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Outstanding citizens for 2015 contribute in many ways to Orleans County

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 30 December 2015 at 12:00 am

Orleans County is blessed to have many dedicated volunteers and generous residents, who give of their time, talents and financial resources for a better community. Each year since the Orleans Hub started in April 2013 we’ve recognized outstanding citizens and we want to do it again.

This time there are two – Melissa Ierlan of Clarendon and Al Capurso of Gaines – who are first-time “repeat winners.” We have no limits on how many times someone can be recognized. Many residents make big contributions to the community, year after year.

This year’s “Outstanding Citizens” include:

Kendall Community Chorus hits the right notes

Photo by Kristina Gabalski – Mary Campbell, far right, directs the Kendall Community Choir during a holiday concert in November. The concert also served as a benefit for the Kendall Food Cupboard.

In 2008, Mary Campbell put notices in Kendall churches and public buildings, looking for singers. Campbell retired as a Kendall music teacher in 2007. A year later, she was eager to lead voices again.

Campbell hoped 20 people from Kendall would volunteer for the Kendall Community Chorus. The first practice, 50 people showed up. The choir has performed in numerous concerts since then, including a big bash for Kendall’s bicentennial in 2012. They have sung in the school, at the town park, and many local nursing homes. They begin the annual Kendall Fireman’s Carnival Parade with the “Star Spangled Banner” and “America, the Beautiful.” They even sang a patriotic medley in a flash mob at Wegmans in Brockport.

The group’s annual November concert benefitted the Kendall Food Cupboard, with people urged to bring canned goods or cash donations.

“We tried to go where there were people we knew,” Campbell said.

Sixty-eight people have sung in the choir since it started. Many have become close friends through the group. Campbell announced after the November concert she was retiring from directing. She thanked the many dedicated singers. About 30 have stayed with the group since it started.

Campbell has been the group’s leader as it enriched the community, and built strong bonds of friendship. She said the singers have all given of their time to make the group a success.

Provided photo

Eighteen members of the Kendall Community Chorus sang in October 2014 at the Middleport Community Choir Invitational. The 18 members from the Kendall Community Chorus are, from left, first row: Kristy Markham, Alissa Grimm, Lisa Rowley, Katie Presutti, Marilynn Kundratta and Mary Campbell. Second row: Cindy Curtis, Debbie Collichio, Eileen Young and Candy Mael. Third row: Carol Duerr, Marietta Schuth and Mary Lou Lockhart. Fourth row: Jeremy Rath, Nancy Grah, Christopher Tobin, Robert Bissell and Eileen Grah.

Animal lover has boosted dog and cat adoptions, improved shelter

Photo by Tom Rivers – Joette McHugh of Albion, center, is pictured with her husband Bill and Gina Smith of Hilton. They are with Zurie, a Shar-Pei/Lab mix. About 20 volunteers are regulars at the Orleans County Animal Shelter, feeding animals, taking dogs for walks, socializing cats and performing other duties.

Ever since she retired nine years ago, Joette McHugh has been a devoted volunteer at the Orleans County Animal Shelter. She knows all of the dogs and cats by name, and has been instrumental in adopting out many of the animals.

She also has been a driven fund-raiser and spearheaded the start of the Friends of the Orleans County Animal Shelter. She is president of that group, which had a fund-raising gala at The Pillars in May, bringing in about $7,000.

That has helped to have all dogs neutered at the shelter, and also paid for a new washer and dryer.

Most of the animals at the shelter are chipped which makes it much easier to find their owners if the animals are ever lost or on the loose. The number of adoptions has actually gone down in the past couple years because the shelter has been able to find many of the owners.

However, many cats and dogs don’t have homes. McHugh, the other dedicated volunteers and Animal Control Officer Kathy Smith have adopted out 1,500 dogs and cats in the past seven years.

McHugh brings enthusiasm and joy to the shelter, whether its feeding the animals, walking dogs, playing with cats or cleaning cages.

“I love the animals and thought if there was anything I could do to help I would,” McHugh said.

Medina churches unite throughout the year to help community

Some of the members of the Medina Area Association of Churches are pictured on Dec. 19 after toys. clothes and food were delivered to Medina families, including about 150 children. The group includes, from left: Grace Pries from the First Baptist Church, Rosey Boyle from the United Methodist, Donna Johnson from the Presbyterian Church, Sue Metzo from the Presbyterian, Pastor Tony Hipes of the United Methodist, Joanne Arnett with United Methodist, and Ronnie Barhite from St. John’s Episcopal Church.

For more than four decades a group of Medina churches have played Santa during the holidays for local families.

The annual MAAC toy drive allows about 150 children to have several toys each year, as well as food, and new hats, mittens, scarves and socks.

The churches also work together throughout the year running the clothing depot at the Calvary Tabernacle Assembly of God, the former Medina High School. The depot sells clothes below thrift store prices. It generates about $30,000 to $35,000 annually that the churches give back to the community for many causes.

The humanitarian work has brought Christians from several churches together, strengthening their fellowship while they provide for local residents.

“You don’t see this in many other communities,” said Tony Hipes, pastor of the United Methodist Church and current vice president of MAAC. “It’s the body of Christ. We’re giving back throughout the year.”

MAAC members Sue Metzo (left) and Sylvia Riviere are pictured in December 2014 inside the Medina United Methodist Church at the former Apple Grove Inn, which has become the headquarters for the annual present sorting.

Charter boat captain has been instrumental in raising trout, salmon for local fishery

Bob Songin, in red, lead the pen-rearing project from 1998 to 2014 until passing off the reins to a new group of volunteers this year. Songin remains active in helping to raise the fish in the Oak Orchard River.

Orleans County’s top tourism draw are big salmon and trout in Lake Ontario and local tributaries, such as Oak Orchard River, Johnson Creek and Sandy Creek. Fishing has a $12 million economic impact in the county each year.

A local charter boat captain has given countless hours to improve the fishery through a pen-rearing project. With that effort, begun in 1998, about 100,000 baby fish are delivered to pens in the Oak Orchard River from the Altmar Hatchery.

The fish arrive at about 2 inches long. The are babied and nurtured for a month in the Oak Orchard, doubling in size before they are released from the pens. They are fed five times a day, beginning at 5 a.m.

The month in the Oak Orchard allows the fish to imprint on the river, increasing the chances they will return to spawn when they are mature.

Without the pen-rearing, the fish would more likely head near Oswego and the Salmon River, near the Altmar Hatchery.

Bob Songin is charter boat captain with Reel Excitement.

Songin and the volunteers have increased the survival rate of fish, and charter boat captains say more bigger fish return to the Oak Orchard for fall fishing runs since the pen-rearing.

“He has spent untold hours getting it off the ground,” said Mike Waterhouse, the county’s sportsfishing promotion coordinator. “The whole community benefits because it ensures our fish will remain at a level to draw fishermen from all over the country.”

Songin also has shared the success of the Oak Orchard pen-rearing with other fishing communities. Now there are similar efforts in Olcott and the Genesee River in Rochester. This year he handed off the main pen-rearing responsibilities to Mike Lavender, Bob Stevens, James Cond, Chris Efing and Ian Scroger.

Downtown business owner spearheads several efforts in Albion

Lisa Stratton is dressed in costume during Beggar’s Night in October, when hundreds of children stopped by Albion businesses for treats.

Lisa Stratton, owner of the Hazy Jade Gift Shop in downtown Albion, remains one of Albion’s biggest boosters and tireless workers.

Each spring she and a few other volunteers fill concrete planters with dirt and flowers. She also arranges for the hanging baskets on Main Street.

Stratton organizes volunteers to water the flowers on weekends. She also helps plan many of the events through the Albion Merchants Association, including a wine tasting, Beggar’s Night with candy for children, and other activities throughout the year that provide fun for the community while promoting the locally owned businesses in the downtown.

She attends many of the Village Board meetings, advocating for the downtown businesses, and often will step forward to help with a community event.

Old farmhouse turned into hunting retreat for wounded warriors

Photos by Thom Jennings – Hunters pose with some of the birds harvested during a hunt in September in Shelby, the first for The Warrior House.

Peter Zeliff Jr. turned an old farmhouse in West Shelby into a therapeutic site this year for wounded veterans.

Zeliff and a team of volunteers fixed up the house and connected with veterans’ groups to bring injured soldiers to the site for a few days of hunting. The property was renamed The Warrior House.

The site hosted its first hunt in September with 13 wounded veterans. Other groups have followed and The Warrior House will be made available to spouses and children of veterans as well.

Zeliff sees the site as a ministry for people who served the country. Some bear obvious injuries and walk with a cane. Others suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and constant physical pain.
Shannon Girard from Lafayette, La. was out for a hunt at The Warrior House in late October-early November. Girard, 40, said he “slept like a baby” over the weekend on his hunting retreat. That is a big deal for Girard and the other veterans.

Girard was deployed as a medic to Iraq in 2004-05. The Louisiana resident said the hunting getaway is a perfect way for veterans to calm their nerves and bodies, while connecting with others in the military.

“The best therapy is bringing people together,” Girard said on Nov. 1 after a morning of bow-hunting. “You can decompress when you come out here and be in nature and see the beautiful sunrises and sunsets.”

Zeliff, through his generosity and hard work at The Warrior House, is making a big difference for many soldiers.

Peter Zeliff Jr. is pictured in July during a workday at The Warrior House.

Volunteer made farm market a Medina hotspot

Photo by Tom Rivers – Gail Miller stepped forward this year as volunteer coordinator of the new Canal Village Farmers’ Market in Medina.

A farmers’ market that operated in the Canal Basin for about a decade ceased after the 2014 season. The Orleans Renaissance Group saw a farmers’ market as a draw for the downtown and residents’ quality of life.

The ORG decided to start a new market, The Canal Village Farmers’ Market. The market date was moved from Thursdays to Saturdays, and the location shifted from the Canal Basin to the parkign lot across from the Post Office.

Gail Miller volunteered to lead the market, working with vendors and lining up entertainment and exhibitors. Some Saturdays, 450 to 500 attended the market.

“It’s been a great group effort,” said Mrs. Miller on the market’s final day of the season, which was Halloween. She dressed as an Angry Bird character that day.

Next year the market will start in June, and Miller said there will be more entertainment and demonstrations. She has been a key to the market’s success and it’s bright future.

One of oldest cobblestone schools gets new life

Al Capurso is pictured with a new historical marker that was unveiled Oct. 17 by a former one-room schoolhouse on Gaines Basin Road, just north of the Erie Canal. The schoolhouse was built in 1832 and is one of the oldest cobbesltone buildings in the area.

Orleans County is home to about 100 cobblestone buildings and many other historic sites that are a source of pride. But there could be more if the wrecking ball, fires and neglect hadn’t destroyed former mansions, schoolhouses and other sites established in the 1800s.

Al Capurso didn’t want to lose another building that is important to the county’s past. This year Capurso rallied volunteers to save a former one-room schoolhouse on Gaines Basin Road. The building from 1832 is one of the oldest cobblestone buildings in the county and region.

The building has been largely abandoned since 1944. This year it got a new roof. Boards were removed from windows and sashes restored. Junk was cleared out.

Capurso and members of the Orleans County Historical Association also put up a historical marker for the school. The marker notes that Caroline Phipps taught at the school. She went on to be a distinguished educator and ran the Phipps Union Seminary in Albion from 1837 to 1875. That spot later became the County Clerks Building.

The 913-square-foot building needs more work and Capurso has a game plan to get it done. Next year he said there will be repairs to the floor, and the building will be rewired and ceiling and walls plastered. Some missing sections of cobblestones will be replaced with appropriate soft lime mortar.

In 2017, Capurso said he expects the site will receive donations for a piano, school desks, teachers desk, wood stove, tables, chairs and wall hangings. The site, where hundreds of children were educated, will add to the county’s historical fabric. A treasure that could have caved in has been saved.

Capurso was recognized as an outstanding citizen by the Orleans Hub in 2014 for leading the effort to have the federal government name a creek in honor of a pioneer resident, Elizabeth Gilbert. It flows 6.5 miles along Brown Road in Gaines across Ridge Road to Carlton.

It took a year of lining up local support, and gaining permission from the federal Bureau of Geographic Names. The agency on April 10, 2014 formally approved the naming request.

Faded signs about local history get a makeover

In August, the historical marker for Balcom’s Mills on Fancher Road in Murray was reinstalled with fresh paint. Melissa Ierlan, the Clarendon town historian, repainted the marker. She is right of the marker in light purple shirt. Ierlan repainted nine historical markers in the past two years.

It started in 2014 when Clarendon was celebrating the 150th anniversary of Carl Akeley’s birth. Akeley grew up in Clarendon on Hinds Road and became one of the most famous taxidermists in the world.

Melissa Ierlan, the town historian, noticed the historical marker on Hinds Road about Akeley could barely be read due to flaking paint. She took the marker down, stripped off the remaining paint and repainted it blue and gold.

She did three others in Clarendon. It’s tedious work, but she wanted the markers to look good.

Other communities also had markers in need of fresh paint and Ierlan this year has redone five markers, including one for the Elba Muck, one in Albion for Grace Bidell, two on Ridge Road in Gaines, and one in Murray.

She has three others and some will require welding.

The restored markers not only make it easier to read about prominent people and places in the community’s past but also project a message that the community cares about its historical assets. Ierlan has done a nice service in reviving some of these markers.

She was also an outstanding citizen in 2014 for her efforts to save the chapel at Hillside Cemetery. Ierlan received good news on that project on Dec. 10 when the state announced a $126,210 grant for the chapel.

Deputy survives shootout, prevents mayhem

Deputy James DeFilipps is pictured with his wife Marie and their infant son Jake at the Orleans County Public Safety Building on May 19 during a recognition program.

It was 3 a.m. on March 21 when James DeFilipps was shot twice following a high-speed chase with James Ellis of Wyoming County. Thankfully, the deputy was wearing a bullet-proof vest.

DeFilipps was the first police officer on scene when Ellis wrecked his vehicle in Clarendon on Route 31A. Police were pursuing Ellis after a 911 call when he threatened an ex-girlfriend in Shelby with a gun.

DeFilipps was the first on the scene. Ellis had fled to a nearby wooded area and opened fire on DeFilipps and other deputies and police to arrive on the scene. DeFilipps, despite getting hit twice by gunfire, shot Ellis, killing him and ending his threat.

Police feared Ellis could have shot more officers on the scene if DeFilipps hadn’t been there. Ellis could have fled to a neighbor’s house.

A grand jury reviewed the evidence and found DeFilipps was justified in the shooting. After recovering from his wound to his stomach, he returned to the night shift for the Orleans County Sheriff’s Department, where he has worked nearly 13 years.

Orleans Hub will recognize the outstanding citizens during a reception in February.