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Guilderland Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, December 14, 2006

Crash kills New Visions client, leads to questions

By Jarrett Carroll

The Nov. 8 death of a New Visions resident following a car crash on Krumkill Road has led to allegations of managerial cover-ups, worker intimidation, and chronic understaffing.

The allegations are completely untrue, says Andrew McKenzie, the executive director of New Visions, formerly known as the Albany ARC and a chapter of the New York State Association for Retarded Citizens.

Both his staff and the group home residents have been mourning the death of Mabel Speanburg, said McKenzie this week.

However, some workers say that accidents at New Visions may be the result of understaffing, long overtime hours, and inexperienced relief workers, and they contend that working conditions have gotten progressively worse as the facility has expanded.

McKenzie said yesterday that his organization, which is celebrating its 55th year, chooses competent relief workers from a "healthy list" of candidates and that being in the Capital Region, New Visions has a large labor market to draw from, unlike other NYSARC chapters around the state.

He also said New Visions does not allow overtime abuse and has caps on working hours.

New Visions has about 450 employees to serve a little over 600 clients in 22 group homes and 30 apartments as well as in a day facility. Clients are transported in 68 company vehicles. New Visions is the largest employer in Slingerlands, said McKenzie.

A former assistant director of a group home, Nory Turner, told The Enterprise she recently quit working at New Visions after being "forced out."

Turner, who holds a master’s degree in social work from the College of Saint Rose, had worked for New Visions for a little less than three years; she also works during the day as a teacher, she said.

Turner said her group-home hours were switched to the daytime due to managerial differences, even though her bosses knew that she could not work those hours.

She said quitting was a hard decision and that her residents "were like family." She said she still worries about them every day, but that she quit because the organization was getting "worse and worse."

"They just put in relief workers without any proper training or experience," said Turner. "It is a very huge problem"It’s not safe," she continued, saying the relief workers are not familiar with the different residents’ needs at the different homes.

McKenzie responded through The Enterprise by saying that relief staff are safe and reliable workers who love their jobs and do not perform specialized care such as medicating the residents, which requires more stringent training.

Hoping to further investigate the allegations and get feedback on the situation, McKenzie has asked that people with any information contact him, adding that they can remain anonymous. All communication will be held in confidentiality, he said.

The accident

Speanburg was a passenger in one of two New Visions vans leaving the main facility on Krumkill Road, when her van collided with the New Visions van in front of hers after it stopped abruptly, according to police.

Bethlehem Police say that, on Nov. 6, at approximately 3:21 p.m., they assisted an ambulance on Krumkill Road after they received a call that stated "a 60-year-old woman fell out of her wheelchair inside an assisted van."

Mary Cox of the Bethlehem Police said no written report was filed because no tickets were issued at the accident.

The Western Turnpike Rescue Squad, which covers North Bethlehem, responded to the accident and transported Speanburg to St. Peter’s Hospital in Albany.

"We treated her for lacerations and for a possible head injury," said Howard Huth, chief of operations for the rescue squad.

According to Albany City Hall’s vital statistics department, Speanburg died two days later, on Nov. 8, at St. Peter’s Hospital.

The hospital would not release details of Speanburg’s injury or her death to The Enterprise.

Her funeral was arranged by New Comer-Cannon Family Funeral Home in Colonie, and the on-line obituary posted on the funeral home’s website states, "Mabel enjoyed drawing, music and the joy of being pampered. She has many dear friends and peers that will miss her terribly. Mabel was a favorite of so many that have come to know and love her through the years."

The obituary also says that Speanburg, 60, was a longtime participant at Hillside House in Coeymans Inc., and that she had been attending New Vision’s day program for several years.

She was buried on Monday, Nov. 13, it says, in Memory’s Garden on Watervliet-Shaker Road in Albany.

Workers who heard about the accident say that Speanburg did not have her seatbelt on; they said that with just one staff member on the van, clients cannot be properly maintained.

They also said that other clients who are in the van and who lived in the same house with Speanburg were very upset. Further, they alleged that staff had been told not to talk to the media about the accident.

McKenzie said the incident is still under investigation by New Visions and that it would be "irresponsible" to release details prematurely, but he did say that seat-belt use is strictly enforced. The seat-belt enforcement rules were in place well before the accident, he said.

Margie Sheehan, director of communications for New Visions, said that Speanburg’s funeral services were well attended.

"When this happened, this place was in a very, very sad state. People were walking through the halls crying," said Sheehan. There was a lot of counseling, there was a lot of support offered"It was a tragic, tragic accident that touched all of us deeply."

Other accidents

Speanburg’s death is not the only accident in recent history, according to workers.

On Monday, The Enterprise submitted Freedom of Information Law requests about these and other incidents to the New York State Office of Mental Retardation and Developmental Disabilities, which has five days to respond, according to state law.

McKenzie said that several different agencies oversee New Visions and monitor all of its practices.

"We are heavily regulated"They look at any incident, but they also come in and visit our sites once a year, looking specifically at our quality of care," said McKenzie. "We are far more scrutinized and regulated than other providers of services."

Turner, who was an assistant director of the Alfred Street group home, said that workers were not allowed to talk about any accidents at the homes.

"I heard that there was an accident," Turner said referring to Speanburg’s death. "They don’t want us talking about it because they didn’t want the media to know about it."

Another worker also stated that they were told to stay away from the media following accidents, and were required to sign a waiver form to that effect.

McKenzie said no order was ever given about not talking to the media, but, according to standard operating procedures, as with many companies, a chain of organization is developed at the company in order to deal with media relations.

"Not even the board of directors is allowed to talk to the press," said McKenzie. "That’s very common practice."

As for telling workers to stay away from the press after an incident occurs, McKenzie said that it is simply untrue. All workers are required to sign a policy notice when they are hired, he said, and the signature states only that an individual has read the policy.

It was not a "gag order," said McKenzie, just a procedure to make sure the employees have read the organization’s policy.

Deaths are usually private family matters and New Visions residents are all one big family, said McKenzie, adding that no one would ever be asked to cover up the details of a "loved one’s" death.

"It’s a way of life for us," he said. "When we provide a home for someone, it is a lifetime commitment."

Other problems

Turner, who is a Philippino, said she believed that discrimination was taking place at New Visions.

McKenzie said he has a "very open-door" policy and that he has never heard about rumors of intimidation or discrimination in his 26 years with the organization.

"I honestly think that if someone would want to draw any conclusions"I would think they would want to do it on some actual experience and not on suppositions," said McKenzie. "It’s fine to say ‘I think, I believe, I feel’; It’s another thing to say that I actually went and talked to Andy McKenzie and he did these things to me. I would really welcome anyone to come and test that theory." He continued, "I think they would find themselves very pleasantly surprised if they did."

Sheehan agreed.

"We’re an equal-opportunity employer; you will find the same policies here that you find at every other human-services agency," said Sheehan.

Turner said that upper management does not always see what goes on at the middle-management levels, and things can often go unreported, or even ignored.

She added that, in recent years, the treatment of workers has gotten worse.

"It’s how they approach you. You don’t get any respect, they treat you like a slave," said Turner. ""They’re very unprofessional."

"We have a grievance policy in place and I encourage people all the time to take advantage of it," said McKenzie. "If someone felt they were being harassed or mistreated, we have in place a very specific and thorough and aggressive policy against those kinds of things, and it gets immediate attention."

Turner said she worked very hard for New Visions and that she loved her job, but that she had to leave and is fortunate to have another job to fall back on, unlike many of her former co-workers.

"I’m a very hard worker"I have a master’s degree from Saint Rose," Turner said. "I am very professional. I have never had a background of violence or anything like that."

Union talk

Amid the current allegations, the process of unionizing is underway. Workers say the union will help protect them and maintain their quality of care.

Three-and-a-half years ago, janitorial workers successfully unionized at New Visions, which is the Albany chapter of NYSARC, said McKenzie.

Now the Civil Service Employment Association, the largest union in New York State, has begun a "corporate campaign," by attempting to unionize all 49 chapters in the state, which includes New Visions.

McKenzie said he has been open in his "interest to protect his workers," and, if that means unionizing, he supports it.

"It’s their privilege and their right and I fully support that," McKenzie said about a union vote.

He also said that management has made no attempt to block the union’s campaign at New Vision and that no worker has been threatened with job loss for support of the union.

Turner also said she believes the union would be a good thing, but says that workers are afraid they may lose their jobs if they openly support it.

"The union has started talking with the staff. Hopefully it’s going to work," said Turner. "You have to be careful because you don’t want to lose your job."

Another worker, whose name is being withheld, also felt scared about supporting the unionization of the work force for fear of being fired.

The worker also said the union was appealing not because of potential pay raises, but because more staff was needed.

"We’re not in this for the money; we could work at McDonalds’ or the mall," said the worker. "We’re here because we love these people. We treat them with dignity and respect."

Turner said that New Visions’ current management has repeatedly promised pay raises and medical reimbursements, but they never happened.

"Things like intimidation and surveillance and interrogation are illegal and are not tolerated here," said McKenzie. "I say, let people pursue their interests."

McKenzie did say he thought the timing of the accusations over Speanburg’s death coinciding with a possible union takeover were "suspicious," but added that, if his workers want the union, he would stand behind them.

A CSEA representative did not return a call for comment about the union talks.

Turner said that her formerstaff could not "go and fight for their rights"because they’ll lose their jobs." She added, "We work so hard to have rights; if we give up that, what’s the use""

Both Turner and McKenzie said that no one has been fired surrounding any allegations of intimidation or because of unionizing. McKenzie went a step further and said no New Visions worker has ever lost a job by talking to him.

"How foolish would it be if I fired someone after they talked to me about an important issue"" he asked.

He also questioned whether the accusers have followed any of the established grievance procedures before they went to The Enterprise with their concerns.

Turner said the procedures don’t work.

"I think that’s what they need, their own union, so they have some place to go to," said Turner of the workers. "If I won the lottery, I would buy the company tomorrow"That’s how desperate I am to help them."

Sewer code dispute
Self-storage facility gets permit

By Jarrett Carroll

GUILDERLAND — The debate became heated, but the decision was unanimous.

After more than two years, Gordon Development has been granted a special-use permit by the town’s zoning board to proceed with the construction of a self-storage facility on Wagner Road.

After zoning-board members argued over the town’s industrial sewer code last Wednesday, they approved the self-storage facility being built in Guilderland Center, pending several stipulations to be met before construction.

The conflict began because of the town’s code, which states that industrial developments be served by both municipal water and sewer hookups. The self-storage facility, an extremely low-intensity use for industrial businesses, is being built in a mostly undeveloped industrial zone, near the Northeastern Industrial Park.

Because of the railroad tracks in the area, it has been zoned for industrial use.

Board members were also concerned about the ability of fire trucks to access the facility because of the width and configuration of Wagner Road, it takes a sharp hairpin turn off of Route 146.

"Wagner Road appears to be a fairly narrow road," board member Charles Klaer told Daniel Hershberg, who represented Gordon Development at the meeting. "It’s not clear to me that the claims of the application that the roads are wide enough"can be made."

Hershberg told the board that the town’s largest fire truck is able to access the facility and can turn to get to each planned structure except for one, having only one side that it cannot pull up to.

"These are actually wider than town roads," Hershberg said in response to Klaer’s inquiry. "If trucks can make it down a side road, then they can make it down here."

The town-designated engineer confirmed Hershberg’s assertions and said he has conferred with the town’s highway superintendent, Todd Gifford, on the matter.

Sewer codes

An extensive and prolonged debate ensued over the town code’s definition of "sewer facilities."

The code states that "the following uses and their customary accessory uses are permitted in the I District, provided that the lot is serviced by municipal water and sewer facilities, upon issuance of a special-use permit"."

Klaer asked the board’s chairman, Peter Barber, about the municipal water and sewer clauses in the town code for industrial businesses.

"I think it comes down to an interpretation issue," said Barber.

Klaer objected.

"With all due respect, Mr. Chairman"my concern is that it appears in the code," Klaer said to Barber. "I think it’s disingenuous to say, ‘We don’t know why it’s in there.’"

Continuing, Klaer said, "I think it is very clear that the code wants you to have municipal facilities"A warehouse is an industrial use, not a light-industrial use."

A warehouse is defined as a "storehouse for goods and merchandise."

Klaer reiterated his stance by saying that both a municipal water system and municipal sewer hookup were required for the permit.

Barber’s interpretation was different.

"Asking someone to bring in municipal hookups for a business on a rural road with one employee and a use that is probably lower than any other in town is, to use your word, ‘disingenuous,’" Barber replied.

"The industrial zones, if they are to be developed, they are to be served by municipal services," Klaer again insisted to Barber.

Barber said that Klaer was trying to put words in the code which were not there. "I gave you my answer; you might not like it, Chuck," he said.

Klaer responded by saying that the situation was "much more complicated" than that.

"Our code clearly allows this," Barber said. "It is typical for the board to put conditions on a project"It’s been pending for about two years now."

Klaer again responded, "Because we have history, doesn’t mean that it is not relative or germane," he said of his interpretation of the code.

As Barber made a motion to approve the permit, Klaer asked to review the legislative history of the town code as a conditional stipulation, saying to Barber, "I don’t think legislative history will sustain your interpretation."

Barber made a motion in favor of the permit, eventually adding Klaer’s stipulation.

"I’m going to make a motion on this. If you want to vote against me, Chuck, vote against me," he said.

Klaer told Barber that he did not review the legislation, to which Barber said, "I think you are wrong to suggest that I did not look at this issue."

Barber also described the application as the "lowest possible industrial use."

Everyone voted in favor of the motion with Klaer’s stipulation, including a reluctant Klaer. Board member Sharon Cupoli said, "I vote yes, even though I don’t think we need Chuck’s review."

The project

The plans call for a 45,000-square-foot facility on a 50-acre plot with six parking spaces and one employee on premise. The storage units will be eight-and-a-half-feet tall metal structures.

This plan is substantially scaled down from the original plan two years ago which called for a 68,650-square-foot facility.

About eight-and-a-half acres will house the facility while more than 41acres of the plot will be set aside as a "forever wild" preserve by Gordon Development, which may dedicate the land to the town of Guilderland or just place an easement on it declaring it "undevelopable," said Hershberg.

The land sits at the foot of the Helderberg escarpment and is zoned according to the recommendations in the Helderberg Escarpment Planning Guide, a regional initiative meant to tailor development so that is preserves natural resources.

No hazardous wastes or dangerous chemicals will be allowed for storage at the facility, according to Hershberg. He added that any seasonally stored vehicles or boats would be inspected for leakage.

Hershberg also told the board that, because less than one-third of an acre of wetlands may be disturbed during construction, a permit from the federal Army Corps of Engineers has been applied for.

"These storage facilities generate very little traffic, Hershberg told the board. "It’s not a high-density use."

The plans do allow for some expansion by adding more storage units within the eight-acre development, but Gordon Development said it will only expand if consumer demand requires it.

A fence will surround the storage facility with trees planted inside of the fencing and a gate that closes across the main roadway entrance. Lighting will be added for security purposes.

Hersberg told the board that, typically, a single employee only uses about 10 gallons worth of wastewater a day.

In accordance with the Helderberg Escarpment Planning Guide, Hershberg said the color for the structure’s doors has changed from blue to a forest green and the rest of the structure will be "earth toned."

The permit is contingent upon final approval from the town’s fire department, highway superintendent, the Army Corps of Engineers, the state’s Department of Environmental Conservation, and by the town-designated engineer on any further issues.

Barber told The Enterprise this week that the application has moved along.

"It’s pretty nice for an industrial zone to have this," Barber said, referring to the low-intensity use in conjunction with over 40 acres of preserved land. Speaking about the "lively discussions" at last Wednesday’s meeting, Barber said, "The discussions can be a little colorful sometimes, but we are now moving forward."

GCSD conserves, saves mega bucks

By Melissa Hale-Spencer

GUILDERLAND — Fred Tresselt is often called the energy czar of the Guilderland School District but he prefers to think of himself as the energy whisperer.

Under his leadership over the past year, the district has saved over $483,000, a 21 percent savings in energy costs. The large savings comes from a series of very small savings as staff members change their habits, for example, turning off lights before they leave a classroom or unplugging unused equipment.

At Tuesday’s school board meeting, Tresselt was presented with an award from Energy Education, Inc., the Texas company that Guilderland contracted with to achieve the savings.

Tresselt shared the award with Tim Martin, representing custodial workers; Terry Andres, representing maintenance workers; and Chris Claus, president of the teachers’ union.

"He’d like to have a thousand people here, the entire district," said Neil Sanders, assistant superintendent for business, as he presented the plaque.

Charles Fasnacht III, president of the Northeast Division of Energy Education, told the board that the "out-of-the-gate" award, called the Energy Pacesetter Award, which Guilderland received, had been given in his district only five times over the last two years.

"It’s a team effort," Fasnacht told the board. "Everybody becomes part of the solution. Everybody becomes part of the energy savings."

Board President Richard Weisz said he hadn’t thought the district would achieve a half-million-dollar savings in the first year of the program; he equated the amount with a 1 percent tax increase.

Fasnacht told The Enterprise afterwards that his company has contracts with 796 school districts nationwide.

Asked if savings were now likely to level off, Fasnacht said savings are likely to increase as the years go by.

Asked if Guilderland had managed to save so much in the first year of the program because it had been wasting a lot of energy, Fasnacht told The Enterprise, "Absolutely not."

He went on to say that energy savings could come in three ways — from equipment, from buying energy wisely, and from getting people to change their habits. Guilderland had already done well with the first two, Fasnacht said, and his program fostered the third.


In a program report prior to accepting the award, Tresselt outlined for the board the conservation measures the district had taken before starting the Energy Education program.

These included such things as energy management for shutdown and temperature schedules, using florescent fixtures and updating bulbs, installing LED exit signs, installing motion detectors so that lights shut off when no one is in a room, modifying timing for parking lights, and installing insulation and other energy-saving measures during building projects.

Tresselt outlined three primary goals for the energy management program — maintaining comfort and safety, saving money, and eliminating energy waste.

When the board was first considering the program, it was told that hiring a trusted energy manager was essential for success. Tresselt was then a teacher at Farnsworth Middle School who walked to work in the spring and fall and snowshoed or skied cross-country in the winter.

A math and science teacher, he had a long-standing interest in the environment. He has since retired from teaching after a 35-year career — 21 of them at Farnsworth.

Tresselt was a forestry major at Paul Smith’s College in the Adirondacks and went on to study physical education at Brockport. He earned a master’s degree at Colby College in Maine on a National Science Foundation scholarship.

Tresselt was involved in many aspects of the district, having served on Farnsworth’s building cabinet and on the district’s technology committee. He knows the schools from a parents’ perspective, too, since his three children — now grown — attended Guilderland schools.

He and his wife have traveled extensively, teaching in Norway and Italy, and spending a year-and-a-half backpacking through Asia, through Turkey and India, down to Australia.

"Traveling overseas, you see how little energy is needed for a good life," Tresselt said.

He said at the time he was hired as energy manager, "A lot of people want to cooperate. They just need to be shown how."

Making changes

Tresselt told the board Tuesday that part of his job was auditing the buildings when they are unoccupied and monitoring uses when they are occupied.

He walks around the buildings night and day and listens to suggestions from Energy Education consultants, who are mostly engineers, Tresselt said. They travel the country and each offers his own insights, Tresselt said.

He also gets training at national seminars, he said, and meets periodically to exchange ideas with energy managers at other area school districts.

The first couple of times Tresselt visited school buildings as the energy manager, he said, he would hear, "I have to shut my lights off." But now, when he visits, Tresselt said, "They say the lights are off and just keep walking."

He also tracks and analyzes energy consumption for efficiency and he uses web-based tools and diagnostic loggers to track waste, he said.

Some of the things that have affected Guilderland’s energy use and cost this past year are rate increases, mild winter weather, and the middle-school additions. More space was added to Farnsworth, which increased costs, said Tresselt, but more efficient building materials were used, which offset increases.

Electricity rates increased 18 percent last year, Tresselt said; the district buys its energy through the OCM BOCES consortium.

Sanders said that the consortium provides leverage since it includes 100 different school districts. It is difficult to shop around, he said, because costs are "so volatile." The consortium’s philosophy, Sanders said, is, "We may not get the best price in one year, but we will over time."

"People did begin to turn things off and adjust," Tresselt told the board, after presenting a series of bar graphs charting consumption comparisons. He also said that he had "more behavior modification to do."

Finally, Tresselt went over the environmental benefits, calculating that, in the first year, the district had prevented emitting over 3 million pounds of carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas, which equates to removing 285 cars from the road or planting 590 acres of trees.

Guilderland has a four-year contract with Energy Education. The program costs average $150,000 for the first four years, which Sanders described earlier as being broken down this way:

— $120,000 for the consultants and training;

— $23,000 for the salary of the energy manager;

— $3,000 for the annual seminar travel expenses for ongoing training; and

— $10,000 for the first-year payment on energy-accounting software with a $1,000 annual maintenance fee thereafter.

Tresselt concluded his presentation on Tuesday by crediting the custodial staff, the maintenance mechanics, the educational staff, the maintenance supervisors, the district office personnel, and the Energy Education consultants.

"All in all," said Tresselt, "the program worked quite well. These are the people that made it work."

Shaara draws 325 strong with stories of father, writing

By Tyler Schuling

GUILDERLAND — Veterans huddle around Jeff Shaara and smile for the camera. Fans form a long line, and anxiously wait to shake hands with him, and have him sign their copy of his book. They talk excitedly as they prepare to brush with greatness. He smiles at each after signing, and graciously accepts their compliments.

Though he has visited 25 cities in the past month, no doubt an exhaustive task, Shaara doesn’t appear to be in a hurry to get to his home in Tallahassee, Fla.

And though he is receiving much attention and praise, Shaara’s success hasn’t gone to his head. He knows he is filling big shoes. On Friday, Shaara, speaking to over 325 people, wedged between the stacks at the Guilderland Public Library, made that very clear.

Shaara’s latest book, The Rising Tide, a novel about the United States involvement in World War II after Pearl Harbor, debuted on two bestseller lists, but Shaara doesn’t dwell on his success. Instead, he pays tribute to his father.

Shaara’s father, Michael Shaara, wrote the Pulitzer-prize-winning 1974 novel The Killer Angels, based on the historic battle of Gettysburg. Though the novel received critical acclaim, it was not well-read when first published. Michael Shaara died in 1988, and he never saw his novel’s or his son’s literary success.

Jeff Shaara’s talk Friday night concluded the library’s two-month program on World War II.

John McEneny, a state assemblyman and historian, introduced Shaara, saying that, through the historic novel, "names and dates come to life," and a reader gets a sense of the "human side," as the novel "shows the flesh and blood" of the participants. McEneny praised Shaara, saying his writing "does justice to his father’s novel."

Shaara, appearing from behind the stacks, was amazed by the large turnout.

"I heard you had to have a ticket to see me. That’s impressive," he said.

Shaara admitted to a mistake he once made, when he asked if there were any ex-Marines in the audience. He said he was quickly made aware of his blunder, and now knows that once someone is a Marine, he is one forever.

A father’s legacy

After getting the attention of his audience at the Guilderland library, Shaara never let go. Interjecting humor, challenging the crowd to contest his findings, and referring to historical icons he loves, Shaara is continually fascinated by history and the courage of American soldiers.

Shaara spoke about the courage of paratroopers dropped at night, who were hit by a Force 5 gale, which produced 35 mile-per-hour winds, and scattered them all over Italy.

"They have 100 pounds of equipment, and they jump anyway. I’m impressed," he said.

Shaara also made it clear from the beginning that he wasn’t interested in reading from his latest novel. Convinced readings by authors "put people to sleep," Shaara turned to topics that most interest him — his father, his father’s novel, history, and storytelling.

Shaara credited his father’s novel for his life’s path.

"The reason The Killer Angels works," he said, "is because it is a good story. It’s a story as told to you from four points of view," he said.

"You don’t have to be a Civil War buff to like The Killer Angels," he said.

The Killer Angels was turned down 15 times before it was finally published in 1974, Shaara said.

After it was made into a movie in 1993, the film, Gettysburg, was viewed by 33 million people when it aired on TNT, the largest audience in cable movie history. The popular success of The Killer Angels coincided with the release of the movie, hitting The New York Times Best Seller list shortly after it was produced, at number 14; it spent 4 weeks at number one.

"Walking in Gettysburg did something to him," Shaara said of his father.

Shaara recalled his father’s writing habits, saying his father would talk about history and topics for writing while the family was gathered at the dinner table, and he wrote during the middle of the night.

The Killer Angels, he said, wasn’t well-received when it debuted.

"The book didn’t sell. It failed to find an audience, and this is death in the publishing world," he said. "This was crushing to my father," Shaara said.

The Vietnam War had just ended, and people didn’t want to read about war, Shaara said. Shortly after the novel was published, a man challenged his father’s characterization, and, essentially, the merit of the historic novel genre.

"‘Who are you to tell us what Robert E. Lee was thinking"’" the man asked Michael Shaara.

"The thinking is that, after a book is successful, a writer believes ‘I can write whatever I want.’ None of that happened to Michael Shaara," he said.

Shaara, who began his writing career by writing Gods and Generals, a prequel to The Killer Angels, said that, when he began, he suspected he would often hear comparisons to his father’s writing.

"Well, it’s no Killer Angels," was what he thought he would hear. However, Shaara didn’t think of this in a negative light.

"What a compliment," he said of the sentiment.

Shaara searched his soul before starting to write. He said that, when he was approached with the possibility of taking on the task of writing a prequel to his father’s novel, he was uncertain.

"Maybe the son should follow the father"" Shaara asked.

Shaara laughed, recalling how his father, while enmeshed in writing the book, had said to a reporter that he was "visited by every character."

"That’s not something you want to say to a reporter," he said.

His father, though known as the author of The Killer Angels, also wrote science fiction, short stories, police dramas, and a novel about baseball. His novel, For Love of the Game, was also made into a movie, and Shaara recalled attending the premiere in New York City. It was the second time, he said, that he had seen "Based on the Novel by Michael Shaara" on the big screen.

"Wherever I go, I know that I am walking in enormous footsteps," he said.

The Rising Tide

Through its portrayals of larger-than-life characters, and its command of language, Jeff Shaara’s book, The Rising Tide, recalls the political climate in Germany prior to World War II.

Germany was defeated, which became the leading motivation for Hitler and his army. Stripped of a sense of Germanic pride, Germany sets about reclaiming its lost pride.

The novel begins in North Africa, with German Field Marshall Erwin Rommel fighting the British. He is short on supplies, and reads propagandistic accounts of his feats in German newspapers.

The Rising Tide is the first book in a projected trilogy, but, Shaara said, he will be writing a fourth book. Many Marines have written him letters, compelling him to write about the end of the war in the Pacific.

Having heard more first-hand accounts, he has many ideas for his forthcoming novels, and even more, which could come to fruition.

"Can you imagine what it would be like to be the first American to walk up to a concentration camp"" he asked.

Before writing The Rising Tide, Shaara did an enormous amount of research. Research, he said, takes about one year, about twice as long as the writing process.

"I read between 50 and 60 books for every book I write," he said.

Shaara also uses the Internet, visits many of the places he writes about, and uses first-hand accounts in creating his characters and story.

He has General George Patton’s diary. Shaara said a diary is the best source for a writer.

"Because who are you writing to" Yourself," he said.

"I don’t care about political correctness. I care about sensitivity," Shaara said.

He recently visited Normandy, and was amazed.

"Omaha Beach is a place every American should visit," he said.

The act of writing also amazes Shaara. He said he has written all day, and, without realizing, it becomes night. He revisits what he writes, surprised by what he finds. He asks himself, "Did I write that""

Shaara has an answer to his own puzzling question.

"I’m just a messenger," he said.


A video of Jeff Shaara’s appearance at the Guilderland Public Library is in production, said publicist Mark Curiale. It will be airing on the Guilderland public access channel before the end of the year, he hopes.

Reluctant hunter bags bobcat

By Saranac Hale Spencer

ALTAMONT — Bob Haines is not a man who would go out looking to shoot a bobcat, but he’s got one all the same.

In the 25 years that he’s been hunting in the woods behind his house, near Altamont, he’s never seen a bobcat, said Haines. On a Sunday evening a few weeks ago, though, as he was watching the "transition from daytime life to nighttime life," he noticed a bobcat wandering through the trees.

"I’ll be honest with you," he said, "when I first saw him, I wasn’t going to shoot him." For Haines, hunting is more about being in the woods, staying still, and watching everything around him than making the kill. "It’s an opportunity to see animals you wouldn’t normally see," he said.

The bobcat was an unusual sight, one that he just watched for a while, he said. Two hundred yards from there, his dog and cat chase squirrels into the woods, he thought. That’s what made him pull the trigger.

If he had seen the cat in the Adirondacks, shooting it would never have crossed his mind, he said. If it hadn’t been so close to his house, Haines said, "I’d have just watched him mosey along the ridge."

He’s only shot three animals since his brother-in-law taught him to hunt — two deer and the bobcat. He felt guilty after he shot.

There is a bobcat hunting season in this part of the state, said Dr. Ward Stone, wildlife pathologist for the state’s Department of Environmental Conservation. Oct. 25 to Feb. 15 is open season for bobcats in the Capitol Region and the Adirondacks. Central and western New York, however, have no open season; the cats are protected year-round in that part of the state, he said.

"I’d say we’re darn lucky to have them," said Stone, of the higher population in the eastern part of New York. Bobcats don’t pose any major threat to people, he said, and, since they eat small rodents, they keep those populations in check and, by doing so, help to reduce the spread of illnesses like Lymes disease.

Bobcats will sometimes eat a pet, said Stone, but "they’re not the threat that a coyote is to a dog or a cat."

Simian, Haines’s dog, is pretty small, he said. "You’re going to laugh," he said. "We’re told that she’s a combination Lab-Chihuahua." He added with a sheepish smile, "She looks like a 15-pound Lab."

There is now a cautious pride mixed with his lingering guilt when Haines talks about his bobcat, which is going to be mounted so that the unusually vibrant colors on his spotted belly will be visible. "A lot of big game fur is very coarse," he said. "This cat’s fur was very soft."

"I’m not a trophy hunter," said Haines. "I wasn’t wowed until everyone else started saying, ‘Wow.’"

— Laura Anderson, an intern from Farnsworth Middle School, contributed to this story.

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