  • Straight onto Allis Road
  • Right on Eagle Harbor Road through Eagle Harbor area to Waterport
  • Right on Waterport-Carlton
  • Left on Park Ave.
  • Right on Rt. 98
  • Left on Rt. 104
  • Right on Brown Road
  • Right on Lydun Drive North
  • Right on Lydun Drive, go back to apartments
  • Turn around at Beechwood Apartments
  • Go back to Brown Road
  • Right on Brown Road
  • Right on Linwood Avenue
  • Right on Rt. 98
  • The next three streets are at Oak Orchard Estates Park
  • Left on North Street
  • Right on Bayberry Lane
  • Right on Beechwood Blvd.
  • Right on Rt. 98
  • Left on E. Bank Street
  • Right on E. State Street
  • Left on Platt Street
  • Left on E. Park Street
  • Right on McKinstry Street to East Ave.
  • Return to Save-A-Lot

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Mural of swans, canal scene almost ready to be installed at Hoag Library

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 14 June 2020 at 11:11 am

Photos by Tom Rivers

ALBION – Stacey Kirby Steward works on a mural Saturday morning inside Hoag Library. Steward, an Albion native who lives in Spencerport, is creating a large mural of swans flying over the Albion countryside.

“I’m very excited about this painting,” Steward said Saturday. “It contains a lot of what I love about Orleans County.”

Her mural will show three swans flying over the Erie Canal, showing the Gaines Basin Road bridge. The painting also highlights the farm fields, Lake Ontario and some of the cobblestone houses.

This is the second art project at the library by Steward. She designed the stained-glass window with swans.

An anonymous donor is covering the cost for Steward to create the painting. The library surveyed  patrons last fall to get their votes on three designs for the mural, which will go in the Curtis Room, the largest meeting space in the library.

Steward submitted sketches showing swans, eagles or hawks in flight over the canal.

The vote totals include 71 for swans, 62 for eagles, and 27 for the hawk design.

Before Hoag Library opened in July 2012, Albion’s public library was known as the Swan Library. That site opened in 1900 in a former mansion at 4 North Main St. in 1900 and remained the library’s site for 112 years.

Steward will add three swans to the mural. She will paint them next Saturday. The library is pushing to have the mural in place by June 23, when the library will serve as a polling place for a special election and primary.

Jim Babcock’s construction business will handle installing the mural to the wall.

Steward hired a drone photographer to get photos of the countryside in early fall.

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This is Steward’s sketch showing three swans in flight over the Albion.

No Strawberry Festival race for first time in 30 years

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 11 June 2020 at 10:22 am

Photo by Tom Rivers: Erin Smith was “The Strawberry” during the June 10, 2018 race. She is battling near the finish with Jeff Casillo. The two are now married.

ALBION – This Saturday would have been the 30th anniversary of the 5K and 8K races at the Albion Strawberry Festival.

But with the festival cancelled, and a current ban on most social gatherings to no more than 10 people, the race isn’t happening.

The race typically attracts about 200 runners, making it one of the better attended races in the GLOW counties. It hit a high of 320 runners in 2015.

Brian Krieger has served as the race director the past 11 years, following 19 years by the late Judy Christopher. She started the race as a motivator for people in the community to work on their fitness goals. Christopher used to own the Phoenix Fitness gym.

Krieger also saw the race as fun community event, in addition to serving as a motivator for people to get out walking and running. The race in recent years had someone dress up in a strawberry costume, and prizes were given to runners who beat “The Strawberry.”

Krieger and his friend, the late Wayne Burlison, also organized a “Run for God” program through the Albion Free Methodist Church. That was like a “Couch for 5K” program designed to take people who haven’t been too active with running to finishing a 5K after three months of training. The Strawberry Fest would be the culminating event in the program.

A race in March honoring the memory of Burlison – the sixth annual Wayne Burlison Colon Cancer Awareness 5K – also was cancelled due to Covid-19. The Burlison race and Strawberry Festival run are both organized by the Albion Running Club.

This Saturday’s Strawberry Festival race would have been Krieger’s last time as the race director. He is handing off the reins to Bert Gallmon for 2021.

“I’m disappointed for the first time in 30 years it won’t be happening,” Krieger said about the race. “It was just fun.”

Besides given out medals to age groups winners, the race organizers gave out jars of strawberry jam to leading runners in each age group.

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Albion church holds service in building, with limit now at 25% capacity

Photos by Tom Rivers: This sign on the door leading to the sanctuary urges people to not give hugs or hand shakes for now.

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 9 June 2020 at 9:17 am

‘We should just get together. It doesn’t have to be perfect.’

Albert Alexander delivers the sermon on Sunday, the first time North Point held in-person services since mid-March.

ALBION – North Point Chapel in Albion was open for services for the first time in nearly three months on Sunday.

It was a smaller group than usual. About 20 people attended the service in person. The church usually draws about 50 for Sundays – before the Covid-19 pandemic.

Church buildings have been closed since mid-March. Gov. Cuomo and the state allowed up to 10 people inside buildings on May 21, as well as drive-in and parking lot services.

On Saturday, the governor announced churches, mosques and temples could have services with crowds up to 25 percent of the building’s capacity – as long as several safety precautions were in place.

North Point elders Albert Alexander and Jim Baker sent out a text message to church members, telling them the building on Platt Street would be open on Sunday.

Church leaders had a safety plan ready for holding services during a pandemic. They have sanitizer stations, signs telling people there won’t be any handshakes or hugs, and people who aren’t in the same households are spaced around the sanctuary. People also need to wear masks, except when they are sitting as long as there is six feet of space from the next person. Alexander said the governor’s announcement on Saturday was appreciated, but didn’t leave church leaders much time to be ready on Sunday.

“We should just get together,” Alexander said from the pulpit on Sunday. “It doesn’t have to be perfect.”

Pastor Mike Outten speaks to the church during Sunday’s service. People were spread out for the service.

Mike Outten, the church pastor since North Point started five years ago, has been giving weekly sermons through Facebook live from his home study. His children have provided the music for those services.

Outten said the church worked on a reopening plan to be ready for when the governor started to ease restrictions on the gathering size.

The church seats 275 people. At 25 percent capacity, about 70 people could attend an in-person service.

Jennifer Mateo, the children’s ministry leader for North Point, attended the service on Sunday with her daughter Eva, a kindergartener. They were happy to see people, face to face, again.

Photo courtesy of Marsha Rivers: North Point put out a welcome flag on Sunday for people to attend church inside the building.

She said the church leaders have worked hard to keep the congregation connected during the pandemic, with the Sunday services broadcast through Facebook live and a weekly Bible study on Wednesdays through Zoom.

Alexander said this era of social distancing doesn’t mean people have to stay apart.

“We shouldn’t distance ourselves totally,” he said.

Some of the state guidelines for religious organizations for services include:

  • A distance of at least 6 feet must be maintained amongst all individuals at all times, unless safety or the core activity requires a shorter distance (e.g. pallbearing) or the individuals are members of the same household. However, any singing activity must provide for a distance between individuals of 12 feet, subject to additional protective measures.
  • Prohibit the use of small spaces (e.g. elevators, vehicles) by more than one individual at time, unless all individuals are wearing face coverings. If occupied by more than one person, keep occupancy under 50% of maximum capacity.
  • Prohibit holding or shaking hands of members in different households during services or prayers.
  • Provide workers with an acceptable face covering at no cost to the worker and have an adequate supply of coverings in case of replacement.
  • Faith leaders, officiants, volunteers, and/or attendees must be prepared to don a face covering if another person unexpectedly comes within 6 feet.
  • Limit the sharing of objects (e.g. religious texts, collection plates) as well as the touching of shared surfaces (e.g. pews, instruments, doors, railings); or, require individuals to wear gloves when in contact with shared objects or frequently touched surfaces; or, require individuals to sanitize or wash their hands before and after contact.
  • Cleaning and disinfecting of facilities, shared surfaces, and other areas, as well as shared objects, must be performed at least after each service, using Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) products identified by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) as effective against Covid-19.
  • Provide and maintain hand hygiene stations on site, including handwashing with soap, water, and paper towels, as well as an alcohol-based hand sanitizer containing 60% or more alcohol for areas where handwashing is not feasible. Hand sanitizer must be placed throughout the location for use by all attending or working.
  • Post signage throughout the facility to remind individuals to adhere to proper hygiene, social distancing rules, appropriate use of PPE, and cleaning and disinfecting protocols. Conspicuously post completed safety plans on site.
  • Implement mandatory health screening assessment (e.g. questionnaire, temperature check) for employees, faith leaders, and volunteers (but not attendees), asking about (1) Covid-19 symptoms in past 14 days, (2) positive Covid-19 test in past 14 days, and/or (3) close contact with confirmed or suspected Covid-19 case in past 14 days. Responses must be reviewed daily and documented.
  • If an employee or faith leader tests positive for Covid- 19, immediately notify state and local health departments and cooperate with contact tracing efforts, including notification of potential contacts who had close contact with the worker, while maintaining confidentiality as required by state and federal law and regulations.

For more on the guidelines from the state for religious organizations, click here.

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Albion looks to hire interim superintendent before start of next school year

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 8 June 2020 at 2:19 pm

Bonnewell will stay as administrator, evaluating teachers

Photo by Tom Rivers: Mike Bonnewell speaks during a district-wide concert on March 3 in the high school gym. This was one of the last big district-wide events before Covid-19 closed the campus to the community.

ALBION — The school district announced today that an interim superintendent will likely be hired before the start of the school year in September, while current superintendent, Michael Bonnewell, will transition to an administrator in charge of evaluating teachers.

In March, Bonnewell and the district announced he would work one more year for Albion and then retire. That would give the district time to hire his successor.

The Board of Education and Bonnewell decided to modify that timeline after a meeting on June 4. At a BOE meeting three days earlier on June 1, BOE meetings said Bonnewell hadn’t been effective communicating with the board and community about how the school was serving students during the pandemic and preparing for graduation and reopening the schools next year.

Bonnewell responded that the administration team has been doing a lot of work behind the scenes. But board members said they weren’t aware of that work and communication has been continuing shortcoming for the superintendent.

Kathy Harling, Board of Education president, said in a letter to the community that Bonnewell has shown a commitment and love of students at Albion.

“Please know that this decision was made collectively between Mr. Bonnewell and the Board, and was done with the best interest of the District and its student sin mind,” Harling said in a letter posted on the district website. “The Board commends Mr. Bonnewell for his service and dedication to the District.”

Bonnewell is in his 10th year as Albion superintendent of schools. He came to Albion after working as superintendent of the Schroon Lake school district in the Adirondacks. That district only has about 200 students. Bonnewell was the district’s superintendent, K-12 principal and also served as the business administrator. Before Schroon Lake, he was principal of Honeoye Middle-High School.

Bonnewell has been highly visible at Albion, attending numerous events after school. He was a chaperone with the high school chorus to New York City last year. He also stepped in as interim high school principal last school year for three months.

Bonnewell, in a letter to the community, said he accept the position as independent evaluator of teachers. He urged the community to not “choose sides” in the situation and asked that everyone stay focused on serving students.

“There will be a natural inclination for people to judge, question, and challenge this,” he said. “Some will even be inclined to choose sides. Please don’t. There is only one side that matters … It is time as the Albion Central School District Community, the ACSD family, that we come together with one focus—that focus needs to be and to do the very best we can do for our students. I will commit my full energy and my complete love to the service of our students as I always have through June 2021 and will do so beyond that if the Board chooses to exercise their option to ask me to continue further.”

“Our students need and deserve nothing less,” Bonnewell continued in his letter. “Not because of COVID, not because of the current social and financial and other troubles in our country and world, not for any reason other than they have always needed and deserved our singular focus—doing all that we can together, for their growth and well-being. They needed that yesterday, they need it today, tomorrow, next week, next year, and forever.”

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Black Lives Matter demonstrators see racism in Orleans County and USA

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 6 June 2020 at 4:32 pm

Photos by Tom Rivers

ALBION – Black Lives Matter demonstrators carry signs in a walk from the intersection of routes 98 and 31 down Main Street to the Orleans County Courthouse lawn.

They were responding to the recent deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery which have spurred nation-ide protests.

About 75 people participated in the demonstration in Albion, and they said racism exists in other ways in Orleans County, from fewer job opportunities for minorities to hearing racial slurs that start in the elementary school.

(Click here to see the demonstrators walking on a sidewalk down Main Street, chanting, “No Justice, No Peace.”)

Marquise Riddick, left, and Eboni Taylor, center, both graduated in the Class of 2013. They are college educated and both want to be teachers.

The two friends said they felt compelled to have a Black Lives Matter event in Albion. They were encouraged to see 75 people attend, and have numerous people beep their horns in support.

Taylor said Orleans County should push for more diversity in the police departments and Sheriff’s Office. She would like to see more black teachers and minorities “in official positions.”

Taylor, 25, graduated from Syracuse University. She works at a childcare center in Albion.

Riddick earned a degree at Brockport State College. He wants to be a physical education teacher.

He attended a protest on May 30 in Rochester and he said it was an empowering event.

“It was really inspiring how everyone came together in Rochester,” he said. “I wanted there to be one in the community where I grew up in.”

Marquise Riddick, who organized today’s Black Lives Matter demonstration, holds a sign – “Remember Their Names” – that highlights the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery.

Floyd died in custody of a Minneapolis police officer on May 25. Floyd was on the ground and died after being held down for nearly nine minutes while an officer had his knee on Floyd’s neck.

Breonna Taylor was 26 when she was fatally shot on March 13 by Louisville Metro Police Department, who forced entry into her apartment on a no-knock search warrant. Her boyfriend fired at the officers, who he thought were intruders. Taylor was shot eight times. She worked as an EMT and would have been 27 on Friday.

Ahmaud Arbery was unarmed on a jog in Georgia when he was confronted by two white residents, Travis McMichael and his father Gregory, who were armed and driving a pickup truck. Arbery was shot and killed.

Eboni Taylor holds up a sign and other demonstrators can be seen across the street.

Ray Paull, 18, of Medina attended the demonstration and held up a Black Lives Matter sign. Paull, a white student at Oswego State College, said he hears from his black friends in Medina and Oswego how terrified they feel if they are ever stopped by police.

Paull said he wants to support the Black Lives Matters movement. “It’s not acceptable for injustices to keep happening,” he said.

Dennis Seekins of Lyndonville joined the demonstration in Albion. He thanked the organizers for giving the local residents a chance to express their support for Black Lives Matter.

A young demonstrator holds a sign near Albion’s busiest intersection.

Chanyce Powell, a 2017 Albion graduate, holds a Black Lives Matter sign during the demonstration.

After a walk from the intersection to the Courthouse Square, the group laid down for 8 minutes and 46 seconds. That’s how long George Floyd was on the ground on May 25, while the officer had his knee on Floyd’s neck.

Marquise Riddick shared Floyd’s words and pleas for help before his death. A video of Floyd in anguish and then becoming unresponsive has resulted in nationwide protests.

(Click here to see Riddick recount Floyd’s last words.)

Pastor Aleka Schmidt of the First Baptist Church attended the demonstration and holds the “I’m Listening” sign. The participants are lying face down for 8 minutes, 46 seconds as a tribute to George Floyd. The pizzas near Schmidt were donated by Crosby’s.

White people were urged to speak out if they see or hear racist comments among their friends and family, and to work against institutional racism.

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Black Lives Matter demonstration planned for noon today in Albion

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 6 June 2020 at 9:57 am

ALBION – A peaceful protest for Black Lives Matter is planned for noon today in Albion. Participants are urged to gather at the intersection of routes 98 and 31.

“We hope to bring awareness to the community and demonstrate our support of Black Lives Matter,” Marquise Riddick, the organizer, posted on Facebook. “We want Justice for George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and for every black person, past and present, that has had their lives taken unjustly.”

After the demonstration at the intersection, some of the group members then plans to walk down Main Street to the Orleans County Courthouse in honor of George Floyd.

Riddick urges people to maintain social distancing, wear a mask and bring a bottle to water to stay hydrated.

“If you do not feel comfortable protesting, drive by, honk, or wave in support,” he said. “We understand that there are more than one way to show support for the movement.”

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Long lines for expanded food distribution this morning in Albion

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 5 June 2020 at 12:52 pm

Photos by Tom Rivers

ALBION – Staff and volunteers from the Orleans County Office for the Aging helped run a food distribution this morning at the parking lot for the Main Street Thrift Store at the corner of Main and Chamberlain streets.

The OFA staff are shown on Chamberlain Street. The vehicles stretched down Chamberlain for several blocks to McKinistry Street. The cars were lined down McKinistry and then down East Park Street.

Volunteers and staff from Community Action of Orleans & Genesee helped with the distribution today.

This was the first food distribution that was expanded from one box to three. Foodlink had been providing a box for 300 people at the food distributions.

The schedule for June includes:

• Friday, June 12 – Medina Calvary Cupboard, Medina, 9:30 to 11:30 a.m.

• Friday, June 19 – Community Action, Main Street Store, 9:30 to 11:30 a.m.

• Friday, June 26 – Holley Community Center, former Save-A-Lot grocery store parking lot, 9:30 to 11:30 a.m.

This new round of food distributions introduces a new state-funded program called Nourish New York. This funding allows Foodlink to purchase local product.

Some of the Foodlink product also is from the federal USDA’s new initiative called CFAP (Coronavirus Food Assistance Program). In this program, distributors who would normally serve schools, restaurants, and municipal programs are able to pre-pack boxes of perishable product and deliver to distributions being done all over the country, said Melissa Blanar, OFA director in Orleans County.

Three different trucks delivered the food this morning. The boxes were in three groups: mixed dairy, cooked meat and produce. Each box was about 25 pounds.

Jo Canale, left, and Carolyn Flansburg carry boxes to a truck of an elderly resident.

The expanded distributions are expected to continue through August.

Cars are lined up East Park Street, then down McKinistry and Chamberlain streets for the distribution.

The distribution started at 9:30 and by 11 all 900 boxes were gone with 300 people each getting three boxes. There were some extra boxes and some other people were able to get one box. Altogether, 326 vehicles received at least one box.

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Banners honoring soldiers from Albion expected to be in place by July 4

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 5 June 2020 at 10:56 am

ALBION – Banners honoring soldiers from Albion are expected to be in place on Main Street and downtown Albion by the July 4th holiday.

Raleigh’s Outdoor Decor in Bethlehem Pa. is manufacturing the banners. The top image shows the design for 14 of the 33 banners in the debut of the program.

Albion Mayor Eileen Banker has coordinated the effort. Her father, the late John Pahura, is one of the soldiers who will be recognized with a banner, which will be 2 ½ feet by 5 feet.

“I’m some excited,” Banker said this morning. “They look wonderful.”

Families or loved ones of the soldiers paid the cost for the banners. Banker expects delivery of the banners later this month, in time for them to be up before July 4.

She has seen the banners in Holley, Medina and Brockport and said the display of portraits sends a powerful message.

“We should honor our veterans, the ones who are serving now and who come before us,” she said. “They made this country.”

People interested in the program can send her an email at

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Dancers, at 6 feet apart, happy to reunite in Albion for video

By Ginny Kropf, correspondent Posted 2 June 2020 at 12:57 pm

Photos by Ginny Kropf: Current and former students of Ami Sidari rehearse a routine Monday night on Sidari’s lawn, which was marked off to ensure safe distancing.  Laiken Ricker, left, leads a group of dancers during rehearsal Monday night on Amy Sidari’s lawn. Ricker and Janie Schultz (center), who are both cousins of Sidari, choreographed the routine in preparation for making a video. Rehearsals will continue this week and parents and the public are invited to park across the street in the bowling alley or on Sidari’s lawn to watch.

ALBION – Amy Sidari has had enough of sitting around and decided her students have too. The pandemic has taken its toll and she has decided to do something about it.

“I have dozens of students uniting for the first time since March 12,” said the dance instructor and owner of Gotta Dance Studio in Albion. “Some of these students I haven’t seen in years, but they are making the effort to attend and dance. We are going to make a music video, and are following all the rules and guidelines to do this.”

Amy Sidari, owner of Gotta Dance by Miss Amy, chats with her cousins Janie Schultz, left,  and Laiken Ricker prior to rehearsal on Sidari’s lawn Monday night to prepare for making a video.

Sidari said she checked with the health officials and is following all their guidelines, wearing masks and dancing apart in spots marked off on her lawn. Spectators are watching from a distance in their cars, or may sit apart on their own lawn chairs if the weather is warm enough.

Sidari put the word out and expected 25 students to participate. She ended up with 39.

“Some of these alumni I haven’t seen in six years,” Sidari said through her mask Monday night, the first night of rehearsal.

Today’s practice has been postponed until Wednesday at 6:30. She hopes the group will be prepared to shoot the video soon.

“It will be entertaining and educating to see how we create a film,” Sidari said. “For me, the most difficult thing is not hugging everyone I see.”

Jennifer Viza of Albion, whose daughter Maleah, 16, is one of the dancers, said she was ecstatic about getting the kids back together again.

“Maleah has missed her lessons big time,” Viza said. “I’m not worried about them getting together, because these girls are big enough to know how to follow the guidelines.”

Sidari chose the music of the song “A Different Beat” for their routine.

“It is symbolic of our times and the title and lyrics go further, to the individual person,” Sidari said. “I sum up the song as ‘all about being yourself,’ which is different than anyone else. ‘Different’ is accepted, respected and anything done with love is a winner.”

Two of Sidari’s cousins, Laiken Ricker, a senior at Albion High School and teacher at Gotta Dance, and Janie Schultz a former dance instructor and currently a high school special education teacher, choreographed the routine. Schultz actually came home from Nebraska to take part in the dance routine.

Ricker and Schultz said they based the routine on the skill level of the dancers.

“It will be cool to see what Amy does on the music video,” they said.

Sidari said she plans to post the video on Facebook, the studio website and in a mass e-mailing.

As the dancers began their routine, learning eight beats at a time, cars began pulling up across the street. Sidari recognized them as some of her Cabaret regulars.

“It’s a joy to give them something to watch,” she said.

Kiarra Schuler, a sophomore at Albion Central School, is one of Sidari’s dance students who said she has been “very, very bored” not being able to attend dance lessons, and she was thrilled with the opportunity to dance again.

Alumni students came from Albany, as well as from all over the local area, to participate in making the video, Sidari said.

“It’s a heartbreaking situation to be separated so long,” Sidari said. “I want to get their mind and body working, like we used to do in the studio, but my priority is making it safe.”

“I was thrilled to see so many alumni students of mine and the parent support for the students I am still teaching,” Sidari said. “Anyone is welcome to come and watch this week from the safety of their own car. There is no harm to the community to watch from their car. We have tried to keep the kids busy via website instruction and fun activities. Now that the government is reopening gradually, phase by phase, I can really get the kids moving. This would not be possible at this time in our studio, but the outside works.  My yard is big enough to bring goodness to everyone.”

Sidari lives at 3300 Oak Orchard Road, across from Oak Orchard Bowling.

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Pullman church hosts peaceful vigil for justice

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 1 June 2020 at 9:20 pm

Photos by Tom Rivers

ALBION – Susan Daiss, a lay leader at the Pullman Memorial Universalist Church in Albion, speaks at a vigil for peace and justice on the church’s lawn this evening.

About 20 people attended the vigil that lasted about a half hour. Darrel Dykes of Medina holds a Black Lives Matter sign.

He attended a march on Saturday in Buffalo. He said the event was “overwhelmingly positive and peaceful” in the beginning. He could tell the atmosphere was changing later in the evening and he left before there was widespread vandalism.

He regrets that most of the news coverage and social media attention on the marches has focused on the looting and detracted from the message of peace and justice.

The church wanted to offer “safe space” to pray and send energy for justice, peace and healing “during these troubling and chaotic times in our nation and communities, as well as observe a moment of silence for all of those lost to racial violence so far this year.”

The group gathers outside the church on East Park Street. They responded to the death of George Floyd, an African-American man who died a week ago after a police officer knelt on his neck for nearly nine minutes despite Floyd’s anguish and pleas that he couldn’t breathe.

That death led to nationwide protests, with many resulting in damage to businesses and public spaces, including in nearby Buffalo and Rochester.

Lance Zink, 18, right and his mother Jennifer Bagley light a candle at the vigil. They are from Gaines and recently moved to the area. Bagley said she was grateful there was an opportunity for a gathering to express remorse about George Floyd’s death in Minneapolis. She said she supports the Black Lives Matter movement.

Jessica Geroge, chairwoman of the board for the Pullman Church, shared a reflection during the vigil.

“Our world needs so much right now. So much love, and compassion, and kindness, and justice, and peace, and understanding.  We are called here tonight as people of conscience. People outraged by the disregard for human lives that we are seeing, outraged by the divisiveness we see in our communities, and by the dehumanization we are seeing from people in positions of power and authority.”

She urged the group to “love radically”  and challenge “systemic oppression.”

The Pullman church wanted to offer a place during a scary time for the country. Besides the death of Floyd, the country has seen the images of looters, and has endured nearly three months of restrictions due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

“We are called here tonight to seek a more compassionate, peaceful, and kind world,” George said. “We are moved to be here as people that are committed to seeing our world, our nation, and our society be better for all of us.  We are moved to search not only for justice, but for equality, fairness, equity and peace.”

Al Capurso also sang a song during the vigil – “Here Comes the Sun” by The Beatles.

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Picketers were outside nursing home in Albion where 26 have died from Covid-19

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 29 May 2020 at 3:58 pm

Photos by Tom Rivers

ALBION – About a dozen picketers were outside The Villages of Orleans Health and Rehabilitation Center in Albion today for about an hour.

They said they wanted to show support for the staff and residents at a nursing home where 26 people have died from Covid-19. The Villages has had 88 of its residents test positive for Covid-19.

Picketers faulted management of the facility for not providing staff with enough personal protective equipment (gowns, masks, N-95 respirators) to prevent workers from becoming infected and spreading the virus.

Richard Brakenbury holds a sign that says, “I Miss My Wife” during the picket. His wife of 61 years, Connie Brakenbury, died on May 12. The family said she contracted Covid-19 at The Villages while in the rehab section. She was trying to build back her strength after being dehydrated and feeling weak. She was at The Villages for 20 days.

Mr. Brakenbury said his wife was put in a room with someone who was Covid-19 positive.

The facility has had nearly all of its residents test positive for Covid-19. Those that are negative have recently been moved to a sister facility in Williamsville that is also owned by Comprehensive Healthcare Management Services LLC.

The nursing home in Albion used to be owned by the county. It was sold for $7.8 million on Feb. 6, 2014 to Comprehensive.

Angelo and Ondrea Pate were among the picketers today. Connie Brakenbury is Mrs. Pate’s mother.

Ondrea Pate worked 7 years as an LPN at The Villages. She picketed several times in 2013 when the county announced it would be selling the facility due to the deficits that topped $2 million.

Pate worried then that privatization would result in frequent staff turnover and less accountability to the community.

She left 18 months after the sale, became an registered nurse and now works in Brockport.

The management at The Villages has done a poor job communicating with the community about what’s going on inside the nursing home, and sharing a strategy to slow the spread of the virus and save residents’ lives, Pate said.

She started an online petition for a change in the director of nursing. That petition has 1,400 supporters.

Pate said the deaths were unnecessary if the proper precautions were taken.

“It should never have happened,” she said about the high loss of life. “It’s heart-breaking.”

Amanda Dixon, a former employee who worked in human resources, was among the picketers today.

The State Attorney General’s Office, Orleans County Sheriff’s Office, Orleans County District Attorney’s Office, and State Department of Health are all investigating how The Villages has responded to Covid-19.

The Villages passed a state DOH inspection on April 29, but in a May 9 inspection the facility was cited for immediate jeopardy, where noncompliance puts residents in serious harm, according to a May 27 article in The Buffalo News.

The Villages took action and the immediate jeopardy was lifted, although the state DOH continues to closely monitor the nursing home, The Buffalo News reported.

Pate wants a leadership change at The Villages, particularly with the director of nursing.

She hopes the picket today, across the street from the nursing home, sent a message to staff and residents that community members are pushing for a safer nursing home.

“We want to support the residents and staff and show them we are here for them,” Pate said. “We want to make it better.”

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