2010 in review Knox

An expanded town hall, a rebuilt church, and a revitalized country store

By Zach Simeone

KNOX — It was a year that breathed life into old buildings and businesses in Knox, and brought with it new traditions.

Though the final details are still being ironed out, the $1.4 million town-hall renovation is visibly complete, and the building now complies with the Americans with Disabilities Act. The town is seeking grants to cover as much of the cost as possible, and has already secured $125,000 through Assemblyman John McEneny’s office.

The building’s front lawn was the venue for the first Helderberg Hilltowns Fall Festival this October.

The Knox Country Store, after 32 years at its location on Berne Altamont Road, closed and re-opened this year under new ownership. The Rock Road Chapel, another 30-year-old building, was rebuilt and upgraded nearly two years after it had burned to the ground.

But, as one church was erected, another was destroyed. After a five-day storm laid five feet of snow on the Hilltowns last February, the old Township United Methodist Church collapsed.

Bugging out

In what may become an annual autumn tradition, the Knox Conservation Advisory Council organized the first Helderberg Hilltowns Fall Festival, which took place on Saturday, Oct. 9.

There were pony rides and pumpkin painting, and the Saddlemire Homestead, home to the Knox Historical society, was open for self-guided tours. The Knox Traditional Strings and The Bluestones, two local bands, performed for attendees.

Berne-Knox-Westerlo’s cross-country and track teams sold hamburgers and other foods to raise money to support out-of-state trips for track and cross-country meets. Farmers sold freshly raised produce, chicken, eggs, beef, and more.

One of the festival’s vendors, Robert Bareis, had a unique product — “Bob’s Lawn Bugs.”

Bareis, a 74-year-old retired machinist, now welds together colorful creatures out of scrap metal, turning recycling into an art.

“They look like giant spiders,” Bareis told The Enterprise before the festival. “They’re made out of truck oil filters, sparkplugs, car springs, water tanks — any scrap metal I can get,” he said of the bugs. Bareis gets used oil filters from the Berne-Knox-Westerlo School District, and sparkplugs from Mickles Automotive in Knox.

The bugs vary in color, shape, and size. The smaller ones are about six inches tall, with bodies shaped like upside-down pots. The larger ones stand about two feet high, their bodies made of big car springs that spiral up from the base where their legs meet.

“I got one great big one that’s got the face of an old carnival ride on the front of it; probably weighs 200 pounds or more,” said Bareis. The rest of its massive yellow head is made from an old water tank. Bareis had to restore the face, which resembles that of a gargantuan cartoon bumblebee wearing clown makeup. He painted it by hand, as he does with all of the Lawn Bugs.

The goal of events like the festival, according to Chairwoman Cheryl Frantzen of the town’s conservation advisory council, is to raise awareness of what can be gained from a visit to the Helderbergs.

What’s in store

The Knox Country Store was a longtime social hub for town residents and a place of convenience since it moved to its location on the Berne-Altamont Road in July of 1978.

But this summer, it closed its doors and was sold by its owner, David Lipper.

“Really, it was just due to many different factors,” said Lipper of why he closed the business in July. “The economy definitely played in, but there were some personal changes, which I’m not really going to go into, which forced us to close.”

Lipper bought the store from his stepfather, Joseph Best, in the fall of 2007. Best, a former Knox Town Board member, thought that the store might have survived if it received more local support.

“Other than the economy being bad, from what I saw, the people of Knox just didn’t support the store, and I don’t know why,” said Best, who retired to Virginia. “Every time I came up, and I came up every six months, I’d see a lot of Knox Country Store customers either at the Stewart’s down in Altamont, or the old Ketchum’s store, and I’d stop by and say hello. And I’d look around and say, ‘What the heck’s going on?’”

After selling the store, Best had moved to Virginia to work on his writing. He returned to the Hilltowns last year to sign copies of Aim for the Red Brick Wall, a book he published.

Best bought the store in 2001, he said. While he couldn’t recall how much he had bought the property for, he said he sold it in 2007 to his stepson, Lipper, for $215,000. Lipper was asking $350,000 for the property.

 The VanderVeens re-opened the store in late November.

“The open sign is on. We have a full menu. We’re adding merchandise every week,” said Robert VanderVeen, who is running the business with his wife, Jacqueline. She credits her husband with jumpstarting the business.

“He went in one day for a breakfast sandwich and coffee and saw it was closed,” she said. “He’s a go-getter. He likes taking on a challenge.”

She also said of her family, “We’re Italian; we all like to cook.”

Mrs. VanderVeen’s mother, Diane Charletta, is “the pizza lady…She’s using her own recipe” for the store’s pizza, said Mrs. VanderVeen. “She babysits my son, too.”

Mrs. VanderVeen’s sister, Rachel Charletta, is running the register and her brother, Lenny Charletta is “helping wherever we need it; he has experience with the deli,” said Mrs. VanderVeen.

Janet Burke, who had Janet’s Café in Schoharie, is the main cook.

“It’s a mixture of friends and family,” said Mrs.VanderVeen.

The store is now open Monday through Saturday, from 6:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. each day, said Mr. VanderVeen.

“It’s a convenience store for a reason,” he said. “It’s pretty dang convenient.”

“From ashes”

“On the day of the fire, even some of the firemen wept,” Pastor Jay Francis told The Enterprise, reflecting on the past two years as he stood in the new Rock Road Chapel’s dining room. “But I told people, we can’t look at what we’ve lost, we must look ahead to what we shall have.” Above his head was a field of chandeliers with metallic stalks of wheat — the staff of life — protruding from their attachments to the ceiling.

The original church, built in 1979, stood on Rock Road for nearly 30 years before the blaze destroyed the building on June 28, 2008.

The new church was built by Ashley Construction of Colonie.

On a weekend in mid-June, Hilltowners celebrated the reconstruction of the Rock Road Chapel, with open houses, praise celebrations, a dedication service, and a dinner open to the community.

“Our theme in this dedication is going to be, ‘From ashes to beauty by the grace of God,’” said Francis before the weekend-long celebration. “It’s larger, and it’s more modern, to meet the needs of society as they are.”

Beyond the hallway inside the church’s main entrance is the new dining room, which Francis said seats 100 people.

“After worship on Sundays, we always eat together,” said Francis.

Then there’s the new sanctuary, which can hold 500. On the floor in front of its entrance is a mosaic, made for the church by Joe “Wildfeather” Sagrotti, a local artist. Francis said he likes to look at the church as a microcosm for the tabernacle of King David, an ancient place of prayer that, in its time, was filled by artists and performers of many disciplines.

The mosaic depicts a waterfall streaming down from heaven, and quotes the book of Revelations: “Flourish by the waters of life,” it reads.

The sanctuary has been outfitted with a fully upgraded sound system, and recordings of services are controlled from the rear of the sanctuary by a large and complex soundboard. Francis, with a grin creeping across his face, called this “the command center.”

On the stage rests a keyboard on which Paul Hodges performs original music every week. The church’s youth leader, Jake Czebiniak, often accompanies Hodges on guitar.

Unlike the original church, the new building was designed to be accessible to people with disabilities, is fully air-conditioned, and provides access to Wi-Fi.

Francis hopes this new facility will serve the youth and the elderly alike.

“For seniors, this will be a place where they can gather to have a meal; to visit; if they need a ride; need food; or need a companion,” said Francis. “Young people, we’d like to help them to discover their purpose that God has for them on Planet Earth, and help them to apprehend the excellence that they’re called to.”

Lost opportunity

Chris Papa purchased the Township United Methodist Church in Knox about six years ago, and had thought about turning it into an art gallery. But the church, like a number of other buildings in the Hilltowns, collapsed under the five-day storm that covered the area with heavy snow last February.

“Since I’ve been cleaning up the church after the snow destroyed the building, a lot of people have stopped by and shared memories of it,” Papa told The Enterprise then. “They’d say their mother had a funeral there, or their parents were married there, and I wondered if there are still people in the community who might remember it.”

Papa did not have insurance on the building, “but I paid quite a bit of taxes on it,” he said. It was de-commissioned as a church in the 1970s, said Papa.

He was able to salvage hand-hewn timbers from the rubble.

“I have a friend up north who says they might be interested in buying them,” Papa said.

A retired teacher, Papa purchased the building in November of 2004, and had considered a number of uses for the building, but none of them had a chance to become reality.

“I cleaned it up on the inside, and it was kind of on hold while I was doing other things,” Papa said. “This was just a freakish accident.”

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