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Guilderland Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, June 23, 2005

Conflict over shelter funds

By Nicole Fay Barr

GUILDERLAND — Supervisor Kenneth Runion said he is finished playing games over the town’s animal shelter.

The town is moving on with improving the shelter, without the $52,000 in funds raised last year by Guilderhaven, a non-profit organization that helps take care of animals at the shelter.

The town doesn’t want to pay for the entire project, Runion said, but has no choice. Susan Green, Guilderhaven’s treasurer, refuses to turn over the funds her organization raised, he said.

"You get to a point where you just have to cut your losses," Runion said. "I’m not going to beg and plead with someone to do what they initially promised to do....We have to move forward; we can’t move backward."

Green tells a much different story. She called The Enterprise this week and said that Runion simply rejected the funds raised by Guilderhaven for renovating the shelter.

Green regularly writes a column on Guilderhaven news for The Enterprise. This week, she wrote that Runion informed the group that the town has decided to pay for the shelter renovations itself.

"Because the capital campaign was for a specific purpose (a dedicated fund), and because we could not foresee this recent development, we will be talking to our donors to see if they would like their money returned," Green wrote. Money left over will be used for other animal-shelter improvements, she said.

Both Runion and Green agreed that the conflict is over where the donations will go. Runion said Green refuses to put the money in a special account.

"There’s a lack of trust on her part of what the town is going to do with the money," Runion said. "...But, it’s just ludicrous to play these games with Sue Green."

Green argues that Runion wanted to put the donations in the town’s general fund. Then, when she said that’s not acceptable, Runion said he didn’t want her money, Green claims.

Runion also told The Enterprise that the town plans on installing tiles for those who donated money for them. Guilderhaven had a project where people paid for tiles, to be installed at the new shelter, with the names of their dead pets inscribed.

Runion said that the town will pay for the tiles so people’s pets can still be honored.

"We are committed to making sure those plaques are hanging, despite the fact that Sue Green is keeping the money," he said. "....They gave the money to Sue Green in good faith."

Green responded that the tiles have already been inscribed and are ready to be displayed.

The town is now reluctant to do these types of projects with other organizations, Runion went on.

Several weeks ago, a person said he wanted to raise funds for skateboarding park in town, Runion said. Runion told him the town couldn’t allow this, since it had such problems with Guilderhaven, he said.

Green suggested that, since Runion is running unopposed in November’s election, he is doing whatever he wants. She decided not to respond to his other claims that she is difficult to work with.

Green said Guilderhaven will continue to help the Guilderland Animal Shelter in any way it can.

"Guilderhaven’s focus has always been and will always be the betterment of the animals," she concluded.

Earlier problems

In January, in the midst of a disagreement over the shelter’s no-kill policy, Green had also threatened to give back the donations.

In November, Runion decided to change the policy at the town-owned shelter, so that dogs who are not adopted in a certain period of time would have been sent to another shelter, where they could have been killed.

Guilderhaven volunteers had been horrified with the new policy and negotiated with Runion to reconsider. In January, after negotiations broke down, Green, spoke to The Enterprise.

Guilderhaven volunteers were angry, she said, because they spent months raising $100,000 for renovations to the shelter on the premise that Guilderland runs a no-kill shelter.

Runion responded that the new policy would save taxpayers money and is more fair to the abandoned animals at the shelter. Dogs would have had 90 days under the new policy to be adopted before they were killed. This, Runion said, is more humane then having the animal live alone in a cage for years.

A week after The Enterprise story ran, residents packed a town board meeting, speaking out against the policy. But Runion began the meeting by saying he had rescinded the kill policy. He was trying to do what’s best for the town’s dogs, he said.

The shelter at that time had two pit bulls, Petey and Shamus; they had been there for a few years. It cost a lot to keep these dogs in cages year after year, Runion said. Petey and Shamus have both since been adopted. Runion, too, adopted a dog from the shelter this year.

Under the town’s new policy, if a dog’s owner can’t be located and a rescue organization does not want the animal, the dog will be evaluated by an animal behaviorist and possibly trained.

The Guilderland Animal Shelter is owned by the town, but was largely built by volunteers. Members of Guilderhaven have been around for years, donating money to the shelter and helping its animals, Green said. About five years ago, she said, Guilderhaven became a formal not-for-profit organization with a name. It has paid for veterinary visits, food bills, and other expenses, Green said.

In April of 2004, the Guilderland Town Board voted to give about $40,000 to the Guilderland Animal Shelter. The money was to cover a quarter of the cost of renovating the shelter; Guilderhaven was to raise the rest of the money.

Shelter volunteers then worked all summer and raised over $100,000, in both monetary and labor donations. In November, Green said, as Guilderhaven was about to announce it had raised the 75 percent, it was informed by Runion that the town had eliminated the shelter’s no-kill policy.

"His timing was right before we exceeded our goal," Green said. "After we predicated our entire fund-raiser on that. It’s a breach of trust."

Before Runion rescinded the kill policy, Guilderhaven said it would have to give back all the money it raised and forget the renovation project, because it couldn’t support a kill shelter.

If that were to happen, Runion said then, the town planned to spend about $40,000 to make improvements to the shelter this year. The town had planned to do this all along, he said, until Guilderhaven stepped in and offered to raise money for a more extravagant project.

Then, a compromise was reached with Runion’s new no-kill policy. Things seemed to be going well, until it came time to begin the project.

New dispute

Runion said this week of Green, "She was asked to put the animal shelter money into a capital account we have established for construction of the facility. We told her on several occasions...that the money would be put in a capital account for the improvement and she balked at that."

He said, "At that point, we had to move forward....I said, ‘If there’s a reluctance, then the town is prepared to move forward.’"

Green told The Enterprise that, two weeks ago, Runion suggested she put the Guilderhaven money in the town’s general fund.

Green didn’t want to. She said it was agreed upon earlier that the money would go into a special account.

According to Green, Runion got angry and told Green that the town didn’t want the money Guilderhaven has raised.

"He said, ‘Just forget it. We don’t want your money,’" Green reported.

Green called a town board member, whom she declined to name, and asked that person about Runion’s decision to reject Guilderhaven’s money. The board member verified that the town will not accept the money, but will pay for the entire renovation project, she said.

Asked why Runion would do this, Green at first said, "I haven’t got a clue." Then, she said, "It’s a control game. He’s trying to push Guilderhaven out."

The town would never place these kinds of donations in a general fund, Runion responded Wednesday through The Enterprise.

"Any time we do a capital project, we set up a whole separate bank account for it," said John O’Mara, the town’s fiscal officer.

"She was very difficult," O’Mara said of Green. "I tried to talk to her a number of times. I don’t know where she was coming from."

He said he tried to assure Green that the town would match the donation with 25 percent. He tried to tell Green that the donations would only be used for the shelter, O’Mara said.

"We tried very hard to deal with her," he said. "She’s made it very difficult."

Green responded that she has only had one short meeting with O’Mara and only three short meetings with Runion in 16 months.

Asked why he thinks Green refused to give the donations to the town, Runion said, "I have no idea. But, the problem we have is that she has a tendency to take up a lot of time for a lot of people that have many things to deal with other than just the animal shelter project itself.

"There comes a point in time where you just can’t continue to play games," Runion said.

He then speculated that Green had always wanted the town to pay for the entire cost of the animal shelter. At a town board meeting where eliminating the no-kill policy was discussed, several residents told the board that the town should pay for the shelter project itself.

Runion said he now keeps thinking about Green’s having those people "parade in front of the town board." Perhaps she never wanted to help pay for the shelter renovations, he said.

"I never spoke to one person about coming to that meeting," Green responded of the town board meeting. "People said what they felt; it came from the heart."

Of Runion’s suggestion that Guilderhaven never wanted to pay for the revocations, Green said that’s not true.

Moving forward

Much of what Guilderhaven raised came from donated services, such as a new roof, fencing, and electrical and plumbing. This totals about $56,000, Runion said.

The town still has these donations, he said. Construction work started in the beginning of June. It should take two to three months, Runion said.

This week, workers are putting in foundation for the shelter’s addition, said Richard Savage, the town’s director of animal services.

The shelter currently has two cats to be adopted. Those animals are staying at the Guilderland Animal Hospital, on Western Avenue, until the project is complete.

The shelter also has a dog, which is being kept at a shelter in Rotterdam.

Savage told The Enterprise that he is continuing to take care of lost or abandoned animals for the town, but those animals will be kept at other facilities until the Guilderland shelter is completed.

Green said she has about $52,000 in cash donations that she is now returning.

The town will need to pay between $40,000 to $50,000 to cover this, Runion said. This will come from an additional mortgage tax the town had this year, he said.

The town anticipated, in the beginning, paying 25 percent of $125,000, or $30,000 to $35,000, he said.

Asked if he thought it would be worth it to try to work things out with Green, Runion said, "We’ve been trying to work things out with Sue Green for a number of years...She’s been extremely difficult to work with."

This is a town project and Green keeps trying to get involved in the day-to-day operations of the shelter, Runion said. Since she is not a Guilderland employee, this creates a tremendous liability for the town, he said.

Asked about the view that the town is rejecting people’s donations, Runion said, "We didn’t do that at all. She’s refused to put the money in a capital account....All she has to do is bring down a check."

He continued, "The thing that I think is strange is that she plays these games and then comes to the media, almost because she wants to embarrass the town or the people who are working here, trying to get this project done."

Father arrested for endangering child

By Nicole Fay Barr

GUILDERLAND — After a young girl wandered away from her house and tried to cross busy Western Avenue, her father was arrested for not watching her. The girl was not hurt.

Larry Reed, 42, who lives at the Governor’s Inn in Guilderland, was charged with endangering the welfare of a child, a misdemeanor.

His wife, Tracy Reed, told The Enterprise this week that she disagrees with the arrest. She said her husband took his eyes off of their four-year-old daughter for a few minutes, while he used the bathroom, and she was gone.

"It was not intentional," Tracy Reed said. "It was a really bad accident. I strongly feel that giving him a ticket was wrong. He didn’t open the door and say, ‘Go Tammy.’"

She and her husband have put new locks on all of the doors in their apartment since the incident, Tracy Reed said.

Guilderland Police Chief James Murley said that, at about 9:50 Friday morning, a woman was walking down Western Avenue, near the Governor’s Inn, and saw Reed’s daughter, trying to cross the four-lane highway.

Drivers were swerving around the girl and blaring their horns, but no one stopped, Murley said. The girl then stepped out into traffic and the woman stopped her, he said.

The woman took Reed’s daughter to nearby Twinkling Stars Nursery School, thinking she was a student there, Murley said. She was not from the school and a worker there called 911, he said.

Meanwhile, Larry Reed discovered his daughter was missing, his wife said. Their daughter was watching cartoons before he went to the bathroom and, when he came out, she was gone, Tracy Reed said.

Asked why her daughter left the apartment, Reed said, "She doesn’t talk very good. I’m not sure she understands what she did was wrong.

"I was at work and he was devastated because he couldn’t find her," Tracy Reed said. "He came outside and, when he didn’t see her there, he immediately called 911."

Police then determined that the missing girl was Larry Reed’s daughter and Reed was arrested.

"I don’t think giving him a ticket was right," Tracy Reed told The Enterprise. "It was just a bad thing that happened. Now we’ve taken a lot of precautions; we have locks on the doors."

The arresting officer was involved in a grand-jury hearing and could not be reached for a response this week, but, Lieutenant Curtis Cox said, in general, officers decide to arrest based on specific circumstances and the totality of an incident.

"The officer made his decision, based on what was presented to him," Cox said. But, he said, since the officer was not available, he can’t comment on the specifics of Reed’s case.

Reed is scheduled to appear in Guilderland Town Court on June 30.

Grogan’s art of negotiation ends crisis

By Nicole Fay Barr

GUILDERLAND — Albany Detective Jack Grogan’s heart raced as he spoke, in a calming voice, to Jason Kutey. Over a hundred police officers and paramedics swarmed the usually tranquil McKownville neighborhood. Grogan bottled his own fears, he said, as he handled the delicate situation.

Kutey was holding his ex-girlfriend hostage with an assault rifle in her new boyfriend’s home last Thursday. Grogan slowly gained his trust, he said.

After two hours, relief washed over Grogan as, separately, both Kutey and his ex-girlfriend emerged from the Woodscape Drive home, both physically unharmed.

Kutey, 28, did not fire the three or four rounds of ammunition he had; he surrendered to police.

Grogan didn’t think Kutey was a threat to his 19-year-old ex-girlfriend, he said. Grogan actually had to convince her to leave the house, because she was worried Kutey would kill himself, Grogan said.

Grogan spoke to her on the phone and convinced her to come outside. About 10 minutes later, he convinced Kutey to come out, too.

During the dramatic exchange Kutey had with Grogan, Kutey revealed that he just wanted someone to listen, the detective said.

"They broke up and he couldn’t handle it," Grogan told The Enterprise. Kutey was arrested last month in Colonie for kidnapping the same ex-girlfriend and was due in court last Thursday for charges from that incident.

According to Colonie Police Lieutenant John Van Alstyne, Kutey, in May, had handcuffed himself to his ex-girlfriend and driven her to Lake Placid. He took her, Van Alstyne said, because he wanted to be back in a relationship with her.

The next day, the ex-girlfriend was able to convince Kutey to bring her back to her car, which had been left in the Latham Farms parking lot in Latham, Van Alstyne said. She was then able to use a cell phone to call police, he said; she was not assaulted or physically injured then, he said.

Last Thursday, Kutey told Grogan over the phone that reports of that arrest were not accurate. Kutey was frustrated that no one was listening to him, Grogan said.

"I said to him, ‘You’re not making it look any better,’" Grogan told The Enterprise.

Grogan was eventually able to convince Kutey to surrender to police. The Latham man will be formally charged Friday by Guilderland Police, an investigator said.

Police are withholding the name of the woman who was held hostage.

Securing the scene

Just before 5 p.m. last Thursday, a woman called the Guilderland Police and said that, in an upstairs bedroom, a man with a rifle was holding a female — his ex-girlfriend — hostage, Guilderland Chief James Murley told The Enterprise.

The caller, and possibly a few others, were in the home, at 211 Woodscape Drive, and were able to get out to call police, Murley said. Kutey barged into the home, where the ex-girlfriend’s new boyfriend lives, Grogan said.

Guilderland Police immediately called Albany, Colonie, and State Police. Those agencies have tactical teams and hostage negotiators; they were set up outside the home.

Woodscape Drive is in a suburban McKownville neighborhood in the most eastern part of town, near the city of Albany.

Ambulances and paramedics also came to the scene, ready to deal with any medical problems and University at Albany Police helped to close the road. A total of 106 officers and paramedics came to the scene, Murley said.

Nearby houses were then evacuated, Murley said. Residents were escorted out by officers, he said.

"It was for their safety," he said. "We didn’t know what could happen."

Some neighbors were upset and concerned, Murley said. While they wanted to know exactly what was happening, police were trying to gather the facts themselves and separate rumors from facts.

"Some officers weren’t privy to all the information, so we kept it as a need-to-know type of thing," Murley said.

"When you bring that many resources into an area that was experiencing peace and tranquillity moments earlier, it’s a jolt to say the least," Murley said. "I remember one lady had to be escorted back into her home to shut her stove off. She forgot she left it on when she was escorted out."

Guilderland Police were making arrangements to take evacuated neighbors to the McKownville Fire Department, but that wasn’t necessary. People found their own places to go, Murley said.


Police negotiators were then able to call Kutey. He stayed on the line for two hours, speaking with Grogan, Murley said.

"That was a good sign," he said.

"When we got there, he [Kutey] was in a situation he believed he couldn’t get out of," said Grogan. "By taking her hostage, his situation got more difficult."

Kutey, Grogan reported, told him why he took his ex-girlfriend hostage: He wanted to be heard.

Kutey said reports about the circumstances of his May arrest for kidnapping weren’t true, Grogan told The Enterprise. Kutey was agitated at first, Grogan said.

"He felt that, since the prior incident, no one was listening to him," Grogan said. "My job as a negotiator was to listen, to assess the situation. I brought it from a high level to a medium level to a low one."

Grogan kept Kutey talking by asking him questions. Negotiators must get as much information from a suspect as they can, he said.

Grogan found out that Kutey had an AR-15 assault rifle, with three or four loaded clips of ammunition.

Asked if Kutey was threatening to shoot his ex-girlfriend, Grogan said, "I don’t think it was that extreme...He still cares for her. The problem was they broke up and he couldn’t handle that. I don’t think he held the gun to her head."

The couple was in an upstairs bedroom, Grogan said. Kutey had barricaded the front door of the house and its stairway with furniture, such as heavy dressers, Grogan said.

Relatives of both Kutey and the ex-girlfriend came to the scene, Murley said. Every television station was near the property; one station showed Kutey’s mother talking to him by phone, Murley said.

"We asked them not to do that," he said. "It was upsetting him, to see it live."

Kutey’s mother did help to calm her son, Grogan said.

The ex-girlfriend was extremely emotional, Grogan said, and he was able to get Kutey to calm her. Later, she didn’t want to leave Kutey, for fear he would kill himself, Grogan said.

Grogan has been a hostage negotiator for 12 years. He and three other Albany officers were trained by the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Colonie Police, too, have a hostage-crisis team that helped last Thursday.

"There’s no doubt the adrenaline is pumping," Grogan said of negotiating. "Our job is the safety of the hostage. When they walk out, it’s a relief."

Grogan has negotiated 50 to 75 cases in the past 12 years, he said.

"This was one of the big ones," he said. "When someone is talking suicide, you have to be careful what you say....You have to gain their trust and then start asking questions."

Now in custody

Last Thursday morning, Kutey was scheduled to appear in Albany County Court on felony kidnapping charges from the May 18 arrest. When he didn’t arrive at court, a warrant was put out for his arrest.

It turned out that Kutey was in Guilderland. After Grogan got Kutey to come outside, he was turned over to Colonie Police for additional charges related to missing his court hearing. He was remanded to Albany County jail without bail.

This week, Guilderland Police have been discussing their own charges against Kutey with the Albany County District Attorney’s Office, Murley said. The charges will most likely be kidnapping, burglary, and weapons charges, he said.

Wednesday, Guilderland Investigator Emanuel Shulman said that Kutey had been indicted on Tuesday. Since it was a sealed indictment, representatives of the district attorney’s office declined comment to The Enterprise.

Friday, Kutey will be arraigned, Shulman said. Guilderland Police will then formally arrest him, he said.

The ex-girlfriend has an order of protection against Kutey; she’s had the order since the May arrest. Kutey was released on bail before, which is why he was free during last Thursday’s incident, Murley said.

Kutey could not be reached for comment. Also, a call was not returned from the home where his ex-girlfriend was held last Thursday.

A few hours after Kutey surrendered last Thursday, police held a press conference.

"As soon as we could talk to the press, to give them any information, we do," Murley said.

Later that evening, Murley sent a letter to neighbors on and around Woodscape Drive, telling them of what happened.

Guilderland has had other hostage situations before, maybe a dozen, Murley said. But, he said, although risk was involved with each one, none were as dramatic or dangerous as last Thursday’s.

Starbucks’ plans slowly progress

By Nicole Fay Barr

GUILDERLAND — The town’s zoning board heard plans last Wednesday for a popular coffee-shop chain and some opposition from a neighboring restaurant.

The board decided to continue Starbucks’ application, for a shop at 1204 Western Ave., so a town-designated engineer can better study the proposal.

The shop, to be built only a few blocks from the Starbucks in Stuyvesant Plaza, is across from the southern entrance to the University at Albany. The chain shop, to be built in place of an existing house, hopes to attract student customers. It is to have a drive-through window.

Many issues, such as drainage and traffic, are still unresolved.

Also, parking is a concern. Additional spaces are needed and Starbucks’ attorney, Jim Schultz, said he tried to contact the owner of the adjacent bar-restaurant, Sutter’s Mill and Mining Co., to discuss sharing parking.

Dennis Quadrini, who owns the property, has a long-time agreement for shared parking with Sutter’s. This, however, is for his apartment building and not for a restaurant.

Schultz said he left several messages that were not returned. At about 11 p.m., Sutter’s owner, Henry Klein, entered the Town Hall meeting room.

He said that Sutter’s has been in business for 33 years and it has issues with Starbucks’ proposal.

"It’s a tight site," for parking, Klein said. "This applicant doesn’t really fit the site...It’s not a good thing for the gateway to the community."

Klein added that he received no messages from Schultz and he then recited his cellular phone number. Later, in the Town Hall parking lot, Klein told The Enterprise, "We will protect our interests."

The board continued the application for town-designated Boswell Engineering to study it.

Other business

In other business, the board:

— Granted a variance to Robert Walsh, of Charlotte Construction, to build a single-family home, at 417 Ridgehill Road, on a corner lot.

A 35-foot front setback is required and Walsh requested a 23-foot setback. Also, a 125-foot width at the building line is required and Walsh asked for a 114-foot width.

The board granted the variance after hearing from a neighbor that, without the variance, the front of the new house would be behind their house, taking away their privacy. Board member James Sumner voted against the proposal; he said he felt the house could be maneuvered to comply with the law; and

— Continued an application of Adirondack Tire, for a variance to use a vacant building, at 1610 Western Ave., as a tire and repair shop. After discussing the conditions needed to grant a variance, the board decided to continue the proposal, since it didn’t receive information from the applicant or town-designated engineer until just before the meeting.

Neighbors put the kibosh on kennel

By Nicole Fay Barr

GUILDERLAND — Nearly all the residents of Leesome Lane — on a serene country road above Altamont — appeared at last Thursday’s zoning board meeting to oppose a neighbor’s request to have a dog kennel.

Four representatives of Camp Wildwood, a summer camp for disabled children at the end of Leesome Lane, also spoke against the proposal. They worried that, with reports of loose Rottweilers and Doberman pinschers and with constant barking, the children at the camp could be injured or upset.

Tracy McCallum, and her husband, Robert Cedano, said they planned to put a picket fence around their land, at 1150 Leesome Lane. This would keep the dogs secure and control their barking, since they only bark when they see other people, McCallum said.

According to the town’s zoning law, Guilderland has a three-dog limit, in order to keep kennels out of residential neighborhoods. Earlier this month, the zoning board granted a variance to a couple, in Westmere, to have four pet dogs.

This was different, Chairman Bryan Clenahan said last Wednesday, because the Westmere couple didn’t plan on breeding the dogs.

McCallum and Cedano live in an agricultural zone. This means that kennels are allowed, just not within 300 feet of other residences. Since there are neighbors within that distance, a special-use permit is needed.

McCallum has six dogs; three are spayed or neutered and three are able to breed, she said. She wants a permit to keep the dogs, so three of them can breed and she can sell their puppies, McCallum said.

Two of the three breeding dogs are boxers, which will mate together, and the third is a pure-bred, female Doberman pinscher, which will be mated using a stud service, she said.

Clenahan told the board that zoning-enforcement officer Rodger Stone has issued McCallum many warnings about her dogs. He read a recent letter from Stone that said he’s been addressing McCallum’s code violations since July of 2004.

"That’s probably because of the noise," McCallum said. "But, the only time they bark is when other dogs come into their territory."

Every two to three hours, McCallum chains her dogs outside, she said. When she has a fence, she’ll leave them out longer. McCallum plans on installing a picket fence, she said.

"I don’t think the barking is excessive," she said.

Public comment

McCallum’s neighbors had other opinions about her dogs. Eighteen spoke against her proposal and more submitted letters.

Many said her dogs bark all day and night. They said they can’t take leisurely walks down Leesome Lane anymore, because, when the dogs see them, the animals throw themselves at their cages or against their leashes, aggressively barking.

The Enterprise walked in front of McCallum’s house twice on Monday; no dogs were seen or heard.

"It would be a severe detriment to my quality of life if I had to live next to a kennel," said Joseph Burns.

McCallum’s dogs are aggressive, Burns said. If he goes outside or to his kitchen door, they bark wildly at him.

"They are large, powerful dogs that can inflict damage," he said.

The dogs came into his yard twice, Burns said, once chasing his cats and another time charging his porch where his 80-year-old mother-in-law sat.

Some neighbors also said they’re afraid of the dogs hurting them and reported McCallum’s dogs run loose; some said they worried about having young grandchildren outside if the dogs are loose.

Jonathan Cooper said his first 17 years of living on Leesome Lane were pleasant and the past year has been "somewhat hellish."

"Since they moved in last July, the noise has started and hasn’t stopped," Cooper said. "With my windows closed, I could hear the dogs barking....When I walk out onto my front porch, the dogs go ballistic."

He’d prefer to be a welcoming neighbor, Cooper said, adding that, since McCallum and Cedano are dog lovers, their hearts are in the right place.

But, he questioned whether having their dogs outside in 90 degree heat is animal cruelty.

Christine Kerry, the director of Camp Wildwood at the end of Leesome Lane, about half a mile from McCallum’s house, said she was worried about the dogs’ bothering children at the camp.

Camp Wildwood is a not-for-profit organization that serves neurologically impaired, autistic, and severely learning-disabled children.

This July, 160 children will attend the camp, Kerry said. When some of these children hear barking, it upsets them, she said, and they don’t have the ability to calm themselves.

"We do walk on the lane and it sounds like that won’t be possible now," she said. "If animals get loose, our children cannot self-preserve."

Dog-owners’ response

Cedano walked to the podium with his sleeping child, barefoot and in pajamas, over his shoulder. He responded to his neighbors’ comments.

"People have the wrong idea," he said. "We’re not running a kennel like Pine Bush."

The couple plans on breeding two pairs of dogs and then selling their puppies, Cedano said. "These are championship dogs," he said.

McCallum told the board that the dogs stay in the house most of the time.

"None of my dogs are mean," she said. "They’re big teddy bears."

Cedano said the dogs won’t be outside on the loose, because he doesn’t want them to get impregnated by strange dogs. A fence will help contain the dogs, he said. It will also block their view of neighbors, so there will be less barking, he said.

"My sister has cerebral palsy, Down's syndrome, and a bunch of other disorders," Cedano said. "She used to pet my dog. He barks, but he’s never bitten anybody."

Another of his Rottweilers, named Dakota, was rescued from an abused home.

"Now I even trust him with my own child," Cedano said. "He lunges at his cage but that’s because he wants to play."

Clenahan then told the crowd that McCallum and Cedano have the right to keep up to three dogs, under the zoning law. If they don’t get the permit, they will have to get rid of three of their dogs, but that might not be the end of the neighbors’ problems with the dogs, he said.

Clenahan then moved to continue the matter until next month’s meeting. The board had to read additional letters from neighbors, submitted at the meeting, and take time to consider everything discussed, he said.

For security: Board mulls locking schools

By Melissa Hale-Spencer

GUILDERLAND — How will the community react to closed doors at the Guilderland schools"

The school board considered that question and others as a committee made over two dozen recommendations Tuesday on school security.

An advisory subcommittee of the district’s Safe and Drug-Free Schools Committee put a positive face on its central proposal.

Parent Tracy Falvo said there would be a controlled, single point of access to school buildings while keeping a friendly atmosphere.

The plan is to hire five part-time security monitors for the five elementary schools, at an estimated cost of $32,500, and to install magnetic locks with entry buzzers at the main entrance of each school, at an estimated cost of $10,000.

Additionally, a pass-key entry-access system would be installed at three of the elementary schools with the most outside use — Guilderland, Pine Bush, and Westmere — at an estimated cost of $16,500.

The committee presented pictures of such a system in action, showing a smiling monitor pushing a button to admit school visitors deemed acceptable. A two-tone chime, which Falvo described as "pleasant," sounded.

The visitors then show identification, such as a driver’s license, before signing in. The pictured pair waved cordially as they walked away from the monitor’s desk; the monitor waved in return.

"Now we’ll have a person to greet our visitors, answer questions, and offer directions," said Falvo, describing the process as "very friendly."

"The new piece to me is locking the doors," said board member Colleen O'Connell. "I think that is a change of culture...a change of atmosphere."

Currently, signs are posted at all school entrances, directing visitors to sign in at a central location where a log book is kept. Identification tags are required for all staff and visitors. And video cameras have been installed at the main entrances of Westmere and Lynnwood elementary schools and throughout Farnsworth Middle School, which is being renovated and expanded.

Falvo had described potential security threats as including intruders, hostile or emotionally-disturbed parents, students, sex offenders, and terrorists.

The board will discuss the plan further at its next meeting, on July 5. Committee members said they would like the new system in place by September.


Frank Falvo, Tracy Falvo’s husband, co-chaired the security committee. The couple has two children who are students at Pine Bush Elementary School.

Frank Falvo first raised the issue of school security at a budget session in October.

A former American Airlines pilot, Falvo said that on Sept. 11, 2001, he was in the airplane that took off before the plane that hit the Pentagon.

He referred in October to a recent "lockdown" at Pine Bush Elementary.

"People see schools as soft targets when there’s no one monitoring the door," he said.

The matter became a budget issue in April when the board had a lengthy and heated debate before adopting a $76 million spending plan that was ultimately passed by voters.

Members of the subcommittee made a last-minute request in April to fund front-door monitors at the elementary schools; the district’s middle school and high school already have such monitors.

Ultimately, the board agreed to allocate $60,000 in the budget for the monitors.

At that time, the board debated the best way to make the schools safer. One board member said cameras and locked doors may be safest; another said anti-bullying programs are the most important. Ultimately, the measure passed in a split vote, 6 to 3.

Board member Barbara Fraterrigo, a member of the Safe Schools Committee, said experts had been consulted who agreed that front-door monitors were best and most cost-effective for security.

Board member Linda Bakst responded at that April meeting, her voice quavering with passion, that the Department of Homeland Security had recommended duct tape and cellophane for protection, indicating that experts aren’t always to be believed.

"What’s driving this is fear...," Bakst said at the time. "We want our children to be safe...It’s the wrong answer. Vigilance is the answer.."

Current concerns

This week, Bakst said she did not oppose the idea of monitors, but she was curious how a monitor would determine which people should be buzzed in to the school.

"That’s the training aspect," responded Robert Collins, the district’s health and safety director.

"I’m troubled," said Bakst. If she were at home, she said, and an "unsavory person" came to her door, and she decided not to let him in, that would be fine.

But if there were, for example, a parent who looked unsavory, Bakst thought the school wouldn’t have the "luxury" of refusing him entrance.

"All it takes is one oops," said Collins. He said the monitor would be trained to detain the person and call 911. Ideally, he said, buildings would be remodeled so that visitors access them through a lobby, separate from the school, until they are admitted.

Board member David Picker asked if it were more common for an intruder to look threatening or to pose as "a good guy."

School Resource Officer Brian Forte, a Guilderland Police officer stationed in the high school and a member of the committee, responded, "There’s been cases both ways." He said there was "no conclusive evidence one is more dominant than the other."

Forte also said the monitors will be trained in self-defense and will be in communication with police.

Assistant Superintendent for Business Neil Sanders said that building principals will decide on the best hours to station monitors at their schools. He said the most a monitor can work is 20 hours a week before the district must pay benefits.

Collins said staff across the school will be called on to keep buildings safe and secure.

"It’s all for one and one for all," he said, stating the responsibility can’t sit entirely on the shoulders of a single monitor.

Time frame

O’Connell expressed concern that the security committee had not consulted with the five elementary-school PTA’s or with the building cabinets, which are site-based management teams made up of administrators, staff, and parents.

She asked if there were plans to see there is a consensus.

"We were looking more globally and hadn’t gotten to a lot of specifics," said Pine Bush Principal Martha Beck, who served on the committee.

Board member Richard Weisz said he would like a sense from parents about the need to lock up the schools. He said he wants the community to look at the proposal as a positive step and urged allowing time for public discussion and response.

Collins said the "communication link" was important.

Frank Falvo said that PTA members had been invited to participate in committee meetings and just one person attended from the middle school.

O’Connell responded later in the meeting, "To say leaders of PTA’s have been lax in their duties because they didn’t jump on the bandwagon is inappropriate."

Frank Falvo also said the committee's charge was to develop recommendations and bring them to the school board, which forms an interface with the citizens.

"We currently have no screening process...It is wide open," said Falvo of security at the elementary schools.

Carolyn Kelly, who identified herself as both a committee member and a PTA member, said it is important to have the new system in place by September.

The proposal was publicized as part of the budget and, she said, "The budget passed." A lot of people voted for the budget, Kelly said, because of the security measures.

Fraterrigo expressed concern that the board might delay implementing the plan.

President William Brinkman, presiding over his last meeting before retiring from the board, said, "Barbara, if you want this in September, you guys can vote in July."

Superintendent Gregory Aidala commented that the board has always wanted to wait until its next meeting to decide on an issue "in order to have time to digest."

Bakst cautioned, "Let’s be realistic about whether we can have it in place even if we approve it tonight."

She said that, in order for the community to be "comfortable" with the plan, it has to be done right.

"Everything we do is a work in progress," said Brinkman. "We make changes as necessary."

Brinkman noted that some monitors are already being trained.

"We’ve got to have faith," he said, "if they say they’ll do it, they’ll do it."

"Let’s not get ahead of ourselves," cautioned Aidala. "We can stop here, mull it over in our minds, and have continued discussion on July 5."

At that meeting, the board will have two new members as Picker and Brinkman will have stepped down.

Fraterrigo reiterated that the "number-one recommendation" of the state expert who reviewed Guilderland’s security was to have a single point of entry at each school with a locked door.

She concluded the discussion by saying, "I don’t want to see us delay a decision in July after all the work that has gone into this for a year."

Graves sets church service before GHS Sunday graduation

By Melissa Hale-Spencer

GUILDERLAND — Veronica Graves says she is glad she stood up for her beliefs.

Graves had been upset that Guilderland High School had scheduled its graduation for Sunday morning.

"Christian believers are to worship God on Sunday mornings," she wrote in a letter to The Enterprise editor early this month.

She had said her son, a senior slated to graduate, may not attend the ceremony at the Empire State Convention Center in Albany on June 26.

This week, Graves wrote to say that all Guilderland seniors and their families are invited to an early-morning Christian worship service, at 7 a.m., before graduation, at the Altamont Reformed Church.

Her family will attend the half-hour service, and then go to the Guilderland ceremony to watch Daniel Graves graduate. He will attend Clarkson University in the fall, with the goal of becoming a civil engineer.

"My mom’s coming up from Ohio," said Graves. "Danny’s the oldest grandchild...My mom’s pleased that now she’ll get to go to the graduation."

Graves went on, "It’s worth standing up for. Where I grew up in Ohio, it’s much more Bible belt. No one would consider a Sunday graduation.

"The Northeast is just different. Here, people said they agreed with me in theory, but they wouldn’t miss graduation over it...This way they can fulfill their obligation...I’m usually one to stand in the background and just be a mother. I’m glad I did this."

Scheduling graduation

In a June 2 article, which The Enterprise ran with Graves’s original letter, Superintendent Gregory Aidala explained that the district was forced into the Sunday slot if it wanted to continue to hold the ceremony at the convention center on a weekend.

The convention center will save a given spot, he said, such as the third Saturday in June, for a school that has used it the previous year. Because of a change in the state-wide Regents exam schedule, Guilderland switched from the third week to the fourth and, in 2004, the ceremony was held on a Sunday for the first time.

"Someone took our Saturday slot; we couldn't get it back," said Aidala.

The building cabinet then discussed holding the graduation ceremony at other venues, but, Aidala said, "Families and students preferred the convention center, so we accepted the Sunday. Our highest priority was to maintain the program on the weekend, so friends and family members from out of town can attend."

After the June 2 story ran, Graves said, "The principal wrote a letter right away, and the superintendent called and explained the reasons."

Graves got to work, then, trying to find a way to fit in a Sunday service before the graduation ceremony. She went to Robert Luidens, pastor of the Reformed Church at 129 Lincoln Ave. in Altamont, since his daughter is in the graduating class.

"My church is out in Duanesburg so no one would come," said Graves.

The Graves family attends the Quaker Street Bible Church in Delanson.

"He was very gracious," she said of Luidens. "He couldn't do the service himself. The Reformed Church has its synod this week. But his board okayed it unanimously," she said.

The Quaker Street pastor, Christopher Gerardi, will conduct the 7 a.m. service before graduation.

"Anyone can come and I hope a lot of people will," said Graves, although she said she’s concerned about how to notify people at this late date.

"I’d rather be in church on Sunday morning," she went on. "It breaks my heart. But I believe the Lord worked this out...What’s going to be next" Christians need to stand up and say, ‘It violates my constitutional rights to freedom of religion...’"

Graves has a younger son as well. She said that, in the future, when the school plans for its graduation, she hopes it will consider a week-night ceremony. "A week night is not offending to the Jewish people or the Christian people," she said.

With limited tickets available for each graduate, not many friends and relatives can attend the ceremony anyway, Graves said.

She concluded, "Sometimes the Lord doesn’t let you let things go; when he puts it in your heart, you have to follow through."

Goodwill from wedding helps girl with leukemia

By Melissa Hale-Spencer

The love that presides at a wedding sometimes has a rippling effect.

Jason Gerasinovich, the best man at his best friend’s wedding, and Lisa Borst, the bride’s matron of honor, looked through wedding pictures this week.

They stopped to admire a picture of Borst’s daughter, two-and-a-half-year-old Jessica Rose. A flower girl, she was dressed exactly like the bride — from the frothy veil at the top of her head to the full-length white gown that reached to the tip of her toes.

She wore an exuberant smile as she proudly clutched a bouquet of purple flowers.

Her mother describes her as "very smiley, very friendly, very polite." Borst said, "She always says ‘thank you’ and ‘please.’"

Gerasinovich did not know Borst or her daughter before the pre-wedding festivities began.

"Lisa and I met over the telephone," he recalled. During that first conversation, he learned that Jessica Rose had been diagnosed with leukemia the year before.

"All I could think of was my six-year old son," he said. "I felt, if it were my kid, I would hope people would be giving. Her kid is a symbol of all kids...I told her, if there was anything I could do, let me know."

But when he hung up the phone, Gerasinovich said, he felt guilty. "I thought I should do something."

Gerasinovich owns a Guilderland business, Ultra-Clean Auto Detailing, Inc.; he does specialty work, cleaning people’s cars.

"I contacted my customers," Gerasinovich said. "They were unbelievably generous."

Seven of them came up with a combined $2,000 to give to Borst. Half of that money came from Jack and Susan Collett of Collett Mechanical Incorporated, he said; the rest was from Jeff Thomas of WeatherGuard Roofing, David’s Unique Jewelers, Classic Tux, Nicole’s Italian Restaurant, I Love NY Pizza, and Sun Capsule.

Gerasinovich surprised Borst with the contributions at a pre-wedding party.

"All I could do was cry and silently thank God," Borst wrote in a thank-you letter to the Colletts, "for caring individuals like you who so unconditionally help others, even people they may not know, because they want to make a positive impact and difference....We continue to learn to be humble in accepting help from others and we will always look for the opportunities to give back to those that have so beautifully touched our lives and made this road a little easier to travel."

A year of coping with leukemia

Jessica Rose was diagnosed with leukemia on June 28, 2004. She hadn’t been sick — a slight limp was the cause for blood work — so her family was shocked and devastated by the news.

Her father, Ray Borst, works for Commerce Health Technology in finance; her mother works for the New York State Workers’ Compensation Board; and her five-year-old brother, Raymond Borst V, "is a typical older brother," Borst said.

"They told us it’s acute lymphatic leukemia. They don’t know what causes it," said Borst. "They started chemotherapy the next day...We still have a year-and-a-half of chemotherapy...

"But," she said, "the good news is, she’s in remission."

Jessica Rose has received treatment at Albany Medical Center, which her mother praises highly.

"It’s very humbling when you go to the clinic," she said. "It makes you realize you’re not the only one...We have a lot of positives. The biggest is that she’s in remission."

What will the family do with the donations from Gerasinovich’s customers" "We’ve put it into Jessica’s savings account," Borst said.

The money may be used to celebrate the end of her treatment, a goal the whole family focuses on. Jessica’s five-year-old brother talks about Disney World, Borst said. "We may use it for a trip when we get to the end of treatment."

The family has suffered together through the ordeal, and the struggle and stress of remaining treatment still looms ahead.

"The day she lost her hair," said Borst. "I cried my eyes out."

But Jessica just wears a hat or, at the wedding, a veil, and her shining smile is what you notice.

Southbound: Villafane leaves GHS for El Paso

By Melissa Hale-Spencer

GUILDERLAND — After two years as the principal of Guilderland High School, Ismael Villafane is leaving for Texas.

He will be the principal of Riverside High School near El Paso, Texas.

Villafane is leaving for a warmer climate because of his wife’s rheumatoid arthritis, he said. "The winters are really bad for her," he said.

Kimberly Villafana had to close her Puerto Rican restaurant, Borinquen Bakery and Café in Guilderland’s Park Place Plaza, he said, because the doctor said she shouldn’t be on her feet so much.

"I’ve really enjoyed the support I’ve been given by the community here," Villafane told The Enterprise this week. He wraps up his duties at Guilderland next week, he said, and then will drive to Texas to start work there in the beginning of July.

What has he learned at Guilderland"

"Some of the myths you hear, about suburban school districts with high economics — that everyone will want something and be demanding — that is totally false," he said. "Parents here want the best for their kids’ education and they’re entitled to that. I appreciate parents stepping up to the plate for their son or daughter."

Villafane followed John Whipple, who was principal at Guilderland for 14 years. Two years ago, as he was starting his new job, The Enterprise asked him about his goals.

"Number one," he said, "I want to run an open high school. I want to have good communication within the school and with the community. Parents need to feel it’s their school."

Villafane feels he accomplished that.

"I feel proud. I think I have opened up the high school to the community and parents, beyond the four walls of the building," he told The Enterprise this week.

He cited the "brown-bag lunches" and "community coffees" he held, and the workshops for parents, such as one taught by gang specialist Ron "Cook" Barrett.

He also referred to the way he handled a scare that swept the school, resulting in widespread absenteeism because of rumors about neo-Nazis. The rumors turned out to be unfounded.

"I feel I fostered a good, safe school," said Villafane.

Villafane also said, "One thing I’m beginning to see here is more diversity," which, he said, brings cultural enrichment.

He also said he is proud of a new initiative with staff development.

"They wanted something more. They said, ‘We need someone to trust us,’" he said.

So this year, the sessions were developed by teachers, he said, which was very successful.

The superintendent’s views echoed Villafane’s.

"Ismael said he enjoyed his time here," Superintendent Gregory Aidala told The Enterprise, referring to Villafane’s letter of resignation. "He felt he needed to make the change...His wife had health issues and needed a warmer climate."

Aidala said he thinks the Texas post will be a good fit for Villafane. His ability to speak Spanish as well as English will be useful so close to Mexico, Aidala said. "And, he worked for 22 years in Texas prior to coming to New York, so with retirement, there are financial incentives," said Aidala.

Asked about Villafane’s accomplishments at Guilderland, Aidala said, "He’s been very open and receptive to meeting with parents."

"And," Aidala went on, "he’s been very visible in the building with students, very approachable. He’s helped foster a warm climate in the high school."


Villafane, who is 51, was born in Puerto Rico. His father, after whom he was named, was vice president of a bank; his mother has been a teacher and administrator.

Villafane played pro ball in high school in a country where baseball is big. After graduating from the University of Puerto Rico, he went to the University of Indiana for a master’s degree in physical education, with a minor in special education.

He then spent 22 years — from 1975 to 1997 — in the Austin, Texas area teaching a wide variety of subjects at the high-school and middle-school levels before becoming an administrator.

In 1997, Villafane moved to New York, where he worked a series of short stints as an administrator — two years as an assistant principal at a Binghamton middle school, a year as principal of a high school in Columbia County, and three years as principal of Ithaca High School before becoming Guilderland’s principal in 2003.

He’ll now be working for the Ysleta Independent School District, which he said has 46,000 students.

Riverside High School, where he will be principal, is larger than Guilderland with 2,400 students; it is about 10 miles from the Mexican border.

"It is self-sufficient with a large vocational program," said Villafane. "The school has parenting education program for students who are pregnant or have babies. The school provides day care with the caveat that the students take parenting classes. They care for their babies during the breaks. The boyfriends go, too. These are kids having kids. This helps them finish their education."

The district was the first in Texas, in 1998, he said, to be named a Recognized District, based on its academic accomplishments, and it includes several national Blue Ribbon schools.

Eighty-eight percent of its students are Hispanic, he said, nine percent are white, and two-and-a-half percent are African-American. Twenty-two percent have limited English proficiency.

The per-student cost is $5,900, he said.

"How can you do so much with so little"" concluded Villafane.

What’s next for Guilderland"

Villafane’s resignation is effective July 5. On Tuesday night, the school board met in executive session to discuss naming an interim principal.

Superintendent Aidala said he expects the school board to appoint the interim administrator at its July 5 meeting.

Aidala told The Enterprise Tuesday that Nancy Andress, the assistant superintendent for instruction, and Susan Tangorre, the district’s personnel director, have already met with high school staff to begin creating a profile of what is desired in a new principal.

Applications for the post are due by Sept. 15, Aidala said. A committee that includes staff as well as administrators will interview candidates in the early fall and the new principal should be in place by just after Thanksgiving, Aidala said.

Putting a face on a country

By Maggie Gordon

GUILDERLAND — ZhouJi, an English teacher from Jiujiang, China, is scheduled to arrive in the region on Aug. 16, but has no place to stay.

He is coming to America for 10 months to teach in Guilderland, through American Field Service International, and will begin teaching in Pine Bush Elementary School.

Originally, Ji was placed in a home near the school, but his host family had to cancel their commitment, due to an illness.

Jean Michelle "Mickey" Nieman, an AFS volunteer, is currently on the hunt for a new host family for Ji.

Nieman has been involved with AFS for more than a decade. She was a mentor teacher at Guilderland High School for 12 of the 33 years she worked as an English teacher there. She also taught in China in 1998 through AFS, and in the Philippines in 1964 through a similar program.

AFS’s slogan is "Walk together, talk together, all ye people of the earth, then and only then shall we have peace."

The program was founded by ambulance drivers who "thought that, if students from different countries saw what it was like to live somewhere else, it could prevent war," Nieman said.

Ji describes himself as "a peace lover, and ready to devote my whole life to peace making career for our human beings.

He writes in a letter to his would-be host family, "I hope to join the program to learn more about other nations’ culture and spread our own culture across the world, after I come back home, I will continue to teach English and spread the culture."

He enjoys "living a quiet life," he says — taking pictures of his kindergarten daughter, creating frames for photographs, hiking, gardening, and listening to classical music. When he feels bad, he writes, he likes listening to Beethoven’s symphonies.

Ji is a middle-school English teacher, the head of the English department, and a head teacher — Nieman describes this position as a class advisor, but much more in depth. He has taken his students on nature walks and cookouts. "I told my students we should always keep the environment clean," he wrote in his application for the program.

Ji is a husband and father, and he will be leaving his family in China for his trip to America. Family is a large part of his life, and he plans on contributing to his host family’s needs.

"When I come to live with a host family, I will share the responsibility of a family just as I do in my own family in China. Of course I will do everything with full respect to my host family members. I won’t do things without considering my host family feelings. And I try my best to get very well with each member of my host family, which is most important to me. To share sorrow and happiness with other human beings or other beings is my dream."


"If a family would want to divide his stay into three sections and take him for part of his 10 months, that would also be possible," Nieman said. "It doesn’t have to be a commitment for the whole year."

Nieman said that those who wish to host Ji should know that he is a non-smoker, and has no dietary restrictions.

The experience not only benefits the teacher, such as Ji, Nieman said but it will also teach the host family a great deal about the rest of the world. "In spite of the things you find that are different, the people are the same," she said.

"I believe in the program. I know people have made lasting connections," Nieman added. She is one of the people who has made such a connection. Her family hosted a young woman from Latvia, and after the year was over, Nieman invited her "daughter" to visit her again.

"It’s amazing what you get out of this program. The tie you have with someone else — it makes even reading the news a different experience... It puts a face on the country," Nieman said. "I don’t think the family would ever regret it."

Nieman suggests that anyone interested in hosting Ji call her at 356-1691, or call Cathie Currin, the Eastern New York AFS representative, at 581-9199.

Reeb honored as McKownville leader

By Maggie Gordon

GUILDERLAND — Don Reeb has lived in McKownville for 36 years. In that time, he has seen suburban sprawl, development, and the reshaping of a hamlet into a traffic corridor.

His residential neighborhood has felt the impact of two suprhighways — the Northway and the Thruway — as well as the development of the Route 20 strip.

Earlier this month, Reeb was recognized by the Town of Guilderland for his leadership role in the McKownville Neighborhood Improvement Association, which the town said has improved the quality of life in the hamlet.

Reeb, a grandfather now himself, has watched McKownville evolve.

"When we moved here, we were the youngest couple," said Reeb, who is 71. "Needless to say, we’re not the youngest any more."

The community was made mostly of couples in their 50’s when the Reebs moved into town. "There were just a few people starting to move into McKownville with kids," he said.

While there have been many changes in the hamlet since Reeb moved in, in the early 1970’s, "McKownville has been all built out for a long time," he said. "The only big development that has occurred has been Woodscape... and, of course, Crossgates Mall was not opened yet, so there was less traffic on Western Avenue."

Woodscape, he explained, is a development on McKown Road with about 100 houses. When the development was built, the entire village was made up of 800 houses — the development increased the number of homes by 12.5 percent.

Reeb has always lived in a city-like atmosphere. He grew up in Springfield, Ohio, a town that he describes as "about the same size as Troy." He then went to college at Syracuse University, where he received his doctorate degree in economics from the Maxwell School of Citizenship.

After he earned his degree, Reeb moved to Washington, D.C., where he worked for the federal government. After his time in the nation’s capital, he moved to his home in McKownville, and began teaching economics at the University at Albany, where he taught for 34 years, before retiring recently.

In his retired life, Reeb has taken up woodworking. "I make furniture and little tables and so forth, and I have been volunteering at the senior citizens’ center," he said. "Then, of course, there is the neighborhood association."

The association Reeb is referring to is the McKownville Improvement Association, an 81-year-old organization of which he is president.

"I’ve been involved with the organization for a long time. I was president in the 70’s and again in the 80’s and again now," he said. "I have been involved in it for about 30 years, since ’75 or ’76.

"A neighbor asked me to go to a meeting with him, and the concern at the time was a traffic light at Providence Avenue and Western," he recalled. "I got interested in it, and from that I got more and more involved."

Reeb described the association as a group of people who "try to make the community a little bit better."

The association has asked the town and higher government officials for help in improving their neighborhood. "We’ve tried to get sidewalks on both sides of Western Avenue," he said. "The town is going to construct those."

The group also asked for sidewalks on McKown Road, which the town will also build, he said. Recently, the association lobbied for bus shelters at several places on Western Avenue and McKown Road. "We went to Assemblyman McEneny and Senator Breslin," he said. "They were able to find some money and CDTA is going to put those up this summer."

Right now, the improvement association is battling with the New York State Thruway Authority, which is making plans to change the way EZ Pass holders access the ramp at Exit 24. "We don’t want a flyover on Western," Reeb said. "It would create more noise for several houses on several roads."

On Thursday, June 9, Reeb was honored by the Town of Guilderland for his "leadership and dedication to the McKownville Neighborhood Improvement Association and to the Town of Guilderland," the proclamation reads. "The McKownville Neighborhood Improvement Association have given of their time, energy, and expertise to improve the quality of life in the Hamlet of McKownville and the Town of Guilderland."

"The neighborhood is very supportive of the association," Reeb said. "It was very nice of the town to do that for me."

Reeb has been married to his wife for 42 years. In that time, they have raised two daughters who both live locally. One of their daughters lives in Niskayuna and is a lawyer and the other lives in McKownville and is a psychologist at family court.

"I have a 17-month-old granddaughter, and I’m expecting another grandchild — a boy — in just a couple of days," he said.

Traditional music: "It’s real and it’s rich"

By Matt Cook

ALTAMONT—When the first Old Songs Festival was held in 1980 at Tawasentha Park, Walt Michael was there. Now, 25 years later, and long after the festival outgrew the park and was moved to the Altamont fairgrounds, Michael is still performing at it—to much larger audiences.

"It’s old songs and it’s old friends," said Michael, a former Altamont resident. "What’s exciting to me is that it’s still vibrant."

Michael said he has been glad to watch Old Songs survive, and thrive, despite the bad mass-produced music constantly pouring out of America.

"It’s real and it’s rich," Michael said of the traditional music played at Old Songs. "It talks about the real things that real people do."

The multi-instrumentalist and singer will be joining dozens of other artists for a weekend of music and dance at the Old Songs Festival on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday.

Michael will be playing the hammered dulcimer—a stringed instrument played with mallets—leading his group, Walt Michael & Co. The other members are Evan Stover and Frank Orsini on the fiddles, and Tom Wetmore on bass.

Like the festival itself, the group doesn’t confine itself to a single style of music, Michael said. Sometimes the performers play sonorous ballads, almost like a classical quartet. Other times, they rip it up, "hell-bent for leather," Michael said.

The group draws from several styles, like Appalachian, bluegrass, folk, whatever they want to play, Michael said.

"All these players are heart players," he said. "They are capable of getting into it and going after it."

Like many of the performers at Old Songs, Michael first became interested in traditional music during the folk boom of the 1960’s. His interest became a passion when he worked as a volunteer among the poor in the mountains of West Virginia, where Appalachian music was born.

"The festival to go to"

A big part of Michael’s musical development took place at the Fox Hollow Folk Music Festival in Petersburg, Penn., which he called "the parent event of Old Songs."

The Fox Hollow festival was one of the biggest in the country, and, when it ended in the ’70’s, local resident Andy Spence wanted to keep a folk-music festival going in the Northeast. So, she started the Old Songs Festival. The first one was held in Tawasentha Park in Guilderland, and it moved to Altamont the next year.

"Fairly quickly, it became known as the festival to go to in the Northeast," said Roger Mock, of Old Songs, Inc., the Voorheesville-based organization that runs the festival and various other traditional-music events throughout the year.

As the popular definition of folk music has narrowed to mean singer-songwriters, Old Songs continues to offer a broad selection of traditional musical styles from America, Europe, and other parts of the world.

"It’s a folk-music festival, but not folk music to some people who use that term," Mock said.

It’s music that the average person doesn’t encounter very often.

"Unless you’re listening to public radio and you’re lucky enough that they’re playing it, you just don’t hear this music," Michael said. But, said Michael, "When you do, it can be life-altering."

It certainly altered Michael’s life. A professional musician for 35 years, he has recorded 14 albums and videos, has played at the White House and Lincoln Center, and performed on Broadway and on network TV, including The Tonight Show on NBC.

Still, it’s not the success that drives him, but the camaraderie among players, and the joy of learning a new song. Since tunes are passed around orally and preserved in memories, Michael said, bad songs are weeded out and the best survive.

"Only the good stuff sticks around," he said.

Other acts

While many performers this weekend are veteran musicians, part of the anniversary celebration is the recognition of the next generation of traditional musicians.

"They’re keeping the tradition alive and passing it forward," Mock said.

Among the younger musicians at the festival will be Brittany Haas, a 16-year-old fiddle prodigy from California.

Haas is the great-great-granddaughter of a Missouri fiddler. She took up the violin when she was five and has been playing ever since. One of her mentors, Appalachian fiddler Bruce Molsky, will be performing with Haas at the festival.

This year’s festival will also feature a Tree of Life Concert. With local folk singer Paddy Kilrain as host, several young people will take the stage, following in their parents’ footsteps.

"They’re mostly the offspring of performers," Mock said. "These are kids who have gone to the festival their whole lives."

Other highlights of the Old Songs Festival will be Celtic guitar and squeezebox player Guy Davis; banjo trailblazer Tony Trischka; the harmonious trio of Herdman Hills Mangsen; and Faith Petric, the 90-year-old folk singer.

International acts include Två, a Swedish fiddling duo, and Khac Chi, the first-ever Vietnamese group to play at Old Songs.

There will be, of course, the usual assortment of participatory jams, dances, and workshops, with some new additions, including a bamboo dance led by Khac Chi.

Meanwhile, festival-goers will camp out and meet up for informal play-alongs.

For newcomers to the festival, Mock said, "I would suggest they drop their preconceptions of what folk music is. Come during the day and really get a feel for the whole breadth of it."

Performances will be ongoing at 10 different areas during the day and main concerts will be in the evenings.

"Come and explore," said Mock, "and just go from area to area and see what you like."

The Old Songs Festival of Traditional Music and Dance will be this weekend at the Altamont fairgrounds, starting Friday night. A complete schedule and ticket prices are available at www.oldsongs.org.

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