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Quick questions with … Shawn Malark, owner of Orleans Pallet

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 28 October 2013 at 12:00 am

Photos by Tom Rivers – Shawn Malark, a Kendall native, started Orleans Pallet in Albion in 2006.

The company survived a massive blaze on Oct. 17.

Firefighters were quickly on scene and contained the fire to the large warehouse.

ALBION – Shawn Malark is a determined man, and a very thankful person. A large warehouse that he owns in Albion was engulfed in flames on Oct. 17, in one of the community’s largest fires ever.

Malark is thankful the fire didn’t spread. He has kept his company, Orleans Pallet, going and he said he will grow the operations in Albion. The company takes broken wooden pallets and rebuilds them.

Malark’s office is in a structure next to the warehouse that was spared from the fire. He pumped water from his office the day after the fire and was quickly back connecting with his customers. He sat down for an interview last Wednesday.

Q: I’m curious about the history of the company. You started this yourself?

A: I did in 2006. We moved in right here in Albion, NY, and started to refurbish the facility. We were doing a little bit each year.

Q: You worked out of more than just the big sandstone building that burned.

A: There were three buildings. The two that are remaining are the one on West Avenue with all of our recycling equipment and then the building connected to the three-story building that had the fire. We have another custom shop/bathroom-break area that was not harmed at all.

Q: The smaller sandstone building, how old is that?

A: 1901. It was the same extension of the three-story building. We had some water damage in the basement. We’ll have to fully gut that because over 3 million gallons of water drained in there from the fire. We had that completely refurbished as storage but it was completely wiped out.

Q: The big building was that mainly for storage?

A: It was. We had pallets and metal racks that housed some of our pallet components. The main heart of the business is in this building and it had very little impact. None of our machinery or fork lifts, and none of our trailers. One of the advantages of our business is the number of trailers that we own. None of that equipment was harmed. They were all backed up to the loading dock by the fire and I don’t know how they weren’t harmed. It melted all of the siding across the street at Lorenzo’s, but our trailers and the doors and seals were positioned in a way that the walls from the building protected it from the fire. We were very fortunate.

Malark is amazed his trailers full of pallets were unharmed from the fire.

Q: How many trailers do you have?

A: We had about 10 trailers out there, including one that we use for heat-treatment of pallets. Dale Brooks (from the Albion DPW) was huge in the recovery of that after the fire so that the demolition team didn’t do further damage to our property. That trailer is about $40,000 to $50,000. We removed it from the dock so that they could do their demo. That was a huge save right there.

That trailer is used in the heat treatment of pallets that will travel overseas. The trailer heats the wood up to 140 degrees. The core of that wood temperature reaches 140 degrees and it has to hold that temperature in its core zones for 30 minutes. That removes the moisture content from the wood and allows the pallet to be shipped overseas with no concern that there has been any larvae infestation.

Q: So this isn’t simply building and rebuilding pallets in this business?

A: There’s a lot going on. We run our transportation business out of her, our freight brokerage and our billing. We have three separate companies out of here. We’re trying to stay as diversified as possible. We have a lot of hard-working people here.

Orleans Pallet employees Andrew Steffen, left, and Robert Morehouse use a saw to break down some pallets that will be rebuilt with fresh pieces.

Q: How many work here?

A: In Albion we have six. One reason we were doing the demolition into the three-story building was to get that ready to receive more pallets.

When we first moved here we had 20 employees. We moved a lot of work to a second operation in Rochester. But we have some key individuals here and we are looking to really ramp up in Albion.

Q: The Rochester site is similar to Albion?

A: Similar but larger. We can handle more pallets at the warehouse there.

Q: How did you get interested in the pallet business?

A: Working at Eastman Kodak and other companies in injection molding and sheet metal manufacturing, I had a lot to do with ordering. I saw the need for pallets in shipping. Everything is on a pallet for the most part. It’s a very manual and aggressive business with the recycling, recovery and the building of the new. There is some automation in it, but a lot of it is manual and physical labor.

We have great customers. It’s a very interesting and challenging business at the same time.

About 150 firefghters battled the fire at the three-story warehouse, which was built in 1901 and was originally the Albion Cold Storage Company.

Q: The old warehouse seemed a good fit for this business. If you hadn’t come here in 2006, I bet the warehouse would have just sat there.

A: The previous owner was going to let the building fall apart. When we came here the docks were the attractive part. You could put 14 trailers to the dock at the same time. That allows us to keep the floor clean and safe. We don’t have to flood the floor with anything we don’t need. We have the option of keeping it in the trailer. It allows us to stay extremely clean. Not all pallet shops are as clean as we are.

Q: Can you talk about the fire? It’s been reported that you and your father (Rod Malark) were working and a spark from a grinder caused the blaze.

A: On Thursday the 17th I was in the office doing billing and my father was removing some pipe for me. We were trying to expand the use of the three-story building for production and storage. He was removing pipe to allow us to get further into the building with some of the demo we were doing.

He was cutting a hanger that was holding some of the pipes with a grinder, so he could get the pipes down where he could remove them. Maybe he was in there that day for 25 minutes before that happened. When he started to do the grinding, one of the sparks caught either some of the wood shavings that were in the floor as old insulation above him or it got in the wall behind him. He believes it got in the wall behind him. And then it just started to go.

He saw that he had a fire and he started to put water on it. It was not going in the right direction and he came and got me to the second-story floor with him. We got into the area with a couple of extinguishers. We put the second floor fire out. But at that point it had climbed to the third floor. It was about 8 or 9 foot wide, climbing the third story wall. It had also taken about 8 to 10 foot horizontally across the first floor below us.

It happened within minutes. By the time we got out of the second story and on to the ground I called the fire department and they said they had already received 50 phone calls. This is probably in less than 8 to 12 minutes time frame from when my father came to retrieve me out of the office. It just went quick.

The only guys who know what they stopped are the firefighters and the fire chief. If this thing had caught Empire Coating, we would have had a monstrous chemical disaster on our hands with the potential for explosions. The next building down is a grain silo with a grain elevator. That would have caused a huge problem.– Shawn Malark

Q: This is at about 3:45 p.m.?

A: I would say that, and by 4 o’clock the fire department’s people had seen the smoke going.

Q: What did you then do when you knew the fire had spread?

A: We closed doors here. The fire department was shooing us out for safety. We were trying to make any last-minute adjustments that we could to prevent the fire from coming in this building. I think closing those doors saved this building. The fire ripped across the canopy and actually hit a couple pipes. It started to come into the office. Upstairs the smoke damage is pretty bad, but it did not catch the walls.

Once we hit the ground, we talked with the investigators to let them know the condition of the building was, the structure of it and the contents. We let them know we have a 1,000-gallon propane tank in the middle of the yard that is barricaded with some concrete. But that line runs underground and fed the heat-treat trailer.

The biggest concern was the back of the building at Empire Coating. I was aware of it and the town was aware of it. That was the biggest discussion: how do we stop this thing from getting to Empire Coating. That could have been a very tragic situation for community and that business also.

The fire at Orleans Pallet quickly spread through the building and turned into an inferno, threatening the neighborhood.

Q: I wonder why it didn’t spread? That was a monstrous fire.

A: Partly the building (double walls of sandstone), but the firefighters stopped it from going into two adjacent buildings that are connected with nothing but wood. The fire chief (Rocky Sidari) was unbelievable. When he hit the scene he had so many people going in a controlled direction. He definitely had a handle on it.

Rollie Nenni, the police chief, worked together with the fire department. You never saw anybody who wasn’t in cooperation. There were hundreds of firefighters and volunteers here and it seemed to be very seamless even in a very stressful situation with all the chemicals at Empire Coating and the hazardous materials there. That thing could have gotten all of us in a very bad situation. I definitely owe those guys a humungous debt of gratitude.

Q: I was also struck by the lack of panic, especially at the command center. They seemed very focused with what they were doing.

We will improve the property, and we will definitely grow the business.– Shawn Malark

A: These guys were calm and collected. They have the correct mindset to put themselves in the right frame of mind to protect all individuals and the residents. They had everybody shut their doors and windows and stay inside. Once they were on scene, they got residents out of the area and pushed the scene back block after block.

They ran hose to the canal because they almost ran out of water. There were 3 million gallons that I know of that were put on to the fire.

Had Rocky not gotten everyone going at the same time we may not have been that lucky. The buildings definitely would not have been saved.

I was very impressed by everyone. They are volunteer people risking their lives, not only for the saving of this business, but they way they all worked together. It gives you a good outlook on why the community is still a solid entity. The key heart and soul of the community was definitely present at this fire.

Malark and firefighters worried the fire might spread to the neighboring structures, including Empire Coating and a grain facility, putting residents in danger.

Q: People might be surprised to see the business is still functioning here. You seem to have kicked it into a new gear around here.

A: I’ve tried to keep everybody calm. It’s one day at a time. It’s nothing you can conquer in a short period of time. You try not to think about any of the bad. You focus on what you can do. We’ve always been able to accomplish a lot. That’s the mode we went into as a company.

We wanted to protect our employees and protect our customer relationships. That’s the heart and soul of our business – our employees and our customers for me as the owner of this business.

Q: It seems like a lot of your product would have gone up in flames?

A: We did lose an extensive amount of product. But because we have the trailers and the other facilities, we were always able to have an inventory.

We were very fortunate, when the fire took place the majority of our stuff was in trailers. We did lose quite of a bit of pallets and components, but they were things we had duplicates and triplicates of. Not losing any of the trailers was just a blessing.

Malark is thankful two of his three buildings survived the fire thanks to the quick response from firefighters.

Q: Who would have thought with all of them backed up to the building like that.

A: And loaded with wood. They didn’t have 10 pallets on them, they had 500 to 600. Nothing burns hotter than pallet wood. It’s dry. These guys being able to jump in here and not only fight a building fire, but a pallet fire, it’s impressive.

The only guys who know what they stopped are the firefighters and the fire chief. If this thing had caught Empire Coating, we would have had a monstrous chemical disaster on our hands with the potential for explosions. The next building down is a grain silo with a grain elevator. That would have caused a huge problem.

What these guys did, without having any time to prepare for this at 4 o’clock in the afternoon when pretty much everyone is going home, it was very impressive to watch. They stayed in their positions and never jumped from anything.

They set up and got themselves safe and then everyone started to ask the right questions for anything else they needed to know.

Q: This may sound like a dumb question, but is it hard to watch the building come down and all this ruin in front of you?

A: It is hard. We had a 16,000-square-foot building that was structurally sound other than the interior floors on the second and third floor, which we wanted to move out. We had big plans for it. We were going to have a new roof on it and have an impressive interior storage building and additional manufacturing.

We’ll have to hit the drawing board again. It is devastating because we had the building. It will no longer to ever be able to used in the manner that it had been. From the historic aspect, we’ve had so many people over the years stop by and ask what it’s being used for now. They would take pictures.

It was up since 1901, and a lot of residents worked here for the different companies or they purchased things from here or stored things here over the years as the building changed hands. We’ve had a lot of people coming here to give the building one last look. It’s a building they’ve known their entire life.

Q: You will stay here in Albion?

A: Absolutely. We will clean the property up. We will improve the property, and we will definitely grow the business.

Quick Questions with … Josh Mitchell, funeral director

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 1 September 2013 at 12:00 am

23-year-old joins the family business in Albion, Holley

Photos by Tom Rivers – Josh Mitchell is a full-time funeral director. He joined Christopher Mitchell Funeral Home in December.

ALBION – Josh Mitchell has followed his father David and grandfather Rho as a funeral director at Christopher Mitchell Funeral Home in Albion and Holley.

Rho started the business in 1957. David joined him in 1984. In December, Josh became the third generation to join the business as a funeral director.

Josh, 23, grew up in Holley and graduated from the school in 2008. He played soccer and tennis at Holley. Like his father and grandfather, he graduated from the Simmons Institute of Funeral Service in Syracuse.

Josh spent 13 months with the Wright-Bread Funeral Home in Canton, completing his state-required residency. He then passed his state exam to become a licensed funeral director, one of four at Christopher Mitchell.

Mitchell also is a certified celebrant. He can officiate services for people who did not have an affiliation with a church.

“I can personalize it,” he said about those funeral services. “I tell their life story and share special memories. We can do it with music and videos. I try to create a special celebration of life.”

The following interview with Josh Mitchell was conducted Aug. 21 at Christopher Mitchell Funeral Home in Albion.

Question: People may wonder why you wanted to get into the funeral business?

Answer: It really intrigued me and from what my dad told me, helping somebody out really means a lot to them and hopefully you can do the best job that they expect of you.

Question: It seems like it takes special people to work in this business, helping people in their time of grief.

Answer: Some days are easier than others. Everybody grieves in their own way. Whether you knew them or not, whether they had 100 friends or no friends, they are still a person, somebody who had a life.

Question: Has this business changed much over the years?

Answer: More people are being cremated now because of ease and the cost is usually cheaper. And people live everywhere. The time frame for a traditional funeral isn’t always the best. That’s why a lot of people are choosing cremation.

Cremation didn’t come out until the ’60s, but the cremation rate has increased drastically over the last 20 years. It’s about 40 to 50 percent now in the United States.

Question: Do you do cremations here?

Answer: No. In New York State funeral homes cannot have a retort (cremation chamber) unless they were grandfathered in prior to that law. There are few in the state that do that. We use one in Rochester.

Josh Mitchell said there aren’t too many multi-generation, family-owned funeral businesses these days.

Question: I remember Christopher Mitchell doing a big expansion here in Albion maybe 15 years ago. Is that because fewer people are using a chapel or church for funeral services?

Answer: There are a lot of people without a church affiliation. They like to use the funeral home as a neutral location.

Question: Based on your experience at Simmons, how many of your classmates were from families in the funeral business?

Answer: I’d say there were four out of 20. It’s a very small percentage. There aren’t as many family-owned funeral businesses as there used to be. A lot of corporate-owned conglomerates have come in and bought funeral homes. In the smaller towns people seem to like the family-owned business. They can put a face to it. They know my dad because he’s been here a long time.

Question: Did this business appeal to you while growing up and seeing your dad and grandfather doing this?

Answer: I originally wanted to be an engineer. My dad and grandfather didn’t push it on me growing up. I didn’t see my first deceased individual until I went to school at Simmons. That’s when I knew I could do it or not do it.

When I graduated from high school, I knew this was what I wanted to do.

Question: It seems like it might be an unpredictable schedule. You need to be there when people need you.

Answer: If somebody does pass away in the middle of the night, we have to go get them. It’s a job that requires you to act when you’re called upon. We try to get there as soon as possible to get somebody’s loved one and bring them back to the funeral home.

Josh Mitchell is pictured with his father David and grandfather Rho. This photo was taken about a year ago by Bruce Landis and hangs on the wall at Christopher Mitchell Funeral Home in Albion.

Question: What else does a funeral director do?

Answer: We do everything from picking a person up to contacting the family and setting up the arrangements. If they want the service at a church, we’ll contact the clergy. We’ll contact the cemetery. We’ll write an obituary and send it to the papers. Whether it’s dealing with a casket or an urn, we’ll take care of it, and we’ll set up the funeral home if it’s needed for calling hours or a service. If they have life insurance, we can help them get that going.

We see everything from beginning to end.

Question: Do you have any advice for people on how they could make this a little easier.

Answer: You can never really prepare for death, but some people set up pre-need (pre-arrangement) accounts and get their ideas on paper about what they really want. That makes it less of a burden on a family. That gets everyone on the same page and makes it easier on the family.

Question: Is this a difficult job?

Answer: The toughest for me is when someone dies my age or if they are an infant. When it’s somebody my age or somebody I know, it’s eye opening. This job has taught me you never really know when it’s your time. It’s taught me not to take things for granted.

Question: Anything else you want to say?

Answer: It’s good to be back home. I was out of the area for 2 ½ years. It’s nice to see the community supporting me being here. They know me. They can continue to put faith in our business.

David Mitchell says son is off to a good start

(Before I left the interview with Josh Mitchell, I stopped by his father’s office. David Mitchell said his son is doing a great job and has been accepted by the community.)

Question: What makes Josh good at this?

Answer: His heart and his mind are into this. If you get into this thinking you are going to make all kinds of money, you’re going to be out real quick. You have to feel a calling to it.

With Josh, I always asked him, “Are you sure you don’t want to do anything else?” He made the decision. It wasn’t made by me or his grandfather.

People like him. I was at a service here last week and Josh was off. People kept asking me, “Where’s Josh?” That was nice to hear.

Quick Questions with Terri Drennan, Crime Victims Coordinator

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 16 July 2013 at 12:00 am

Advocate wants to help victims through court process and beyond

Photos by Tom Rivers – Terri Drennan is pictured outside the Orleans County Public Safety Building in Albion. She has worked as the county’s crime victims coordinator the past six years, after working 14 years as a rape crisis counselor.

ALBION – Terri Drennan has spent two decades working with crime victims, including the past six years as crime victims coordinator.

She works full-time and has two part-time advocates who attend town and county courts, and keep victims updated on cases.

Drennan, the former Terri Champeney of Albion, graduated with a psychology degree from Buffalo State College.

Her husband Tom is the chief deputy in the Orleans County Sheriff’s Department. They have three children.

Question: What does a crime victim advocate do?

Answer: We have a lot of different functions. The main function is to provide support if the victim chooses to come to court to observe what is going on, and explain the criminal justice process because it can be very confusing. They’re there to provide information. They can connect people to other services. If it’s domestic violence we can refer them to people who specialize in domestic violence.

We can’t do counseling per se because we’re under the umbrella of the District’s Attorney Office.

An advocate may be doing advocacy with the district attorney. They may see if there is an order of protection in place yet. Maybe they’ve had some items stolen or damaged and want to discuss restitution. We can share that information with the district attorney.

Sometimes they want to drop an order of protection or have it modified. We can help with that.

Question: If victims don’t go to court, do you fill them in on what happened?

Answer: Yes. They don’t have to go and a lot of people choose not to. We can call them and let them know. We can let them know what happened in court and when there’s a return court date.

I want people to look beyond what happens to the perpetrator, for themselves and for their family because no one is ever going to go to jail long enough for some of the things that have happened to people. Sometimes there’s just no equal.

Question: Is does seem confusing, sitting in court with all the motions and other steps.

Answer: People are surprised by the length of time it takes. I think people get used to watching television where a crime is solved and covered in an hour. If they’ve had something damaged or stolen it can sit in the evidence room for months.

Question: Is a crime victims unit a relatively new thing?

Answer: If I remember my history correctly it came here in 1998 under the district attorney’s umbrella. Prior to that Ellen Tuohey was doing some things out of the basement of the courthouse. I’m not sure of the dynamics of that but there was some crime victims’ work going on. Now we’re all grant funded.

Question: If you’re grant funded, does that make this program tenuous?

Answer: Yes.

Question: How do you get your money to run the program?

Answer: It’s federal money that comes in through the state. The New York State Office of Victim Services is our grant holder. That is who we apply to for grant funding.

Question: This seems like a hard job that could you keep you awake at night.

Answer: People don’t usually come into contact with us when they’ve had a great day. It can be very draining, very frustrating, but you meet a lot of amazing people. When people say, ‘Thank you. You were very helpful,’ that makes it all worth it.

Question: I would think a lot of crime victims are heroic, picking up the pieces and continuing on with life.

Answer: Yes. Just getting out of bed some mornings might be all they accomplished, but you know what, they got out of bed. We’ve had homicides, DWI crashes that have resulted in deaths. We’ve lost children. To get out of bed, that’s huge.

Some people have taken that tragedy to try to change some things so the next family doesn’t have to go through that or to raise awareness.

Question: How long are you in contact with people? Do your services tend to end when the case is over?

Answer: That’s probably up to them. Some people we’ll try to connect with and they may want nothing. They’re not interested. That’s fine.

Other people we’ll work with them throughout the entire criminal case. It tends to draw to a close a little after that. If they need additional help, we make counseling referrals and get them connected with other services.

We live in a small community so it’s great to see people afterwards and see how they’re doing.

Question: How many people are you working with in terms of caseloads?

Answer: When a case comes in we try to make contact through a phone call and letters to at least make people aware of our services. Some people it’s very limited. They might just want $100 in restitution for their broken window or an order of protection. There’s probably a few hundred people in that capacity.

People that we have more of a relationship with we probably work with about 100.

Question: Are you helpful to the DA, by connecting with the victims?

Answer: I’d like to think so. They (DA’s Office) may have a file and want to hear from the victim. That doesn’t mean it will play out how the victim wants it to, but the DA wants to know.

Question: You majored in psychology at Buff State. Were you thinking you’d enter the human services field?

Answer: Yes. When I graduated I figured I would save the world, but I figured out pretty quickly I wasn’t going to save the world. You help one person at a time.

Question: Any other comments?

Answer: I want people to look beyond what happens to the perpetrator, for themselves and for their family because no one is ever going to go to jail long enough for some of the things that have happened to people. Sometimes there’s just no equal.

Quick Questions with Tim Moriarty

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 11 June 2013 at 12:00 am

Medina S & L president believes bank has been critical in Main Street renaissance, other local projects

Photos by Tom Rivers – Tim Moriarty has been president of the Medina Savings and Loan the past 17 years.

Medina Savings and Loan has been in business for 125 years. It was the only bank in Orleans County to survive the Great Depression. It has stayed locally owned and locally focused in an era on bank consolidations.

Tim Moriarty, 58, grew up in Medina, and worked for Ernst and Winney in Charlotte, N.C., and banks in Rochester (Security Trust and Rochester Community Savings Bank) before returning to his hometown. He has been president of the Savings and Loan for 17 years.

The bank has 15 employees with most of them working out of the bank’s main office on Maple Ridge Road, next to Tops. In 2006, the Medina S & L opened a second office in the Albion Wal-Mart Supercenter.

Moriarty is active in the community as a member of the Medina Lion’s Club, the Medina Sandstone Society and the Shelridge Country Club. He is a past president of the Orleans County Chamber of Commerce and coached Little League for 11 years.

He talked about the bank and is career during an interview last Wednesday at the S & L.

Question: You mentioned you worked at Security Trust and the Rochester Community Savings Bank. Did we have more banks back in the 1980s?

Answer: Yes. I tell people a little story. I used to bowl in a banker’s league when I was in Rochester. There were 16 teams represented by 12 different banks. Not one of those banks exists today. Rochester Savings, Community Savings, Monroe Savings, Columbia Savings, First Federal Savings, First National Central Trust, Lincoln First, Security Trust – They’re all gone.

‘We don’t loan outside our area. We’re here for projects that make economic sense to help build a better community.’

Question: It seems like there continues to be a buying spree, if you look at First Niagara.

Answer: They’re a little different. First Niagara bought to buy, to get big and not for value. That’s the difference.

Question: How unusual is it to have a local Savings and Loan these days?

Answer: It’s less and less in New York. In the country most of the banks are still small community banks. I’m not sure why New York has been getting hit harder than the other states.

Question: Is the small community bank a better model than the bigger banks?

Answer: I think there is a need for both. You need big banks for large commercial customers. But the problem with the big banks is they have a lot of activities that have nothing to do with banking and that puts them at risk of failing like in 2008 and ’09.

The reason it’s an issue is you have FDIC insurance on their deposits. If they fail it puts a major hurt on that.

If you look at community banks, I can go up and down Main Street and you’d be shocked at the projects we’ve done. Right now we’re helping the United Methodist Church get the old Apple Grove done. I can go all over Medina and see the different projects we’ve done. The bigger banks are not interested. We’re small for them.

The big banks just take the deposits and siphon it out of the community. And then they invest it in Hong Kong and their growth areas like Singapore. That’s where they want to focus their attention. They’re siphoning out the money.

In a community bank we reloan it in the community to help with growth in the community and improving the community. We don’t loan outside our area. We’re here for projects that make economic sense to help build a better community.

Question: I really hadn’t thought about that, that a bank has played a part in Medina Main Street revival the past 10 years. People need to borrow money to make some of these projects happen.

Answer: We’ve done a lot of the projects up and down Main Street.

The Medina Savings and Loan was the lone Orleans County bank to survive the Great Depression.

Question: Has the Albion site in Wal-Mart resulted in projects in the Albion area?

Answer: We don’t seem to get the people coming in there for requests like we’d like to. We’re there to do it, but it’s been a little bit more difficult getting that connection. There hasn’t been as many projects as in Medina.

Question: Why did you open the site in Albion?

Answer: We’re trying to broaden our base. We’ve helped a number of small businesses in Albion and Medina. We’d like to see more loan demand in Albion.

Question: People perceive Orleans as being a struggling county. But you might see it differently, working with some of the innovators.

Answer: Retail Medina has done a lot better than a lot of small towns. I wonder if it’s just far enough from the malls that people will think local first before they go out. I like to think that we’re a part of it. There are projects that I know that got done where people initially went to other bigger banks and we ended up doing them and helped make it a better community.

Question: You were the only bank to survive the Great Depression in Orleans County. Why do you think the Medina Savings and Loan has endured all these years?

Answer: It’s a risk business. You have to manage risk.

Question: Has the banking business got harder during your career?

Answer: Oh, definitely. There are a lot more regulations regarding everything, from lending to taking deposits. We can’t take a double-endorsed check anymore. People get mad at us, but we have regulations. We have to know the customer to make sure you’re not a terrorist or a money launderer.

There are many, many ways they have regulated the business.

The other factor: This current economic environment. Anytime you don’t let market forces determine market prices, you create a bubble. You create a distortion. That’s what’s going on right now with the Fed. You’re creating a bubble.

Question: Is that the low-interest rates?

Answer: They force the rates down with their buying program. They’re not letting them be priced according to the risk and what the market should bear.

‘There are projects that I know that got done where people initially went to other bigger banks and we ended up doing them and helped make it a better community.’

Question: It seems that would make it hard for the banks to make money?

Answer: It is. It’s tough on the smaller banks. We rely on taking in money and making loans, earning a differential, managing the credit risk, and managing the interest rate risk.

A lot of the community banks don’t have all of the big brokerage firms, investment banking firms and those other activities where they generate a lot of fees – the credit card business. Some of the smaller banks have got into insurance. There are thousands of smaller community banks like us that haven’t gotten into insurance. We’ve stuck to core banking.

Question: People may wonder if Medina Savings and Loan has been approached by a bigger bank as part of one of these buying sprees?

Answer: We’re not a stock-owned institution. Our ownership is more closely associated to the concept of a credit union. Someone can’t just come in and buy us up. There’s no stock. It’s really a cross between a credit union and the stock-owned banks. The charter was established originally to spur home ownership and savings. That’s why it’s called savings and loan.

Question: So you’re not going to go buy up other places either?

Answer: Right. It’s always a local focus.

Quick Questions with Janice Keppler

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 2 June 2013 at 12:00 am

Medina resident is fourth-ranked U.S. woman in pole vault

Photos by Tom Rivers – Janice Keppler competes in Friday’s pole vaulting competition in Lyndonville. She cleared 14 feet, 6 inches, which was good for second place.

Keppler has been able to focus full-time on pole valuting since graduating from the Univeristy of Arkansas two years ago, and has added about 18 inches to her personal best since then.

MEDINA – Janice Keppler was an eighth-grader when she tried pole vault for the first time. Keppler was at track practice in Medina when her coach was looking for runners. He also wanted someone to try the pole vault.

Keppler wanted to avoid a sprint so she gave the vault a try. She is now the fourth-ranked pole vaulter in the country, and one of only eight American women to ever clear 15 feet in a competition.

Keppler, 26, graduated from Medina and was the state champion in the pole vault, clearing 12 feet. She was a star at the University of Arkansas. She graduated as a sociology major two years ago. She continues to train and compete, and raise the bar. Her personal best is now 15 feet, 1 inch.

She lives in Medina and helps her father Phil on the family’s beef farm when she isn’t training and competing.

She talked with the Orleans Hub on Friday after finishing second in a pole vaulting competition in Lyndonville. Keppler’s 14-foot, 6-inch vault was second only to Olympic Gold Medalist Jenn Suhr, who cleared 15 feet, 7 inches. The two train together in Churchville.

Question: Is it harder to stay in shape post-college?

Answer: Actually, I think it’s easier. Now I can focus more on my diet and what I need to get done. I can really hone it on it. I find it easier.

Question: Is pole vaulting your full-time job?

Answer: Yes it is. It takes a lot of training. I tried working before, working in the mornings and training in the afternoon. I found my body was drained.

Janice Keppler waves to the crowd at the White Birch Golf Course when she was introduced on Friday. The vaulters will be back in action at the White Birch on Friday with a competition beginning at 5:30 p.m.

Question: As the fourth-ranked woman, you’re knocking on the door for the top three. Are you thinking Olympics in 2016? (The top three Americans go to the Olympics)

Answer: I’m hoping for it. It’s a ways a way but I’m definitely aspiring for it. I feel like on any given day you can have a chance at it. At the indoor nationals I went in with a PR (personal record) of 4.40 and came out with a 4.60 (15 feet, 1 inch).

Question: How hard is it to add another six inches to the vault?

Answer: It’s a lot of hard work, but it’s not out of reach. It’s very possible. It’s honing in on the stuff you need to fix and getting after it.

Question: You’ve got better since college?

Answer: Oh yes, definitely. I was a 13’6’ jumper in college so I’ve definitely come a long way.

Question: Was it strange to compete on the White Birch Golf Course tonight?

Answer: No (laughing). It’s like jumping at home.

Question: What is fun about pole vaulting?

Answer: Everything. The best is when you clear a bar. I get so amped up. I get such a sense of accomplishment. It’s an amazing feeling, especially on the third attempt. It takes extra concentration on your third attempt to really make it work.

Janice Keppler is one of only eight American women to ever clear 15 feet in the pole vault.

Question: What do you think people wonder about the pole vault?

Answer: People tend to ask about the equipment, the different poles – you can have carbon or fiber-glass poles.

Question: They are 15 feet long?

Answer: Fifteen, or 14’6’ or 14. They’re about eight pounds.

Question: It seems like it would be hard to run with a pole.

Answer: A little bit. You don’t even notice it because it’s right across your body.

Question: What was the connection that started you in this sport?

Answer: I did it to get out of sprinting. The coach said, ‘You can try vaulting or you can go run a 400.’ I said, ‘I think I’ll try pole vaulting.’

Question: You must have been reasonably good at it back then?

Answer: I was tall and could naturally get my way over the bar. I started out jumping maybe 7’6’. (When she graduated four years later, she was jumping 12 feet.)

Quick Questions with George Bower

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 6 May 2013 at 12:00 am

Former town judge, current county legislator ready to close 45-year run in public service

Photos by Tom Rivers – George Bower is pictured in Holley’s Public Square. He is in town most mornings for breakfast at Sam’s Diner.

HOLLEY – George Bower says he’s been fortunate to live in Holley – as a kid, a young parent and a grandparent who is steady presence at many Holley soccer games and other youth sporting events.

Bower also has been a mainstay in public service for the community, serving as a Murray town justice for 21 years before joining the County Legislature nearly 24 years ago. He won’t be running again, and will retire Dec. 31.

Bower, 76, grew up in the hamlet of Brockville just outside Holley. He married a Hulberton girl, Sandy. They have four children and 11 grandchildren who all live nearby.

He worked at Kodak, starting as a draftsmen 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.

The following interview was conducted at Sam’s Diner:

Question: Did you always have an interest in the justice system?

Answer: Especially justice. Having four children and going to all of the events, I saw some of the young people who really weren’t acting as well as they should. They needed a little extra guidance. It worked out and it was really interesting for me for 21 years.

Question: Was being a justice different then? Did you have more latitude because nowadays you hear judges complain about all of these mandatory sentences?

Answer: It was different then. You could sentence to community service, which I did quite often. Students used to get ticked at me because of some of the jobs I created. They didn’t have to take the jobs. They could have gone to jail. They had the choice.

You could counsel young kids. You could take time with them then.

That’s where I got the idea for the welfare-to-work crew (at the county), which is still going on. I had all of these people coming into court and I wanted to do more for them, but I couldn’t. I tried to come up with creative ideas for them where they could work.

At the county I had this in the back of my mind. Many of these people are downtrodden. There is a reason they are and we wanted to get to it. We first had a garden and they could work on it and see something materialize, and take some of the fruits of their labor home. A lot of them got off of welfare.

Question: You don’t see too many county legislators with a background as a town justice. It seems like as a judge you would make a lot of enemies?

Answer: I made way more friends than enemies. I always worked with everybody who came into my court. I took time with them. But it started to get where there wasn’t enough time to work with them because the state started to meddle into what you could do and what you couldn’t do with them. It started to get ridiculous where court was another way for the state to raise money. It became all about money. I wanted to be able to work with people to improve their lifestyle, because they weren’t getting that at home.

We had a lot of bars in the village back then, I think there were six. Every weekend I had to get out of bed to do arraignments for drunk drivers. That gets tiring but you have to do it because it’s all part of being a judge.

Question: Why retire this year from the Legislature?

Answer: My wife and I talked about it. It’s really a family thing. We went to a baseball game last night in Attica. My grandson went 3 for 4, drove in two runs. We miss some of the games, but very few. We really believe in family.

George Bower, right, is retiring from the Orleans County Legislature on Dec. 31. He is pictured at a recent meeting with legislators Don Allport, left, and Ken Rush.

Question: People may just see the Legislature as twice-a-month meetings. But I know there are a lot of committees and other meetings with the job.

Answer: There are a lot of committees. If you’re interested, you got to go to things. There’s a youth recognition awards banquet coming up. I believe I should be there. I have always gone. Holley kids will be there with their families. From the sporting events, I know a lot of people.

If you want to be a good legislator, you have to work.

Question: You’ve always an advocate for the nursing home.

Answer: Redoing the nursing home was a battle I fought because I believed we should have had a better nursing home. We could no longer (about a decade ago) attract our own people because the nursing home was so bad.

That was my first committee, the nursing home, and it was a long battle to get it done. Now we’re in the throes of maybe losing it, which I think would be a mistake, but I’m the only one (on the Legislature).

Question: When they talk about the big deficits, $2 to $4 million a year at the nursing home, it seems speculative.

Answer: It is. We also really promised the people we wouldn’t touch it until January 2015. (The Legislature, in a 6-1 vote in February, voted to transfer the nursing home to the local development corporation that has been tasked with finding a buyer for the 120-bed nursing home.) With that resolution we lost control of it. Now we can pawn it off.

I’m there a lot at the nursing home. I gave tours for about six months, trying to bring back the numbers. A lot of people don’t know it’s out there. We have a rehab center there, as well as the nursing home.

It’s not just the downtrodden in the nursing home. We have some of our top-notch citizens in the nursing home. A lot of people want to know what they can do to keep it county-run. That nursing home touches thousands of people in the community. It’s such a great place right now.

Question: You don’t see too many people these days grow up in a little town and stay there forever like you have.

Answer: It’s about the jobs. You see it in our schools. Our schools are going down because the people of child-bearing age are leaving. I think it’s going to force some of the school districts to merge.

Question: It seems like the American Dream to grow up in a small town, to stay here and be involved.

Answer: I think it’s been wonderful. I’m lucky because my family has stayed here. They have good jobs or they’re in college.

This is a nice place to live. We have nice people here.

Question: How do you think your life would have been different if you didn’t get involved in the community 45 years ago? You wouldn’t be as well known in Sam’s Diner, that’s for sure.

Answer: It’s funny because I come in here most every morning. I know everybody in here. I see county workers in here. It’s been rewarding for me. This is who I am.

Question: I have to think you’re one of the most accessible legislators.

Answer: I play cards once a week with people from Albion. They all go to diners. Around that card table, we’re all older and there’s a vast amount of knowledge. Around that table, you can pick up things. There’s one Democrat. We have a good time. I can mix those things and athletics with politics.

Question: What are some things you’re proud of as a public official?

Answer: I look back at some of the things I’ve accomplished, with the help of others of course, and we’ve accomplished a lot in the county over the years. The public safety building was a battle when we did it because it was an old store (on Route 31 in Albion). People thought the roof would leak. I was chairman of the Public Safety Building when we did it (in the late 1990s). I sat in on every meeting.

It was a battle to get into a new shelter. The work crew, I helped push that. A lot of things have gone on in the last 24 years. We redid the courthouse so it can last another 50 years so it can house what we need.

The nursing home was the biggest battle we had, and now it’s a battle again because we might lose it. People don’t understand, they say we’ll get the same care (under private ownership). But everyone I talk to say there’s no comparison when you compare it to Brockport, Medina or Batavia. There’s not the quality of care.

Our nursing home is clean and there’s almost never, ever a smell. There’s beautiful artwork in the dementia ward. There’s music.

Question: Are you really retiring or do you have other projects in mind?

Answer: I’m going to stay involved in Holley. I like to walk the canal and in Holley we have an old canal bed by the falls. About five years ago the county workers cut down a lot of trees so you could see the bed. Now, I’m working with them and the village of Holley to get down there and clean the 100 feet or whatever it is because the stone is on both sides on the canal bed. I want to bring it back, I really want to do it. We should bring it back and flood it.

Quick Questions with Todd Zinkievich, Medina FD Chief

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 26 March 2013 at 12:00 am

‘I love helping people. I love making a difference in somebody’s life.’

Todd Zinkievich

Todd Zinkievich, 45, has led the Medina Fire Department since 2003. The department replaced Rural Metro as the primary ambulance provider in western Orleans County in July 2007.

When Zinkievich pitched the plan to the Village Board in 2007, he anticipated running anywhere from 1,500 to 1,700 calls. Immediately, the department exceeded that, pushing 1,800 to 1,900 calls in its first year.

In 2012, the Medina Fire Department handled 2,209 ambulance calls and 311 fire calls for 2,520 total, the most ever for the department.

The department has 13 paid full-time staff, plus about 15 to 18 callmen, and other volunteers.

Zinkievich was interviewed March 11 at the fire hall.

Question: Why do the ambulance numbers keep going up? Are people getting older?

Answer: Yes. We have an aging population. We also have the contract with Medina hospital, transferring their patients from their facility to a higher level of care. Those calls tend to increase roughly the same percentage each year.

Question: So, in terms of the future, this is fairly solid, assuming the reimbursements don’t drop? Maybe that’s the only wild card?

Answer: That would be the wild card in our business. It’s completely beyond our control when the federal government sets the guidelines for Medicaid and Medicare reimbursements. They always tend to go up, too, based on the rate of inflation. But they could make an about-face and bring them down on us.

Question: Could you talk about the call men, how you determine their pay and their role in the department?

Answer: We have about 15 to 18 call firefighters, which are basically volunteers. They get paid a small stipend. It used to be $100 a year flat rate. Now we have a $200-a-year flat rate, and they can make up to $600 with incentives, which includes call response and training. We encourage them to do duty time with us. They come dressed just like us. You can’t tell us apart. They do time with us. They are very valuable assets to us. We’re always looking for good active callmen.

Question: What is the big benefit of having a paid crew?

Answer: In this day and age volunteerism is dwindling. Back when I joined back in the ’80s, you tended to have families where the mother stayed at home and took care of the kids. The father worked and had time in the evening to be able to volunteer at his local fire department. Now you’re finding more two-income families where mom has to work out of the home. They may work opposite shifts. So when the mom is gone, the dad has to watch the kids. He doesn’t have that time to commit. It’s industry-wide. We see it all over.

The benefit of having a paid staff is knowing you will have somebody to drive that fire truck or ambulance and help you in your time of need – not that it doesn’t happen with other departments. The calls are still getting answered.

Question: What is the big challenge in running a modern fire department in Medina?

Answer: The big challenge is manpower. We are right now stretched to the max. I would love to be able to have a staff meeting and tell the guys we’re going to hire four more guys. But I’m realistic about it. In this day and age adding to your local government is not a popular option.

Question: Do you have 24-hour coverage with the paid staff?

Answer: Yes we do. During the day we have a minimum of three and a maximum of five. At night, from 11 p.m. to 7 a.m., we go down to two guys.

Question: Is that tricky to schedule with 13 people?

Answer: Yes it is. Scheduling is the absolute hardest part of this job, making sure sufficient manpower available. We rely heavily on our callmen and our off-duty guys. Sometimes they’re not home long and then come in and jump right back on the ambulance. We have to have a commitment from them, knowing it’s not a 12-hour-a-day job. It’s 24-7.

Question: They do 12-hour shifts?

Answer: Yes they do. They work four 12-hour days and then they get four days off. There are times when we have two or three ambulances on the road and we’re spread thin.

Question: Why do you think you’ve been able to keep the ambulance service profitable? I know other departments, including Batavia, got out of that business because they were losing money.

Answer: Our guys do a lot extra when they do ambulance calls. They get signatures and paperwork that a lot of other agencies don’t get. We forward it right away to our billing company (MedEx in Le Roy) and they can act on that bill right away. That helps increase our collection rate.

Question: What do you like about this job?

Answer: Everything. I love helping people. I love making a difference in somebody’s life. Generally when we’re called somebody is in trouble. They’re either hurt or something is on fire. It’s up to us to get there, mitigate it and offer whatever assistance we can.

Question: You go out on calls?

Answer: Yes. Because we’re such a small department I have to run on a lot of the calls. I do, too, because I’ve always been a firm believer that we should spread the workload amongst all of our employees. When you take one person, myself, out of that equation of 13, you’re taking 7.3 percent of your workforce away from it. These guys are working hard and they’re working hard for us, so I’m going to work hard alongside them. I go on my fair amount of ambulance calls. I may be driving the ambulance or in back as a medic.

Question: You have to keep up with all the training?

Answer: Yes. I’m an intermediate EMT. All of our career guys are required to be at least intermediate EMTs. We encourage them to increase their training up to the paramedic level. It takes 18 months. It’s a big commitment to get someone trained to that level.