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And earlier:

On Thanksgiving ...

By Charlie Haeffner

Odessa, Nov. 28, 2013 --  Thanksgiving used to be all about the food for me. I was pretty young then. Just starting out.

As I progressed, I learned about the Pilgrims and the Native Americans and the first Thanksgiving. And the day became symbolic to me in a patriotic, historic way.

Then I reached college and the day became the centerpiece of a long weekend.

Then, after I was married and had kids of my own, Thanksgiving took on a different look for me, courtesy of a perspective that had me participating and observing from the position of parent instead of child or student. And in fairly short order it became more than a small, immediate-family-unit event, branching into one involving in-laws and the families of my wife's siblings.

It became quite a production. I imagined it was more on the scale of the Pilgrims' first Thanksgiving, but with the advantage of a stove and oven.

Then, after my children had grown and started testing their wings in the world, death visited my door and left me a widower, and the holiday became one I would try to survive.

That first such Thanksgiving, a kind family west of Watkins Glen invited me to their table, and I found myself laughing for the first time in quite a while, and remembering how the day used to be: a family gathering of joy.

The next year, a couple who lived above Watkins to the northeast, near Burdett, invited me to a gathering of friends that was equally as pleasant.

And after that, for a string of several years, one of my late wife's brothers invited me and whichever of my sons was home at the time over to his house in Ithaca to dine with him, his wife and neighbors. I got to know the neighbors on an annual basis -- a "see you back here next year" basis.

That gathering faded in time, and now ... well, I and my middle son -- who now resides with me and is helping me reshape the house architecturally into something pretty cool (from something that definitely wasn't) -- just take Thanksgiving as it comes, and figure out something appealing to celebrate the day. In this year's case, we're considering any one of the available restaurant buffets in the region. After all, the meaning of the day has always included that important component: good food.

And we'll make it a point to visit grandma -- my wife's mother -- up the hill on Coykendall Road.

Thanksgiving has, in other words, changed in tradition and appeal with the years and with shifting emotions and the limitations that life tends to impose.

But in its different guises -- its various presentations as feast, symbol, family gathering and a place for friends to join in celebration -- it has never lost its age-old luster.

It has served for me as tradition, then challenge, and then as a friendly and annually welcome destination. It is now a place to pause and remember the old times and loved ones no longer present. And it is a spiritual guidepost, an example that sets the tone for the long holiday season that kicks off with the first drumstick.

It is a day that beams to the civilized world a beacon of humanity. And within it, audible only to the receptive spirit, is a song of familial love.

It is a wonder to behold, this day -- through difficult times and good ones.

With all of that in mind, believe me when I wish you a truly Happy Thanksgiving.


And earlier:

Tales from the heart ...

By Charlie Haeffner

Odessa, Nov. 18, 2013 --  Mankind has, through the centuries, learned ever-increasingly clever ways to communicate. There have been hand signals, grunts, cave-wall drawings, plays, novels, epic poems, radio broadcasts, motion pictures, television shows, theatrical musicals and, now, emails, Twitter, texting, CDs, DVDs, blogs and news websites. And on it goes.

I, for one, am a bit of a dinosaur, for I still love novels -- and not on Kindle (though I offer one of my own creations, The Maiden of Mackinac, in that format) -- and plays that are well done. Or just give me a well-turned story offered verbally in informal or formal settings.

Late last week, storytelling in varying formats took center stage and absolutely worked for me, and might have for anyone willing to invest a little time in them.

I will deal first with the one that happened chronologically last: the two-day run of the Lake Country Players' production of "Guys & Dolls."

Very few people attended the play, held in the Odessa-Montour High School's Fetter-Brown Auditorium. I was there at the first and last presentations, on Friday and Saturday nights (there was a matinee in-between), and I was pleasantly surprised by the professionalism -- the voices, the energy, the sheer joy of the actors in doing something exceedingly well.

I'm not given to superlatives, but this one was flat-out good. And it would have been better if it had drawn an audience -- would've created a synergy between stage and seats, between actors and fans, that can raise a production to heady levels.

But as I said, there weren't many people there Friday or Saturday nights, and I'm told the same held true Saturday afternoon.

Why the low turnout? I don't know, unless the location -- up the hill in Odessa instead of down in Watkins, at the school auditorium now undergoing renovation -- impacted negatively. Or maybe there were conflicting events. Or maybe the would-be spectators thought the LCP's recent track record a bit lackluster, and didn't expect this.

Too bad. Any of you who might have gone, but didn't, missed the opportunity to see something special.

I especially appreciated the family connections in the play. There were, for instance:

-- Loueda Bleiler and daughter Jenelle in the pit band;
-- Husband-and-wife Lou and Pam Cicconi in the pit band;
-- Music director Tom Bloodgood and his wife, Libby (as Adelaide), along with son John (onstage as the Master of Ceremonies and in other roles);
-- The husband-and-wife acting team of Michael and Tesha (Carrington) Truesdail;
-- The acting Nortons (Sam and his sister Sarah, along with their parents, Melissa and Matt);
-- Katherine Larson onstage, sister Kendra behind the scenes, and mom Sue backstage and in the Chorus;
-- Donna Christoffels on piano, with husband Bill turning the pages;
-- Charlie Cole onstage and wife Nancy as Props Manager, with son Stephen onstage as Harry the Horse;
-- Holly Campbell onstage and husband Andy in charge of Sound;
-- Damita Chamberlain onstage along with husband Greg;
-- Tim Benjamin as Director while his wife, Michelle, was the Choreographer and Business Manager.

A lineup like that is, as Lou Bleiler put it, "small town, and why we love living here."


The other events -- two of them -- came in one day, the day before the play's opening.

One was a presentation by Rick Weakland (right), retired Corning Inc. executive, about a 50-day bicycle ride he took acoss the country from Oregon to the East Coast this past summer. His talk was accompanied by slides, but the power was in his self-assured words as he described the difficulties in rising to the challenge every day; the thrill of the ride when passing through spectacular scenery, and the butt-numbing boredom of traversing the flat Midwest.

For the record, there were roughly 50 people of varying abilities on the trip, and they stopped every night at motels. They had mechanical and other support along the way, but think about it: 3,800 miles in 50 days. Weakland was an experienced rider, but he said some people on the trip -- many of the participants were in their 50s and 60s -- were basically novices. And yet all managed to complete the journey.

If you want to learn more, as I did, you can check out the website of the firm that runs it: Be forewarned, though. You have to spend some serious money to go on such an adventure. But go look at the website. It's all there.


That evening, I visited the Schuyler County Historical Society Museum for a talk by Tony Specchio -- well-known locally for running the Memorial Day and Veterans Day ceremonies in front of the Schuyler County Courthouse for decades. He discussed his boyhood in Reading Center and his eventual time overseas in the midst of the Korean conflict.

He brought items from those days long gone -- school records, photos, his first American Legion card, and so on -- but the power was in his words, for he spoke passionately of that time and of that life. He punctuated his talk with terms like "Judas Priest!" and "Jeepers Cats!" as he told of the poverty of the Depression (his father, a farmer, brought home $7 or so a week from a concurrent job at International Salt, including "a Salt Point 20," or $2 bill) and how his family was one of the few in the area belonging to the Democratic Party (of which, he said, there was a saying: "Dried rats and pickled cats are good enough for Democrats."). The family eventually moved to Watkins Glen.

Tony told of an unnerving personal experience during his military service. It came on April 25, 1953 about 68 miles outside of Las Vegas -- a nuclear explosion at the Nevada Test Site in which he and thousands of other soldiers, crouched down in a trench that circled ground zero from a distance believed to be safe (thousands of yards away), felt the incredible shock waves and viewed the subsequent mushroom cloud and, he said, were exposed to some radiation that he carries to this day. The blast was part of Operation Upshot-Knothole, designed (says one website) to improve the delivery of nuclear weapons and provide "additional experiences and information for planning atomic combat operations."

Specchio told of his days in Korea ("Holy Crow! You could smell it before you saw it" while crossing the water from Japan), where he dealt with monsoons and mud and firefights along the 38th Parallel, and finally earned enough points for R&R in Japan. And he told of the long train ride across America on his return home, a trek that carried to Geneva and down the Lehigh Valley tracks above Seneca Lake -- so welcome that he was pointing out the village excitedly to fellow soldiers, saying "That's my home down there. See? Down there" even though "I couldn't really see the house, but golly ..."

He threw in some remembrances of his days as Town of Reading supervisor, and how he managed to secure a former library as the town headquarters, back in the days, he said, before they built "the Waldorf Astoria" -- the offices and courtroom and meeting area that constitute the Town of Reading building today.

Specchio talked for well over an hour, but the time seemed to fly. That's good storytelling.


Good storytelling. It can take the form of art, can come from passion, and can come from a long life of unique and striking experience. It can't come through tweets and texting, which leads me rather easily to despair at the expected decline of artful communication in our future.

Oral and written histories are key to understanding our past. The past is the base from which we inch ahead into the future.

And in that past, culture has played a meaningful role -- whether in the artificats that now reside in museums, or in the novels and essays of Twain, in the plays of Shakespeare, in the movies by Capra and Hitchcock, or in the stage musicals of Lerner & Loewe or Rodgers & Hammerstein.

We lack much in the way of local cultural opportunities. So when a play of the caliber of "Guys & Dolls" comes and goes with barely a ripple in the collective consciousness, I despair about that, too.

But there was a bright spot, reaffirmed on the Friday night of the play opening. It's the Franklin Street Art Gallery in Watkins Glen, overseen by The Arc of Schuyler. It's hosting an exhibition of work by artists around the region right now, and much of it is quite striking. Check it out, and vote on your favorite in the People's Choice contest.

Photos in text:

Top:Tesha Truesdail, left, and Damita Chamberlain in "Guys & Dolls."
Middle: Rotary speaker Rick Weakland.
Bottom: Tony Specchio talks about his life experiences.


And earlier:

Expanding the selection area

By Charlie Haeffner

Odessa, Nov. 7, 2013 --  Now that we are reaching the end of the high school fall sports season -- with just swimming and cross-country postseason tournaments ongoing -- committee members involved in the annual Top Drawer 24 program are casting their eyes about, looking at possible candidates for this school year's team.

It might seem early for such a thing -- the selection of the Top Drawer 24 will not be completed for several months -- but November is really a good time to start. This is a selection process that takes things seriously.

I will, of more immediacy, be unveiling The Odessa File fall sports All-Star team in the next few days, along with the Schuyler Fall MVP. And then, before I know it, it will be time to start handing out Athlete of the Week awards again as the winter sports season begins. Practices started this week.

But one thing will remain constant rhrough November and the winter season. I along with the Top Drawer 24 committee will be closely observing potential honorees while keeping our eyes cast ahead, toward the June party that celebrates them. The party is held each year at the Watkins Glen State Park pavilion.

Now in its ninth year, the Top Drawer program -- which strives to honor the best of the best student-athletes in our area -- is expanding its geographic scope, looking at possible honorees in the Horseheads and Corning school districts as well as in those districts we have concentrated on before: Watkins Glen, Odessa-Montour, Bradford, Trumansburg and Spencer-Van Etten. And there might be a representative or two from parochial schools.

By incorporating other schools, inclusion on the team is becoming even more difficult than in the past, and that seems only proper. One thing that won't change, though, is the mix of qualities expected in each honoree -- those of outstanding athleticism, academics, citizenship, and personal character.

The expectation is that the majority of the honorees will still come from the Watkins and O-M districts, since those are the heart of The Odessa File coverage area. Trumansburg has been included in the program for several years now, as has Bradford. S-VE joined last year.

While the committee will remain anonymous, it is easy to surmise that I, as editor-publisher of the sponsoring Odessa File, might have a say in the process. Accordingly, I am not averse to receiving suggestions from readers concerning young men and women we should be considering. I think such input might be helpful, for in the past few years a couple of highly worthy honorees almost slipped through the selection cracks.

Just email me your nominees (with supporting reasons for their inclusion). You can contact me through the click-on links at the bottom of this website's pages, or through


And earlier:

The trickle-down tango ...

By Charlie Haeffner

Odessa, Oct. 29, 2013 --  I have long considered efforts against established authority to be exercises in futility. That's the cynic in me.

But it has never really stopped me from joining the battle whenever I thought the side of right needed a little moral support.

This whole matter of Governor Andrew Cuomo's plans to close the Monterey Shock Incarceration Correctional Facility and eliminate inpatient services at the Elmira Psychiatric Center strikes me as just two more cases of bureaucratic bullying, Albany style.

Accordingly, I have figured that was that -- done deal. What Albany wants, Albany gets. So my umbrage has been muted, my approach modulated. But now I am giving it some voice.

That's because there are some among us who have not given up, and I am inspired by them. Workers at Monterey have held weekly planning sessions, and Congressman Tom Reed has shown up at the Shock Camp to lend his backing to its continued existence, as have State Senator Tom O'Mara and Assemblyman Phil Palmesano.

Along with other area leaders, O'Mara and Palmesano have orchestrated a pair of rallies designed to generate public support and regional publicity -- and have helped circulate petitions and gather resolutions from various governmental bodies backing their efforts.

They want to dump the whole packet of outrage -- petitions, resolutions and news stories -- in the governor's lap. They want to try to get him to take notice.

Of course, as Palmesano conceded at the last rally -- held Saturday at the National Soaring Museum on Harris Hill -- delivering such a packet to the governor's office and having it actually reach him could be two very different things. And if Cuomo is bound and determined, as he seems, to ignore us -- to ignore the wishes of his constituents (many of whom voted for him for governor, although I think they might look elsewhere if he runs for President) -- then there's apparently not much we can do.

"But there's an awful lot of people upset about this," one acquaintance said recently -- the unexpressed thought being that Cuomo will have to respond to such angst.

"Yeah, but we're just a little county, and a little region when it comes to population," I said. "You really think we hold any weight?"

"Hmmmm," said the acquaintance.

That having been said, I have to admire the tenacity of O'Mara and Palmesano and Assemblyman Chris Friend, along with Schuyler County Legislature Chairman Dennis Fagan and Legislator Phil Barnes and Elmira Mayor Sue Skidmore, along with others. They haven't seemed to waver in their determination to fight this double helping of bureaucratic BS that Albany has bestowed upon us.

They attracted around 200 folks to each rally, but it wasn't just the numbers that counted -- it was the local firepower in the guise of a county executive here, a county administrator there, and various county legislators. And the publicity it generated was important, if indeed this runaway train carrying jobs away from the Southern Tier can be turned and brought back to the station.

Before the last rally officially started -- while people were milling around, networking and exchanging insights there in the Soaring Museum's meeting room -- it appeared that YNN was the only TV outlet reporting. But I noticed on my way out (I had to leave early to travel to a soccer game 90 minutes away, and was pressed for time) that another station had arrived with a camera.

Among print media, the Corning Leader was on hand, but there was early concern about the absence of a slightly larger paper. "I don't see the Star-Gazette yet," said one organizer. But the S-G did appear, and gave the rally significant presence the next day on its front page.

That rally was followed two days later by a hearing in Elmira on the future of the Psych Center and of the Greater Binghamton Health Center. Said O'Mara in a press release preceding the hearing: "I'm hopeful that today's hearing continues to help make it clear to Governor Cuomo and his administration that the Southern Tier is being ignored in this plan at great risk to regional mental health patients and their families ... We're going to keep making the undeniable case, fiscally and from a public service standpoint, that the Elmira Psychiatric Center has long been and should remain a cornerstone of this state's mental health system."

The arguments on behalf of both facilities -- the Psych Center and Monterey -- are many. But I'm sure Albany bureaucrats with a hand in this double whammy think their arguments carry greater weight. And from a strategic, enforceable perspective, they do. And that's a shame.

The fact is, from the services that the Psych Center and Monterey provide, to the efficient fashion in which those services are accomplished, to the fact that the Southern Tier is going to take a nasty financial hit as a result of these closures (I need only point as an example to the free labor provided by Monterey inmates that have saved us millions of dollars), this whole matter deserves closer examination by Albany instead of political strong-arming.

It needs transparency and an approach that veers away from the traditional state-level bullying embodied in, say, mandates.

Albany. It's had its hand in our pockets so often, we're getting chafed.


But wait. There's more. I showed a copy of the above portion of this column to our old friend A. Moralis, scourge of the governmentally smug, and he (or she) responded by dashing off the following general, if pointed, note.

It read:

"My thoughts on this are:

"Nothing ever changes. We have so many problems in this country and yet we feel compelled to spend more than $50 billion a year in foreign economic and military aid. We should use that money at home.

"The effects of any misguided federal largesse trickles down, through the states, to us. Compounding that is a New York governor who, with his eye on the Presidency, has forgotten about fixing problems at home. It's easy to see where that leads. Just look at the Psych Center and Camp Monterey as examples.

"I have a few other points.

"1. Budget reform. Perhaps if the state stopped spending millions on school building projects, facilities such as the Psych Center and Monterey could remain open. Despite a dwindling school enrollment at home, we keep spending on school buildings rather than improving the education of our children. A big school does not mean a good education.

"2. I would like to send a proposal to the governor on how to allocate funds so that no one gets screwed. But the cynic in me -- the realist, actually -- knows it would fall on deaf ears.

"3. Benefits reform. This is where the real problem lies. The perks and retirement benefits inherent in the teaching profession and many, many state jobs are killing us, the taxpayers of New York State. What is being done about that? Will anything be done about that?

"I'm not going to hold my breath. As I said, nothing changes. And that's what drives me insane."


And earlier:

Dusting off my britches ...

By Charlie Haeffner

This happened: After I entered junior high school in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan back in 1960, I ran for vice-president of the seventh-grade. I fancied myself a popular person, and I ran with some ridiculous campaign that played on words -- such as the NER of Haeffner standing for "Never Ever Rotten." I lost handily to a girl named Joan Zich, who was pleasant and quiet and, I thought, totally incapable of defeating me. But as I said, she was a pleasant person, and as it turns out, well-liked. I have never forgotten that defeat, nor forgiven Joan Zich.

Odessa, Oct. 14, 2013 --  When I was growing up, I was not immune to failure. In fact, it was something of a semi-regular visitor.

I'm not saying I embraced it. In fact, I dreaded it, but the fact is that when you fall on your face a few times, you learn how to cushion the blow. And eventually, you learn how -- in some cases -- to sidestep the fall altogether. That's what I took away from my youth.

Failure to attain a certain grade-point average, or failure to win the heart of a girl with whom I was smitten, or failure to be included in a club or group or -- for that matter -- a cool niche populated by the most popular students was not the end of the world for me.

The world, I learned, is a rough place -- not as rough in this country as in the Third World, say, but it can knock you around. That's the way of it; you have to learn to cope, to deal with adversity, to meet challenges with a determination not to let the whole enterprise beat you down with impunity.

My parents understood that.


This happened: I skipped school one day for what I thought was a very good reason (but of course it wasn't), and my mother found out and gave me a choice: she would blow the whistle with school officials, or I could accept a month-long grounding, complete with a full complement of yard chores. Tough love, that. I selected the grounding, even though I despised yard chores. That decision was, quite simply, less humiliating than being figuratively pilloried by school authorities.


Granted, parents should be comforting and supportive in a child's most formative, most vulnerable years, but then it is time to let the kids figure things out for themselves, and pay the consequences if need be. Each person should learn to stand on his or her own two feet, without parents stepping in with a bailout or -- if they have the clout -- bending or changing the rules to salve their child's wounds.

The wounds are the point of it; not the salve. How do we learn if every misstep is corrected by an outside influence, a parental figure? How do we learn without pain? For life, at its basest and most unavoidable point, is pain.

I'm not saying I wasn't protective of my own children; I was -- but only, I think, when our family unit was compromised, or when I felt compelled to right a moral wrong imposed by authority. Those are often the most difficult wrongs to tackle; the most difficult to wrap an argument around.


This happened: My father (a man of peace) always told me that if I got into a fight -- whether physical or otherwise -- it was mine to win or lose. That was life. Do not expect help. Alas, there was a bully at school who was unrelenting in trying to humiliate me, and so I called him out one day -- to the parking lot after school. I went, knowing I was likely to be visiting a hospital emergency room in short order. I stood up for myself, expecting physical injury, expecting utter failure -- but better than the gutless failure and humiliation of doing nothing. However, the bully did not stand up for himself; he did not go to the parking lot, and was always nice to me after that.


Think of a youthful misstep as a plus, for from it much can be learned. Think of parental interference in the course of things (except in outrageous circumstance) as a minus, for it gains nothing in the long term, and often less than that.

Yes, I failed often while growing up. My parents provided me with a wonderful home, and with love, and with food and encouragement, but in only one instance do I recall them stepping in to say to an official -- it was a school principal -- that enough was enough. And in that instance they were right, and I was acquitted, and an overstepping figure of authority within the school was called to account.

I failed often, and I got back up. And I fell again and got back up and dusted off my pants, and surged forward. My parents did not try to manipulate the rules to my advantage. They taught me through their restraint that life is an ongoing challenge that needs to be confronted, not assuaged. Put off the pain in the early years, and it is likely to come back and bite you tenfold down the road, for it will be strange to you, and you will not know how to combat it.


This happened: In trying out for the varsity baseball team in high school, I exhibited a flair for hitting that caught the coach's eye, and I made the team -- displacing one member of a tightknit group of athletes on the squad; he was relegated to the junior varsity. I was subjected to various taunts throughout the season by his friends, and was on the receiving end of stones tossed my way during laps by the group. I thought seriously about quitting. I was not a starter, and therefore got less playing time than I would have on the JV team, and so it was, all in all, a miserable experience. I was, to my way of thinking, a failure. But I am pleased to this day that I did not quit, and learned to live with the adversity. It strengthened me, and prepared me for some adult experiences involving similarly lopsided loyalties.


I was not a club-oriented person growing up, and I still am not. It wasn't that in my youth I didn't want to belong, to be wanted, to gain credence through association with the successful in my age group. I did. But being short and unsure of myself, it was struggle enough just to get by from year to year, to advance toward the day when I would gain my growth and my confidence and -- finally -- stand on my own.

I thank whatever power governs us (I'm speaking religiously or celestially, not of earthly leaders) that my parents had the wisdom to raise me in security, and yet to let me fall, and rise, and fall again. It was a learning experience.

God bless you, Mom and Dad.

Now, having said my piece, you all must excuse me. I have to go avoid a few more mistakes, get knocked down by a couple of others, rise, and dust off my britches again.


And earlier:

Congratulations go out to ...

By Charlie Haeffner

Odessa, Oct. 10, 2013 --  First, a tip of the hat to my old buddy Craig Cheplick, after whom the Field House at Watkins Glen High School should be named for his productive years at its helm. The Chep Center, it has been called on occasion -- and with good reason, for it was a place of energy and entertainment when Chep was in charge..

But on this occasion, the focus is on a different kind of honor coming his way on Oct. 26, at halftime of the Hobart home football game against RPI.

Chep was offensive coordinator on the Hobart football team in 1993 -- a team coached by Bill Maxwell that posted a six-game winning streak en route to a 7-3 regular-season record and Hobart's first ECAC Bowl invitation. Alas, it was declined. The school says it was because the bowl game, in Maine, conflicted with the school's trimester-based finals.

Now, the team is being honored at that Oct. 26 contest as a Hobart Team of Distinction, one of four squads being cited in four different sports -- football, baseball, squash and rowing.

This is, said Hobart Athletic Director Mike Hanna in a letter to Chep and other honorees, "a well-deserved honor" and "an especially fitting tribute" to a season that "marked the resurgence of Statesmen football."

Congratulations, Chep.


An honor goes to a recent WGHS graduate, too -- Keuka College freshman Josh Langley, named the school's Athlete of the Week this week and the North Eastern Athletic Conference co-Cross Country Runner of the Week after winning the individual title at the Cazenovia 8K Homecoming Invitational.

It was his first collegiate invitational, and he made the most of it, besting Mohawk Valley Community College's Stephen Paddock by 25 seconds to lead Keuka to a third-place finish. There were 34 runners in the field.

Before the invitational, Langley had been his team's fastest runner at five meets. His time at the Cazenovia race was 30:26, a full 43 seconds better than his previous best 8K time.

Congratulations, Josh.


And finally, congratulations -- and special admiration -- go to the Watkins Glen High School varsity football team, along with the players' parents and coaches. For what? That is explained in the following letter sent to Watkins Glen village and school officials after the football team competed last Friday, Oct. 3, at Groton High School. It was written by a Groton parent, Mark Gunn, responding to what happened out there on the playing field, and at the same time in response to the WGHS mission statement, which Gunn quotes at the outset:

"Watkins Glen High School fosters a safe, supportive community based on respect, trust and citizenship with integrity. Together we commit to inquiry and achieving excellence through quality education that inspires and empowers ALL in an ever changing world.

"Good morning to you all," the parent wrote.

"I was not sure how to let you all know my heartfelt gratitude for your gracious and honorable visit to our little community last Friday night. Groton hosted a high school football game, and what came to our town was nothing short of remarkable. To the average person from our town it seemed like any other Friday night. To a few of us fathers, who have had our sons grow up together, and have been on the sidelines since our boys were old enough to play, there was something different. Throughout the game (your) team was respectful, courteous and very well behaved. The visitors in the stands did not taunt, yell, scream at their children or carry on in any manner that would be embarrassing. When you observe the game of football for so many years you can pick up some of the goings-on in the “pile.” Not once did I see a kick, punch or confrontation. At the end, in defeat, (Watkins Glen) held their heads high. What a team.

"The most amazing thing happened after the game was over.

"You may or may not know any of what I am going to share with you. Less than a year ago our community lost a beloved coach and to many of us a good friend, a man whose son played on our football team..

"Our community had been shaken just one week before that when a young man, one who had just graduated the previous year and was home on leave from the Marines, shot himself. He was very much known in the community.

"Last Friday night, on the occasion of the late coach's birthday, the community remembered the two men after the game, at center field. There were speeches, and we all cried and let balloons go. As I hugged my daughter in the middle of the field, I looked toward the sidelines to see our visitors, your Citizens of Watkins Glen -- parents, the football team and the coaching staff -- still out on the field with us as the balloons were let go. They watched quietly as our community healed. They could have left, as most do at the end of the game, but they didn’t. That’s the “supportive community based on respect, trust and citizenship with integrity” you speak of in your mission statement. You should all be proud.

"Please pass on my sincere thanks to your team and parents. Thank you so much."


Mark Gunn, parent


And earlier:

In the valley of reluctance...

By Charlie Haeffner

Odessa, Oct. 5, 2013 --  It takes a certain amount of chutzpah to judge the performance of others -- or at least to put those judgments out into the public domain.

You have to be careful not to be libelous, which means you can’t malign in print the character of an individual or call him or her a crook without there being legal justification.

You depend on law enforcement, in those cases, to make the accusations, specifically in legal documents filed against the individual or individuals in question. Remember Alice Trappler?

Or, in non-criminal matters, you depend on the fact that anyone being judged, or criticized, is a public servant -- someone elected or paid by the public, such as a School Board member or a Superintendent or a Legislator or a Village Board Trustee, and so on.

Such people are fair game -- or more specifically, their performances in their public duties are fair game. You or I or anyone else can assess and criticize those performances to our hearts’ content. The criticized might (and probably will, where journalists are concerned) fire back with whatever weaponry is at their disposal, but they too are constrained by laws -- in particular regarding slander (the verbal equivalent of the written libel).

I have, for instance, heard that I've been referred to by officialdom as “that crazy old man on the corner” (the corner being the Main Street / College Avenue house I inhabit in Odessa) and "that bastard," among other epithets. Such words have not come close to character assassination, so they're fine.

In any event, officials usually take other tacks. At one point, years ago, I was told that the sidelines of sporting events at one school were off-limits to me (but not to other media) for insurance reasons, a wholly indefensible position that, after due consideration, I ignored. And I’m currently in the doghouse in one district where I must apply in advance for admission to school buildings during school hours -- an irate superintendent's reaction to criticism. I’m sidestepping that dictum by simply avoiding those schools at those hours. That means less news from those buildings, of course, but I can live with that.

All of this leads to an interesting lull I've encountered in recent weeks -- a disinclination by me to take public officials to task for questionable performances. I am finding it easier not to. I seem to be in the mood to let questionable performances slide.

I wrote a 1,600-word piece recently in which I described a meeting of a county Legislature committee -- a meeting at which a number of slightly disturbing performance issues were raised either directly or obliquely. I produced a descriptive article, but I couldn’t pull the trigger to print it. I felt that it was perhaps too easy, like firing away at the proverbial fish in a barrel.

Or maybe I thought that since I don't work for the county, it wasn't my place to judge -- which isn't like me at all.

The County Treasurer's office in turmoil? You bet, especially after that last, highly critical, highly publicized audit. The tax foreclosure system in disarray? Evidently. Job performances by department heads in need of philosophical and cultural upgrading? Yep, according to one legislator who opined on that very subject in open session. I was even weighing in on the need for a younger, more vibrant Legislature.

But I couldn't push the "publish" button.

And I wonder at that -- at how I have come to be so reluctant to express myself. I trust it is only temporary.

I have not, in the past, been so constrained that I wouldn’t call a particular School Board a rubber-stamp body. Nor would I fail to bring to readers' attention a case of cronyism in public office. Nor did I hesitate to take aim at a group trying to dissolve the Village of Odessa.

I have caught heat in all such cases -- the nadir perhaps being a letter, arriving on Christmas Eve Day, from a village dissolution advocate attacking my integrity. Given my love of the holiday season and its spirit, I could only think: Merry Christmas to you, too.


In any event, I'm disposed at this point to relent, and to focus on matters of a more positive, enjoyable nature. One such matter is the annual football Bucket Game between Watkins Glen and Odessa-Montour. It will be played Friday, Oct. 11 on O-M's Charles Martin Field starting at 7 p.m. Accordingly, I give you an account (or at least part of one) I wrote several years ago. It goes like this:

"Consider, if you will, The Bucket.

"The beat-up, (possibly) tin-plated (though no one seems to know the identity of its primary substance for sure), sorry looking, oft-maligned but ever-resilient Bucket.

"We're talking the Watkins Glen vs. Odessa-Montour football rivalry bucket here. The one that goes to whichever school wins The Bucket Game. The winner holds the dented, scratched container -- which is affixed with scores of games throughout its history, as well as with a Chiquita Banana sticker -- for a year, until the next game is played.

"Craig Cheplick, the football coach at Watkins Glen in the early '80s, tells how, when his team won the big game on a pass caught by a leaping, elevating Jim Combs in the fog, excessive celebration somehow triggered the disappearance of The Bucket -- and its reappearance hanging from a tree on Connecticut Hill. Lore has it that a coach from another sport transported the vessel to its hilly perch.

"It is a container that has undoubtedly held all manner of liquid and solid. I don't even want to know what. Let's just say I wouldn't want to drink from it.

"And it has no doubt seen a great deal of excessive behavior on the part of celebrants who took it temporarily into their possession -- and in a couple of cases took it to their beds, arms wrapped tightly around it.

"There's value to this thing beyond calculation -- and with it comes a need to possess ..."

The game, for the record, has been around for a half-century now. And no matter how far down one of the teams might be, history has shown that neither side can be counted out. Not when it comes to The Bucket.


And while we're on the matter of sports, I've been following with interest the recent performances of O-M graduate Morgan Shutter -- a two-time Odessa File Athlete of the Year who is on the soccer team at Tompkins-Cortland Community College. His team, as of this writing, is ranked #3 in the nation in the NJCAA Division III poll. After a game Saturday at Jamestown that ended in a 1-1 tie, the Panthers are 8-0-3, and Shutter has contributed five goals and two assists from his forward position -- one of the goals being a game-winner.


Lastly, I'm celebrating a birthday this week -- a big one. The one upon which I thought, when I was much younger, that I'd be retired. But I'm not retiring yet, nor even thinking about it, at least in any practical terms.

I'm having too much fun.


And earlier:

Loss, life, and a little strife

By Charlie Haeffner

Odessa, Sept. 20, 2013 --  I have been conflicted of late -- lulled by a summer of lethargy. Now it is the school sports season, and the treadmill is running again. And while I’m not having trouble keeping up physically with the pace required in covering the athletic events at two schools while also dealing with the other news -- meetings, meth busts and the like -- I am having trouble maintaining a focus befitting the responsibility of the role I long ago cut out for myself.

Part of that is encroaching age, I suppose -- the realization that I will soon be a Medicare and Social Security recipient. And part of it is the simple fact that I have never worked at a job longer than this one. Change has always appealed to me.

And part of it is the loss of an acquaintance -- Carol Armit, the wife of a sports card dealer, Allan Armit, with whom I’ve dealt in business and enjoyed a friendship for years. She was a lovely lady who I last saw in April, when she and her husband stopped by for a visit during a trip to the United States from their Toronto-area home. She seemed fine then, but her body was already turning against her. Before long, she was in the grip of esophageal cancer. And her demise from that point was rapid, ending mere days ago.

I reacted to her death by doing what I normally do in times of particular, identifiable sadness or stress. I worked harder, producing more stories and photos on this website than I normally publish. But my focus was scattered a bit -- emblematic of a mind in need of direction, and a soul in need of a healing salve.

Meanwhile, Carol’s husband, Allan, has decided to avoid sitting at home and dwelling on the disaster that has descended upon him and his wife. He will be departing for a few weeks, staying with sisters and then traveling into the States to attend a big sports memorabilia show in Virginia before stopping at my place on his way back home.

Having been through the loss of a spouse myself, I know that whatever he does, this won’t be an easy time for him. But where I work harder in times of grief, he will evidently keep moving, trying to stay ahead of the anxiety attacks and mood swings. I wish him luck.


Now, having said all of that, and having probably brought you down a little bit too, I will say that I should -- and I know this -- be thankful for what I have, which is to say my health and (on a lighter note, as someone follically challenged mentioned the other day) my hair.

I have friends and many friendly acquaintances made all the more appealing by the contrast shown by those few people who choose to dislike me or what I do. I have a home, and three sons, and little in the way of credit-card debt (though my boys’ school loans will dog me forever).

I can still do what I like most -- which is write -- while providing a place, this website and its sister site,, where area folks can publicize their events, achievements and milestones.

I never envisioned The Odessa File or any useful website twenty years ago, for I lacked the foresight to see where the information superhighway -- the Internet -- was heading. But I hitched a ride fairly early on, earning money through what was at the time a fledgling online auction site known as Ebay.


That led in terms of personal achievement to my fourth stab at a novel, one called The Maiden of Mackinac (which I rather like, and I’m usually tough on myself), and then an effort to create an online news source, which is where you are reading this. The Odessa File started more than ten years ago -- which makes it the job I’ve held the longest in an episodic, occasionally nomadic life.

It gives me a place to reminisce, philosophize, vent and wonder aloud. It provides a home for local news and photography, and for opinions by its readers -- which thankfully number in the thousands. It has been an outlet in times of grief -- such as with the passing of Carol Armit, and long before that with the passing of my wife, Susan -- and in times of joy. I have vented and praised and criticized and bemoaned and celebrated here, both in words and pictures.

While my focus has been lacking early in this new school year -- I am, among other things, spending personal time clearing thirty years worth of clutter from my attic, hoping to turn the space into more than a junk heap ... perhaps into a den or a pool room or something of equally limited use -- I hope to regain my physical and mental drive as we proceed deeper into the academic and athletic year.

Along the way, I suspect, I might have a few things to say about the need for the two school districts -- Watkins Glen and Odessa-Montour -- to start combining some of their sports. I sense a growing acceptance of the concept -- indeed a recognition by previous holdouts that it would be nice to have more winning squads representing us, a goal difficult to attain by individual schools with diminishing or limited enrollments.

Or I might dwell on audit reports assessing the performance of area governmental units -- reports both good and ill. 'Tis that season, much to the chagrin of the county, which received a less-than-glowing one recently.

Or I might deal with the frustration that comes when high school sports coaches neglect to report information to the media about their games -- an inaction that is a disservice to players, parents and fans. Such has occurred several times this season.

Or I might say what I think about the Governor's move to close the Monterey Shock Incarceration Correctional Facility. I would be very complimentary about the job the Shock Camp does, and very critical about state government officials and the power they often wield at our expense.

But ... we’ll save those subjects for another day.


And earlier:

About Olivia Coffey ...

By Charlie Haeffner

Odessa, Aug. 30, 2013 --  There is a certain satisfaction in observing, even if from a long distance, the success of someone for whom you have high regard.

I am referring here to Olivia Coffey, who just helped her four-woman squad win a gold medal at the World Rowing Championships in Chungju, South Korea.

Livy first came to my attention not long after I had started The Odessa File. She was a freshman center on the Watkins Glen High School girls varsity basketball team -- a squad that went to the Section IV final before losing to Candor on a Megan Shay jump shot with a dozen or so seconds left in the game.

I was convinced the team would go to the state finals the next year if Livy were still on board. Alas, she was eyeing a transfer to a prep school, a bit of a tradition in her family. And, before long, that's the course she chose to follow.

The Coffey clan is a high-achieving group. The patriarch, Cal, won a silver medal in men's pair rowing at the 1976 Olympics, and became well-known in the construction of rowing shells. Livy's mother, Maggie, was an outstanding rower in the early '80s, and has had successful careers in business and veterinary medicine. Olivia's sisters have excelled, as well.

I had occasion years ago to share Thanksgiving dinner with the Coffeys at their home in the hills above Watkins Glen. I listened to them discuss their ongoing projects and their plans and their hopes -- and I started laughing, telling them that I felt as though I had landed in a nest of aliens.

Their aspirations and achievements were so far above the norm -- so far above mine -- that I could do nothing but laugh at my comparative shortcomings. They understood, and were laughing, too -- I suspect sympathetically.

After Livy left for Phillips Academy in Andover, Mass., I saw her on occasion -- in visits back home or, on one memorable occasion -- in a hockey tournament in which she was playing in Rochester, New York. That was the sport she chose upon leaving WGHS, but she was also learning the ins and outs of rowing.

I took three of Livy's former Watkins teammates -- Courtney Warren, Jen Conklin and Molly Oates -- to Rochester to watch her play in the hockey tourney, and we managed to get snowed in, and so stayed overnight, with the Coffeys footing the bill for a motel room for the girls. That actually worked to our advantage, because we were able to watch another of Livy's games the next day.

She was strong and quick out on the ice, and if memory serves she scored a goal or two. She had also, by that time, filled out considerably from the gangly freshman she had been in Watkins -- growing to 6 feet 1 inch and gaining some significant muscle. She currently lists at 170 pounds.

I followed her exploits in various rowing contests after she became a student at Harvard University, was thrilled when she earned All America status there, and was dismayed when she failed by a little bit to make the most recent U.S. Olympic rowing squad.

But her mother notified me this week of Livy's participation in the U.S. Rowing Championships, and I kept track of her progress, which culminated early Friday morning in a gold medal for her and three teammates in what they call The Four.

An experienced basketball man in our area questioned my sanity a decade ago for writing admiring words about Olivia Coffey during her freshman year at WGHS -- words that wondered at the growing poise shown by this young lady in the pressure cooker of competitive varsity athletics. The critic was not as impressed by her; clearly didn't see what I saw.

I hope he's been paying attention since then. Livy is, quite simply, one of the most remarkable athletes to ever come out of Watkins Glen.


And earlier:

Of protests & celebrations

By Charlie Haeffner

Odessa, Aug. 26, 2013 --  I visited a couple of disparate places Saturday -- and both were inhabited by assured, passionately devoted people.

On the one hand, there was the gathering of kayakers down near the Village Marina in Watkins Glen. They were about to paddle out onto Seneca Lake, angle across toward the western shore and then go up to the Inergy-owned salt plant, where they would brandish placards and chant chants from their perches on the water.

They were protesting Inergy's planned expanded storage of Liquefied Petroleum Gas in salt caverns -- an ongoing battle that has seen arrests at an Inergy gate along Route 14 and various jailings. One of those jailees was there Saturday -- Sandra Steingraber (pictured at right) -- rallying the troops and reading from an essay she wrote pertaining to her stay for more than a week earlier this year in the Chemung County Jail, a stay resulting from a protest.

She could laugh about it now -- read how her daughter had said she was more popular after her mother went to jail -- but, as with all matters that draw protest, a layer of seriousness reigned.

These protesters -- as exhibited at a fund-raiser two nights earlier at the Damiani winery that raised more than $20,000 for their legal fight -- are focused and driven, following their beliefs and their instincts. Saturday's "flotilla" of kayaks -- a fraction, really, of the number that took to the lake in a similar protest several weeks earlier -- was an activity in which those beliefs and instincts could be expressed without a likelihood of arrest. The only thing the protesters had to watch out for on the water was their own safety, for Seneca Lake can be unforgiving.

Organizer Pete Angie had an answer for that, though. Holding his paddle aloft on shore in a pre-flotilla speech, he told the two score of people present that that particular item held up was "a signal of distress" in case safety became a threatened commodity. But he saw it as symbolic beyond that, too. "We'll make the signal as a group," he told his listeners, referring to the point at which they reached the waters fronting Inergy, "because we're distressed as a group. We're not happy" with Inergy's storage plan.

Before setting out upon the water, the protesters posed on shore, paddles aloft and "No LPG" signs held upright, facing the cameras recording the moment. And all of them were either smiling or had a light of passion in their eyes.


Meanwhile, up the road at the Watkins Glen Community Center, there was a celebration of an art form: a Quilts, Vines and Finger Lakes Wines Quilt Show -- the first annual of what promises to be many such shows. Upon entering the center's main room, I encountered a wonderland of color and design, with quilts hanging in row after row, suspended on racks that reached well above my head. The rows ran in varying angles, giving the impression of a maze.

Sue Knapp, owner of O'Susannah's Quilts and Gifts in Watkins Glen and a key organizer of the event (though she gave credit to "a wonderful committee") was enthused by the turnout, which by mid-afternoon had topped 300 people, and by the number of quilts on display, which totaled 322.

"It took us 12 hours Friday to set this up," she said, motioning at the displays around the room. "We actually ran out of room, but managed to use all of the quilts provided to us. We just had to get creative." The quilts came from around the region. Only two were for sale, Knapp said.

She in particular pointed out the art of Lynn Ink of Burdett (pictured at right), the first featured quilter in Knapp's store when it opened almost 10 years ago.

"She's a very traditional quilter," said Knapp, who guided me the length of the room to show me the display of Ink quilts, from miniatures to king-sized. And there I met Ink, who explained that she creates her quilts by hand -- which is unusual.

"You don't find many who hand-quilt today," said Knapp. "It's mostly done by machine."

Ink said she took her first quilting class in 1981, "and I was hooked from the get-go. This is my passion. "

Knapp is already planning a second annual Quilt Show, on August 15, 2014 at Atwater Estate Vineyards -- with quilts on display outside, draped over grapevines.

"What if it rains?" she was asked.

"Then they get wet," she said. "They get wet if you put them in the washing machine, too."


Tony Fraboni, Vice President and Watkins Glen Branch Manager of Community Bank NA, sent along a photo (at right) snapped by a member of the bank's Skaneateles branch on the day that President Obama passed through that town on a tour through Central New York that ended in Binghamton.

"The Skaneateles branch had an exciting morning," the Watkins branch was notified Friday by an email with the photo attached. "The President gave them a big wave, from his bus, as he passed by the branch."

The bus went there after the President spent the night at a Holiday Inn in Auburn. I encountered three women from Auburn at the Watkins Glen Quilt Show on Saturday, and they said the Holiday Inn is located near the Auburn Police Department and contains some sort of security-glass windows -- "and those two things might account for the choice," said one.

Added another: "There was nobody else there (in the Holiday Inn) that night. No other rooms were rented" beyond those to the President and his entourage.

As to some complaints by people caught in traffic holdups -- created by the approach of the Presidential bus and accompanying motorcade -- the three women tsk-tsked. "People should keep those opinions to themselves," said one. "How often is this going to happen? This was the first visit like this since Bill and Hillary" years ago. "I think it was great."

Her two companions nodded in agreement.


I attended a gathering of friends and colleagues of Amanda Smith-Socaris (pictured at right) at the Seneca Lodge Sunday afternoon -- a celebration of Amanda's completion of a doctoral program in Physical Therapy. She has been operating Seneca Physical Therapy on North Franklin Street in Watkins Glen for six years now.

Congratulations, Amanda. Your business has proved to be a big addition to the community.

(And on a personal note, she long ago helped me by suggesting exercises that might strengthen my occasionally balky back. They have definitely helped, especially on days when I have to lug a heavy camera around the county.)

And earlier:

Snapped & other news ...

By Charlie Haeffner

Odessa, Aug. 10, 2013 --  I received a phone call recently from a woman who works for the Oxygen Network TV show Snapped, asking me if I wanted to appear on-air as part of the program -- as part of an episode it is developing on the Alice Trappler murder trial.

The woman asked if I'd like to be interviewed about my knowledge of and (I suppose) journalistic role in the Trappler saga.

Trappler is the Addison woman found guilty recently in Schuyler County Court of 2nd Degree Murder and Conspiracy in the 2012 shotgun slaying of Daniel Bennett -- and accordingly sentenced to 25 years to life in prison. The murder occurred in the Town of Dix home of Bennett's father, Frank, with whom Daniel was living. The shooter was allegedly Trappler's ex-husband, Thomas Wesley Borden, who subsequently died when he jumped in front of a moving train while being chased on foot by police in Jenkintown, Pa.

Frank Bennett, in fact, will be one of the interviewees on the upcoming program, as will Daniel's sister, Alecia. And the caller said that on-camera appearances are being made by a representative of the Borden family, as well as by a couple of State Police Investigators, District Attorney Joe Fazzary (interviewed Thursday), and Sheriff Bill Yessman (yet  to be interviewed at the time of the call).

There are also journalists facing the camera. The caller wasn't sure of the names, but said one was a reporter from WENY-TV (that would be Tanja Rekhi), and one was a print reporter.

She didn't mention any of the Trapplers. The defense has indicated it might not like Alice on camera -- not with an appeal process in her future.

The program, the caller said, is tentatively set to air in December.

And no, I didn't agree to go on camera. I prefer, where possible, to not become part of the story -- to observe instead of participate.

But I told the woman her team was free to use whatever I wrote about the trial, which  was covered in 15 parts. I'm guessing I wrote something approaching 40,000 words.

And that's where we left it. The Snapped team, which arrived in town Tuesday, is planning to stick around until this next Thursday. It is
staying at the Watkins Glen Harbor Hotel.


The apartments at the Water Works project -- the former village Water and Electric building on Salt Point Road in Watkins Glen -- have been completed, and three of them are occupied. One remains to be rented.

The larger part of the property's project -- the dozen condominiums being built by developer Bruce Nelson -- are still works in progress. They will be sold, says Nelson, but he is waiting on clearance from the State Attorney General's office.

"They have to sign off on condos," said Nelson at the last open house at the facility, held Friday evening.

He said that by the time of an open house in October, the condominium serving as a model will be completed, so that visitors can get a true feel for what all of the units will look like.

He expects the Attorney General's blessing late in the year, he said.


The high school sports season is just around the corner. Practice starts on Aug. 19, and then competition a couple of weeks later. The first varsity football games involving Watkins Glen and Odessa-Montour come Saturday, Sept. 7, with Watkins hosting Newark Valley at 7 p.m., and O-M at Seton Catholic at the same time.

Watkins Glen football, which was in Class C last year, has slipped to Class D this year, the same as O-M -- which means the contest between the two schools (at Odessa on Oct. 11) gains added significance. It is now a division game as well as the game in which the two schools compete for the old Bucket. 


And earlier:

Of Silas and shelters ...

By Charlie Haeffner

Odessa, Aug. 4, 2013 --  Back when I was a boy of 13 years, the Russians were threatening to annihilate us -- us being the United States of America.

Where I lived, life was good. My family was flush, so to speak -- able to afford a beautiful home on a picturesque lake in the upscale community of Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, a suburban setting that attracted auto executives and other moneyed folks.

My family could, in short, afford to protect itself against annihilation through construction in our home of a fallout shelter -- believing, I suppose, that construction of a cinder-block room with a metal door would be enough to weather an attack. I don't recall any discussion of how effective it might have been if a bomb were actually detonated nearby.

The shelter -- constructed in a corner of a basement space that served as both furnace room and workshop -- was a great place to camp in (as opposed to camp out). It was not large, but could hold four kids in sleeping bags. My friends and I would adjourn there on designated nights, taking with us sodas and chips, closing the metal door behind us. My parents made it clear the door was not to be locked, though -- that step acceptable only in case of nuclear assault.

We had an air-filtration system in there, and could draw in fresh oxygen from above by cranking a metal handle on a metal housing. I was never quite sure how the device would keep contaminated air from entering our abode and poisoning us following an attack, but assumed the manufacturer's assurances were reliable.

In any event, I recall that shelter to this day; it was the talk of the neighborhood, for it was the first (and, for all I know, the only) one built in our subdivision. I recall the thrill of privacy that it afforded me and my friends on camp-in nights; I recall the metal shelving unit along the front wall that had some canned food on it and held our soda bottles; and I recall the reassuring taste of the fresh air as it flowed in when the filtration system was utilized.

That room presented a safety net to a newly minted teen in an age of uncertainty. It is a lasting memory.

And thus it was that a recent news story caught my eye, and my fancy: the story about fallout shelters found in the Watkins Glen Middle School.


Maggie Field was clearly feeling the effects of a set of circumstances she hadn't anticipated. She sounded a little giddy on the phone.

Maybe you read about part of those circumstances -- the discovery of a pair of fallout shelters in the bowels of the Watkins Glen Middle School. The Star-Gazette did a nice article about the shelters after the paper was notified of their existence by a Watkins school official.

The find itself is quite remarkable -- the food and medical supplies within the shelters being of significant quantities. The story had such allure, in fact, that CBS Radio, 880 AM on your dial, interviewed Maggie Friday.

"I can't believe it's gone so ... nuclear!" she said of the story when I interviewed her by phone afterward.

There is now a third shelter that has been located, too, she said. She plans to explore it this week.

Maggie -- the high school Media Specialist -- discovered the first one when she was led to the basement by retiring maintenance worker Lucy Soper in search of a desk that has resided down there for years. Lucy knew of one fallout shelter, and showed it to Maggie. Maggie was later alerted to the second one by a cleaner who overheard her talking about the first shelter.

This was all part, she says, of a remarkable set of circumstances that has settled upon her lately as she has undergone a daunting project: the winnowing and moving of a third-floor Middle School library to one on the first floor in anticipation of the third floor being closed -- all part of the transition leading next year to the closing and sale of the entire school. All district students will be on one campus starting in 2014.

Hers has been an arduous task, with Maggie going item by item, transferring some of them library to library, sending some to archives, and throwing out those with no remaining use.

Among the items she encountered was one that took away her breath perhaps even more than the fallout shelters did. She unearthed, in "a random box of books," a discardable copy of the classic novel Silas Marner by George Eliot. Inside was the name of the book's one-time student owner: William Powers.

That just happened to be Maggie's late grandfather -- her mother's father -- who graduated from the old Watkins Glen High School around 1927. 

"How it ended up in my hands was just astonishing," she said. "I took it to my parents to show them, and their eyes opened wide." It clearly meant something to them -- so much so in her mother's case, said Maggie, that "she didn't give it back."

And then came the discovery of the fallout shelters. Her focus with them, Maggie said, was to retrieve all of the goods they contained -- get those goods up to the light of day for study and for future use at the Schuyler County Historical Society and in history classes. They are, after all, remnants of a time long past: the Cold War of the early 1960s, a period in which the fear of nuclear attack was palpable.

Given the historical basis of the find, Maggie enlisted the aid of Social Studies teacher Kelsey Wood because "that's her area," meaning history.

But now it has gone beyond a simple inventory and classroom utilization. The unusual nature of the discovery prompted the school district's call to the Star-Gazette, which led to the story's distribution on the Gannett news wire (Gannett being the parent company of the S-G). And that in turn led to the interview with WCBS's Jane Tillman Irving.

While she didn't hear the WCBS report herself, Maggie knows it aired because a friend of a friend heard it.

"I am," she concluded succinctly, "'amazed by all of this."


And earlier:

Laughing Out Loud...

Note: Sentencing is set for Thursday, July 25 in the Alice Trappler murder trial, although Schuyler County Judge Dennis Morris must first rule on a defense motion seeking to set aside the verdicts. Trappler was found guilty in early May of 2nd Degree Murder and Conspiracy.

By Charlie Haeffner

Odessa, July 22, 2013 --  I was fascinated during the Alice Trappler murder trial by the role played by text messages in the whole affair.

They were voluminous. Trappler's texts to her ex-husband, Thomas Wesley Borden, along with other messages, were key to the case built by District Attorney Joe Fazzary that led to a conviction.

They were telling -- such as sexually explicit ones used by the DA to help catch Trappler in a lie (or at least a misrepresentation) relating to paperwork involved in her child custody fight against the murder victim, Daniel Bennett.

But there was a problem I had in general with some of the texts -- or specifically with the prosecution's interpretation of them. Texts are -- by the very brevity with which they are usually written -- often ambiguous. Text language is not a precise art. In fact, I would be hard-pressed to term as "art" anything so lazily written.

In particular -- and this has long been an annoyance to me -- there is the matter of "LOL." That originally stood for Laugh Out Loud, but now there are various alternative meanings: Lots of Love, Lots of Luck, and, perhaps, just the shrug-of-the-shoulders phonetic of the final two letters: "Oh, well."

There is a writer named John McWhorter who I found while surfing the Internet looking for someone with thinking on this issue similar to mine. The guy teaches linguistics and other daunting subjects at Columbia University and is a contributing editor for The New Republic. In discussing texting during a recent conference, he noted that "LOL" doesn't "signify amusement the way it did when it first caught on." He uses as an example one girl texting to another: "Where have you been?" The second girl answers: "LOL at the library studying for two hours."

"How funny," asked McWhorter, "is that, really?" Text messages, he said, "often drip with these LOLs the way normal writing drips with commas. Let's face it -- no mentally composed human being will spend his or her entire life immersed in ceaseless hilarity. The LOLs must mean something else. They do. They signal basic empathy between texters. What began as signifying laughter morphed into easing tension and creating a sense of equality. LOL no longer means anything. Rather, it does something -- conveying an attitude -- just as the ending -ed doesn't mean anything but conveys past tense. LOL is, of all things, grammar...."

He concluded: "LOL is one of several texting expressions that convey nuance in a system where you don't have the voice and face to do it the way you normally would."


What does all this mean in general? Well, let me try to explain.

Ya know, it means, like, ummh,  I know, right? Dig it. That's what I'm sayin'. NW (No way). RME (Rolling my eyes). Way.

LOL is slang, and beyond that shorthand, a toss-off line designed to elicit a connection between texters. It is an annoying grunt. It shows a lack of imagination.

I'm quibbling, because as a writer I take it personally. Whereas writing can be accomplished with something approaching art,  the practice of texting, used comcomitantly with favored verbal shorthands,  seemingly disrespects, dismisses and devalues prose achievement. 


I'm thinking about creating a book on the Trappler case -- on the Bennett murder to which a jury tied the defendant; on the backgrounds of all the key players in the drama; on the sociological aspects of the case, from living conditions at Trappler's goat ranch to the apparent manipulative nature of Trappler to the fascination locals took in the case -- a microcosm of the interest shown on a national level toward a handful of interesting trials. Why didn't this one go national? Maybe because it didn't involve children as victims, or young women as abductees, or anything particularly kinky.

It was a complex case -- a very complex one, difficult to grasp in a few paragraphs. That, perhaps, is the chief reason it was largely ignored beyond the range of the Twin Tiers.

It was a new kind of case, built on old-fashioned recordings (well, digital), but also primarily on text messages kept by Verizon: thousands of pages of them. And every page of text, I dare say, contained a line or two open to wide interpretation, texting being a shorthand, an abomination, really, of the communication mankind developed over many years. Texts have managed to do more harm to the beauty of the language than is calculable. LOL.


The DA handled this wealth of material exceedingly well. The defense did not. The DA used the texts to help build a factual case showing there was a murder, that Trappler's ex-husband, Borden, must have committed it, that he had an accomplice in his stepbrother, Nathan Hand, that the murder weapon was at Trappler's goat ranch before making its way into Borden's hands, that Trappler was in frequent contact -- by text -- with Borden in the days leading to the murder, and so on.

Fazzary's closing argument was a thing of effective beauty, but I took personal (though silent) exception when he rather clearly suggested that the defendant was being facetious, and mocking, in utlilizing the term "LOL" at the end of a text message wondering if Bennett would appear at a hearing regarding custody of the child he fathered through Trappler. The message was written the morning after the murder; the hearing was scheduled for that day. The DA touted it as symbolic of the ruthlessnesss with which Trappler operated.

"Ha, ha, Alice," he intoned in completing his closing argument. "Ha, ha."

I don't know if that had an effect on the jury in its deliberations. Maybe not. Maybe so. The defense, having presented its closing first, wasn't in position to argue the opposite interpretation -- that being, of course, that Trappler didn't know about the murder on the morning she sent the text, and was genuinely curious as to whether Bennett, who had failed to attend a related hearing previously, would show up this time.

That's the danger of texts. They can be so, so interpretive. They can be so, so unclear. They can, in murdering the English language, lend credence to a charge of murder in a courtroom setting.

Is Alice Trappler guilty? Yes, a jury said so. Would I have found her guilty? That's immaterial. Do I think text misinterpretations played a role in her conviction? I don't know, although they were present. Do I honestly care? Not really, not from a legalistic standpoint.

I object, though, to the nature of texts themselves. I abhor them for how they have become an alternative to conversation. I shake my head sadly at their frequent ambiguities. I despise how they are keeping our younger, school-age generation from learning the finer points of writing. I fear that through them we are taking many, many steps backward in our social evolution.

It's all very disturbing. Ya know?

No way? Way.

That's what I'm saying.

OMW (On my way).

RLY (Really).

TTYL (Talk to you later).



And earlier:

Of milestones and oases...

By Charlie Haeffner

Odessa, July 17, 2013 --  I'm not much of a fan of heat waves. But I finally sprang for air-conditioning this year, so my house is a bearable place to hang out whenever the heat hits, such as this week.

The alternative is Bois Blanc Island in northern Michigan, which I was in fact inhabiting for a couple of weeks ending late last week. Temperatures were generally under 80 there, with soft breezes wafting in off the Straits of Mackinac. It was tough to leave.

That's not to say I won't return there; I'm eyeing another trip to Bois Blanc next month, unless I decide to head farther west, to Colorado.

I'm serious this summer about carving out some time for myself. I normally get away for two or three weeks, but I seem to need more time this summer because ... well, because it was a tough school year and because I'm feeling the need to change my habits a bit as I get older ... and older ...

That creeping onslaught of time hit me in the face the other day when I attended a graduation party for Alice Crispell, just out of Watkins Glen High School and heading for Genesee Community College in Batavia.

Alice turns 18 today, July 17, and that is a milestone often considered the attainment of adulthood, even if the right to buy alcohol doesn't kick in for another three years. It is the milestone itself that caught my attention, for I am racing toward one that I really never considered approaching when I was a young man: 65. That's old-sounding to someone who still thinks of himself as thirty-something.

Sixty-five. That's coming up in October, on the 10th. That's the age at which my father retired, and almost a decade older than the age at which a lot of teachers retire. Of course, I would have retired early too if I had the sweet retirement deal that the teachers have. Not that I'm complaining or envious; I tried teaching once (subbing for a single day at Odessa-Montour) and decided it was not remotely in my wheelhouse.

When the then-superintendent asked me if I would be back, I answered rather curtly: "No. I'd rather chew glass."

The thing with milestones is this: you can either celebrate them, and puff yourself into thinking they make you a bit better, or you can dread them, and fear that they signal yet another step downhill on the inevitable lurch toward oblivion.

My father-in-law, on what proved to be his deathbed, said to me one day: "Don't ever get old."

Another acquaintance more recently put it this way: "Getting old takes nerve."

Those negative assertions aside, I find as I near my milestone that life is ever more fascinating to me; I mean the very existence of it, and the abilities we have to see and hear and touch and feel and so on. Concomitantly, it is scary to think of losing those abilities.

But I prefer the positive, at least for now. I'm in reasonably good health, for which I am thankful ... and yet keenly aware that everything is transitory. That has especially been brought home by the loss of acquaintances young and old along the way.


Speaking of loss, I recently watched a movie called "Seeking a Friend for the End of the World," starring Steve Carell and Keira Knightley as a couple of misfits who find each other and fall in love in the closing days of the Earth, which is expecting extinction at the hands of an onrushing asteroid.

It brought into focus the question of where, exactly, one might want to be if faced with the end of the world -- perhaps at a personal oasis or Shangri-la -- and with whom. Two places come to my mind: my vacation hideway -- Bois Blanc Island -- and Schuyler County. I have lived here for a good many years, and always marvel that it is a wonderful place to return to from vacation.

It is where my closest friends reside -- and it is with them and family, I think, that I would choose to meet the end.


Ah, yes: Schuyler. As small as it is in terms of population, it has a lot going for it. It's a place where the people can open their hearts in dire circumstance -- say when an 18-year-old boy is taken from its midst by cancer. It is a place of potential -- just wait for the lakefront development to kick in on the southern shore -- and it is a place full of interesting (and, yes, occasionally infuriating) characters who would be particularly engaging in a novelistic setting.

I might try that someday -- write a Schuyler County novel.

But for now I think I'll stay with telling its story through news accounts. As one journalist said when asked why he was writing news articles instead of novels:

"They're shorter."


And earlier:

Farewell, Devon ...

By Charlie Haeffner

Bois Blanc Island, Michigan, July 9, 2013 --  I got the word from a friend early this morning.

"I think Devon Shaw died overnight."

She hadn't heard directly from anyone -- just picked up bits and pieces; hints.

Not long thereafter, the supposition was confirmed in a text message sent to me by Watkins Glen Mayor Mark Swinnerton, a friend of Devon's family.

"I'm sure you've heard, but in case you haven't, Devon passed away earlier today. May he rest in peace."

And then the notes started flowing into Devon's Facebook page.

"Just got the worst text I possibly could," said one. "Devon Shaw, I love you so much,  buddy. I just don't want to believe that you're gone."

"You fought so very hard, my dear sweet Devon," said a second. "Your body gave up, but your spirit will live on in those around you."

"Fly high, Devon Shaw," said another. "You were a great inspiration to everyone, including people who had never met you but heard your story. Rest now."


I sit here, shaking my head, deeply saddened. We all knew this was coming; everyone in the community, I think, for Devon was the community's kid. His battle against cancer -- against the ravages of a sarcoma that started in his leg and spread from there, has been chronicled for more than three-and-a-half years.

The community showed its outpouring of support back when the battle was fairly recently engaged -- while Devon was a freshman at Watkins Glen High School -- with a gathering down at the waterfront, in front of Mark Simiele's restaurant and on Mark's boat. More than $22,000 was raised that day to help pay Devon's medical bills.

Devon was back in the news the next year with a trip to Spain funded by the Make-a-Wish Foundation, where he got to meet his soccer hero, Cristiano Ronaldo of the Real Madrid team. After returning home from that trip, Devon said he felt "like the whole thing was just a dream. It was definitely the opportunity of a lifetime."

In February of this year, a trip much closer to home -- to a Syracuse University basketball game -- was arranged, with Devon meeting some of the players and Coach Jim Boeheim.  Swinnerton helped set up that trip. Now, in the wake of Devon's passing, Mark is, like many of us, shaking his head in sadness.

"What a great kid," he said when I called him after receiving his text.

Devon's mother is Diana Crane (who works in the Athletic Department at WGHS) and his father is Scott Shaw. His stepfather is Jim Crane, and his stepmother is Debbie Shaw. There are two sisters, Alicia, in her mid-20s, and Kendra, who graduated from WGHS a couple of years ago.

Devon was also a WGHS graduate -- who despite his failing health managed to not only attend his graduation in late June, but to walk across the stage to receive his diploma from then-School Board President Brian O'Donnell.

Devon had been helped down the aisle at the outset of the graduation ceremony by friend Bryson Clarkson, and had retreated off stage to a cot set up there for him. Nobody was sure if he could manage the walk to the diploma, but Clarkson said later that if Devon's legs had failed him, "I would have carried him across."

But Devon was having none of that. He was determined, and tough, and wholly admirable.

That admiration was expressed by the community in various ways as the months of Devon's life wound down. He was honored in January by the Watkins-Montour Rotary Club as its Student of the Month, for instance. In introducing Devon to Rotarians, teacher Eileen Malaney said that "adversity reveals your character" -- that she and other faculty members had all "learned from Devon... He has provided more joy than he can imagine."

And then his many friends arranged a night of basketball competition in the WGHS Field House on May 11 called Play for Devon, a fundraiser pitting the school's boys varsity basketball team against school faculty members. All proceeds went to Devon  and his family to offset medical costs. Devon served as a coach that night, expressing his sense of playfulness by wearing a bald rubber headpiece and a mustache, in the style of boys' basketball coach John Fazzary.


On top of all of that, Devon was named to the Top Drawer 24 team of outstanding student-athlete-citizens selected from among five area high schools. When the team was announced, this website carried a biography on each member. Devon's read as follows:

"(Devon's) place in this group was earned not on the playing fields -- although he served as an assistant on the varsity soccer team -- but in the hearts and minds and souls of those whose lives he has touched with his remarkable courage and unflinching optimism in the face of an illness that has steadily eroded his ability to engage the world on the terms he would prefer. Devon has been fighting a recurring cancer -- a sarcoma -- for more than three years, and has earned the admiration of the community for the strength he has shown in remaining involved in the activities of his school. Said one member of the Top Drawer 24 committee -- a teacher in Watkins Glen -- Devon is 'emblematic of all we stand for -- heart, passion, kindness.'"

That biography closed with words from Devon himself, who said he planned to attend Corning Community College and "then transfer somewhere else." He said he would "like to graduate college with my athletic training degree, and find a well-paying job where I will be happy, with a nice house and a small family. But most important, I will find a cure for myself to get cancer-free!"

That showed a fighting spirit that we all came to associate with Devon Shaw -- a young man who, when he was younger, delivered newspapers with a perpetual smile on his face, a smile he was still able to wear as his health failed; a young man who played on the varsity soccer team until cancer and attendant surgeries precluded it; a young man with a loving family that made sure his life was as full as possible; a young man who inspired loyalty in others and demonstrated, through his bravery, an admirable way to live.

Thank you, Devon. Thank you for your friendship, for your spirit, for your courage, and for showing us how to move forward with dignity in the face of adversity.

Goodbye, my friend.


And earlier:

A strange day indeed ...

By Charlie Haeffner

Bois Blanc Island, Michigan, July 8, 2013 --  I ventured out for a walk at about 9:30 p.m. Saturday night -- late by normal standards back home, but still bright out at that hour here. Darkness did not settle in for another 50 minutes.

I went from our cottage on the eastern end of the municipality of Pointe aux Pins to the southwest corner in the heart of it, stopping at a spot on the rocky beach that is home to remnants of an auto graveyard that existed many years ago.  When residents up here had gotten the final miles out of their old cars, they left them at that spot, to rust along with other hulks. That finally changed when the state deemed the graveyard an eyesore and a menace, and moved all of the rusted relics away on a barge, to be disposed of on the mainland.

In recent years, all that has remained of the graveyard were pieces of the vehicles -- say a fender here or an axle there -- sticking up a foot or two from the beach, wedged in tightly by the earth beneath. I did find an old gas cap once, but as a rule small movable items have been nonexistent. But on my walk Saturday night, I found another loose item: an old metal handle affixed to another, triangular piece of metal with one curved side containing what appeared to be jagged gear slots. It was a reminder, easily handheld, of a bygone automotive era.

I carried it back to the cottage -- a souvenir, if you will, of my latest stay on Bois Blanc.


That capped off a strange day, the strangeness starting when I stopped at the museum/library, a small building that used to house the Department of Natural Resources office, back when the DNR had one here. I perused the rows of books, took a look at an Island-themed quilt adorning one wall, and secured a couple of novels to read. As I left, a man who was overseeing the day's library operation with his wife stepped outside to tend to some chore and, seeing my New York license plate, asked where I live.

I told him the Watkins Glen area, and asked him where he was from, and he said: "Oh, downstate. Just say Ann Arbor. It's a place near there."

"Well," I said, "I grew up in Michigan, so I might know the place."

"Okay," he answered. "It's Adrian."

I suspect he thought I'd say "Nope. Don't know that one." But I didn't say that at all.

Instead I smiled, for I knew Adrian well. I had, in fact, spent most of a summer there in the 1960s, working in a shoe store owned by a customer of my father's -- my dad being the United States Shoe Corp. sales representative who toured Michigan's lower peninsula, making sure its shoe stores carried his company's Red Cross, Socialite and Cobbies brands of ladies' footwear. I had lived that summer at the home of the store's owner, Bill Cox; he and his wife Charlotte provided me a furnished basement rec room in which to sleep.

And so I answered the gentleman outside the library, a man named Steve. "I spent a summer in Adrian when I was 16," I said. "I worked at Cox's Shoe Store."

Steve looked surprised, and laughed.

"You're kidding," he said. "I worked at Cox's Shoe Store when I was a teenager. Wait, you can't leave; you gotta come back in and tell my wife. Hey, Susie!"

And so I met his wife, and determined that this couple, who have been coming to the island for a few summers, live just a couple of blocks from the house that the Coxes built, the one whose basement I inhabited that long-ago summer. It turns out that Steve worked at the store in the summer of '65, a year after me.

We traded stories about Bill Cox -- a character who should probably have a biography written about him -- and about working in a shoe store.

"What a small world," Steve said.


During our talk, Steve and Susie learned that I had authored several novels about the Island that were, in fact, on the reference shelf of the library, and Susie vowed to read them. And I left, thinking that that chapter of the day was complete. But there was an addendum.

A couple of hours later, two women, one young and one middle-aged -- the latter, it turned out, is the mother of the former's boyfriend -- parked near our cottage and approached the front door, calling out to my sister-in-law on the front porch that they were looking for the author of books they held in their hands. Each was carrying a copy of The Islander and Cabins in the Mist, both by A.C. Haeffner, which is to say me.

They had partially overheard my conversation in the library with Steve and Susie, and in talking with them afterward learned that I had authored both books, which they had found for sale at the Hawk's Landing convenience store the previous day and were considering purchasing. They decided then and there to go buy the books, and then spent more than an hour trying to find my cottage, known variously on the Island at The Marconi Place (it is owned by a family named Marconi), The Palmer House (it used to be owned by the Palmers) and The Windmill Cottage. That last was for a windmill that used to sit near the cottage driveway. The tower still stands, although fairly overgrown by trees and brush, while the blades that used to sit atop it rest now at the rear of the property -- removed some years ago.

In any event, they had trouble finding the place, and along the way managed to get their vehicle stuck in some newly laid shoreline gravel when they attempted to turn around in a narrow space -- necessitating rescue by a man nearby with a truck and a towline.

Finally, they found our cottage, and me. They wanted me to sign the books, and we invited them to sit down, which they did for awhile, explaining that they are both East Enders. The younger of the two, Denise Drenth, has a place in the woods about a 12-mile drive from where we stay. I suspect that she is, like any regular up here, entranced by the lifestyle, and focused on attaining any mementoes -- such as my books -- that can remind her of Bois Blanc when she cannot be present here.

And that is quite often, for she travels, she said, as part of a TV show on The Sportsman Channel. It's called Hills 'n' Hollers, for which she serves as a field producer and as one of its on-air personalities. She has long been a hunter, and says on the show's website that her "Bucket List" includes "going gator hunting in Florida and grizzly hunting in Alaska."

"Well, heck," I said to her, "you're a celebrity."

She shook her head. "Not really," she said.

Well, compared to me, she is. After checking out her role in that show on my computer the next morning, I realized I should have gotten her autograph, not the other way around.


And earlier:

On the Island ...

By Charlie Haeffner

Bois Blanc Island, Michigan, July 6, 2013 --  It has been peaceful here on the Island. Sunny for the first few days, with temperatures in the 70s, dipping to the 50s at night. Today the clouds are intermittent, and the mercury is rising to about 80.

Perfect Island weather.

My brother Bob and I walked to the southwest corner of Bois Blanc a couple of evenings ago, past rows of cottages that populate the municipality of Pointe aux Pins.  On our return, we passed one such structure owned by the McAfees, Bruce and his wife Chris, a retired couple who spend about half of each year here. When not here, they reside in Florida, having recently purchased a home in The Villages, a burgeoning retirement community in the central part of the state.

As we walked past their residence, Bruce spotted us through a window and waved us over to his front door and into his cottage -- a place I first visited as a child probably six decades ago. Bruce is my brother's age, which is to say in the neighborhood of 70; they were boyhood chums here, boating and exploring the many inland attractions of Bois Blanc. They lost track of one another for several decades -- the period between visits to the Island by my brother -- before reconnecting when Bob started coming here annually in 1999.

That renewal visit in '99 occurred in celebration of our mother's 80th birthday. The family gathered en masse for the occasion, filling two cottages. And it inspired Bob and his wife, Gussie, to revisit here every year thereafter.

During our visit with Bruce, he told us how the Island is being brought more in line with the 21st Century with the installation of fiber optic lines along the roadway running parallel to the south shoreline. I'm guessing lines might also be installed on the west and east ends of Bois Blanc, where the population has some density (that being a relative term on an Island that is visited by but 2,500 people in a year, and is occupied full-time by but four dozen souls).

In any event, Bruce doubted the new lines would have much of an impact, cost being a determining factor. Seems the company overseeing the installation wanted people to sign on year-round, even though most of the folks are up here for only short bursts -- a week to a few months. And besides, those who want to watch TV already have small satellite dishes. And while the new lines would make computer use easier, anyone with a hot spot on a cell phone can connect to the Internet now. We'll see how the new plan flies.

In the meantime, Bruce offered to show us around the Island in the following days to look at available rental property. The cottage we have rented for several years is on the market, and might not be available in the future.

We did, in fact, take him up on the tour, and visited four sites the following day -- my favorite of which was an A-frame cottage on the western shore, about 10 miles from where we have been staying. It is not big enough to hold a lot of people -- two or three would be fine -- but it is much less expensive than other cottages and has a lovely view from its beach of Mackinac Island, which rests a couple of miles away. You can clearly see the key structures on Mackinac from there -- in particular the large and stately Grand Hotel.

I loved the A-frame, and think it might be the perfect hideway. Whether I rent it remains to be seen.


There was a little girl on the Island years ago named Meghan Sims who used to like to hang out at the cottage my wife Susan and I rented in the heart of Pointe aux Pins. She was always a bit of a roundish girl -- cute, with a sort of smoky voice.  We watched her grow through her teen years -- she would, on occasion, spend an afternoon with Susan, learning the finer points of baking -- and when Susan died, Meghan was heartbroken, writing me a lovely letter and sending flowers from her Michigan home to mine in Odessa. The next time I saw her, on the Island the following summer, she gave me a big hug and, tears in her eyes, said: "I miss her so much."

Meghan got married to a nice guy a handful of years ago, and the only time I'd seen her since, she still looked like a teenager, complete with baby fat.

Flash forward to lunch Thursday at Hawk's Landing, one of the two eateries on the Island. I was sitting there with my brother when this slender, pretty young woman with two young children in tow approached our table, saying an enthusiastic "Hi!" I looked at her, and she was vaguely familiar, but I couldn't grasp who she was. Nonetheless, I answered with an equally enthusiastic greeting. She asked if my son Dave was on the Island, and when I told her no and asked her how long she would be on the Island -- searching, really, for a clue to her identity; knowing I should know her -- she uttered more than the few words she had thus far spoken ... and I noticed the voice was distinctively smoky.

My God, I thought.  It's Meghan.

I was astounded, for facing her straight on, she seemed a mere whisper from somewhere in my past -- gorgeous, really, a butterfly fully realized. Then, when she turned her head to speak to one of her children, I saw her familiar strong jawline and wondered that I had been so fooled.

Anyway, we talked, and promised to visit again before she was to depart the Island early the next week. And as I watched her leave Hawk's, I marveled at how much a person can physically change -- in her case so stunningly after giving birth to two kids.

Her secret? She says it's "running and Weight Watchers."


There was a concert last evening up at Hawk's Landing -- a one-man musical show, really, by guitarist-singer-songwriter Dan Reynolds. The occasion was the unveiling of his second CD of island songs. The place was packed at the outset -- full of diners as Reynolds set up and started singing -- and still half full when I revisited at 10 o'clock, the normal Hawk's closing time. On this night, the place stayed open much longer -- until 12:30 a.m.

Reynold sings folk-rock, and all of his songs seem to be about either Bois Blanc or the immediate region. One -- a rousing tune that had the place rocking -- was about the Island's lone summer deputy, a man named Graham Whipple. It was titled "Crack The Whip."

Anyway, my brother and I had stopped by Hawk's at the dinner hour to pick up some ice cream to top off a bread-pudding dessert being prepared back at the cottage, and I went over to Reynolds -- we had never met -- and asked him how long he would be playing that night, since I wanted to come back at some point in the evening.

"Oh, three or four hours," he said.

"Okay, great," I said. "By the way, my name's Charlie Haeffner." And I held out my hand.

He looked mildly surprised, and smiled, and said: "Charlie, it's great to finally meet you. I love your books."

And that surprised me, though perhaps it shouldn't have. A couple of my books -- since their plots are set largely on the Island -- are perennially for sale at Hawk's. I say perennially because Larry and Missy Phillips, the store owners, will probably never sell all of the copies they have.

Such is the life of a writer. But here, at least, was one reader.

"Well, thank you," I said to Dan Reynolds. And I said a goodbye, and left with my ice cream. (And yes, I returned later, and bought one of his CDs.)


Meanwhile, back home:

I read that Jeremy Alderson, the latest arrestee in periodic protests against Inergy's LPG storage plans, is still free after an appearance before Town of Reading Justice Raymond H. Berry. Jeremy wrote the following in an email followup:

"I am not in jail.

"Judge Berry departed from previous custom and would not sentence me unless my attorney was present (Gerald Kinchy couldn't make it), even though he had sentenced people before without their attorneys.  In fact, the judge didn't even want to take my plea.  I asked him if it would not be possible to speed things up and waived my right to counsel, so he let me plead guilty, but then, when he refused to sentence me, I asked permission to withdraw my guilty plea, and permission was granted.

"The new court date is set for July 17th at 5:00 p.m.

"I am frustrated by this, and I am truly sorry to have made so many announcements for something (going to jail) that, so far at least, just refuses to happen."


And earlier:

On vacation ...

By Charlie Haeffner

Bois Blanc Island, Michigan, June 30, 2013 --  I have arrived on the Island, my vacation destination every summer for the past 20 years -- and before that, the vacation destination of my family when I was not yet 10 years old.

After a long school year that grew rather contentious, and after three sports seasons that saw this website present Athlete of the Week honors on 30 occasions, All-Star merits three times, and a couple of Athlete of the Year awards -- as well as honor two-dozen Top Drawer student-athletes and cover assorted non-school meetings and news and feature stories -- it is time to rest.

I will, as the spirit moves me, report on some happenings back home.

One I missed while traveling here was Jeremy Alderson's arrest Friday for trespass in the ongoing protest against Inergy. I was not surprised so much that he was arrested (for the second time) as I was that he was the only one. Last time there were 12. Alderson was recently found guilty of trespass for participating in an earlier Inergy protest, and ordered to pay a fine and surcharge pending appeal. If he loses the appeal and doesn't pay the fine, he'll face a 15-day jail sentence.

He wrote about this latest episode in an email:

"It is surely a testament to my lack of imagination that I was again arrested for chaining myself to the fence outside the Inergy facility in Reading, NY. (My heartfelt thanks to the folks who were there in support.)

"You see, after my recent conviction, I was left with a conflict between my heart and my head. My heart said I should refuse to pay a fine and go to jail.  My head said I should refuse to accept the decision and appeal.

"I finally decided that I had to appeal, because I am the only one in the legal position to raise some important issues through the courts, and I have a terrific pro bono lawyer who enjoys pursuing such cases.

"But you know how it is. A hardened protester like me wants it all: clean air and clean hands; clear water and a clear conscience, a better world for myself and a better world for everyone else. It was surely this spiritual greed that made me feel dissatisfied with my decision (to appeal), even though I felt I had made the right one.

"Why, I asked myself, should I be left out, when others have gone to jail? I mean, it's enough already. I'm used to being marginalized and not getting my way when it comes to things like eliminating homelessness or keeping the Finger Lakes safe, but come on. I can't even get myself into jail? How embarrassing is that, especially when so many other people don't seem to have a hard time doing it?

"So I decided to respond to (Town of Reading) Judge (Raymond) Berry's verdict by getting arrested again. I'm charged with the same crime as last time, and I'm facing the same (term) in jail that four of my compatriots have already served (for previous protests).

"What else could I do?"


On another court matter:

I'll still be on vacation come July 11th, the date set for the sentencing of Alice Trappler, found guilty of 2nd Degree Murder and Conspiracy in a recent case that was highly publicized locally.

District Attorney Joe Fazzary, who achieved the guilty verdict on circumstantial evidence in a case that should be studied as a breakthrough in the use of modern technology, wanted me to return early from vacation to cover the sentencing -- maybe as an end piece to all the coverage I provided during the trial. But I don't intend to. In any event, the process appears to be fairly cut-and-dried.

Fazzary has said he expects the sentence imposed on Trappler by County Judge Dennis Morris will be 25 years-to-life.


During the trip to Michigan, I happened upon a USA Today story about a 12-year-old girl in Georgia named Maddy Paige who was a standout defensive player this year on her Strong Rock Christian School's 6th-grade football team. Even so, she has been told by school officials that she won't be allowed to play on the Middle School squad because, well, the rules say a girl can't. 
One official said the boys on the team would have "impure thoughts and urges"if Maddy were allowed to compete. The girl's mother said that the same official, name of Patrick Stuart, told her he "prayed about it and he really feels that there's not supposed to be mixing of the genders. They need to be kept separate."

Maddy and her family are incensed. Maddy says the action "is just sort of like taking a dream and just throwing it in the trash," and her mother says "What they've done here is they've taken Maddy, let her have that cake, then taken it away and smashed it." She said ability, not gender, should be the determining factor in whether the girl can play.

Accordingly, the Paiges are fighting back with a Facebook page (which can be found at looking for public backing for Maddy's argument. At last look, that effort had accumulated more than 42,000 "likes." Amazing how technology has made everyone a neighbor with a voice.

I'm not at all convinced that such a show of public support will sway school officials, though. The article wasn't clear about what the other parents or the students think of all this. But even if they sided with the 42,000, a
basic law of of officialdom -- of empowerment -- is that sometimes (which is too often) authority creates a rift and a wall. Sometimes not everyone will be pulling in the same direction ... even if the public is.


Now that I'm on the Island, I feel the tension withering away, and I hope to recharge my overworked batteries. This place has exhibited restorative powers before, so I hope it does again.

I first saw Bois Blanc -- a 5-by-12-mile stretch of land in the Straits of Mackinac -- when I was about 4 years old. There are folks up here that I first met 60 years ago. Every so often, I'll sit down with one or another of them and reminisce. Those summers of childhood were magical times for me -- leading me to write three novels about the island -- and there is still something mystical about the place that keeps drawing me back.

While I'm here, I imagine that my columns (as they have during past visits) will include observations about Bois Blanc. I'm in the same cottage as in recent years, situated nicely between the main dock and the bulk of the cottages on the southwest corner of the island, in the municipality of Pointe aux Pins --  known by those who are disinclined to speak French as Point of Pines.

I should be returning home in a couple of weeks, unless I need more time to recharge -- and can find another rental property.


And earlier:

Memories of my father ...

By Charlie Haeffner

Odessa, June 19, 2013 --  The recent Father's Day brought me best wishes from my three sons, and a trip with one of them to the movie theater to see "Man of Steel."

But as much as the day was mine, I couldn't help but think about my own father, Gus Haeffner, gone now for more than 18 years. He would, if still among us, be 102 years old.

That age brings a smile to my face, for I never thought of my father as old, not even in his 80s. He was 84 when he died, young on the outside, but with some of his internal systems feeling their age and failing.

I thought about the joy with which he lived life, the stories he loved to tell over cocktails, the detailed itineraries with which he prepared for each trip. Dad was a traveling man, a shoe salesman who took sample cases from shoe store to shoe store around the lower peninsula of Michigan during my formative years, selling to those stores the footwear produced by the U.S. Shoe Company of Cincinnati, Ohio.

It was the owners of those stores and their wives who frequently visited our palatial home in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, for cocktails and dinner, and where Dad held forth. He always made Manhattans, a drink that I found bitter when I took a sip from my mother's glass once. But our visitors always seemed to like theirs.

My father, beyond his sales and entertainment skills, imparted a sense of security to his family, providing us with wonderful homes in Birmingham and then nearby Bloomfield Hills -- the period in which I passed from four years of age to 18. He also imparted a sense of right and wrong, and would -- if I or my brothers erred in our moral judgment -- deal with the issue straight on, but quietly and in a measured, civilized tone.

I honestly think I had the most idyllic of upbringings, living in a loving home in an upscale community -- and on a lake, to boot.

Dad was a good-looking devil, too. I remember Mom saying that in his younger days, he looked like Tyrone Power -- but I had no idea who Tyrone Power was. In the ensuing years I have discovered that particular actor's films, usually heroic in nature. He was dark eyed with dark hair often combed back. My father carried those same traits, and pictures of him as a young man in the 1930s and '40s -- the period in which Tyrone Power was at the height of his popularity -- bear out my mother's proud boast.

Dad was forced to retire at 65 -- a company policy, which I didn't think about too much at the time, although I don't believe Dad was ready for it. Now that I am on the verge of that age myself, I can fully empathize.

Gus Haeffner was active until almost the very end, when ill health hospitalized him in his adopted retirement state of Florida. I remember talking to him on a Saturday night following his admission to the hospital, and he assured me he was fine and would be out in a few days. 

The next call I received from Florida was two days later, from my mother. Dad had died in his sleep. She could bring herself to say nothing more, and I ended up sliding to the floor, the phone still in my hand, stunned, tears welling. I had trouble breathing.

That was the first experience I had with losing someone I had loved all of my life. From my first recollections of childhood, through my troubled teenage years, through a young adulthood in which I rebelled against family expectations and pursued journalism instead of business, to a point where we finally understood each other and embraced our differences, I had always looked to Dad for guidance and approval.

Eighteen years after his passing, I look to him still. And in the silence, I try to understand --  especially in times of uncertainty -- what it is that he would have me do.


And earlier: 

Sounds of Silence ...

By Charlie Haeffner

Odessa, June 8, 2013 --  The end of the school season is bringing with it some interesting, if confounding, events. They call to mind the title of a Springsteen song, Code of Silence ... or perhaps Simon and Garfunkel's Sounds of Silence.

There was, for instance, the rather forceful presentation at the last Watkins Glen School Board meeting by a woman upset that the district had, at the 11th hour, changed its formula for determining class standing, which sent her granddaughter sliding from 3rd to 11th in the senior class ranking.

The girl had included her original standing on her college applications, and beyond that had earned her place of honor. Third in a class is no small matter. But then she was told by a school official that she had a new ranking -- no fault of her own, and sorry about that.

The woman at the meeting had sought answers, and it wasn't really clear whether she had gotten any. She had spoken to the superintendent, but that obviously didn't assuage her displeasure; she was still very upset while addressing the board.

But did the superintendent or School Board say anything of substance there at the meeting? Did they try to explain the seemingly strange decision to change the rules late in the game -- instead of between school years? No, they didn't. The only response was this: "We appreciate your concerns and share your concerns."

The Board will no doubt argue that a public meeting is no place for such explanations, but why not? Without one, the handling of the matter left a bad taste.


And at the same meeting, there was the matter of a farewell to a longtime teacher at the school, Craig Cheplick, who was given a litho of a Don Maas painting as a parting gift, along with some generally kind words from the superintendent -- but no mention of the period in which Chep (as he is widely known) was the Faculty Manager in charge, essentially, of the Field House there at the school. It was a golden period, Chep's reign, for he knows how to run a show and rev up school spirit.

The fact is, I wouldn't have even started covering WGHS and, by extension, Watkins Glen at large if Chep hadn't been persistent in recruiting me. And without expanding to that school and community, I wouldn't have obtained the advertising base that has allowed me to continue all these years. But recruit me he did, and in the doing the student-athletes got years of publicity that might otherwise have gone by the boards -- and school spirit soared.

But Chep fell victim to a School Board fixation on hiring a full-time Athletic Director, and the nature of Chep's tenure -- his unique ability to interact with coaches and students alike, and to make the Field House a showcase of exciting events -- was lost, possibly forever.  The School Board could have changed direction after the full-time experiment was jettisoned a couple of years ago -- given the job back to Chep. That would have been fair. But it didn't. And that's a shame.

And it's a shame that Chep's role in the Field House's early successes wasn't even mentioned the other night.

I suppose it's understandable, considering it was the Board that pulled the rug out from under him five years back.

But the bottom line is this:

As Chep rides into the sunset, we have silence in his wake, where a Field House band should be playing.


Then there were the Schuyler County legislators, who hosted a mock debate by students from the Watkins Glen High School Model UN and Global Issues class Wednesday at the Legislature's Resolution Review Committee meeting. The kids had selected as their topic the proposed Inergy LPG storage, and -- led by class Secretary General Samantha Gill -- went through a lengthy but brisk debate on the pros and cons of the issue. They had prepared for weeks to do this, and the work paid off. They were really quite impressive.

At the end of the debate, teacher Marie Fitzsimmons asked if any members of the Legislature -- and there were a half-dozen present -- had any comments on the students' performance or suggestions for future debate preparations, but the only one to speak was Legislator Barb Halpin, twice. She said at first that she was impressed with the respect shown one another by the debaters, something "you don't see in government very much." And then, after none of her colleagues wanted to add anything, she said the students "did a fantastic amount of research and looked at everything in depth. There were good arguments on both sides."

After that, once again, nobody else in authority wanted to say anything -- which struck me as strange, and lacking graciousness. I wondered at the silence, and then recalled that at least two of the legislators (and I suspect more) support the LPG storage for its potential tax advantages. All well and good, but political position aside, it wouldn't have been too difficult to swallow their displeasure at the students airing project negatives (as well as positives). It wouldn't have been too difficult to say "Good job. Nicely done."

The silence spoke volumes. Sadly so.


And then there was, two days earlier, an evening meeting in the Watkins Glen Village Hall regarding a study that looked at options for the future of the Village Police Department. There were 30 or so folks there from the public, but no real heat to the proceedings; no debate. The few people who spoke did so on behalf of retaining the department -- arguing that its very presence inhibits the criminal element, and that the response time is a luxury that shouldn't be lost.

There are others in the community who have expressed opinions to the contrary -- generally regarding the cost of the department at a time when infrastructure is on the wane -- but none of their voices were present that night. As one said to me a day later, "Who in their right mind would subject themselves to that?" -- meaning a room that included at least a couple of members of the Village Police, the Police Chief, the Sheriff, the Village Justice and a couple of former village officials who were involved years ago in the expansion of the department.

Call that particular silence a Fear Factor. Or maybe just prudence.

I don't have a side in that particular issue, but I would have one suggestion: To be fair, either hold a public referendum or blanket the village's residents -- and especially its property owners, since they pay the taxes that help pay the police their salaries -- with a survey that gauges public sentiment. The firm conducting the Police Study distributed survey sheets to those in attendance, but that small one-sided sampling would obviously not gauge the overall community opinion. And the pronouncement that the survey was online automatically eliminates from voting anyone who doesn't have or doesn't operate a computer, or who doesn't hear that such a survey is available.

No, send it out to the residents by mail. And make sure the responses are clothed in anonymity.

Then, and only then, I suspect, will you get a good idea of public sentiment.


And earlier:

A turn of events ...

By Charlie Haeffner

Odessa, May 24, 2013 --  The civility was quite remarkable, given the stakes and the outcome. 

Odessa-Montour School District Superintendent Jim Frame, after taking a half-hour to tally the votes behind closed doors, announced Tuesday night in a hallway outside the district office that the 2013-14 school budget had passed, along with propositions involving the local library and bus purchases.

Then he said he would read the outcome of the Board of Education election, starting with the candidate with the most votes.

"Scott Westervelt," he said, "292 votes. Robert Tuttle, 217 votes ..." If anyone in that hall had been of a dramatic bent, there would have been an audible gasp, for Tuttle was not generally considered a favorite. But there was silence as Frame finished the tally: "Wendy Shutter 147 votes, and Sharon Lewis 118."

Frame looked at Westervelt, an incumbent who was present along with newcomer Tuttle and Board member Bill Schwenk to witness the outcome of the vote. "Congratulations, Scott," Frame said. And then he congratulated Tuttle.

And that was that. Westervelt, Tuttle and Schwenk left the school together, talking about a possible celebratory toast. It all seemed so ... civil.

But there was much unsaid there. The three were happy for a reason beyond the simple fact of the vote count.

Make no mistake: there was a significant shift in the School Board in this election. An evident sea change.

An incumbent who had constantly sided with Frame and thus helped maintain a narrow rubber-stamp majority for the superintendent over the past few years had decided not to seek re-election. Tuttle, who has shown himself to be of the same mindset as Westervelt, Schwenk and Board member Rob Halpin -- which is to say he will ask "Why?" and "Why not?" instead of following unquestioningly in the superintendent's wake -- will take that seat.

That, in essence, puts questioners in the majority, 4-3, which should also mean a change in the presidency of the Board. Deb Harrington has been serving in that role. 

There are some among the recent Forum writers on this website who maintain that the School Board has been a unified group, and that no clique exists. I've always disliked that word -- "clique" -- but naysayers to the contrary, there has been a definite philosophical split that, until recently, had enabled the superintendent to pretty much run things the way he wanted, with few questions of note presented.

Well, some might say, since the school district seems to be in pretty good financial shape -- and there's no disputing that -- why care how free or constrained the superintendent might be? But there is more to a school system than its financial shape, as important as that is. There is a culture in any district. At Odessa, I think it is marked by creativity and teaching excellence on the plus side, but by isolationism and distrust on the negative side. The culture either comes from the top or is encouraged by it, and impacts the district and the public it serves.

Yes, Odessa-Montour is pretty solid financially, but I have to think that the negative side of the culture has, of late, been undercutting the positive. Now, in the wake of the Board vote, I can see the possibility of a more thoughtful, questioning and publicly responsive turn ahead.

If that happens, it will be good news for all of us.


There is a movement afoot in Watkins Glen by a group that wants to put on a patriotically themed event at Lafayette Park on Sept. 21.

The group, Citizens for Constitutional Preservation, approached the Village Board with the idea the other night, and was warmly received.

Mark Osatchuck, Laura Preston and Forrest Banks said the idea came to them recently and has been embraced by a growing number of friends and acquaintances, with an eye toward celebrating the Constitution itself -- the framework that makes our nation's engine run.

"This isn't about anything specific, like gun control," Preston told the Village Board. "It's a celebration of America and the Constitution" -- an event that she hoped might include a performance by members of the Lake Country Players, the presence of current military personnel and veterans of previous conflicts, politicians discussing civil liberties, a Revolutionary War re-enactment, the distribution of flags and copies of the Constitution, and speeches. "We hope to get people proud of the flag again," she said.

Early plans envision the event running from 1-5 p.m. It could become an annual gathering, but with an eye toward keeping it small and focused -- "educational," said Osatchuck. And practical, he added, with perhaps a booth for voter registration.

"It's a wonderful idea," said Mayor Mark Swinnerton. "I'm all for it," added trustee Kevin Smith.

The organizers will, with the board's blessing, proceed now to develop their plans.


And earlier:

A voice of experience ...

By Charlie Haeffner

Odessa, May 19, 2013 --  I just returned from four days in and around Washington, D.C., at a family event, but in the process tried -- when I had some free time -- to publish  accounts of what was going on around here in my absence.

At the same time, I tried my best to put out of my head for those few days all the things that I need to do around here soon -- including, early this week, covering the School Board elections in the Watkins Glen and Odessa-Montour districts.

The endorsement letters have been flowing in to the Forum page, particularly regarding the O-M election, the one in which I have a vote. Since I don't have a vote in Watkins Glen, my opinion doesn't really matter. Actually, it doesn't really matter in any place other than the ballot box. There I'm on equal footing with everyone.

But in passing -- and having observed all of the candidates in one fashion or another -- I'm strong on two of them, one in each district, and fine with the rest. (Two seats are up for grabs in each place.)

If I were voting in Watkins Glen, I'd start with Kristin Hazlitt and then figure out my second choice from the four remaining candidates.

I won't go into a lot of reasons for that preference, other than to say the woman is brilliant and experienced in both the law and court cases involving children. She has, accordingly, dealt with many difficult situations involving kids, and works proactively and creatively in finding the best of all possible solutions.

My choice in the O-M district is Scott Westervelt. Since I live in the district and have known Westervelt a lot longer than I've known Kristin Hazlitt, I will dwell a bit longer on Scott -- a five-year incumbent on the School Board who has brought what I consider an invaluable approach to that particular group.

Scott is not campaigning in any way regarding his ability to ask questions -- to strategically challenge established authority (which is to say the superintendent and anyone on the Board who might habitually side with him). This was a difficult thing to do when he was first elected, for there was a strong majority so attuned to following the leader that Scott's voice seemed to be a lone one in the forest. If a man shouts in the forest and no one seems to hear him, does he really make a sound?

Scott kept at it, though, and gained a fellow questioner in the late Don Roberts, who told me on several occasions how frustrating the School Board process was. Don, like Scott, had a lot of questions he wanted answered, mostly of the "Why?" and "Why not?" variety. Majorities like to sidestep such questions, whether at the School Board level or in Congress.

But enough of that. Scott is qualified alone for his educational background. He taught Physical Education and was certified in Health for many years at Odessa -- retiring in 2003 after 33 years of teaching. He was the Athletic Director and Aquatics Director and a coach of an unbelievable number of sports teams: 85, in fact.

He's dealt with kids, with adults, with other teachers, and now has vested five years in the Board of Education, a job that I'm told takes a year or more to learn well enough to understand its intricacies. So to anyone who says incumbency doesn't matter, think again.

Scott, who also taught Driver Education during his career and still does on occasion -- and who has served as a Swim Official at all sorts of high school meets since his retirement -- has several campaign thoughts he wants to share with voters.

He'd like more input from taxpayers, he said. "We're talking about a $15 million budget, but we get only 25 or 30 people at the hearing."

He says that the district is "in great shape" financially -- a remarkable accomplishment in this age of statewide budget trauma -- but looks to the future with a cautionary note. "We've been losing enrollment. If we need to downsize, we have to do it in the least invasive way -- as much as possible through attrition."

He'd also like to keep class sizes down, because any numbering in the high 20s is "just crazy. The optimum at the elementary level would be 18, even 20."

He wants to "maintain fiscal integrity, not spending more than we have." But, he added, there "are some nonmandated programs we don't want to cut" -- such as art, music and Pre-K classes.

He's big on school safety, too -- in particular with an eye toward preventing what a violent intruder might do. Even though tragedies that have befallen schools elsewhere in the country haven't happened here and "might never ... we should have bulletproof glass, at least at the entrance ways." And a School Resource Officer would be nice if grant funds could be found "down the road."

Ultimately, he said, any decisions he makes as a Board member "will be based on what's best for the taxpayers and the students. I'm not going to be led from that."

Scott and his wife, Barbara, live on Oak Hill Road outside Odessa in a house built in 1976 and enlarged in 1988.  They have four children, all grown.


Congratulations to Keith Rekczis on qualifying for one of the nine spots on the Section IV golf team that will compete in a couple of weeks at Cornell University in the State Golf Championship.  Rekczis, a sophomore at Watkins Glen High School, has worked hard at developing his game, according to his coach, Rob Michel.

"His work has paid off," said Michel. "He's very competitive. I was very impressed with his focus" as Rekczis survived two grueling rounds and a playoff in the State Qualifier to earn a place on the Section IV squad. "He's done right by himself."

This is the first time that Michel, who has coached for a dozen or more years, has had one of his players "reach the second round" of the State Qualifier, "let alone make the team. "


And congratulations to the Odessa-Montour boys and girls varsity track and field teams for winning the Small School titles at the Interscholastic Athletic Conference Track and Field Championships at Dryden.  This is the third straight title for the boys. The girls were a bit of a surprise, rising to the occasion after failing to win their division in the regular season.

Well done, everybody.


And earlier:

Of books and a party

By Charlie Haeffner

Odessa, May 13, 2013 --  Well, the trial is over, and Alice Trappler is facing a long prison term in connection with the April 19, 2012 shotgun death of Daniel Bennett. I've been thinking of trying to sum up the whole case succinctly, but my brain is trial-fried, and I think I need some time away from the subject.

I might pick up the thread of it later in book form. It's a story that would lend itself, on several levels, to a novel-length nonfiction treatment. I figure I could call it "The Goat Ranch." But right now ... no.

On to something else.


Speaking of books, I have in hand a review copy of a new paperback by Michael Argetsinger and race historian Bill Green called, simply, Watkins Glen International. It is a book issued by Arcadia Publishing as part of a licensing accord with the NASCAR Library  Collection.

It tells the history of racing in Watkins Glen, with an emphasis on the WGI track, and contains more than 200 photos, many never before published. It sells for $21.99 and is available at area bookstores, through online retailers, or from the publisher at

Argetsinger is the author of several splendid racing books, including Watkins Glen: 20 Years of the United States Grand Prix, 1961-80, and biographies of Walter Hansgen and Mark Donohue. Green is the historian for the International Motor Racing Research Center in Watkins Glen. He has collaborated on many racing-related books, and co-authored, with J.J. O'Malley, a 1998 book about Watkins Glen racing.

Argetsinger and Green will be among the speakers at the Racing Research Center at 1 p.m. on May 18 -- part of the Center Conversations series.


We're getting close to announcing our annual Top Drawer 24 team of outstanding student-athletes from the Watkins Glen, Odessa-Montour, Bradford, Trumansburg and Spencer-Van Etten districts. The two dozen honorees will be feted at a ceremony on Thursday, June 6 at, as usual, the Watkins Glen State Park Pavilion, near the park's south entrance.

The 24 were selected through committee vote and a lot of discussion, and represent the best and the brightest of what this county has to offer the future.

The party at the pavilion is always a stirring one, and I don't expect anything less this time around, our 8th annual celebration. We have a lineup of great speakers, we have some finger foods and beverages, and above all we have some young people well worth honoring.

Everyone is invited. The bash starts at about 5:30 p.m.


And earlier:

Where old meets new...

By Charlie Haeffner

Odessa, April 27, 2013 -- It's been a busy couple of weeks. Trying to cover the Alice Trappler murder trial and keep up with other things has proven a ... well, a trial.

That's because of the way I chose to cover the proceedings in Schuyler County Court. I could have gone in, done a barebones story about the trial on opening day, and then just visited from time to time, waiting for the appearance on the stand of Nathan Hand -- the stepbrother of the late Thomas Wesley Borden. Borden is the alleged killer of Daniel Bennett on April 19, 2012. Hand was present at the killing. Trappler, the defendant in this case, was once married to Borden, and had a child with Bennett.

The murder, the prosecution says, was prompted by a custody dispute involving the child from that union.

This is, in many ways, a simple, old-fashioned, smoldering-emotions case. Emotions have led to killings since the beginning of man.

But mixed in is a lot of stuff that -- had this occurred 15 years ago -- wouldn't have been factors. We have cell phones, laptops, text messages and the like. Add the complexities of DNA tests, Faraday Cages, cell towers, video surveillance, pings, and some confusion over cell-subscriber records that designate both Eastern Standard Time and Greenwich Mean Time (which I won't even try to explain), with military time thrown in for good measure.

All of that makes for a complex, convoluted trail of testimony which I found, early on, required either close attention to detail by me or, in the alternative, a superficial treatment that just wouldn't do the whole thing justice. No pun intended.

So I have written and written and written some more -- kind of trapped myself into it. And in the doing, I have gotten more and more fascinated by the whole experience. More plugged in, I guess. But there are down times -- periods of sheer boredom.


There is much to observe in the courtroom in those moments between testimony.

The jurors sit there, stoic, or march into the jury room during longer breaks, mindful of the instructions of County Judge Dennis Morris not to discuss the case with anyone, including one another, until it is time to deliberate. Meanwhile, the prosecution and defense counsels occasionally exchange a word or go up to the bench to discuss matters of law -- or something -- with Morris.

There are, I can tell you, a total of sixty-three lights ringing seven globe-shaped chandeliers hanging from the high ceiling. I don't know how many bulbs reside within the globes.

There are four audio-enhancers -- speakers -- in the room, affixed high on walls or sitting atop the jury room.  Letters spelling "In God We Trust" are affixed to a wall high above the bench, which itself is a sizable construct that leaves the judge plenty of room to wheel around on his chair up there.

The windows in the room are old-school tall -- a throwback to another, long-gone era. And photos from years ago of previous county judges dot the wall in the back half of the room.

These are all things that my idle hands -- during breaks in the presentation of the case -- might write about on a legal pad used, for the most part, to record testimony for presentation later in story form.

When witnesses are up there talking, answering questions, speaking to the jury, the mind turns back to serious notes about what is, after all, a serious matter. But in the back of that mind is the almost constant thought that it would be a lot easier to cover this thing if the acoustics weren't so poor.

The judge has a microphone, and there is one placed in front of each witness so we can hear him or her respond to questions. But it is the questions that pose a problem, for neither attorney has a microphone. The DA, Joe Fazzary, can be heard most of the time, but not all. And the defense attorney, Susan BetzJitomir, has a fairly high voice that seems to drift off into the silences high above the court participants. Only by leaning in and cupping my left ear can I reasonably pick up what she is saying -- and I'm seated at the front of the spectator section.


As I write this, I don't know where the case is going -- except to a conclusion that will occur quite a bit faster than originally predicted by Fazzary and Judge Morris. I don't know what is causing this relative speed, but I suspect a contributing factor is BetzJitomir's tendency toward briefer-than-expected cross-examinations. In any event, once the jury gets the case, it might have its work cut out for it, for this exercise in American justice has seen a sequence of witnesses relaying technical information and, really, an almost dizzying number of text messages. And more of those are yet to come, Fazzary indicated.

At the end of the day, when I go home, I have notes in front of me to refer to. The jurors have no such luxury. They can't take notes. They can just mull over what they have heard -- mull until it is time, after the testimony and closing arguments are over, to start talking, discussing, hashing it over among one another ... and I presume calling on the court to provide written segments of key testimony if they need it. Maybe a verdict will come quickly. Maybe not.

It is in that latter region -- of maybe not -- where their powers of observation, intuition and common sense will, if necessary, be put to the test.

I don't envy them that possibility.


And earlier:

Presumption of innocence

By Charlie Haeffner

Odessa, April 17, 2013 -- In the wake of the chaos created by terrorism at the Boston Marathon, I look ahead to a rite of passage that in its solemnity and almost reverent tones brings a sense of familiarity and peace.

I speak of a jury trial in the Schuyler County Courthouse -- judgment affixed by our peers being a stately bulwark of our democracy and freedoms. In this case, one Alice Trappler of Addison is accused of 2nd Degree Murder in connection with the shooting death a year ago of Daniel Bennett in his Town of Dix home, allegedly by Trappler's ex-husband.

I imagine Trappler doesn't find any of this either familiar or peaceful. But if the prosecution fails to prove its case beyond a reasonable doubt, and the jury acquits her, her perspective will change.

Jury selection started Monday, and concluded Tuesday, and in its stately, try-to-stay-awake pace, it managed to find 12 jurors and four alternates satisfactory to both the District Attorney, Joe Fazzary, and the defense counsel, Susan BetzJitomir. I'm told there are normally two alternates at trials, but that this one might go so long -- three or four weeks -- that it's prudent to have backups in case any of the original 12 jurors go down for whatever reason.

Question after question raised by County Judge Dennis Morris to first one pool of prospective jurors and then another on the first day, and then the next day to another, managed to bring the personalities of the pool participants into a sort of focus. Then questions -- and sometimes lighthearted repartee -- directed by the prosecution and defense counsels elicited more information that ruled most of the people out.

One young man, for instance, said that he would think the defendant was hiding something if she declined to take the stand on her own behalf -- even though the judge had said it was the defendant's right to decline to testify and that nothing should be assumed from that. Another man had a bad back that was bothering him during the questioning; a full four-week stint as a juror, it was understood, would be a trial (if you will) for him.

It was clear from the statements of others that a long jury trial would be a hardship on them financially or would get in the way of certain duties expected of them -- such as those of a grandmother who often cares for her grandchild.

As I related here before, I was also summoned to jury duty -- called as part of the second-morning pool. But when Judge Morris intoned just before a break in the selection process on the first day that nobody in the pool could discuss the case with anybody else, it became clear that something was going to give -- at a minimum coverage of jury selection that day on this website. I figured I wouldn't make the cut the next day as part of the pool and would end up covering the trial from that point forward, but to clarify matters, I explained the situation to officials in court that first day who decided to  postpone my jury service to a later date -- to an unspecified civil trial unlikely to warrant news coverage.


What is clear from the remarks of the judge, the DA and the defense attorney -- the latter consulted from time to time with the defendant, Trappler, who was seated next to her -- this case is one of circumstantial evidence that Fazzary is going to try to piece together into a mosaic that shows that Trappler -- mother of a child out of wedlock with the victim -- had a responsible part in the murder, even though she wasn't present at Bennett's home on that fateful day a year ago, on April 19, 2012. The alleged shooter was Trappler's ex-husband, Thomas Borden, who was in turn killed when struck by a train while fleeing from police in Jenkintown, Pa.

With him at the Bennett killing, police have said, was Borden's stepbrother, Nathan Hand, who has since pleaded guilty to a reduced Manslaughter charge that drew a sentence of 19 years. He is scheduled to testify against Trappler, officials have indicated.

At play in all of this was what Fazzary referred to in court as a "contentious relationship" between the victim, Bennett, and the defendant, Trappler. The two were embroiled in a child custody battle in Steuben County Family Court and had been scheduled to attend a custody hearing on April 20, 2012 -- the day after the murder.

Whether Fazzary can weave that mosaic to the point where jurors believe beyond a reasonable doubt that Trappler had a role in the killing remains to be seen. But he may not be commenting much on it publicly from here out. After the jury of 10 men and two women were seated, Judge Morris lifted a gag order that had prevented the DA and BetzJitomir from talking about the case to the media. Even so, Fazzary declined to say anything. BetzJitomir, on the other hand, was open to discussion.

The first question to her had to do with the gender split on the jury. Had she intended to try for a heavy male jury population, given the fact that the defendant is an attractive female?

"No," BetzJitomir said, shaking her head. "That was not part of the consideration. I wanted it understood that there is a presumption of innocence here. As it turned out, there were more men than women in the jury pool, and a number of women just didn't qualify." Some were eliminated by "cause" (an unlimited number can be excused for various reasons in the law) and some by "peremptory challenges" -- of which each attorney had 20 for the jury and four for the jury alternates. (The alternates' gender break is even at two and two.)

BetzJitomir gave each jury pool (of 21 candidates each) a sort of test, asking them to imagine that she, Fazzary and the judge were sending them to the jury room to deliberate before hearing any testimony, and were expecting them to return with either a guilty, undecided or not guilty verdict. She watched them, scanning the faces for reactions, and then told them that any finding other than "not guilty" was wrong -- because of the standard we hold dear in our justice system that all defendants are innocent until proven guilty "beyond a reasonable doubt." That was further defined by the judge to the jury pools as "a logical doubt."

Put another way -- as BetzJitomir said to the final jury pool -- "The minute you're sworn in, you're basically on her (Trappler's) side because there is a presumption of innocence. If the evidence isn't there, then she's not guilty.

"My theory of the case," she added to the jurors, "is she didn't participate in this at all."

Afterward, in the hallway downstairs from the courtroom, where she was speaking to a reporter, BetzJitomir said that as a result of "analyzing evidence shown to me" -- and there is a lot, she said -- and by getting to know Trappler through discussions with her as her counsel, "I believe Alice is innocent."


A friend of mine, when I related that exchange to him, scoffed. "Of course she's guilty," he said. "Police don't arrest people unless they're guilty."

I shook my head. I hoped he was kidding. While I'm sure police get it right a heavy majority of the time, that kind of statement is frightening. If everything was left to the judgment and tactics of law enforcement -- if there was a presumption of guilt -- we really wouldn't have much need of a courtroom, would we?

That very thought chills me, and sends me into the Trappler trial -- set to get under way Friday -- with a renewed sense of appreciation toward the system of justice we have in this country. It gives us protections not afforded in a great many other nations.

With that in mind, the bottom line in all of this is the answer to the question: Is Alice Trappler innocent?

You betcha. Right now she is. The next few weeks will tell whether that status is transitory or permanent.


And earlier:

Coaches wise ... and not

By Charlie Haeffner

Odessa, April 7, 2013 -- This entire episode involving Mike Rice, the physically and verbally abusive coach of the Rutgers men’s basketball team -- and his firing in the midst of a public firestorm -- brought to mind a personal experience involving a man who was my gym teacher back in high school.

This man was, as I recall, also the school football coach -- a huge man (from my perspective, for I was only about five foot two) who easily intimidated me by his very presence in class. He wore (and used) a whistle dangling from his neck and resting on the front of his white t-shirt. He always wore white t-shirts, his massive arms practically ripping out the shoulder seams. We'll call him Mr. Smith.

One day, I woke up with a stiff neck. I don’t know if you’ve ever experienced one -- I don’t even know what causes such a thing, and have been thus afflicted only twice in my life. Suffice it to say that it is very painful, and can last a couple of days. This particular attack, being in the morning, left a choice for me: go to school with a note from my mother explaining that I should be excused from any physical activity (slight movement alone being enough to trigger a wave of extreme discomfort), or stay home and go see a doctor, who in essence would be able to do nothing but provide a note excusing me from gym.

My mother had plans that day -- couldn’t, except in dire circumstance, stay home and tend to me -- and so I ventured off to school with her note.

Alas, when I presented it to the gym teacher at the outset of his class -- in his small office near the entrance to the shower room -- he shook his head and said I had to suit up. The note wasn’t a doctor’s excuse, and was therefore invalid. I spoke up. “But Mr. Smith, this is for real. My neck is killing me, and I can’t do anything like gym class.”

“Suit up,” he growled at me.

I hesitated.

“Mr. Smith,” I said again, and he stood suddenly, reached out to my shoulders, spun me around, pointed me toward the office door and propelled me -- none too gently -- through the door and into a tiled wall on the other side of the small shower-room vestibule. I reacted quickly, putting up my hands in front of me to cushion the impact, but the pain that screamed through my neck -- first as he grabbed and spun me, and then as I hit the wall -- was enough to decide the matter for me in an instant.

I turned and looked at him -- he was in his doorway, nostrils flaring -- and I uttered one word.

“Okay,” I said, and turned to the locker room door, exited without looking back, and made my way to the principal’s office.


The principal was a kindly gentleman who, after I waited some time to be admitted to his inner sanctum, listened attentively to me as I told my tale, my voice quaking from emotion. I suspect there were tears in my eyes.

He listened, and nodded, and said he would look into it, and told me I didn’t have to return to gym class, and wouldn’t until he said so. And he would be contacting my parents -- which he did later in the day.

The bottom line in all of this was that my father -- incensed by the whole episode (which the gym teacher, much to my surprise, didn’t deny, although I imagine he put his own spin on it) -- went to see the principal and wanted the teacher fired. The principal, being a cooler head, convinced my father -- and by extension me -- that the teacher would not be any sort of a problem in the future ... that he had, in essence, been put on notice.

And so the man kept his job, and I returned to class, and for the duration of my stay in high school, the gym teacher was unfailingly pleasant to me, going out of his way to accommodate me.

And thus the bully was tamed.


It is easy for me to say that bullies need to be confronted; need by confrontation to be tamed.  But of course there are other circumstances -- money and opportunity among them -- that prevent many people, including basketball players on scholarship, from getting in the face of a bully when that bully is someone who potentially holds the victims’ future in his or her hands. Too much is at stake, it is reasoned.

I don’t fully buy that argument. I once confronted a bullying boss -- telling him he was a cancer in the place where we worked -- at risk of my job. I somehow kept it, and he amended his ways, alhough the strain between us was palpable until I left the area a year or so later.

I also called out a bully in high school, a young tough who was doing his best to physically intimidate and humiliate me. I challenged him to meet me after school in the parking lot, knowing I could never defeat him in a fight. He was muscled, and I wasn’t; but I felt the need to make a point. He never showed for the fight, though, and from that day on treated me with respect.

For every Mike Rice, there are many, many coaches who teach their young charges the finer points of a game -- be it basketball, football, baseball or others -- without demeaning the players, without trying to exert a misguided physical and emotional power over them. Such coaches can be hard-driving -- insisting on maximum conditioning, or running the kids through their paces and instructions in forceful terms and at great length -- but without being physically and emotionally damaging. They know how to maximize productivity without undermining desire or self-esteem.

But I have seen coaches bully the young among us -- yes, even around here we are not immune to the phenomenon, although it is rare. No matter where it occurs, though -- here or elsewhere -- I fervently hope that the youngsters or their parents, or the two in tandem, take on the coaches ... push for administrative or judicial sanctions. Such action is not unheard of, but unfortunately is a rarity.

I believe that when a person in any position -- of authority or imagined superiority -- crosses the line into bullyism, he or she must be stopped. Confronted. Declawed. Tamed. And, if necessary, fired.

It’s really that simple. And yet, somehow, with life dealing us competing forces and shades of gray, it doesn’t always play out that easily. 

But it should ... and every effort should be made to see that it does.


Here’s one final story about coaches and the legacy they leave.

When I was of Little League Baseball age, I was on a team called the Tigers. We had as a coach a man we will here refer to as Mr. Fair. He had two sons on the team: John and his older brother -- call him Seth.

John was an outgoing young man, but Seth was taciturn, even a little angry as the season began. He was difficult to be around -- at least difficult for me, for I was easily cowed. But as the season progressed, Mr. Fair worked magic, not only with players like me -- encouraging us at every turn -- but with his eldest son. As we scored victory after victory, a sense of confidence and optimism imbued us, and imbued Seth. We ended up with a lopsidedly winning record, and in the closing games, nobody was a better, more supportive teammate than Seth.

I don’t know how Mr. Fair managed to turn his son from a dark place, and I don’t know how he turned me into a good hitter. My batting average was ridiculously high, not bad for someone who had entered the season afraid to step into the batter’s box for fear of being struck by the ball.

The point is, Mr. Fair accomplished what he did with kindness, encouragement and understanding, and in the doing he left behind a memory -- no, more a feeling -- of not only achievement, but of an assuredness that difficulties in life, its challenges, can be tackled successfully with a positive, can-do approach.

That was, to my mind, a wonder of effective coaching -- a simple lesson taught by a gentle man.


And earlier:

April is finally upon us ...

By Charlie Haeffner

Odessa, April 1, 2013 -- My favorite time of the year has arrived, spiritually.

April always means promise -- whether in the glow coming from the Easter message or in the blooming of the flowers and the shouts of "Play ball!"

It can be a cold month -- a difficult one in which to photograph outdoor sporting events for this website -- but one that at the same time warms the heart with its promise of good things to come.

The high school sports teams have started their seasons, but with more cancellations (fields not ready) than contests, but with April's arrival the games will go on soon in earnest -- at least after schools reconvene from their current hiatus.

There will be more to the month, of course. School boards are getting their budgets together so they can present them to the public, and various candidates are surfacing for a run at School Board seats. Two seats are open in the Odessa-Montour district, and two in the Watkins Glen district.

It's the month of the annual fire department banquets, too, when honors are bestowed for trainings and for years of service accomplished -- a gathering of like-minded folks who give their all in defense of the public safety.

April kicked off with the anglers out in force for the opening of trout season, and just past the midway point of the month, the Chamber of Commerce will hold its annual Business Expo up at the Media Center at Watkins Glen International. Another annual event at WGI -- the Green Grand Prix, which celebrates motoring technology -- is also on the April calendar, on the 19th.

Among the many family- and community-oriented events going on at the Montour Falls Library will be one on the 23rd that appeals to me - a monthly meeting of the Havana Book Club. This month's selected author is one of my favorites: Larry McMurtry. I've been a fan since the days of his early works, before he hit it big with Lonesome Dove. In case you aren't familiar with him, a number of his novels have been turned into films, including Hud, Terms of Endearment and The Last Picture Show.

And right in the middle of the month comes a large local story -- the Alice Trappler murder trial.

She's the Addison woman accused of Second Degree Murder in the death of Daniel Bennett in his Town of Dix home by shotgun blast a year ago. The alleged shooter (Thomas Borden, Trappler's ex-husband) was killed when struck by a train while attempting to elude authorities in Jenkintown, Pa.. An accomplice of Borden's (stepbrother Nathan Hand) pleaded guilty to a reduced charge of 1st Degree Manslaughter and received a 19-year sentence, with the understanding he would testify against Trappler -- a woman who had given birth to a female child fathered by the murder victim, Bennett.

It's a classic small-town America crime, full of small-town residents with small-town passions, building to a crescendo and a big-time shotgun blast. And it's garnered a lot of attention. Hence my initial intent to cover it.

But there's a wrinkle that arrived in the mail Saturday, something that could turn me from observer to participant: a Jury Summons ordering me to report to the County Courthouse at 9:30 a.m. on Tuesday, the 16th of April. That would, I think (though nobody's saying for sure, perhaps in part because there is a gag order in effect), constitute the second day of jury selection in the Trappler trial. I do know the trial is set to start on April 15, and will likely dominate the court calendar for a while.

So ... this could prove interesting.

I've been called for jury duty before -- and never served. Back in the day, being a journalist was excuse enough to be dismissed. Later, that argument stopped holding water, but I wasn't called for a long time -- until I got a notice to serve that was followed by a notice of cancellation. Another time (while out of journalism) I served on a grand jury, but that's a different critter, and less engaging than serving on a trial jury.

The only time I've been called for jury duty since the turn into this century was a few years ago, in a civil case involving squabbling family members, and it looked pretty interesting. Alas, when my group of potential participants was led to the jury box, my stay was short-lived. As soon as one of the attorneys got to me and heard my name and profession, I was dismissed -- tossed without explanation.

That could happen again, I suppose. But maybe not. Stay tuned.


And earlier:

A tough season for photos ...

By Charlie Haeffner

Odessa, March 24, 2013 -- I am, after a nice respite from covering sports, about to embark on photographing and writing about spring competitions involving high school athletes in the Watkins Glen and Odessa-Montour school districts.

Baseball and softball are slated to get off the ground this week, weather permitting -- and that permission is always key at this time of year. Spring, while having a certain allure (blooming flowers! love in the air!) is really the most miserable season in which to shoot sports.

It’s generally numbingly cold, especially as the sun dips down over the horizon. The weather is by turns windy and rainy and occasionally snowy. Thus, spring photography is not something to which I particularly look forward. But the season is key to our overall sports coverage, and by extension to the awards we present through this website: seasonal MVPs and All-Stars, Athletes of the Year, and -- most importantly -- the Top Drawer 24.

In case you’re unfamiliar with that latter honor, it is bestowed on two dozen outstanding high school scholar-athlete-citizens each year, with the payoff a celebration (June 6 this year) at the State Park pavilion. There, each honoree is given a medal, along with certificates sent by political representatives. (They were provided last year by Congressman Tom Reed and State Senator Tom O’Mara).

Brief speeches are another staple of the celebration -- including, this year as in years past, by a previous Top Drawer honoree who has moved onto college or beyond. We’ll be announcing the speaker lineup soon, as we draw closer to the announcement of who makes this year’s Top Drawer team.

I might as well answer the question again that is asked every year. How are Top Drawer honorees selected? The simple answer is “by committee” -- a group of 20-plus teachers, administrators and lay people who attentively observe students’ activities all school-year long. Beyond that, I can’t really say; the system is best cloaked in a bit of secrecy. As I responded to the mother of one honoree who asked how selections are made: “It’s a mystery.”

It’s my favorite event of the year, the Top Drawer party, because it not only honors 24 outstanding young men and women, but also celebrates our county. It is reflective of the best we have to offer the future -- and in the hands of such outstanding young folks as those we have honored and will honor, I have to think the future is enhanced.


The WGHS production of “Grease” has reached its conclusion, and I must say its three-day run was a lot of fun. I thought, having seen the same play produced at both Watkins and O-M in recent years, that I might find it stale this time around. But the cast was so enthusiastic, so embracing of the moment, that I found their joy contagious. Well done, student thespians.


It’s been fairly quiet around here -- well, aside from the early-morning fire Saturday at the Shared Services Facility -- and I’ve been able, for the most part, to catch up on my sleep. But of course, things are never that simple. A cold has moved in on me, leaving me a bit bedraggled. So ... rest it is. And I’ll try not to pass the cold along to any of you.


And earlier:

Of stealth campaigns ...

By Charlie Haeffner

Odessa, March 17, 2013 -- I recall a time, years ago, when a man won the mayor's seat in Odessa with a last-day phone campaign -- a stealth move, if you will, that completely caught his opponent unawares. The lone announced candidate thought he was running unopposed, only to find at the end of election day that he had lost to a write-in candidate.

That comes to mind because, first, village elections are coming up Tuesday; and because, second, there was a stealth campaign here a couple of years ago that came very close to carrying the popular vote.

I refer to a campaign in which the group that had sought dissolution of the village not too long beforehand attempted to get one of their own in the mayor's chair. There's nothing wrong with promoting the candidacy of one of your own, of course, but I've always thought, in the back of my mind, that doing so beyond the public eye is not really in the spirit of our democratic ideals, even though quite legal.

That last stealth campaign came up about a dozen votes short of success, largely because it was discovered and publicized two or three days ahead of balloting, bringing more people out to the polls in support of the incumbent, Keith Pierce, than otherwise might have done so. Historically, 25 or 30 voters might submit ballots in an uncontested election here; that day, Pierce got close to 70, which proved enough.

I'm not suggesting that there is a stealth campaign underway now -- I have not heard of one -- but I am suggesting that one could be underway. And in recognition of that possibility, I would urge every voter in the village to exercise his or her right to cast a ballot on Tuesday.

Heck, I would urge every voter to vote, anyway, because it is a remarkable privilege that we possess -- having a say in who runs our government.


I covered the Odessa-Montour spring musical, "Once Upon A Mattress," this past Thursday through Saturday, dutifully photographing the young actors and actresses on stage. It's something I've done for years -- capturing a unique moment, a unique weekend in their lives.

Honestly, I'm always blown away by the courage and abilities exhibited up on that stage by people just turning head-on toward the challenges that life is going to present them -- turning toward them onstage and taking them on mano a mano and, for the most part, winning quite handsomely.

I've always enjoyed the spirit of school theater -- was in fact in one such production myself along about 9th grade -- and have been pleased to present the images of these plays on this website for the past decade, though more and more I think it is as much for me as for the kids. I find myself pleasantly challenged -- by the varying lighting of the stage and the exposures needed to get photos that shout out for attention. And once in a while -- not often, but occasionally -- I'm truly satisfied when a photo succeeds on an artistic level.

In any event, next up is the Watkins Glen High School production of "Grease," set for performances at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, March 22-23, and at 2:30 p.m. Sunday in the school auditorium.

To both spectators and thespians, I say: Enjoy.


And earlier:

Here's what's cooking ...

By Charlie Haeffner

Odessa, March 11, 2013 -- The Gordon Ramsay delight "Hell's Kitchen" -- if by delight we mean watching that celebrity chef leaving psychic scars on contestants -- is entering Season 11 with 20 such contestants. The first episode -- taped in front of a live audience in Las Vegas -- is set to air on Tuesday, March 12 at 8 p.m. on Fox.

Among the 10 male chefs on the show is Dan Ryan, 27, head cook at Xavier's X20 on the Hudson in Yonkers, a restaurant that is part of the Xaviers Restaurant Group. His signature dish: Eggs Benedict.

Ryan, who lives in Westchester, is a former Odessa resident and U.S. Army veteran who studied finance and financial management service at Corning Community College. He also worked for a while at the Watkins Glen Harbor Hotel, until about a year ago. He is remembered there as "a great cook" and "definitely a character," according to a published article.

Of the 20 contestants, three -- Ryan and two others, Amanda Giblin and Jessica Lewis -- gave a sneak preview of the season premiere in an interview to They said, for instance, they were given no advance warning that they would be cooking before a live audience -- "scary," Giblin said -- and that that particular cooking challenge pitted the men against the women, with the winning team getting "a VIP night on the town, while the losers get a bumpy ride home on a hot school bus."

Said Ryan: There are "more out-of-the-kitchen challenges this year" than in past years on the show, which has historically focused on "inside the kitchen." He declined to comment further. "I'll leave it at that," he said.

The FoxNews article notes that each week the losing team will pick one of its members to eliminate. The grand prize is "a position as Head Chef at Ramsay's new Las Vegas restaurant."


On the local front, meanwhile, we are into the season of high school musicals, with Odessa-Montour ("Once Upon a Mattress") and Watkins Glen ("Grease") ready to raise the curtain on successive weekends.

First up is O-M, which will present "Mattress" in the school's Fetter-Brown Auditorium starting Thursday of this week and running through Saturday (March 14-16). It will be presented at 7:30 p.m. each evening, with a matinee Saturday at 2 p.m. Tickets may be purchased at the door -- $8 for adults, $7 for senior citizens and $6 for students. The production, -- directed by Kim Laursen -- once again has two students each in a number key roles, in essence splitting the acting chores, two performances apiece.

The WGHS production of "Grease" will be presented on Friday through Sunday, March 22-24, in that school's auditorium with performances at 8 p.m. on Friday and Saturday, and a matinee finale at 2:30 p.m. Sunday. Directors are Tim and Michelle Benjamin. Tickets may be purchased at the door -- $7 for adults, and $5 for students and senior citizens.


Before either of those plays open, there is an International Night Dinner this Wednesday in the Watkins Glen High School cafeteria, an annual event featuring foods and speakers from other countries -- in this case speakers from Africa, Asia and Central America. Tickets are $6, available at the door or from any student in the sponsoring Model United Nations and Global Issues class at WGHS.


And for extra fun, this Friday marks the annual 1.7-mile Spud Run at Watkins Glen High School, whereby students, faculty and staff dress in St. Patrick's Day green and run a course behind the school, on the Catharine Valley Trail and on the track. It has drawn as many as 175 runners in the past, and has been run in all sorts of weather -- sunny and warm, bitingly cold, rainy, and snowy. And each year it has featured foods -- such as chili -- to warm the competitors when the race is done. The field consists mostly of high school students, with Middle Schoolers, an occasional elementary schooler, a few graduates and on average a dozen or more staff members in the mix. High School student Matt Gill was the first finisher last year. Starting time this year is about 3:15 p.m.


And earlier:

Dates on the calendar ...

By Charlie Haeffner

Odessa, March 6, 2013 -- Today is the anniversary of the birth of someone dear to me who has passed on, and tomorrow marks the anniversary of the birth of yet another, similarly gone.

It is on days like these that I tend to slow to a crawl, and fight the emotions swirling within, and try to hold back the tears. They used to be days of celebration, and now are stark reminders.

Life can be harsh; we all know that. And it can be unforgiving; we know that too. And yet we take deep breaths, all of us, and slog ahead. Those of us who are goal-oriented are the luckier of the survivors, for we can lose ourselves -- in the wake of passings -- in the dynamics of our goal-seeking.

In my case the outlets are information gathering, and storytelling, and trying to provide something meaningful to a county in which I have lived for three decades, and which I have grown to embrace for its geography and its people and its potential.

I have moved beyond losses of loved ones and opportunities with a sort of tunnel vision that occupies my mind and my soul with a daily end product that is often personally and professionally satisfying.

But then days like March 6 and March 7 come along, and I am reminded anew of the enormity of loss when that which is gone is a person who has been a large part of my life. And that leads me, in my sometimes organized mind, to the thought that we are really susceptible to so many triggers in our lives -- whether they be dates on the calendar, or a book that strikes a nerve, or a movie that inspires, or a news story that enrages, or an advertisement that subliminally sends us running to the store to procure something we had no idea we needed.

We are wired, we humans -- manipulated by government and the entertainment industry and the media and, yes, our friends and family in ways sometimes large and often so small that we don't realize that we have yielded an inch of our common sense or independence of thought.

But that's a subject for another discussion, I guess, one that deals with marketing, misdirection, political spinmeisters, the influences of the home and the bullyism of the workplace.

For now, I think I will retract a little from the mainstream for a day or two, ponder the trigger dates of March 6 and March 7, figuratively lick my wounds, and try for once to deal with my emotions head-on -- battle them, fight them to something better than a draw, and maybe, just maybe, mitigate the effect of those dates on my mind and on my future.


And earlier:

Hope on the rise ...

By Charlie Haeffner

Odessa, Feb. 27, 2013 -- It was heartening to see the turnout and positive energy in the auditorium at Watkins Glen High School Tuesday evening. There were almost 300 people on hand in the auditorium -- and that despite a nasty-sounding storm moving into the area.

The event: a long-sought gathering of the School Boards and superintendents in the Watkins Glen and Odessa-Montour School Districts -- one where they might realize the possibility and desirability and feasibility of working together to ward off the specter of economic disaster.

The superintendents, Tom Phillips of Watkins Glen and Jim Frame of Odessa-Montour, gave a power-point presentation looking at revenues over the past few years, the local share of recent budgets, the per-pupil cost and enrollment. The latter, their figures showed, has dropped jointly from 2,944 in 1980 to 1,915 this year.

They touched on measures that have been taken to battle decreasing revenues and increasing expenses -- eliminating 57.5 positions from 2010 to the present, conducting a facility efficiency study (at Odessa) and moving to close the Middle School (in Watkins Glen), for example -- and lamented the fact that the downward slide in staff numbers and the threat to future programs was something done to the districts, not by them. The culprits: the state and federal governments.

Their presentation was received warmly by the audience, and the remarks that followed by 20 area residents (teachers, students, former School Board members, a coach, a mother, a father and so on) was almost universally positive when it came to what the superintendents and School Boards have been doing of late.

A word that escaped the lips of several speakers who came forward to address the supers and the boards (whose members were seated at tables in the shadows, the area in front of the stage being poorly lit) was the M word: merger. It is not one that has set well with Odessa-Montour officials over the years, that district being a fairly independent and private one. But in the atmosphere of Tuesday's meeting, the subject matter was not seemingly ruffling feathers. Even Frame conceded the possibility of such a thing, although far down the road.

He wants to look at all possibilities, he said after the meeting, and if the people of Schuyler County want to take a look at merger, well ... the looking could be done. But the doing, if it came to that, would have to be driven by data showing it was both feasible and profitable. In any event, nobody was in any hurry on this evening to pull any triggers; the sentiment was rather to move forward with more discussion.

Moderator Marcia Kasprzyk, head of the sponsoring League of Women Voters, said in summary afterward that there was some sentiment to move toward consolidation, some sentiment for each district to stay its own course, and plenty of sentiment to talk about it all some more -- to jointly look at all options. And she said another meeting would be planned by the League, and within a month, at that, which seemed to catch the superintendents a little off guard, but nonetheless willing.

Frame and Phillips were both enthused afterward, marvelling at the upbeat nature of the crowd and the feeling that something positive might come out of this seemingly nebulous start. There is no specific goal here except public input; and the hope that from that input something concrete and good might grow.

It could be argued that in the feelings expressed Tuesday -- in the eloquence of a couple of students arguing on behalf of non-mandated courses like music and art that could be endangered; in the passion of a mother arguing for the education of her pre-K children; in the prepared remarks of residents who have been giving all of this (budgets, state aid, health care, tax cap, mandates and the like) a good deal of thought; and in the concern of a couple of residents that students in one district might lose their chance at sports participation if the two districts were joined -- there was something to hope for beyond the board rooms of the school districts, beyond the offices of the administrators.

It was a night for the people -- the taxpayers, the parents, the students, the teachers, the concerned -- to speak up and be heard. That there was little of practical application in their eloquence was not surprising; this was a step forward into the unknown, and thus one to be taken carefully. What transpired was also something very unusual in years gone by: an airing and a hearing on education by a crowd that numbered more than a few dozen..

That the two districts joined together for the evening was a concrete step ahead -- although the School Boards were not contributing, but rather listening, which made gauging their feelings difficult. (That factor was deepened by the absence of three Watkins board members, two out of town and one ill.)

And the seeming camaraderie of Phillips and Frame -- who gave a cohesive presentation, not overburdened by too many facts -- was a refreshing change from past practice, where there has been evident friction. They worked together here in sync, and drew deserved kudos from members of the audience. (Not everyone was of the same mind about the number of facts presented. One speaker lamented that he wanted more data, leading Phillips to say the last budget was available, line by line, on the Watkins district's website. Frame said anyone was welcome to attend an O-M budget workshop, and that the budget hearing preceding the annual vote was chock full of details.)

I might feel differently in a few days, but though the goals of this movement seem vague, and the nature and number of future sessions seem uncertain -- and although there was a seeming preoccupation by several speakers with the prospect of merger (a big-picture approach at a time when small steps would seem more practical) -- this gathering appeared to be, while not a home run, at least a solid double. It felt that way. The potential is there for a rally.

Hope is rising, it seems.


And earlier:

The rest of the story ...

By Charlie Haeffner

Odessa, Feb. 20, 2013 -- Some days are a bit overwhelming.

A case in point was Thursday, Feb. 14, a day in which I was almost constantly on the move, covering a series of news events, culminating in a fire at an auto repair business. It was a day in which three court cases were held in a period of four hours -- three cases being about the number I normally cover in a year. The court beat is not one I readily pursue, for various reasons.

And by the time the evening rolled around, I had so much work to do that I couldn't go watch -- and photograph -- the Watkins Glen boys varsity basketball team's IAC Large School championship game over at TC3, a contest they won in thrilling fashion.

"You picked a heck of a game to miss," said Watkins Glen Coach John Fazzary, and he was right. But I knew he would call and describe the game in great detail, and I knew I had at least one photographer (it turned out there were two) who would provide photos. I could still fashion an interesting, fairly complete account of the contest. So my presence wasn't essential, just as it isn't at many events.

Coverage can be quite good from a distance, as I hope I've demonstrated each summer when I depart for northern Michigan for two to four weeks. I rarely miss anything of great interest or import while away; I take my laptop with me, field incoming press releases and obits, talk to news sources by phone, receive occasional photos from shooters back home, and as an added feature write about my vacation -- which is a change of pace that seems to please a lot of readers, judging from comments each year upon my return.


That Valentine's Day rush of news stories also created so much work in the evening that I had to short-cut them a little bit, synthesizing them down so I could fit the work into a reasonable time frame. Even so, those efforts took me right up to the time that Coach Fazzary called. All told, by the time I made it to bed that night I had put in an 18-hour day -- something I'm not equipped to handle any more. Eighteen-hour workdays are a young man's game.

Consequently, I fell ill and am still, these days later, trying to recover. So I've avowed that in the future I will not fall prey to such a schedule; it's simply not feasible. Not that you'll notice any particular cutback in coverage. There will just be an occasional story missing that you might not even be aware of.

One such story that day -- the kind I might opt to bypass in the future -- was the appearance in court of Jeremy Alderson, charged with trespass in a September incident in which he and two other people were arrested at an Inergy property while protesting proposed LPG storage in Inergy salt caverns. One arrestee paid a fine, one opted for 15 days in jail, and Alderson chose to fight the charge in court.

This was a motions-hearing portion of the case, and what I didn't get to explain in my story about it was that there were 47 people in the small Town of Reading courtroom, coming in just under the 49-person fire-code limit. I know there were 47 because Town Justice Raymond Berry -- perhaps as a means of instilling order in a potentially restive crowd -- suggested that some might have to leave because of the fire code. Accordingly, he had everybody count off, up one line of people and down another, until it was determined that there weren't too many present and everyone could stay.

I smiled at that counting maneuver; it seemed to calm matters, and the case proceeded boringly apace with arguments issued back and forth by Assistant District Attorney John Tunney and defense attorney Gerald Kinchy until the judge adjourned the hearing. He was going to take time -- he said perhaps a couple of weeks -- to mull the motions.


Another court case involved the sentencing of Andrew J. Yaw, 19, of Trumansburg to 20 years in prison for a vicious assault on his adoptive father, Clifford Yaw, a Town of Hector councilman. The senior Yaw was on life support for months and is now in an assisted care facility in Geneva.

Part of the court proceeding featured a podium and microphone set up for relatives of the Yaws who were granted time to convey to Andrew what they thought of him and his crime. One relative was Roseanne Tompkins, a niece of the elder Yaw, and the other was Clifford's brother, John.

Said Tompkins in part: "What you did was a tragedy for the whole family. It took four months for (Clifford) to open his eyes, and seven months to breathe" on his own. "His memory, his mind is so in question. This almost killed grandma. You shattered this family, this man. He would have done anything for you, and you tried to take his life. How could you do it? How could you do it? He has a hole in the side of his head the size of my fist ... If you had one drop of Clifford Yaw's blood running through your body, you'd never have done this."

Powerful stuff, but equally so was John Yaw's shorter statement.

"God's put it on my heart to try to forgive you. I haven't yet ... I'm hoping, when you're inside (prison), I hope prisoners there treat you just as good as you treated your dad, and put you in the hospital. That's not God's way of thinking, but that's where I am."


That kind of material gets left out of accounts sometimes -- not by whim, but by necessity. But for what it's worth, you now have those details several days late. They are, as radio commentator Paul Harvey used to say, the rest of the story -- or in this case, stories.


I spoke today to a Creative Writing class at Watkins Glen High School, and encountered some students who seem pretty devoted to becoming authors of one kind or another. One is already planning a novel, while another is focused on screenwriting. All had questions about the process of writing, and about publishing, and about such things as whether I will ever write another novel beyond the four I've created (unlikely) and whether I prefer to write novels or columns. I opted for the latter, since they're much shorter, they reach more people, and they offer something akin to the satisfaction I have found in completing a novel. I was asked to name my favorite author (Kurt Vonnegut Jr., whose very identity eluded this younger generation) and my favorite book (Dawn's Early Light by Elswyth Thane, a relic of the 1930s). I had meant to mention that the most amazing novel I ever read -- the only one, I think, that left me slackjawed in wonder -- was Joseph Heller's Catch-22. But that oversight has now been corrected here.


And earlier:

A visit from Mr. Mint ...

By Charlie Haeffner

Odessa, Feb. 12, 2013 -- I started out on the road toward Batavia early Saturday -- with a bit of snow from the storm still falling -- and got somewhere between Glenora and Geneva when the transmission on my van started making whining sounds as it slipped out of gear.

I was due to set up as a dealer at the first day of a two-day sports memorabilia show at the Clarion Hotel just off the Thruway in Batavia, but I got no farther than Route 14 North. I turned around and headed home -- limped actually, at about 30 miles an hour with the tranny slipping if I tried to go any faster. And so I missed the show's first day.

I used to do shows like this all the time, quite a few years ago, and decided to get back into the hobby recently. This was really only the second such show since my return; I had tried an antique show, too, but sports items don't sell at such outings.

Anyway, upon my return home I decided to attend and take some photos at the IAC Swimming Championships at the Watkins Glen High School pool that afternoon, and then the evening turned pretty busy with a couple of basketball games to report about and stories on post-season high school bowling and wrestling tournaments.

I didn't decide to try for Batavia again -- in my car, not the van -- until late that night, and shoved off next morning, and made it in time to set up for the show's second day. And I was delighted it turned out okay. I made quite a few sales, including some to Mr. Mint himself, Alan Rosen (pictured at right in a photo from his website) -- well-known in collecting circles for his tireless self-promotion as The Buying Machine.

This is a guy who has been in the middle of several key finds of sports cards over the years -- a half case of vaunted 1952 Topps baseball cards he bought after they were found in an attic in Masschusetts, for example. That group included a slew of mint or near-mint Mickey Mantle rookie cards, one of the hobby icons. And there was a warehouse find of hundreds of boxes of 1954 and 1955 Topps and Bowman baseball cards he bought after they were discovered in a Tennessee warehouse. Some of them were messed up by visiting mice and other rodents, but most were quite spectacular.

Anyway, Mr. Mint was there in Batavia with his son, and stopped at my table while I was still setting up, and bought a bunch of cards from me on the spot. I didn't realize who it was until he counter-offered on one group I had priced, and I happened to turn my attention from the set-up to him. I wasn't surprised to see him, for his attendance had been advertised as one of the show's draws. And I had seen him twice before -- once when I sold him a World Series press pin at a show in Virginia about 25 years ago, and once when he was on site at a show in Syracuse on Oct. 31, 2004.

I remember that date because my wife, Susan, was in the hospital, getting cancer treatments. That's where I wanted to be -- with her -- but we had paid a sizable table fee weeks before and she urged me to follow through and try to make some money. That night, after the show, I went straight to the hospital in Elmira and spent hours with Susan -- the last time I ever saw her alive. She died suddenly the following morning of a pulmonary embolism.

Accordingly, I often associate Mr. Mint with death and heartache, and with my guilt -- for having done a show the day before my wife perished, for not being by her side for every moment of her last complete day on Earth. That kind of thing never quite leaves you.

Anyway, Mr. Mint -- while in Batavia Sunday -- asked me for a price on a set of fairly rare 1972 Topps baseball posters I had, and I told him I'd get back to him because I had marked individual poster prices, not a set price, and had to research it. When I approached him a few minutes later at his table near the entrance to the show, I gave him what I thought was a fair price. He just shook his head and said: "No, thank you."

He stopped by my table later -- still eyeing the poster set -- but didn't re-engage me about it. I noticed at that point that he was limping. I think his right foot was bandaged. Anyway, I asked what was next on his calendar of shows. He is always advertising where he will be attending, with the express purpose of buying quality material that he can no doubt later turn for a profit.

"Chicago next month," he said, "and then sixth months without a show."

"Six months?" I answered, surprised. "Why so long?"

He shook his head.

"It's not like it used to be," he said. "A lot of promoters have died out."

That is a situation no doubt created by the natural progression of life -- people get old and retire -- and by the arrival in earnest of the Internet. There are a lot of websites selling cards, and there are several auction sites that carry quality merchandise provided by collectors looking to make money. People are finding ways to unload their cards short of visiting Mr. Mint.

Rosen has written over the years about his finds. They make for compelling reading, and I told him so as he took a step away from my table. He stopped, and smiled. But it was a rueful smile, not one of cheer.

"Thanks," he said. "Those were fun times. But ... they were a long time ago."

And he shuffled away.

As I watched his departure, I saw in him a hobby notable, and a still-shrewd but discouraged businessman -- grayer than he used to be, getting old along with the rest of us. I was pleased that he had bought some cards from me, and I was fine with the fact that he had stopped short of another deal. And I felt warmed by the fact that he seemed, in the end, to be a pretty normal human being, visibly fatigued and facing an uncertain hobby future and the further advancement of age.

And above it all, despite myself, I felt -- these eight-plus years after my wife's passing -- the residue of death and grief and guilt.

And I turned, with a shake of my head, to the inevitable progression of life at a show: the next customer.


And earlier:

Titles, vols and the TD 24 ...

By Charlie Haeffner

Odessa, Feb. 3, 2013 -- It was a busy couple of days recently in the high school sports world, with some notable successes.

The Watkins Glen girls varsity bowling team, after narrowly (and we're talking a handful of pins when I say "narrowly") missing the regular-season Interscholastic Athletic Conference championship, surged late to capture the equally prestigious IAC Tournament title. Samantha Bradley posted a 635 series for the Senecas, third best in the tourney. And while the Glen boys team wasn't in title contention, its top bowler, Billy Brennan, rolled a 691, also third best in the tournament.

Meanwhile, Watkins Glen's Matt Gill won the 3200 Meter Race at the Section IV, Class C-D indoor track tournament, setting a school record in the process. Three teammates also set school marks (Josh Langley in the 1000 Meters, DeNaja Blanchard in the Long Jump and Claire McManus in the Triple Jump).

As if that weren't enough individual glory, Odessa-Montour's Joe Rorick and Bill Bacon took home titles from the Section IV, Class D Wrestling Championships.

And all of this came on the same weekend in which the Watkins Glen boys basketball team beat Notre Dame to tie the Crusaders atop the IAC Large Schools South Division standings with two games left, and the Odessa-Montour boys basketball team clinched at least a tie for the IAC Small Schools South Division title.

Congratulations to all.


The Watkins-Montour Rotary Club guest speaker this past Thursday was Joel Robinson (pictured at right), executive director of the Sullivan Trail Chapter of the American Red Cross.

He spoke briefly about the history of his organization, and then about the volunteer-based strength that it possesses. The Red Cross is largely made up of volunteers -- 95% or so in the Finger Lakes region. And he spoke about the obvious need for volunteerism in order for the organization to function effectively.

Robinson also talked about Superstorm Sandy and the ongoing relief effort required along the Eastern Seaboard, and said that disaster relief efforts are never of short duration: "We're still in Joplin two years after the tornado there, and in Haiti three years after its earthquake."

That subject led to the related subject of disaster preparedness, encouraged even in an area like ours that seemingly avoids such events. "Make a plan," he said, "get a kit (of food, water and other necessities) to help you survive for three or four days, and get trained." Learning CPR can prove valuable, he noted: "Of those who use their skill to save a life, two-thirds use it on a family member."

And don't forget the Red Cross's role in securing blood, he said -- always a necessary commodity.

So there are three things the Red Cross asks, he said -- your time as a volunteer, some of your blood, and monetary donations.

"Your time, your blood, your money," he said, smiling. "Otherwise we'll leave you alone."

Anyone interested in volunteering for some form of Red Cross duty might drop Robinson a line at


For the eighth straight year, area student-athletes are being considered for inclusion on the Odessa File-sponsored Top Drawer 24 team -- a gathering of outstanding high school scholars, sports competitors and citizenship-minded youths.

When we started the team, its members came from the Watkins Glen and Odessa-Montour high schools. Along the way, we added Bradford and Trumansburg, and now Spencer-Van Etten -- all of which touch in some fashion within Schuyler County.

The program has had a positive impact, I think -- serving as an impressive badge of honor for the team members, all of whom are chosen by a committee. It's quite a large committee, having grown over the years to more than 20 teachers, administrators and lay people. I fall within that last category.

There have been 24 names and brief biographies read into the record at each of the seven TD24 celebrations at the State Park Pavilion, a charming spot for a meaningful award. I say meaningful because this is no popularity contest -- team membership is earned on the playing fields, in the classrooms and through a dedication to a social agenda ... whether through participation in Rotary-sponsored Interact activities, or through tutoring, or through church programs.

The selection process is basically yearlong. The committee members study a host of potential honorees, ultimately casting ballots on a numerical scale. The top vote totals determine who makes the team. The all-important first round of that balloting is, in fact, going on now.

Nearly as much preparation goes into planning the annual celebration, which has involved a number of outstanding speakers. Among them have been WGHS, O-M and Trumansburg alums who were members of the Top Drawer 24 in its earlier years.

This year will be no different from the first seven. Come early June, we will celebrate the eighth version of the team at a gathering near the State Park's south entrance, the same location where we celebrated the first team -- back before anyone really knew what the Top Drawer 24 was. Most people around here seem to know now.


And earlier:

Matters of three and two ...

By Charlie Haeffner

Odessa, Jan. 20, 2013 -- This is about a couple of upcoming happenings. One is the Inauguration, or more specifically the luncheon afterward, where wine of local note is going to be served. The other has to do with education and the current economic squeeze.

First ... the wine. It is Tierce 2010 Dry Riesling, a collaboration of three noted winemakers: David Whiting of Red Newt Cellars, Peter Bell of Fox Run Vineyards, and Johannes Reinhardt of Anthony Road Winery. "Tierce" means three -- in this case a blend of dry Riesling wines from the three wineries, a product determined annually by the three winemakers in a session where they mix and taste many different blends.

Only 300 cases of it are made each year. Along the way the blends have received awards and admiring plaudits -- like one in an esteemed California newsletter that deemed the 2008 Tierce perhaps the best U.S.-produced dry Riesling ever. High praise.

But it is the 2010 Tierce that gets the nod for the Inaugural Luncheon, along with a Long Island-produced wine, Bedell 2009 Merlot. The mouths that will taste those vintages belong to powerful figures -- the President, leaders of Congress, Supreme Court justices and the like.

Says Jim Trezise, president of the New York Wine & Grape Foundation: "New York wines have experienced a revolution in quality and are wonderful accompaniments to food, so we're confident the guests will find much to like."

This is all pretty heady stuff. Or as Whiting said the other night in a TV interview: "It's one of those events where everybody will be watching, and I think that's neat." And then in a clever turn of phrase, he suggested that it "carries a message of collaboration to Washington, D.C." -- where, of course, there is often little of that particular commodity.

Eight cases -- 96 bottles -- of the Tierce 2010 will be flowing at the Inaugural Luncheon. Congratulations to Dave and Peter and Johannes.


The other happening -- one that is supposed to occur, in any event, but has yet to be scheduled -- is a public forum, possibly (says one source) at the Human Resources Complex in Montour Falls (though that would tend through limited space to limit attendance), featuring representatives of the School Boards from the Odessa-Montour and Watkins Glen School Districts.

The presidents of those boards (Debra Harrington of O-M and Brian O'Donnell of Watkins Glen) and the districts' superintendents (James Frame of O-M and Tom Phillips of WG) met last week at the urging of Watkins officials to discuss the possibility of a joint meeting of the two full boards in open session -- the idea being that board members could at such an open session talk about whatever issues might help both districts improve their chances of economic survival, or at least their chances of maintaining viable educational programs in the face of increasing costs and declining revenues. An agreement was reached, although not quite along those lines. A forum where the public could ask questions was chosen instead.

A press release followed, authored by a BOCES writer who was passing along only what was provided to her. As such, it was vague. It said that "this proactive group will seek input from residents in an upcoming public forum" that will "provide community members the opportunity to learn about the fiscal challenges the districts face and to share their ideas for continuing educational success in the region." Alas, there was no date or time mentioned, nor a place -- the Human Resources Complex or otherwise. That particular information was to "be released soon."

Also unanswered: whether it would be the full boards or just the board presidents fielding questions, and whether the superintendents would be involved. The press release doesn't say. Nor does it say who might serve as moderator, if indeed there is to be one. Again, indications are that one is being sought. But knowing the players in this saga, I'm guessing there will be some parameters set from O-M's side over who is acceptable.

This is all going on at the same time as a recently publicized move by county leaders and Watkins Superintendent Phillips to engage the public in a discussion of possible shared services across the governmental and educational spectrum. Tying the education forum and the county move together will be a topic at the Schuyler County Council of Governments meeting this Wednesday.

At any rate, the entire ongoing process reminds me of a couple of countries drawing up diplomatic rules aimed at reaching a peace accord. Not that the two school districts are at war -- at least the kids aren't, from all recent indications. It's the grownups we have to watch. The O-M board's 4-3 majority seems to get constantly riled by Watkins Glen. The districts are almost like two siblings with different temperaments, one fun-loving and the other cautious, where the first knows how to hit all the right buttons to set off the second. They could almost make a sitcom about these folks, only it would be more cynical than humorous. I can hear the title song now (for some reason the old Addams Family tune keeps playing in my head).

They're cranky about money,
Disjointed and unsunny,
Like pancakes without honey,
The Admin Family.


And finally, congratulations to the honorees at the recent Watkins Glen Area Chamber of Commerce Gala at the Harbor Hotel. Jeff Confer was presented the Leader in Business Award, Rev. Michael Hartney the Community Spirit Award, and Scott Welliver the Lifetime Achievement Award.

Speeches introducing the honorees proved high points of the evening: Jim Howell for Confer, Ken Wilson for Reverend Hartney (Ken read remarks prepared by Maxine Neal, who'd moved the previous week to Vermont), and Gene Pierce for Welliver. It was a night of well-deserved celebration.


And earlier:

The face in the mirror...

By Charlie Haeffner

Odessa, Jan. 14, 2013 -- Have you ever looked in a mirror and wondered who that was looking back at you?

It happens to me on occasion, and did again the other day.

Sometimes I see a familiar, if haggard, face looking back, and sometimes I see my father. When or how I started becoming him, I don't know.

And sometimes I see a stranger, and wonder where he came from.

Any day can be governed by swings in mood and health and external pressures, and the combination of the three in turmoil can upend even the most trustworthy of personal viewpoints. Hence the stranger in my mirror.

While looking at him most recently, I started thinking about perspective (and how mine seemed, at that moment, to be quite skewed) and, by extension, how it is we cling to certain familiarities (such as a recognizable face) as crutches to get us through life, day by day, to our inevitable conclusions.

For instance, we wrap ourselves in our work -- and more often than not identify ourselves by it. And by family -- in my case by husbandhood and fatherhood and sonhood and siblinghood.

And we identify ourselves by the friends we find, or those who find us -- by the assurances we receive from them, and the assurances we return in kind. Such people can be our strength, and we theirs.


In my early years, I was the son who wanted to please, and yet somehow was just rebellious enough not to.

In my young adult life, I was a lost, overly emotional soul who identified with too many things -- a conflicting, exasperating mixture of curiosity, anti-warism, testosterone, fatherhood, and a feeling of entrapment in a union for which I wasn't ready.

Then came my middle years, where my identity was firmly rooted in a successful second marriage and fatherhood for which I was prepared. You could label this period the Age of Maturation -- although it was marred by an upswing in my old rebelliousness that essentially led me out of the mainstream job market.

I calculate the start of my latest, current period (hopefully not my last; I prefer to think of it as a warmup) with the beginning of employment at The Leader in Corning in 1996. That job lasted three years, and was followed by a devotion to writing -- a non-fiction book and a novel -- that led to this website. The site's launch is now 10 years in the past.

Call this period The Era of Words and Friends, for that is what I have most identified with -- starting with the beauty of the English language and finishing with the warmth and sense of sharing that friendships bring. Those are the things I lean upon -- in times of trouble and joy. I have been a number of things during this period -- proud father of graduating sons, grieving husband in the face of death, struggling businessman. But most of all a weaver of words, and a thankful friend.

That is a lot, really, for which to be grateful.

So on those days when I see a stranger in the mirror, I pause and think -- I look beyond the aging face and into the eyes, into the soul, and find in that person a gratitude that the Lord provides not only challenges that test our mettle, but such tender mercies as words and friends to help us on our journey.


And earlier:

Good bosses, bad bosses

By Charlie Haeffner

Odessa, Jan. 6, 2013 -- Well, the holidays have come and gone, and with them the 10th anniversary of this website (on December 29th). That day actually came and went without me actually realizing I had reached the milestone. I knew it was coming in the days leading up to it, and I knew I had reached it in the days that followed, but somehow on the day of, I just went about my business as on any other day and overlooked it..

I guess, after more than 3,600 days of doing this -- of gathering information, and forming it into stories, and snapping photos, and editing and arranging them on pages with the stories -- it has long since become a routine ... one that dulled my senses on that milestone day. I'm not complaining, though; it's a routine I love. I've always enjoyed the process of journalism, and practiced it (for those of you who don't know) at newspapers in Pontiac, Michigan, in Watertown, Elmira and Corning, New York, and at USA Today before starting this venture.

One thing that all of those jobs had that this one doesn't was bosses. I've always had trouble with bosses ... well, not always, but usually. I've had the autocratic type who likes to denigrate and (I really hate this) shout. I've had the interfering kind who lives to hold meetings that lead nowhere. And I've had a couple of the incompetent kind -- those who can't get out of their own way, but somehow rise ever higher in the organization for which they toil.

And I've had the occasional good ones -- teachers, nurturers, encouragers. The last boss I had was of that type: Mike Gossie, Managing Editor at The Leader in Corning in the late '90s. I signed on to that paper as an editor, but he encouraged my writing, which in turn led to several awards, including one from the Associated Press as Best Columnist in the state among small-circulation dailies.

Another teacher was Dick Price, who I first knew when he was an investigative reporter at the Elmira Star-Gazette and who later became its Executive Editor. Dick held classes for several of us in the newsroom -- teaching the advanced ins and outs of newspaper writing. He sent me on one trek to North Carolina to cover Joey Sindelar in a golf tournament there, and the series I wrote (with sure-handed editing by Price) led to a state award.

Those various awards, parenthetically, were greatly appreciated, but really the product of budgets that could afford entry fees -- for the journalism awards in this country generally require that would-be honorees submit the entries they want judged, and at a cost.

You won't see this website garnering such awards, whether warranted or not, because I don't have that kind of budget. I receive occasional e-mails from the Society of Professional Journalists encouraging entries in their contests, but there is always a price tag involved. I can't quite see that, not on what I earn. Not that it matters. I figure I'm doing a pretty good job without any trophies.


And speaking of honors, we are within a month of receiving ballots from Top Drawer 24 committee members that will largely shape the team that will be honored in early June at the State Park Pavilion.

That squad annually consists of two-dozen outstanding student-athlete-citizens in our area school districts, with selection based on academics, athletics and participation in society -- whether that participation is in school (say in the Rotary-related Interact Club) or through volunteerism elsewhere.

There will be honorees this year from the Watkins Glen, Odessa-Montour, Trumansburg, Bradford and Spencer-Van Etten school districts. They will largely be selected based on the upcoming ballots -- although experience has shown that a second ballot is generally needed each year to sort out the last few available slots, and to give committee members a chance to promote favorites who might have been overlooked in the early going.

The team is subtitled the Brian J. O'Donnell Schuyler County Scholar-Athlete-Citizen Team, named after the former WGHS Principal and current Watkins Glen School Board president. Brian will be leaving the School Board this year, but he is expected to continue with the Top Drawer program. His role at each year's ceremony includes leading the honorees on a walk to impart some secret wisdom to them, and later introducing them as each receives a Top Drawer medal and certificates from such officials as our Congressman, Tom Reed.

It's a great program, now in its eighth year. And it will, I hope, continue for many years to come.


And earlier:

'Tis the season for a milestone

By Charlie Haeffner

Odessa, Dec. 25, 2012 -- It is Christmas Day as I write this -- a time of peace, and a time in many cases of family reunion. It is a moment when the machinery of commerce grinds to a virtual halt, and we all take a deep breath before charging ahead to gather up more of the riches life has to offer, and to work toward the future security of ourselves and our families.

And yet, there is a tremor beneath this peace, it seems. Part of it is barometric, for forecasters say a storm will soon be upon us, possibly with more snow than we're used to around here of late. And part of it is economic -- with all the stories of the "fiscal cliff," and with the realities that many of us have encountered in a stagnant economy.

There is also the specter of the Newtown, Connecticut massacre -- an occasion so heinous that many of us still have difficulty digesting it, let alone discussing it. An undercurrent is the fear that something similar might happen again -- a seeming likelihood given the gun culture in this country.

And for some, it is simply a difficult time for varying reasons -- failing health, loneliness, and sometimes the painful memories of joyful holiday seasons past, before life started subtracting participants and the opportunities they presented in camaraderie, interdependency and, of course, gifts.

Despite the economy, though, and despite Newtown, and despite the shrinking cast of characters that have peopled my life, I find a gentleness in the day that is ever-appealing, embodied in multi-colored lights on the tree, and in the shared experience with those who do remain. Christmas, to me, is love -- and I have nothing bad to say about that particular commodity.


As I write this, too, I am but four days short of the 10th anniversary of this website. It's difficult to believe it has lasted that long, considering that predictions had it crashing before its first anniversary, and then its second, and then its third, and so on. In some cases the prognosticators considered the difficulty in one person delivering the news and sports with regularity basically seven days a week, ad infinitum; in others it was probably just wishful thinking, for I have had my detractors.

I recall one such young woman -- a college student who approached her criticism of me in a less than scholarly way, taking me to task in an online posting for a number of things: for treason in reporting on Watkins Glen when I was an Odessa publication, for seeking donations in economically trying times, for writing a story about accusations against a late Catholic clergy member, and for showing too much skin, basically, by publishing photos of girls in swim suits at swim meets.

It doesn't take a genius to figure out that in order for this website to survive, it needed to cover Watkins Glen and thereby secure the advertising that businesses there can provide; and it needed (and still needs) contributions from readers it serves (although less than one percent of its visitors donate funds to the cause). The critique also failed to acknowledge that the clergy accusations were launched by an Odessa man and were covered by every news outlet in the region, up to Rochester; or to acknowledge that photo coverage of girls' swim meets might be difficult without suits being pictured.

The young lady was taken to task in an email by a Watkins Glen teacher who told her she was wrong and more than a little bit foolish in her attack, and the diatribe was removed soon after.

But it stuck in my memory. I apologize for none of the above, although I have since reduced donation requests to a trickle, which is basically how they come in. I receive probably a third or fourth of the amount I used to receive despite the number of website visitors having increased dramatically over the years. A friend said recently that it's a shame that readers can't see their way clear to donate even $10 or $12 a year apiece to the cause -- but I told him that short of putting up a pay wall, that wasn't about to happen. And a pay wall would be self-defeating, since it would simply reduce the number of readers coming to the site, which in turn would affect the amount of money I could charge advertisers.

It is the advertisers, ultimately, who are making possible this website and SchuyLines, and it is them -- and the relatively few individual sponsors -- who I thank for propelling this effort through 10 years. And you should thank them, too. If advertising slips -- and I have lost a couple of advertisers in recent months -- then the whole operation could slip. I need such funding, both to operate the business and my personal life. Without it, I would have to find something else to do, some other job, in order to stay afloat -- not something that appeals to me.

So ... with the 10th anniversary at hand for The Odessa File, I am going to pause, take a deep breath and surge ahead -- and sincerely hope there will be a few anniversaries more.


And earlier:

The last step to 900 ...

By Charlie Haeffner

Odessa, Dec. 18, 2012 -- I got away from Schuyler County twice in recent days -- on Saturday and Sunday to go have dinner in Maryland, and on Monday to go see Jim Boeheim win his 900th game as coach of the Syracuse University basketball team.

The dinner was good, and so was the game.

In the first instance, my son Jon and I traveled first to Alexandria, Va. to visit my youngest son, Dave, and his wife Ali. From there (after Dave, Jon and I took a long, touristy walk through Old Town) we all drove up to Rockville for dinner with Ali's family. It was a Christmas gathering of sorts since Dave and Ali were heading to Argentina three days later (today in fact) on a long honeymoon, having wed two months ago.

I've been to the D.C. area quite often -- to visit Dave and, long before that, to reside while working at USA Today in the late '80s -- and always find the Beltway to be annoying at best. I love the monuments and memorials inside it, though, and always feel like I've found a bit of myself when I go there.

And yet ... I'm never sad to leave. It's something about being vulnerable, I guess -- knowing that the nutjobs out there with bombs would look first to Washington (and New York City, I suppose).

Anyway, we did the trip, back and forth, zip zop, and then I turned around and connected with Jim Guild, Watkins Glen entrepreneur extraordinaire, for a trip to Syracuse. Jim has season tickets not far from courtside at SU basketball games. Monday night's contest was expected to be an easy win, and beyond that an important one, with Boeheim entering an elite category. Only two other Division I college coaches had amassed 900 victories: Bobby Knight and Mike Krzyzewski.

The opponent was Detroit, and on hand was the Detroit mayor, Dave Bing, regarded by many as the greatest SU player of all time and later a Hall of Fame pro basketball star with the Detroit Pistons. I grew up outside Detroit, and so followed his career closely. He was, in fact, my favorite basketball player for years, though my preference was baseball and Al Kaline.

Anyway, as the game Monday night progressed, it appeared to be a mismatch. Syracuse raced out to a lead that grew to 21 points, and then it hovered between 16 and 20. With a dozen or so minutes remaining, Carrier Dome personnel started distributing among the spectators cardboard cutouts of Boeheim's face, each affixed to a handle, with "900 wins" and various Boeheim achievements on the reverse. It was time to start waving those faces and celebrating a milestone.

But then -- call it the jinx of the handhelds -- Detroit suddenly cut the deficit to 10 points, and then 8, and then 6, and then 4, and then 3, and all the sounds of celebration were replaced by shouts of pending panic. This wasn't possible. I mumbled "Oh, God" a couple of times, and when I glanced over at Guild, he was shaking his head and mumbling: "I don't believe this."

In the end, Syracuse held off Detroit, winning by four points by sinking some key free throws down the stretch. But the Orangemen had been tested for the first time in the season after nine easy wins, and Boeheim had literally had to earn that 900th victory.

And that seemed fitting.

Great numerical achievements aren't really great if they're easy.

This one, as it turned out, proved difficult indeed ... and quite memorable.

Photos in text: SU Coach Jim Boeheim being interviewed after the victory, and the scene in the Carrier Dome.


And earlier:

Here comes Melancholia ...

By Charlie Haeffner

Odessa, Dec. 9, 2012 -- I continue to marvel at the ongoing discussion involving school consolidation. It seems to keep cropping up here, then there, and with all sorts of angles and permutations.

It all came bubbling up again Thursday night when the Odessa-Montour School Board hosted a talk by Bruce Fraser, executive director of the New York State Rural Schools Association at Cornell, an outfit devoted to serving as a legislative voice for the many rural school districts in the state.

Fraser was very careful not to impose himself into a discussion of whether O-M should merge with Watkins Glen or with any other district -- "I don't want to get into the middle of that," he said during the meeting -- and then told a TV interviewer afterward that he didn't want any questions asked regarding specific merger possibilities.

And Superintendent Jim Frame said the evening -- a board workshop -- was "an exercise in looking at data" and an attempt "to be proactive in determining the best move to be viable" as the district looks toward the future. It really wasn't a matter of O-M tipping its hat toward consolidation. It gave the concept a tight little nod, was all.

The crux of the evening was a website introduced by Fraser to the board and the handful of district residents on hand -- a website that offers not quite up-to-date data ("there is a lag time" in receiving information from the State Education Department, Fraser explained) on all sorts of things, such as enrollment, district wealth, salaries etc. A site visitor can do a number of things with the data, including "merging" statistics from one district with another in a determination of what kind of state funds might be available as "incentive aid" in a merger and how much of that would be eaten up in balancing the tax rates of the two districts involved.

Incentives were shown, for instance, should merger occur between O-M and Watkins Glen, O-M and Horseheads, O-M and Newfield, O-M and Bradford, and a combination of O-M, Watkins Glen and Bradford. In each case, the incentive -- X millions of dollars paid in each of the first five years, and then reduced by 4% in each succeeding year until the aid ends after 14 years -- would be reduced significantly in the first year by the tax-rate adjustment. That, cautioned Fraser -- who seemed to lean against mergers as a rule, even while insisting he not be drawn into the fray -- must be considered along with variables from one district to another in such areas as teacher contracts.

He also called into question -- as did Frame -- the trust that districts might place in the state that incentive aid would actually be there for those 14 years if a merger were sought and achieved. The state, they were alluding, is having trouble paying its bills now.

And Fraser mentioned in passing the possibility of significant state reform of the existing merger laws -- possibly influenced by a report, due very soon, from Governor Andrew Cuomo's Education Reform Commission. It is difficult to tell, said Fraser, what the commission will report, or what the state Legislature might do as a followup, but he mentioned the possibility of a recommendation that any school district with fewer than 1,000 students might be forced to consolidate with another, larger district. O-M's enrollment is well below 1,000, while Watkins Glen's is above.


The O-M board has long tended to be isolationist, to shy from publicity. The administration and board majority prefer to operate in private. But that tendency has been partially circumvented by Watkins Glen Superintendent Tom Phillips' effort to rally public input on the consolidation issue and, more broadly, on what measures can be taken by Schuyler County's school districts in conjunction with the county and town governments to battle the trend of shriveling revenues and increasing expenditures in the age of the tax cap. Phillips' move -- made in cooperation with Watkins Glen School Board President Brian O'Donnell, County Administrator Tim O'Hearn and County Legislature Chair Dennis Fagan, and possibly involving Cornell University Rural Schools and Community and Rural Development Institute researchers -- was initiated without Odessa-Montour included. Frame, in reaction, has since asked to be part of the effort.

In the meantime, Frame contacted the Rural Schools people himself, and set up Thursday's workshop session with Fraser -- but made clear he was not embracing consolidation. The board, he said, wanted to proceed with any possible, future consideration of such a thing with facts in hand, not supposition.

Which is fine, but Frame has to know that the facts offered on the Rural Schools website are there in the context of laws that make merger difficult to achieve. The context could clearly change if the state -- as some are expecting -- imposes rules that instead make it difficult for small districts to avoid consolidation ... whether that consolidation is in the form of a straight merger or a blending in one or more ways of multiple districts into a county or regional district.

Nonetheless, the website touted by Fraser is an interesting one, full indeed of data (again, some of it from a year or two ago). You can access it at

What was bothersome, though, was Fraser's eagerness to "commend" the O-M administration and board (he said this three times) for discussing the website in an open forum -- his insistence on praising them for "making the public aware of the tools available" on the site and thus "not trying to hide things."

Why would a board (serving the public who votes it into office) or administrator (who is paid by that same public) need to be commended for sharing information with those to whom they are responsible?


It needs to be said, too -- based on some complaints heard the following day in reaction to a TV report on the meeting that alluded to how much incentive money would be available should O-M merge with Horseheads (the complainers objecting to that particular merger) -- that this was clearly not a meeting designed to move Odessa toward merger. That is not in this board's nor this administration's DNA.

No, there might be talk locally about merger, but it is not about to happen under existing laws if left to the locals. There are just too many roadblocks, from legislative obstacles to built-in (which is to say traditional) biases. Besides, the state appears to have a different mindset as it enters the upcoming budget season.

Watkins Glen's Phillips, in taking the initiative with O'Donnell, O'Hearn and Fagan, has said the Schuyler County community needs to be involved in discussions that might help its leaders plan a path through the economic shoals of today and tomorrow.

"There is real structural reform on the horizon," Phillips said of coming state actions that "will change the face of education forever. I don't want us being told what to do. I want to be out front so we can retain as much local control as possible."

O-M has approached the matter differently, wishing to retain its local control by deflecting publicity, by controlling the public view through private meetings. Frame has contacted contiguous districts for sessions involving potential shared services and "mutually beneficial programs," but those meetings would involve only him, board president Debra Harrington and their counterparts. O'Donnell countered that the Watkins School Board would be glad to meet with the full O-M board in a public session complete with public input.

Thursday's workshop was, in a way, educational, but hardly indicative of a change of O-M heart. And Frame's desire to be part of the school-county team has yet to jell. He missed a meeting of that group with Cornell researchers last week due to what was described as "some confusion" over the starting time.


If Phillips and others are right -- if Fraser's suggestion of a sub-1000-enrollment scenario bears fruit -- then we have an interesting year ahead of us, one that would set in motion a reorganization of our education system.

It all calls to mind the recent movie Melancholia, about a rogue planet heading directly for Earth. As the planet approaches, it gets bigger and more frightening and clearly possessed of the ability to blast our world to smithereens.

The state of New York could be likened to that approaching planet -- which is named Melancholia -- and O-M could be likened to Earth.

Look up. See it?

Here it comes ... closer and closer.

Melancholia is growing larger above the horizon.

Here it comes ...


And earlier:

'Tis the season ... to ponder

By Charlie Haeffner

Odessa, Dec. 3, 2012 -- We are into the holiday season, and I feel a bit of a change in the air, a difference from Christmases in the recent past.

I'm speaking both generally -- there seems to be a new resolve to buck up as we head into what we fear are some difficult weather months -- and personally, for I'm feeling more of the yuletide spirit than I have since ... well, since my kids moved on to college and my wife passed away.

I've actually been feeling the tug of Christmas for some months now, and accordingly wrote a tale about it -- somewhat true -- in SchuyLines a while back. It was out of season when I published it, but is more timely now. So if you haven't seen it, and want to check it out, click here.

In any event, happy holidays.


We are into the winter high school sports season, too, and once again there is the occasional glitch in coverage. There is a simple rule at play here. Coaches need to call in or e-mail results on the night of an event if the event is to be reported in a timely manner.

If a coach chooses occasionally not to call or e-mail -- there is one who has adopted that non-practice almost as a religion -- then chances are there will be times when an event is simply not going to appear on the Sports Page here. When that happens, I won't be shortchanged, but you will, and so will the kids who were out there competing. They will not get publicity, and they could miss out on Odessa File weekly, seasonal and annual honors based on their performances.

So please, coaches, call or e-mail in results. And don't wait a day or two. It's old news by then.


"Who do you think you are?"

That's a rather unfriendly question, asked on occasion of journalists. Well, I've been pondering that question lately in biological and philosophical terms.

I've been pondering the interrelationships of people and things and events, and have been realizing more than ever that we -- all of us -- are here by the slimmest of chances. I imagine some of you have thought about it -- that while there are billions of people, each of us is a unique individual, made up of bone and sinew and blood and DNA that took millions of years to reach fruition, and could have been derailed by millions of things along the way through our ancestral pools.

For instance, if my dad hadn't swum out to a raft on Owasco Lake on a given summer day in 1940 to meet and chat with my mother, they might not have gotten together. And even if they had gotten together in some other fashion at some other venue, the timing of their lives would have been altered, and the act that created me would not likely have occurred exactly when it did. The biological sequence would have been changed by time and inertia and gravity and mood and whatever else plays into how we function ... and I would not have been me. I would not even have been.

That's just one example. A similar consideration of chance encounters that led to the creation of my father, and of his father before him and so on, would undoubtedly yield the same conclusion -- in fact would buttress and enhance it -- and bring into sharp relief the incredibly large odds against anyone being the specific person he or she turns out to be. It all makes me feel pretty small -- a status confirmed, I think, by the thought of us all flying around in space on an orb called Earth at 67,000 miles an hour in a solar system that is a mere speck in the universe.

So ... who do I think I am?

It's more like what do I think I am.

I am someone unique, who in the scheme of human pursuits performs a useful function.

In the larger picture, though -- in the universal context and in an accompanying physical one -- I am something infinitesimally small. And pretty insignificant.

And oddly enough -- human ego being a potential obstacle to accepting such personal limitations -- I'm okay with that.


And earlier:

A little of this and that ...

By Charlie Haeffner

Odessa, November 26, 2012 -- Here comes the winter sports season, and not a moment too soon. I was beginning to relax. Can't have that.

The schedule opens Tuesday with bowling, swimming and (O-M) basketball. The Watkins Glen basketball teams get under way Friday.

Good luck to all of you competitors -- and we'll resume the Athlete of the Week honors next weekend.


It proved to be an interesting Thanksgiving, with a lot of food.

On Thanksgiving Day, I feasted on turkey and trimmings at a party at Mark and Michelle Simiele's home, and followed that up later with a family meal. Then came dinner on Friday at the Falls Motel restaurant with friends, and dinner on Saturday at the Elks Lodge in Watkins Glen as part of that organization's memorial service for members who passed away during 2012.

With so much food under my belt, it's about time for another diet.


Amid all of those meals, the dedication of the Schuyler County Courthouse as the Honorable William N. Ellison Schuyler County Courthouse was an impressive affair Friday. About 150 people stood in the drizzle to listen to speeches that led to the unveiling of a new sign created by Tony Vickio that hangs above the building's front porch.

In keeping with the subtext of the weekend, there was some food available there, too -- but thankfully just cookies, donut holes and a warm beverage.


Don't expect discussion of school consolidation to go away anytime soon.

Just to be clear, budget crunches are not only a local problem. The New York State Council of School Superintendents says in a report that a recent poll of superintendents asked "Do you foresee a point at which your district would be unable to ensure that some of its financial obligations will ever be paid?" The result: "Statewide, 9 percent of superintendents anticipate their districts could reach that position within two years. That share would equate to roughly 60 districts. Altogether, 41 percent of superintendents foresee facing that definition of insolvency within four years."

Beyond that, "Statewide, 18 percent of superintendents foresee their districts reaching a point within two years where funding all state and federal instructional and student service mandates will no longer be possible. Half of all superintendents anticipate their districts will fall into that state within four years."

Conclusion: "The level of alarm over the future has not diminished."

Schuyler County and Watkins Glen School officials will be getting talks revved up soon regarding a possible countywide approach to fighting shrinking revenues and increased expenses. Budgets are tight, and getting tighter. So stay tuned.


And earlier:

In the wake of tragedy ...

By Charlie Haeffner

Odessa, November 16, 2012 -- There are some stories that hit home hard.

A case in point was the helicopter crash Thursday in Corning that claimed the life of 41-year-old Dale Crout of Watkins Glen. I didn't know him, but I've met his wife, Brenda, through our shared interest in writing. She published a novel a few months ago -- a fantasy adventure called "Eliza" -- and held a book signing party at the Mechanics Club in Montour Falls.

That was a happy time. A time of achievement. Six months later, tragedy strikes.

Their son, Kendale, 13, is a student in the Watkins Glen Middle School. He is known in racing circles in the region for substantial success competing in sprint cars, something unusual in one so young. He has trophies, and his own website -- plenty to be proud about.

And now comes this.

Most of us can speak from experience about the sudden turns that life can take -- the shocking nature of what it can hand us, leaving us in despair. And maybe it is that experience that makes a story like this resonate so soundly.

After learning of Crout's death, I sought more information about him, and found some on his son's website. Dale and Brenda, a family biography there tells us, have long been huge supporters of their son's racing efforts. Dale always liked racing -- had himself competed in dirt-bike and sprint-car racing, and had driven in demolition derbies. He spent a lot of time in his garage, working on cars, trying to make them run faster. When not doing that, he worked as a lineman for NYSEG out of its Horseheads office -- the job that placed him in that helicopter Thursday.

The biography was accompanied by a grainy picture of Dale, Brenda and Kendale. The words below the photo began thusly:

"We are the Crout Family from Watkins Glen, NY. Dale, Brenda and Kendale would like to thank you for looking at our site!"

There was pride there, a familial enthusiasm.

And that speaks volumes about life. Pride in accomplishment, enthusiasm in pursuing that which we love. Those qualities were there, on that website, and in the picture of the three of them.

Achievement, love, enthusiasm. Those are wonderful things that make life so, so appealing.

And which can, in their wake, help make death so ... immeasurably shocking.


Having said all of that, I offer something time-sensitive to combat the sadness that a story like that of the Crouts brings us.

I offer a suggestion that anyone reading this go to the Odessa-Montour High School auditorium tonight (Friday, Nov. 16) at 7:30 or Saturday, Nov. 17 at 2:30 to watch the Dream Barn Productions presentation of Aladdin Jr.

Dream Barn was the creation of Tracy Gavich. It is designed to showcase the theatrical talents of young people. This particular group of 34 youngsters rehearsed the play in the basement of Seneca Lodge, and then practiced Tuesday and Wednesday on the O-M stage.

I recommend it because of what I found at the auditorium Thursday night, opening night.

I found joy on that stage -- perhaps brought into sharper than usual relief by the helicopter tragedy earlier in the day. I found a group of kids performing admirably in that theater, having fun, and delivering the musical goods.

Joy like that is contagious, and can serve as at least a partial antidote to all things mournful.


And earlier:

The importance of friends

By Charlie Haeffner

Odessa, November 9, 2012 -- I'm taking a breather here from writing about the Odessa-Montour School Board (see the two columns below) because -- well, because that esteemed body drains me ... a matter I might address in the future. Their meeting Thursday night, for instance, offered enough fodder for a couple of pointed columns ...

But today we are going in a different direction. Today I am addressing the importance of friends -- in particular those people in my life who helped shape me. That applies to my parents and siblings and wives and children and a cousin or two, but it also applies to some remarkable characters with whom I crossed paths along the way to young adulthood and beyond.

I've been mulling this subject lately, and some faces I hadn't thought of in a while have been popping into the forefront of my consciousness. For instance:

--There was Tim Agajanian, who I knew as a teenager. He was a year or so older and a good deal taller than me, and I recall him as having an unusually large head, which I took for a sign of extreme intelligence. I can't say for sure if that was accurate, but he was a forceful personality -- the fellow who introduced me to a number of coming-of-age things, such as smoking, mixed drinks, and golf. That last had the most lasting impact.

I was 14, I think, before I picked up a golf club at his urging and accepted his challenge to play on several courses in our area. It was a sport I never came close to mastering, but I enjoyed it and played it for 15 years or so before a move and a couple of job changes led me to a more home-based life that found my golf clubs gathering dust in a closet. I've played a handful of times since, without great success -- but whenever I do, I recall the feeling of discovery that I felt that first day on a golf course.

--And there was John Burkoff, a friend in high school who was undeniably smart, and incredibly determined. He had never played tennis, but decided to take it up so that he might join the school varsity tennis squad and become its Most Valuable Player -- a bit of fancy that I thought was foolish. Nobody tries such a thing, at least with any success.

But John, as I said, was determined. He taught himself the game of tennis, he made the varsity squad, and yes, he became its MVP. It was a lesson I have carried with me through the years, and call up whenever the challenges of life seem a bit much. They can be overcome, I tell myself. John, by the way, went on to a distinguished career as a professor at the University of Pittsburgh.

--And there was Richard Terrell. He was a politician up in Watertown, where I worked for the daily newspaper throughout my 20s. I was covering some politics -- among my chores as a general assignment reporter -- and Terrell, a tall, bald-pated, charming member of the county Board of Supervisors, latched onto me as a conduit for getting out his message, and I suppose for advancing his agenda.

His politics and mine paralleled one another, so we initially clicked. I liked the guy tremendously. But being an idealistic and rather passionate Independent, I balked on one issue where Terrell wanted me to report it one way, and I reported it another. He turned on me with amazing rapidity. I had become the enemy, quite simply. I decided after that not to cozy up to any politician. It was a lesson well learned for a practitioner of a field -- journalism -- that professes a lack of bias, and requires at least an independence of thought.

--And once again, it seems, the spectre of Mary Lou Norton has arisen again of late. This was a strawberry blonde a year behind me in college who developed a crush on me while I was busy casting an eye toward the woman I eventually married (a union that ended in divorce). Mary Lou and I dated for a while, and I gave her a lavalier signifying the supposed seriousness of our feelings, but I wasn't up to the task of juggling a relationship with her while pining for another. And so we went our separate ways, and she became engaged to a friend, and then disengaged, and then engaged to someone else she eventually married.

Mary Lou died early -- I think at 26 -- after suffering a stroke during childbirth and a second stroke shortly after ... and her image has haunted me from time to time since. For in my mind, in my heart, I think we were terrifically matched, and might well have shared an exciting and fruitful life. Of course, she might have been destined for an early grave, but perhaps not if she had gone in a different direction, say with me. Who knows for sure? In any event, had I stayed with her, my life would have been considerably different from the one I have experienced, and sometimes I wonder about that.

Of course, I wouldn't trade my second marriage or my three boys for anything, but still ....

--And, finally, there was Robert Gildart, perhaps the most important piece of the Charlie Haeffner jigsaw puzzle: the man, the mentor who sent me walking along the road of journalism. He was a former journalist who had hooked on as a professor at my college, Albion College in Michigan. Among the courses he taught were two semesters of Journalism, the first semester of which I selected to fill out my schedule at the start of my junior year. At first, I didn't really take the course -- or Mr. Gildart -- very seriously. He had a big shock of white hair and always wore a tweed jacket, which to my untrained mind gave him an appearance of an affable loser. But he was anything but that.

The man docked me a full grade and a half in that first semester because he didn't like my attitude, and I was so riled I decided to take the second semester of the course ... and show him. He ultimately took a shine to me, and applauded as I lined up a news internship at the Pontiac (Michigan) Press that following summer, and then supported me as I tackled the job of Sports Editor on the school newspaper, and then applauded again as I graduated and headed to New York for my first newspaper job, the one in Watertown.

I visited Mr. Gildart in Albion after he retired, and then lost touch. He died in the late 1990s, the news of which rattled me badly -- for I had lost, I discovered in the moment of loss, a man of immeasurable impact on my life. He was first a critic, then a backer, then a fan, and always a mentor, even when we were separated by hundreds of miles and many years. His influence was of such great importance that it never really faded.

Such can be the true value of educators.


And earlier:

The sounds of reticence ...

By Charlie Haeffner

Odessa, October 29, 2012 -- I had a pet once, a little cat that would hiss and snarl (and occasionally bite) if anyone got too close to him. He had his space, and woe be to anyone who impinged upon it. He was the most private of felines.

The Odessa-Montour School Board -- or at least its majority that marches in lockstep with Superintendent Jim Frame -- reminds me of that cat in the sense that it and Frame have for a long time zealously protected their space. They've made it clear over the years that they don't like anyone intruding, even if the intent of that intrusion might be of a potentially helpful nature, say in the realm of consolidation ... the equivalent, let us suggest, of a feline tummy rub.

The board and Frame met last Thursday night in what was billed as a workshop to decide in what direction, if any, the district wished to move regarding consolidation or merger. Those topics have been discussed with increasing regularity of late in the context of the need to do something to combat the effects of the state putting the economic squeeze on local municipalities and school districts. Watkins Glen School Superintendent Tom Phillips has been outspoken in the need for concerted effort -- not necessarily a merging of schools, mind you, but a joining of resources ... such as in the area of sports, which carry a hefty pricetag.

Anyway, that's how the meeting was billed. But there really was no decision to be made. The board majority and Frame haven't really wavered from their longstanding position: No tummy rubbing, please.


First, Frame directed recently installed Athletic Manager Skip Strobel to give a power-point presentation on the number of kids signed up for winter sports, and including with those numbers some recommended roster sizes. The signup totals compare favorably to the recommended levels.

For example, there are 10 boys signed up to swim, which is ahead of last year's half-dozen, and two more than what Strobel said was needed for a competitive team -- although I would contest his recommended number of eight, for swim teams with larger rosters (say 20 or more athletes) traditionally fare much better. (The O-M number is, parenthetically, on the increase. Swim Coach Terri Brace reported over the weekend that 12 boys have now signed up, and she has hopes for yet another.)

Strobel spent a portion of his report urging the continuation of all current sports at O-M, and I certainly applaud him for that. But I, along with some other people, think the merging of O-M and Watkins Glen programs would produce far better, more competitive teams than we've been seeing of late, outside of boys soccer (where both schools have had exceptional squads) and spring track (where Odessa has been excelling in recent years). Not that I harbor any illusions of sports mergers happening anytime soon; I recall clearly the O-M board's reluctance to join with Watkins in indoor track a handful of years ago.

In fact, the issue was effectively put aside at Thursday's session when board member (and Frame backer) Chris Scata -- saying "As for us merging, I'm not for it"-- delivered a traditional, rather provincial argument about merger potentially limiting participation by O-M athletes, impacting their chances "for college readiness" and their potential "in a job search." Fellow majority member Damita Chamberlain said rather than looking outward for help, the board should look to its own house. Board president Debra Harrington responded by saying well said, or words to that effect.


Frame, for his part, told the board members that whatever direction they decided to take regarding shared services, consolidation or merger, it should be one they wanted. "This is a board decision, not a Jim Frame decision," he said, adding that it was "not about my job." Those words were a clear response to a criticism district resident Robert Tuttle voiced after the last regular board meeting, a session at which plans for Thursday's workshop were announced. Tuttle thought Frame should be excluded from any discussion about something (merger) that could directly affect the superintendent's job status.

In any event, Frame knows from long experience that he has four of the seven Board members voting on his side -- Harrington, Karen Rock, Chamberlain and Scata. And his side is one that embraces isolationism -- one that has not exhibited any interest in talking to Watkins Glen about consolidation. The three other board members might conceivably rise in vote against the superintendent, but it would be a fruitless exercise. (One of those three later dubbed Thursday's meeting "frustrating.")


Frame produced, at the behest of Harrington, a long list of areas in which Odessa-Montour is sharing services with Watkins Glen and other districts -- such as in food service direction, technology oversight, printing and other practices. What he failed to make clear was that those are all services generated through the efforts of the Board of Cooperative Educational Services (BOCES). Asked after the meeting if O-M and Watkins Glen have entered, through direct talks, into any shared services, Watkins Glen Superintendent Phillips answered simply: "No. Not one -- although we did talk about merging some sports last spring, but nothing has come of it. We're open as to what does it look like, and how do we move forward. We were talking about golf and tennis and a whole list, but I guess it fell on deaf ears."

Frame also tackled the matter of the discrepancy between the O-M tax rate of $17.51 per $1,000 of assessed valuation and Watkins Glen's $12-plus -- a comparison that was raised recently by Schuyler County Hall of Famer Jim Howell. First, Frame said, the O-M rate is down from a high of $19.47 in 1991. Second, he said, comparing the rates in the two districts is "comparing apples to oranges. They are two very different communities that drive that valuation."

In the course of discussion, Rock touted the administration line that everything is fine financially at O-M, prompting disagreement from board member Scott Westervelt, who pointed out that the current budget was attained at the cost of jobs and program. Rock was visibly agitated by Westervelt, who was then chided by Harrington for being "rude." (All I heard was frank discussion.)

In the end, the Board majority agreed, at the urging of member Rob Halpin, to do a couple of things that on their face appear to be forward-looking. For one thing, it will soon be hiring a consulting firm to conduct an internal study of building use and efficiencies, and Frame said the firm ultimately hired can be asked to keep an eye on externals -- on other districts -- for possible joint savings. And Harrington will be designated as the board representative in meetings with presidents of School Boards in other districts -- meetings Frame said he would "push."

The suspicion lurks, though, that given the board's reluctance thus far to discuss much of anything with Watkins -- and nothing said at Thursday's meeting disspelled that impression -- neither move has the potential for significant follow-through..

Factor in an agitation shown by Frame in a prepared statement -- in which he said O-M "can't bow to pressure from other districts ... or to fabrications or mistruths" -- and a jaded observer might be left with the impression that the status quo is alive and well at Odessa-Montour.

In fact, the sound you hear today might be purring.


Watkins Glen's Phillips later reiterated his earlier announcement of a planned meeting involving him, Watkins Glen School Board President Brian O'Donnell, Schuyler County Administrator Tim O'Hearn and Schuyler Legislature Chairman Dennis Fagan on Nov. 1 to discuss potential sessions involving members of the public -- the creation of a task force, basically, consisting of officials and other citizens to tackle the current, ongoing economic challenges faced at all levels of government and by every resident.

"This is bigger than any one board," Phillips said. "This is about the community, and it requires community input. Inaction is not an option."


And earlier:

Holding on to the past ...

By Charlie Haeffner

Odessa, October 22, 2012 -- I've been having an affair lately ... with cardboard.

Slabs of cardboard with pictures on the front and statistics on the back. Baseball cards, football cards, basketball cards, hockey cards, and non-sport cards, all of which hark back to my days growing up. We're talking 1950s and 1960s material here.

There was a period, after I worked at newspapers for 20 years, when I took to the dealer show circuit and bought and sold sports cards. I was always drawn in particular to copies of those cards I once owned as a child, and which -- after I had left for college -- my mother gave to the church for one of its rummage sales.

I've returned to the hobby lately, looking for deals, buying what I once had and beyond. I can look at a card from 1951 to 1964 and know instantly what year it represents because of its design. I know the identity of most players of that era instantly upon seeing their pictures. It's all part of me. It is wired into me. And, thus, I spend more money than I should reacquiring what I once had -- which is to say seeking to recreate a past that is long gone and quite lost except in my emotions and memory bank.

And that brings me to all things Indian and, I suppose by extension, all things Seneca.


This is what I was going to say next:

Forty-nine to nothing. That was the score of the Odessa-Montour vs. Watkins Glen Bucket Game recently passed, a football contest (won by Watkins) that proved to be no contest, and since then I have heard several people voice a concern that perhaps it is time, after all -- as has been suggested of late, but rejected out of hand by Odessa-Montour officials -- for a serious look at a consolidation of sports resources between the two primary Schuyler County school districts.

There are different levels of concern in such a consideration: finances, athletic opportunities, finances, athletic quality, and finances. Consolidation of athletics could, proponents argue, increase quality and enhance efficiencies (in other words, save money). Of course, the same cost argument could be applied to the presence of three superintendents in the county (counting the Bradford school district on Schuyler's western extremity) and the suggested (in some quarters) elimination of two of them

"Things are fine here" or something akin to that has been the common response recently from the O-M administration when the matter of athletics or finances, or both, is raised. While the perception around the state is that Governor Cuomo is applying a squeeze to force consolidation, merger or dissolution of various districts -- and, judging from the widespread cries of distress, seemingly succeeding -- all is (the party line suggests) just fine on the hill.

And I'm okay with that.


That's what I was going to say -- adding that my level of acceptance was roughly akin to that which I apply to boils and bedbugs -- but then I thought maybe I was being intrusive, even though as a property owner I help fund the school district.

So I won't go there, won't equate (admittedly thinly) the collecting of cards with the district's reluctance to merge its sport programs with that of another school. (The idea was that both the card collecting and district reluctance are based in part on a fixation with a past perceived as glorious -- O-M being focused in part on the exploits of its sports teams of yesteryear, of its Indians, and today possessing an attendant need to hold on to that achievement identity). And I won't suggest that the district -- steeped as it is in self-imposed privacy -- might very well continue to reject consolidation efforts and keep whistling past the graveyard.

However, I am tempted to point out (and will) two developing trends. One involves a meeting in the near future of county and Watkins Glen School District officials to discuss how to proceed with, and who to invite to, discussions of shared services and consolidation on a countywide basis -- the development, says one advocate, of a sort of Survival Summit. The other involves a Cornell University study of area population characteristics and trends that foresees a shrinkage in the number of Schuyler County residents (and with it, by extension, in the number of students enrolled in county schools.)

That study cites census totals from:

1940 (12,979)
1950 (14,182)
1960 (15,044)
1970 (16,754)
1980 (17,686)
1990 (18,662)
2000 (19,224) and
2010 (18,343)

It sees that downward trend from 2000 to 2010 continuing, as follows:

2020 (17,331)
2030 (15,936)
2040 (14,277) or roughly what the level was in 1950.

Considering that there has been a remarkable dropoff in student enrollment in the county in the past 25 years (with population roughly static), a downward trend in population gives pause. If it does continue as projected, what exactly would be the rationale for maintaining multiple school districts and multiple administrations and other multiple thisses and thats?

An O-M district resident named Robert Tuttle attended an Odessa School Board meeting the other night -- on an evening designated as Board Recognition Night, whereby various principals, teachers and students paid homage to board members. Tuttle was granted a three-minute audience with the board (compared to a half-hour consumed subsequently by a BOCES representative discoursing on Summer School statistics) and told its members, in essence, that a Day of Judgment (not his words) might be coming to the district in the form of forced merger or consolidation or dissolution; and he touched on those population statistics proffered by Cornell. He went a step further to mention numbers Cornell also offered showing a dropoff in the 5-14 age range, buttressing the overall theory that fewer folks means fewer students.

He touched on the matter of an O-M tax rate of roughly $17 per $1,000 of assessed valuation that compares to a $12 rate charged by a Watkins Glen district that maintains a more extensive offering of classroom topics, and mentioned the lackluster nature of the O-M football team's performance in the Bucket Game and other contests during a season in which the team's players were "getting their heads kicked in" -- the suggestion being that a merged program would be a stronger one with less head kicking. (This was before the O-M gridders went out and defeated Seton Catholic Central 48-30, though a casual perusal of Section IV standings yields the information that Seton has but one win to O-M's (now) two. But a convincing win is a convincing win, and the boys acquitted themselves rather nicely after their Bucket Game misstep and three scoreless games before that.)

Anyway, the bottom line, Tuttle said, is a need to study the possibility of consolidation or merger with the Watkins district because -- with the governor embarked on a mission to reduce the number of school districts in the state -- "if we don't act, the state will. We can't sit here and shield our eyes; we can't be blind. We all have friends in Watkins Glen. We need to be a community. We need to do a study."

Superintendent James Frame -- who attracted some attention recently for failing to attend a League of Women Voters luncheon at which that very topic, consolidation, was discussed by his Watkins Glen counterpart, Tom Phillips -- said he would answer Tuttle's comments, but first made Tuttle wait while changing the order of presentation at the meeting and letting that BOCES gentleman talk and talk and talk first ... and then letting another person report on an afterschool program.

Finally, Frame responded. He said that the board was in fact going to look at the feasibility and desirability of talks regarding consolidation and merger at a workshop this coming week -- that the board wants to create "a clear message of where the district is" and where it is heading. He then cited dates in the past when merger discussions had been held -- we're talking various years, distantly gone now -- and pointed out that, farther back, O-M was in fact "a merged district" itself.

Frame said there are "no blinders on, nobody is shielding from work that needs to be done" -- but then he mentioned a recent audit that "finds us in an excellent place" financially (which could be construed as a suggestion that O-M doesn't need anybody else messing up a good thing, thank you.) When that workshop is completed, he said, "we will provide particulars" as to the district's position. "I think everybody will know where we're coming from."

Which is a place, Tuttle said afterward -- while standing in the parking lot outside the school, talking to me -- that has long maintained a tradition of isolationism, of operating as much as possible out of the public eye. He said Frame had tried to get him to discuss his concerns in private instead of at a public meeting. "But I wouldn't do that; these matters need to be aired."

Tuttle also suggested during our talk that since the end result of a merger of the O-M and Watkins Glen districts would be the elimination of one of the superintendents, that Frame shouldn't be part of the workshop, shouldn't be given the opportunity to direct the board away from something that could affect him directly and significantly. In fact, said Tuttle, since Frame lives well outside the district -- in West Elmira -- while Phillips has made it a point to set up his home in the Watkins Glen school district he oversees, it seems logical that Phillips would be the last super standing in a merger.


Anyway, the matter of residency (and, parenthetically, of superintendent involvement in matters local) seems subordinate to the larger issue at hand: the direction of our local governmental units, including school districts, as they swim their way through economically shark-infested waters.

I imagine that with the so-called Survival Summit, officials from the Watkins School District, the county and perhaps villages and towns might put their collective heads together soon -- and I hope in the process employ other citizens through a community-based committee that can share its ideas. That's something Tom Phillips is touting from his superintendent's office down the hill, in the Watkins Glen High School building. That is not something being heard yet up the hill.

But enough.

I am talked out, and will leave the subject for now -- retreat, button up my house for the winter, and start looking for some more sports cards to buy.


But first, a Postscript: I returned Sunday night from the wedding of my youngest son in Virginia -- a wonderful event in the hills northwest of Washington, D.C., not far from historic Harpers Ferry. Son Dave and his Ali threw a great party at a B&B resort called Stone Manor (, an event with all sorts of food and drink. There were scores of guests, including my brothers Bob (from Florida) and Jim (from Colorado). In contrast to their travels, my five-hour jaunt seemed quite minor.

Best wishes to the newlyweds, who are wonderful kids. (Of course, they're not really kids, but I can call them that from my perspective of years.) The honeymoon will take place in December: a trip to Argentina.


And earlier:

A race, pleasures and pain...

By Charlie Haeffner

Odessa, October 8, 2012 -- I wrote recently of my 20 favorite films, topped by Casablanca.

There are others I like for a scene or a moment, even though I think they are, overall, not very good movies. Those scenes or moments trigger something in me -- a tear, or a chill, or admiration for, say, a song well sung.

Call them my guilty film pleasures.

There is, for example, 27 Dresses with Katherine Heigl -- a predictable, fairly standard film that is shown all too often on TV. But there is a moment, near the end -- when Heigl reaches the open-air aisle leading from the beach to the altar at her wedding. Something in there, in that moment, hits me every time, and tears well up. I can't explain it, but I like the sensation.

Then there is Burlesque, a movie musical starring Christina Aguilera and Cher -- a movie beset by a weak plot, but with a couple of outstanding musical numbers, including the key one where Aguilera, "buried in the kick line" of a chorus of scantily clad lovelies who lip-sync to classics, has the opportunity to show her vocal prowess ... and does. It's a rousing scene in a pedestrian film ... although I like the closing number, too, which is carried by energy and sharp editing.

Or there is The Christmas Card, one of those seasonal tales that could be considered schmaltzy by some. It is predictable, but that to me is part of its charm. It is like a warm blanket on a cold sleigh ride -- which it also has. And among its cast is Ed Asner, who I've long admired.

I also like My Girl 2, a sequel that works for me even though it is anything but exceptional film-making. I didn't really like the original, but this one works because its has at its heart a search by the young heroine for the truth about her late mother. It also has, in a key role, the exceptional actor-songwriter-musician John David Souther. The payoff is emotionally charged and hits me every time.


The Top Drawer 24 committee is once again perusing the landscape, pondering which student-athletes it will be voting onto the Top Drawer team this school year. Committee members are taking a long, serious look at a field of candidates for a team that will be almost entirely filled with new faces. Nineteen of the 24 honorees last year were seniors, meaning that there can be, at most, just five repeat members this year.

As always, a mix of elements determines selection: athletics, academics, citizenship and all-round attitude, to name some key ones.

We have added to the mix this year one selection from Spencer-Van Etten. The other schools already represented are Watkins Glen, Odessa-Montour, Trumansburg and Bradford. The ceremony will take place in early June at the Watkins Glen State Park pavilion, a week or two after announcement of the honorees.


And speaking of honors, the fall sports season will be winding down soon, and with its end will come the Fall 2012 selection of an Odessa File Schuyler Fall MVP, and the naming of an All-Schuyler team of athletes. That team is based on points earned in the Athlete of the Week competition that has been ongoing on this website since the first week of the season.


I traveled to Scranton Sunday to watch my son Dave and his wife-to-be (in two weeks) Ali participating in a marathon there. They were serious about finishing (and did, which is nothing new to them) but were not serious about establishing any sort of spectacular time -- stopping along the way to hug and chat with me and Dave's brother Jon and Ali's parents with nine miles left to go. Then they took off again, and we connected with them at the finish line, and went out for a nice meal. It was all a prelude to the first wedding involving one of my offspring -- a long time coming.


It was a cold day in Scranton -- but at least the rain held off. The chill, though, and the driving to and fro did no favors to my ailing (read that occasionally painful) back. I pulled something back there a few days ago, and have been struggling a little, especially with photography. My camera is just too heavy for the circumstance -- so if you see fewer photos on the Sports Page in the next few days, that's why. I'm applying lots of heat and trying to rest the back as much as possible.


And earlier:

Of sports and politics ...

By Charlie Haeffner

Odessa, September 27, 2012 -- Finally reason prevails.

The NFL refs are coming back, and none too soon. I had just decided to stop watching the games and stop listening to the screaming heads on the sports talk shows.

You'd think that football was the be-all and end-all of existence. Ask anyone who has suffered any of a number of indignities in life ... anyone who is suffering now.

"Football?" they might say. "It's just a game."


I viewed the movie "2016: Obama's America" at the Glen Theater, and came away shaking my head. While some in the sparse audience were muttering about the bleak future it painted, I was muttering about the simplistic and caustic nature of the film itself -- a documentary-styled polemic that tarred the president as someone who, basically, detests colonialism and, by extension, America itself, and will, if re-elected, employ all sorts of nefarious, philosophically detestable (read that socialist or communist) manipulations to undermine this nation's role in the world, leading to its ultimate fall from superpower status.

It was clearly designed to inflame the masses against a second Obama term. But it doesn't. In fact, I found my head nodding at several moments in the film -- not in agreement, but in the state leading to sleep.


And speaking of sports and politics: What is the future of high school interscholastic sports? That question is being asked amid the squeeze being put on school districts in New York by politicians in Albany, a tightening vise that could -- if it continues -- squeeze some high school sports right out of existence.

That subject was dealt with peripherally by Watkins Glen Superintendent Tom Phillips at a recent luncheon meeting of the Schuyler County League of Women Voters, when he said that rather than spend money on sports as we know them (and he says his district is spending $425,000 annually on the effort), the districts should work in tandem to develop a program that provides quality on the playing fields and, thus, meaningful opportunity for our student-athletes..

When asked if that was a veiled way to say that high school sports programs in this county should be merged, he said "yes."

"I'm not advocating eliminating sports," he said. "But the reality is, we need to do something" -- preferably a consolidation of programs by Watkins Glen and Odessa-Montour. With shrinking revenues and a trend toward staff reduction, he said, sports programs in their current state "just won't be available. We need to consolidate so the kids ... can still play -- like Newfield did with Trumansburg. Newfield said they could no longer sustain a football program, but encouraged their kids to play in the neighboring district."

Alas, the politics of education have gotten in the way here. While overtures were made last year by the Watkins Glen district to Odessa-Montour to jointly examine possible consolidation points in the two schools' programs, serious talks fizzled. O-M has shown little or no inclination to merge sports programs -- a situation Phillips hopes changes. That was really the point of his comments to the League of Women Voters, but they fell short of the ears for which they were intended.

O-M Superintendent Jim Frame, though announced as one of the speakers, was a no-show, sending his regrets. Instead, speakers included just Phillips and Bradford Superintendent Wendy Field to talk about the state of education and to field audience questions.

One question in particular -- "What could be the possible justification for having three school districts in our small county?" and by extension three superintendents -- elicited this from Phillips: "I've been asking that question for five of the seven years I've been here. We're not what we were in 1970, 1980 or 1990" -- when there were considerably more students -- "and that's a fact. This is a dangerous area for a superintendent to discuss" (given that a reduction to a single district in the county would eliminate two superintendencies), "but the reality is that this is about the kids, about opportunity for the kids. We have to look at the quality of opportunity available. Together (through consolidating efforts) we could offer high-quality services. But it will take the heart of the community and the courage of leadership to step forward and make it happen.

"We need committees to start dialogues ... Where we can, we should combine and share. We should be looking at efficiency studies. But this is really a community issue. We have to get beyond Indians and Senecas, or we will get to the point that someone" -- some sports -- "won't be around ... School Boards, superintendents, communities, they all have to step up."

He was then asked this: "Why haven't you?"

"I have," he answered. "I've worked hard to reach out and say we need to go down this road" -- but school loyalties and traditions have blocked the way. "Parents want their Friday night basketball games and football games. Once you get over that, things will fall in place."

If they don't -- if things go on as they have, with each district clinging to habit and tradition -- there will be a price to be paid that goes beyond money, he suggested. It will take the form of loss -- of opportunity in general, and of some sports programs in particular.

"The two boards," he said, meaning the Watkins Glen and O-M School Boards -- "need to get together."


And earlier:

The value of youth sports ...

By Charlie Haeffner

Odessa, September 17, 2012 -- It is an axiom of the ages: To the victor belong the spoils. The concept goes back centuries, to when invading hordes conquered villages, pillaging to their hearts' content.

It has evolved over time to more peaceful pursuits -- on the playing fields of America and other countries, with spectators in the bleachers calling out their encouragement to the combatants or, on occasion, venting a sort of verbal bloodlust.

That latter is generally kept in check by the common decency of most spectators and the threat of expulsion for offenders, but sometimes the atmosphere in the stands gets a bit intense. Such is the built-in nature of parental fandom; of watching one's offspring perform and (hopefully) excel on the field of battle.

I carry such onfield battles from our high schools on the pages of The Odessa File not only out of a recognition of the pride that the players and parents (and grandparents) take in the performances, but also because of a personal viewpoint that included sports participation when I was growing up in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan.

I wasn't a great athlete. I tried and hated hockey, flying pucks leaving unwelcome welts and bruises. That was unfortunate, because my family lived alongside a lake that yielded great skating rinks.

Football wasn't my thing, either, for I was exceedingly small and, thus, thrown around far too easily. I earned a spot, briefly, on my junior high school team, but when I got flattened during a practice -- and took several minutes to get up again -- I decided to retire until I at least gained some height and weight ... and never went back.

Soccer got my attention as an alternative -- it was just starting in our school -- but the first time I tried heading the ball, I decided I would have to be nuts to subject myself to that melon-clanging on a regular basis.

Snow skiing was something I pursued across several years, but I never rose to a competitive level, and eventually left it as a young adult, when the dollars from my small salary were best utilized in other ways. Bowling and golf went the same way -- squeezed out by a lack of funds.

Basketball was one of those sports where the finer points, like dribbling and shooting, tended to elude me, despite hours and hours of practice at a hoop set up on the edge of our driveway. One drawback was this: the space behind the basket -- the backboard was supported by two metal poles -- sloped downhill to the neighbor's driveway. Once there, the ball could easily skitter across the blacktop and over the back edge and down a long slope to the flatland bordering our lake below. Retrieving the ball was both time-consuming and exhausting.

I think, somewhere along the line, I decided enough hill climbing was enough.

And then there was baseball. That was my sport, despite my size. I could hit well, and I could throw well. (I was a pitcher in my Little League days, but gave up the mound after a disastrous Babe Ruth League outing recounted here.) My hitting earned me a spot on my high school's varsity, and I played intramurals in college and competed in a loosely organized softball league for my employer in Watertown, New York, when I was a young adult.

Along the way, I developed something of a home run swing (batting lefty, which I preferred), and had a strong arm that I used to great effect from outfield positions. I got enormous satisfaction out of the sport for years, and still look back fondly on those things I did well.

Alas, I awakened one morning with a damaged throwing arm -- with a torn rotator cuff. I had evidently twisted my arm up in a precarious and injurious position while sleeping, and realized upon waking that something was different. I didn't know what until I took the softball field later that day and tried throwing -- and hit a wall of pain.

Lacking the kind of repairs available today, I had to wait for the injury to heal itself ... and it took two years. When I returned to action, I had lost the zip in my throws. So I decided on second base and first base as positions, and continued in that altered state until moving from Watertown. After that, I didn't associate with anyone who played the sport, and my baseball glove sat on a shelf, gathering layers of dust.

Thus, from my perspective these years later -- which is to say without active participation (with rare exception) for three decades -- I relive some of those exploits through the youth of today, and recognize the importance of what they do, and try to record it.

And I applaud all the while.


And earlier:

Nine simple words ...

By Charlie Haeffner

Odessa, September 3, 2012 -- There is a great movie from the early 1960s starring two old Western stars in the twilight of their careers: Joel McCrea and Randolph Scott. It's called "Ride the High Country."

It has to do with two old friends -- former lawmen -- hauling a supply of gold from a mining camp to a bank in the West of the 1800s, and the designs one of them (Scott) has on stealing it. McCrea lives by a code of ethics that won't permit it.

Scott, in trying to persuade McCrea otherwise, wonders what his old friend wants out of life -- if in fact it is enough that he might die with only the clothes on his back to measure his worldly accomplishments.

"All I want is to enter my house justified," McCrea responded.

I saw that movie at a drive-in theater when I was a teenager, when it was first released in 1962. I've encountered it a couple of times since, including this week, and I am just as mesmerized by its storytelling now as I was those 50 years ago. But what resonates more for me now is the philosophy of the film and its old-fashioned code of morality.

We have entered an era of easy access -- to entertainment, and information, and gratification. It is such a far cry from the American West of 150 years ago that it might as well be 5,000 years. That is how quickly matters have accelerated with the advent of computers and advancements in medicine, housing and nutrition. And in all things superficial.

In the days represented by McCrea's hero, life was hard. Food was at a premium, as was shelter. Air-conditioning? Yeah, right. Automobiles? Nope. Nor roads -- except for the rough paths traversed by carriages and stage coaches. Medical care? Not much, although there was no worry about paying insurance premiums, either.

But more to the point was the admirable nature of those who adhered -- with kindness, but toughness -- to a code that differentiated between right and wrong, who tried to make choices based on fairness for themselves and their neighbors, and who counted on those neighbors to return the favor in kind.

After McCrea has discovered the plan to steal the gold and announced he will be delivering Scott and Scott's protege -- a young man with a wild streak -- to the nearest sheriff, he is asked by another character what will happen to the young man.

"I'll testify for him," McCrea says. "They shouldn't be too hard."

"Will you testify for (Scott)?"

"No, I won't," McCrea responds.


"Because he was my friend."

It was a hard time back then, with hard choices. Our choices today are more along the lines of what fast-food joint we might visit, or what movie we might see, or what party we might attend. Too often we battle the sorrows of life -- our sense of meaninglessness and loss of purpose -- with a bottle that intoxicates or a drug that dulls.

That doesn't mean I wish we were living in the past, in the 19th century, when life was hard and life expectancy a good deal shorter than today.

It does mean I wish we had an existence today in which we all had a purpose other than to just get through another day of work, or another day of unemployment, or another day of school or marriage or whatever.

We too often are just trying to get through. We need goals, and drive, and dreams -- and a sense of morality, an ability to tell what's right.

"How do you know what's right?" Scott's character asked McCrea.

McCrea looked surprised.

"Well ... you just do," he said.

It's not that easy for most of us, I suspect. There are too many gray areas; there is too much opportunity for self-justification.

But in the end, I think, McCrea's philosophy holds true -- validated by that single line quoted above. It speaks to me in all of its layers ... in what it says of decisions made, of paths chosen and of a life well-lived. It is a line with just nine simple words, but they are potent ones.

"All I want is to enter my house justified."


And earlier:

The competitions of life ...

By Charlie Haeffner

Odessa, August 24, 2012 -- I've been thinking lately about how I used to be a competitive person.

I played Little League, Babe Ruth and high school baseball growing up, and bowled in leagues, and played ping pong and pool. I was competitive in board games, and always trying to outdo my brothers (though more often than not failing in the attempt).

Somewhere along the line -- I think as I was turning into my 30s, leaving Watertown, New York and a job where my co-workers and I matched skills on the softball field and on the golf course -- I got away from that lifestyle. I never lost my enthusiasm for watching televised competition -- for being a Yankees fan, for instance. But I no longer went out on the golf course, I stopped playing softball, and I even gave up a non-competitive athletic pursuit, which was snow skiing. Giving up skiing probably stemmed from cost -- I wasn't making much money working at newspapers -- but also from a realization that my brother Jim, two years my senior -- would always be better at it than I was. He is, to this day, still active as a ski instructor for the National Ski Patrol in Colorado. I honestly never saw a more graceful skier than Jim, whereas I tended to lurch down the hills.

Anyway, the whole thought of competition and my part in it (or absence from it in recent years) came flooding in with some stories I've been writing lately. It was prompted on the one hand by pre-season looks I've taken on The Odessa File at the fall sports teams at the Watkins Glen and Odessa-Montour high schools. Those articles renewed my appreciation for the enthusiasm and skills of our young people, and kindled in me a wish, I suppose, that the years hadn't slipped so readily past me without greater participation on my part on the playing fields.

And then there were stories on the opening of Quinlan's Pharmacy in Montour Falls -- a direct reaction to the closing late last year of the Montour Pharmacy. County and village leaders jumped right in after Henderson Drugs sold the Montour Pharmacy business to CVS, and CVS closed it down. Those leaders went out in search of another pharmacy and came up with Quinlan's, of Wayland.

I like that. If there's one thing that makes our society sing, really crank on all cylinders, it's competition. When CVS effectively eliminated its Montour Falls competition, the void left behind was filled in fairly short order -- not as fast as the county and village and Quinlan's had hoped, but the new store opened inside of nine months with a chance, certainly, to win back some of those customers siphoned off by CVS. I'd love to see the numbers that develop -- the customer counts -- in the coming months, but I'm guessing this is one competition whose statistics won't be posted on any scoreboard.

In the meantime, I'm thinking I should get out the golf clubs again.


There has been some small-town stuff going on in Odessa recently that points up the charms -- and discord -- of small-town living.

First, there was the annual Hit the Boot campaign by the local fire department, where firefighters stood out on the highway on NASCAR weekend, holding out a uniform boot and letting passing motorists slow and put some money in it. The firefighters also put on a chicken barbecue on NASCAR weekend, as they do every year. Funds from both efforts -- boot and barbecue -- go toward upkeep of the department. I like that.

I also appreciated an effort by Boy Scout Lee Sidle, a senior at Odessa-Montour High School, to earn his Eagle Scout award. His Eagle project is creation of a park along Rt. 224, across the turnoff to the high school. He and family and friends cleared brush and installed a fence overlooking the creek below, and plan to put in seating. Again, you don't find this kind of thing happening in big cities; and if you did, it wouldn't have the same charm and earnestness.

The discord was exemplified by the angry reaction to a proposal to construct youth league soccer fields in what is now a hayfield to the east of Church Street. The idea appeals to me -- I'm all for providing opportunities to our youth -- but some neighbors don't see it that way. They see it as an assault on their privacy, peace and property because of an envisioned spike in village traffic and in attendant noise. Personally, it wouldn't faze me if the soccer league looking to develop the site -- the Chemung Valley Soccer Association -- set up shop in my backyard.

Homeowners have every right to want what they want -- in this case the status quo. But what I don't understand -- and, honestly, have seen repeatedly here across the years -- is the knee-jerk anger that greets new ideas. Common sense tells me that if something concerns you, you should ask questions about it, get the facts, and then -- if still opposed -- mount some sort of offense in a (hopefully) civil fashion. But a petition with all sorts of "facts" (some erroneous) about the soccer plans made the rounds before questions were asked, and some folks showed up at a village board meeting angry, and words and tempers flew, and nothing much was accomplished other than an increase in the collective blood pressure.

It all pointed up the very real dichotomy here between those residents who want to improve the condition and business and potential of the village, and those who like it as it is -- quiet and private. Isolated.

I think it's clear what side I'm on -- that of progress -- but not by much. I'm actually of both schools. (For instance, I am generally annoyed by the truck traffic that has been zipping past my house, mere yards from my front door, ever since the hill to Montour was reopened a few years ago to large haulers. Truck noise does not, for me, equate with the sound of children playing soccer.)

So, paint me the color of both sides.

I suppose that kind of approach will earn me brickbats -- angry criticism -- from both sides.

So be it. It comes with the territory.

In the meantime, I'm looking forward to the soccer debate.

If nothing else, it should be entertaining. And maybe competitive.


And earlier:

Of coverage and The King

By Charlie Haeffner

Odessa, August 11, 2012 -- I've been procrastinating lately ... basically putting off everything.

It's how I used to be as a child. I've been pretty industrious as an adult, but this summer, with all the suffocating heat and the trip I took to Michigan -- symbolic of a need to relax -- I've fallen back into the old, old habits. I've been blanketed by a sense of lethargy.

That won't last long, though. School sports are just around the corner, and that pretty much kick-starts a 10-month, non-stop coverage period.

Part of that effort will include an upswing in SchuyLines stories. I'll be contacting some notables shortly for interviews leading to personality profiles. And I'll be starting a series about local businesses (a periodic spotlight), and another series on the specifics of how I ended up here in Schuyler -- which is to say how I came to settle here at the end of an intriguing around-the-country journey that could have led me anywhere ... but dropped me off in Odessa.

I would like to get more photos on SchuyLines, too, along with some video. Stay tuned.

(And speaking of SchuyLines, I want to once again encourage writers out there to send along some of their creative art for publication. In particular, I'm thinking about the fine folks who participate in the Watkins Glen Writers Group.)


We had a visitor to our neighborhood the other day -- a red fox creeping around underneath a pickup truck parked in a driveway across the street. The fox stayed there in the shadows for several minutes before scurrying off into the nearby brush. A minute or two later, he walked out of the brush 50 yards north and raced across Rt. 224 to the school side of the road.

I mentioned the sighting to several people, and was told this visit was not unusual. It seems a lot of folks have spotted foxes recently. One such person said she understood that an increase in the fox population coincided with a decrease in the coyote population. Anyone know anything more about this?


Seeing Richard Petty on Friday outside the Tops market in Watkins Glen -- where he was joining with the Smithfield food group in providing thousands of pounds of pork products to the Food Pantry -- brought back memories of an earlier, simpler time up at the Watkins Glen International track.

It was in the '80s, not long after NASCAR had started coming here on an annual basis. There were plenty of fans on the track grounds by the weekend, but the weekdays leading to that were quieter than now. I was up there covering the arrival of several of the NASCAR teams for an area newspaper. I was walking on the pavement fronting the garage area when I spotted Petty striding toward me, alone. He was, at the time, in the twilight of his career, playing out a string that had started in the late 1950s and lasted into the early '90s. I stopped him to ask a question or two, and to my surprise he offered me something better.

"Come on inside where it's cooler," he said, pointing to his team's nearby trailer. We went in, and there was one other man there, just leaving, so it was soon just Petty and me. He offered me some ice water, which I accepted.

For a person who is a writer -- who records conversations and observations -- I remember little beyond those facts of my time with Richard Petty. I can tell you the session lasted twenty minutes or so, and that he was gracious, called me "pardner" a couple of times, and commented on the track and the area ("beautiful"). And basically, that's all I remember of specifics. I don't think he asked me anything about myself, other than who I worked for and where I lived. I really think my brain disengaged from the conversation -- marveled at the unusual nature of the situation: a conversation in private with "The King," the man who had won Daytona seven times and posted 200 career NASCAR wins.

I remember the incident in bits and pieces, really; in the abstract. I still have a sense of the moment, a sense of the kindness of a man of importance taking time to speak to a small-town reporter. I realized then, and still realize, the odds against such a thing happening. I also recall thinking the meeting was something too personally impacting -- too unique and, thus, prized -- to share with the public. And so I didn't write about it at the time -- a clear violation of my journalistic duty.

The memory of that day was refreshed Friday when I saw Petty. He was surrounded by media and fans, signing autographs outside Tops under a tent that protected him from the rain, and talking to TV reporters before finally being led away by a company representative. The rep was holding an open umbrella over The King's head.

I don't imagine Petty spotted me in the crowd, nor would he recognize me if his eyes, shielded by sunglasses, had happened to fasten on me. And why would he? Our one meeting was brief and many years ago. And besides, some things in life are just plain one-sided -- such as conversations with kings.


And earlier:

The passing of a giant ...

By Charlie Haeffner

Odessa, July 30, 2012 -- The passing of William F. Milliken on Saturday at his home near Buffalo marks the conclusion of a remarkable life that saw the man reach stunning heights in various ways.

There was, to bow to the recently obvious, his longevity -- the existence of a man approaching and then passing the century mark in age, and fully functioning until near the end. But that was a product of luck and genes.

Go past that anomaly, and look at his achievements: pilot, race-car driver and race official; aeronautical engineer whose work helped change aircraft design; automotive engineer devoted to improving vehicle stability. He was revered by other engineers, and his written works were required reading.

He was, in short, a man with an astoundingly sharp mind and an intense inquisitiveness. He pushed against engineering boundaries and broke through them, inventing things many of us would never dream of. (For instance, he was, one biography notes, "a co-inventor of a variable stability aircraft" and pioneered "stability augmentation and modern electrohydraulic flight control systems.") And he took what he found in aeronautics and applied some of those principles to automobile stability and, thus, to increased safety on the highways and the racetracks.

His racing career was not a merely passing fad. Following World War II, he competed in more than 100 road races (including Sebring and Pikes Peak), helped found racing in Watkins Glen, and left his name behind on the original Watkins road course when he rolled his Bugatti in the inaugural race there in 1948 at what was known as Thrill Corner but became Milliken's Corner. He was also a race official, serving as Chief Steward for the Formula One U.S. Grand Prix at Watkins Glen.

Beyond that, he was a man with a keen sense of humor who was, I'm told by some of his many friends, a delight to be around. In the two celebrations staged at Watkins Glen's International Motor Racing Research Center in recent years in his honor -- to celebrate his 99th birthday and then his 100th -- he was charming to all, talking to anyone who wanted a bit of his time. That bespeaks innate kindness.

I met him on those two occasions and spoke to him late last summer when he was in town for induction into the Legends of the Glen, a sort of Hall of Fame for people who have played a key role in Watkins Glen racing. He was sitting that day in a car on display at Lafayette Park in Watkins Glen, no doubt enjoying the feel once again of an automobile body enveloping him and his hands on the steering wheel, although this machine wasn't moving. It was an experimental model with cambered tires, a result of some engineering that he had kick-started years ago with the 1960 Milliken MX1 Camber Car designed for improved grip on cornering.

As I said: he broke through envelopes and invented things most of us couldn't imagine, and few of us can understand. And if we do, it's only because of his patient explanations in his articles and books -- the most important, from a Watkins Glen standpoint, being his remarkable Equations of Motion, which he dubbed "an engineering autobiography" that contains not only engineering lessons, but an account of his life, including its segments in Watkins.

Bill Milliken had been fading in recent years, which is no wonder. The human body is made for just so much endurance. And considering the physical stresses of flight and of auto racing, the mental stresses of being smarter and more innovative than anyone around him, and the sheer number of years he accumulated, he indeed endured. And excelled. And enjoyed. And left behind so many, many things for us to study and ponder and marvel over.


And earlier:

It's a temporary lull ...

By Charlie Haeffner

Odessa, July 23, 2012 -- It is a quiet time, this summer is. According to one article that crossed my desk, it is the third hottest summer on record nationally, with only 1950-something and last year ahead of it. Heat slows everyone and everything down.

It cooled enough yesterday so that I took a whip to some weeds that had positively wilted in the recent sunlight. They looked scorched, as though someone had lit a match to them. And then I saw another news article that said 63.5% of the nation is suffering drought conditions.

Professionally, there has been very little of note crossing my email portal, and so there has been little to report. I imagine the heat has something to do with that. But don't get too lulled by a lack of news. High school sports practices start next month, and the fall season not long after that. We will be right back into the excitement of our young athletes reaching for the brass ring.

And we'll have the negative excitement of our elected officials grappling with budgets that promise to be equally as tight -- and possibly more so -- than in the recent constricted past. First up will be the county, which operates on a fiscal year that parallels the calendar year. Villages and the school districts will then follow suit. Good luck to all of our local representatives -- and while we're at it, maybe some of us should pitch in and start complaining rather loudly to our state representatives about unfunded mandates. Those (not to mention a shaky economy) seem to be the chief cause of the stranglehold in which the county and local school districts constantly find themselves.


I, along with some other basketball fans, got a kick out of watching Stefanie (she goes by Stef now) Collins and her Great Britain Olympic team do battle with the U.S. squad in England in a televised tuneup for the Olympic Games. Stefanie (for that is how I've always known her) scored 14 points in a losing cause. It's been a pleasure watching her perform on the court over the years. I was a fan when she was in high school and college, and I'm a fan still.

Watching her in that recent televised contest brought to mind some words I wrote about her a decade ago in the lead story in The Glory Girls, a book about the Collins-led Odessa-Montour girls varsity basketball team's run to the New York State Class D title. It read like this:

"The first time I saw her in action, I was mesmerized -- dazzled, really, on several levels, for she was so many things: tactician and practitioner, field general and motivating force, conductor and executor ... We are talking here about a team led by a very special player -- a shooter in the purest sense, a stylish left-hander who worked unbelievably long hours to attain her skill level, and then amazed her coaches, teammates and fans by repeatedly raising that level notch by notch until the dream was reality."

Good luck, Stefanie. We'll be rooting for you again in The Games.


I would like to encourage any writers out there who have Schuyler County-related stories to tell to do so on SchuyLines, The Odessa File's sister publication. We have some writers now, but need more. If you have an idea or a story, email it to me at or just click on the email link at the bottom of any of this website's pages.


And earlier:

A deer heads into the woods after startling the author at a family ceremony.

The closing days of vacation

By Charlie Haeffner

Bois Blanc Island, Michigan, July 15, 2012 -- On the next-to-last full day of my Island vacation, I attended a meeting touted as a gathering of writers to discuss a possible anthology of Island tales written by Island residents and visitors. The session was held in the Hoover Community Building, one of two key meeting places on Bois Blanc.

When I entered, a little late, I found just three women there -- that was it. The turnout was probably a disappointment to them, although it doesn't take a large committee to get a good idea moving forward.

One was Mary Deery (left), who resides during the summer on the Island's West End with her husband, a retired FBI Special Agent. Another was Klara Dannar (right), who resides summers on Bois Blanc with her husband, a health and safety consultant. And the third was Island poet and painter Myrna Westcott, who splits her time with her retired husband, Gus, between Bois Blanc and Florida.

Two hours later, after a couple of readings of their own writings by Klara and Mary, the project seemed to be moving forward. I tossed my hat in the ring as an editor -- although the three women didn't want me mucking too much with the anthology prose. A light touch here and there, I guess.

Anyway, the meeting marked a departure from my usual Island fare. With that session and a two-hour stint I put in several days earlier as a volunteer running the local museum-library, I took a more hands-on approach on this visit. In the recent past, my vacations have mostly consisted of me reading, reading, reading and writing, writing, writing.

This time, I was trying to get my mind off the grind back home that the spring sports and awards season had turned out to be. That meant getting away from a heavy dose of words.

I don't know; maybe I'm getting old ............. Naaahhh.


The final full day on the Island was consumed by packing, by staying sheltered from an intense sun, and by a family ceremony conducted by my brother Bob and I.

We sprinkled some of our mother's ashes at a couple of Island locales.

Eleanor Leigh Bennett Haeffner died last year at the age of 92, and was cremated -- as her husband Gus had been 18 years before. Dad's ashes were buried in a garden beside Christ Church Cranbook, a large Episcopal Church in the Birmingham-Bloomfield Hills area north of Detroit that our family used to attend.

Most of Mom's ashes are there, too, delivered by my other brother, Jim, a retired banker. He saw that Mom's remains were put next to Dad's during a trip to Michigan from his Colorado home a couple of months ago.

That left a vial of ashes for distribution on the Island, a place Mom enjoyed when I was a young boy, and which she visited a couple of times in recent years -- including for her 80th birthday celebration back in 1999. The whole clan gathered here for that event. Bob, the eldest of my two older brothers (and a retired career military man), and his wife Gussie have made the trip from their Florida home to the Island every year since -- and on this trip, we were sharing lodging in a large cottage along the south shoreline.

Mom, I need to point out, was good friends with Wayne and Mary Babler, folks she and Dad met when they all lived on Long Island back around 1950. The Bablers had told them of their vacation paradise on Bois Blanc -- an island Mary had been visiting since childhood -- and urged my folks to visit it some summer. Well, my Dad got a job selling shoes to retail outlets around Michigan in 1952, and thus began our summer sojourns here.

I bring up the Bablers because Bob and I found their gravesite at the Island cemetery, a lovely, wooded graveyard with ferns sprinkled about. We decided -- since the Bablers were close friends across many years -- that it was a suitable spot for some of Mom's ashes. So Bob sprinkled them there and on the adjoining grave of Mary Babler's sister, Annette Blome -- who was for years my Dad's secretary. We figured the cemetery was a good place for our little ceremony, a place for Mom among friends.


The first -- and only other place -- we left ashes that day was in a small garden beside the Church of the Transfiguration, one of two churches on the Island. It dates back to 1905, and was where my grandfather, Papa Gus Haeffner, and my Dad were confirmed in the Episcopalian faith in 1954. Mom and Dad often attended church there on their summer visits to Bois Blanc.

My brother had just sprinkled some ashes there when I heard a rustling sound to my left and, turning, saw a small deer darting from a spot that was no more than a few yards from us. I hadn't seen her despite her proximity, and I wondered at that, and at the timing. If I subscribed to such a thing, I would say it had elements of mysticism.

The deer made it to a nearby stand of trees and then halted, looking back. I got photo position and snapped some shots, and then she headed through the trees to the Island's main road and ambled across to a shaded area of fir trees on the far side. My brother and I followed, repeatedly getting within camera range before she took off again down a dirt side road. She was, in fact, heading in the direction of property I own there, along that very path. And I wondered at that -- if there was any symbolism -- and decided probably not.

And so we stopped following, and stood watching as the deer crossed the roadway from the left edge to the right, sidled up to the thick woods there, and looked back at us, staring, as if waiting. We stayed like that for more than a few seconds, until finally the deer -- I could almost imagine her shrugging -- wandered into the brush and trees and out of sight.

And my brother and I, shrugging, headed back toward our vehicle, parked near the church.

Photos in text:

Top: Mary Deery (left) and Klara Dannar.

Middle: Bob Haeffner sprinkles ashes at the garden by the Church of the Transfiguration.

Bottom: The deer that interrupted us crosses the Island's main road.

A freighter passes by Bois Blanc Island in Michigan's Straits of Mackinac.


And earlier:

The rental cottage, photographed from the shore side of a dirt road that passes by.

The rattler & the road-tripper

By Charlie Haeffner

Bois Blanc Island, Michigan, July 11, 2012 -- The rattling warned me that I wasn't welcomed along the path I was following.

I was heading out to the rear of the property we're renting here on Bois Blanc, intending to snap some photos -- hoping I'd encounter a deer or two, their kind being rare sights this summer. As I neared the back corner of a storage shed, some 15 yards from the cottage's back deck, I heard the unmistakable sound of a rattlesnake warning me to back off. I stopped, looked down and to my right, and saw him curved around the corner of the building, his rattles sticking out toward me, going like crazy. I yelled a surprised obscenity, and heart racing, stopped where I was.

Then, still a bit excited, I decided to look closer -- from what I hoped was a safe seven feet away -- and saw that he was a thick snake, brown with diamond-like markings: really ugly. I instinctively raised my camera to point it in his direction, but my son Dave, 45 feet distant, perched on the deck and within earshot of the rattling, warned me: "Maybe you want to come back here."

I glanced once more at the snake, saw the rattles still rattling, and noticed the head turning in my direction and the body coiling -- and decided my son was right. I retreated.

Such is the nature of an island where there are few humans and where various wildlife hold sway in the forests and along the edges of civilization. This was most likely the kind of rattler long a resident of these parts, a massasauga whose bite is not, as a rule, fatal to humans. But it can inflict pain and sickness. So I guess as riled as he seemed to be, retreat wasn't a bad idea. I don't know how far these snakes can hurl themselves on an attack, but I wouldn't really like to find out the hard way.


Traveler Brian Murray, who rode his dirt bike to Bois Blanc from New Hampshire.

Anyway, that was a little unnerving, serving as a counterpoint to an encounter of a far different kind just a half-hour earlier, when Dave and I visited Hawk's Landing, the local convenience store-restaurant. There was a young man there -- a first-time Island visitor dressed like a biking pro -- who was asking the proprietor, Larry Phillips, for directions around Bois Blanc. The man had arrived on a tricked-up old Honda Legend dirt bike, a 300-pound vehicle parked in front of the store. It was loaded with camping gear and other equipment befitting a trip from New Hampshire that carried its rider across New York State and Ontario, down through the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, across the Mackinac Bridge and over to Cheboygan and the Island ferry.

The rider, Brian Murray, is a professional chef from Londonderry, NH who hops on his bike whenever he can find the time and money to take sizable journeys. This one was relatively minor in scope; he was planning to head south through Michigan in a few days and then wander east across Ohio and Pennsylvania on the way back home. By contrast, he has traveled the width of the country before, to California and back, and is hoping to take a 26,000-mile trip in the not-too-distant future, traveling around the world in 180 days.

"It'll cost about $40,000," he said, with boat crossings of the Atlantic and Pacific and road travel the rest of the way. He might take his current bike, although "I'd like a bigger one" for such a journey, he said. But that is down the road, so to speak; right now, he was going to investigate the Island's various interior roads and trails, and camp out on the north shore. He was excited at the prospect of his Island stay, especially after Dave outlined the many miles of road and trail choices.

"I know I came to the right place," Murray said.

Without a doubt. You just have to look out for the angry rattlers.

Three of the Island's residents -- airborne and along the south shore road.


And earlier:

Of lightning and a library ...

By Charlie Haeffner

Bois Blanc Island, Michigan, July 7, 2012 -- The stay here has been blessedly peaceful, if you disregard the three loud cracks of lightning that felt alarmingly close to the cottage a couple of mornings ago during a storm that drenched the Island before giving way to a clear, hot and humid afternoon.

I had just arisen for the day when the lightning struck thrice in rapid succession, and it got my nerves and blood racing -- kind of set me on edge for a couple of hours, before the repeated rolling thunder of the storm rolled away to some other playground, leaving Bois Blanc nestled in the quiet punctuated only by lapping waves, an occasional passing car and an infrequent bleat from a freighter floating by in the distance between Island and mainland.

It has been a vacation of reading -- Lee Child books, a biography of Doris Day, and a thought-provoking novel called "Carry the One" -- and DVDs ("The West Wing," "Justified" and a movie called "We Bought a Zoo"), along with a visit to the West End to see the Terranovas -- Steve and his clan. I met them three years ago when he approached me during my dinner at the local convenience store-restaurant, Hawk's Landing, asking if I might pose in a photo with his stepdaughter Abby, a college student who had just purchased one of my novels for sale there. My rare fan.

I encountered them again this year at Hawk's, and agreed to visit them at their cottage, some nine miles distant. It's a charming place that has a clear view of Mackinac Island, which is three miles west. From their deck we could see the Grand Hotel and the fort and the Governor's Mansion across the way, on an island that gets crazy busy with tourists every summer. Bois Blanc, thank goodness, does not.

I've also done a little volunteering, working a shift at the local museum-library, a place with a slim selection of current or recent fiction but a nice gathering of regional works, including four novels I wrote years ago. I encountered one elderly couple there who arrived at Bois Blanc last week for their 50th annual visit (or so) -- a significant achievement when you consider that they drive all the way from California to enjoy the Island's charms. While they probably hold some sort of distance record among Island visitors, they don't come close to matching the number of Bois Blanc visits of, say, the late Mary Babler, who was here every summer except one for 91 years. She started coming here when she was one year old, back around 1919.

And they don't match the Island time experienced by Ray Plaunt, who has passed 90 years of age himself but still manages to come across from his mainland Cheboygan home a few times each summer. Ray used to live here -- for most of his life, in fact; had an Island house that he has given over to younger family members. He was the ferry skipper for many years, hauling the mail and groceries and other supplies, along with cars, across the Straits of Mackinac to Bois Blanc on a daily basis. His son runs the ferry service now. Ray, a gregarious fellow with an easy air about him, was one of my boyhood heroes, right up there with the Detroit Tigers' Al Kaline. Accordingly, I incorporated Ray into a couple of my novels -- a fact that he loved.

So ... reading, watching DVDs, visiting and volunteering have dominated my stay here this summer, punctuated by some work on this website -- although I have managed to put such labor aside for the most part. I needed to unwind, and I'm doing so.

Another week, and I'll be heading right back into the same routine I've long been following in New York -- a little too much work and not enough play. I think I'll have to do something about that imbalance.

But that comes later. Right now, I hear a Stephen King novel calling ...


And earlier:

Aaah ... On the Island again

By Charlie Haeffner

Bois Blanc Island, Michigan, July 3, 2012 -- The Island is unchanged, or barely so.

The water in the Straits of Mackinac that fronts our rented cottage is down a little from last year, and the dust from the Island's roads seems to have increased a bit. The sightings of deer and wild turkeys and swans are down -- one member of our group spotted a turkey in our side yard, and that was all -- as is the insect population.

But the faces of the humans are familiar. The proprietors of the lone convenience store on Bois Blanc (the name of the Island, French for "White Woods") are still (as they have been for several years) Larry and Missy Phillips, with Larry doubling as a real estate salesperson. Sally Babler Sperry, with whom I used to paddle a makeshit raft around the southwestern point of the Island in childhood, is here in retirement after a teaching career, and Mary Lee Turner and her husband still spend summers, as they have for decades, on the East End.

And a woman named Sheila Godbold, who used to own the convenience store before gravitating to Florida (and now back again following the death of her husband by cancer in his 40s), appeared in the store while I was in there working on a story.

"Man, they'll let anybody in here," I heard her say, and knew, without looking, that she was directing the words to me. I sensed her to my left, a dozen a feet away.

"Hello, Sheila," I said without even looking up, and then did so, smiling. It had been a while since I had seen her; and even longer since I had seen the young lady standing next to her -- her daughter Ashley, now a junior in high school. The last time I had set eyes on Ashley, she was about 10 years old.

Time flies and people change. So does the Island, but slowly.


I have been coming to the Island annually for years. I used to visit as a child, and rekindled my romance with it some 17 years ago. It is where I recharge my batteries, visit with family and old friends, and wish I were living in retirement.

The Island is 12 miles long and five miles across, roughly, and is populated mostly by state-owned forest. There are three basic sections that identify seasonal cottagers -- East Enders, West Enders, and Pines residents -- Pointe aux Pins (Point of Pines) being the lone municipality and the oldest cluster of cottages.

The Pines used to be a gathering place for people seeking health cures through fresh air and restorative waters. That was back in the 19th century. Now it's a place to restore sanity and equilibrium just by getting away from the masses. There are, in the course of a year, perhaps 2,500 people who visit the island, and many of them have cabins tucked away in the woods; you rarely see them. Others are one-night or weekend visitors utilizing a small campground on the north shore.

By contrast, Mackinac (pronounced Mackinaw) Island -- which caters to the tourist trade, has several thousand visitors a day throughout the summer months. It is within sight of Bois Blanc from the latter's north shore. It is chaos over there on Mackinac, and peaceful here, for the most part -- although there is the occasional glitch.

Our second night here, the Island's lone ambulance raced past our cottage heading east, and then back again on its way to the inland airport. We could hear a plane approaching, and figured it was coming for the ambulance patient, to take him or her off-Island to a medical facility on the mainland. And that proved true. The patient had sustained a bee sting, and was in shock and lacking the necessary medicine to treat it. Thus haste became the byword.

That's one thing up here: there's a certain lack of rapid-fire emergency service. It's a bit makeshift -- a first-aid station being the chief medical faciltiy.

Probably a decade ago, my family and I encountered a teenaged boy who had run a four-wheeler off the road and into a jagged tree stump, slicing open his right leg down to the bone. There was surprisingly little blood, and you could see the bone. He had left the accident scene and the broken four-wheeler and staggered up the road fifty yards or so, where he flagged us down. We got him to the side of the road and prone on the ground, while one of my sons ran to call 911. A few moments later, as we were comforting the boy, a man who was a first responder appeared out of nowhere and promptly took over. The bottom line was that the boy was taken to the airport and transported to the mainland -- and recovered nicely. But the delay in substantial medical service could have been a problem.

It was, in fact, a few years before then, after another four-wheeler accident. In that one, the victim sustained a head injury, and the time it would take to get a plane to the Island was deemed too long, so a speedboat was employed instead. It could reach the mainland community of Cheboygan -- which has a good hospital -- fairly quickly. Unfortunately, by the time a boat was secured and ready, and the crossing completed, the victim (another teenaged boy) had died.

But those are seemingly rare occurrences, with most people taking care to take care. They know the score; that if they are in trouble, medical services are wanting. Oddly, that is considered by most to be part of the Island's charm -- part of its rough, rustic nature, straight from a rough, rustic past and zealously guarded through strict zoning laws and a desire to keep civilization, at least the hustle and bustle of it, at significant arm's length.


And earlier:

A night at the Glass Museum

By Charlie Haeffner

Odessa, June 29, 2012 -- I spent an interesting evening -- one that saw me fed well -- on Thursday in the company of politicians, district attorneys (who are, after all, also politicians) and a lot of other folks.

It was the annual Five Rivers Council, Boys Scouts of America Distinguished Citizen Award Dinner, this year at the Corning Museum of Glass.

The honorees this time were a husband-and-wife team who have worked for years for Corning Incorporated and have devoted countless hours to volunteerism: Christine Sharkey (left) and John Sharkey (right).

I don't know them, but I was impressed by all of the nice things said about them in a speech by Kirk Gregg, a Corning Inc. executive vice president and the company's chief administrative officer.

The Glass Museum was a fitting place to stage a dinner honoring a couple of Corning's brightest givers. Last year the event was held at Elmira College, back when Raphael "Junior" Specchio of Watkins Glen, former Assemblyman Jim Bacalles of Corning and former State Senator George Winner were honored. Specchio and Bacalles were both present Thursday, too, at my table, where I was a guest of Junior's.

Also at the table were two Sisters from Notre Dame High School, along with District Attorneys Joe Fazzary of Schuyler County and Weeden Wetmore of Chemung County, and retired Republican Congressman Randy Kuhl, who served a long time in the State Senate before earning two terms in Washington.

Kuhl disappeared from the spotlight after being defeated 51%-49% by Democrat Eric Massa in a third run for Congress in 2008. The defeat was no doubt galling all by itself, but I'm guessing even more so in view of the spectacular self-destruction of the Massa career little more than a year later.

Kuhl was seated this night next to Bacalles, a Republican who served in the State Assembly from the mid-1990s through 2010, the year in which he lost a primary to then-Assemblyman Tom O'Mara as the two sought a seat in the State Senate. O'Mara went on to win in the general election. Bacalles, like Kuhl, is retired from politics.

"What do two former politicians do?" they were asked.

Kuhl smiled. "All those things we couldn't do when we didn't have time to do them."

Among those things are attendance at Spring Training baseball games in Florida, Bacalles at the New York Yankees stadium in Tampa, where he serves as an usher, and Kuhl at the Detroit Tigers facility in Lakeland, not far from his winter home. He splits time now between Florida and Hammondsport.


The dinner was emceed by G. Thomas Tranter, who said he would get everyone out of there by 8:45 (which he did) so they could go home and watch the NBA Draft on TV and, at 10:15, watch Elmira Notre Dame grad Molly Huddle try for a spot on the U.S. Olympic team in the 5,000 Meter Run.

I was interested in that one inasmuch as I saw Huddle run during her high school days, at a meet at Odessa-Montour. She was little known then, but she easily outclassed the opposition in a distance race that day, lapping a couple of runners and finishing without appearing at all winded by the effort. The other runners, by comparison, followed her across the finish line -- well back -- looking as if they needed an oxygen fix.

So I ended up sitting in front of my TV set Thursday night, after returning home from the dinner, cheering on Molly Huddle as she finished second in an Olympics Trial race and thus qualified for a spot on the U.S. Team at the upcoming Games in London.

That, of course, makes two locals we can cheer on, what with O-M grad Stefanie Collins having made the British Olympic Basketball Team.

Quite remarkable, really.


Awash as I was at the dinner in all things Boy Scouts, the evening took me back to my own Scouting experiences, which were admittedly limited. My eldest brother earned an Eagle rank, and I believe my other brother -- also my elder -- earned Life rank. I don't think I got past First Class, which is two steps up from Tenderfoot, but three down from Eagle.

I love what the Scouting program does for kids, but as a kid I wasn't that enamored; I don't know why, exactly. I remember leading my troop in the sale of Christmas wreaths and roping one year (earning a transistor radio for the effort), and I recall campouts and troop meetings and a certain camaraderie with the other participants.

But somewhere along the line it ended, though the details are murky. I think it had something to do with my father -- who was constantly on the road as part of his job -- being unable to devote the time to the troop that its leaders wanted.

Anyway, that's of small matter. What sticks in my mind is the Eagle rank my oldest brother earned. They played a video Thursday night celebrating all Eagle Scouts, of whom there have been more than 2 million in the 100 years since the rank was first attained. Two million sounds like a lot, but across a century, and across a nation as large as ours, not really.

I've always remembered the pride I felt in my brother when he became an Eagle Scout.

In retrospect, it may have set him on a lifelong course of earning hard-to-attain ranks: he was a career Army officer. But it was that first rank attained that has always held my attention. I was always impressed by that, and thought it ... well, quite remarkable, really.

Photos in text: Top: Christine and John Sharkey; bottom: seated at the same dinner table were, from left, Jim Bacalles, Randy Kuhl, Junior Specchio, Joe Fazzary and Weeden Wetmore.


And earlier:

An ending, a beginning ...

By Charlie Haeffner

Odessa, June 26, 2012 -- I attended calling hours for a fallen family member Saturday, and then hustled to make it to Watkins Glen High School in time to cover its annual graduation. I needed to write a story about it, with photos, for this website.

A nod to an ending, and a nod to a beginning.

The calling hours were for Ruth Costley -- my late wife's Aunt Ruth Mary. It was a gathering of family and friends, and friends and work associates of Ruth Mary's husband Keith. It was an opportunity -- as funeral gatherings often are -- for reunion. I would have liked to stay and share the experience, but duty called.

The graduation celebration was in keeping with most at WGHS -- as usual before a large crowd in the school auditorium, and with a sense of excitement and pride.

This was an unusually talented and dedicated group of students, these graduates. I've met a great many over the years who have impressed in various ways, but perhaps none in such a collective fashion. This WGHS Class of 2012 had the usual array of fine athletes and volunteer-oriented students, but it had a couple of other things: a civic responsibility as embodied in its Save Our Schools movement and a sense of style as embodied in its artistic entry and semifinal success in the national Vans Footwear contest that earned the school's art department $5,000.

I have to think that with its dedication and determination, the class has many students who will not only excel in college, but in life.

And that got me thinking -- about the unwritten future upon which these young adults are embarking, and how life probably looks like it stretches out before them in an endless vista. And I remembered that same perception upon my own graduation so many years ago -- and realized how quickly the time has passed, and how little I've accomplished.

I imagine that is a fairly common feeling among people of my generation -- except among those few who have, in fact, accomplished something of substance.

I noticed, as I talked to some of these graduates after their ceremony -- and to a couple of last year's graduates who stopped by to cheer on their younger friends from the Class of 2012 -- that they are full of joy and hope, wonderful commodities in the human spirit. I still feel such things on occasion, but of course the future does not unwind endlessly in front of me. I figure that if I am going to live to 100 (a worthy goal), then I've at least figuratively entered the countdown phase, seeing as how I've crested the midpoint and headed downhill.

That view ahead, toward the end, was brought to mind too by the Costley calling hours. And while I thought, during my travel from that gathering to the high school, that the juxtaposition of the two events on the same day was somehow ironic, I decided that they in fact go hand in hand.

At ceremonies such as graduations, hope reigns and life is celebrated. And the best of our funeral services are also celebrations. I can't say that hope reigns at them, unless we harbor a sneaking suspicion that a better existence awaits in eternity. But memories take hold at funerals, and their weight -- as full as they are of detail and love -- easily match the exciting though nebulous nature of future fantasies, of life unexperienced.

And that got me talking to one of my sons about my own ending. I told him that when the time comes, I am leaning toward cremation, and that I wasn't certain about having a funeral service. A relative who died earlier this year opted for such a simple exit. But then I thought about it and said: "Actually, if I had a service, I'd kind of like to come back and see if anybody attends."

My son laughed and replied: "Oh, I think there'd be quite a few."

I smiled at the thought. "Maybe. But wouldn't it be embarrassing if nobody came -- kind of like throwing the proverbial party where nobody shows up."

I threw a party like that once, as a young married man. This was up in Watertown, where I worked at a newspaper in my 20's. The party was in its planning stages -- it was set in motion, with no turning back -- when word came that a popular singer-songwriter of that age, Harry Chapin, was going to be performing the same night, the night of the party, at the local community college. It was a great coup for the college, and the death knell for my gathering. I followed through with it, with plenty of food and beverage and music on hand, but very few people came.

Most of my friends and acquaintances were where I should have been, out at the community college, watching Harry Chapin perform.

That left a lifelong scar -- so much so that the way I see it, if I were to have a funeral, something or somebody would impede its success. Some entertainer of significance -- Bobby Darin or John Lennon or Elvis or (perish the thought) Harry Chapin -- would probably rise from the grave on the day of the service and perform a concert in Schuyler County, maybe up at the racetrack, where thousands could attend, siphoning off my mourners.

The very thought is enough to encourage me (beyond my normal, natural inclination) to stick around, to continue my journey as a living, breathing, contributing entity. Nobody needs two Chapin-hampered parties to haunt them.

In fact, I think I'll shoot for that goal of 100 years on Earth. Or perhaps beyond.

Then I can congratulate these graduates of 2012 upon their retirements, and presumably on careers well done.


And earlier:

The Western end of the VTO building starts to cave in.

The VTO meets its end ...

By Charlie Haeffner

Odessa, June 14, 2012 -- It was an old building with nothing remarkable in its construction.

"No pillars, no carved woodwork. Nothing much," said one observer as it was torn down.

Its former owners were on hand, too, to see its final demise, and they seemed to have separated themselves emotionally from the building in the year since they had sold it. They weren't visibly sad, and in fact seemed pretty much like the other spectators standing on the sidewalk across the street from the demolition -- which is to say interested.

There were some who were saddened, though, and said so. In fact, the word "sad" was on several lips.

But sad or not, it was simply this: progress. The Village Take-Out (VTO) restaurant building, sold and closed last year, was knocked down on June 11, 2012 to make way for an enlarged Dandy gas station-convenience store lot. The Dandy property stretches now from Church Street to Merchant Avenue, with the store near the western end of it.

The VTO was a building that reached far back into Odessa history. A lot of folks remember when Hubert and Bertha Letteer ran a grocery store there.

More remember -- and ate at -- the VTO owned and operated by Bobby and Shelly Landon. They sold to the Dandy owner, Randy Williams of the Williams Oil Company, who has established 75 Dandy stores in the region. His plans for the lot have not been publicly announced, although speculation has a new Dandy store going in where the VTO and a small house behind it were demolished.

In that scenario, the new store would go up, and the existing Dandy would subsequently go down. It is an old structure that has served several owners. But a company spokesman said that for now, at least, the cleared area would simply be covered with gravel and provide increased parking.

The demolition brought to mind the day a building adjacent to the VTO -- which served in its last years as a woodstove retail store, and as a hair salon -- was knocked down. That came about nine years ago. Time and the wrecking ball (a figure of speech, since a Cat with a large set of jaws did the destructive honors) waited in the wings -- and took center stage on June 11 with the leveling of a landmark.

I've included a handful of shots of that process here, for historical perusal. Enjoy ... or be saddened.

Or both.

Photos in text:

Top: Odessa firefighters Patrick Tomassi, left, and Mike Hines hose the side of the building before demolition to keep the dust down.

Bottom: Former owners Bobby and Shelly Landon, who operated the VTO before closing last year and selling the building.

Roofing on the VTO building sags under the Cat's assault.

Wood shards go flying as the Cat smashes down on the remaining roof.

The second floor above the VTO dining room is flattened. The second floor contained apartments.


And earlier:

A visit from grandfather ...

By Charlie Haeffner

Odessa, Dec. 25, 2011 -- There once was a boy who loved two things most in life: books and baseball cards.

In particular, he enjoyed novels that transported him to worlds of adventure and intrigue -- worlds in which the hero lived by a code of honor and always won -- and he loved cards of his hometown team, the Detroit Tigers.

He longed to play major league baseball when he grew up, or in the alternative to be a hero of another stripe: a detective or a military general or a firefighter. He longed to be something special.

Christmas was always a magical time for him, and not just because of the presents in general that he would receive. He always looked forward to receiving cards and to the book or books he might be given, which he would read avidly before the holiday season was over.

Every year he would receive either books or cards or both under the Christmas tree. In his youngest years, he was thrilled by it. But as he grew older -- while his love of books and cards did not wane -- the gifts became less of a thrill and more of an expectation. He was spoiled.

And then, one Christmas -- perhaps perceived by Santa Claus as too jaded and unappreciative -- there were no books, and there were no cards. And the boy -- now in his teen years and turning, slowly, into a man -- was stunned. What had happened? Where were his true presents? What was he doing with packages of socks and underwear and ties?

It made him think, this sudden cessation of what had been for him a tradition. He thought back to what he might have done to deserve it, and was coming up empty. He thought about it on-and-off for three days, but could think of no suitable answer. And on the night of the third day, he had a fitful sleep, and was visited in dream by the ghost of his late grandfather.

"So, young Augustus ... you have come to a crossroads, have you?"

"Crossroads?" said Augustus. "I'm not sure what you mean, grandfather."

"I mean, you have come to the point in your life where you are being forced to think beyond your immediate needs -- to the cause and effect of life ... hopefully to a realization that life does not revolve around you. And that Christmas is not merely a time for gifts, but a celebration of a gentle carpenter's birth?"

"I know that, grandfather. But life does revolve around me. I have only my own perspective, and thus -- from my point of view -- am the center of all things. By entension, things therefore are indeed around me."

"You are spoiled, young man. Has it ever occurred to you that you are a spectator, and thus on the periphery of all things, looking on? That you perhaps have been put here -- not to enjoy the fruits of others' labor, but to glorify that which they do? To tell their story? You profess to love stories, to love books, so why has it not occurred to you that those very books, those very stories, are your training?"


"You have been chosen as a storyteller, my son. That is your role. Life does not revolve around you, but passes in front of you, in order for you to see it as clearly as possible and to tell about it. Others will value your effort; appreciate it."

"Really, grandfather? Does that mean, then, that I shall be paid well for the effort?"

His grandfather laughed. "Probably not," he said. "But payment is not always measured in dollars. To be valued, to be well thought of, is oftentimes the only payment available."

The boy nodded. He was, in this dream state, understanding things much more clearly than he had been while awake.

"A storyteller," he said.

"A storyteller," answered his grandfather, who then slowly faded away.

And the boy opened his eyes, and rejoined the waking world, and thought about what he had just experienced, and nodded.

"A storyteller," he said.

And so he grew up, and decided on a career in journalism and, on a day nine years ago (from this December 29th), he started an online newspaper. It was not particularly adventuresome -- was not a major league baseball career -- and, he realized, it did not qualify him as special or heroic ... which he thought in boyhood he might be.

But he had found a niche, a reason ... a goal. It was an ever-changing job, always dictated by the ever-moving parade of life passing before him. And he took notes, and snapped photographs, and wrote about all that he saw and heard.

And he was not disappointed with life.


And that, dear readers, is my simple tale for you on this day of celebration in 2011. Merry Christmas, and I hope you'll have a gratifying New Year.


And earlier:

An early Christmas present

By Charlie Haeffner

Odessa, Dec. 20, 2011 -- Christmas is almost upon us. It is, for many of us, a touchstone -- a reminder of the importance of family and faith ... and friends.

Angelo Pangallo received such a reminder on Monday evening, Dec. 19. Pangallo, convalescing from a second hip surgery stemming from an April accident, was wheeled into a conference room down the hall from his room at Schuyler Hospital, and there encountered a pleasant surprise, and an unexpected gift.

Waiting for him there were family and friends -- including some fellow members of American Legion Post 555 of Watkins Glen. One of those members, Tony Specchio, the post adjutant, handed Angelo a small bag, within which resided two small boxes.

In each box was a medal -- one a Good Conduct Medal and the other a National Defense Service Medal. They were earned by Pangallo -- but never presented to him -- during his U.S. Army stint in Korea between 1954 and 1956. Following his discharge, he served in the Reserves, and joined the American Legion in 1965.

Pangallo, 83 -- an International Salt Company retiree who lives in Montour Falls -- had tried over the years to have the medals sent to him, but never succeeded. Then he mentioned it a couple of years ago to old friend Specchio, who took it upon himself to try and secure them.

The whole matter -- the difficulty in getting the medals -- was possibly influenced by a fire decades ago that destroyed records at the National Personnel Records Center in St. Louis. But that's speculation, says Specchio.

"I don't know why he didn't get them," he added. "They should have been on his uniform when he was discharged. It's a mystery."

But eventually, somehow, two years after sending out a preliminary request, Specchio received the medals from that same, restored center, and in turn notifed members of Pangallo's family that he planned to deliver the medals to Angelo in the early evening on Monday.


When Pangallo was wheeled into the conference room, he was met by the smiling faces of family and assorted friends. There were three Glorias present -- a niece, a granddaughter and Pangallo's wife, who watched quietly from the side.

There was silence at first as the honoree took in his surroundings. "Now, what am I here for?" he asked softly.

Specchio stepped forward with the small bag holding the medals.

"I'm here to give you an early Christmas present," he told Pangallo. "See what it is."

Pangallo extracted the boxes, studied them, and them opened them to reveal the medals.

"This one is the National Service Medal for Korea," said Specchio while pointing to one, his voice noticeably breaking. "And this is your Good Conduct Medal."

Pangallo was silent, looking at the prizes.

"Well, I'll be ..." he said. "Thank you."

There was more silence -- emotion seemingly choking the room -- and then applause.

Angelo Pangallo nodded, and smiled.

"I sure appreciate it," he said, and nodded toward Specchio. "I thought he had something up his sleeve."


Specchio then produced a photo that he held up for the audience to see. It showed six men -- a commander and a former commander of the American Legion Post 555 flanking four new Post members. The new members were Jack Standish, Jack VanDeusen, Angelo Pangallo and Tony Specchio.

"It was taken when we joined the Legion in 1965," Specchio said. He and Pangallo were side by side in the photo, as they were on this evening, in this conference room, 46 years later.

"You remember this?" Specchio asked Pangallo, leaning in close and showing him the photograph.

"Of course I do," Pangallo said, his eyes misting. "Of course I do."

Photos in text:

Top: Angelo Pangallo with his two medals, the Good Conduct Medal on the left, and the National Defense Service Medal on the right.

Bottom: Tony Specchio displays the 1965 photo from the American Legion Post 555 induction. From left are Charles Calhoun, Jack Standish, Jack VanDeusen, Angelo Pangallo, Tony Specchio and Jonas VanDuzer.


And earlier:

Calling writers & advertisers

By Charlie Haeffner

Odessa, Dec. 11, 2011 -- SchuyLines, the sister publication to The Odessa File, is nearing a launch date, and we need your assistance -- well, at least assistance from some of you.

This is, at its heart, going to be a participatory exercise in Schuyler County coverage -- a celebration, really, of life here. We want input -- lots of it -- from advertisers and non-advertisers alike. We're looking for writers -- and in fact have found a few -- and photographers (a couple have expressed interest).

For those joining the game late, SchuyLines will be a website featuring all things Schuyler, sort of the opposite of The Odessa File in that instead of telescoping in on the day's events, it will back away and take a look at the width and breadth of the county -- its history, its business, its people, its religion, its geography, its ... well, its anything.

We'll start with a few features -- interactive trail maps, historical photos, a selection of writings from various volunteers, and hopefully a video or two -- along with some writing by me. And in the following weeks, we will be adding regularly -- more writings, more photos, more of anything we can think of. We'll look at businesses, at religion, at geography, at government and in particular at the interesting people who populate -- and have populated -- this beautiful area.

So ... if any of you out there have something Schuyler-related to write about -- one 90-year-old gentleman has volunteered to write about his boyhood in Burdett -- then get in touch with me by email. An email link appears at the bottom of each of these pages.

And about those advertisers. We're looking for a few, and providing them with a built-in, rather attractive offer: a $250 reduction in the ad price each month (cutting it effectively in half) if the advertiser signs on for a year and provides monthly (or nearly so) a bit of writing about his or her business. The possibilities of business-related subjects to cover are -- trust me on this -- fairly endless. So, in effect, we're offering the reduction in price if the advertiser will provide what amounts to a written installment -- which in essence serves as a second advertisement.

Call me crazy, but I like that arrangement.

So -- if there are any businesses willing to help out on this, to help celebrate Schuyler County, to help me as I try to make this new venture a success -- get in touch with me.

I'll be looking forward to hearing from you.


And speaking of SchuyLines, one idea that occurred recently was this: to feature the hobbies of county residents. It was inspired by a gentleman who says he collects outhouses. An awfully lot can be told about a person by the hobby or hobbies he or she pursues, he said. And I concur.

So, if any one of you has a hobby you want featured, contact me and I'll try to work a story about it into the schedule. Or you can write about it yourself, and send along your own account -- preferably with photos.

And related only by the fact of the website-to-be is this -- another idea and another request. If any one of you out there has photos from the briny deep of Seneca Lake -- from its floor via scuba diving or other means -- and wishes to share them with the public, let me know and I'll get them on SchuyLines.

Thank you.


On another matter entirely:

The vote is almost here on the proposed single-campus plan in the Watkins Glen School District -- a vote which would sanction the ultimate closing and sale of the Middle School.

Voting is from noon to 8 p.m. Tuesday, Dec. 13 in the lobby outside the school district office at the high school.


And earlier:

Farewell to the Pharmacy

By Charlie Haeffner

Odessa, Dec. 1, 2011 -- I first heard about it in an e-mail from an elderly female Montour Falls resident.

"This morning I heard (and verified) that Montour Pharmacy is closing Dec. 6," the e-mail read. "It has been bought out by CVS, and people's prescriptions are being transferred to them. I really feel this is upsetting in that there was no notice given to any of their customers."

She said she also felt sympathy for Nick Anagnost, who sold the business in 2003 to Larry Jepsen, head of the Henderson chain of pharmacies. Nick, she said, had "built a really good store and reputation." He had, by his own account, turned down offers from CVS that were more lucrative than the Henderson offer. The difference was that Henderson would keep the store open -- which it has, until now.

Businesses come and go, often without a ripple. But this departure will likely leave waves of discontent. Thanks to Nick's warmth and the warmth of the employees in the store -- their willingness to help people across so many years -- the store has been more than a stop-off for prescriptions.

It's been a gathering place for village residents -- a third stop after they had picked up their mail and had completed their banking across the street. It was a social high point of the day for many people across many years.

It was like a warm blanket on a cold night.

But now, with the speed at which this is unfurling, and with the short notice given to employees (just a week before the store closes), it seems anything but warm.

Gone will be the gathering place. Gone will be the convenience whereby local elderly could walk to the store for prescriptions and to fill other needs. In its place, at least for now, will be a vacant storefront. (Conversely, a cupcake shop, Over the Top Cupcakes, recently opened next door. I imagine it was looking forward to capitalizing on some of the Montour Pharmacy traffic.)

I'm not here to judge Mr. Jepsen or CVS, though. Business is business, I'm sure they would say if they were being public about this. And that's true -- especially in an age of conglomerates.

But Nick Anagnost saw business as more than that. He saw business as community and family -- and that seemed to be his legacy. The store remained open and viable for years after he had sold it.

But no more. And it is the sudden pending loss of what amounted to a touchstone that has left people disturbed at the development. Before news of the sale went public, I encountered several area residents in my day's travels. When I related what was happening with the store, a couple of them -- both Montour Pharmacy regulars -- said: "Oh, no! I love that place." Two others said: "It's sad. It's sad."

I imagine others would echo those sentiments.


Watkins Glen High School girls varsity bowling coach Ward Brower is justifiably proud of his squad, which won the Section IV, Class C-D title last year and looks strong again this year. But when he praised the team this week -- after its first match (a victory) -- it wasn't just for its bowling prowess.

"I think it is worth noting," he wrote, "that our women's team is not only the defending Class C-D champion, but all 10 made the High Honor Roll for the first marking period of the year."

That, he added, "is not really a quote, but a fact."

Congratulations, girls. Keep up the good work.


Another e-mail -- this one from the Watkins Glen School District office -- brought a reminder of the next School Board meeting, set for Monday, Dec. 5 in the High School library. It is notable for what follows, at 7:30 p.m.: the second of two public information sessions on the proposed consolidation of district buildings onto one campus -- the 12th Street site where the High School and Elementary School now stand. The plan envisions the closing of the Middle School and expansion of the 12th Street facilities.

A vote to determine if residents will allow the district to borrow money for the project is set for Tuesday, Dec. 13 from noon to 8 p.m. Voting will take place in the lobby outside the district office at the High School.


To those area residents who have expressed an interest in writing columns for the upcoming Odessa File sister website, SchuyLines -- please start writing. If you can each e-mail me your first column by mid-month or shortly thereafter, I would appreciate it. If you need some guidance or suggestions, feel free to call me at 594-3594. I will, in the meantime, try to touch base with you. And for anyone else interested in column writing, please call or e-mail me. An e-mail link is at the bottom of each Odessa File page.


And earlier:

Welcome to a new writer ...

By Charlie Haeffner

Odessa, Nov. 18, 2011 -- I never thought of myself as a mentor.

That role bespeaks age and wisdom, and my brain keeps telling me I'm young and not terribly bright.

But there I was one recent morning, seated at a table in the ballroom of the Harbor Hotel, with a Watkins Glen High School senior on my left. Her name: Jessica Brogdon (pictured on the right).

We were part of a Chamber of Commerce mentoring program that pairs students with business people from around the area. The idea is to allow each student a glimpse into the world of the business person with whom he or she has been seated. The program title: "Planting the Seed to Harvest the Future."

The event featured song and patter from singer-songwriter Jared Campbell of Vestal and words of wisdom from Jeffrey Dill on how he started his business, JR Dill Winery outside of Burdett.

There was a word exercise overseen by Chamber President Rebekah LaMoreaux designed to familiarize student and mentor with one another, with each person then telling the other participants in the room what had been learned. In other words, I took microphone in hand to describe Jessica Brogdon.

There was lunch, too, during which further familiarization was possible. Among the participants were 33 business people and 33 students. The students included 15 from Watkins Glen, 14 from Odessa-Montour, and four from Bradford.

I bring it up for two reasons. One is this: It was a unique experience, kind of a cross between camp and concert. The other was this: I got a writer out of it.

Jessica Brogdon, it turns out, can write, and quite well. I didn't know this going in -- and I'm not quite sure why I hadn't heard of her prowess before -- but she told me there at the mentoring session of an interest she has harbored toward journalism, and how she had taken a journalism course offered by WGHS. While that interest is shifting now toward one in epidemiology, she nonetheless agreed to do some work for me, starting with coverage of the Interact Club's annual (and free) Thanksgiving Dinner at her school the following Sunday.

I awaited that article with some trepidation, not knowing if she could actually construct a sentence that made sense, but was pleasantly surprised by how clean and efficient and energized her writing turned out to be.

I mentioned it the next day to two teachers -- Marie Fitzsimmons and Travis Durfee -- who have instructed Jessica in the classroom. "She's good," both told me. "My favorite writer among all the students," added Fitzsimmons.

And so, hopefully, we'll be seeing more of Jessica Brogdon's words in the months ahead. There are quite a few months before she graduates, and a summer break after that before she goes to college (at this point Tulane or Rochester).

Now, about that word exercise and what I've learned:

Jessica rides horses -- and not just rides, but has competed in shows. She is president of the Interact Club. She plays volleyball, and in fact was an IAC (and Odessa File) All-Star. She plays varsity tennis, too. She is a High Honor student. She is single-mindedly determined in anything she attempts. She is a native of Schuyler County. She has a bunch of friends, and is known to them simply as Jess. She is upbeat, and community-minded (hence her Interact role, the club being service-oriented). And she has a winning smile.

There. The rest, I suspect, we can derive from her writings in the coming months. I hope so.


And speaking of the Chamber of Commerce: It received a 15-year designation the other night from the Schuyler County Legislature as the Legislature's official Tourism Promotion Agency. This means the Chamber can, under extended contract, derive funds from the county Room Tax to help it operate its programs and, accordingly, promote tourism in Schuyler -- something it's been doing for years, but never with assurance of such an extended pact.

The Chamber, by the way, is playing a key role in helping to promote the upcoming SchuyLines website -- an Odessa File sister publication which will focus on all things Schuyler, in a featurized way. Among those things is tourism, of course -- which makes the website a natural fit with the Chamber's goals. Launch date for the website: Jan. 1.


I heard by email from Maggie Coffey, matriarch of a remarkable clan whose offspring includes Olivia (Livy), who is training for the Olympics in rowing. (Olivia is a member of our Decade of Stars team. For details, click here). Maggie -- who with husband Cal lives down South now but spends summers outside of Watkins Glen -- said that coincidentally "both Livy and Courtney Warren (another member of the Decade of Stars) are living in Princeton, NJ, Courtney pursuing a Masters/PhD and Livy an Olympic berth. As I understand, the girls get together often and are so very glad to have each other's company."

Both Olivia and Courtney played basketball at Watkins Glen High School -- Olivia in her freshman year before going on to prep school and Harvard, where she was All-America in rowing. Courtney attended WGHS for four years, excelling in swimming and basketball before continuing with a stellar swimming career at Bucknell University.

Good luck to both young women.

Photo in text: Jessica Brogdon


And earlier:

A little of this and that ...

By Charlie Haeffner

Odessa, Nov. 10, 2011 -- Well, the votes are in, and the decisions made. We have winners in the judge, legislature and treasurer races on the county level, and in various supervisor and council races on the town level.

It was a long campaign -- especially the judge and treasurer races -- that had a lot of people talking. There were intriguing choices, and dramatic substories, and compelling personalities. None of it went unnoticed on this website -- through ads, especially, and through the occasional appearance (and photo opportunity) of candidates at local events such as harvest suppers -- although the practice here was to withhold endorsements.

"That's really not your job," one friend told me, and I concurred. It is not my role, I believe, to try and influence anybody one way or another. It's to try to inform in as balanced a way as possible.

So ... congratulations to the winners, my sympathies to those whose vote counts fell short, and now it's time to move on.


I received a message from Sylvia Waite noting that her son, Col. A. Phillip Waite, Jr., will be featured on WSKG-TV (Channel 8 for most local viewers) at 1:30 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 13 conducting the United States Air Force Band of America, honoring our veterans and military personnel. The concert, she said, "is being shown nationwide on Veterans Day by whichever Public Broadcasting channels choose to air it. However, the scheduling for WSKG for that day was full, and thus they will air it on Sunday." The concert, she said, was "taped for TV last May, and received wonderful reviews."

Colonel Waite is a graduate of Watkins Glen High School, and was honored earlier this year by the WGHS Alumni Association as a Distinguished Alum.


The fall high school sports season is essentially over, although the WGHS boys varsity cross-country team is competing this weekend at States after capturing the Section IV, Class C title. Congratulations to that squad, and good luck. And congratulations to the school on what was a pretty successful sports season -- with winning records in football, volleyball, cross country and boys soccer. And the girls swim team was third among Section IV, Class C teams.


I've just unveiled this website's seasonal MVP award and All-Schuyler honorees. The MVP goes to one person in the county who best exemplifies a winning tradition and sportsmanship -- in this case Watkins Glen cross-country standout Matt Gill. The All-Schuyler team is largely based on the points accumulated on this website that count toward the eventual selection of an Athlete of the Year in June. And it's based, I hope, on common sense.

In any event, there were so many eye-catching performances this fall that I added a new layer -- a Second Team to go with the usual All-Schuyler First Team. There are, as in the past, a group of Honorable Mention honorees, as well.


A note from the Athletic Director at Dryden High School, Ralph Boettger, reminded me of a sad truth. "The Dryden Athletic Department," he wrote, "in conjunction with the IAC, is pleased to announce that the 2012 IAC Cheerleading Championships will be held on Feb. 4th at Dryden High School. Details coming soon."

When I first heard about this last month, I shook my head in dismay, for Watkins Glen had hosted the competition for several years in its cavernous Field House gym, a more spacious expanse than the Dryden facility. But somehow the event got away from Watkins, along with the money it brought to local coffers -- not the least of which were the cash registers of local restaurants that served a good number of cheerleader parents and families.

"What happened?" I asked the Watkins Glen Superintendent of Schools, Tom Phillips. His response:

"The IAC named a new Cheerleading Coordinator and she suggested moving the event to Dryden, and the IAC voted to accept the Coordinator's recommendation."

And so it goes.


And earlier:

My choice for county judge

By Charlie Haeffner

Odessa, Oct. 26, 2011 -- We are in the homestretch of the local election season. Door-to-door campaigns, advertisements, Meet the Candidates gatherings, endorsements, and the usual worried hand-wringing by candidates are all hallmarks of the exercise. It is democracy in all its messy, lovable action.

There are interesting races in the towns -- particularly Hector, where Bob Fitzsimmons is trying to unseat longtime incumbent Ben Dickens as supervisor -- and in the county, where there are treasurer, legislator and judge races.

You've likely been following one or all of those county races. The treasurer's contest has been enlivened by the decision of the Legislature to call the treasurer's office incompetent, and the Legislature race for two seats is influenced by a Local Law that gives one of the three candidates -- incumbent Chairman Dennis Fagan -- a free pass to reelection, even if he finishes third. (The other two opponents are from the Town of Reading, and he's from the Town of Tyrone, and both towns, since they have candidates, have to be represented on the Legislature.)

But most of the attention has been focused on the judge's race, which has predominated in terms of campaign signs for both candidates along the roadsides, and in media advertising. The two candidates -- Joe Fazzary and Dennis Morris -- are visible everywhere, it seems, and the whole thing is all the more interesting for the fact that Morris seemingly came out of nowhere to challenge Fazzary.

The thinking originally had been that Attorney John Hayes would challenge Fazzary, the Schuyler County District Attorney for the past 14 years. It was a foregone conclusion that Fazzary would seek the county judge's seat, which is being vacated by the retiring J.C. Argetsinger, himself the D.A. before becoming judge.

But when Hayes encountered health issues that dissuaded him from a run for office -- a long and arduous process -- Morris, a longtime Assistant County Attorney who has since taken over the County Attorney's office, decided to run. He started his advertising -- at least online -- a good deal earlier than Fazzary, which might have given him the toehold he needed.

The campaigns led to a fairly close Republican Primary won by Fazzary, but Morris came away with the Conservative nod, and has since been endorsed by the county Democratic Party.

I covered a recent Meet the Candidates forum, and tried to maintain a strict middle-of-the-road approach (see column below). I've heard from various people that I was "spot on" in my reporting, but one longtime political observer thought I missed the anger occasionally bubbling to the surface. Well, she's probably right. There was a bit of that going on.


Some people have asked me who I favor for judge, and I always duck the question. What I think or who I favor really doesn't matter, and besides, I've learned from experience that even expressing a preference in a race -- let alone endorsing anyone -- can only lead to trouble.

There was one time in my long journalism career (which dates back 40-some years) that I dared write something in that vein. It involved a School Board race. I didn't endorse anyone; just said who I was voting for and why.

The end result: I was pretty well vilified, with suggestions from relatives of the person I didn't support suggesting I do something anatomically difficult.

I don't know if I had any effect on that election. I doubt it. But the lesson stuck.

So you'll pardon me, I hope, if I don't respond to queries about who I might be supporting in the county judge's race, other than to stick to the middle. As bland as it might appear -- and as disappointed as some readers might be that I'm not willing to stir up trouble -- holding the middle ground, for all practical purposes, comes out sounding like this:

I am in favor of whoever wins. I'm sure either man will do a fine job.


Here's a dispiriting fact -- perhaps indicative of today's economy, or perhaps a sign that this website has become so much a part of the fabric of Schuyler County society that it is taken for granted.

I received a reader donation this week by way of Paypal -- through one of several links carried high on the left side of various of The Odessa File pages -- and realized it was one of very few I'd seen in the past few months. So I totaled up the 2011 donations, and noted that they're down about 50% from normal -- "normal" never having been particularly high. Then I counted the number of donors, divided by the number of absolute unique users on this website this year, and came up with this:

About one fifth of 1% of the readers contribute anything to the upkeep of The Odessa File. That's a little discouraging. But thanks to those who do.


And earlier:

Hector Town Council candidates (from left) Bo Lipari, Marie Stevens and Clifford Yaw.

And in this corner ....

By Charlie Haeffner

Odessa, Oct. 20, 2011 -- It's a shame so few people ventured to the Watkins Glen Elementary School Wednesday night for the League of Women Voters Meet the Candidates night.

There were only three score-plus present, a rather low turnout when considering the thousands of registered voters in Schuyler County, and the import of the County Judge race.

Anyone attending would have seen -- well, rather heard -- some interesting things. It was a bit like a prize fight. For instance:

--The GOP county judge candidate, Joe Fazzary (pictured at right), took an aggressive tone, asserting forcefully that "for 19 years (as Assistant District Attorney and then DA) I've been trying to protect the people of this county," and that he has handled "serious felony cases," making him "the only candidate with that kind of experience."

"I've been a voice for the victims in the county for the last 14 years," he said, referring to his tenure as District Attorney. "I have a passion to protect this county, a passion to protect its people, and a passion to protect its children. The difference between us (Fazzary and his opponent, Dennis Morris) is that for 14 years I've been making decisions" -- including one in which "I had to decide if a person had to be dug out of his grave. That's the kind of decisions I've had to make."

Those decisions -- often developed quickly, on his feet in the courtroom -- are something "I've been doing for years," he said. "That can't be said of my opponent. He's been an assistant" while the only boss Fazzary has answered to has been "the people of the county."

--That seemed like the equivalent of a knockdown, but Morris (pictured at right) popped back up by pointing out that the County Judge job is three-pronged -- County Court, Family Court and Surrogate's Court -- and that he's had more experience in the latter two than Fazzary has. There was a disagreement between the two candidates over the use by Morris of the word "trial" to describe fact-finding sessions in Family Court, with Morris asserting he had gone through 200 such proceedings, and Fazzary scoffing that they weren't really trials. Morris produced what he said was an accepted legal definition that showed that they evidently are. Points to Morris.

--Fazzary continued to hammer away at Morris's lack of criminal trial experience, citing his own handling of "every jury trial" in Schuyler County in the past 14 years, including "some of the most difficult in Schuyler County history," and his success in them. They included murder cases and sexual abuse cases, including one recently in which the accused was found guilty and sentenced to 25 years to life in prison -- "one of the first cases in the state where a sexual abuser received a life sentence." Points there for Fazzary.

--But Morris retaliated by pointing out again that since Family Court and Surrogate's Court -- where "I've had 20 years of experience" and "processed hundreds" of cases involving the probate of wills and administration of estates -- are a large part of the County Judge's domain, "I believe I am the most qualified due to my breadth of experience in all three courts." He also pointed out that he had received the endorsement of the Schuyler County Democratic Party -- a possibly telling development -- and closed by urging everyone to go to the polls on Nov 8. "It's up to you to decide," he said.


While Fazzary and Morris were the main fight card, there were undercards of interest -- even of entertainment. Some town candidates -- for clerk, highway superintendent, justice, council and supervisor -- were given the opportunity to speak, and to debate if two from a particular race were present.

There was no representation from the Towns of Montour or Orange, but spectators saw debates between various candidates from Tyrone and Hector -- the latter interesting for the contentiousness between incumbent supervisor Ben Dickens (pictured at right) and challenger Bob Fitzsimmons (left) over the matter of hydrofracking.

Fitzsimmons wants it banned in Hector, but Dickens thinks the town should wait and see what happens in existing court cases before stumbling into a situation where the town is taken to court by the gas companies in a costly proceeding. Those opposing views were echoed in a debate among three candidates for the Hector town council -- incumbents Marie Stevens and Clifford Yaw, both of whom took the wait-and-see approach embraced by Dickens, and challenger Robert "Bo" Lipari, a forceful and engaging speaker who argued against waiting, calling it "a serious mistake" and "a capitulation to the gas companies."


The final bout of the night was between Schuyler County Legislature Chairman Dennis Fagan (pictured at right) and challenger Mark Rondinaro (below right), who are seeking four-year seats on the county Legislature. Absent from the stage was incumbent Legislator Stewart Field, who moderator Jim Wilson said was "out of town on business." Rondinaro and Fagan discussed their qualifications for the job, the property tax cap imposed by the state (which Fagan, as he has in the past, ripped as "a political sham"), term limits (Fagan is opposed, while Rondinaro supports them), hydrofracking (both are opposed) and the proposed Inergy LPG storage plan on the west side of Seneca Lake (which Fagan said he supports while Rondinaro wants more information).

But in the end, Rondinaro put the spotlight on the seemingly specious nature of his debate with Fagan, noting that Fagan-- because of a longstanding local law -- will automatically regain his seat on the Legislature because he is the sole representative on the ticket from the Town of Tyrone. Rondinaro and the absent Field -- who submitted a letter to the League of Women Voters outlining his qualifications and his position on various issues, calling himself "a fiscal conservative" and"proud to be part of a team" that has helped "stabilize the tax base and increase tourism" -- are both from the Town of Reading, and the Local Law prohibits two people from one town being elected to two available seats when a third candidate represents a different town within the voting district.

So, said Rondinaro, while he and Fagan were there answering questions, "my opponent is not here tonight." He tried to draw a distinction between himself and Field, noting that "I'm the one who's active, out there, making noise" and taking the issues to the people.


There were other absentees. For instance, Alan Gregory, running for re-election as justice in the Town of Dix, was tied up in court, moderator Wilson said, which left the stage, briefly, to his opponent, Ron Alexander. And there were other debates, not the least of which -- from a public relations standpoint -- was between the County Treasurer candidates, incumbent Peggy Starbuck and challenger Gary Whyman, who defeated her in the GOP Primary. Their discussion was very tame, however, compared to, say, the fire of the Hector exchanges and the salvos of the main Fazzary-Morris card.

In sum, it was an entertaining, informative evening. It's too bad there weren't more voters there.

Photos in text:

From top: County Judge candidates Joe Fazzary and Dennis Morris; moderator Jim Wilson; Hector Supervisor candidates Bob Fitzsimmons (left) and Ben Dickens (right); Legislature candidates Dennis Fagan and Mark Rondinaro.


And earlier:

Looking back and ahead ...

By Charlie Haeffner

Odessa, Oct. 10, 2011 -- Happy Columbus Day.

Well, it isn't really Columbus Day; not the original, traditional one. That was October 12th. It was also my parents' anniversary, so we knew Columbus Day well in my family.

No, this day, October 10th, is my birthday, and as I grew up, the two never coincided. My day was the 10th, my parents' the 12th. But, of course, the government has seen fit to provide long weekends here and there, and decided old Christopher was worthy.

So ... yes, it's my birthday -- which the calendar will tell you is my 63rd, but which I have decided to counter. I going backward from here on out, like Benjamin Button. So I'm 61, from that viewpoint.

But 63 or 61, it is a milestone that has had me thinking, and not about the future. I've been looking back, and taking stock of all of the people I've lost: my mother recently, my wife nearly seven years ago, my father 10 years to the day before that, an uncle, an aunt, a father-in-law, a friend.

They have fallen quietly, victims of various things that end us: cancer, old age, infection, embolism.

Life is a wondrous thing, but death is part of it, and we have to be prepared for it. And yet we never quite are.


Once I get past this birthday, though, I imagine my spirits will be reinstated. I am, after all, making a living doing things I enjoy: writing, reporting, photography, and all while being self-employed.

I get to meet a lot of interesting people, and participate (in a sense) in what goes on here in Schuyler County. And that, I have to think, keeps me moderately young -- or at least slows the aging process.

And I have projects to look forward to: completion of my new office, constructed from what was a ramshackle, dirt-floored garage; installation of a new furnace; renovation of a bathroom; reconstruction of my kitchen. And I'll probably oversee construction of a new porch or two.

I guess that means I've decided to stay here in Schuyler for awhile. The Island I visit every summer always seems to beckon, but I'm aware that very little happens there, and that I would, consequently, be rather bored. I have to be plugged in, or I go a little batty (a fitting term, considering that bats periodically put in appearances on the Island).

And, of course, I am looking forward to the debut of SchuyLines, our sister website. That's coming soon, I'm assured.

Yes, I've been looking backward, feeling a bit depressed, but the very act of writing these words has turned my attention forward, where it will serve me best.

So, as is often the case, typing words on my computer screen has proved therapeutic.

No wonder I love writing.


And earlier:

A little of this and that ...

By Charlie Haeffner

Odessa, Oct. 7, 2011 -- We are moving slowly closer to the start of our new website. My youngest son, Dave, who is in charge of site development, has had his hands full with other projects, but assures me that SchuyLines is within sight.

I've been gathering up old photos for use on the site, and have received assurances from various people that they will produce columns for it. I will be writing feature stories, and hope to feature the writing of some of our young, developing authors.

I would like to engage a local historian in the effort, and will myself be producing a history of sorts -- a look at Schuyler County from the perspective of my time here. It's a slice of an autobiography, I guess, but always with Schuyler in mind as backdrop and, sometimes, as major player.


Note to anonymous letter writers: If you hope to get anywhere with me, it would behoove you to include your name in your messages.


It's been an interesting high school sports season, what with the Watkins Glen football team winning two games (well, it will be three if, as expected, Newfield concedes that suspended contest), while O-M has gone winless under the former Watkins coach, Bob Lee -- unless you count the forfeit victory the Indians are picking up this weekend against Newfield. "We don't want to win like that," said Lee. "We want to win on the field."

The Watkins boys soccer team has lost just once going into a key matchup this afternoon at Notre Dame -- which topped Watkins in the GLM tournament in a semifinal game marred by a fight.

Oddly, possibly the most likable local team has been the winless Odessa-Montour girls varsity soccer team, a mix of largely inexperienced players who were nowhere near victory in their first eight games, but then knocked on the door in the past three -- losing late, 2-1, to Campbell-Savona after leading most of the game; tying a good Candor team 0-0, and losing 1-0 to Tioga, which itself had been winless to that point. This group has character.

In a season of some parity in IAC swimming, Watkins Glen and O-M have both registered as many losses as wins, with WG prevailing twice over Odessa. Amid it all, there have been bright spots: Watkins' Haley Tuttle, Sam Gill, Victoria Wixson and Abby Cocca, and O-M's Quinn Griswold and Jordan Little.

And the Watkins Glen cross-country team has won all of its league contests going into the Divisional Meet this next Tuesday at the Watkins Glen State Park. The varsity boys race starts at 5:20, and the girls race at 5:50. There's plenty of room for anyone who wants to watch. The start and finish points are near the Recreation Building, up the road from the pavilion, which is near the park's south entrance.


Being a former Michigander who lived north of Detroit and loved the Tigers growing up, I am not displeased with their success in the playoffs -- and yet having been a New York resident for decades and a Yankee fan since Catfish Hunter, I found myself cringing in Game 5 of the ALDS both times A-Rod batted in key situations, and especially when Jeter's fly ball landed short of the rightfield wall. What was that song? Torn Between Two Lovers ...


And earlier:

Of alpacas and columns ...

By Charlie Haeffner

Odessa, Sept. 25, 2011 -- I had the pleasure Saturday of visiting an alpaca farm in Altay.

It's run by Brett Wicker, and it started as something of a lark -- something fun to do. But it's growing into a pretty good side business, to go with his job as a teacher's assistant at the Keuka Lake School in Penn Yan, which serves pre-schoolers with developmental disabilities.

Wicker started with three alpacas two years ago, and now has 29 of varying types and sizes, and produces income from them in various ways.

His is, in fact, the kind of story I hope to present on the upcoming website, SchuyLines -- and so I'll wait to tell his tale until that is up and running, hopefully soon.


And speaking of which: I've approached a number of community and business leaders about the possibility of writing columns for the new website. The columns can be one-time efforts or continuing ones of either a semi-regular or regular nature.

Sue Knapp of Oh Susannah's quilt shop, for instance, offered one on quilting. And Carmella Hoffman, who produces cheese on the family farm in Catharine, says she'll write one on the cheese trade, cheesemaking, the Cheese Trail and so on. Hopefully Jim Guild will be telling us about the early days of Famous Brands and other tales of business.

I'm putting an invitation out there right now -- for anyone with an area of expertise relating to life in Schuyler County -- to write a column along those lines, either of a one-time, semi-regular or regular nature. Recommended maximum length would be about 500 words, although it could be shorter. If you're interested, contact me by email (a link is at the bottom of each Odessa File page) and we can discuss it further. Or you can try calling me on my home-phone land-line, 607-594-3594. I'm often not around to field those calls, but my son can take a message if he's home.

I would like the first such efforts to be written soon, so that I have plenty in hand with which to start the website. I will need a photo of each author, too, along with a little background information with which to introduce him or her to the reading public.


Speaking of Schuyler, one issue that has been front and center for months is the LPG storage project that Inergy wants to establish in salt caverns on the west side of Seneca Lake. A public hearing by the Department of Environmental Conservation is set on the issue this Tuesday at 7 p.m. in the Watkins Glen High School auditorium. Inergy has scheduled a pre-hearing presentation there at 6.

For an article on the subject, and on Inergy's financial state itself, our area's Peter Mantius has written a thought-provoking piece for You can access it here.


And I've got to congratulate the Watkins Glen varsity football team for its exceptional play this season, and in particular in The Bucket Game this Friday past. The team has won two straight after losing to Lansing, and is on the cusp of another win from its opener -- a game at Newfield suspended because of excessive heat at halftime with WGHS leading 28-14.

Considering that this is a team that appeared in jeopardy of even existing this season, the accomplishment thus far is stunning. And the emergence of Brady Myers as a premier running back has been an eye-opener.

Keep it going, boys. You're doing great.


And earlier:

The Children's Crusade ...

By Charlie Haeffner

Odessa, Sept. 15, 2011 -- Kurt Vonnegut Jr. once wrote a classic novel called "Slaughterhouse-Five," about the horrors of war. He subtitled it "The Children's Crusade," which is applicable to all wars.

It is always the young who go and fight. It is always those who have not lived very long who are asked to put their lives on the line. And, too often, they lose those lives.

One such young man was Christopher J. Scott, 21, who died in action Sept. 3 in Afghanistan, where he was serving with the U.S. Army. His funeral service was held Wednesday in Dundee, days after a processional carried his body from the Elmira-Corning Regional Airport to the village where he had attended high school. The processional passed through Montour Falls and Watkins Glen -- capturing the attention of a lot of people lining the streets with flags, awaiting him, or simply walking along, wondering what on earth was happening that so many law enforcement and firefighting vehicles, not to mention hundreds of motorcycles, were passing by at a stately pace.

This young man's sacrifice has captured the attention and the hearts of many. It is a heartwarming thing, this reaction to Christopher Scott's passing. It is fitting, and yet not exactly commonplace.

I for one had never seen anything quite like the Saturday procession from the airport, and it was new, too, for spectators to whom I talked. It's not that we ignore our fallen soldiers; there are monuments in veterans' parks and, for that matter, in front of the county courthouse, erected in their honor. And we pay our respects on Memorial and Veterans Days (although the turnouts at some of those ceremonies are meager).

I'm just saying that the attention and the honor paid Christopher Scott should be the norm, not even a slight aberration. We should honor our war dead like that at every turn and every opportunity, for they represent us and the freedoms we hold dear. They are the young among us, for the most part, and they have sacrificed not just their lives, but potentially long lives, so that we might go on living ours in the manner to which we have become accustomed.

A line in "Slaughterhouse-Five" became emblematic of the disdain with which the author held the universe's seeming indifference to our role on Earth, and to the fate of soldiers who, put in harm's way, often die there.

"And so it goes," Vonnegut said, a laid-back version, really, of a scream if you take it in its context. Vonnegut himself was in harm's way, in an underground slaughterhouse when the Allies fire-bombed the cultural city of Dresden, Germany, during World War II. He was a prisoner of war, one of the children in that conflict's crusade.

His whole book is a muted scream, really -- a cry against our inhumanity to one another and to the propensity to use our young men and women, our promising leaders and citizens of the future, as chess pieces in a large, global contest called war.

It is that muted scream I hear now, thinking about Christopher Scott. I never knew him, but I've known many people of his generation. And they are like the generations that went before, and the ones yet to come. They are good people, people of promise with hopes and dreams that can be ended in an instant on a battlefield by a bullet or a bomb blast.

And when that happens, they should be duly honored, and they should be duly mourned.

And somehow, some way, sometime, perhaps we can reach a point in humankind when we stop killing one another over land grabs and religiously-fueled disputes and whatever else -- pride, avarice, you name the sin -- that sparks a war, that forces young men and women to take up arms and to sacrifice themselves for the cause that we in this nation, for centuries now, have deemed right and proper: freedom.

God bless you, children of war. God bless you, Christopher Scott.


A note: The Wixson clan, Sean and Sheli and children, are planning a trip to areas to our east this weekend to deliver some goods to folks over there devastated by flood waters. And they'll likely contribute some muscle power to the cleanup.

Sheli says the trip is specific in its goal: to help families that her family has gotten to know through swimming competitions. Her kids -- Haleigh, a state-level swimmer who graduated in June from Watkins Glen High School and is now at SUNY Geneseo; Victoria, currently a standout swimmer for WGHS, and Homer, a standout WGHS diver -- all came up through the Gators swim program, and have amassed a large number of friends in such places as Tioga and Waverly and Athens.

Sheli says if anyone feels compelled to send something along with her family -- clothing, food, whatever -- that would be fine, although she does not intend for this to be a widespread relief effort. That is better left to relief organizations, she indicated. This is more in the way of an attempt to help a specific group with specific needs. If you wish to, you can contact her by email at


And earlier:

The election is upon us ...

By Charlie Haeffner

Odessa, Sept. 11, 2011 -- Here comes the election.

It's Primary time Tuesday, and it's been, thus far, quite interesting.

We have, on the one hand, the race for County Judge. We've known for years that District Attorney Joe Fazzary would be running now -- the now being the point at which J.C. Argetsinger, having reached 70, is being forced by state regulations to retire.

Many observers thought Fazzary's opposition would be John Hayes, an attorney of some local renown, but Hayes' health issues forced him to the sidelines -- and allowed Dennis Morris to step in, a man of quiet determination.

And from all appearances -- roadside signs, advertising, door-to-door campaigning -- this has been seriously contested. But it likely won't end here with the Primary. Both men have filed independent nominating petitions, positioning themselves for a run to the general election in November, no matter who wins the Primary -- assuming the Primary isn't, say, a Fazzary blowout victory that discourages his opponent to the point of withdrawal.

For anyone trying to read between the lines here for an indication of my preference: I have none. These are, by almost every account, both credible candidates who would do well wearing the judge's robes.

One thing that disturbs me, though, is the mandatory retirement age. It came into sharp focus for me the other day, at the Grand Prix Festival, when the incumbent, Judge Argetsinger, was in lengthy converation with old friend Bill Milliken, a former race-car driver and extraordinary engineer. Milliken, still sharp, is 100 years old -- 30 years older than the retiring judge.

Thirty years. Nearly a third of century older. It makes 70 seem young, which it can be. And it makes me wonder why men and women of accumulated wisdom are not -- thanks to mandates -- permitted to use it.


There are other races, too -- not the least of which is that for County Treasurer.

This is an unusual race in that the entire County Legislature has come down against the incumbent, Peggy Starbuck, for various alleged transgressions on the order of ineptitude. She and some friends have fired back in her defense, making this a bit of a fairer fight. There are some observers, however, who see her rebuttals as the equivalent of a politician warding off the darkness with a penlight.

But ... and this could be significant if those naysayers are wrong ... the Starbuck camp managed to get challenger Gary Whyman's independent nominating peititions rejected. Whyman, sitting off to the side, saying very little in recent weeks -- pretty much letting the Legislature do the talking -- is suddenly faced with the prospect of "Win Now or Never."

Enough signatures on his petitions were rejected by Board of Elections commissioners Joe Fazzary and John Vona to invalidate Whyman's independent candidacy. The challenge came from within the Treasurer's office, triggering a line by line study by Fazzary and Vona -- and the invalidation.

So Whyman must win either the Republican or Conservative Primary, or be eliminated. The Conservative Primary -- in which he drew the top line on the ballot -- could prove valuable. Even if only one person voted in that Primary, it would be enough for Whyman if that lone vote were for him. He would advance to the general election. Starbuck, who drew the top Republican line on the ballot, has successfully filed independent petitions and can appear on the ballot in November regardless of the Primary outcome.

I don't know what to make of that whole issue involving Starbuck and audits critical of her office. I am not an accountant, nor a biz whiz. So I'll just hope the voters can sort it out to their satisfaction.


There is also a contest in the Primary in District 1 for two seats on the County Legislature. Incumbents Dennis Fagan and Stewart Field are being challenged by Mark Rondinaro. That contest has generated little heat, with Fagan and Field seemingly ignoring Rondinaro while focusing on the treasurer, Starbuck.

Little (or no) publicity has been given races in the Town of Cayuta, where four people -- Kathleen C. Cleveland, Thomas J. Russen, David A. Reed and Karen A. McLean -- are seeking nominations for two available four-year seats on the town board. Reed and Russen are incumbents. And in the race for town supervisor, newcomers Terry F. Gardner Sr. and Brandon K. Theetge are squaring off in the Primary.

Tyrone also has a race -- for Town Clerk/Tax Collector. That one features newcomers Deborah L. Tyler and Michele M. Gee.

The polls are opened Tuesday from noon to 9 p.m. Stay tuned for results...

(For a list of candidates and polling places, see Government.)


And earlier:

Farewell to the matriarch

By Charlie Haeffner

Sarasota, Florida, Sept. 3, 2011 -- We said our farewells to Mom on Thursday, at an air-conditioned Church of the Redeemer in a steamy downtown Sarasota.

The entire immediate family was there, which is to say not just Mom's three sons, but her four grandsons and three granddaughters, along with four great-grandchildren and her two surviving daughters-in-law.

The memorial service came four days after Mom -- Eleanor Bennett Haeffner -- had died at the age of 92 in a nearby Bradenton, Florida hospital.

Now, on Thursday, Sept. 1, 2011, we celebrated her life. We were all there in that church; had found our way to it from various parts of the country -- Texas, Colorado, New York and Florida -- and from our various lodgings in and near Sarasota. We were together as one, to share in a final tribute, and to commiserate.

(Parenthetically, we determined, much to our surprise, that the sons, grandsons and granddaughters had never gathered together as a full unit, ever -- not even for my parents' 50th anniversary in 1990 nor my father's memorial service four years after that. In the two cases, first one and then another of the grandsons was missing, stuck elsewhere in the world, unable to attend.)

Anyone participating in a funeral gathering wonders why it takes death to draw everyone together like that. Good question. I suppose part of it is the workaday world that puts such demands on us that we find it difficult to break away, all at one time, just to hang out. Rare indeed is the extended family that can achieve that.


The service was full of prayers and hymns and organ music and a hope that this is not the end of Mom's journey, but a continuation. I can't speak to that hope, exactly, since I'm of two minds on it. But I can speak about Mom, and did in a sense, in a eulogy I wrote (and a minister read). My eldest brother Bob and his wife Gussie added some biographical facts and thoughts. I don't have the finished copy in hand, but present a version of the original below, with a couple of those additions inserted. It went like this:

"Eleanor Bennett Haeffner was a daughter, a sister, a wife, a mother, a grandmother and a great-grandmother. She was an artist. She was a Sunday School teacher. She was a member of a church choir. She was an integral half of a complete couple who raised a family of three boys and spread kindness to many.

"Eleanor was a woman of conviction and compassion -- especially where her family was concerned, although she had a wide range of friends and was close to her siblings. She had helped raise those siblings, taking over as matriarch while a teenager when their mother died at an early age. She was a fair but firm leader, referred to lovingly on occasion as The General by her brother and two sisters.

"She was a thespian in high school, participating in the play 'Romeo and Juliet,' and was in the school's Literary Club -- foreshadowing a love of reading that she tried to pass along to her children. She attended Syracuse University, but didn't finish -- which likely accounts for her enthusiasm in seeing her three children earn college degrees.

"But in talking about Eleanor, it is difficult to separate her from Gus, her husband of 54 years. It could be said that her course was set the day that Gus swam out to introduce himself to her on a raft on Auburn's Owasco Lake in Central New York. They were married a short time later, and embarked on a successful journey that saw Gus, always with support from Eleanor, build a business career that resulted in a beautiful home and a wonderful upbringing for sons Bob, Jim and Charlie.

"Gus and Eleanor were two halves of a whole. Theirs was a strong union that imparted in their children traditional values of love and compassion, and gave the children a sense of what a marriage should be.

"When Gus passed away, Eleanor was left to fend for herself, and she was not happy at the prospect. But being a strong person, she managed well, and made many new friends. But there was always an emptiness without Gus.

"Now, her long journey through life at an end, she is reunited with Gus. One can imagine that he was longing for such a reunion, just as she was patiently awaiting it. Now, under God's good graces, they are whole again."


That's nice, I suppose, but now that I'm reading it over, it really only scratches the surface. For example, it doesn't touch on Mom's sometimes wicked sense of humor -- like the time she picked me up from school in the middle of the day for an appointment of some kind when I was in fourth grade. She was wearing, on her right thumb, something she'd picked up at a novelty store: a bloodied and gauzed fake rubber thumb. She wanted to shock me, and thought it hilarious. I was shocked -- my beautiful mother, maimed! -- and didn't think it very funny at the time (although I attempted various such jokes myself after attaining adulthood).

And it didn't touch on the gentle guidance she provided her children. For example, during my college years, I wanted to go with friends to the Democratic Convention in Chicago, where Hubert Humphrey was to get the nomination in the wake of the assassination of Bobby Kennedy weeks earlier in Los Angeles. My generation -- along with a lot of other folks -- was angry at our government and at just about anything having to do with the status quo (some things never change), and so trouble was expected in Chicago: protests and police reaction. I was among the angry, and wanted to be there. But Mom, presenting her argument logically -- not exactly ordering me not to go, but strongly discouraging it -- won the day. I stayed away from that convention, where, as it turned out, cops wielding nightsticks weren't too shy about forcibly breaking up a demonstration or two.

Nor did it touch on all the sporting events Mom attended in which her sons were competing, or the two plays she watched in which I performed, or the days when she would tend to one ailment or another that put me in bed. It didn't touch on the grace with which she would play hostess to the many customers that Dad -- who sold shoes to stores in Michigan for a Cincinnati, Ohio firm -- brought home for cocktails and dinner. It didn't describe the many, many fine meals she prepared in the kitchens of our homes in Birmingham and then Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, or the cars she selected to tote her family around. One of those was practical -- a 1953 Ford station wagon -- while another was anything but: a hot-looking little 1964 Mustang. She got that vehicle after one son had left the nest and another had a foot out the door, college beckoning. That car, I suppose, represented the sporting side of Mom.

The eulogy didn't touch on many things -- such as the joy and pride Mom took in her painting, an avocation she pursued in the 1960s. Or the lack of zeal with which she approached downhill skiing after her family had embraced and pursued it. (She never got past the beginner's slope, and finally just gave it up. Mom and skiing just didn't mix.)

And the eulogy didn't touch on her various hairstyles or hair colors, or on the simple fact of her beauty. She was, in truth, a physically attractive woman, and was full of different components that shone from within: charm, spirit, and a sense of fun. But she was at the same time also practical and, when needed, suitably somber.

Mom lived to be 92, but that age -- that number -- simply defines how far she went in life. It doesn't embrace what I remember about her, recollections starting from the time she was in her mid-30s and to my mind was the prettiest mother in the world.

The eulogy was nice, but as most eulogies do, it missed the mark. Eulogies are for the masses, or the moment, and are written through a veil of grief. I have yet to hear one that catches the joy and the magic of what makes a departed human so very special -- what made my Mom so very special.

And while the eulogy might have intimated it, it didn't come right out and say what we, the clan, were all thinking there in that church:

God bless you, Mom. We love you.


And earlier:

A personal note ...

By Charlie Haeffner

Odessa, Aug. 29, 2011 -- My mother died at 10:05 p.m. last night -- Sunday, Aug. 28, 2011 -- down in Florida, where she had resided for years.

Eleanor Leigh Bennett Haeffner was 92, and had retreated into a world in which she recognized little of her past. They call it dementia, or perhaps the form known as Alzheimer's. It is cruel, whatever the name, whatever the cause.

She had been wavering of late, falling a few times. This last challenge was an infection that proved too much for her strong constitution. She was always strong, even at a young age, helping to raise her siblings after her own mother died at an early age. The siblings called her The General.

But she was a kind, loving mother, make no mistake. She and Dad -- who passed away in 1994 -- provided a dream upbringing for me and my two brothers. We lived in a modern (even fancy) home alongside a lake, went to upscale schools, were provided with college educations. We were given everything we could want.

Mom is gone now, and the family is heading down to Florida for a farewell service, and to commiserate. I will be gathering my three sons and driving down shortly, and will accordingly be missing the start of the Schuyler County high school sports season. I will trust in volunteers to provide as many photos as possible, and I will be talking to coaches after games, if possible. I will have my laptop with me, and so should be able to report on those contests.

But forgive me if I take a misstep or two. I am a bit disoriented right now, and in truth this website is not at the top of my priority list. I'll return soon, though, and will hopefully get back on track. In the meantime, be patient. And be well.


And earlier:

New site needs a name ...

By Charlie Haeffner

Odessa, Aug. 24, 2011 -- When I started The Odessa File more than 8 1/2 years ago, I hoped that it might turn into a community gathering place. And it pretty much has.

Now, after pondering what has been missing in the operation, I've decided to start -- in conjunction with my youngest son, Dave -- a sister online publication that will do what The Odessa File can't: paint a broad picture of Schuyler County.

By that I mean it will offer looks at many, many subjects that are intrinsic to life in this county: historical, religious and business-based stories, aerial photographs, columns and artwork and video presentations by leaders in all walks of Schuyler life, contests (such as poetry), paintings by local artists, a Business of the Month spotlight, photos from the past, racing-related articles and photos, nature stories, tales (legendary and otherwise) from specific locales, such as the Finger Lakes National Forest, personal looks at the many interesting people with whom we share this beautiful land ... and on and on. We have a list that runs on for pages, and I'm sure we'll come up with more, or have them suggested to us

Think of the county as a canvas upon which you and I can paint anything -- in words, photos, drawings, oils -- and you might get the picture. Nothing representational is out of bounds. History -- both new writings and reprints -- can be included, as can behind-the-scenes looks at businesses, prepared by people in the know, who help run them.

The website will be participatory -- with input from whoever wants to help out -- in an effort to provide the most comprehensive look available of Schuyler County. It will be ever-changing, ever-growing and, I hope, everlasting.

I say participatory because it will be structured so that incoming columns and articles and art will flow through my desk, but not require my presence on the scene, gathering the facts. I will function as editor, yes, but also as a sort of bandleader and cheerleader.

What we lack right now -- as work is underway to create a template upon which to place everything -- is a name that resonates. Dave and I have tried various ones -- The Seneca File, The Schuyler File, Seneca and so on -- but nothing has struck us as emblematic of what the website will provide, will be.

So ... I'm asking for help in coming up with a name. If we get a winning suggestion, the person who provides it will receive a $100 gift certificate from Watkins Glen entrepreneur Jim Guild for use at his Famous Brands store or his Seneca Lake General Store.

Just send your suggestions to me through the email link at the bottom of any Odessa File page, and we'll take a look. Send as many suggestions as you like; the more the better.

The deadline is Sept. 3. We'll make a selection shortly thereafter, and hopefully have the website up and operational within a few weeks of that. Startup date depends on a number of factors, including how much sleep I'm managing to get while trying to develop the new site and keep The Odessa File humming at peak efficiency.

And while we're at it, if there is anyone out there interested in writing a column pertaining to his or her area of expertise (I already have offers from people in the cheese-making, quilting and agricultural areas), please let me know of that interest by email.

Thanks in advance for any help you can provide.


And earlier:

She was something special

By Charlie Haeffner

Odessa, Aug. 17, 2011 -- People gathered in bittersweetness Tuesday night at the Red Newt Winery in Hector and at wineries and eating establishments around the region.

They gathered in bittersweetness to watch an episode of the Food Network contestant show "Chopped" that featured the late Debra Whiting, executive chef and co-owner of Red Newt who died June 30 in a motor vehicle accident on the New York Thruway.

Deb was in competition on the show with other chefs seeking a $10,000 prize. It was taped in New York City last November, three months after a "Chopped" film crew had visited Red Newt in August 2010 to record Deb in her element there -- the kitchen -- for a promo of the TV show.

She had invited me that August morning, to watch and take photos and write a story about how she was going to be on "Chopped." But when the "Chopped" people there got wind of why I was present, they said No, No, No, that wasn't allowed; I couldn't print anything about it on the website. If I did, it would put Deb's appearance in jeopardy.

And so I let it go, muttering something -- on the way back to my van, parked in front of the Red Newt establishment -- about getting rousted out of bed for nothing. But Deb promised she would let me know the moment she had a show date -- the moment she learned when the program would be airing. Then I could publish something about it.

She went down to New York for the taping three months later, but was never able to let me know when her segment would air. I asked her from time to time, but she still didn't know. The show officials simply hadn't chosen a date, or if they had, they hadn't told her when it would be.

And then she was gone ...


They gathered Tuesday night at Red Newt and other establishments to honor Deb; to watch her one last time doing something she loved: cooking creative meals. The fact that she failed to make the show's finale -- failed to grab that $10,000 prize -- was of little moment. As she said in a taped interview afterward: "If nothing else, I got here, and that's a feather in my cap."

I, like so many, had been stunned and saddened at her passing, and like so many, I've been struggling to put the tragedy in some sort of perspective. A foundation has been started that will ensure her legacy: a devotion to food and wine and, in particular, to the use of local products.

She was a community leader and a regional leader whose passing generated an outpouring of grief and regret -- regret at the shortness and harshness of life -- that is rarely seen.

I watched the show from my living room easy chair so that I could be alone with my thoughts, my feelings; so I could try to sort them out. I didn't wish on this night to publicly celebrate her life, as her family and friends were doing at Red Newt, although it was a life worth celebrating. No, I wanted to get in touch with my emotions. I wanted to see how it felt to be in Deb's presence again.

I watched, fascinated that we could share in this phenomenon through our TV sets. I watched, and admired her grit, as I always did, and her competitive fire. And I smarted when she was eliminated --"chopped" -- from the event before the finals.

I watched, and I found myself not saddened at all by the program, as I thought I might be. I found myself smiling, for it was a bonus, this show. It reminded me -- us -- in stark colors and slightly overblown dramatics what we had long known: Deb was an unusual blend of grace and grit, of heart and hope. She was always looking ahead, trying to improve matters in the kitchen and in the community.

I watched, and I had one prevailing thought:

Debra Whiting was something else, something special. And we would do well to emulate her.


And earlier:

A mix of Schuyler news ...

By Charlie Haeffner

Odessa, Aug. 8, 2011 -- Life is often unsettled. Agitated. Discordant. But that's not always bad. It can keep us sharp; creative.

It's not always good, of course. Just look at calamities throughout history. Or at such things as the stock market and economy today.

Having said that, I offer a hodgepodge of local goings-on -- some of them clearly unsettled, some discordant, some being settled, and some turned creative.

--Michelle Simiele is stepping down as coach of the Watkins Glen High School girls varsity basketball team due to family obligations and personal issues. It was not an easy decision, she said, given her love of the game. She has had a couple of good runs as coach, with four division titles and two IAC championships in seven seasons at the helm -- including an IAC title last year, when the team went 16-4. Her overall record is 110-38. Assistant Chris Clark will be taking the helm, and while Simiele says she does not foresee coming back as head coach, she indicated she might assist Clark down the road, if he's amenable.

She expects a successful season for the squad this winter, given that it has several returning seniors, including three-time WGHS Athlete of the Year Taylor Chaffee. "They're very good," said Simiele, "and very dedicated." And beyond them, in the lower grades, "there's a lot of talent coming up," including Simiele's two daughters.

"I appreciate having had the opportunity to coach in the district," she said. "The administration has always been supportive."

--Primary races are under way for a couple of important county offices: county judge and treasurer. The campaigns have been pretty low-keyed up to now, but Legislature chairman Dennis Fagan, in expressing frustration last week over an audit critical of procedures in the office of incumbent Treasurer Peggy Starbuck, might have sparked a political attack or two in the race between Starbuck and challenger Gary Whyman by taking a verbal swipe at that office's performance and competence. "The only way to resolve this situation is through the ballot box," he said.

The judge's race has been mild, if you discount the appearance of a couple of gazillion signs along the county roadways promoting Joe Fazzary or Dennis Morris. I imagine there might be a little more turbulence in that campaign before it's over, although there are certain safeguards in place in races for judgeships -- a position held to be exalted. The primary is Sept. 13, but both candidates have indicated an intention to carry on through the general election in November.

--The sport of football went south last year at Watkins Glen High School, where it might have trouble relaunching this season. We may know on the first day of practice, Aug. 15, whether WGHS has a sufficient number of players to field a team this year. Let's hope it does.

The popular theme circulating this past weekend was that if -- IF -- Watkins comes up short of players for a football program, there is an old existing "fallback position" ... that those who want to play can join a team in an adjoining district while still attending WGHS. True enough, says a school official, "but it's not as simple as that." There would be the matter of applying to the league, of transportation (provided by the Watkins athletes) to the selected school, the securing of uniforms (who pays?), and such issues as playing time for the Watkins athletes on their new team, and how that might go over with the new team's players and parents.

If Watkins were to play any games this season and then terminate early (as it did last year), there could be no movement of players from one district to another.

--Odessa-Montour, despite looking a little depleted athletically in girls' sports (except perhaps in swimming) after the graduation of a very strong class, is looking optimistically toward one of the boys' sports -- football -- under new coach Bob Lee, a two-time former WGHS coach who Watkins officials seemingly had had a chance to hire, if they'd wanted. How his O-M program figures into Watkins' football future -- as opponent or landing pad -- remains to be seen.

Lee -- who is currently coaching the Southern Tier Warriors minor league football team -- reports that he has yet another high school coaching job in his future. He said the Bradford School Board has approved him as that school's boys varsity basketball coach. When asked what he'd do for a springtime coaching job, he laughed and said "I don't know. Maybe baseball."

--Both Watkins Glen and O-M have embraced change in their athletic departments, with new faces running them: Chris Wood at Odessa as Athletic Manager, and Alan Gregory at WGHS as a Teacher on Special Assignment. That latter was a cost-cutting move -- shifting Gregory's administrative role without hiring anyone new as Athletic Director or even paying a stipend. This points up the economic stresses of the time.

--With a struggling economy comes a tendency by various people to take measures to counteract it. Some measures are matters of shrinkage, and some of growth, of creativity. Accordingly, we have seen some business initiatives of late.

In Odessa, JoAnna Scott -- faced with a reduction of her role as business head of the Mane Street Hair Salon upon that building's sale -- instead opened another salon down the street, along Rt. 224 west of Odessa. It's called Simply Your Best, and JoAnna reports that the early days of the business have been encouraging.

In Watkins Glen, meanwhile, the Henderson Pharmacy storefront on Franklin Street closed, while next door a new antique store opened: Country Haven Treasures, run by Kim Andrews and Mike Jayne. Near that store, bicycles are now rentable in front of the offices of Schooner Excursions, which operates the "True Love" sailboat on Seneca Lake. There is also a new tanning salon in the old Pick-a-Flick store, and a Chinese-Japanese restaurant not far from there is trying to pass the final hurdles on the way to opening.

Ken Wilson has sold his Glen Dairy Bar ice cream stand after 14 years of operation, and another new restaurant, a Mexican one, is set to open Thursday in the old BV's restaurant on Fourth Street. A ribbon-cutting is set for Sept. 1.

It's a time of unsettlement, of change. It's a time of comings and goings, of successes and failures, of extravagances and economies.

It is, in other words, like almost any other time before, and any other time to come.


The late Debra Whiting was a contestant several months ago on the Food Network's "Chopped" program, a taping that will finally air Tuesday, Aug. 16 from 10-11 p.m. A facebook invitation is making the rounds urging restaurants in our region and from Buffalo to Syracuse to host viewing parties for the episode. It urges interested restaurant owners to contact the Red Newt Winery's Greg Tumbarello at or at 607-546-4100.

Whiting -- a community leader and a renowned executive chef at Red Newt, which she co-owned with her husband Dave -- died June 30 in a motor vehicle accident on the New York Thruway. Since her death, the Debra Whiting Foundation has, according to the Facebook page about the "Chopped" show, "been formed to carry on Debra's vision and commitment to wine, food, farms, families and community. The Debra Whiting Foundation is pending approval for a 501C3 non-profit status."


And earlier:

At the meeting: Front row from left: Girls varsity soccer coach Alyssa Hoobler, varsity volleyball coach Krysti Westervelt, girls modified swim coach Kelsey Wood, girls varsity swim coach Abby Tormey, Athletic Department assistant Diana Crane, varsity cross country coach Marie Fitzsimmons, and Booster Club vice president Caroline Simpson. Back row from left: girls modified soccer coach Brian Gardner, varsity football coach Lou Condon Jr., assistant varsity football coach Lou Condon Sr., and Alan Gregory, who is fulfilling duties of the Athletic Director as Teacher on Special Assignment (TOSA).

The TOSA & the Trainer

By Charlie Haeffner

Odessa, Aug. 3, 2011 -- They gathered Wednesday morning in the Field House gym at Watkins Glen High School -- coaches who are leading the school's fall sports teams this upcoming season.

The meeting was led by Alan Gregory, a self proclaimed TOSA -- Teacher on Special Assignment -- who is filling the Athletic Director's spot in the wake of the elimination of that job and the accompanying departure of Denise Wickham, who had been AD for three years.

It was a meeting notable not only for the new leadership -- Gregory is assisted by Diana Crane, who served Wickham in the Athletic Department, too -- but for the introduction of a new Athletic Trainer and Physical Therapist provided by Schuyler Hospital to better monitor the extent and treatment of sports injuries; and for the conversations afterward, specifically regarding the school's football team.

First, the new leadership:

"I am playing AD without the title," Gregory told the coaches, who were seated in the bleachers along the west wall of the gym. He said his job this year is "to support you, not to micromanage." But having proclaimed that, he stressed that he will be "very touchy about inventory." He said he had found various unused equipment that had been misplaced, and was dismayed to find that some items "had simply walked away."

"We need to get our arms around this," he said.

He also said he would stress proper care of the locker rooms in the wake of "some complaints this past year" about conditions.

Being new to athletics, he added, "It's all Greek to me. Just because I've been here (working in the district) for 30 years doesn't mean I know what I'm doing. I'm ignorant of a lot of high school sports regulations. But I promise you I will learn them by the end of the year.

"I'm looking forward to this. The one thing I ask is that we communicate with each other."

The Athletic Trainer:

Jim Somerville, employed by and paid by Schuyler Hospital, told the coaches he will be spending 30 hours a week at the school "providing athletic training services" -- a pilot program that Superintendent Tom Phillips helped arrange, and which might expand in future years to the Odessa-Montour and Bradford school districts.

"Our goal," Somerville said, "is to get kids (who are injured) seen as quickly as possible" and referred properly for treatment, "hopefully avoiding some ER trips. We hope to get kids seen in a day or two instead of a week or two." He said he would be at the school six hours a day with fluctuating hours, including presence at some sports events.

"We will keep coaches apprised," he said, of the injury status of various athletes "and when they can return" to practice or competition.

Somerville said he has been an Athletic Trainer for 25 years in various states including New York, mostly in secondary schools.

Also present this year, but on a limited basis, will be Vanessa Mirabito, a Physical Therapist at the hospital who said she specializes in foot and ankle injuries, along with those to shoulders and knees. She will be at the school a couple of hours a week doing evaluations, and will "serve as liaison between the school and the hospital. We're looking at a continuity of care between doctors, us, and you coaches."

Superintendent Phillips, in an interview after the coaches' meeting, said the Athletic Training program has been "in the works" for awhile, and got jump-started recently with the blessing of new hospital President/CEO Andy Manzer.

There is no cost to the district, he said, with the service available to all student-athletes in grades 7-12. It falls in line, too, with an unfunded state mandate calling for Concussion Management, "so it's working out beautifully."

Once-a-week evaluations by Physical Therapist Amanda Smith-Socaris will continue separately. Smith-Socaris will also be overseeing strength and speed training at the school for four weeks this fall.

The football coaches:

New head football coach Lou Condon Jr. was present with his father, Lou Sr., who will serve as Junior's assistant on the varsity. Condon Jr. takes over the role held last year by Mike Johnston Sr., who saw his lone Watkins season end prematurely (after five games) when the roster shrank to a point where continued competition was deemed unwise by those in charge.

Condon is openly nervous about the prospects of attracting enough kids this year, figuring at a minimum he needs two-dozen to start with, with defections and injuries afterward kept to a bare minimum. The first test of the available numbers comes on Aug. 10, when physicals are held in the Nurse's Office at the school. Then comes Aug. 15, the first day of practice.

"Tell the kids that anyone interested should come on down," he said.

Should there be enough players, the football schedule will have Watkins starting with a road game at Newfield on Sept. 3, followed by home games against Lansing and Whitney Point, and then the Bucket Game at Odessa-Montour on Sept. 23.

The final four games include one at Waverly on Sept. 30, two at home (against Edison and Trumansburg), and one Oct. 22 at Newark Valley.

Photo in text: Physical Therapist Vanessa Mirabito and Athletic Trainer Jim Somerville.


And earlier:

The notebooks of '79 ...

By Charlie Haeffner

Odessa, July 31, 2011 -- I took a trip in 1979 designed to give me ammunition for a book. It was to be a travelogue, along the lines of ... well, any picaresque novel that suited me.

The problem was, everything I wrote back then was derivative -- lacked originality -- and so all I ended up with were notebooks full of journal-like entries from the trip, and three or four failed starts on an end product, on a book that would qualify, I hoped, as great.

The journey, in sum, was one that my wife Susan and I took to probably half of the states, and to several key national parks. We traveled in a small motorhome purchased for the trip, and stayed mostly at campgrounds. We reached the West Coast by traveling along the northern portion of the country, and returned to the East Coast by traversing southern-lying states.

In essence, we ran short of funds after a few months and ended up back in New York -- in the Southern Tier (after having lived previously in Northern New York) -- and stumbled economically for awhile before I secured regular employment at the Elmira Star-Gazette. From that point, we produced and raised two children and never seriously traveled again, other than direct back-and-forths to Florida and Michigan (the latter with some regularity in Susan's final decade).

An account of the 1979 trip has languished in those notebooks, whose pages I filled with a determination that it all would, someday, mean something. If -- as proved to be true -- I lacked the ability to convert daily notes to a compelling account that would have the public rushing to the bookstores to purchase it, I thought that something as grand as an around-the-country trip would, ulimately, be of value ... if not to myself, then to my heirs. It would be a detailed slice of family history.

Alas, it faded from memory to the point where its value seemed to lack even historical import --to the point where I, if I gave it any thought at all, grew to doubt its value entirely, other than in some snippets it contained that were either mildly amusing or somewhat poignant.


I raise this matter because I have recently viewed a film that is in the form of a travelogue, but with an appealingly romantic -- actually doubly romantic -- tale weaved through it. It is not a great film, but it is a pleasure. It is called "Letters to Juliet."

The film is remarkable, in my mind, for the performances of a couple of veterans named Vanessa Redgrave and Franco Nero, and the chemistry they generate on the screen at their advanced age -- which is to say in the area of 70.

I'm a fan of almost any good romantic comedy -- think "Working Girl" -- and this one has moments that leave me smiling and weak-kneed at the same time. And while I laud the abilities of the lead actress, Amanda Seyfried, I am awed by the art of Redgrave and Nero, and again, by their chemistry.

There is a truth-telling here, in this story, in those two characters. And that is what I would have loved to apply to my travelogue: truth-telling. And seeing it in "Letters to Juliet," I started thinking: since film is illusion, how did they achieve this? How did they weave an essence of verity?

It didn't take me long to figure it out. I googled the names of Redgrave and Nero, and found -- as I should have recalled -- that they played the lovers Guinevere and Lancelot in the 1967 film "Camelot," were romantically involved in real life (to the point of having a child), and acted together on other film projects. And here's the kicker: Forty years after "Camelot," they reunited and were married. Yes, married. That chemistry onscreen has a reality to it because it is both true and a case of art ("Letters to Juliet") imitating life.


So, I could just shake my head and say "Wow, I can't match that" as far as realism goes. And that's probably true. But there can be -- I am now convinced, the more I think about it -- a reality in a travelogue that goes beyond the daily journey ... that goes to the heart of both the exercise itself and that of the people who undertake it.

I am thereby tempted -- and possibly more than that -- to tackle that reality, to weave an American tale from my journey around the country, to turn it into something other than words in notebooks that recorded the day-to-day occurrences of what felt like an adventure, but has faded to a memory both episodic and sketchy in nature.

Somewhere in there, in those daily notes, is a pulse -- a portal, if you will, to the thoughts and emotions that drove two people to drop everything and leave on what was considered by some (not without reason) to be a foolish trip west, on what ultimately became a transition from one home (in Watertown, New York) to another (in Odessa), and an exchange of one lifestyle for another. Looking at the basics of the story, and knowing the economic difficulties the trip temporarily created for me and mine, it is not something I would likely attempt again -- not within that situation, those conditions.

But now that I have been pondering the matter -- and given that there are always perceptions and meanings that go beyond the bare facts -- I'm curious to find out if what we did, the journey we took, was a willful act fraught with irresponsibility and almost predictable economic consequence, or a life-affirming one.

The truth, a Biblical saying goes, will set you free. I don't know about that, but I think that if I could find it in those notebooks, it would give me a little different feeling about the kind of life I have, to this point, lived -- about, in particular, my decision to leave Watertown, where the security of my job could have led to a pension.

And should I locate the truth, I would hope that it proves a signpost -- shows that I am headed now in the proper direction -- and that it would serve as a barometer of my past, giving me a sense that my choices, our choices, sometimes regretted, might ... might ... actually have been the right ones.

I know that the decision to travel, the journey west and back again -- while fiscally shaky -- cured us of our wanderlust and formed, as a result, the bedrock beneath our subsequent sense of family. And that is no small feat.

In that regard, it all played out well -- could be seen (speaking as a loving parent, with Susan, of two boys) as the cornerstone of our finest and most meaningful achievements.

But consequences and achievements are the results, byplay -- not the heart of the matter, nor the truth. That, more often than not, I fear, remains hidden and beyond attainment.

But I think I might try to find it anyway. All I have to do in order to begin is to dig out and dust off those old notebooks, and start reading.


And earlier:

Danger in the waters ...

By Charlie Haeffner

Bois Blanc Island, Michigan, July 17, 2011 -- I was seated Friday morning at Hawk's Landing, the Island's lone convenience store, which doubles as a restaurant. I've long made a practice of visiting Hawk's each vacation morning to field incoming e-mails with which to update this website.

It also gives me a chance to eat a well-rounded meal while contributing to the restaurant owners' business -- which seems to be a little thin this year.

I had been reminded the preceding day of the dangers of the surrounding waters as I was out walking. I passed a point along the Bois Blanc shoreline from which officials had pulled the body last year of an Island resident who drowned while simply swimming in front of her cottage. It rattled the other Islanders, and provided everyone with a reminder not to take the seemingly placid waters of the Straits of Mackinac for granted. As I passed the spot, I shivered, as if the hand of death were still present there, beckoning.

But it is not just the Straits, of course. Any lake or stream holds those dangers -- a point driven home yet again in an e-mail from a Seneca Lake resident that arrived as I ate that breakfast Friday at Hawk's Landing. Seneca, we all know, can be dangerous. Marina owner Don Roberts died in a boating accident there last year, and a couple of people were saved earlier this year after their boat capsized. Its history contains many such emergencies.

And it happened again last week, when two canoeists capsized and were rescued by a pair of shoreline residents, Cyndy Wood and Joan Merrill. Thus the e-mail.


But first things first. Let's talk safety on the lake.

As Sgt. Steven Lawton of the Schuyler County Sheriff's office puts it -- and he should know, being part of the department's marine division and a boating safety instructor -- there are all sorts of ways to get in trouble on the water.

One way, he says, is to neglect to take along PFDs -- personal flotation devices, or life jackets -- while out in a craft.

And if your vessel capsizes, "stay with it or climb onto it. That way you might avoid hypothermia. Don't try swimming to shore, particularly if it's a great distance away."

That is, again, because of hypothermia. "When it sets in," says Lawton, "you get confused and uncoordinated. You might start swimming around in circles, and not realize it. And you're burning energy and cooling your body that much quicker, bringing on hypothermia sooner." And especially in cold water -- which in Seneca, well away from shore, "is 65 degrees or less."

It is much colder -- about 36 to 38 degrees -- just 20 feet down. That, Sgt. Lawton said, accounts for why, on occasion, bodies are not recovered from the lake. It is so cold that decomposition and its attendant gases don't occur and thus the body won't float to the surface. It is consigned to the depths, hundreds of feet below.

"And there are rules for those doing the rescuing," said Lawton. "Precautionary measures. Like don't jump in the water. Throw them a PFD or a flotation cushion or a buoy ring.

"Never get in the water, because that can make you susceptible to the same conditions. If you do get in and the person being rescued starts thrashing, he can take you under. Get him to the boat without entering the water."


Now, about that recent rescue. As I said, I got word of it Friday morning during my Hawk's Landing breakfast, in an e-mail from a Seneca Lake resident.

"No (media) covered this, but it is the talk all over town," said the e-mailer. "Cyndy Wood (Watkins Glen High School physical education teacher and aquatics director, who oversees lifeguarding and lifesaving at the school) rescued two people -- a man and a woman -- out in the middle of Seneca Lake yesterday.

"They were renting down at San Felice and went out in a canoe, and capsized with no life jackets. I understand the man was really in trouble, in danger of going under. They were heard yelling for help, and a neighbor alerted Cyndy. Cyndy jumped in her boat and rescued both people. Not exaggerating. She saved a couple of lives."

This happened a mile or so north of Peach Orchard Point, some significant distance from where the canoeists had departed from shore at Valois Point. They capsized in the lake waters down the hill, roughly, from where the Valois-Logan-Hector Fire Department is located.

After receiving the e-mail, I called the Schuyler County Sheriff's Office on the offchance that it had a report on the incident, but the dispatcher said it hadn't been involved. Firefighters had been called, though -- which I took to mean the VLH firefighters.

Without an official record from which to draw information, I decided it would be helpful to talk to someone who directly knew the facts of the incident, such as Cyndy Wood herself. But I didn't have her phone number. I did, however, obtain her daughter Kelsey's number and called that, leaving a voicemail message explaining why I wanted to talk to Cyndy. I didn't hear back from Kelsey, but at dinnertime my phone rang, and it was Cyndy herself. Kelsey had evidently passed word along.

"What happened out there?" I asked her.

She wasn't reluctant to explain, but emphasized that she didn't want any special notice. She had merely done what anybody would do in similar circumstance, she said.

"Well," she added, and outlined roughly what the e-mailer had, but with more texture -- how the canoeists, "without personal flotation devices," capsized and struggled in the water.

The woman canoeist was yelling for help, cries which were heard by a female shoreline resident -- a neighbor of Wood's not adept at boating. She ran to Cyndy's place, and Cyndy in turn -- "not knowing what I'd find out there, what I was dealing with" -- grabbed another neighbor, Joan Merrill, to go out with her. "Joan didn't hesitate. We just went. And she proved very, very helpful."

The two women climbed aboard Wood's inboard-outboard craft and found the canoeists -- a man and woman in their mid-30s, reportedly from Binghamton. The man, Wood said, was "distressed, a beginning swimmer. He didn't have a lot of time" before his struggles would have been in vain.

Wood and Merrill effected "an extension rescue from the boat," pulling the man up onto a platform at the boat's rear and into the boat "after Joan threw him a line. He was exhausted. The woman was in good shape" by comparison as they helped her aboard.

The next move was to call 911 on a cell phone, alerting the Hector firefighters to send emergency personnel to meet them ashore and "check out" the canoeists. "I didn't like (the man's) condition," Wood said. "He was pale and weak."

While enroute, the rescued woman turned to the man and said "We just used up one of our nine lives."

They were met on shore by emergency personnel, who took over. Wood said she doesn't know what happened to the two canoeists then; whether either was taken to the hospital.

The entire episode "was very disturbing, upsetting," she added. But what she and Merrill did was nothing special, she said again. "Any person" with a boat and boating experience "would have gone out there." It was merely a matter of being the right people in the right circumstance at the right time.

"I'm just glad they're safe and back to shore," Wood said of the canoeists.


Sgt. Lawton, in our discussion on water safety that followed this rescue, had some observations.

The canoeists, he said, "didn't even have a PFD in the canoe. And they were in a vessel that was not appropriate for the weather conditions," which consisted of gusty wind and choppy waters.

Beyond that, "they didn't stay with the canoe" -- again, a big mistake.

Wood and Merrill "deserve all kinds of kudos," he summed up. If not for them, "we could well have had a drowning."


And earlier:

A pair of deer along the Bois Blanc shoreline, near the editor's cottage.

The race to The Island ...

By Charlie Haeffner

Bois Blanc Island, Michigan, July 9, 2011 -- The summer days are warm and the nights are cool here on The Island -- a 5-by-12-mile chunk of land in the Straits of Mackinac. Cooling breezes are nearly constant. Heat waves are rare on Bois Blanc.

The Island is roughly the same as it has been for the 57 or so years I have known it. It possesses dirt roads, a 30 mph maximum for the relatively few cars on it, acres upon acres of thick state-owned forest, and game that occasionally puts in an appearance.

My first day here, I saw a deer. The next day, I spotted two down by the water, getting drinks and foraging for food, and another that visited the side yard of the cottage in which I am staying with my brother and his clan. That likely means the coyote population is still down; otherwise they would be giving chase, running down the deer.

I have encountered humans from summers past, each giving me a hearty hello -- including one young fellow who gave me a lift from the Lighthouse on the island's far shore last year.

I had felt adventurous that day, and so had headed out toward the farflung beacon on a bicycle too small for me, and had run out of steam.

While negotiating the Lighthouse road -- a path through the deep woods marked by bunker-sized potholes and snaring roots reaching across from trees on either side -- I had encountered fatigue and a growing impatience.

Then along had come an old, loud jeep driven by the young man, who had graciously taken my bike and me on as passengers back to civilization.

"Remember me?" he asked as I was out for a walk on my first day of this year's visit, along the shoreline of the island's lone municipality, Pointe aux Pins. He was working at a cottage along the way, painting the deck railing in front.

"Sure," I said. "You're the guy who saved my life last year. I thank you again."

He laughed at the exaggeration, but seemed pleased to encounter me again. Whereas his stay last year had been brief -- and well-timed from my perspective -- he is up here this year "until the last boat," he said. "In November sometime."

Since I can count the days of my stay on two hands, I felt envy course through me.

During that same walk, a rusted Toyota came sliding to a halt along the edge of the roadway to my right, and a voice called out: "I thought that was you!"

The driver was a 20-something denizen of the Island who has been coming here for most of the summers of his life, and has a house on the western shore that he shares with "my girlfriend and her two kids."

This girlfriend, I deduced right away, is someone new since last I saw him -- replacing the girl he had long squired around Bois Blanc.

"Two kids?" I said. "Instant family, huh?"

He laughed. "Yeah. It's like microwave popcorn."


I also encountered the ferryboat owner, Curt Plaunt, on the crossing from the mainland -- a man I first met when I was a child and he was a toddler. And I said hello to his oldest sister, Lee, before the crossing, in the office where I paid for my ferry ticket.

That crossing, by the way, came at 4 p.m. Wednesday. I was scheduled to take the 7 o'clock boat, but made good time in a speedy rental car I had opted for on this journey. When I was four hours distant, I calculated the chances of making the 4 o'clock, including the need for a stop at a grocery store in Cheboygan -- the mainland city that serves as the ferry service's headquarters. I thought I might make it.

But even if I did, I wasn't sure there would be room on the ferry; it can carry about 16 cars, and sometimes is solidly booked, occasionally filling up at the last minute. But I wanted to try for 4 o'clock, anyway. Spending three hours waiting in Cheboygan for the next crossing was not appealing.

I knew my timing would be tight. I was getting good mileage, and so didn't refuel from Toledo north, and kept the speedometer a little above the maximum. I pulled into Cheboygan at 3:32, called my brother (already on the Island for several days) for his specific grocery needs (an obligation to which I had earlier committed), and raced through the grocery store as though on one of those Shopping Spree shows. I managed to find a checkout booth with just one person ahead of me, and sailed through quickly and out the door, tossing my purchases into the car.

The grocery store clock had indicated it was five minutes to four o'clock as I exited the building. My car clock said, a minute or so later, that I had six minutes. Which was right? Would the boat still be there? Please, I said, don't leave early.

I drove through and out of the store's large parking lot, waited at a red light, crawled along at about 25 mph in thick traffic for a mile or two, and took the first turnoff to the right that led to the river and the ferry. It pays to know the terrain, the back ways.

As I reached the ferry's lot, I saw the boat was still there, and as I rounded the corner past a line of cars, I spotted the boat owner striding across the lot. I skidded to a halt and yelled out: "Yo, Curt!"

He looked up, recognized me and gave a little wave.

"Any room on the boat?" I asked.

"Yeah," he said. "Just pull up near it, and one of the guys will help you."

I did that, getting out of the car so a crew member could climb in and drive it on board. I ran into the nearby office to procure my ticket, ran out again, and jumped on the boat as another crew member was putting the craft's rear gate in place. The boat's engine was throbbing, impatient to make the crossing.

Seconds later, we were on our way. And I, anticipating the peace that lay ahead, and my eyes on the distant island shoreline, nodded and smiled. I had made it.

Photos in text:

Scenes of the island: A deer in the cottage's side yard, jet skiing in the Straits of Mackinac, and a snake that stuck its head up from a pile of leaves.


And earlier:

One of the good ones ...

By Charlie Haeffner

Odessa, July 1, 2011 -- I had intended to be on the road today, heading west and then north toward The Island -- Bois Blanc Island in the Straits of Mackinac, which I generally visit on an annual basis.

I don't have a rental lined up this summer, but was going to bunk in a cottage held for two weeks by my brother, who is arriving there tomorrow from Florida.

But when I got up this morning, every fiber in my body told me not to go. Maybe some of that stemmed from battling a washing machine flood in two rooms the night before. Cleanup took awhile.

And maybe my senses were telling me my old van wasn't up for the journey, even though it checked out pretty well when I took it in for a checkup the other day.

Or maybe I knew intuitively that the highways are not a good place to be on the Independence Day weekend.

Anyway, I had just decided to stay home for the weekend -- and perhaps tackle the trip the following week with a rental car -- when I got a phone call alerting me to the Thruway accident Thursday night that had claimed the life of Debra Whiting.

And I felt instantly deflated. Absolutely gut-wrenched, as though someone had struck me in the midsection.

I did my job by making some phone calls and verifying the horrible news, and then posted something on this website. And then -- with just enough energy left to answer an email from an enraged reader who imagined I had somehow slighted him (a not-uncommon byproduct of my profession) -- I sagged in my desk chair.

Deb Whiting. Oh, my God.

Deb Whiting was, for those who never crossed her path, important on several levels -- mother, wife, chef of note, co-owner with husband David of the Red Newt Winery and Bistro in Hector. And she was civic minded, serving recently as chairwoman of the Watkins Glen Area Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors.

I encountered her with some frequency -- at Watkins Glen High School, where a son of hers is a student-athlete, actor and musician; at public functions where she provided some of her specially prepared foods; at her bistro, where I photographed her last year being videotaped for a segment of a Food Network show called "Chopped"; and at various festivals. And she was almost always in the company of David.

Their office manager, Greg Tumbarello, said the accident -- on the way home from a business trip to Vermont -- occurred in a customized Volkswagen van the Whitings had purchased in April in California. They had traveled cross-country in that van after buying it. The Vermont journey was taken to visit family and friends and to try and energize their market in that state through a Burlington wine organization. Tumbarello thought they had also visited the Burlington Wine Festival while they were there.

I don't know exactly what happened out on the Thruway. The police report said it all happened quickly, with their van and another vehicle sideswiping. Both vehicles veered from the road and overturned, with the van striking a tree.


The Red Newt Cellars issued a statement about Deb's passing, which you can read by clicking here. That will tell you a lot about the woman.

For my part, I feel like doing some philosophical hand-wringing -- asking what many of us tend to after something so horrible occurs: the "Why?" we tend to throw at God.

But I won't. I'm just not equipped for it.

I will only say that here was a woman of great social and ethical worth, a woman of ability, a community leader.

I will always remember her trademark short hair, her warm smile, the look of confidence and concentration on her face when she was creating one of her food specialties in the kitchen.

Here was a woman who clearly enjoyed her work, her family and her life.

Here was one of the good ones.

Photo in text: Deb Whiting during the taping of a promo for a Food Network show called "Chopped" last August. She later competed on the show in New York City, but the segment never aired.


And earlier:

In a world of ambiguity ...

By Charlie Haeffner

Odessa, June 21, 2011 -- I've always tended toward misdirection or, at the least, ambiguity in my novels.

In the first one I published, Island Nights, I tell about a girl who died, a girl who lived -- the same girl, dying and living in that order. The how is a mystery.

In that book's prequel-sequel, The Islander, I tell about the demise of Mussolini -- and his unsettling reappearance -- and about a carpenter in the woods who may or may not be who the religious among us would assume him to be. And the girl from Island Nights, now grown, reappears ... and embraces an uncertain future.

In Cabins in the Mist, I tell about my travels across a portal on Bois Blanc Island, my Michigan hideaway ... how I was invited through by the late gangster John Dillinger, a restless wraith looking for someone to shoot against competitively. Only there was much more to the invitation, and to the story.

In The Maiden of Mackinac, the search for a legendary 700-year-old Indian maiden serves as precursor to a plague that may or may not wipe out most of mankind. And the narrator, drawn to the legend as a potential journalistic coup, finds himself a centerpiece in the tale. A giant talking turtle, reincarnation and a magical journey from the Southern Tier to Northern Michigan help season the tale.

Misdirection and ambiguity are useful tools in novel-writing, and in employing them, I've been alert to the fact that they are equally useful in real life -- and I suppose particularly in politics, or even in School Board goings-on, which I consider pseudo-political.

Saying one thing -- particularly in campaigns -- and doing another are staples of the American political system. In polite company, campaign promises would be called lies, but we embrace them -- indeed, demand to hear them. So we are as culpable as the politicians.

Once in office, our representatives are normally a little more circumspect, reducing what pours from their mouths in order not to overstate or offend. For once in office, the politicians find the public is a little more demanding of truth-telling.

That, of course, is where ambiguity and misdirection come in -- where a representative might emphasize one action while concentrating behind the scenes on another, less popular one; or will describe a situation in vague terms, in doublespeak.

One of the most annoying ploys is when a politician says "we really have no options" in a pending resolution, words intended to leave little room for debate. That occurred recently regarding a potential appointment to an important position in our region. "We really have no options," an authority figure said in explaining the anticipated move, viewed in some circles as inexplicable in all but financial terms.

It is a move not yet made, and I applaud the caution being exhibited. For there is almost always room for debate, and there are almost always options. (Addendum on June 22: The move was announced, after all, just one day after the words above were written. Ah, well ...)


But I digress. I wanted to say that there are unambiguous certainties in life, too, and I mean beyond death and taxes -- in particular (in the lives of many of us) the love of a family. Nonetheless, we can get a little jaded about that latter; assume it is a birthright that will always be there.

I was brought back to the certainty, and the glow it generates, when my sons presented me an unusual and quite warming Father's Day gift. My youngest son, Dave, who works in Washington, D.C., asked me during a recent visit home if I might send him digital copies of those novels I had written.

"Well," I thought, "I guess he's finally going to read them." Getting anyone in my family to read my writings has been a nearly impossible achievement. While I suspect Dave will read them, his immediate goal was somewhat different.

He took The Maiden of Mackinac -- which had until then been available in its entirety only through 110 copies I created, spiral-bound, several years ago -- and he formatted and submitted it to for inclusion in its storehouse of available Kindle books. Yes, I now have a Kindle book out there -- and it's in fact the book I had been planning, on and off, to publish in a more widely available format over the past few years. The other books I had long ago published in paperback format through an outfit called Xlibris; they too are available, in their original book form, on Amazon.

The artwork for the The Maiden of Mackinac cover was created by my artist son Jon -- known locally for his caricature work, but a talent far beyond just caricatures.

I'm grateful to both Dave and Jon. While I anticipate no sales (the novel costs $9.99), I nonetheless find the gesture they've made both touching and reassuring -- reassuring of a certainty, of familial love, in a world of ambiguity and misdirection.

Thank you, boys, and bless you.


And earlier:

Home from a foreign land...

By Charlie Haeffner

Odessa, June 13, 2011 -- Adults were seated, beer or other refreshments in hand. Children were scurrying about, playing on the lawn sloping down to a field, from where -- in the distance -- Seneca Lake was visible.

Beyond that, in the western hills, a mist hung, and storm clouds were swirling. One storm had just moved through, leaving behind wet tables set up under canopies at the side of the yard -- intended as a dining area for visitors at the gathering. Another storm was on the way.

A 60-pound pig was being roasted, and there were pack after pack of hot dogs waiting to be grilled. The beer, water and other drinks were in coolers lining the concrete patio, which was sheltered by a deck above.

Amid all of this, there was one constant focus, one person to whom the eyes went -- the person the owners of those eyes were there to see: Adam Foster, flitting in and out of the back door of his house along Rt. 414 north of Burdett, site of a celebratory party. He was alternately tending to the celebration's needs inside and greeting his visitors outside with hardy handshakes and heartfelt hugs.

Foster was a day returned from Dubai, from a trip that was to have been weeks long, but turned into months as he ran afoul of the law. It has been well reported here and elsewhere: how he found a pair of handcuffs that he tried to take home with him -- only to be stopped by authorities and held, lashed, released, tried and (amid a grassroots letter-writing campaign back home) sentenced to 30 days in jail. The sentence could have been seven years.

His friends and neighbors describe him in glowing terms: "a sweetheart," "a great guy" and so on. He has, judging by the response to his Dubai plight and all the birthday greetings he received on Facebook when he turned 31 on Friday, a wide range of those friends.

He strikes me as unusually engaged and engaging -- bringing the full force of his attention to a conversation.

I was invited to the celebration at his home that day after his return trip -- a journey he took by air from Dubai to Atlanta to Detroit to Elmira. We talked briefly amid the swirl of guests, with him saying -- among other things -- that he didn't eat much while in jail because "the food wasn't very good." (By contrast, he was honored with the first taste of the roast pig, which smelled great, and by the look on his face, equalled the smell in its taste.)

Foster had encountered some official run-arounds on his most recent attempt to leave Dubai, and had run out of time one day, but managed to get the paperwork sorted out the next and boarded the flight to the United States -- "fifteen and a half hours" in the air to Atlanta, he said.

He looked around the grounds of his home now, at the people there to share the moment with him, and shook his head. "It's so good to be here," he said.

I asked if he hadn't been nervous going public on Facebook with his plight those weeks ago -- and he conceded that he had been. He had been trying, early on, to keep things quiet after getting out of jail that first time, in the period leading to trial. He hadn't wanted to make matters worse by upsetting the Dubai officials.

"But when I learned I could get two to seven years," he said, he decided he had to do something. And so his friends learned of the plight through Facebook, and the grassroots movement formed, and officials at the U.S. State Department and United Arab Emirates embassy were besieged with letters calling for fair treatment. And in the end, the sentence was -- in relation to the glaring possibility -- quite light.

Foster said he doesn't know how well those letters were received by the officials involved -- how exactly to measure the pressure brought to bear by folks far away from Dubai, in America. And it's difficult to gauge what else might have been going on behind the scenes. He was, after all, otherwise disposed. But reception and measurement aside, the result was resounding.

"I'll tell you," he said. "I'm convinced that without those letters" and without the other support that surfaced, "I would have gotten seven years."

Instead, he was home now -- and getting hugs from friends and talking quietly to his mother and father and his girlfriend, Jennifer Pasto -- and looking ahead to a future much brighter than the one he was pondering a few weeks ago.

He will return to work with Cameron Compression Systems of Buffalo, he said. According to reports, it performed well for him in Dubai, helping get him out of jail after his first stay there, the one where he sustained lashings to his feet. But there will be a difference.

""Will you be going overseas again?" he was asked.

His answer was direct, unhesitant, to the point -- the answer of a man who has been to hell and back, and has no intention of getting anywhere near the purgatorial heat again.

"Nope," he said.

Photo in text: Adam Foster at his party.


And earlier:

An evening to remember ...

By Charlie Haeffner

Odessa, June 4, 2011 -- It is a matter of opinion, of course, but mine seems to parallel that of most people who attended the Top Drawer 24 party on June 1 honoring two dozen of the best and brightest of our high school students in Schuyler County.

The evening was compelling. It was compelling from the accommodating weather to the beautiful setting (the Watkins Glen State Park pavilion) to the speeches by a cross-section of athletic personalities and a TV personality (YNN meteorologist Vanessa Richards).

The fact that one of the speakers was a longtime member of the Pittsburgh Steelers scouting division (Mark Gorscak) helped bolster attendance, which was standing-room-only.

The centerpiece of the evening was the group of honorees, though -- students from the Watkins Glen, Odessa-Montour, Trumansburg and Bradford school districts who have excelled on the playing fields, in the classroom and in life. By the time Brian O'Donnell, the career educator whose name graces the Top Drawer 24 subtitle, had completed his introduction of each honoree -- the introductions listed many, many accomplishments by each -- the collective assemblage were shaking heads, I think stunned that there could be so much of a positive nature in such a small group of young adults.

Each honoree received a Top Drawer 24 medallion, along with a Certificate of Merit delivered by the office of State Senator Tom O'Mara. And I mean delivered. A woman named Sara in his office hand-delivered them to my home the day before the State Park party. The Senator, per usual, couldn't attend in person, since midweek at this time of year is always a session day in Albany.

But the presentation of the certificates, along with cover letters from the Senator, added greatly to the evening. We have, in the past, secured similar messages of encouragement -- Certificates of Achievement or something similar -- from other offices, but came up dry in the attempt this year. Elected representatives in the Assembly and Congress ignored such requests, despite the seeming importance of the evening. Well, perhaps I'm biased. And perhaps they'll respond next year.

This was the sixth such annual celebration, held each year around the turn into June, and each year held at the park pavilion. It is a unique setting, and despite the annual risk of weather gone awry, we intend to stay right there. Part of the charm of the event is the charm of the site.

And part of the charm of the event is in the promise embodied in the honorees. These are two dozen young adults chosen over a period of time by a committee, a rather large committee. The honorees each year represent not only the best examples of the scholar-athlete-citizens in our high schools, but provide us with a possible look at our future leadership.

The Top Drawer 24 was an idea born during a brainstorming session I had with Watkins Glen High School teacher Craig Cheplick, who was back then serving as the district Faculty Manager -- in essence handling the job of Athletic Director and striving, as always, to improve the district's athletic program through promotion and encouragement of the positive.

The Top Drawer 24 was an idea that took hold quickly and has grown steadily in impact and importance. And judging from the laudatory tone from many who attended this most recent celebration, it is an idea so well-received that it might very well be around for a long time.


And earlier:

Ahead of his time ...

By Charlie Haeffner

Odessa, May 27, 2011 -- I have been to the land of Jefferson.

Thomas Jefferson, that is. Third President of the United States. Author of the Declaration of Independence.

The road to Charlottesville, Virginia -- home of the University of Virginia established by Jefferson, where my youngest son, Dave, received a Master's degree on Sunday -- is a heavily traveled one.

The land around Charlottesville is enticing -- the Blue Ridge mountains are an arm's reach from the traveler's roadway -- and historic.

Up a twisting road a mere handful of miles out of downtown Charlottesville, that history awaits, and hundreds of thousands of visitors immerse themselves in its magic each year.

Their destination is Monticello, the home and grounds that were Thomas Jefferson's estate, now a World Heritage site with visitor center, cafe, museum and introductory-film theater beside its parking lots, and bus rides from there to the house itself.

It is opened every day but Christmas, although we -- I, along with my sons Dave and Jon -- encountered something a bit out of the ordinary: a delay.

I was driving up the narrow, twisting road to the parking areas, woods enveloping on either side, when suddenly a sharp sound -- a siren -- pierced the stillness from behind. I looked in the mirror, and there was a fire truck -- imponderably large on that narrow blacktop -- coming up the hill, lights flashing, and cutting loose with the siren again.

I slowed and edged to the side of the road, near what appeared to be a dropoff into the woods on the right. The truck, slowing too, moved carefully around me and then sped up again, disappearing around the next bend.


After we parked, bought our tour tickets (at $22 a pop) and took the tour bus to the estate grounds, we learned that there had been a fire alarm in the house. Security had cleared the building, and firefighters were looking for what might have caused it. There was, from all evidence I could see, no fire.

The bottom line was this: we waited probably 45 minutes, along with a lot of other folks as the line to tour the facility grew longer and longer. Finally things started moving again.


The tour-takers form their line on a walkway that is gravel covered. Not far down the way from that line, there was a small archeological work crew carefully poring through the soil in a square hole dug a couple of feet deep. They were, said their foreman, seeking evidence that the walkway -- created for tourists -- might be covering what, in Jefferson's day, was a transportation route.

"We haven't found much," the foreman said, pointing to a container holding bits of relics of a bygone day: pieces of pottery and china, and small metallic objects that appeared to have been parts of tools.

"We've been doing this a couple of weeks," the man said, and he went back to carefully sifting through dirt from the hole. The project, he indicated, would continue until they could make a determination about that possible old route.


That encounter, along with the subsequent tour -- the house is in beautiful shape, with much of its original, Jefferson-era state maintained, and with books and artifacts and furniture the guide said were Jefferson's -- put me in an odd mood. I loved the place, but it is such an anachronism, sitting there, the past drawing the present, inviting it inside, that I got to wondering how old Tom himself -- one of the cleverest, most intelligent and productive men of his generation -- would handle the present that we know.

A common term in studying outstanding, foresightful men of the past -- people who helped frame the world in which they lived, setting the table for the generations that followed -- is to say they were "ahead of their time."

But I wonder about that. Maybe some of them -- maybe all -- were perfectly suited to their time. Maybe Thomas Jefferson, a giant of his day, would be something a great deal less in the din of a more modern era.

Imagine the intensity of the media today if it were covering him and discovered his relationship with Sally Hemings (a mixed-race slave back then), with whom he had several children out of wedlock. Take Arnold and multiply.

The man who used a quill to write, and who never experienced radio or television, let alone the computer and social networking, just might have been out of his element in a time such as ours. Of course, he might not have been. He was, among many things, adaptable.

But I imagine in my head a man -- the older Jefferson who lived at Monticello almost exclusively in his retirement years -- in residence in our world, and I see him befuddled, straining not just to understand the intricacies of an age like ours that seems to be accelerating toward an unhappy future; I see him wishing too for a simpler time.

That is not uncommon in our elderly. Many long for the simplicity of the 1950s, the Eisenhower years.

Jefferson, if of this age, might have wished for the same 1950s lifestyle. And if he were somehow transported here from his own time, I have little doubt that he would be casting his eyes toward the Monticello of 1809-1826, the years of his retirement.

It was there, in the peace of the hills -- at a home open to friends and colleagues he invited, but not to the pilgrimages it sees today -- that he was able to deal with his fame, his achievements, and his contradictions. He was a slave owner who believed slavery wrong; but being a practical man, knew he could not alter an institution so ingrained. That change would have to come from future leaders. It must have been an awkward position for him, considering his authorship of the Declaration of Independence.

There is beauty in the hills surrounding Monticello, in the home, on the manicured grounds, and indeed on the campus of the University of Virginia he established there in Charlottesville -- and now, having experienced their allure, I understand Jefferson's devotion to the area.

And having seen how seemingly pleasant life might have been on an estate like Monticello -- the tours accentuate the positive -- I can almost imagine transporting myself back to that era to decide for myself if the apparent sweetness of Jefferson's time would stand up to inspection.

That would, I suspect, be the only way I could be (quite literally) ahead of my time.


And earlier:

Will Watkins play football?

By Charlie Haeffner

Odessa, May 20, 2011 -- With Bob Lee taking the Odessa-Montour football coaching job, the question left on a lot of minds in Watkins Glen is this: Will WGHS even field a football team this year?

After all, last season ended far early, a victim of injuries that depleted a roster that was too thin to start with.

Well, here's the official answer:

Watkins will absolutely have football, says Watkins Glen Schools Superintendent Tom Phillips.

In fact, he says, the goal is to name an entire football coaching staff at the June 6 School Board meeting, from head varsity coach on down.

There were four applicants for the varsity post, and Bob Lee was one of them. So now there are three -- all from counties adjoining Schuyler.

Well, that's fine and dandy, but coaches do not a team make. It requires players, and at last look only 14 had shown up at recent physicals.

Not to worry, says Phillips.

"We're looking at somewhere in the neighborhood of 28 players solid" for varsity, he said, "and 17 for Modified. Yes, we're still a little lean on numbers, but I've had discussions with seniors and juniors who assured me we will have a turnout" that meets roster needs.

And the goal "is to go higher," he said. "We're not looking to bring freshmen up to varsity. We're looking to get solid junior-senior leadership to come forward."

Phillips said the two school districts -- O-M and Watkins -- missed "a perfect opportunity for efficiencies" though a merging of the football programs. But with Lee's hiring, "it's not happening now."

Not that it would have. O-M has not expressed any interest in that direction.

"We're just doubling the cost" this way, said Phillips. "We could have put together one decent program. But ... I wish O-M luck. Now we'll work on our program and put it together."


Adam Foster of Burdett, awaiting his fate in Dubai for weeks and the subject of a letter- and email-writing campaign on his behalf in this country, received a 30-day sentence in a case in which he conceivably could have drawn seven years in jail.

He was accused of two things: possession of police handcuffs and, more seriously, of stealing the handcuffs from a police station. He says he found them in a parking lot and decided to take them home, back to America, as a souvenir. Authorities at the airport discovered them in his luggage and arrested him.

That was back in January. What followed in jail, he later said -- after his temporary release was effected by the company he was working for over there, Cameron Compression Systems of Buffalo -- was torturous beatings and bone-chilling threats at the hands of his jailers.

That's what gives pause about the 30-day sentence. He was taken right back into that hell hole.

People are celebrating in exchanges on Facebook, calling the relatively light sentence great news and a relief -- and in the context of the sentence he could have received, it certainly is.

But 30 days at the hands of the same people (presumably) who so abused him before ... that gives me, and it should give everyone, pause.

If Adam sails through his sentence unharmed, then great.

But it's the spectre of what happened before that proves worrisome.

I, and I suspect others, had hoped that all of the publicity surrounding this -- reaching to the national stage, at least online -- might have triggered some sort of deal between State Department and United Arab Emirates officials. The UAE, after all, shouldn't want to be painted as a bunch of evil hoodlums.

Then again, maybe what's happened online and in the media will keep the beatings at bay. Maybe the system has worked as well as anyone could have hoped.

Maybe ...

We'll just have to wait and see. In the meantime, let's do what those Facebook folks who were keeping in touch with Adam have been doing -- and I suspect you have been doing. I know I have been.

Let's keep praying.

See message from the Foster family here.


And earlier:

Watkins Glen Mayor Mark Swinnerton, left, and trustee Scott Gibson.

About those haircuts ...

By Charlie Haeffner

Odessa, May 17, 2011 -- They don't normally wear their hair very long. But this was something else: buzz cuts.

Watkins Glen Mayor Mark Swinnerton and Village Trustee Scott Gibson returned from a recent Vermont trip with their hair shorn fairly short -- enough so to elicit comments from a good many folks they've encountered since.

Was this a new political statement? Our leaders gone skinhead? A message to the masses?

No, it was more like "totally stupid bonding," in the words of Gibson.

It happened at the Mount Snow, Vermont Tough Mudder obstacle-course event -- a 10-mile preview of hell where competitors faced all sorts of challenges: mud, icy waters, steep hill climbs, a rope-webbing climb, corrugated-pipe crawls, vertical-wall climbs, rope bridges, and barbed wire to crawl under. It all took about two hours or so.

Talk about fun. Yeah, right.

Tough Mudder is a recent phenomenon, concocted by an Englishman named Will Dean, that has caught the fancy of a lot of folks over the past year through the power of social networking -- of Facebook and other Internet accesses. There are more than a dozen such events around the country this year. The idea -- as a New York Times article pointed out -- "is not really to win, but to finish. And to have a story to tell."

Swinnerton and Gibson decided to test their mettle by entering the Tough Mudder event at Mount Snow. "I'm turning 40 soon," said the mayor. "I wanted to prove I could still do it."

As part of the experience, the Tough Mudder organizers urge team bonding -- and one way to do that is through similar haircuts, in this case Mohawks.

Yes, the mayor and trustee had Mohawk haircuts when they tackled the Tough Mudder course. But they didn't keep them for long.

"Yeah, it was a bonding thing," said Gibson. "But I trimmed (the Mohawk) back as soon as I got home."

And the mayor?

"Yeah, right after I got back," he said.

There's something about Mohawks and wives -- or for that matter the dignity of public office -- that don't mix.


An easier event, and one for a good cause, comes Saturday, May 21 with the Jean Lawton Memorial Walk, set for the Watkins Glen High School track from 9-11 a.m.

The event is in memory of the former Physical Education teacher, coach and fitness enthusiast who walked regularly throughout her life. She died on Feb. 25.

Lawton was also an avid reader, which explains why organizers are turning donations over to the Watkins Glen Public Library.


And earlier:

Waiting and hoping ...

By Charlie Haeffner

Odessa, May 11, 2011 -- There is perhaps nothing more difficult than waiting for the other shoe to drop.

Dread can hang with that shoe, oozing its figurative bile ahead of the physical act.

Adam Foster is awaiting that other shoe, and we're all -- here in Schuyler County -- waiting too and watching, and commiserating. And we feel as helpless as newborn babes.

Kate LaMoreaux, bless her heart, has tried rallying the troops (which is to say friends of the Foster family) to make some noise -- to generate some support -- on behalf of Adam, 30, a former student of hers at Watkins Glen High School. And she seems pleased with the response. We can only hope it has a positive effect. (See LaMoreaux's letters on the Forum Page.)


For those who came in late, Foster, a mechanical engineer working in the United Arab Emirates for a Buffalo firm, Cameron Compression Systems, was arrested at the airport on his way out of Dubai when authorities found a pair of police handcuffs in his luggage. He is, according to available reports, accused of two things: possession of police paraphernalia and a more serious thing, that of allegedly stealing the handcuffs from a police station.

He says he found the cuffs in a parking lot, and thought they'd make a nice souvenir -- which nobody is claiming wasn't a poor decision. And as cause leads to effect, he found himself in jail, signing a confession coerced by beatings and threats. That happened several weeks ago, but through legal assistance from his company, he was released -- an unusual thing over there, but not the be-all and end-all of the case.

The matter of his fate -- whether he receives a jail term or, on the flip side, is freed -- is still up in the air, along with that proverbial shoe. A court appearance Tuesday resulted in an adjournment to the 19th of this month.


Foster, despite the experience in jail and the prospect of a return there, has maintained a wry sense of humor, posting pointed jokes on his Facebook page. That is something he couldn't have done a mere handful of years ago. Facebook has helped reduce the world, in a communication sense, to a large neighborhood.

But in a physical sense, the world is still a patchwork of nations of varying laws and beliefs, with the age-old biases and hatreds that go with them. The fact that the West (which is to say the United States and assorted other English-speaking entities) is regarded with distaste by many non-English-speaking countries would seem, in this case (judging from police tendencies), to make the locale -- the United Arab Emirates -- very far away, indeed.

It is a strange dichotomy: We are in front-row seats, chewing our fingernails in fear of how Foster might be treated, and yet we are so far away that we can do little except rattle email sabers, hoping that a show of support directed to a UAE ambassador and to our own State Department will have the effect of keeping that shoe airborne.


Foster, a Burdett property owner, has a host of friends around here, being a 1998 graduate of WGHS. He's not so far removed from that time in his life that he has lost touch. And those friends have been showing up on his Facebook page with their good wishes and kind thoughts.

The State Department is working on his behalf, and Congressman Maurice Hinchey's office is working with State. And there is the reality that the UAE and the United States strive for a rapport that something like this could -- in the fast-transmitting, viral world of the Internet -- undermine if not handled well on both sides. There could be instant political ramifications.

All of that is, I imagine, reassuring to Foster, but he is still out there alone, waiting, in a strange land that doesn't seem to hesitate to mistreat people who fall under accusation.

I imagine that every so often, at least figuratively, he casts an eye upward to see what that other shoe is doing.


And earlier:

A history worth recording...

By Charlie Haeffner

Odessa, May 9, 2011 -- I received a note from Kelsey Wood regarding a student project she, as a Watkins Glen High School History teacher and as a race fan, is overseeing. I'll turn the column over to her words here, because the project deserves some airing. She wrote as follows:

"For the last two months students at Watkins Glen High School have been working on a project to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Formula One racing at Watkins Glen. The International Motor Racing Research Center contacted Watkins Glen High School back in January with the news that a year-long celebration to commemorate the F1 years (1961-1980) was being held. While many influential figures from the F1 years had been interviewed, there had not been an organized project to document the experiences of local people involved.

"The idea was to have students conduct and videotape interviews from various people around Watkins and upstate New York who were involved in F1 at the Glen. As a longtime racing enthusiast, I volunteered to act as liaison to organize the interviews with students, along with the invaluable help of the high school's librarian and media specialist, Maggie Field. Students from across various grade levels who were interested in local history and racing signed up to conduct and record the interviews. The IMRRC put together an initial list of interviewees who either worked at the track or were spectators during the era.

"The focus of the interviews was mainly on what Watkins Glen was like during the F1 years -- both track and town. Interviewees discussed not only what their jobs were during the racing events but also their interaction with the international crowd and their experiences with the drivers. Among those interviewed were Mickey Sipperly, Bill Green, Michael Maloney, Bob Gillespie, Ginny Close, J.C. Argetsinger, Michael Argetsinger, and Bill Milliken.

"Students learned the value of interviewing as a method of collecting information and researching history. There were many stories that had never been heard before and to have the opportunity to hear history from those who were there and learn more about their town really pulled students into the project.

"Early on in the project, as I met with the IMRRC staff in February, the idea came about that it would be a great opportunity to celebrate the track history with F1 if we could interview someone who had actually been a racer during the years. One of the greatest drivers of the late '50s and early '60s, American Dan Gurney, was contacted. Gurney raced for teams such as Porsche and Brabham, as well as his own team, Anglo American Racers, winning in France, Belgium and Mexico throughout the '60s. Gurney, who is based in California, agreed to do an interview with the students at Watkins Glen.

"One recent afternoon, students Casey Holland and Thomas Wickham were able to interview Gurney through Skype, an online video conferencing site. While most of the questions were directed toward his experiences racing and in F1, Gurney showed a great affection for the area, reminiscing about the beauty of autumn in the Glen and how welcoming the town was.

"Students, with the help of teachers involved, will be editing and compiling the footage from the interviews to create a final video."

Photo in text: Students Casey Holland and Thomas Wickham interview Dan Gurney. (Photo provided)


Thanks, Kelsey.

And speaking of the Racing Research Center ... aside from being an amazing resource for historical data, it often provides an outstanding program or event. Recently, there was the 100th birthday celebration for racer/engineer extraordinaire Bill Milliken, with the honoree present and quite pleased by the attention. And on Saturday, May 7, there was an appearance -- an autobiographical speech, actually -- by Bobby Rahal, one of the great racers of the past few decades.

I'm not going to go into detail on his speech here -- at least not now; maybe later -- but I do want to note what a warm and sincere individual Rahal is. His speech was both entertaining and illuminating. The man has a great sense of humor and perspective.

Congratulations to the Racing Research Center on bringing Rahal to town, on its year-long celebration, and for all it offers racing fans locally and around the nation and world.


And earlier:

In the wake of the monster...

By Charlie Haeffner

Odessa, May 2, 2011 -- It was a busy weekend locally, but national news took precedence late Sunday night: Osama bin Laden was dead.

I didn't react with great glee at the news; more with a sense of relief. I missed the President's announcement of the precision strike by U.S. forces, and so learned about it all an hour or so later, when my son arrived home from a weekend away, and asked if I'd heard the news.

I gave him a blank look, and so he said: "I guess you didn't. It's big, the kind of thing that's going to dominate the news in the days ahead ..."

I continued to give him a blank look, and he finally told me: "They killed Osama bin Laden."

My eyebrows shot up, for I believe I was surprised on two levels. I had figured, wrongly, that the man might already be dead, rumors of his demise to various maladies having swirled on and off for a couple of years. And if this news -- this termination -- was in fact as announced, I was surprised that after a decade of futility tracking the man, we had cornered him and killed him just like that.

Quickly, surgically.

It seemed too easy. Too perfect. But of course it wasn't easy. A great deal of planning took place, a great deal of nerve on the part of the strike force that took him out.


As soon as my eyebrows came back down, I switched the TV from a movie to the news channels, and started immersing myself in the coverage. It was all fairly sketchy, but bit by bit reporters and officials were layering the facts.

The response nationwide to the news was impressive. The coverage showed celebrations in the streets, at a baseball game, at Lafayette Park in Washington -- all over the country, despite the late hour. There was something energizing in the whole affair.

There were retrospectives -- about 9/11, in particular, but about other bin Laden operations long before that. And while I didn't hear it mentioned in all the reporting, I recalled a story about Lt. Col. Oliver North, a National Security Council aide testifying at the Iran-Contra hearings in 1987, saying he had installed an expensive security system at his home that year because of fears that he might be targeted by a terrorist named Osama bin Laden, "the most evil person alive that I know of."

That stuck with me, as many apocryphal things stay with us in this life. I say apocryphal because other accounts (including one by North) say North didn't name bin Laden at all during those hearings -- was in fact referring to another terrorist named Abu Nidal. The whole Oliver North-Osama bin Laden story was a legend.

That North testimony came, in fact, a few years before bin Laden, a Saudi, developed his rampant hatred for all things Western and started growing into the monster we all came to know and loathe.

But the North story has legs because in that monsterdom that came later, bin Laden in fact became "the most evil person that I know of" -- at least, I dare say, the most evil one that you or I have known about in this generation.

And so, by not reacting with joy -- but rather relief -- at the news that bin Laden had been killed, I find myself ascribing to a line delivered on one of the news shows that followed the announcement: "It's not a time for the bars," said commentator Chris Matthews, "but rather a time to go to church."

Yes, that's right: to church.

To give thanks. And to pray that there isn't another bastard out there quite like Osama bin Laden.


And earlier:

The goal of the century ...

By Charlie Haeffner

Odessa, April 18, 2011 -- I was provided with an important lesson last weekend.

It came at the end of a week of uncommon difficulty when measured in terms of reporting. It was the week of forums on the proposed propane storage project north of Watkins Glen, pro one night and con the next.

A story with such vivid opinions and passions are always difficult to describe, at least in what either side perceives as a balanced fashion. And so it takes great care in the writing.

That takes its toll -- especially, I told myself, when a fellow essentially long in the tooth, like me, insists on behaving like a younger man by covering not only those sessions, but a flock of sporting events, several other meetings, and a celebration of Bill Milliken's 100th birthday.

It was, in fact, just before that week-ending event -- that centenary celebration -- that I was feeling a bit bedraggled, and wearing a touch of self-pity. I was, at least in fleeting thought, telling myself that in building this website, I have created something that carries with it expectations by many of its readers far beyond what I had ever anticipated.

I was thinking how, in the eight-plus years I've worked on it, I've slowed, and how -- with that slowing -- the site has grown, and with it the amount of time poured into it.

I started calculating how many pictures I might have taken in the past year, and then how many in the past eight years, and how many stories I might have written to go with those photos, and I had no real idea.


I was, in point of fact, feeling old -- and then I went to that birthday party, and saw a man two days shy of his 100th birthday walk in under his own power, and work his way from well-wisher to well-wisher, smiling and nodding and enjoying the adulation and the acclaim.

And I felt absolutely chagrined. I'm 62, and he's 100. I mean ... come on ... he's two generations older than me and he seems to be more well-adjusted -- more suited to bear the weight of life -- than I am.

I think he must have, over the years, experienced some of the doubts I have been experiencing. But I'm not sure of that, for this is a remarkable man, this Bill Milliken -- notable in the annals of aeronautics and auto racing. He is, in particular, important from a local standpoint, an historic figure from the first road race in Watkins Glen, and later Chief Steward at the Watkins-based U.S. Grand Prix races.

He is a man described by an English admirer at that party (who flew over The Pond just for that event) as Einstein-like -- "a genius" against whom all other engineers measure themselves. And all fall short in the comparison.

The party was at the International Motor Racing Research Center in Watkins Glen, and among its speeches was one by the Center's president, J.C. Argetsinger, who among many laudatory comments said Bill Milliken is still working today in engineering. In truth, Milliken probably never stops thinking in those terms, but ...

"Nice of J.C. to say that," said Milliken's son, Doug, an engineer himself who has worked with his father across the years. "But the truth is, Dad has been slowing recently." Age and the loss of a brother were both contributors, he said, and engineering has pretty much been shelved.

And yet, here was Bill Milliken, longtime engineer extraordinaire, a man with a zest for life, still enjoying that life on this day. He had traveled from his Buffalo-area home with family, the same as he did last year when the Center celebrated his 99th birthday.

He has seemingly always been on the move -- in the air for flight tests, behind the steering wheel of race cars, traveling the world for various engineering projects and consultations, and, in later years, continuing his work and writing. His autobiography, Equations of Motion, covers his first 90-plus years.

He has, Argetsinger noted, "led his life at a hundred-mile-an-hour pace."

There is something special about Milliken even now, in his declining years -- a keenness, and a joy, and a curiosity. Admirers approaching him to say hello or to get a signature on his autobiography -- which was for sale in the Center -- found a man very much focused on them and what they had to say. He was engaged with all that was going on around him.


A theme throughout the party was friendship. Anybody who has known Bill Milliken across the years has seemingly found in him a friend. Every speaker referred to him in that vein, and a couple applied the word great before it.

That's a pretty good measure of a man. Oh, you can be awed (as I am) by Milliken's achievements and intellect and zeal across the many decades -- but the fact is that if he were a curmudgeon, there wouldn't have been such an outpouring of admiration and affection at that party. There might not have even been a party.

Friendship matters.


The whole enterprise had me shaking my head in wonder. How has he done this? Lived such an amazingly full life, one a century long? And built such a devoted following along the way?

A century, I thought as I left the party, walking out onto the Center parking lot and heading toward my van.

A century. That leaves me -- assuming the same longevity as Bill Milliken (a tall order, but it might be in my genes, for my mother is 92) -- just under four decades to get my own act together.

That's perhaps what I needed: a goal.

I needed to be goaded by the gods of time, shown that life is what we make it. We can, with the right attitude and drive and joy of life, attain worthwhile things, worthwhile goals, and do so well beyond the normal retirement age.

Bill Milliken has demonstrated that. He has shown us that life's parameters can be shrugged off, and that, in word and deed, the sky is the limit.


And earlier:

What it is that I do ...

By Charlie Haeffner

Odessa, April 8, 2011 -- With seemingly half the county population down at Myrtle Beach, there has been little to report on in the past couple of days. But come the return of the masses, and the reopening of schools, there will be plenty of stories.

It's strange, but I don't particularly find such lulls as this week's all that restful. If sitting around idle, I think I am neglecting my duty. But what, exactly, is my duty?

To report, for sure, but to what extent? I have found, as this experiment in journalism continues well into its ninth year, that there is more and more work landing on my doorstep. I have noticed an increase in press releases, in letters, in emails with requests for photos or information, and in events that cross my radar screen and put me behind the wheel of my van, en route to cover them.

Advertising is, much to my surprise, up for me in this year of economic woes, but countered by a decline in donations. So I remain on a plateau, looking for ways to maximize what I do in a financial sense, while not inflating advertising rates. It's a delicate balance, advertising is, especially when the flip side of the coin is the world of stories, of reporting.

When I worked at a regional paper in the late '90s, that innate conflict reared its head more than once, the advertising department being ever mindful of the bottom line, and the reporting staff insisting on an independence from fiscal restraints.


An example: I was working on a series of stories about lakes in the region, and stopped at a camp (before its season had begun) for a few mood photos. The camp owner, who had been doing some advertising in the newspaper, was not present upon my visit, and later complained loudly to the advertising department, after the photos had appeared. He took exception to them; he had not given permission for any to be snapped. The shots were of the lake's shoreline, with a couple of them showing the campground buttoned up, waiting for the rebirth that spring would bring to it.

I have no idea what, specifically, the camp owner wanted; I only know he was threatening to cancel some advertising he had been planning unless he got some sort of satisfaction. An advertising representative for the newspaper confronted me, angry that she had been put upon by the man, and seemingly looking for some sort of satisfaction herself.

"Wait a minute," I said, annoyed at the intrusion, for I was busy dealing with the news of the day. "The guy got some free, positive publicity in the context of the beauty of our lakes, and he's upset?"

"Yes," said the rep. "He said you had no right ... and he says he's gonna pull his ads."

"How much is his advertising?" I asked. "How much is he spending this year?"

"Well, it's $180," the ad rep answered, taken a little aback by the question. "You know, a handful of small ads."

"Oh, hell," I said, and laughed. "You gotta be kidding. You're in my face over $180? Look ... If he pulls his ads, take it out of my wages. Now ... I have better things to do." And I turned away.

Now while the camp owner no doubt had a point -- we tend, in journalism, to take to an arrogant degree our right to inform the public -- let it be noted, for the record, that I didn't pay anything, because he kept advertising.


Anyway, what I do now is different from then. I wear both hats, advertising department and news department (not to mention business department and art department and photo department). I try not to let the advertising role influence the reporting, but it would be disingenuous to claim there isn't at least a thread connecting the two.

I've shaped the website with that thread in mind. I rarely cover police stories, unless they have an interesting or particularly compelling hook; I don't sit in court reporting the outcome of cases; I stay away, as much as possible, from the underbelly of our county -- from the emotionally trying or jolting. And I do so with a background in such coverage: I reported on the police departments and courts at my first post-graduate journalism stop, the Watertown Daily Times.

Now, decades later, nothing turns me off faster while watching the evening TV news than to hear about this arrest, and that conviction, and this arson, and that assault. And so they are not on my list of stories to cover. By keeping for the most part in a positive vein on this website, I believe I encourage the readership, and by extension the advertisers. I can't always hew to the ideal, but for the most part I try.

I also don't attempt to cover every non-police, non-court story. There are other, complementary outlets for that: the Star-Gazette and the Watkins Review, to name two. What guides me in my coverage, basically, is this: If it interests me, I report on it. Since there is quite a bit that interests me -- government and politics and sports and people and the good deeds of various organizations and individuals -- I am a busy man.


And that brings me back to my duty. It is, I think, to present a vivid cross-section of the major events and trends that occur in Schuyler County, a place unique in its beauty and in its promise.

It is to reflect that beauty and that promise -- to celebrate the achievements of our citizens, young and old, and to tell about a county rooted in tradition but looking forward to a very interesting future of potential growth and socio-economic development.

And if that sounds a little pretentious on my part, perhaps you can accept this less flowered explanation:

I'm here, I've decided, to tell stories. That's always been my calling. It's what I do. That is my duty.

At the heart of it all, it's really that simple.


And earlier:

Pair of meetings take the spotlight in LPG project flap

By Charlie Haeffner

Odessa, April 3, 2011 -- We're in a bit of a lull now. High school spring sports (with a couple of exceptions) haven't started yet, and won't until after Spring Break. Village elections are over, the school plays are completed, and the candidates for county judge (barring any surprise additions) have announced they're running.

The July 1-3 Phish concert has caused some discussion, although fears that we might be trampled like the area was in 1973 seem doubtful. Officials say there's a cap of 60,000 tickets -- which would no doubt be a number that pleased Watkins Glen International, since that's more than attended the IndyCar weekend that used to inhabit that calendar spot.

Come mid-month, sports should be in full bloom, as well as some anger and frustration over the proposed propane storage and brine pond plans on the west side of Seneca Lake. There is a meeting scheduled on that subject on April 14 at the Watkins Glen High School auditorium that, at least initially, promised some emotional fireworks, since it seems slanted toward the fears surrounding those Inergy plans.

But possibly undercutting it was the announcement late in the week of another meeting, the night before, on April 13, on the same subject at the Watkins Glen Community Center -- a session that appears to be taking a more middle-of-the-road or even pro-storage stance by offering the viewpoint from Inergy representatives.

County Administrator Tim O'Hearn helped arrange that April 13 session, and says it wasn't designed to counter or neutralize the other meeting, "although I'm sure it looks that way. It turns out it was the only night that worked for all the parties involved."

For the uninitiated, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation is studyng a proposal from Inergy (which bought U.S. Salt in 2008) to store liquified propane gas in salt caverns off the southwest shore of Seneca Lake. Involved in the proposal is a large brine pond built into the hillside. The perceived potential for contamination of the lake and for an explosion have prompted a protest movement by some area residents.

Inergy, a recent Corning Leader article pointed out, "isn't a direct supplier" of the propane and butane it hopes to store there, but rather "specializes in storage and wholesale distribution." The company's application to DEC, the paper noted, "says it will store up to 2.1 million barrels of LPG, but the company ... says it hopes to eventually expand to about 5 million barrels."

Part of the project, the paper added, calls for "a 13-acre brine pond ... dug nearby, on a sloping hill overlooking Seneca Lake." Beyond that, the plan calls for "a truck and railroad facility for transferring LPG, to be built just off State Route 14A." The DEC says the facility could operate around the clock every day of the year, loading or unloading 12 rail cars every 12 hours, plus four trucks per hour. The idea is to use the rail line, trucks and pipelines to bring in and ship out the gas.

Inergy, the paper said, also bought a natural gas storage facility within the caverns from NYSEG, and plans to expand that capacity. It is touting the overall facility, in conjunction with underground ones it operates in Steuben and Tioga counties, as a "gas storage and transportation hub of the Northeast."

O'Hearn, in alerting the media to the April 13 meeting, said in an e-mail that because the proposed project "has the potential to be both controversial as well as divisive within our community, we have scheduled a public informational session ... in the interest of receiving accurate fact-based information while providing an opportunity for the public to ask questions of experts in this field.

"At this time the County has not taken a position on this project and is actively engaged in conducting due diligence of this proposal. The upcoming meeting (on the 13th) is an attempt to further that process and involve the public in so doing."

The other meeting, on the 14th, is billed as "Seneca at a Crossroads," and subtitled "Large-Scale LPG Storage vs. Tourism, Wineries, Peace & Quiet." That doesn't exactly sound middle of the road, especially when further wording on a poster (see the PSA page) includes this:

"Do we want to be the gas storage and transport hub of the Northeast? Do we want LPG stored in our salt caverns? Or do we want agriculture, tourism, home-grown businesses and small-town living?"

Now, don't get me wrong. I'm neutral here, but while Inergy has issued written assurances of safety -- and Schuyler County Partnership for Economic Development (SCOPED) Executive Director Kelsey Jones has noted that NYSEG has stored natural gas and propane in area salt caverns for years (and that this new project, in essence, constitutes an expansion) -- greater direct communication from Inergy is needed ... and so the meeting involving Inergy representatives is a welcome one.

The folks organizing the April 14 meeting did, according to the poster, invite officials from the county, from SCOPED and from Inergy. I don't know why they're not on the list of speakers. That list includes a representative of the Committee to Preserve the Finger Lakes, a water quality expert, an environmental health and safety expert, a geographic information systems consultant, and an ecologist.

That's quite a cross-section, but without someone from Inergy there, it seems like a bit of baying at the moon. Of course, with Inergy available the previous night, anyone wishing to question its representatives will, presumably, have the chance then -- although I'm sure there will be rules to ensure a measured discourse.

So, if you're interested in the subject, or involved in it, there are competing (or, more hopefully, complementary) meetings regarding this so-called Battle of the Brine on successive nights -- Wednesday the 13th (from 6-9 p.m. at the Community Center off 4th Street) and Thursday the 14th (from 7-9 p.m. at the WGHS auditorium).


And earlier:

A little of this and that ...

By Charlie Haeffner

Odessa, March 25, 2011 -- Winter doesn't seem to want to leave, which could pose early-season problems for high school spring sports. I just received word that a track scrimmage scheduled at Watkins Glen on Tuesday against Trumansburg and South Seneca has been canceled.

The baseball and softball fields at Watkins Glen and Odessa-Montour are far from ready, and I imagine the golf course north of Watkins is a tad bit moist.

But warmer spring weather will arrive, and the athletes will soon thrive, and it will be stretch-run time for consideration by the Top Drawer 24 committee as to which students will be honored this year by inclusion on the Top Drawer 24 team.

That squad of 24 student-athletes -- subtitled the Brian O'Donnell Schuyler County Scholar-Athlete-Citizen Team -- is being selected by a committee of 20 teachers, coaches, administrators and lay people who observe potential team members throughout the fall, winter and spring sports seasons. Representation on the committee is from the Watkins Glen, O-M, Bradford and Trumansburg districts, for among the 24 honorees will be students from all four districts.

This year's awards ceremony will be in the late afternoon and early evening of June 1 at the Watkins Glen State Park pavilion -- and speakers will include a representative from the Pittsburgh Steelers front office, a regional TV personality, an area sports official, a former Top Drawer team member, and others. Finger food and beverages will be provided, and everyone is invited.

Announcement of the team will come in the latter part of May, after the honorees have been notified.


I see that our population in Schuyler is down in the latest census -- by 4.58%. We now have 18,343 residents -- about enough to fill the end zone area at a major-college football game. I constantly marvel at the lack of people around here, one of the most beautiful areas in the world.


I received an e-mail from William Hill about his daughter, Torie (pictured at right), who is a 5th grader at the Watkins Glen Middle School. Mr. Hill wanted to point out that there are other sports than those offered in area schools -- such as gymnastics, an interest of Torie's. She is a member of the Elmira Gymnastics Club, and last week competed in a meet at Jamestown Community College called the Lucky Stars Invitational.

Torie "practices very hard," her father says -- a regimen that includes three school nights from 6 to 9 p.m. and Sundays from 2 to 5. She also travels around the state to get to various competitions. She is a Level 5 gymnast, he said, and has been competing in the age 11 division. (She turns 11 today -- Friday, March 25). All that work is paying off, because she won her division's Balance Beam title at the Lucky Stars meet with a score of 9.525. She has, her father notes, "many trophies, medals and ribbons to attest to her dedication to gymnastics."

Beyond that, she is a High Honor Roll student.

Well done, Torie, and Happy Birthday.

Photo: Torie Hill. (Photo provided)


The O-M students put on an excellent spring musical in "Annie Get Your Gun." The two Annies, Alyssa Bleiler and Morgan Stermer -- O-M has a long tradition of splitting the key roles between two students -- were very good, with appealing acting and spot-on singing.

The Watkins play kicks off tonight: "How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying." From what I've seen in rehearsals and in a performance at the Watkins-Montour Rotary Club, this one is a hit, too. Jacq Goehner is strong in the lead role, and the rest of the cast is quite talented too. Look for some great songs, some entertaining dances and a good bit of humor. Show times are 8 tonight (Friday) and Saturday, and 2:30 p.m. Sunday.


And earlier:

Out of the mist of history ...

By A.C. (Charlie) Haeffner

Odessa, March 17, 2011 -- History is a murky thing.

Take the matter of A.C. Haeffner. No, not me; the one who came before me, who helped give me life: the A.C. Haeffner who was my father. Friends called him Gus.

Dad loved to tell stories and jokes, but oddly enough, he never really focused on the time that came before he met Mom.

However, their meeting on Owasco Lake in 1940 near Auburn, New York, is family legend. Mom (Eleanor Bennett, then 21) was lounging on a raft with Dad's sister, Ruth; Mom knew of Dad, but he was nine years older and beyond her experience level. But when he swam out to the raft to join the two ladies, something clicked. Gus and Eleanor became an item.

They went out on a date, and over the course of the next two weeks they went out on a couple more while Dad was in the area, before heading back to work. He was, at the time, employed as a salesman in Indiana by the Auburn, New York-based Dunn & McCarthy shoe company.

"We got married after two weeks and two weekends," Dad liked to say -- although that referred to the specific dating pattern. The actual time frame, as far as I could make it out, was about two months. The marriage date was Columbus Day, Oct. 12, 1940.


I know most of the history after that. Dad worked at Dunn & McCarthy until called into service in World War II, was discharged in late 1945, went back to work, and eventually hooked on with the U.S. Shoe Corporation, based in Cincinnati, Ohio, in 1952 as its Michigan salesman. We (I was not yet four years of age) moved to Birmingham, Michigan, and five years after that to nearby Bloomfield Hills.

It was an amazing upbringing in a very affluent area, and in a modern home with all the conveniences. The Bloomfield Hills house was a split-level ranch with four bedrooms, three-and-a-half baths, and something like 5,000 square feet of space. There was a recreation room downstairs, a bar, a dressing room for anyone who wanted to change into trunks and swim in the lake we fronted (spring-fed Sodon Lake), and a workroom/furnace room with access through a door that was practically invisible, built as it was into a paneled wall. More than one guest leaned against that wall and fell through the swinging door into the room beyond.

It was a mention of upbringings during a recent conversation with a friend that reminded me that I had file folders -- passed along to me at some point by my mother -- containing information on that house, and on a retreat my parents bought and renovated later in northern Michigan. When I looked for and found those folders, there was one mixed in with them that I had forgotten I had: a record of my father's service in the Naval Reserve during World War II -- from 1943-45.

That record in itself is interesting. He was a Lieutenant involved in Communications. He schooled for that role at Princeton and Harvard for six months, and then was shipped overseas to Scotland. He made his way eventually to France and finally to Bremerhaven, Germany at war's end. He took a brief detour back to England in August 1945 to compete in the U.S. Navy Tennis Championship. Dad was a heck of a tennis player, something he tried to impart to his three sons without success. I don't have a record of how he did at that Navy tournament, but if memory of his stories serves correctly, he was on the winning doubles team.


Within those papers, too, is a resume prepared by the Navy, and this is where a missing portion of Dad's life jumped out at me. A.C. (Gus) Haeffner, who cut his teeth in the business world during the Great Depression, followed his graduation in 1931 from Williams College in Williamstown, Massachusetts, with a job as an assistant manager in the Chicago branch of the Binghamton-based Agfa Ansco Corporation, a manufacturer of photographic equipment.

I never knew that.

He worked with that firm from September 1931 to January 1935, when he became a sales representative in Pennsylvania, Delaware and Maryland, selling stationery for the Eaton Paper Corporation of Pittsfield, Mass. A notation says this was "a position with greater authority" than the Agfa Ansco job had provided.

I never knew any of that, either.

In October 1936, he hooked on with Dunn & McCarthy, Inc. of Auburn as a sales representative in Indiana and Ohio, selling Enna Jettick shoes. This carried him to October 1943 -- into marriage, into fatherhood (my eldest brother, Bob, was born in 1942) and into service in World War II.


The Dunn & McCarthy shoe-sales job served my father well -- was excellent training for the job of a lifetime with the U.S. Shoe Corporation. In his years with U.S. Shoe, he earned a handsome living and provided an astoundingly comfortable upbringing for his three sons. In my youngest years, he was often on the road, traveling the highways and byways of Michigan, selling to shoe stores around the state. Mom held down the fort at home, running things in his absence.

Dad ultimately retired and moved with Mom to Florida. He died there on Nov. 1, 1994, at the age of 84.

I eventually, with what meager facts I had at my disposal, wrote a novel in which Dad played a key role as an Allied spy in Europe, a glorified extension of his actual service. It was part of an effort in the tale to turn family history upside down -- to suggest, as it were, that there are so many shadows obscuring facts in our history -- probably in the history of most families -- that ... well ... it's easy to fill in the blanks with imagination run slightly amok.

I wasn't going to publish the book, figuring that if Mom ever saw it, she'd flip out -- consider it disrespectful. But my brother Bob, on a visit to my home, spotted the manuscript on a shelf, took it home with him to read, and liked it well enough to pass it along to Mom. Her only reaction to the story was this: "My, you have an active imagination."

And so I published it. It's called The Islander, and is available here and there, including on Not that I try to promote it. It's really just a curiosity from my past. It's listed, as are other books I wrote, under the name A.C. Haeffner -- which is how Dad signed his papers and checks. Call it a stylistic nod to my father, a man with some obscuring shadows in his history, but at the heart of it a man of his times who did very, very well.

God bless you, Dad.


And earlier:

Johnston Sr. leaves for SHS

By Charlie Haeffner

Odessa, March 10, 2011 -- With the word Wednesday night that Mike Johnston Jr. -- former Corning West football coach and son of the 2010 Watkins Glen football coach, Mike Johnston Sr. -- had secured the job as the new Elmira Southside football coach, the die was cast.

Mike Sr. announced the next morning that he was going to head south to Elmira to help his son, as he has helped him in the past. In the doing, he will be leaving behind a troubled Watkins Glen football program that he led for one season -- well, for five games before the plug was pulled, ending the season prematurely.

Johnston Sr. says his goal in getting back into coaching a few years ago was to do so alongside his son, who was head football coach at the time at Corning West. Mike Sr. had been away from the sidelines during tenures as Notre Dame High School athletic director, Odessa-Montour High School principal and Horseheads athletic director.

Mike Jr. lost that West job last year when the Corning sports programs merged, and he ended up as offensive coordinator at Elmira Free Academy. That proved advantageous when the Southside head football coach, Brian Moore, bowed out in January.

Word has been circulating for weeks that Junior was going to get the Southside job; all he needed was the blessing of the Elmira School Board -- which was bestowed Wednesday night.


There's a growing body of history involving the Johnstons working together. Senior has served as a JV coach and assistant to Junior in Corning West football and boys basketball. Before that, he helped out his son by serving as a football spotter in the press box. The two seem to work well together.

Before Johnston Sr. confirmed his departure from the Watkins Glen job Thursday morning, speculation ran in that direction.

"Yes, I imagine he would go with his son, and no hard feelings," Watkins Glen Superintendent Tom Phillips said of Johnston Sr. Wednesday evening, after word of the impending appointment of Junior had made the 6 o'clock news.


After the 2010 Watkins Glen football season shut down early -- it had too few players, courtesy of declining interest and increasing injuries -- Johnston, along with Athletic Director Denise Wickham, put a brave face on the future, saying they would generate enough enthusiasm to produce a turnout of players at the start of the next season that would withstand the attrition that defections and injuries bring.

But a meeting with prospective players two weeks ago left Johnston frustrated. There were 23 athletes present, he says, "and we needed 30-plus. It's just wasn't working, at least for me, anyway." He didn't, he added, "want a repeat of last year."

Now, with the Southside appointment in Junior's grasp, Johnston Sr. says unequivocally that he will be working with his son's team in the fall, "whether on his staff, or as a volunteer, or in the (press) box."

And so he leaves the Watkins job, a post that he likely wouldn't have assumed had his son not been squeezed out of the West coaching job. That job loss in 2010, says Senior, "freed me up to help other places," meaning Watkins Glen -- where he says everybody, from the kids to the administration, "have been great."

The Watkins stay didn't last long, though, and so now the district needs to advertise for a new coach, if indeed the program continues. AD Wickham says the school has every intention of mounting a program this coming fall, despite rumors to the contrary.

All it needs, it seems, are a few more student-athletes who commit to it ... and of course a new coach.

Photo in text: Mike Johnston Sr. on the Watkins Glen sidelines in 2010.


Fatigue has got me, I guess. Too many winter sports contests. Too few days off. I posted a photo of Kevin Thornton on the Government Page along with the three candidates for Watkins Glen mayor who will appear on the ballot. Thornton is an announced write-in candidate.

The problem is, I initially misspelled his last name in the photo. If I had made that mistake on the ballot (assuming I was a Watkins resident voting for him), the vote wouldn't have counted.

Likewise, if you vote for him -- if you write in his name -- that name has to be spelled correctly. So, class, for purposes of the write-in, the spelling is THORNTON.


And earlier:

Sometimes it's best not to ask

By Charlie Haeffner

Odessa, March 6, 2011 -- I remember a lawyer once telling me that a courtroom rule-of-thumb for people of his profession goes like this: Never ask a question of a witness if you don't know the answer.

Good advice, applicable also to the occasional political engagement.

The pitfalls of ignoring it were shown at the recent Meet the Candidates forum conducted by the Schuyler County League of Women Voters at a joint luncheon meeting with the Watkins-Montour Rotary Club.

Speakers included three mayoral candidates from Watkins Glen (incumbent Judy Phillips and challengers Mark Swinnerton and Richard Scuteri) and two from Montour Falls (incumbent Donna Kelley and challenger John King).

There were several trustee candidates in the audience, among them a Watkins incumbent, Nick Kelly, who announced to fellow diners early on that he planned to put a question to Swinnerton, a man who has a full-time job and a young family -- traits, in Kelly's mind, that would limit the time Swinnerton could devote to the mayor's job if he were to be elected on March 15th. (Kelly is running in tandem with Mayor Phillips, against a Swinnerton team that includes trustee candidates Scott Gibson and Kevin Smith.)

When it was time for questions from the audience, Kelly posed his. Just how, he asked, could Swinnerton find time for the mayor's job, considering his other obligations?

Moderator Jim Wilson, president of the League of Women Voters, jumped in to try and divert the question away from just the one candidate And so Phillips and Scuteri were able to first get up at the podium and say, gee, 9-to-5 jobs weren't a problem with them because they're retired.

Then Swinnerton, the point of the exercise, stood up and announced he'd need a little bit more than the allotted minute in which to respond because he had a letter to read, one he had sent that morning to The Odessa File (and which appears on the Forum page). It was from an official at the firm where Swinnerton works, the Fahs Construction Company.

It said, in effect, that the company is proud of Swinnerton's run for mayor, and that "he has our full support not only for his campaign activities, but after the election, as your mayor. We at Fahs would expect Mark, as your mayor, to carry out his mayoral duties effectively, and whenever necessary to be available to the community. All of our key managers are expected by Fahs to balance their family, community, and work responsibilities in a manner that does justice to all ... not just his employer. Mark has the talent, energy, and support systems to achieve this important balance."

Swinnerton then told about how one day, when he arrived at the Fahs office, the other employees were all wearing identical T-shirts, with Mark Swinnerton for Mayor printed on them along with Swinnerton's photo.

With that story told, Swinnerton unbuttoned his own dress shirt, there at the Meet the Candidates forum, and displayed a T-shirt like those, given to him by his employer.

The laughter drowned out any thought that he might have too full a life to add another course -- that of mayor -- to his plate.

Now I don't think he fully answered the question -- it was a little weak on details -- but that doesn't matter. What the audience will remember is the letter, and especially the T-shirt. Visuals work well -- not to mention moderate striptease acts. What they will also remember is that Mark Swinnerton was ready for the question.

For what it's worth, Nick Kelly didn't look too happy with the success of the answer.

Photo in text: Mark Swinnerton displays the T-shirt. Meet the Candidates moderator Jim Wilson is on the right.


And earlier:

Return of the Opinionator...

By Charlie Haeffner

Odessa, Feb. 28, 2011 -- You might have noticed that the columnist known as A. Moralis has resurfaced on this website after an absence of some months (click here), and that the subject tackled this time is budgetary woes, school-district style.

Before any of you sharpshooters take aim at the anonymous nature of the column, it is (as explained here in detail before) sanctioned by me in honor of the grand tradition of philosophers and essayists across the centuries. I will say this much: Old A. is, quite obviously from the focus of the current piece, a resident not only of Schuyler County, but of the Watkins Glen School District.

I have been accused of being A. Moralis, but in fact am not. I'm a good deal more liberal than A. is, and quite often disagree with his (or her) writings. If any of his (or her) phrasing sounds like mine, it's because I edit the pieces, and sometimes my stylistic tendencies might surface.

I'm actually not too far removed from agreement this time on the premise that school districts would do well to have business leaders -- CEO-worthy people -- in the roles of superintendent. I realize the traditions and intricacies of state law regarding administrative positions, and therefore suspect such a change isn't all that simple. It might even classify as a pipe dream, but it shouldn't. Why, it must be asked, has the state education system grown into such an intricate, bureaucratic, unnavigable, financial mess -- resistant to any change except steps backward?

More to the point, perhaps we could use more business expertise on the state level -- in the Legislature, in particular -- rather than going with the preponderance of lawyers we now have. Yes, lawyers should know more about laws than businessmen, but look at all the mischief they've been creating in Albany for decades past.

Anyway, I -- like A. Moralis -- harbor no ill will against the Emperor of 12th Street (I'm embellishing on A.'s reference to the 12th Street empire), and in fact wish him well. It's just that he has been expressing so many doubts about this budget deliberation and about the state of school districts in general that ... well, that the negativity has begun to depress me, to push me to a suspicion that we're looking at a self-fulfilling prophecy.


And speaking of depressed, that's what I am -- courtesy of the impending end of the Village Take Out Restaurant in Odessa. The eatery, which specializes in Greek food and has some excellent Italian food and good old American burgers, is closing March 20. Owners Bob and Shelly Landon have run it for nearly 15 years, and feel it's time to decompress from the daily pressure.

They're selling to Dandy Mini Mart, which has a store next door. Dandy hasn't announced anything, but the Landons understand that the firm will use the VTO for storage before leveling the building to make way for Dandy expansion.

I've eaten at the VTO many, many times. It was a favorite haunt of my late wife, and is a favorite of my son Jon. It is a place with history -- dating back to the 19th century -- and a place that conjures up many fond memories -- of lunches with family and friends, of chats with Bob and Shelly, of good meals and a genial atmosphere.

I'm sorry to see it go.


And earlier:

Some fever-induced verse...

By Charlie Haeffner

Odessa, Feb. 22, 2011 -- Poetry -- well, verse at any rate -- has been wafting in my cranium, looking for escape. It's a byproduct, I think, of a sinus-related malady that laid me out flat Sunday and had me napping intermittently on Monday.

Anyway, in order to get rid of the verse bouncing around inside my head, I've let the words out in written form.

They have to do with the end of the world as we know it, courtesy of the Internet:

A Tubular Ending

There was a day, not long ago,
Morality was fashion;
When violence was rare to see
And sex a private passion.

But with the 'Net came graphic scenes
Of murder, mayhem, gore;
Of bodies twined, of sweat profuse,
Of more and more and more.

Of troubled teens a-slicing arms,
Of vivid sights unbidden
By souls that fare far better
If life's truths are partly hidden.

And with these revelations,
These assaults upon our morals,
We came benumbed, were hardened
To life's marvels, life's rich florals.

And in the end, these images
This rampant information.
Led us to chaos, anarchy,
The undoing of nation.

When truth is bared in all its warts,
When Earth is shrunken, vile,
When compasses veer far from right,
When kindness turns to bile,

The end result is foreordained,
Upheaval will be ample.
Society will rupture, bleed,
Traditions will be trampled.

The moral here is simple:
It's far better -- not to lie --
But temper truth with veneer soft
With whispers, gentle sighs.

Granted, that's a little conservative and simplistic, and perhaps strange coming from a fellow who lives off the Internet and offers mostly positive things upon it. But the cyberworld is so vast, its information and tendency toward mischief so extensive, that a darker viewpoint is easily embraced.


And having written that, perhaps a lighter touch is in order. So let's try this brief one about March 15th, the day of Village Elections, in particular the one in Watkins Glen:


Election day, the ballots cast,
Someone for mayor will be the last
One standing, Judy, Mark or Rich.
The other two? Well, life's a ....... niche.


Congratulations to the Watkins Glen boys varsity swim team, the Section IV, Class C champion for the second straight year. And congratulations, too, to the Watkins Glen girls varsity basketball team, the IAC Large Schools champion. This has been quite a year for WGHS sports, what with these two successes following banner years in cross country, boys soccer and cheerleading, not to mention assorted individual achievements.


And earlier:

About those Athlete awards...

By Charlie Haeffner

Odessa, Feb. 14, 2011 -- Perhaps it's time to address the matter of The Odessa File Athlete of the Week and Athlete of the Year Awards.

As we near the end of the winter sports season, with snow and cold bringing the patience in many of us to the breaking point, I have been receiving some input -- a kind way of saying flak -- and questions about who gets what in the Awards landscape, and how it's determined.

Well, it's like this: I've evolved a little bit over the years. I started the Athlete awards with an eye toward crowning a definitive champion at each of the two high schools covered -- a dominant figure anointed by a clearcut lead in the points accumulated over the thirty or so weeks of the fall, winter and spring sports seasons.

That worked well, but in and of itself missed the point I was also hoping to make -- that there are other worthy kids out there doing some amazing things in competition. That was why I published the ongoing point totals in the early years. The problem there was that I was on occasion second-guessed by a parent angry that his or her child didn't get a point in a given week. (A point is given for an Honorable Mention performance. There are also two-point Double Honorable Mentions. Each Athlete of the Week gets three points.)

So I started not publishing the running point total, which seemed to eliminate the one problem, but posed another: How do you give the kids their due if you're not publishing their names (on the Honorable Mention list) when they do something pretty cool out there on the athletic fields? That's where the evolution came in: I started leaning toward a spreading of the wealth in the weekly award itself.

Accordingly, I give a much harder look at the lesser sports, if you will -- those that aren't in the mainstream of public attention: track, tennis, golf and bowling, for examples. That is true at both schools covered by the award: Watkins Glen High School and Odessa-Montour, each of which has one athlete (or more) honored weekly. I study performances, and balance one sport against another, try to measure impact, and so on.

The result is pretty interesting. This year, nobody has gotten the award more than four times, and in fact in 21 weeks, it has gone to 39 different entities. I say "entities" because in two instances it went to entire teams.

I like that. Spreading the wealth.

Meanwhile, the running point total is an ongoing thing -- kept snug and secure in its own computer file. I still utilize it because it is the most accurate gauge I've found for deciding, ultimately, who is Athlete of the Year in an apples-and-oranges athletic universe. It comes as close as anything can, I believe, to answering the question: How do you balance track performances or bowling performances against football or basketball or soccer performances, especially over the course of an entire school year?

So ... where do we stand on the current standings? I will say this: The races in both schools are, at the moment, quite tight. Girls, for the most part, are holding sway in the points race over the boys. (Yes, that's another apples-and-oranges situation.) Parenthetically, among this year's points contenders are previous winners of the annual award.

Spring sports will definitely determine who takes home the hardware. In the meantime, I expect to see some more fresh faces -- hopefully some first-time Athlete of the Week honorees -- receiving their just due for jobs well done.


And earlier:

A misty night at Shea ...

By Charlie Haeffner

Odessa, Feb. 6, 2011 -- Jason Bond, the coach of the Watkins Glen High School boys varsity swim team, is in Dallas as I write this, preparing to attend the Super Bowl.

He got a ticket from a friend down there who works at a car dealership that somehow won two tickets. The dealership owner passed them along to this friend, and the friend invited Jason south to attend the game.

"They're great seats," Jason said. "Ground level, a corner of the end zone."

I'm a little envious, but watching the game on the big screen in my living room will actually be plenty good enough for me. Not that I wouldn't have jumped at the opportunity that Jason had.

I've actually only been to one major sports contest of significance -- if you ignore the Detroit Lions' first game at the Pontiac Silverdome, which in its day was considered quite the place.

No, the game that lists up there as my one major was Game 6 of the 1986 World Series between the Boston Red Sox and New York Mets. The Red Sox were leading the Series 3 games to 2. A championship beckoned.

I still have my press pass from that game, with my name printed on it in a Sharpie pen, written by someone in the Mets organization. Accompanying it is the name of my employer at the time -- the affiliation that allowed me access to the ticket in the first place: the Elmira Star-Gazette.


I was there when the ball went through Bill Buckner's legs. I was out in the left field stands, in a section reserved for media, watching in disbelief as the Mets avoided elimination at the hands of the Red Sox. It was Saturday, Oct. 25, 1986, a cold, misty and mystical night in Shea Stadium.

While it was the only World Series game I've ever attended, I'd have been hard-pressed to witness a more memorable one. Don Larsen's perfect game in 1956 would have been nice to see, as would Game 7 of the 1960 Series, won by the Pittsburgh Pirates over the mighty New York Yankees on Bill Mazeroski's homer. But this game will suffice, thank you.

I was employed as Sports Editor at the Star-Gazette, and we had access to tickets for each game at Shea. One of our reporters went to an early game -- the first two were at Shea -- but I exercised administrative prerogative and took control of the Game 6 credential. I drove down to Queens and the stadium well ahead of game time, and was permitted field access during batting practice.

I recall Wade Boggs of the Red Sox chatting good naturedly during that pre-game period with a couple of Mets along the foul line near third base.

I recall the Mets' Darryl Strawberry taking what seemed like long, looping swings at the practice pitches -- and watched mesmerized as ball after ball shot off of his bat and headed deep to the outfield and occasionally over the fence. The man was huge, and his bat seemed about 10 feet long. Bunyanesque, I remember noting.

I recall the Mets keeping wraps on Dwight Gooden, the golden boy of the staff but something of an introvert back then. He stayed in the locker room until near the end of batting practice, and then -- when he did appear -- remained in the dugout, a security official, arms folded across his chest, blocking reporters from talking to him.

I recall the Red Sox pitcher that night, Roger Clemens, sitting alone at one end of his team's dugout, three days growth of beard on his face, along with a scowl. He was concentrating, working himself mentally into a competitive place, steeling himself to win -- he hoped -- Boston's first World Series championship since 1918.


The media seating was fine -- a section among bleachers looking down on left field, not far from the bullpen to our right, and adjacent to signs and a scoreboard to our left. There was an awning over our section, which kept the night mist off of us -- and shielded us from the sight of a parachutist gliding down from behind. He came into our view as he neared the infield, where he landed as a stunt. He was quickly escorted from the field.

The early part of the game was long and fairly boring -- and the weather increasingly cold. The night air was wet, bordering on flakes, and I gave thought along about the fifth inning to leaving. I had a long drive home that night; had decided not to absorb the cost of overnight lodging.

But I stayed, perhaps feeling some magic among the mist. Had I not, I would have been second-guessing myself forever.

The Red Sox scored a run in each of the first two innings, but the Mets rallied to tie the game in the fifth. Boston went up 3-2 in the seventh inning, but the Mets rallied to deadlock matters again in the eighth. After a scoreless ninth, the game went to extra innings -- but there was only one.

Boston scored twice in the top of the 10th, and it looked as though the Mets were done. That was the consensus among the reporters seated around me.

Wally Backman and Keith Hernandez were retired to start the bottom of the 10th, and the crowd -- you could feel it -- had resigned itself to a Mets defeat, the end of the season. But then the magic struck.

It's all there in the baseball histories, or on Wikipedia: a two-strike single by Gary Carter, a pinch-hit single by Kevin Mitchell, a Ray Knight RBI single, a wild pitch by the Red Sox' Bob Stanley that brought in the tying run, and the squiggler down the first-base line by Mookie Wilson that went through Red Sox first baseman Bill Buckner's legs.

As Knight crossed the plate with the winning run and Buckner stood despondent, alone, watching the offending ball roll away from him, Shea Stadium was rocking, feet stomping on metal, the place deafening.


Buckner was long vilified for that miscue, but of course there was still a Game 7 to be played. Had the Red Sox won that finale, the error would have been minimized. But they didn't, blowing a 3-0 lead in an 8-5 loss. They had to wait another 18 years before they would taste that elusive World Series championship.


I recall that after Knight had scored on Buckner's error, I walked beneath the stands -- even louder there, with the fans still stomping above -- and down a long hallway past the Mets locker room to a media briefing room.

I recall the Boston manager, John McNamara, bristling at a reporter who suggested that the Red Sox loss was the result of the Curse of the Bambino -- the longstanding bit of baseball lore that said the Red Sox were cursed for selling Babe Ruth to the New York Yankees between the 1919 and 1920 seasons. History had nothing to do with it, was the gist of McNamara's response, although it wasn't quite that restrained.

I recall the long walk out of the stadium -- past the Mets locker room again, where Kevin Mitchell was leaning against the door jamb, smiling, talking to friends.

I recall the long drive home in the wee hours, the fight to stay awake, the relief when I reached my house, and the slow climb up my stairs. Above all, I recall the exhausted bliss of crashing onto my bed, next to my wife Susan, and the joy that came simply in stretching my legs and closing my eyes.

I could sense, as I did so, that Susan had wakened. She waited a moment before speaking.

"Have fun?" she asked.

"Oh, yeah," I answered. And then I slept.


And earlier:

A memorial and other matters

By Charlie Haeffner

Odessa, Jan. 31, 2011 -- Word has reached here of the death of Dr. Frank G. Fielder, who was injured Dec. 7th in an auto accident in Montour Falls.

Dr. Fielder, 96, a retired veterinarian, was hospitalized after his car went out of control and struck a house. He was at first transferred from local care to a hospital in Philadelphia, and then moved to one in New Jersey, where he passed away.

Georgie Taylor, president of the Humane Society of Schuyler County -- an organization that took over Dr. Fielder's veterinary property on County Rte. 10 several years ago for a spay-neuter clinic and shelter -- e-mailed to say there will be a memorial service for Dr. Fielder at 1 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 5, at the Episcopal Church in Catharine.

Taylor says that Dr. Fielder's son, George, "is asking that in lieu of flowers, memorials be made to The Humane Society of Schuyler County."


An e-mail arrived here from a couple of readers, Jannica and Mark Moskal of Watkins Glen, concerned about the proposed brine pond along Rt. 14, "just south of 14A, right on the Seneca Lake Wine Trail." It's part of a project planned by Inergy that involves the storage of liquid propane in converted underground salt caverns.

The Moskals were concerned that such a project would mar a region "known for its beautiful vineyards, delectable wines, scenery that takes your breath away, outdoor adventures, and racing" -- and that beyond the esthetics of the issue, they are worried about what the project's critics say are potential environmental hazards. The state Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) has been reviewing the proposal for some time.

"We've all worked hard at making this region a must-see destination, and we have to keep it that way," the Moskals said, urging people to e-mail the DEC chief, David Bimber, at "to let him know how you feel."


Schuyler County Sheriff Bill Yessman has sent along word of a fund-raising chicken barbecue on Sunday, Feb. 6 at the Montour Moose Lodge, starting at 12 noon. It will last until the chicken is sold out. Dinners are $8, and half-chickens are $5.

The event will raise funds for the Sheriff's Office's K-9 Unit. The unit operates without public money. Funds raised will pay for food, equipment and medical services for the unit's dogs.


It's hard to believe time has passed so quickly, but we're down to the last few regular-season high school winter sports contests. There have been some notable successes -- the Odessa-Montour girls and the Watkins Glen girls basketball teams are each 11-2 as of this writing, while the Watkins boys are 8-4, including a win over a tough Waverly squad that had beaten the Senecas 55-33 the first time they played.

Beyond that, the Watkins Glen boys swim team is once again exceptional, beating everyone in the IAC except Lansing, and winning its third straight C Division title at the EFA Invitational. And in wrestling, Adam Hughey captured an IAC title at 160 pounds.

Perhaps most fascinating is the Watkins Glen indoor track team. The members of that squad have set well over a dozen individual and relay school records in this, the program's fourth year. Amber Swartz has had a hand in a half-dozen of them, and Shane Smith in about as many. Other multiple record-setters: Shannon Hazlitt, Nick Sorensen, Charlie Bascom, Sarah Hazlitt, John Fausold and Amelia Stamp.


Jeff Dill hosted a great fund-raiser on Sunday, Jan. 30, for the Spirit of Schuyler -- the Tony Vickio-led non-profit that provides financial assistance for county residents in emergencies. Live music, plenty of food and wine, and camaraderie marked the event, held at the J.R. Dill Winery on Rt. 414 north of Burdett.

The Spirit of Schuyler started small, with annual fund-raisers at Tony's sign shop next to his home on Rt. 329, but it has grown, and will likely continue to do so. Fittingly, Tony was recently honored by the Watkins Glen Area Chamber of Commerce with its annual Community Spirit Award.


And earlier:

Onward to March 15 ...

By Charlie Haeffner

Odessa, Jan. 26, 2011-- Let the Games begin.

The Republican Primary for mayor of Watkins Glen -- won Tuesday by Mark Swinnerton -- was just the appetizer.

Now comes the feast: a three-way battle for the village's top spot, to be decided on March 15. It's Swinnerton vs. incumbent mayor Judy Phillips and the man Swinnerton bested Tuesday in the primary, former mayor Richard Scuteri. The latter said he would continue campaigning as an independent.

There is already some discord in the air. After his primary win, Swinnerton -- concerned that Scuteri's continued presence in the race might siphon off some Republican votes -- suggested that Scuteri would best serve the party by stepping aside.

"I wish you'd do the honorable thing and listen to the party," said Swinnerton. "The honorable thing would be not to run."

Scuteri disagreed.

"That's not going to happen," he said.

"I guess that means you don't want change," said Swinnerton.

"Change, yes," said Scuteri. "Just not your change."

Translated, that means both men want to be mayor. As does Phillips, who has held the post since Bob Lee resigned it in 2005. She won a full term in 2007.

As a possible precursor to upcoming dialogue, Swinnerton noted that Phillips has been on the Village Board since 1989. "We've been talking about that," he said, referring to his running mates, Scott Gibson and Kevin Smith, each seeking a trustee seat under the banner of the Listening Party. "We're talking about term limits," Swinnerton added. "It's time for change. Change is good."

There will be a lot of campaign rhetoric ahead, and plenty of advertising -- much of it by the Swinnerton camp, which showed a proficiency for utilizing the media in the weeks leading to the primary. They adopted an effective slogan accompanying a photo of a smiling Swinnerton: "It's not about what I want. It's about what you want."

In contrast, Scuteri took out longish ads that carried no photo -- just a lot of words explaining his position on various issues. That's admirable, but it's also a challenge for the voters. They tend to embrace slogans, not essays.

Phillips has been quiet thus far, letting the primary play out, and awaiting her nomination in the Democratic caucus. She received that Saturday, and now looks ahead.


If age -- which is to say ageism -- plays a factor here, then Swinnerton has the decided advantage. He is roughly thirty years younger than Phillips, and forty years younger than Scuteri.

If government experience is a factor, Phillips would seem on the face of it to have the edge with her two decades-plus of board service, and her six years as mayor.

If life experience is a factor, Scuteri is certainly in the mix, with his 21 years in the Air Force and his successful run as a restaurateur in the heart of downtown Watkins Glen before retirement a decade ago.

If campaign signs are a factor, Swinnerton -- with some very sleek, professionally produced streetside ads -- will have the edge on Scuteri, who admits he doesn't have the kind of money to spend that the Swinnerton camp seems to. Phillips' signage and her media advertising are unknowns as of this writing.

If rhetoric is a factor -- well, we'll have to see about that one. Campaign talk can lift or derail a candidate.

However you slice it, two of these folks will be on the losing end of the election -- as will three of five candidates vying for two trustee seats: Scott Gibson, Kevin Smith, David Wyre Sr., Jeff Blanchard and incumbent William Smagner, a Democrat.

It will be an interesting ride these next seven weeks, and possibly a bumpy one. Buckle up.


And earlier:

The battles from within ...

By Charlie Haeffner

Odessa, Jan. 18, 2011 -- I've been in a bit of a funk lately, no doubt partially the product of winter. I always get a little blue -- and I don't mean just cold -- at this time of year.

To get out of those blues -- to freshen my life a little bit -- I'm looking at changing some things, though not regarding the website. With the help of some friends, I started some outdoor renovations on my property before the cold weather set in, and I hope to continue them after the warmth returns. In the meantime, I'll be tinkering a bit with my home's interior.

Beyond that, I've jettisoned my annual trip to Michigan's Bois Blanc Island, which I have visited in each of the past 15 years, and where I spent a month last summer . I might sneak up there for a short visit, but my goal there now is to develop some property I have -- to establish a year-round home that I can visit at any time, without the burden of $850-a-week in rent.

Beyond that, I'll be turning my ragtag garage at my Odessa home into a reasonably fashionable workspace, and I might tackle a wraparound porch for the house. But that's all physical things. I also have to work on an inner peace that has been elusive of late.

I like to say that I once considered -- it was actually three or four times -- going into the ministry. I don't see that as a viable option at my age, but the sense of it still appeals. Accordingly, I will try to embrace that aura; try, symbolically, to serve as an agent -- a communications conduit -- of all that is good about this county.

But there is within me, too, a sense of balance that seems to require a response to a provocation -- a growing tendency to embrace confrontation when it seems right or necessary. That's a far cry from my childhood self, when confrontation of any kind set me to shaking.

I'm not sure how those two tendencies -- the ministering and the confronting -- will coexist, or if one might prove dominant. As life progresses and my body slows -- and the aches and maladies increase -- the ministerial side might be difficult to grip firmly. I might tend toward the crotchety.

An elderly acquaintance, beset with failing health in his final year, once put it succinctly, with a grimace brought on by recurring pain: "Don't get old."

I'll likely have little choice in the matter; but given my druthers, I'll take the aging. I just hope I wear it well.


Being mid-January, members of the Top Drawer 24 Committee -- those teachers, administrators and lay people entrusted with deciding which two-dozen high school students will be honored with inclusion on the Brian J. O'Donnell Schuyler County Scholar-Athlete-Citizen Team late in this school year -- are preparing to fill out ballots designed to determine some of the honorees.

The decision-making process is a long one, full of observation, rethinking, discussion, and the study of lists of students and their achievements. There is a sharing of information -- of encomiums and, on the flip side, reservations.

The winnowing process continues into May, with more discussion, more observation, and a final ballot to determine which students earn the last available spots. The team is announced in mid- to late May, and then comes the celebration at the State Park Pavilion in early June, in this case June 1. This will be the sixth such annual celebration.

There are students from four schools honored: Watkins Glen, Odessa-Montour, Bradford and Trumansburg, since all four have territory within Schuyler County. The number of students chosen from a given school is based roughly on the percentage of Schuyler students at that school.

There are more than 60 students on the initial lists of nominees being considered, based on grades, athletic participation, and citizenship. The committee looks at the entire package a student brings to school -- to the classroom, to the playing fields and to service organizations. Character and attitude are large determinants.

Eligibility applies to seniors, juniors, sophomores and freshmen, although only one 9th grader has made the team thus far.

The selection process is steeped in secrecy, but the honor -- the announcement and celebration of the team -- has always been well-publicized on these pages. And it will be again.


And finally:

We're heading into one of the more interesting Village Election Days in recent memory. There is a three-way contest for mayor in Watkins Glen, a two-person battle in Montour Falls, and God-knows-what in Odessa come those mid-March ballots.

Independent petitions won't be turned in until early February, so it's hard to say who, exactly, will seek the Odessa mayor's post -- although the incumbent, Keith Pierce, has indicated he'll run for reelection. If there is no avowed competition, speculation is circulating that there might be a quiet write-in campaign to try to unseat him -- a campaign directed by the small group that recently forced a vote on village dissolution. The speculation is fueled by the thought that a write-in winner -- with a couple of write-in pals running for and winning two available trustee spots -- would, once inside the seat of village power, direct another dissolution vote. That's the only way another such vote could be brought up in less than four years.

Would a write-in campaign work? It has in Odessa before, back when Tom Cook defeated the "unopposed" candidate, Don Flatt. So ... yes.

Like I said, an interesting Election Day.


And earlier:

Bosses, bosses everywhere

By Charlie Haeffner

Odessa, Jan. 10, 2011 -- I've not always done well with my bosses.

Oh, there were some who inspired me -- encouraging me in my writing, and showing me the proper way to handle employees, which is to say with honor and respect. But I've also encountered bosses in my jobs who were ego-driven, idiosyncratic types who were not at all concerned with feelings, just with the bottom line.

I recently wrote a bit of verse about one such arrogant boss -- but it applies equally well to any who are poorly equipped to run a ship well -- who believe that wielding power for the sake of that power makes them somehow important.

They aren't.

The verse is titled "The Outsider." It begins like this:

There once was a workplace of goodwill, of promise,
A place where encouragement ruled.
But the board of directors said "Let's jazz it up.
We'll import an outsider," they drooled.

Later, after this newcomer, this new boss, has been installed, he (it could equally well be a she) tells the workers:

"Encouragement's fine if you're learning to walk
But most of you know how to run.
So let's stop this joy stuff and get down to work
We're not here to have any fun."

And so the outsider took hold of the reins
And sucked the joy out: Holy Merde.
The once-happy workers complained loud and long
But nobody listened and nobody cared.

The verse goes on to note:

But work without joy is a house made of cards
That eventually teeters and falls ...

And, indeed, it does in this case, as -- in my experience -- it has in most similar cases. The boss is finally shown the door, which is a tough pill to swallow for those who did the hiring.

The leaders at last saw the folly they'd wrought
By mucking up something so prized
As a workplace where joy was a prominent thing,
Where success had been gained, and reprised.

So now, in the wake of the boss's dismissal,
Some tenuous happiness bloomed.
But workers, once bitten, would cautiously ask:
"What madness lies yonder, what gloom?"

As I said, I've had inspiring bosses, but I've also experienced the kind who are demoralizing. The most extreme case I encountered in a negative vein occurred when a new boss, moved in from the outside, literally rubbed staff the wrong way so badly that half of them left to find friendlier pastures within a year. I was one of them.

The bottom line for me is this simple fact:

Workers high and low have important roles in the success of the workplace. That workplace is, in the best of times, like a well-calibrated timepiece. If a boss fails to wind it up, to inspire it, the success stops. If he or she twists the stem too hard, the entire venture seizes up, as though from a coronary.

So, to the bosses of the world who inspire -- who know how to bring out the best in their employees and how to reward them appropriately -- I say bravo. Well done.

To the others, to the domineering, I say this: I wish on you ... a boss like you.


And earlier:

Eagle Scouts get my vote

By Charlie Haeffner

Odessa, Jan. 1, 2011 -- Welcome to the New Year. As I write this, it is 1-1-11.

And being 1-1-11, I have, by three days, now exceeded eight years with this experiment in personal journalism called The Odessa File.

Eight years of growth, I hope. Eight years of news, and personal observation -- both mine and that of other columnists. Eight years without an office of co-workers, and thus no office politics, and no bosses.

Eight years. Enough time for two Presidential terms. I've been in office, so to speak, three days longer than Ronald Reagan or Bill Clinton or George W. Bush.

Which got me thinking. We're coming up fast on the Presidential season, the start of campaigns leading to the 2012 primaries and general election. And once again, we'll likely be saddled with choices that leave something to be desired. Such is the nature of politics and its compromises, not to mention the ridiculous cost of campaigns.

So ... I started thinking: Maybe I should run for President. I know me, and I trust me. I would at least get my vote.

I could run the campaign through the Internet, much as I run The Odessa File through it. Fittingly, I could run under the banner of The Internet Party.

More and more people are working from home, of course, thanks to the wonders of technology. When I go on vacation, I take my laptop along with me, and put in a couple of hours or more a day keeping up with things back home, updating the website with photos, columns and stories.

So ... in the spirit of American individuality and creativity, I could mount a campaign from my home (or even on vacation), from the very laptop I use to provide you with these pages.

No, I wouldn't win; I'm not completely foolish. But it would be a grand thing to be able to say to my grandchildren -- if ever I am blessed with them -- that their grandfather ran for President.


But wait. If someone runs for President, maybe he or she should aspire to more than a Pat Paulsenish effort. Maybe, down the road, the Internet will play an increasingly important role in elections ... but the degree of importance would depend on how serious a candidate is at the controls

I'm thinking Eagle Scouts might be the ticket. They are serious, and goal-oriented, and determined to achieve. I'm thinking that in the future, I'll look for the likes of Schuyler County residents Adam Rice or Lee Sidle to run for President.


Adam, a senior at Watkins Glen High School, earned his Eagle rank last year after achieving a community-minded project: a new Clute Park sign alongside the park office on Fourth Street in Watkins Glen. Check it out: it's a work of beauty.

Adam's a serious guy -- a good student, an exceptional swimmer, captain of the school's cross-country team, and a member during the last school year of the Top Drawer 24 team of scholar-athlete-citizens sponsored by this website.

Sidle (right), a sophomore at Elmira Notre Dame High School, is a Life Scout striving for his Eagle rank. His proposed Eagle project: a park on the east side of the walkway that leads down to the site where the walking bridge was removed from above the creek in Odessa last year.

Lee has approached the Odessa Village Board about it, and was warmly received. There are obstacles, such as liability concerns, since there is a steep drop into the water from and near that walkway. But the board gave its preliminary approval, and said it would work with Lee in developing a plan that could be realistically achieved.

Lee is a Scout in Troop 3030 in Odessa. His initial ideas for the park have included landscaping with trees, flowers and shrubs, a perimeter gravel path, and a couple of benches.

"It's great to see the younger generation take the initiative," said Mayor Keith Pierce.

Amen to that. Hail to the serious-minded among our young adults -- folks like Adam Rice and Lee Sidle

Who knows?

It could lead, someday -- and perhaps with the help of the Internet -- to "Hail to the Chief."

Photos in text:

Top: Adam Rice (top) receives a commendation from Watkins Glen Village Mayor Judy Phillips in March 2010, with his parents, Bill and Mary, at his side.

Bottom: Lee Sidle at a recent Odessa Village Board meeting.


And earlier:

A time of love & compassion

By Charlie Haeffner

Odessa, Dec. 25, 2010 -- There is a sweetness about Christmas Day that has always appealed to me, no doubt a legacy of the love and largesse shown by my parents when we celebrated it during my childhood.

In fact, that period resonates so soundly with me that I find myself, each Christmas Day, revisiting that long-ago time -- placing myself in the living room of our house at 16036 Amherst in Birmingham, Michigan. The Christmas tree was in a corner of the room, at the rear of the house, and when I'd arise on that magical morning, it would always be surrounded by what seemed a mountain of presents.

They weren't all for me -- not by a long shot. I have two older brothers who shared the wealth, and Mom and Dad always bought nice things for one another, although the cards attached to their presents were signed by "Santa Claus."

I bought into that: the Santa tradition. There was little doubt in my mind that Santa was responsible for all of that bounty -- although I could not fathom why he would be so kind to people he didn't really know. I didn't let that minor concern detract from the joy of ripping the paper off the packages, though.

In particular, I always sought -- and was generally rewarded with -- books (I loved, and still love, to read), and sports cards (during that season, football cards were the norm, from which I hoped to gather as many Detroit Lions as possible), and sports games (preferably baseball; the kind with dials to spin -- or even better, one of the newfangled electro-magnetic inventions).

I also loved -- though it wasn't an annual present -- those little balsa wood planes, the kind that you throw into the air and watch as they circle, dipping and rising, dipping and rising before plummeting to earth ... or in that case, on Christmas morning, before plummeting to the carpet.

I look back on those mornings, and I realize that while I recall the presents with some clarity, what mattered most was the love in that room, in that home. It was not a once-a-year thing, that love. My parents were astoundingly kind and supportive, and my upbringing quite clear of what I have found in succeeding years to be all-too-common in the workaday world: conflict and compromise and contentiousness.

Those, I have learned, are the truer measures of a life lived, and I find that sad. That is perhaps why I cling to the sweetness of Christmas, why I cherish it. It brings back to me the sights and sounds and feeling of an innocent time -- a period when life was gentle and I was enveloped by love and compassion.

To all of you, I wish those same elusive qualities. May the day and the coming year be kind.


And earlier:

Kissed by the angels ...

By Charlie Haeffner

Odessa, Dec. 18, 2010 -- It was a time of innocence, of hope. It was a time to go courting. There was little need here, in the United States, to be too concerned about what was happening overseas.

That's what Richard "Red" Falvey was doing in early December 1941. He says he was courting his future wife -- on the start of a date -- when word arrrived of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.

"I'd never heard of it," he said. "I didn't know where Pearl Harbor was. But I thought how foolish it was to do that -- that we'd clean them up in a week. We learned how powerful they were, though; how Japan had built up its military. But I ask you, is there any more powerful country than the United States?

That Day of Infamy, as President Franklin Roosevelt called it, was the start of a long journey for Falvey, now 89 -- a journey that would take him to England and France and Holland and the Battle of the Bulge and Hitler's Eagle's Nest at Berchtesgaden at war's end.

For Falvey lived what millions of brave Americans lived: World War II, with a front-row seat. He was one of the lucky ones; he was able to return whole and to live a full life. More than 400,000 men didn't make it


Red Falvey -- a Yonkers native who has lived in Hammondsport for many years -- was born in 1921, and among his early memories is the taunting he received for a cross-shaped birthmark he carries near his left temple. It was difficult, that taunting, but his mother put it into a different perspective. The birthmark, she said, signified that he had "been kissed by the angels."

Falvey, a religious man who carried a small Bible into battle with him in the war, described his experiences at a recent Watkins-Montour Rotary Club luncheon. And he made it clear faith is still a part of his belief system by decrying the general tendency of government to shy away from the concepts of God and prayer. "Who are these people running this government?" he asked, shaking his head.

By contrast, World War II was definitely a time for prayer. After he had enlisted on his 21st birthday (the earliest age allowed in the military back then, he said), he signed up for a newly formed parachute unit, becoming part of the 506th P.I.R. (Parachute Infantry Regiment) of the 101st Airborne Division.

"It was a new thing, a new idea," he said, "forming a regiment of airborne right off the street. But it was an experiment that worked. It was a success."

He had training stateside and in England, and then -- on the eve of the Normandy invasion -- his battalion commander gathered his 500 men and said he was "going to ask you to pray with me for the success of this mission," and then indeed prayed.

"We do not ask favors," the prayer went. "We are instruments of your will," instruments that might "restore peace to the world. Be near us in the fire ahead."


That fire included, for Falvey, 33 days in France after parachuting in -- a perilous maneuver that proved fatal for many men shot down in the sky or while dangling in their harnesses, hung up in the limbs of trees. "Many men's feet never touched French soil," he said.

After Normandy came the invasion of Holland (called Operation Market Garden), where he spent 72 days (the men had been told it would take seven days) after a risky daylight parachute drop. And then came the Battle of the Bulge -- 66 years ago, a ferocious and costly event that began on Dec. 16th, 1944. It was the final major offensive by the Nazis -- an attempt to split the oncoming Allies, to disrupt their supply lines. And it killed or wounded 75,000 American soldiers.

It went on for months, and Falvey was in the middle of that, too -- occupying foxholes and trying to survive hunger and extreme weather. "It snowed and snowed," he said. "It was knee deep, unbelievable weather. And for over 30 days I never saw the inside of a building."

It was, he said, "the only time in my life when I thought I was starving. Food was hard to come by. Then, two days before Christmas, we received some bread, and I ate some and tucked a couple of pieces away."

On Christmas Day, he said, he pulled that bread out and shared it with some of his fellow soldiers. "It was a blessing just to get something to eat. I imagine those men, if any are still alive today, remember that bread."

Eventually, he said, he and the other Airborne soldiers "were pulled out" of there, and were soon "rushed across the southern part of Germany toward Berchtesgaden. For some reason they wanted the 101st there before anyone else." His unit was the first to arrive at that location, which had been used by Adolf Hitler as a retreat. Hitler was by then dead in Berlin by his own hand.

While at Berchtesgaden, ensconced in comparative luxury -- which is to say he was indoors -- Falvey joined in the celebration that came with word of the war's end.

"I popped a bottle of champagne and took a drink," he said, "and then threw the bottle out a window. But I didn't open the window."

He smiled. "I was never proud of that. It was part of the foolish things and excitement that came upon word that the war was over."


Red Falvey, a sharp, spry and very active man in this, his 90th year, remembers a World War II general named Lee who told the troops heading into the battle for Europe that they had "a rendezvous with destiny." It was a phrase borrowed from a speech made by President Roosevelt in 1936, but it struck a chord there in 1944, with all hell about to be unleashed

"We didn't seem too concerned with what our future would be," Falvey said of the Airborne soldiers with whom he had prepared for the invasion -- the assault on Hitler's well-entrenched troops. "We had trained hard; we just wanted them to let us loose to do our best."

With his Bible packed in his gear and grenades and other weaponry strapped to his belt and slung over his shoulder, Falvey -- along with the other men of the 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment -- made the hourlong flight on D-Day over France, and floated down onto it.

And somehow -- a couple of frozen toes his only damage of note -- Red Falvey made it through from there to the end of the war and to that bottle of champagne.

"There were 16 million men in the service," he said, "and I was a little piece of it. I did the best I could with what I had. I had my rendezvous with destiny."

Considering the dangers he faced, he also had fortune smiling upon him -- although he prefers to call it "providence" and "divine intervention."

"There's no doubt in my mind," he said of his war experiences. "I was kissed by the angels."

Photos in text: Red Falvey at the Rotary luncheon, and a World War II picture of him in a plastic frame circulated among the Rotarians.


And earlier:

The legacy of a young boy

By Charlie Haeffner

Odessa, Dec. 12, 2010 -- I'm tempted to call this a Christmas story.

For in a sense it is. It is ongoing, with new developments, in this holiday time, and it is a story that fits the spirit of the season, for it is one of birth, death, compassion, and the healing power of love and devotion.

But it goes beyond that, I think. It strikes me as a story for all seasons, about a little boy for all seasons.

It is also about that boy's parents, the Campbells, and their entry into the world of transplants ... and about their upcoming journey west on Christmas Day as part of that world.


Holly and Andy Campbell are both teachers in the Odessa-Montour school district. They have two children ... and had a third, Jacob Rian Campbell, who died in August 2007, just two-and-a-half months after his birth. He stopped breathing during a nap, and while efforts by Andy and hospital staff restored breathing, Jake's brain was irreversibly damaged. Thus, the Campbells made the decision to provide his heart and eyes for transplant.

The discussion leading to that decision, they told a recent gathering of the Watkins-Montour Rotary Club, was incredibly difficult -- "the hardest conversation we've ever had," said Andy. "We were trying to make a hopeless and terrible situation somehow better."

Jake's heart ended up going to a two-week-old boy in Iowa named Beckham Scadlock. The donor family, the Campbells, were not supposed to know the identity of the recipient -- just that he was in Iowa. But they found out his identity by research on the Internet.

"We were curious to know if the Iowa boy was doing well," said Holly.

"We googled the information we had," said Andy, "and found a blog about Beckham Scadlock. It seemed like he must be the one, and he became a source of inspiration for us -- something positive to look to." That was in January of 2008.

"We watched the blog for months," Holly said, "and then one day the Scadlocks posted that they were writing the donor family -- so we knew a letter was coming our way."

It did, and the two families began a correspondence that resulted in them meeting at the 2010 National Kidney Foundation's U.S. Transplant Games in Madison, Wisconsin. The event is held every two years -- a gathering of transplant families from around the nation.

"We weren't sure the Scadlocks could make it," said Holly, "but we told (the organizers) our story, strings were pulled so the Scadlocks could be there, and we finally met them. There are no words to describe hugging the little boy who has become home for your child's heart."

Holly, a veteran of local stage musicals, had sent an audition tape to the event organizers, too, when she heard they were looking for performers -- a touching song called "For Good" from the musical "Wicked." She sang that song to Jake the last time she held him. It has the line: "You'll be with me like a handprint on my heart."

"When she found out that's the song I was singing," said Holly, "Beckham's mom told me she sang that same song to Beckham when he was born."

While Beckham's health has been up and down, he was healthy at last report and about to welcome a baby sister into the world.


Now, a new chapter has arisen. The Campbells learned that the Finger Lakes Donor Recovery Network had selected Jake as the subject of an annual Donate Life-sponsored floragraph for inclusion on a float in the Tournament of Roses Parade on New Year's Day in Pasadena, California.

Floragraphs, made from photographs transferred to a wood base and then completed using natural elements -- primarily flower seeds -- offer an unusual and sometimes colorful depiction of the photo subject, in this case donors. There are 77 floragraphs planned for the float, pictures of donors whose sacrifice "give life, hope and health to those in need," according a website describing the project.

"It was definitely a surprise and an honor when Jake was chosen," said Andy. He and Holly -- who went to Rochester this weekend for a ceremony and to put the finishing touches on Jake's floragraph (which was nearly completed by experts on the West Coast first) -- decided they wanted to travel to Pasadena for the parade.

Accordingly, they raised funds through T-shirt sales and donations, and came up with enough money so that they and their two sons, Ben and Alex, could go out there. The boys' grandparents are also going, Holly said, to share in the experience and so they can look after the boys when Holly and Andy are busy with float-related activities in restricted areas.

They will be leaving on Christmas Day from Rochester -- heading west by way of the Newark Airport and into an experience that will, once again, bring Jake's short life into sharp focus.

The Campbells have dealt with their grief by talking about it, which Andy says is "helpful." The fact that Beckham has survived is hugely gratifying and motivating, and the experience of meeting other donor and recipient families through the Transplant Games network has proved edifying.

It all "has given us hope," Holly said, "given us something to fall back on in a dark time. It has given our son a legacy. Organ donation is a beautiful gift from both sides. It was a worthwhile decision to make."


Moments after writing the words above, I received an email from Holly describing the Saturday trip to Rochester. Attached were photos of the floragraph. Her note read as follows:

"The ceremony was MC'd by Rob Kockik, the executive director of the Finger Lakes Donor Recovery Network. He gave a brief introduction, and then three members of the University of Rochester Medical Center faculty spoke: Dr. Kathy Parrinello, chief operating officer of Strong Memorial; Dr. Thomas McInerny, associate chair of the pediatric unit; and Dr. Mark Orloff, the head of the organ transplant team. I wish I had a recording of their speeches!

"Then we completed the floragraph, with the help of Joe Carder, the transplant coordinator who took care of Jake (and us). They also had two nurses give us roses, one of whom was part of the staff who attended to Jake while he was at Strong.

"I really can't put to words what this experience has been like for us. It was truly humbling and touching, to have Jake honored in this way.

"One thing you could also share is that people can dedicate roses for anyone they know who was an organ donor, and they'll be placed on the (Tournament of Roses) float while having the dedication read. The link to the float website is -- there's a link to click on from the main page to dedicate a rose. You can also look at Jake's story through that page, along with his photo that was used to create the floragraph. Or you can click here.

"Thanks again, Charlie, for helping us share Jake's message."

Photos in text: Holly and Andy Campbell at the Rotary meeting on Dec. 9 (top) and in Rochester on Dec. 11 with sons Alex (in Andy's arms) and Ben. (Rochester photo provided)


And earlier:

An infinity of promise ...

By Charlie Haeffner

Odessa, Dec. 3, 2010 -- I received a Facebook message from a young reader -- a recent Odessa-Montour graduate -- wondering if I might write something "about the true meaning of true Christianity and family. I think some people in the community would enjoy that."

Well, I'm no minister (although I considered that path from time to time), and not somebody who really understands all the facets of what true Christianity is about, at least in a philosophical, discussion-based sense.

But I'll try something here that might touch on it -- a story I've been working on about looking back, looking ahead, and suffering withdrawal symptoms: a mix of anxiety-producing stimuli that might lead to personal illumination.

So ... here it is:


Back in the day -- which is to say during my high school and then college years -- I knew a guy named John Burkoff, and a girl named Nancy Mammen.

They were both hugely intelligent -- enough to to give me an inferiority complex. But that didn't keep me from either; John was one of my closest friends, and Nancy -- well, I dated her for a short time in high school. John was a bit more serious about her, though.

As was all too common back then, I lost touch with them. They both attended the University of Michigan, went off to law school and related careers, and got married to one another. I, meanwhile, got married, graduated from Albion College (not far, really, from the U of M) and moved to New York and into a journalism career.

There was a high school class reunion 15 years past graduation, and the Burkoffs might have been there; I just don't recall. But if they were, that was the last time I saw them. (Our class was not known for reunions, and didn't have another one until it was time for a 40th, which I didn't attend, health and distance conspiring against me.)

Then, the other day, I took the advice of a friend and utilized Facebook for a search of my past. I typed in the names of some people from my long-ago, and when I tried the name John Burkoff -- voila, there he was. I sent him a note, and he responded, and we updated one another on the paths of our lives.

Forty years later, and he looks about the same. He has a beard, which he did the last time I remember seeing him, but it's fuller and gray-streaked now. His smile, a confident one, brings to mind the teenaged John who decided to take tennis lessons because he wanted to become MVP of the school tennis team -- a goal that I thought foolhardy and impossible to fulfill, seeing as how he had never played the sport before. But he did, in fact, learn the game well enough to become the MVP.

He and Nancy -- who is posed with him in various Facebook photos, and who has the same kindly eyes I remember from long ago -- are grandparents now. He is a longtime professor at the University of Pittsburgh, and she is an attorney who joined that same institution a couple of years ago.


I bring all of this up because ... well, because the loss of friends and family in recent years has brought aging and death into play in a very real way, instead of in the abstract of my youthful days -- and has me casting an eye backward to a happy, safer period of my life at the same time that I look ahead with some trepidation.

Granted, a friend tells me I am actually young by actuarial standards, which is to say that I should have a few years left. And if I have the longevity of my mother (who is 91), then I could be around for a very long time. But still ...

Mix in with all of that a bit of withdrawal I'm experiencing -- after years of living on the stuff, I've sworn off Diet Pepsi, and it's left me with some anxiety issues (go figure: from pop?) -- and you have a meeting of various emotional forces colliding in the middle of my nervous system.

Amid that sort of imperfect storm, I'm a little more vulnerable than usual to self-doubt. Who among us hasn't experienced that?

When overtaken with anxieties like those, when grappling with a fear of the unknown future -- my father-in-law, suffering near the end of his life, told me quite simply "Don't get old" -- I take a deep breath to calm the nerves, and think about the fact that everybody, after all, lives and dies. Yes, I argue with myself, but there will be so much I will be missing after I'm gone. And then logic says "You missed eons before you got here, so what's the big deal? You'll just miss some more eons afterward."

Self-debate doesn't always work, though, and it hasn't in this case. Consequently, I've turned to the example of my late wife, Susan, in her final days six years ago. She was faced with possible paralysis after tumors had wrapped themselves around her spine, limiting her mobility; and even if she had regained full use of her legs, the prognosis was for a seven-month slide toward death. Such is the cruelty of cancer.

She was frightened as the cancer took her over, and frightened when her hospital stay began. She was facing radiation treatments, and heaven knows what else. As it turned out, she lasted only six more days, but in that time worked from fear to acceptance, from tears to smiles. She somehow felt that what was happening was okay, that she was in God's gentle hands.

"It's all right. Really," she told me there in the hospital.

In the two days preceding her sudden death -- of a pulmonary embolism -- she visited with friends and family, made peace by phone with a couple of people from her past with whom she had had issues ... and then she was gone, in the wink of an eye, almost as though she had lifted out to a far gentler, kinder reward.

I think of that, and I think I need that kind of acceptance, that kind of faith she exhibited. In this Christmas season -- at a time in which physical ailments (and withdrawal) have slowed my step and left me vulnerable to self-doubt; at a time when I am looking backward to people like the Burkoffs for emotional sustenance (or perhaps existential validation) while I face an always uncertain future -- it seems as though I must find the spirit of the season.

It seems as though I must shrug off the fears and embrace the infinity -- an infinity, an eternity that Susan believed, at the end, was one of promise, not of darkness.


And earlier:

To an Absent Friend ...

By Charlie Haeffner

Odessa, Nov. 26, 2010 -- Every day is a gift.

That's a trite maxim, but true. And it's akin to the equally trite Make every day count, for it could be your last.

Add to that ... well, add to that whatever related phrase you want. It all comes down to this: Once life is over, it's over.

If it's our time, then we lose everything -- barring an afterlife. If it's a family member or friend, we have lost a treasure.

A great writer named Red Smith referred to the latter such losses as Absent Friends.

We can no longer see these friends, or talk to them -- unless we are a bit imaginative, and don't mind talking to seemingly thin air. But we can still fall back on counsel they might have provided when they were alive.

That last hints at what we do have: memory. It's not as good as a physical reality, but at least it's something.

That's what I have with my father (gone 16 years now) and my wife (gone six years), and other friends who have departed before me.


I lost another friend Wednesday ... another person relegated to my memory bank.

This time, death claimed a man named Bill Peckham.


Bill literally burst into my life one day about a decade ago, when I was operating a little gift shop in Odessa called Country Cards. It was my mother-in-law's business, but she had me run it for her on occasional days.

I was in the shop's middle aisle, straightening some gift cards in a rack, when the front door swung open and a tall, slender man with a shock of graying hair and a neatly trimmed white goatee and mustache came surging in -- much as a strong wind signals a weather change.

The change that day was significant: it went from a low-keyed, humdrum day to one of vitality, for that's what Bill Peckham exuded. He was large and he was loud and he enjoyed life.

As I looked toward the door that day and sized him up in the moment before he spoke, I sensed something different about to happen, and I was right. I was asked a question I'd never been asked before.

"Are you the writer?" he asked right off, loudly, without preamble.

I smiled and answered.

"Well, I'm a writer," I said. "I don't know about being the writer ... Who's asking?"

"Bill Peckham," he said, striding forward, arm extended. And we shook hands.

He had, it turned out, read a couple of novels I had written -- passed along to him by a daughter-in-law who lived outside of town -- and he professed to have liked them.

Bill and his wife Dodie had moved here from Oregon, where he had had a long career in education -- specifically as a superintendent of schools. They had relocated to be close to family, to a son and daughter and grandchildren.

Bill was voluble, and charismatic, with warm eyes that lit up when he smiled -- which was often. He was opinionated -- generally against the conservative trend in the country -- and intelligent and family-oriented, often talking about his children and his wife. He invited me on occasion out to his home along Rt. 224, near Alpine, an old farmhouse that he was renovating.

When illness started taking its toll -- his wife was afflicted with a degenerative disease, and he was struck by cancer -- the invitations waned, but his occasional visits to my house and his occasional phone calls never did.

He fought off the cancer a couple of times, and took great delight in saying he had confounded the doctors who thought he should have been dead long ago. He delighted in all things about life, really -- whether it was sighting what he said was a cougar on the acreage behind his home, or touting the fishing available in his pond, or bragging about the achievements of his grandchildren, or tweaking the foibles of today's education administrators -- always a subject close to his heart.

That heart gave out Wednesday, not many days after Bill had left his home, had been taken to Schuyler Hospital. He was visited there by his sons Allen and Ivan, and he told them he had also been visited by his father -- his late father. And in those closing hours, his father having brought him a hint of the other side, Bill shed the pain that had been crippling him and found peace.

And then he departed, joining the ranks of Absent Friends.

Knowing Bill, he probably left smiling.


Bill Peckham was a rich man, although I can't attest to his net worth ... to the depth of his bank accounts.

What Bill had was friends, myself included.

There is a wonderful old movie, a Frank Capra-directed gem called "You Can't Take It With You," in which the grandfather chides a tycoon for devoting himself so single-mindedly to the art of making money.

"You can't take it with you ... so what good is it?" says the grandfather. "As near as I can see, the only thing you can take with you is the love of your friends."

Amen. And so long, Bill.


And earlier:

A night in the newsroom ...

By Charlie Haeffner

Odessa, Nov. 22, 2010 -- As I've said here before, I'm writing an autobiography. I don't know if it will ever go beyond something to hand down to my sons and their children, but no matter ... it's an interesting exercise.

I'm covering events in snapshotty, brief vignettes, along with longer pieces -- starting with my childhood (contrary to rumor, it was not in the 19th century), and moving on to my college years and my work experiences. I'm jumping around, actually, blending past with present as needed, although some passages are purely chronological in and of themselves.

An example is the following event from my time at the Elmira Star-Gazette -- where across eight years I served in turn as a copy editor, Assistant Regional Editor, Regional Editor, Assistant Sports Editor, Sports Editor and News Editor before leaving the business for a prolonged period.

What follows is the story of life at the Star-Gazette nearly 30 years ago, in the newsroom on the night John Lennon was killed -- a night as vivid to me as any.


I had been working at the paper's copy desk for about three weeks when, one night during a lull, one of the other copy editors, a young (fresh out of college) fellow named Joe Scotto asked the Night Editor, a young man (30ish) named Mark Murphy how Murphy would handle the story "if a Beatle died."

At that point, all four of the Beatles -- John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr -- were still among the living. The group had broken up 10 years before, but their music was still hugely popular.

"What?!" Murphy asked, rather dumbfounded at the question, which seemed to come out of nowhere.

"How would you play the story if a Beatle died?" Scotto said. "Would it be the lead on the front page? Or would you put it down at the bottom? Or someplace else?"

Murphy shook his head. He always seemed amused by Scotto, who had a wide-eyed innocence that struck the seasoned Murphy -- the man essentially in charge of the news operation at night -- as humorous.

"I don't know, Joe," he said. "What would make you think of such a thing?"

Scotto thought a moment.

"Beats me," he said. "It just occurred to me. But really ... how would you play it?"

Murphy looked my way and rolled his eyes.

"It depends," he finally said.

"On what?" asked Scotto.

"On the circumstances," said Murphy. "It would be pretty important, no matter what. But it would depend on circumstances."


A week later, we received a bulletin in the newsroom at about 11 p.m. that John Lennon had been shot outside his apartment complex in New York City, a bit of news that had Murphy shaking his head and looking at Scotto as if he were a warlock ... or some sort of otherworldly creature.

"How're you going to play it?" asked Scotto, a grin counterbalancing the shock of the news. It was hard, I imagine, for him not to say: "See?"

"Depends," said Murphy. "He's still alive, according to this. We don't know how bad it is."

But before long, another bulletin announced Lennon's death.

"Okay," said Scotto. "Now how are you going to play it?"

Murphy pursed his lips.

"Big," he said.


That would have been a simple matter, but the issue was made more complex by a promise from the Associated Press at midnight that it would soon be sending along a photo of Lennon's killer, Mark David Chapman, at Lennon's side earlier that day, getting an autograph from the former Beatle on a record-album cover: Lennon's recently released Double Fantasy.

"Oh, we need that photo," said Murphy.

It was about that time that Scotto, his shift completed, was leaving. Scotto, as he put on his coat and turned toward the door, echoed Murphy's sentiment, leaving us with a departing declaration. The photo, he said, "will be cool," words with which I couldn't disagree.

The deadline for our first edition of the night, destined for the counties to our south, would be in about 30 minutes. An edition targeted for Steuben and Schuyler Counties would be rolling off the presses 45 minutes after the South papers. The final edition-- the large majority of the night's newspapers, to be distributed in the Elmira-Horseheads metropolitan area -- would follow at about 2 a.m. That was the edition Murphy was most concerned with, and the one in which he wanted to include that photo, displaying it prominently on the front page -- above the fold for all to easily see.

Alas, the Associated Press dallied on sending it. The estimated arrival time kept changing, kept being delayed; the AP was negotiating a price with the private individual who had snapped the photo, and it was taking time ... precious time. It reached the point where we were in peril of missing our deadline on the final edition. We had gone without the photo in those two earlier editions, but the final edition was the big one.

"You realize, of course, that we're about to go in late," I cautioned Murphy, but he knew very well what the time was.

"We need that photo," said Murphy again. "It's historic."

And so we waited, and suffered through another two delays, until we were approaching an hour beyond deadline. In that hour, we sat and watched the clock, and shuffled papers, and alternately smiled and grimaced at one another, our patience stretched increasingly thin. At one point Murphy asked if we should forgo the photo, but I just shrugged and said: "We're late already ..."

Finally, the photo arrived. The bell on the AP photo machine had no sooner rung than Murphy was out of his seat and striding to the side room where the machine was stationed. He exited waving the photo in my direction, and hustled it out to the composing room. A couple of the compositors, held for that extra hour and none too pleased about it, processed the photo and got it onto the page -- and the presses finally ran.

Afterward, Murphy seemed satisfied. But the powers-that-be -- administrators who worked during the day (the paper being published twice a day, in the early morning and afternoon) -- weren't happy the next morning.


Murphy was awakened early that day by the Managing Editor, Wayne Boucher, after only a handful of hours of sleep, and was told to report immediately for a meeting.

Boucher had caught heat from above on the tardiness of the paper's morning delivery. By missing deadline, Murphy had kept drivers waiting, and they had complained to the mail room chief, who had complained to the composing room chief, who had left a complaint with the publisher, who had complained to the Executive Editor, Rick Tuttle, who had criticized Boucher -- who had, after all, not even been present. And so, I imagine, Boucher wanted to exact his pound of flesh.

Accordingly, he had a lengthy closed-door session with Murphy, explaining some deadline facts of life to him. Or so I heard afterward from reporters present in the newsroom at the time -- all, no doubt, keeping one eye cast in the direction of Boucher's glass cubicle and listening as Boucher's voice would, on occasion, rise.

I arrived at work hours later, and for once beat Murphy there; he was usually looking through reams of wire stories by then. But there was no sign of him, which had me worried. Had he been fired? Would I be dismissed, too, for serving as an accessory the night before?

But before long, Murphy arrived, looking haggard. He had been napping, he said, to make up for sleep he had been shorted by Boucher's phone call and the meeting.

"How did it go?" I asked, wondering how much trouble, exactly, Murphy had taken on.

Self-interest was at play, of course, since I had done little to dissuade him the night before -- in fact had encouraged him to wait after the final-edition deadline had passed, thinking a few minutes more wouldn't hurt. But I hadn't bargained on the lengthy nature of the AP delivery. And so I wondered now if I could expect a meeting with Boucher, too.

Murphy was by then scanning the wire stories, looking for that night's best ones -- including follow-ups on the Lennon murder.

In the silence that followed my question, Murphy continued shuffling through the stories. After a few seconds, he stopped, glanced at me, and then back down at the stack of papers. He looked very tired and very serious.

"It's all right," he said.

"Boucher was pissed, though, right?" I asked.

"Oh, yeah," he said. "But that's okay."

"How do you figure?"

Murphy glanced over his shoulder -- in the direction of the offices of the Managing Editor, Boucher, and the Executive Editor, Tuttle, both of which were empty, their occupants having left for the day a short time earlier -- and then turned to me. This time he smiled.

"We got the photo in," he said. "That's how I figure.

"We got the photo."


And earlier:

Way to go, Haleigh ...

By Charlie Haeffner

Odessa, Nov. 20, 2010 -- Congratulations to Watkins Glen High School senior Haleigh Wixson on an amazing performance at the State Swimming Championships in Buffalo. She set two school records -- in the 50 Free (during the prelims) and the 100 Backstroke (in the Consolation Finals) while finishing 12th and 10th, respectively, in those two events -- and broke the Section IV Backstroke record for good measure.

"She was pretty excited," said WGHS varsity swim coach Abby Tormey, who said it's been a long time since any swimmer from around here has done so exceptionally well in two events at the State tournament.


I have encountered a few folks lately who've said they like the job that I and my staff are doing on this website.

Well, I've answered, thank you. I didn't bother to explain that there isn't really a staff. There are guest columnists and volunteer photographers, but no other reporters or editors, no business office, no ad sales department. As far as reporting goes, I often count on press releases and -- on occasion -- on the kindness of people who want something covered even though I'm not there to cover it.

Put another way, if I miss an event that someone out there thinks should have been covered, let me encourage that person to send along photos and a story. I've been known to publish those. If you have any questions about how to do that, just e-mail them to me.


We lost Floyd Seeley Thursday night -- a neighbor for three decades, husband to Bonnie, father to three grown boys. I was never close to Floyd, but I always admired him. He was a quiet, strong individual who kind of intimidated me with his calmness, his grace. Now he is gone, and I'm already missing him. God bless you, Floyd, and God bless you, Bonnie.


It's been 10 years since the year of The Glory Girls, the Class D State Champion girls basketball squad from Odessa-Montour led by a 30-points-a-game point guard named Stefanie Collins. That squad had an amazing run, one that had the community abuzz and united.

The team members were, in addition to Collins, Jill Pevo, playing a key role at center; Amber Hoffman, Allison Bloom, Cristen Hill, Christie Emerson, Cara Mundt, Stephanie Cross, Tiffani VanZile, Val Richardson, Tracy Cooper, Anna Feliciano and Jenny Thomason. The team manager was Kristine Gardner, who would in later years star for O-M on the court, leading the Indians to another Final Four berth.

The coach in that championship 2000-2001 season was Frank Gavich, in his final year at the helm, and his assistant was son Greg Gavich, who has overseen the team since then.

That 2000-2001 squad went 23-4, its fourth straight 20-win season. The team had six seniors, three juniors, three sophomores and one freshman, Thomason.

Collins' 30 points per game were the major impetus, but Pevo averaged 15.3, as well. Those two accounted for an average of 45.3 of the team's 62.2 points per game. Hill added almost five points per game, and Mundt nearly four. Pevo led in rebounds with 358, while Collins snagged 140, Cross 107, Hill 106, Mundt 86, and Emerson 72.

Interesting stats, interesting year -- and food for thought, I suppose, as we head into a new basketball season.


And earlier:

Dissolution: The facts are in

By Charlie Haeffner

Odessa, Nov. 16, 2010 -- So the committee studying dissolution has reported back, and informational sessions have been held, and all that remains is to vote on the matter of dissolution on Dec. 7. Hopefully, if common sense prevails, the majority will be against the proposal to end Odessa's village government.

I've had a notion since the beginning that this was a misguided quest, this petition drive that forced the vote. There always seemed, behind the petitioners' actions, something personal involved here -- a suspicion that more than one person has put into words

But whatever caused this ruckus -- and even if the petitioners' intentions were sincere and genuine -- this will be a thing of the past if we band together, we 350 or so non-petitioning registered voters in Odessa, and drive the point home with a resounding NO! on ballot day, on Pearl Harbor Day.

The study committee -- a brain trust of some of the finest minds in authority in the county -- examined the known facts and worked the numbers and came up with this seemingly unavoidable truth:

If we dissolve, we will end up paying more money (once larger water bills are factored in), and we will be minus various services we now rely upon.

So, common sense says vote NO! If you vote yes, it makes no sense from a monetary standpoint, and if you don't vote, you could be handing the outcome over to those who would eliminate services and add to the overall cost -- toward what end?

Get out and vote. Get out and vote. GET OUT AND VOTE!

That's Dec. 7, from noon to 9 p.m. at the Municipal Building community room. Be there and vote "no" ... or be prepared to pay more and get less.

It's up to you.


--Congratulations to Southern Tier Warriors Coach Bob Lee for leading the winning team at the North American Football League All-Star game.

--Sympathies to O-M grad Matt Shutter, whose Dominican College soccer team lost 1-0 to Southern Connecticut State University in the NCAA East Super Region tournament. Matt almost headed the ball in off a corner kick, but it hit the crossbar.

--A get-well to Tom Phillips, recovering from a burn accident at his home. See you at the School Board meeting next week, Tom.

--A job well done, Lake Country Players. They just concluded a three-day run of "The Pirates of Penzance," under the direction of the able Jane Daum. The cast had a blast, and so did the audiences.


This is a relatively quiet time, as far as news goes, what with high school sports between seasons. And the Watkins Glen High School seniors are on their Senior Trip to Washington, D.C. this week, which makes things pretty quiet at the school.

But even without sports, there are a few things going on: meetings, in particular, starting with one tonight at the Town of Catharine offices, when a decision is expected on whether to allow the proposed Humane Society animal shelter project to proceed. And the Watkins Glen Planning Board meets Wednesday night with a couple of potentially interesting items on the agenda. Come Saturday evening, the Southern Tier Warriors will be holding a postseason dinner from 6:30-8:30 p.m. at the Montour Moose Lodge.

Earlier that day, Nov. 20th, there will be two holiday events -- a Holiday Bazaar at the Odessa United Methodist Church from 9-3, and a Holiday Nuts & Sweets Fund-Raiser from 9-1 at the nearby Odessa Baptist Church.


And earlier:

The heart of the warrior...

By Charlie Haeffner

Odessa, Nov. 7, 2010 -- Here's to the warriors -- all those young people who compete in sports on the high school level, covered on these pages. But in particular I will dwell here on the wounded warriors who surge ahead despite injury and pain.

Now some might say that when confronted with a broken bone -- or even the suspicion of one -- an athlete would do well to sit down; to let those with sounder bodies compete. I have no argument with that viewpoint.

But it ignores the very heart and soul of the true athlete -- the boy or girl, man or woman who is driven to succeed in the arena. We glorify them in our society on the professional level; and especially the wounded ones. Think Curt Schilling and his bloody sock. Or Kirk Gibson, hardly able to walk, hitting a key homer off Hall of Famer Dennis Eckersley.

This past week, we had two instances of injuries at Watkins Glen High School diagnosed as broken bones. One was in a cross-country runner, Taylor Kennard, normally the leading competitor on the girls varsity, who went slower than normal as the Senecas fell short of a hoped-for title at the Section IV tournament. She had pain in a foot, she announced afterward -- a pain which X-rays later indicated was caused by a broken bone.

Small wonder she was running slower. And a large wonder that she was able to compete at all.

But like I said: The heart of an athlete.

And then there was swimmer Haleigh Wixson, who jammed the middle finger of her right hand into the wall during the Section IV prelims at WGHS at midweek at the conclusion of a heroic comeback that drew her 200 Free Relay team into a dead heat with Lansing. She was in obvious distress afterward, and a doctor's subsequent cursory exam diagnosed a break -- but she was determined to swim in the Sectional finals on the weekend.

She did -- and was still in obvious distress (especially every time she used that hand to turn at the end of a lap) to the point that it was suggested she bypass the final event, the 100 Backstroke. But she insisted on competing in that race, and not only won in stirring fashion (by 15/100s of a second), but in a state-qualifying time -- meaning she can compete in that event at the State Swimming Championships Nov. 19-20 at Erie Community College in Buffalo. She had already qualified for States in the 50 Free during the IAC Championships.

I intercepted Haleigh (a girl I have known for almost a decade) after that Backstroke win. She had been in obvious pain -- the tear-inducing kind -- at the conclusion of the race, and had iced the finger before going over to speak to her mother in the bleachers. I caught up to her there, tapping her on the shoulder.

As she turned toward me, I whispered to her: "Now I've seen everything."

She smiled, but it was the smile of someone still in pain. It also, I thought, harbored a hint of kindly patronization -- a bridge to an acquaintance, a friend, from a person, a warrior athlete, who is driven to succeed despite adversity, who knows that the friend is not, and who also knows that the friend will probably never fully understand the drive, the need.

It is a hard world, that of the warrior, and often a lonely, painful one.


The Dominican College men's soccer team upset top-seeded Bloomfield College Saturday in the Central Atlantic Collegiate Conference Men's Soccer Championship in Lakewood, N.J.

On that 3rd-seeded and now champion Dominican team is Odessa-Montour graduate Matt Shutter. On hand to see him was his family and various friends who had driven to the game.

Congratulations, Matt.


And earlier:

The dross in the mailbox

By Charlie Haeffner

Odessa, Nov. 1, 2010 -- In a down moment, I wrote the following verse about political campaign mailings:

'Twas the day before voting,
and there in my box,
was more junk mail to throw out,
more dregs to detox.

Out Pam Mack and Tom,
Out Hare and Chris Friend,
Out Carl and Cuomo.
Thank God it will end.

I think of the money
They spend on such dross
And shake my head, certain
a win is a loss.

Whoever wins our hearts and minds (translate that to our votes) gets to go to Albany and -- in the case of Tom Reed or Matt Zeller -- to Washington, where they will make nice paychecks to represent us in a seriously listing system that they can do little if nothing to change. A new Congressman? He can't effect any significant change. A new State Senator? Likewise. And despite their protests to the contrary, I doubt either major gubernatorial candidate has the mojo to seriously alter the status quo.

Ultimately, the experience of any winners -- any new officeholders -- will be fraught with frustration at their failure to achieve. Or they might, conceivably, self-destruct along the lines of our last Congressman.

That having been said, this is still the greatest nation in the world, full of promise. I can't put New York State on the same pedestal, but in either case I hold optimistic for the future. While I dislike campaign rhetoric (and that includes the hype found on those glossy mailers), and I dislike the tendency of candidates to take the low road (negative ads), and I'm hugely disturbed by the economic chaos that has reigned supreme for the past couple of years, I maintain a core of hope.

The system is too cumbersome, yes, lumbering along like the Titanic, without the ability to turn very quickly, to avoid icebergs. It seems, at times, a bit hopeless.

We surge ahead, though, hellbent on getting wherever we're going before anyone else -- led by credit card companies and banks and other financial institutions whose bottom line is ... the bottom line.

It's a fool's race, leading ulimately nowhere -- except maybe into one of those icebergs.

And yet, being an eternal optimist (and no doubt a bit naive), I cling to the belief -- the faith -- that we will somehow avoid the biggest ones, the ship killers.


I heard through the grapevine about an official who complained recently that The Odessa File is no more than a "pseudo-journalistic website" run by a fellow who has a disturbing tendency to "print whatever he wants."

I have to disagree with "pseudo" -- I've been in this business since the man in question was in diapers -- but yes, I can print (within the bounds of decency and common sense) anything I want. It's called freedom of speech. The same way he can say (within the bounds of decency and common sense) whatever he wants.

See how that works?

It's really cool. It's called America.

Which reminds me:

Let's all get out and vote.


Congratulations to the Watkins Glen High School girls cross-country team on its IAC Championship -- its first ever since the program started at WGHS in the mid-1970s. And congratulations to Shannon Hazlitt on her IAC Sportsmanship Award, and to Hazlitt, Taylor Kennard and Amber Swartz on achieving IAC First Team All-Star status. The same goes for Nick Sorensen and Matt Gill, All-Stars on the boys' side.

And congratulations to Watkins Glen's Haleigh Wixson on qualifying for the New York State Swimming Championships for the fourth straight year. That's quite remarkable.


And earlier:

The cult of celebrity, Part 2

By Charlie Haeffner

Odessa, Oct. 25, 2010 -- I had a boss once who was full of various colorful aphorisms. My favorite (please pardon its raw nature) was this one: Never get into a pissing match with a skunk.

Which I suppose is akin to never try to explain the obvious to someone who just doesn't get it -- and who is angry.

Now, I will stress at the outset that I am not calling anyone a skunk here, although -- from their track record -- they're likely to think I am.

But it is true that they are angry.

I refer to the Odessa Tea Party, which is angry with government and -- I've been told by several people -- is angry with me, to the point that I've been targeted in an emailing by a candidate for County Legislature, one Karen Radenberg, herself a Tea Party member. No, you won't find her on any major-party line on election day, but she's running.

Anyway, her gripe with me -- and I gather others feel likewise, judging from a return email to her from a Tea Party "co-organizer" who wrote "Excellent. Well done" -- is that I called the Tea Party a "cult."

Yes, that's right. A cult.

Well, there's a column down a ways on this page that details a visit by Republican gubernatorial candidate Carl Paladino to a Watkins Glen Tea Party party back in early October. The Tea Party loves the guy, and I explained the excitement and intensity surrounding his arrival and speech. And I headlined the column "The cult of celebrity ..."

Yes, I used the word "cult," but I implore Radenberg and any other Tea Partier to google that very term: cult of celebrity. Go ahead. You will find that it is an expression that means "the widespread interest in famous individuals" -- a phenomenon especially entrenched in America.

And boy, did Paladino's appearance fit that expression to a ... dare I say it? ... fit that to a T.

White-hot political celebrities like Paladino (and almost any famous entertainers) get a sort of worshipful star treatment. They've been receiving it on the political front, I suspect, since the heyday of Teddy Roosevelt. It has long been inculcated in the fabric of our society, and never more so, I think, than today. The fact that 450 people showed up to see Paladino in Watkins Glen illustrates that contention.

Alas, Radenberg decided I had called her beloved Tea Party a cult, and according to her email, that meant I thought its members "strange or sinister" -- prompting her to suggest instead that it is journalists who are strange and sinister.

Well, I'm strange, yes; but sinister, no.

All of that didn't really bother me, but I was bothered by a contention relayed to another person (who relayed it to me) that I would be asked to leave any Tea Party gathering I dared to attend at the Odessa Municipal Building, where the group has been hosting all sorts of political candidates of late.

I would welcome the Tea Party to try that -- considering my tax dollars go toward funding the operation of that building. I can say with some assurance that the outcome of a confrontation over who, exactly, can use that building would not please them. They are, the way I see it, my guests there.

So, please, be nice guests. Before targeting me or anyone else who -- like you -- is also disenchanted with the existing direction of government, do this: Get a grip on basic idiom -- defined as "an expression that means something other than the literal meanings of its individual words."

It's really not that difficult to understand.

I did not call you a cult. But don't push it.


And earlier:

A little of this and that ...

By Charlie Haeffner

Odessa, Oct. 21, 2010 -- I've started writing my autobiography. It seems like a good time to do it (you know, being on the old side and all), and I'm finding it's fun.

I get to figuratively revisit friends I haven't seen in years, and I get to analyze and make value judgments that I probably wasn't equipped to make in my younger days.

I'm not sure how I've reached this particular age -- it seems like I was turning 21 just yesterday -- but looking backward for this book has indeed taught me that I've been around a while, and met a lot of interesting people.

I might do this in two installments. The first can deal with my youth and younger working life -- a study, if there is a theme, of a person in love with words and with journalism.

The second would probably focus on the Schuyler years. If I publish this, I imagine it might sell reasonably well around here, for I've encountered a lot of you, and I'm guessing a significant number would make it onto my pages.

This won't be a minute-by-minute accounting, but more in the form of snapshots of the people and experiences in my life. Credit the influence of writers Kurt Vonnegut Jr. and Larry McMurtry -- the former a master at short chapters, and the latter using the same method to great effect in a trilogy of memoirs he recently produced.

I imagine I should run the galley proofs past an attorney before I publish, though. He or she might have some cautionary words that will keep me out of court, should any readers take exception to how they're depicted.

I think I will, in keeping with the books' style, call the first one Snapshots, subtitled The Rise and Fall and Rise and Fall and Rise and Fall of Me. The second one ... I don't know yet.


I received the photo at right and the following note recently from District Attorney Joe Fazzary.

"My 6-year-old son (Georgio) was a ballboy for the Detroit Pistons/ Minnesota Timberwolves game played at the Carrier Dome on Friday night (Oct. 16). Minnesota won the game. Georgio rebounded balls and cleaned the floor for the players for the second half of the game. Some very notable former SU basketball players were in attendance (Dave Bing, Bill Gabor, Jim Boeheim, Derrick Coleman, Gerry McNamara, Lawrence Moten and many others). Georgio is a first grader at the WG Elementary School. Mrs. Gregory is his teacher. It was an amazing experience."


A Rangers-Giants World Series? Looks probable. What kind of alternate universe have we slipped into?


Is it just me, or are there other folks out there who also hope that LeBron James and the Miami Heat fall far short this coming NBA season? There's something about their arrogance ...


We have two soccer teams going for IAC titles this Saturday at Ithaca High School: the Watkins Glen boys at 3 p.m. against Trumansburg (a 2-0 winner over Lansing Wednesday in a Large Schools North Division tiebreaker) and the Odessa-Montour girls at 5 p.m. against Marathon. Watkins is going for an IAC Large Schools crown, and the O-M girls for a Small Schools title.

Both have been very impressive this year, with seemingly everybody contributing to their success. Good luck to both.


And earlier:

The numbers game ...

By Charlie Haeffner

Odessa, Oct. 13, 2010 -- The demise of the varsity football season at Watkins Glen High School will probably create some waves, some community disenchantment.

The words "quit" and "forfeit" don't set well with fans used to a diet of tackling and controlled mayhem.

On the face of it, which is to say the way it's (logically) being spun, it's all about numbers and safety. I have no problem with that, other than to point out that numbers have been a potential stumbling block for the past several years. With the rise of soccer has come a diminution in the football program.

Other schools have merged sports programs with adjoining districts. That hasn't happened here, the relationship between the two closest districts -- Watkins Glen and Odessa-Montour -- being occasional chilly.

Odessa-Montour has had numerical problems in the past, too, in particular in one recent season where injuries depleted the roster to 15, one below the mandated level. So a 16th player with a broken foot (or some casted injury) suited up to give the team the necessary minimum.

It seems obviously shortsighted, especially now, to assume (or pray) that injuries in a violent sport won't bring a season crashing down like Watkins Glen's did.


Life can be dizzying, with its twists and turns, and sports can be a microcosm of that -- a bit of a soap opera, if you will, magnified by the public fascination with it.

When the Watkins Glen district changed coaching staffs this past summer -- turning from a program that had failed to win a game the year before but which, in fairness, had won five games not long before that -- hope ran fairly high. Change can do that, can bring new energy, a rebirth of confidence.

But now -- in but a short time -- that hope has been scattered to the wind. A season in disarray, victimized by numbers and injuries, has come thudding to a stop.

It was there in the air at Trumansburg, in what proved to be the season's final game, a 33-0 loss in which 13 Senecas were manning the fort under attack from Santa Anna. Well, that's how it seemed ... like the Alamo. Brave defenders, those 13 ... and brave defenders, the two in their midst who had fallen, one to a head injury, one to a knee injury.

I love the warrior aspect of football, the grit it takes -- the act of hitting and getting hit. But it comes at a price, every time.

School officials -- in any small district -- should realize that, should know that two-dozen players at the outset (and in Watkins' case, with no junior varsity from which to easily draft) might not be enough.

Case in point: the 2010 Watkins Glen football season.

May it rest in peace.


Having said that, we have the words of Mike Johnston, the Watkins Glen head coach, who said he was "chagrined, to say the least" by the decision to end the season.

But he also said it was necessary because of the depleted roster and for the safety of the remaining players.

The bottom line, he agrees, is a need for a larger roster -- preferably in excess of 30 kids. Even though in one of his football-coaching years at Notre Dame "we started with 24 players and ended with 24" -- and even though "in 29 years of coaching (football and basketball) I've never had the number of injuries we've had this year" -- the need exists "to get other kids in the Watkins Glen community to play football. Kids listen to other kids before anyone else, so we need to get kids to talk to kids to come out."

The season, he said, started so well ... and ended so badly, with four consecutive on-field losses and, now, with two forfeits..

"We had things going there in the Odessa game," he said, referring to the season opener in which the Senecas won back the prized Bucket that goes to the victor of that contest each year.

But when the district was unable to secure a second-week game after the scheduled opponent, Southern Springs, dropped its football progam, "things kind of turned. We lost our focus. Then injuries took the starch out of us."

And the rest is history -- of an abbreviated nature.


Will there be finger-pointing? I suspect there already is.

Will there be a cry from some quarters that someone should be sacrificed over this? Maybe. That is, after all, an American tradition.

Will there be accusations that this decision was hasty? Of course. That, too -- the tendency to second-guess -- is our birthright.

I imagine calls for a merged football program will be balanced by calls for the elimination of the sport altogether. And that's fine. Debate can be a fruitful thing.

In the end, though, this season will be one of head-shaking, will be remembered as one of what-ifs that led to never-weres, of hopes colliding with broken bones. Perhaps because of its heightened expectations, it will go down in lore as the antithesis of the storied season of '82, the year the Senecas went 8-0 before losing twice in the playoffs, a year when there were 10 games instead of five.

When there was abundant pride instead of rankling regret.


Birthdays and other things

By Charlie Haeffner

Odessa, Oct. 11, 2010 -- I'm not a big proponent of Facebook, although its rise is fascinating.

It proved gratifying, however, on my birthday -- 10-10-10 -- when I received dozens of messages from well-wishers through that social network. It seemed like another five or six greetings popped into my e-mail every half hour or so. At last count, there were 50 -- some from forner area students whose athletic exploits I covered when they were in high school: Courtney Warren, Michelle Thorpe, MacKenzie Myers, Sparky Gardner, Jessica Smith, Margie Amisano, Amy Centurelli, Justin Kibbe, Stephanie Letteer, Mallory Richards, DJ Locke, Nicole Long and Maggie Lucero. And there were some notes from current high school athletes, too.

To each of you, I say thank you for your kind gesture. It's always nice to be remembered, and this was appreciated.


I received a note from TJ Love updating me -- and by extension you -- on a milestone reached and a milestone approaching in the world of Watkins Glen High School boys soccer.

The one reached was a school career assist record of 44 set last week by junior Austin Stephany, breaking the record of 43 held previously by Mike Beber.

The approaching milestone is Coach Henry Ferguson's 100th victory. With last Friday's win at Notre Dame, he has 94 -- "so if all works out Henry should have it this year deep into sectionals," or early next year, says TJ.

Henry is in his ninth season coaching the Senecas. In order, starting in 2002, his teams have won 14 games, 10, 11, 5, 9, 6, 14, 14, and (thus far this year) 11.


Back to birthdays. Since Sunday was mine, it was also Kaz Estelow's. She's a teacher at WGHS, and basically just a kid, 20 years my junior. (Let's see: That means she was about three weeks old the first time I got married. That kind of puts things in perspective.) Anyway, happy birthday, Kaz.

One more thing about birthdays: They conjure up all sorts of thoughts in me -- measurements, if you will, of how far I've come and how far, maybe, I have yet to go. None of us can say for sure how much time we have on this orb, of course, but as I said to a friend: Maybe, just maybe, my time isn't winding down yet. Maybe I'm just starting.

I'm not sure if that's an optimistic or pessimistic viewpoint -- but as long as I can create, can write and photograph and enjoy doing both, I will consider it a positive outlook.


The high school sports season is nearing a conclusion, and it's been fascinating so far -- largely because of unexpected fresh faces who have excelled to impressive degrees. At Odessa-Montour, Jocelyn Garrison, a senior transfer from Corning West, has set a school single-season scoring record and thus garnered most of the publicity on a talented squad (Michelle Melanson, Katie Ray, Allison Stamp etc.) that has won a division title.

And at Watkins Glen, the most surprising story has been the sudden rise of 8th grader Taylor Kennard as a consistent winner for the varsity cross country team. She too has, as a result, received a good deal of publicity, although the stunning success of the team (it went 12-0 in the regular season) has involved virtually every member of the squad, which is, I think, 10 girls strong. Leading them are co-captains and seniors Amber Swartz and Shannon Hazlitt.

So ... kudos to Garrison and Kennard and to their teammates. They've all done well, and certainly enlivened the coverage presented here.

And kudos to a couple of other unexpected successes at WGHS: Chilean exchange student Maria Chavez in volleyball, and freshman Samantha Gill, who has provided strong support for returning standouts Haleigh Wixson, Haley Tuttle and Victoria Wixson on the swim team. Both Chavez and Gill have set high standards and contributed significantly to the success of their squads.


And earlier:

Carl Paladino addresses the crowd at the Watkins Glen Community Center.

The cult of celebrity ...

By Charlie Haeffner

Watkins Glen, Oct. 4, 2010 -- I thought at first that I had wandered into a prayer meeting, for there was a bunch of praying going on, and religious fervor seemed thick in the air of the Community Center.

I picked up a couple of giveaways on a table in the corner: a pocket Bible -- the New Testament -- and a pocket book with the Declaration of Independence and Constitution within its covers, and I listened, mesmerized, as the crowd sang three of the four stanzas of The Star Spangled Banner.

Yes, it has four rather poetic stanzas, and the piped-in performance was professional and energetic, and the crowd -- with song sheets in hand -- sang along. Missing was the third stanza, the anthem's weakest link and rarely sung.

There were guest speakers, too, all of them ripping on the established government leaders, and all doing so in a very loud way, the sound system being incredibly forceful and ... well ... a bit deafening.

This was a Tea Party party down in Watkins Glen, a gathering called Patriot Rally in the Glen that was organized by the Odessa Tea Party. It attracted an estimated 450 people -- and I have to think almost all of them were there for one primary, overriding reason: they wanted to see Carl Paladino, Republican candidate for governor of New York.

The whole gathering, in fact, seemed pointed toward Paladino's arrival -- which was understood by one media member to be set for 1 p.m., although the printed program didn't have him speaking until 3:40. When I arrived shortly after noon to try and sort out his schedule, I was told he'd likely be getting there at 2:30. In fact, he arrived at about 3:20 or so.

The media was out front waiting for Paladino as his vehicle approached, but his driver took him around to the Community Center's back entrance, and he hunkered down in a darkened rear room with his entourage -- and picked up a disciple while he was waiting: a 5-year-old Watkins Glen girl named Macy Fitzgerald who was present with her father and wandered back to see the candidate's dog -- a creature wearing a "Pets for Paladino" doggy jacket.

It's a great visual, that dog. Dog lovers of the world can unite behind Carl. And he recognized the value of the little girl, too. He had her sit next to him in the front row of folding chairs after he entered the main room and awaited his turn at the podium. Once he reached the podium, he mentioned that he was a father and a grandfather, then marched down to the little girl's seat and hoisted her up and carried her to the podium. I figured -- and I imagine others figured -- that this was his granddaughter. But no.

"She's not mine," he said, and then added: "She's ours."

Meaning, I suppose, that she is a symbol of what is right and pure in the young and what can be right and pure in politics. We can and must look after the young among us, who are our future, by getting rid of the scalawags in office. Or so I interpreted.

The place was rocking, I must say -- a product of some pretty energetic and skilled speakers preceding Paladino, but mostly the product of the crowd's reaction to its hero, its maverick candidate, being there with and among them. The Tea Party loves this guy. He shoots from the lip -- not always accurately, and sometimes to his own detriment -- but his aim is at the "establishment," and that's the Tea Party target, too.

Other politicians were on hand, some of them with tables where they distributed campaign literature. Schuyler County Legislature candidate Angeline Franzese -- who is running on the Conservative line after losing in the GOP primary -- had a table, as did Assembly candidate Christopher Friend, along with several others.

County Legislator Phil Barnes was present for the day's event, as was State Senate candidate Tom O'Mara and Congressional candidate Tom Reed. They and others were on the dais when Paladino rose to speak, and received hugs from him that seemed a little forced, a little awkward.

Paladino didn't disappoint the crowd, calling his opponent, Democrat Andrew Cuomo, a "criminal" and other unflattering things -- which is not unusual, considering Paladino has also in recent days called former Governor George Pataki (a Republican) a "degenerate idiot" while his campaign chairman has called former Governor Eliot Spitzer (a Democrat) a "whoremonger."

This is not the politics of the genteel. This is nasty, bruising stuff.

And who knows? It just might work. Paladino is coming across as a normal guy who is angry. That is actually his pitch, and a lot of folks are buying it.

Mix that with the stunning aggressiveness of his words, and it makes Andrew Cuomo -- who is not firing back with the same caliber of verbal weaponry, or at least is not getting the same kind of play in the media -- seem timid ... or seem as if he's hiding something.

That's the perception, anyway ... and perception can be everything.


I went over to watch the runners coming across the pedestrian bridge near the finish line of the Wineglass Marathon in Corning on Sunday, Oct. 3 -- my first-ever visit to the Marathon. I was there because two of my sons, Jon and Dave, were running in it relay-fashion along with Dave's girlfriend Ali Piacente. Dave and Ali -- both marathoners -- had traveled up from Washington for the event and had talked Jon (a non-marathoner) into joining them.

The enthusiasm of the spectators was contagious, and the clearcut satisfaction on the faces of the runners as they completed their task was inspiring -- though not so inspiring that I'm about to try what they did.

Jon was beaming, in fact, as he ran across the bridge with his brother alongside. He was sore later, but still carrying an aura of achievement. My hats off to him and to everyone who completed the challenge.

Photos in text:

From top: Carl Paladino; a Paladino supporter; and outside the Community Center, Assembly candidate Christopher Friend (left) with Paul Marcellus, who lost the Republican primary to Friend.


And earlier:

On the passing of Aunt Ruth

By Charlie Haeffner

Odessa, Sept. 24, 2010 -- Some weeks would best be passed by ... never experienced. Such was the week just ended

First, there was a physical affliction that can't be discussed in mixed company. Let's just say it put me on my back for a couple of days.

Then there was some nettle-like plant that assaulted me as I cleaned out some brush from my yard. It's amazing how something so small can be such a large pain.

And then I lost an aunt: Ruth Haeffner. She passed away after a long life (nine decades). She was my Dad's sister, and as such always in my life in some fashion, though usually at a substantial distance. In fact, I hadn't seen Ruth in years. She was a private person with all sorts of personal demons. She had been institutionalized for a while years ago, when I was still a child, and she had been a ward of the state ever since.

Yet ... all through the day leading up to the phone call announcing her death, I'd been anxious and distracted. I thought it was indigestion caused by village dissolutionists, but now I wonder.

Ruth was, among our extended family, probably the one person I knew least. Life has scattered the rest of us around the world, but I've never felt disconnected from them. By contrast, I never felt connected to Ruth -- although, now that she has reached the day of departure, I'm not so sure..

Maybe the anxiety I felt on her final day -- which dissipated with news of her passing -- was in fact part of a connecting cord ... an unseen familial strand binding us together.


And now, with her passing, I can't help but feel a part of me has passed too.

I know I lost part of myself the day my Dad died, back on Nov. 1, 1994. And I lost a sizable chunk of myself exactly 10 years later, on Nov. 1, 2004, when my wife Susan died.

I felt a sense of loss -- a diminishment -- when another aunt, Betty, died a few years ago, and the same when her sole brother passed.

I have felt it upon the death of friends -- a girl I once dated in college named Mary Lou Norton, taken by a stroke in childbirth when she was in her late 20s; and another girl I dated, Annette Slavsky, taken by a heart attack at an even younger age than Mary Lou.

I have felt it in the passing of a mentor named Bunker Clark -- like me an annual visitor to an island in northern Michigan. He was a University of Kansas musicology professor, a musician, and a friend. He edited my first novel -- set on the Island -- and wrote some books of his own. Bunker was taken by a brain tumor at 72.

I miss him still.


As I grow older, I find the connections to friends and family growing sweeter, and the loss of those people becoming more difficult -- even when it is an aunt from whom I felt disconnected

I find, as I age, that life is, in the living, enhanced; and that the losses impart a heightened sense of ... not so much pain as regret. Of sadness, and of impending shadows.

Yes, in the shadows are illuminants: the lights of bright memories, of what was.

But in the face of death, those memories are mere gossamer, whispers of what can never be again.


And earlier:

About this dissolution vote...

By Charlie Haeffner

Odessa, Sept. 14 -- Recent events, and those ahead in fairly short order, bring to mind the following limerick:

There once was a man quite aghast
That his foot speed was slower than fast.
He longed to be fleet,
But betrayed by his feet,
He shot one, and now wears a cast.

Welcome to the wonderful world of dissolution, village style. It is a place where, frustrated by our lot in life, we are trying to figuratively shoot ourselves in the foot. Or so it appears.

Here's what it all looks like:

A small group of Odessa residents wants to do away with that which has served us well for more than a century. And they seemingly want to do it without any answers as to what, exactly, the effects of such a move -- the elimination of this village's government -- would have on our pocketbooks (or, for that matter, on our sense of identity). They want to shoot first, and figure it out later.

That's what it looks like. But nothing about this is really that clear. Yes, there is a dissolution vote coming. But how we got to this point is a bit murky.


I received a couple of missives recently about dissolution, intended for the Forum page. I decided not to run them there. One of them was written anonymously, which is something I discourage, especially in what should be an open and, I think, instructive debate. That letter writer, interestingly, raised one point that needs addressing. He (or she) signed the petition that is forcing a referendum on dissolution, but will be voting against the measure -- largely because his (or her) signature was in response to the petitioner's claim that the end result would be a study of the feasibility of dissolution, not a vote on dissolution itself.

I've heard similar reports from a couple of other sources regarding what the petitioners were telling people, but I can't get too riled over it, if it's true. After all, the petitioners, calling themselves the Committee to Dissolve the Village of Odessa, prepared a petition late in 2009 or early in 2010 that called for dissolution -- although the committee members said at that time that the committee name was really a misnomer, and that what they were seeking was a study of the effects of dissolution.

So ... there was confusion from the get-go, and yet an evident intent by petitioners to pursue a study. Perhaps they were still operating with that mindset these months later. But in the interim, the state had changed the rules so that a study that was de rigueur is now passe. A Petition To Dissolve now literally means that, and mandates a vote on eliminating the government.

And so here we are.


The other letter was from one of the petitioners. I chose not to run it because rather than provide information as to how dissolution would save any money -- or indeed how it would positively impact our lives in any fashion -- the writer chose an aggressive mode that included disparaging remarks and some figures regarding village officials' pay that I found ... well, impossible to swallow. It all seemed like misdirection. (And now that I think about it, the aggressiveness seemed to signal that the writer indeed wants dissolution -- as opposed to just a study. Which makes this thing a little murkier. What exactly did the petitioners want?)

Anyway, on the offchance that the same arguments in the letter are being circulated verbally, I want to address that pay issue here -- in particular a contention that the mayor, in a given year, makes $166 an hour for attending 12 monthly Village Board meetings of one hour's duration each. That's taking his $2,000 salary and dividing by 12.

Well, for starters, the meetings aren't an hour long. They've been known to go three-and-a-half hours or thereabouts. So you can start by reducing that hourly pay rate accordingly.

Then figure in all the phone calls and study and discussions with various village personnel and county and state officials, and the concept that, really, being a mayor is a 24/7 deal peppered with all sorts of interruptions and worries and brainstorming and criticism, and mix in the fact that this mayor has been known to pitch in on winter plowing and autumn tree removal, and you really, really don't have a $166-per-hour official. By my reckoning, discounting the eight hours he should be sleeping, and the time he's unavailable to us while out working a regular, paying job, we should be crediting him with eight hours a day (of sweat and worry and actual hands-on time) for, say, 50 five-day weeks. That's 40 hours a week times 50, or 2000 hours.

Divide that by his $2,000 salary, and by my reckoning he makes about $1 an hour.


Yes, I am opposed to dissolution -- at least without facts. I think it's shortsighted to force an issue like this. The process thus far -- the murkiness of its origins aside -- has seemed emotionally based, a bit fevered, and more than a little personal.

Show me, petitioners, that you have a grasp of the effect of what you are attempting, and I'll start listening. But I'm not hearing any pertinent facts.

My concerns about dissolution are many: a loss of services, an increase in the cost of operating a fire department, a hike in the cost of running the water system, a reluctance on the part of the two towns affected to have to take us under their wings, and the effect on community spirit and identity -- those last two being intangibles whose importance I can't overstate. There are many variables, too, some visible and some not, that I feel are just begging to create problems should we actually pull the trigger and dissolve our government.

This is complicated stuff, far too tricky to just blindly surge forward.

Lemmings might do that. We shouldn't.

Accordingly, there is a committee that is beginning a study of the potential effects. It will be meeting in closed sessions over the coming months to try and get a handle on what, exactly, dissolution would mean to the average taxpayer -- and, I hope, what it would mean to the spirit of the community. The committee has among its members a county official, two village officials and two town officials.

Whether it has enough time to paint an accurate picture remains to be seen. The dissolution vote -- whether the intended effect of the petitioners or not -- will be taking place before year's end.


There is a movie that aired recently on the Hallmark Channel called Fairfield Road, where the female protagonist -- a bookshop owner on Cape Cod -- tells her soon-to-be romantic interest that her town has "always been a place where people don't mind working hard" in tandem with one another to create "a sense of community. I think we're close to losing that."

And in a later scene, the male protagonist says to a developer planning to disrupt the town's way of life: "What is your problem? Why are you trying to make this place a whole other place? People like it the way it is."

Barring any surprising, significant money-saving revelations from the study committee that might alter my perception (a possibility, but one I doubt), I hope that when the dissolution vote comes, Odessans demonstrate -- in substantial numbers at the ballot box -- that they like our place the way it is.


And speaking of government:

The guest at the Sept. 9th Watkins-Montour Rotary Club luncheon was Dennis McCabe, a New York State Assistant Attorney General out of Binghamton. He spoke about a website that offers state residents a chance to track such things as the status of bills and where various politicians stand on those bills. It also shines light on lobbyists, campaign finance activities, and how charities raise and spend contributions,

You can find it all at


And earlier:

In the aftermath of tragedy

By Charlie Haeffner

Odessa, Sept. 7, 2010 -- I heard about it first at The Bucket Game -- the annual football battle between intracounty rivals Watkins Glen and Odessa-Montour that I was photographing. A friend in the crowd told me about it during a break in the game.

"Don Roberts is missing on the lake after a boating accident," he said.

I swore, a bit stunned, and -- as action resumed on the Watkins football field -- I ignored a couple of plays, digesting the news, absorbing the shock.

Don Roberts ... damn.


As part of my job, I made phone calls later, tracked the facts, wrote the story of Don's disappearance ... and the next day followed that with the story confirming his death. His body had been found by sonar in water more than 100 feet below the surface of Seneca Lake.


I don't know how to address something so intrinsically awful as the passing of a man in midlife who was of importance in various ways ... to community and family.

I don't know how to address the feeling that rises within me -- I think perhaps within most of us -- when mortality rears its head so suddenly and violently as it did out there on the lake.

I don't know how to deal -- amid all the feelings of vulnerability that come to mind and to heart in the face of death taking one of us -- with the blanket of sadness that settles upon me when that person is a man I both liked and admired.

I just don't know ...


I met Don Roberts through my website work, when he decided to run for the Odessa-Montour School Board. I published an ad for him telling people of his platform, his background, his interests.

We seemed to share a common ground politically and philosophically -- and talked on occasion by phone or in his office at the Glen Harbor Marina, the business he owned and operated.

He was an inquisitive man -- wanted to know, for instance, upon his election to the School Board, about the workings of the O-M School District as I saw it. He wanted to know about the people he would be dealing with.

I told him my views, and he absorbed them -- filtering, I think, what I said to fit the parameters of an inherent fairness he possessed.

I'm told by other people who knew him that they too saw him as a nice, smart, honest guy. That says a lot, really.

One of those acquaintances -- a summertime lake resident -- reported seeing Don that last day, passing by in his boat on the way to his rendezvous with fate. She says now she wishes there was a way she could rewind to that moment, to somehow flag him down and tell him not to go up there, north on Seneca to the Yates County vicinity.

But she can't. We can't go back. We can't change what has happened.

We can wish for might-have-beens. But facts are facts. Life is hard, and fickle, and finite.


Calling hours are set for Saturday, Sept. 11 at the Royce-Chedzoy Funeral Home on Fourth Street in Watkins Glen. They run from 2 to 6 p.m., and I imagine the family -- wife Christine and young son Donnie, along with Don's parents, sister and brother -- will need all of that time to handle the crowd. Don knew a lot of people through his business and his outside interests -- snowmobiling, martial arts, competitive shooting, flying, and dog training.

A service will be held at the funeral home at 2 p.m. Sunday, with burial the next day in Brackney, Pennsylvania.

And then ... then we will move on, as we always do; move on despite the horror and the sadness.

And we will remember the man.


And earlier:

The passing of Dominic ...

By Charlie Haeffner

Odessa, Sept. 1, 2010 -- Dominic Pepp is being laid to rest.

Aside from me, nobody around here knows who Dom was. But he was something special.

I was blessed with his acquaintance back when he and I were much younger, more than 30 years ago. I was going through my 20s and reaching 30, while he was going through his 50s and passing 60.

We were both reporters at the Watertown Daily Times, a newspaper of long standing in Northern New York. He had in fact been there a good many years before I arrived. He and his brother John both worked there for decades -- John as the Obituary Writer (yes, with all the attendant jokes about it being a dead-end job), and Dom covering .... well, I think he covered just about anything.

I don't remember him being associated with any one single beat -- a beat being the specific area of expertise for a given reporter. For instance, I was for a time a cops-and-court reporter. Another reporter was in charge of covering education. Another covered city hall, another the county government, and so on.

Dom was in charge of a couple of specialized in-house projects -- covering TV-related stories and overseeing the paper's annual business edition -- but in general he was, in my memory, an aptly titled General Assignment Reporter. Outside of the office, he was civic-minded, serving on the Watertown Housing Authority, as chairman of the Jefferson Community College Scholarship Corporation, and as a director of the Italian American Civic Association.

What I remember most about Dom -- and I mean vividly -- is the ready smile that would blossom on his craggy face. He was a rough-looking guy -- still tough, like a fighter, at 60, and in fact with the nose of a fighter, seemingly broken along the way, judging from its ragged angles. He had dark hair, slicked back and receding, and he leaned forward when he walked, his 5-10 frame (I might be granting him an inch or so) seemingly in a hurry to get where it was going.

Dom was a Northern New Yorker, born and bred -- a graduate of Watertown High School, and a Daily Times employee who worked his way up from newspaper deliveries. Once he became a reporter, he stayed in the role for 45 years. His marriage to the former Nettie Doldo was also durable, lasting 66 years, ending with Nettie's death seven years ago.

Dom and I never hung out together socially, but I sat near him in the newsroom for a while, and for a period of time enjoyed morning get-togethers with him and one of the City Councilmen at a local diner in a little mall downtown. Dom would always drink coffee, while I tended toward Diet Pepsi (a lifelong addiction). Those meetings kind of kick-started our days, giving us caffeine and, once in a while, a story lead from the Councilman (a man named Karl Burns -- who, parenthetically, became mayor and later presented Dom with the city's first Citizen Award.).

Dom's voice was sort of raspy -- but craggy appearance and raspy voice to the contrary, the man was gentle, and he was full of joy. You just felt it when you got near him. He was, consequently, a steadying influence for a young developing reporter full of doubts -- which is what I was.

Dominic Pepp died late last week in Florida, his retirement world. He was 94. A celebration of his life was scheduled this week in Watertown, where his body was to be entombed in a mausoleum. I had hoped to attend the service, but between late nights on my job and the early-morning nature of the Watertown ceremony, I found attendance too daunting -- and thus have to be content with this remembrance.

So ... rest well, kind Dominic. You are remembered, and -- in my small, humble way -- you are revered.

Photo in text: Dominic Pepp (Photo provided)


The annual Bucket Game is coming up -- at 7 p.m. Saturday at Watkins Glen High School's athletic field, pitting the homestanding Senecas against intracounty rival Odessa-Montour in the season-opening football game for both schools. It promises to be interesting, as always -- but more so than usual with a new coaching staff in place at Watkins, and attendant hopes high.

Again, that's Saturday -- not Friday as a Section IV website and a recent TV report have said.


I have plenty I could say concerning the upcoming vote on dissolving the Odessa village government, but I'll refrain for now. Suffice it to say I'm opposed to the idea.


And recently:

Bombs, boxes and baseball

By Charlie Haeffner

Odessa, Aug. 23, 2010 -- I've been taking it a little easy lately, trying not to overdo the coverage on any one story, and basically not seeking any extra news to report on.

With high school sports season fast approaching, such a luxury won't be easily maintained for the next ten months or so.

Actually, the life of laze could easily be habit-forming. It calls to mind childhood -- those halcyon days when a summer meant doing only what I wanted; sometimes nothing at all, and sometimes swimming or playing baseball and golf. It also meant watching the neighbor girls swimming in our lake -- a small crater-shaped body of water called Sodon Lake in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan.

It calls to mind, too, the cherry bombs and M-80s my friends and I used to place in tennis balls. We'd slit a ball open, squeeze it so the opening widened, place the bomb inside and let the opening close. The fuse would be sticking out, ready for lighting -- and once lit, would burn down as I or a friend threw the ball skyward over Sodon Lake. That rubberized orb would arc out over the water, and halfway down would explode, sending fragments flying.

The tennis balls we used were mostly rejects of my father's. He was a fine tennis player, and only used a can of three balls for a limited time before passing it on to his sons.

Dad (Augustus Charles Haeffner Jr., known as Gus, pictured at right in his later years) was also a salesman -- a shoe salesman who traveled the state of Michigan, peddling women's shoes with names like Red Cross and Cobbies to stores all over the lower Peninsula.

Accordingly, my mother ended up with a lot of shoes, and we had a lot of empty shoe boxes. I stored all sorts of things in those boxes: little plastic figures like soldiers and cowboys and Indians, some marbles (although I preferred drawstring bags for those), and baseball cards.

I was a nut about baseball -- in particular about the Detroit Tigers, who played 20 miles to the south of my home. I remember buying baseball cards in nickel packs in the mid and late 1950s, and I recall receiving a full box of unopened wax packs in 1959 -- on my 11th birthday, as a gift from my parents. I ripped open the packs, looking for Tigers and expressing disdain for any New York Yankee players I encountered.

The most despised of those players was Mickey Mantle, so I never had a desire to keep his cards -- which was shortsighted, considering that Mantle cards are now worth more than anyone else's from that era.

I had shoe boxes full of baseball cards, but left them home when I departed for college. I never saw them again. My mother, as though following a script for mothers nationwide, either threw them out or donated them to a church rummage sale. In any event, they were gone.


Anyway, I'm working in a roundabout way to the mention of two gentlemen of importance to me as I grew up.

One was Joe Falls (right), a sportswriter at the Detroit Free Press and later the Detroit News who covered the Tigers for years. He was also a great columnist with an easy writing style I studied for years. My hero-worship of Falls eventually led me into sports journalism as Sports Editor of the Elmira Star-Gazette.

I met Falls once -- at the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown in the mid-1990s. I was wandering through one of the display rooms there on a slow day. There was only one other person in the room, and when I glanced his way I realized it was Falls.

I don't normally ask for autographs, but this time I did. I approached him and asked if he was Falls, and when he said he was, I told him how he had influenced me.

"That's very nice," he said pleasantly, and when I asked if he could sign a sheet of paper I had in my shirt pocket, he shook his head.

"I can do better," he said, and reached down to a briefcase beside him on the floor. He opened the case and pulled out a baseball, then produced a pen and signed it.

I have that ball still. It's in my office, an item of honor left behind by a hero. Joe Falls passed away a few years after our encounter. Death took him in 2004 at the age of 76.


The other man was Ernie Harwell (right), who died this past May at the age of 91. He was another Detroit fixture -- a radio and TV announcer of Tiger games for decades. I remember when he joined the broadcast team in 1960; he replaced -- I thought of it then as displaced -- a large fellow named Van Patrick who had a wonderful voice and a home-run call ("It's going, it's going, it's gone") that still resonates with me. Patrick had teamed on-air with baseball Hall of Famer George Kell. I don't know why Patrick left, but Kell was an old acquaintance of Harwell's, and got him to move to Detroit.

I finally warmed to Harwell in 1963. That was the first year that major league third baseman Bubba Phillips played for the Tigers -- coming to the squad from the Cleveland Indians through a trade. Bubba was an acquaintance of my family, and as such provided me and my friends with free tickets to Tigers games. A couple of those friends and I were at Tiger Stadium early one day in 1963-- well before the start of an afternoon game -- hoping to chase down a ball or two hit into the stands during batting practice.

While wandering about on the third base side of the lower deck, we heard a voice call out from somewhere above.

"Hello, boys!" the voice said, and we looked around for the origin of the sound, which had come from up to our right. That's when we spotted Ernie Harwell, leaning out of the press box fronting the stadium's second tier on the first base side. Harwell waved and yelled again.

"Hello, boys!" he repeated, and we giggled and waved back. It was but a moment, but it has lasted in my memory all these years. It struck me then, and still does, as a symbol of the kindness in the man. And I was forevermore a fan.

So when Ernie died this past May 4th -- on what would have been the 100th birthday of my father (who had died at 84) -- I found myself shaking my head. The juxtaposition of a meaningful centennial observance and the passing of a meaningful childhood icon was all too evident.

Therefore, as I sat reading Ernie's obituary, I couldn't help thinking about my father and his tennis abilities and his shoe boxes, and I smiled at the memories.

And I thought about Ernie Harwell leaning out of that press box, waving and calling to me and my friends.

And I found myself answering him these many years later.

"Goodbye, Ernie," I said softly.

Then, silently, I added this wish:

"Godspeed. And please, say hello to my father."

Let's all recall the scribe ...

By Charlie Haeffner

Odessa, Aug. 10, 2010 -- I was on the phone the other day, talking to a friend and at the same time perusing local websites on my computer, when an obituary from an area funeral home showed up in my e-mail.

I mentioned it to my friend -- announced the name of the deceased and the circumstance of the death -- and that in turn triggered a thought.

"I'm always running obits on The File," I said. "But who will run mine when I die?"

"Oh, I'm sure you'll be covered," the friend said.

Which triggered another thought: Who would write my obituary? In my experience, it's generally the surviving family members who write it, or who provide the needed information to the funeral home handling the arrangements.

That's all well and good ... but I think I'd rather have the last word.

And so, herewith, is my obituary:

ODESSA, Oct. 10, 2056 -- Charlie Haeffner, aka A.C. Haeffner, aka Augustus Charles Haeffner, aka Augie and Chas and Char-Char Haeffner, died yesterday just a day short of his 108th birthday.

"If I don't make it to 108," he had said in the weeks before his demise, "I will not be happy."

That particular age had long been his goal -- for no other reason than arbitrariness. "Life is arbitrary," he once explained. "One hundred eight is arbitrary. Therefore, life is 108."

Having fallen short of his goal, Charlie will be serenaded by song and tribute at a service on Oct. 12 (the date of his parents' anniversary, which also used to be the celebratory date of Columbus's discovery of America) at the base of Shequagah Falls in Montour Falls -- a site that he never quite learned to spell correctly (it being a name of native American origin and thus of various spellings, Anglicized and otherwise).

"It doesn't matter," he once said of his preferred spelling. "Phonetics are what count."

He also said attendance at his funeral would likely be quite low -- since he outlived almost all of his contemporaries and was generally forgotten by those who followed. He had worked well into his 90s, churning out the news on his beloved website, The Odessa File, but the pace of the world directed the attention of his readers elsewhere, quickly, after his retirement.

His declining years were spent sitting in a rocking chair on a porch overlooking Michigan's Straits of Mackinac in summers, and sitting in a rocking chair in his Odessa living room, cursing the New York snow in winters.

He eschewed Florida, which his brother -- who had lived there -- once called God's Waiting Room. "A horrible place," Charlie would say if asked. "Hot ... as ... hell. And too damn many blind and deaf drivers."

Charlie is survived by his sons, Bill, Jon and Dave, themselves fairly ancient; by his annoying dog Duke, long ensconced in the Guinness Book for longevity by a Cocker; and by longtime friends Chep and Lizzie, who always defended Charlie's honor despite significant evidence that should have dissuaded them from the task.

"I thank them all for their loyalty," Charlie said recently. "Except for Duke. He's been leaving message messes on my floors now for more than half a century. I thought for sure I'd outlive that guy."

In lieu of flowers, anyone around who remembers Charlie can leave a donation in his memory with the Humane Society of Schuyler County (for Duke's upkeep) or to the Sons of the Sons of Columbus.

Or, for that matter, they can leave a donation at a PayPal account Charlie kept active from his Odessa File days -- just in case this obituary, like so much of journalism, has been printed injudiciously early, without much basis in fact.


Okay, that's that. I'm covered, I guess. And if you want to make that donation a few years early, feel free. The link is at the top left of this page.


Olivia Coffey, 21, of Watkins Glen -- a key player years ago when the Watkins Glen High School girls varsity basketball team made it to a Section IV final (before she left the district to attend the Phillips Academy prep school in her sophomore year) -- comes from a rowing family. Her parents, Calvin and Maggie, each were champion rowers in their younger days -- with Calvin earning a silver medal in pairs at the 1976 Olympics. Olivia has trained in the sport for several years.

With that as background, Olivia (pictured at right) -- a senior at Harvard University -- was a member of the United States Under-23 Women's Eight National Rowing Team that won a gold medal at the July 22-25 World Rowing Under-23 Championships in Brest, Belarus. The team built a 1.5-second lead by the halfway point of the 2,000-meter final, and then pulled away for a 4.5-second victory over New Zealand. Canada won the bronze medal, with Germany fourth, France fifth and Belarus sixth.

This was Coffey's second year on the team. It won the silver medal in the 2009 World Championships.

Coffey -- 6'2" and 170 pounds -- says that after graduation, she plans on pursuing some serious rowing training, with an eye on the 2012 Olympics. And after that, she recently told an interviewer, she might pursue rowing "as a career path. I'm not sure."

Photo in text: Olivia Coffey (Photo provided)


And earlier:

An emotional day in Madison

By Charlie Haeffner

Odessa, Aug. 3, 2010 -- After a 12-hour drive home from vacation on Friday and some hard-to-come-by sleep (I felt like I was still moving, cruising along the interstate), it was back to work Saturday.

There was the Italian-American Festival parade to cover, and a visit to the Hector Fair, and a Southern Tier Warriors football game at Odessa-Montour school.

And there was a phone call from Madison, Wisconsin, that got my complete attention.


The caller was in charge of public relations for the U.S. Transplant Games, a sort of Olympics for athletes who have received organ transplants of all kinds. He had a story to tell about "a woman in your area who today met the little boy who received her son's heart."

I suspected right away who he was talking about, and when he said the woman's name -- Holly Campbell -- I told him: "Oh, I know Holly."

"You do?" he said, surprised -- although if he knew our area, he wouldn't have been at all shocked. There just aren't that many folks around here, and certainly not many who have had to live the story that Holly and her husband Andy have.

They lost their infant son Jake three years ago (see story on People), and decided to donate his eyes and heart. The latter ended up saving a young boy named Beckham Scadlock -- who the Campbells met this past weekend out at the Games in Madison.

It is a story that I have to believe resonates with everyone -- for the loss of a child has to be among our greatest fears. Parents (as a friend pointed out after reading the article about that Campbell-Scadlock meeting) should not have to outlive their children.


The day after I ran the article provided by the PR man -- altered to update it with Saturday's events -- I contacted Andy Campbell on his cell phone, and we chatted about his and Holly's Madison experience.

"It was an up and down day emotionally," Andy said of Saturday's meeting with young Beckham and of the evening's opening ceremonies -- where Holly sang "For Good" in front of 5,000 people.

The meeting "was quite an event," he said. "I don't even have the words for it. It was amazing. Something we've been waiting quite a while for. To see the little guy able to be around and do as well as he is ... he has his ups and downs physically, but right now he's doing well."

Sunday was, in fact, Beckham's third birthday, and Andy and Holly -- along with sons Alex and Ben -- were planning to help the Scadlocks celebrate.

Beyond that, they were going to meet more people who, like them, have been affected by organ donations. And they would be contributing a quilt square prepared by Holly for a huge quilt created by transplant-affected families from around the nation.

A picture of the quilt square is on Holly's Facebook page.

"'Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star,'" said Andy, quoting the words on the square, "'Do you know how loved you are?' And Holly wrote 'Became a Hero August 16, 2007' on it. That's how we think of him. That's Jake."


I received an e-mail from a local woman telling me that the Ayers twins -- Rebecca and Whitney, who both graduated in June from Odessa-Montour High School -- were among the crowd on The Today Show recently. And they got Al Roker's attention.

The twins, the e-mailer said, were "wearing matching Corning shirts" (they're going to Corning Community College soon with an eye on nursing careers). "Al Roker asked them where they were from, and 'Upstate New York' was their answer. He then asked them if they ever got confused as to who was who. They laughed and both said (at the same time) 'No.'"


The Odessa-Montour and Watkins Glen football teams open the season on Sept. 4 against each other at Watkins Glen in the annual Bucket Game at 7 p.m. According to the schedule, Watkins Glen will be at O-M a week before -- in a scrimmage at 6 p.m. But O-M Athletic Manager Greg Gavich puts that seeming pre-season confrontation into its proper perspective: "WG and O-M will be among five teams at O-M that day," he says. "Harpursville, Whitney Point and Notre Dame are the other three. The plan is that WG and O-M will not face each other during the scrimmage."


And earlier:

A walk along the shoreline ...

By Charlie Haeffner

Bois Blanc Island, Michigan, July 28, 2010 -- The days of vacation are dwindling down now, and my mind is turning toward departure to the mainland and the long drive home.

It's been peaceful here -- a much needed rest from the daily grind that I left behind, and which awaits me on my return. But maybe I'll get away again for a few days in August -- after the NASCAR week has come and gone, and before high school sports begin their fall schedules.

I spent last evening walking -- along the shoreline, from my rental cottage to the heart of The Pines, the lone municipality on the Island. As I passed the old township dock, I encountered a familiar Island face -- that of Char Plaunt McLaren, who I first met about a million years ago, when we were both kids here. Her father ran the ferry boat back then; her brother does now.

We chatted about yesteryear, and about the Island today, and then I went on my way, wandering the shoreline, cutting back through the woods (stopping briefly at some property I own) and then out to the main road and back east, toward the rental.

I spotted a deer along the way, foraging in a yard to my left, and he paused every few moments to check me out, but didn't run as I drew nearer. Before I reached him, a westbound SUV came to a stop in the roadway, maybe 20 yards from the deer, and nobody moved -- human or deer -- until the SUV passenger suddenly screamed, "I'm gonna shoot you, Bambi!"

The startled deer moved quickly, back another 15 yards or so, and then gave the man a look that I could only imagine was disapproving. The passenger and his driver laughed loudly and spun their wheels, accelerating away.

I shook my head, puzzled at the moronic behavior of some humans.

Still shaking my head, I regained my former pace, moving eastward, keeping an eye on the deer as he watched me. And having studied me, and judged me fairly harmless, he returned to his foraging as I passed by.


I received word from Mark Stephany of Watkins Glen today about an honor earned by his son, Austin, a junior at Watkins Glen High School and a member this past year of the Top Drawer 24 team of scholar-athletes sponsored by this website.

Mark can relate his news better than I. So here's his note:

Hi, Charlie.

We were just notified last night that Austin has been selected for the US Soccer Academy Development Team for Empire. As you know, he was playing for the Rochester Junior Rhinos, who 3 years ago merged with the Buffalo Football Club and Syracuse Football Club to form Empire Academy. Since then he has been playing with the Empire Academy-Rochester team. They've won State Cup and gone to the Region 1 championships for 3 straight years.

At U16, players have the option (which Austin took) of trying out for the US Soccer Academy Development team, which this year involved competing against 60 premier club players from Rochester, Buffalo, Niagara Falls and Syracuse (and points South). After 4 days of tryouts, they posted a final callback list of 30 players Saturday night. Following a final callback tryout at Rochester's Fauver Stadium on Sunday, they posted the roster of 20 players on Tuesday, and Austin was on it. They will now compete all year against such other US Development Academy Teams as the New York RedBulls, Columbus Crew Juniors, Baltimore Casa Mia Bays, Albertson Academy, etc.

The team flies or buses to games and stays together, without us going along. Austin is down at Wake Forest University Academy Showcase Camp this week, but I called him last night and he was really excited. I've attached the photo from his player profile. It would be nice if he could get some recognition for the achievement.

-- Mark

To which I add: congratulations, Austin.

And just for good measure, I'll list some of his other soccer accomplishments:

--2009 Co-MVP Interscholastic Athletic Conference Boys Varsity Soccer - Large Div. South
--1st Team All-IAC Varsity Soccer - Freshman & Sophomore
--22 Goals & 33 Assists - 2 Yrs. of WGHS Varsity
--2009 All Corning-Leader Team
--2-time Odessa File Athlete of the Week
--NYS Scholar Athlete - Varsity Soccer
--Wake Forest - 2010 Soccer Academy Showcase Camp
--Region 1 ODP Identification Camp 2007 & 2008


And earlier:

Deer forage for food in the backyard of the Bois Blanc rental cottage.

A visit from native Islanders...

By Charlie Haeffner

Bois Blanc Island, Michigan, July 21, 2010 -- A trio dropped by to visit at my rental cottage Tuesday: a couple of grown deer along with a fawn.

We have in past years occasionally seen deer wandering into the yard, but they've usually realized with a start that they were in an unprotected spot, and bolted back to the safety of the wooded overgrowth nearby.

We get wild turkeys on the lawn, too, sometimes singly, sometimes in pairs, and occasionally as a threesome. They generally cross the entire yard, moving from east to west for a reason that eludes me.

We once saw a coyote chasing a deer across the front lawn. The latter went flying by, angling in from the dirt road to the west, and disappeared into the woods on the east. The coyote blazed by in hot pursuit a moment later. It all happened so fast, I could only watch in wonder; there was no time to fetch a camera.

But the coyote population seems to be down this year, and the deer are as a result a good bit bolder than usual. They appear in fields around the island, go down to the shoreline for a drink, or even meander along the Island roads at dusk, when there is little or no traffic.

Tuesday's visit was emblematic of that boldness, in that the visitors spent several minutes on the lawn abutting the cottage.

I was seated on the front porch, a wraparound structure, when a motion to my left caught my eye. It was a deer foraging in the yard, just beyond the screened enclosure. I stood slowly, went inside, grabbed a camera and managed a single shot before the animal bolted toward the rear of the property.

A couple of minutes later, I glanced out a window in the back of the cottage and saw the same deer again, along with a slightly smaller adult and a fawn. They were taking their time, wandering about the yard, foraging.

I took the deer shots above and below through a couple of different windows. It was several minutes before the deer realized they were on Candid Camera; when they did, they hustled away, heading toward a path that leads beyond the yard's rear border.

Photos in text: Fawn tries to scratch his nose; and a day earlier, turkeys waddle across the cottage's front lawn.

Above and below: The cottage visitors.


And death pays a visit:

Victor Babcock, a lifelong Island resident, was seated Wednesday in Hawk's Landing -- one of two eateries on Bois Blanc -- staring out the windows toward the waters of the Straits of Mackinac.

Behind him was a table full of relatives, but Victor wasn't engaged in their conversation. He just kept staring at the water. His gray hair was unkempt, his blue eyes were misting, and his color was pale.

Another customer entered the restaurant, and Victor -- spotting him -- rose and walked over to shake his hand in greeting. The new arrival said it was good to see Victor, and then added: "I was sorry to hear about your wife."

Victor looked down quickly, tears welling, and turned without a word. He retraced the steps to his chair, reseated himself and gazed through the windows again.

Yes, death visited Bois Blanc this week. Victor's wife, Roberta -- known as Berta -- passed away Monday evening.

An ambulance siren sounding at dusk that day in The Pines -- the municipality of Pointe aux Pins -- signaled that something was amiss, sirens being a rarity here. Then the sight of the Island's two deputies speeding past our cottage on the main road, and ultimately a rescue vehicle passing by slowly on its way to the main dock, supported the suspicion. Something had indeed gone wrong.

I had a strange premonition that Victor himself might have died, for I had seen him the day before and thought he looked spent -- a far cry from the energetic, tireless worker I remembered from my boyhood here. The Babcocks are as important to Island history as any family, with a work ethic that is legendary. Victor's father, the late Eugene Babcock, was the architect back many decades ago -- probably around the '30s -- of a pump house that pushed water from the Straits up to the Pines cottages.

It was the system that enabled my family, when we first came here in the 1950s, to hand-pump water into our kitchen sink, for cleaning and cooking and drinking. The system is long since gone, with wells supplanting it.

"It's strange," said a waitress at Hawk's on the morning Victor was there. "We all thought Victor would go first. He hasn't been well."

As I write this, services in Cheboygan (on the mainland) and on the Island are upcoming, and no doubt a large turnout is in store. People will want to pay their respects to an Island lady, and give their condolences to her Island man.

Photo in text: Victor Babcock earlier this month.


And earlier:

The ruins of one of the Dillinger cabins. This is located between the other two.

The start of an Island tale...

By Charlie Haeffner

Bois Blanc Island, Michigan, July 15, 2010 -- A friend back home asked that I relate a story set on the island on which I'm vacationing. You know, just conjure one up.

That is not an outrageous request, I suppose, since I've written about the Island before both here and in novels and a novella. The novels were Island Nights and The Islander, and the novella was Cabins in the Mist -- an account of a portal I crossed at the scene of dilapidated Island cabins once inhabited by gangster John Dillinger.

Excerpts from Island Nights and Cabins can be accessed on The Odessa File Home Page, bottom left, as can the entire account of The Islander.

Anyway, about that request: Chances are I might at some point in my stay be inspired to write a short piece based on this 2010 visit; I just don't have it in me at the moment. In the meantime, I will share part of a sequel to Cabins that I've worked on sporadically. I will take you to the point at which I basically ran into a writer's wall -- an inability to find the right plot stream with which to finish the exercise.

Suggestions any of you might have would be welcome. Well, let me rephrase that: I need plot suggestions.

So, if you want to read it, the (partial) story can be found here. Thanks, and enjoy the portal ...


And earlier ...

Football is in the air ...

By Charlie Haeffner

Bois Blanc Island, Michigan, July 11, 2010 -- The Southern Tier Warriors played Saturday night in Odessa.

Three days before that, the Watkins Glen School Board named a new coach (Mike Johnston Sr.) and staff for the high school football team.

I could point to the undercurrent that connects the two -- the coach of one team (the Warriors) used to be the coach of the other -- but I will steer clear of such a live grenade by simply pointing to the obvious: football is in the air.

It seems especially alluring in the wake of the drawn-out LeBron circus.

I don't know if the Johnston experiment will play out in the form of victories for WGHS. I would hope so, but there are forces at work against it -- the talent drain that high school soccer presents (the recent football rosters have been numerically slender); the late start that Johnston and his crew are dealing with; a feeling among some observers that in this economic climate, the fairly-expensive-to-mount football program isn't providing an adequate return on the dollar (presumably adding to the pressure on the new coaches); and the concomitant suspicion that's bound to exist (at least a little bit) locally when a new coaching staff is brought in -- and its members' resumés have nothing to do with Watkins Glen.

I'm not suggesting any of that is insurmountable -- and I for one (a longtime football fan) will be looking forward to seeing how well Johnston and his crew do once the season is under way.

I wish them luck.


I've been on the Island a week, and have read four books. I don't read that many books back home in the course of a year. I just get too busy tracking the news.

That pretty much sums up why I'm here: to read, and in the reading, to rest.


And earlier:

A deer cuts across an inlet as gulls scatter in the background along the Bois Blanc shoreline.

Back on the Island ...

By Charlie Haeffner

Bois Blanc Island, Michigan, July 7, 2010 -- I write this from the Island -- Bois Blanc (Bwa-blonk) in Michigan's Straits of Mackinac, where a cool wind is blowing in from the west.

My son Jon and I made the trek here Saturday and early Sunday, arriving in Cheboygan -- our mainland departure point -- at about 3 a.m. After a three-hour nap, we power-shopped at a local grocery called Glen's Market, and then crossed the Straits on the 9 a.m. ferry.

It was the 4th of July, always a nice time to be here -- especially when there is a heat wave back home. (We did, in fact, move up our departure from Odessa a full day in order to avoid some of that heat. It is quite nice up here ... a little too warm for a brief period on Tuesday, but beyond that comfortable.)

The Internet connection here is slow, making work on this website a bit more difficult than usual, but I'm not about to complain. It is a luxury to be able to update The File from paradise.

My first evening here, I shot a deer -- well, with a camera. The result is shown above. He was a skittish subject and didn't stick around very long after I'd spotted him on a finger of land reaching out from the southern shoreline.

Sleep has been a major reward through the first three days here. I grabbed about 9 hours the night before last, a duration I haven't experienced in quite a long time. My sleep schedule, often dictated by my work on The File, normally is a broken hodgepodge of a couple of hours here and three more there. A 9-hour stretch was quite restorative.

I plan to do a lot of hiking, a lot of reading, and a lot of visiting with my eldest brother, Bob, who arrived up here a week before I did. We normally see each other but once a year, so this time is quite valuable from a family standpoint.

I think I will tackle some writing, too -- possibly a sequel to my novella Cabins in the Mist. Or I might pick up where my novel The Maiden of Mackinac left off, placing the focus on a favored character named Tobias, a hairy creature called a Tajahenus who -- when we last saw him -- was living in a cave on Mackinac Island. That's an island two removed from Bois Blanc, off to the west -- every bit the tourist mecca that Bois Blanc isn't.

Speaking of The Maiden of Mackinac, I visited the Bois Blanc Island library/museum on Tuesday -- one of three days each week it opens in the summer. They had three copies of Maiden there (along with my other books) -- which is remarkable considering I only published 100 copies of it.

Finally ... the fog was thick this morning, and hung around until after 10 a.m. I snapped a few photos of it, a couple of which are presented here. I don't imagine I'll be doing much photography up here, but if the opportunity presents itself ...

Meanwhile, I trust the heat wave back home will pass soon. I understand it's supposed to get cooler on Friday. I hope so.

Photo in text: A couple shoves off from the shoreline, heading into the fog.

The Hoover dock on the southwest corner of the Island was visible Wednesday morning, but nothing could be seen beyond it.


And earlier:

It's Island time again ...

By Charlie Haeffner

Odessa, July 2, 2010 -- This is the time of year when I venture away from Schuyler County for a few weeks -- laptop in hand so I can still update this website with press releases, columns, photos, obituaries and the like -- and visit my Island.

Well, the Island's not all mine. I have a bit of property there, but it's mostly state-owned. Bois Blanc Island, it's called -- a 5-by-12-mile piece of rock in Michigan's Straits of Mackinac.

I've written about it here before; it's a place I loved in childhood and rediscovered 15 or so years ago. I travel there every summer to recharge my spirits and my energy. It is a place I've written about in books, too -- in four of them, to be exact, although it only played a passing role in the last book, a limited-issue production called The Maiden of Mackinac.

I have a very small fame on the Island as a result of those books -- an occasional reader appreciates my written love for the place because he or she shares that feeling. I've encountered very polite folks who've wanted me to pose with them for a photo, and -- in one case -- a gushing fan who treated me like I was a rock star.

Most people, though, keep to themselves on Bois Blanc, which is a large part of its charm. We can congregate as a society at Hawk's Landing -- the Island's lone convenience store, which doubles as a restaurant -- or for game nights on Tuesdays at the Coast Guard Chapel, a converted Coast Guard boathouse out on the east end. Or there is an occasional square dance at the Hoover Building, a structure donated to the Island folks by the family of the late Earl Hoover, the former head of the Hoover Vacuum Cleaner firm.

And there are religious gatherings on Sundays throughout July and August at both the Coast Guard Chapel and the Church of the Transfiguration. The latter is in Pointe aux Pins, or The Pines, the lone Bois Blanc municipality, located on the island's southwest corner.

It was there in The Pines, one day back in the '90s, when I reconnected with a trio of important people from my childhood. It was early in my annual midlife sojourns to the Island, and in fact I had come ahead of the rest of my family in order to honor a fallen friend. Forty years had passed, but the memories hadn't dimmed..


One of the three people was Sally Babler, married name Sperry, with whom I used to paddle around that southwest point on a makeshift raft when we were 6 or 7 years old. I think we were Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn. Anyway, I lost touch with her over the years, but knew she was still a summer Islander. Her family had roots there that stretched back eight decades.

This particular meeting, this reunion with Sally, took place at the Church of the Transfiguration -- at a memorial service for a man named Morgan Poole, who had been a family friend. I was listening patiently to the eulogies when a middle-aged woman walked to the pulpit to expound about Morgan's attributes and eccentricities. I glanced at her -- and didn't recognize her until she spoke.

Even in childhood, there was what I call a smoky quality to Sally Babler's voice; it has a low timbre to it, very distinctive. And this woman at the pulpit had that same quality. I had cast my eyes downward, reading the service program, when she started speaking, and I looked up in wonder -- and saw through the years the young girl with whom I had played. And I smiled.

After the service, I caught up to her just as she was getting into her car in a nearby parking lot, and told her how much I had liked her remarks. She glanced at me and thanked me, and continued to climb into her vehicle. I stopped her with a comment about how her voice hadn't changed in 40 years.

She stopped then, and studied me, and finally asked: "Who are you?"

"The name," I said, "is Haeffner. Charlie. You knew me as Chuck."

She smiled warmly then, and got out of the car and gave me a hug, and we chatted, and she suggested I visit her sister Marilyn, who had been at the service, too -- though I hadn't noticed her -- and had already left. Marilyn's cottage was one I knew well -- it had, in fact, belonged to the Babler girls' grandmother in my childhood years.

Marilyn was a bit older than me, but someone who knew well the Haeffner name, since she had hung out during Island summers in her youth with a crowd that included my older brother Bob. Her parents -- hers and Sally's -- were in fact friends of my parents before we ever visited the Island, and they had encouraged the Haeffner clan to try Bois Blanc's charms. That was in the early 1950s. The initial visit led to another, and another ... until the late 1950s, when my parents built a house alongside a lake in southeastern Michigan, negating the need for the Island.


I drove to Marilyn's cottage, parked in front, and saw a woman on the porch who was obscured by the screen and the shadows -- and I wondered if it might be Marilyn. Then, thinking she looked too young, I called out: "Excuse me, but is Marilyn here?"

The woman -- in her 20s, as it turned out -- turned and bellowed through the front door: "Mom! Someone to see you!"

I walked to the porch door and was admitted by the young woman just as Marilyn -- still beautiful in her 50s -- came from the interior of the cottage to the front door, cell phone to her ear, a man stationed behind her.

She looked at me and asked rather brusquely: "Yes? Who are you?"

I took a step nearer her -- and was about a yard away when I answered.

"My name is Chuck Haeffner," I said softly.

Marilyn shrieked -- the force knocked me back a step -- and tossed the phone over her shoulder, where the man (her husband) caught it. She grabbed me then, and hugged me, and wanted to know, in a rush of words, what I was doing there, and where was I living, and how my mother was ...

... And that was my double reunion, Babler-sister style -- on the one hand very low-keyed, and on the other a fully charged jolt of energy.


There was one other reunion that day -- with a man named Bunker Clark, a professor of music out at the University of Kansas who had summered on the Island for many years, dating back, once again, to my childhood. Bunker had kept in touch with my parents over the years, and then, by extension, he and I had started a correspondence. He, in fact, had served as editor on my first Island book, Island Nights. But even after that book's publication, I hadn't had occasion to see him -- not until the Morgan Poole memorial, where Bunker was serving as organist. I had told him in our correspondence that I would try to reach the Island for the service.

It was immediately afterward, after the eulogies and the prayers and the final recessional music, when I approached him; but I had to wait a minute while he completed a conversation with another man. His eyes flickered toward me a couple of times, probably trying to figure out if I was who he thought I was; again, he hadn't seen me in four decades.

Finally, his conversation complete, he turned to me, and we looked at one another, and we smiled; and he knew.

"So," he said. "You made it, after all."


Bunker died a few years later. A brain tumor assaulted and took him. And in the taking, I lost a valued friend, one of the Island folks.

Sally still spends summers on the Island, and Marilyn makes it up there every August. And others from my long ago past wander in and out of my Island visits. But increasingly, there are more and more memorial services involving the faces from my childhood.

Now, with summer here, I am heading out there again, to my Island, to soak up the energy of the place, to revel in the memories, to touch base with old friends, and to rest.

For in the final analysis, that is what the Island is about:

It is a place of peace.


And earlier:

Of angels and glass beads...

By Charlie Haeffner

Odessa, June 22, 2010 -- We lost an angel over the weekend -- a 34-year-old victim of cancer -- but another angel has arisen. She is a remarkable 10-year-old. Well, she insists on specifying that she is actually 10 and a half.

The lost angel was Judy Lynn (nee Dunn) Chrisman of Horseheads, a 1994 Watkins Glen High School graduate who I had the great pleasure of meeting on May 8th at Bleachers bar and restaurant in downtown Watkins.

She was there for a surprise presentation to her of a $500 donation from a group of police officers from Wayne and Ontario Counties. She was bald thanks to chemo, and smiling bravely, and near tears when talking about the prospect of having to leave her two young sons, Zakkary and Alex, 8 and 5. The prognosis those few weeks ago was not good, but she seemingly had much more time than this. But matters took a turn for the worse a couple of weeks ago, and now she's gone. If you want to read the account of that day at Bleachers, it's here.

The very thought of her passing saddens me. The necessity to run her obituary (here) is extremely maddening. She was a very likable young lady, and this kind of thing ... just ... happens ... too ... damn ... much ...


The young angel who has arisen is Jordan DeMeritt, a 5th grader at the Watkins Glen Middle School. This remarkable girl was singled out at the Middle School Awards Ceremony on June 21 with a Labor of Love Award for her tenacious and very thoughtful avocation: the creation of cancer bracelets from glass beads color-coded to remind us of all of the various cancers we must strive to combat.

She received a certificate and had her name placed on a plaque for her efforts -- efforts that began in earnest in January. The award was engineered by Catholic Charities, which has a hand in the 21st Century after-school program at the Middle School. (For a clarification of the originof the award, see Forum.)

Jordan, daughter of Brian and Connie Mathers DeMeritt, took up her cause -- creating and selling the bracelets to raise money for the fight against cancer -- upon the suggestion of her grandmother, Nanny, but also out of a need to do something in the face of a disease that claimed a 4-year-old cousin named Javier and her mother's cousin Joanne Mathers Fitch (a personal friend of mine who was in her 40s), and has struck another, teen-aged cousin.

Jordan made bracelets before all of this, she said, but not for sale or for a cause. But now they pack a double wallop: they are symbolic of the need to fight the scourge of cancer, and they are practical in raising funds toward that end.

"She's worked really hard at it," said her father after the Middle School Awards presentation. "She's put in a lot of time and effort."

And she has, in the process, raised more than $3,000 -- $500 of it (targeted for Breast Cancer research) at the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure last month in Elmira. She also sold bracelets at the recent Schuyler County Relay for Life, donating her profits to the Cancer Society. The bulk of her earnings are being saved (and expanded) for donation to CureSearch, an organization based in Washington, D.C., devoted to the fight against childhood cancer.

The family hopes to travel there later this year to present the funds in person.

"It would mean more doing it that way than just sending it along," said Jordan's mother.

Jordan's odyssey into the realm of fund-raiser started with a Christmas gift certificate for glass beads, courtesy of her grandparents. She started buying the beads, carefully choosing them for color and quality, and then began producing the bracelets. They sell for $5, even though Jordan has been urged to put a $10 price tag on them.

"I want people to be able to afford them," she says.

She has made many hundreds, and has about a hundred on hand. Sales have been by word of mouth, and through one outlet -- the Flip-Flop store at 15 East Market Street in Corning.

The bracelets are beautiful creations, with the various colored beads and a charm in the form of a ribbon with the word "Hope." Jordan can put one of the bracelets together inside of a minute, but the purchasing and assembly-line preparations require a much lengthier effort.

The colors and cancers are associated as follows (as explained on a card accompanying the bracelets, and signed by Jordan): Pink (Breast Cancer), Teal (Ovarian), Purple (Pancreatic), White (Lung/Bone), Orange (Leukemia), Black (Melanoma), Yellow (Bladder), Dark Blue (Colon), Red/Burgundy (AIDS and Myeloma), Kelly Green (Kidney), Grey (Brain), Blue (Prostate), Gold (Childhood cancers), Peach (Uterine), Lime Green (Lymphoma/Liver), Teal/White (Cervical), and Lavender (Survivor/General Cancer Awareness).

These are nationally recognized alignments. But Jordan has adopted them on a personal level as she taps into the national psyche. Somehow, coming from the freshness and earnestness of youth, her message carries a meaning more uplifting than usual -- more hopeful.


Ten years old. And a half. Already a businesswoman, and a humanitarian. She does the heart good, this cancer battler, especially in a time when we are losing so many angels to the disease.

Jordan has a cause, and you can help, if you'd like, by purchasing a bracelet. But as her mother points out, "Just remember that a 10-year-old is doing this by herself."

Meaning ... don't expect instantaneous service if Jordan is flooded with orders. It is, after all, summer, and she would like a little recreational time after the rigors of the school year.

But that having been said, and having observed her, I can add this: Don't be deterred from buying one of her creations ... one of her gems; she is very serious about this, very determined. You can contact her through the following e-mail address: Include your phone number so that Jordan or a member of the family can get back to you to discuss any individualized orders or specifics of the transaction.

The purchase of a Jordan bracelet is -- as we find ourselves saying so often these days -- for a good cause. But it's more than that, I think.

It's just plain right.

Speaking of which, Jordan is also turning her attention to the Make-A-Wish Foundation. She'd like to do something for that organization so that cancer-stricken kids can have a wish realized.

And beyond that, says her mother, there is this:

"Jordan says she'd like to do something for old people and dogs ... because she loves them, too."

Photos in text:

From top: Jordan at the Middle School after the Awards Ceremony; one of her bracelets; and Jordan at work, making bracelets (Photo provided).

Addendum: Since this story was written, word has been received that Jordan's bracelets are now also available at the Schuyler Hospital Gift Shop from 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Monday, Wednesday and Friday, and from 10 a.m.-7 p.m. Tuesday and Thursday. Saturday hours vary.


And earlier:

The value of courtesy ...

By Charlie Haeffner

Odessa, June 13, 2010 -- I was going to use this space to relate a rather bizarre phone call and a follow-up ad cancellation that occurred on a recent weekday.

But I won't.

The guy who called, a representative of a prestigious operation, is fairly new to the area, and would really be too easy a target to skewer -- especially if I used his own poorly chosen, rather abusively aggressive words against him.

Suffice it to say that in the time he has been among us -- a number of months -- he has been, by his own account, oblivious to the presence of this website, even though the operation he oversees was advertising on it right along. A predecessor of his had arranged the ad.

In fact, this guy couldn't even get my name right. Hefron, he called me. (As an observational friend points out, at least the man didn't call me Hayward ... a reference to the BP chief.)

Anyway, he canceled his organization's ad -- which is no big deal. What bothered me instead was his lack of courtesy. He was more bulldog than businessman; insulting, really.

Courtesy is a quality I prize, and something which I generally find in great abundance in my dealings with the local business community.

Because of its absence in this particular instance, I sat down and wrote a column -- the account of the conversation -- that led to a specific, very positive conclusion. While the account of the talk would probably be entertaining to most readers, I've opted to go only with the concluding section that followed it.

It goes like this:

"While I'm sure many advertisers hope for a return on their investment, I get the sense too that there is afoot in this county a desire on the part of many advertisers to help keep this journalistic venture -- this eye on the county -- going strong. They are, by supporting The Odessa File, supporting you, the readers who have come to rely on it. I thank them for that support, and I thank you for yours.

"Of late, a couple of advertisers needed to scale back their ads for economic reasons. I was not a bit surprised, and gladly worked with them on it. I like to think that we're in this together -- that the effort that goes into producing this website is appreciated as much as I appreciate any help given me. True, there are relatively few donations from individuals, but I understand that. Why pay when you can get it for free?

"My salvation -- the salvation of The Odessa File -- has been in those individuals who have donated, and in the continued advertising by businesses within the county who take pride in Schuyler, and like to see it promoted.

"The fact is, I don't go out selling ads, unless I'm asked by a business to stop by. That's how a good many of the ads you see on these pages came to be here, including the one just canceled.

"I believe strongly in letting the product sell itself. And it does, more often than I at first imagined possible. It is a product into which I pour my energies, and to which I always hope enough people -- enough advertisers and individuals -- respond by helping to support it.

"I'm sure that readers who visit the site on a regular basis are mindful of those advertisements ... of those advertisers ... of who is helping to support the effort, now 7 1/2 years old. And I imagine the advertisers, being savvy business people, understand the value of such good will. We tend to rely on each other around here."

That's it. It covers things, I think, from my perspective -- although my aforementioned observational friend weighed in with this about the annoying phone caller:

The Cancellator (to borrow a comic-book name) actually serves a useful purpose -- "offers a balance, reminding you how fortunate you have been -- and are -- in your dealings with the other people of Schuyler County."

Well, amen to that.


About that vote:

For various reasons, I don't cover Odessa-Montour School Board meetings in person. Budget votes and Board elections, yes; other things no. To explain why would take a novel (which I might yet write).

So, not having been there, I received word instead from several people about a 4-3 vote the other night, at the latest Board meeting. They have that kind of a split on occasion, for this is not always a unified board. What was noteworthy was that the vote this time was on adding a fifth year back onto the contract of Superintendent James Frame.

This is normally a standard procedure. Each year a board will vote on whether to reinstate the year just concluded back onto a superintendent's contract -- to keep it at a designated length, in this case five years. If the Board votes against it, then that's not good news for a superintendent. I've seen that happen, and seen a super leave in fairly short order from a district after finding new, perhaps more secure employment elsewhere.

Anyway, my initial reaction on hearing about that 4-3 vote on Mr. Frame was: "Whoa! That's got to sting. He couldn't be happy with that: a narrow majority." But it turns out the vote could have been 7-0 in Mr. Frame's favor.

A member in the minority -- specifically Scott Westervelt -- said the vote would likely have been unanimous if the board had not voted against his move to table it. He wanted the delay so he and fellow board members Don Roberts and Matt Walters could see -- could study -- Mr. Frame's contract. None of the three has ever seen the contract, said Westervelt, and simply thought it prudent to do so. (Westervelt said he asked for all independent contracts a month before, and received those of building principals and the Building and Grounds chief -- but not that of the superintendent.)

But the board majority voted down Westervelt's tabling motion 4-3, and moved quickly to a vote on the fifth year -- and thus went on the record with a 4-3 vote in favor of Mr. Frame.

"I don't understand," I said to Westervelt. "Why would they want a 4-3 vote on the record, when they could have had a 7-0?"

"Good question," he answered.


And earlier:

The Comeback Kid ...

By Charlie Haeffner

Odessa, June 6, 2010 -- I thought at first, watching her speak to students in the Watkins Glen Middle School auditorium, that she seemed friendly enough. But with her track record -- a musical career of rising success, a battle that conquered cervical cancer, and the ability to stand up there and lecture and sing -- I felt a bit overmatched. I found the combination of celebrity and nerve a bit daunting.

I could have snapped my pictures and walked away, but I knew I needed to talk to her, to get some quotes -- and perhaps some further understanding -- to help fill out whatever article I might write about her. I went to the front of the auditorium after she was done, but first approached Superintendent Tom Phillips, who had just closed the session with words of caution to the students about caring for their health through checkups -- the theme the woman had been espousing through words and music for the previous hour.

The woman was sitting on the edge of the stage at this point, swinging her legs, in perpetual motion. That pretty much describes her: perpetual motion. Even when seated, there's an energy field jumping around her. I was marveling at that energy when she suddenly sprang from the stage and walked directly toward me and said: "Hey, yellow shirt. Cool, dude!" Or words to that effect.

I was, indeed, wearing a yellow shirt -- yellow being her operative color as she preaches awareness of cancer. It is most visible in the yellow umbrella she brings to her performances -- a symbol borrowed from the movie Harold and Maude, Maude being an elderly woman in love with life who carries a yellow umbrella to an otherwise bleak funeral.

That use of color called to mind a line my late wife Susan once uttered when coming out of anesthesia following surgery involving her cancer. She had a particular distaste for the bedside manner of the doctor who had, months earlier, pronounced her death sentence. Coming out of that surgery, with that same doctor leaning over her to see how she was doing, she told him this: "I'm going to wear a red dress to your funeral."

She never did get to execute that particular desire, but the spirit of the moment resonates -- and it resonated there in the Middle School auditorium, in the yellowness and verve of this lecturer-entertainer, this Christine Baze.


Baze is an Elmira native, a 1987 Southside High graduate, a classically trained musician and an indie performer of note -- with an increase in visibility since her battle with cervical cancer nearly a decade ago. That battle included a couple of surgeries and the removal of various of what she calls her "girl parts." Depression followed, and then resurgence, with inspiration from the joie de vivre of moviedom's Maude.

That resurgence has been fueled by candor, by the need to share a message of hope: that cervical cancer can be beaten. That is what she carries with her on tour, and into schools: her message, promoted by her music

We bonded there in that auditorium when I divulged my own experience in the world of cancer -- how I had lost my wife to it one day in an area hospital. How I had raced to that hospital when her condition (in the words of a caller) had "changed"; how I had run to her room and found a team of doctors working on her; how someone had told me I couldn't be there, and how I had said:

"F... you!" said Christine Baze, as though she was there in my place, there in that hospital room.

I smiled at her. "That's exactly what I said," I told her.


I encountered Baze again less than two hours later, at a meeting of the Watkins-Montour Rotary Club, where she was to be guest speaker. She spotted me and sat at my table, and it was there that I also got to know her companion, a sort of second mother to her, Barb Van Dine.

The perpetual Baze motion -- in little movements, in sudden outpourings of words about her visit to the area and about VanDine's role, about the fact that she still gets nervous when going before a crowd, "whether it's a big show or 40 people at Rotary Club" -- continued. And in that nervousness, she was introduced to the club and stood far from the podium, so she could move, could go up on her tiptoes and duck and express herself, express her story. And in the telling, she had the Rotarians listening very closely, for her story is harrowing and uplifting at the same time, and oh, so human.

And she sang a song, playing the piano that resides in that banquet room, and the reaction of the Rotarians was enthusiastic, and she was clearly pleased, smiling widely, moving up, down, and side to side.


I wrote a story about her, and published some pictures of her. The next day, Friday, she went to the Watkins Glen High School to spread her word to more students, to caution them that their health is far too important to ignore, and that they can save themselves a world of distress through pap smears and checkups and various tests.

Friday evening, she was concluding her two-day visit with an appearance at the Village Marina Bar and Grill. I ventured down there for a photograph, which is atop this column. She was playing on the patio in front of the Marina, with a crowd at first scant, but steadily growing while I was there.

Her mentor Van Dine spotted me first, and came over to greet me, a smile on her face. They had liked the article, she said. And then Christine Baze finished the song she was singing, smiled widely in my direction, literally skipped over to me and gave me a big hug. She had loved the article, and thanked me, and offered to buy me a drink.

I declined, saying I just needed to snap a few photos and would be on my way. And so she went back to her performance, to her music and to the words she delivers about being a cancer survivor. Her trademark yellow umbrella punctuated that fact as it hung nearby on a post fronting the Marina building. I fired away with my camera, and then waited for the singing to stop, and approached her, hand extended, saying thanks, and how nice it was to have met her.

And she gave me another hug, and said "Let's not be strangers."


That, of course, can be a hollow phrase, but coming from the mouth of Christine Baze, a woman of uncommonly blunt honesty, it rang true. It is that directness that appeals to audiences, I think -- a no-bull look at life. I don't know if she was that way before the cancer, but I suspect not; at least not to the present degree. A long look into the abyss can change people.

We parted then, she turning to her music, and I to other plans. I imagine at some point we might reconnect, though -- at some time when she's back in our area, talking in schools, spreading the message, playing her music and moving ... perpetually.

I imagine I will be swept up again in that energy, in that enthusiasm, in the rich voice she uses so well. I imagine I will publicize her words about cancer awareness some more, play some small role in helping her disseminate them to the masses.

It's a good cause, really. Awareness usually is. It offers some light -- some reassurance -- against all of that darkness that lurks out there, waiting.


And speaking of messages:

--The 2010 Top Drawer 24 team of two-dozen outstanding scholar-athletes from our high schools heard solid messages delivered from several speakers at the annual Top Drawer party at the State Park on June 2. Most notable were those from former coaches Jim McCloe and Kate LaMoreaux -- who urged, respectively, that the honorees aim high and never settle for being normal -- and former honoree Ben Robertson, who said that after high school, the Top Drawer team members had better be ready to raise their performance levels if they hope to compete successfully against people who want the same positions they want.

--And a message we can derive from Amanda Crans' experiences in the world of basketball is this: determination and perseverance pay off. Crans, who under the tutelage of AAU Coach Chris Wood in her high school days turned from a marginal Watkins Glen High School varsity player into a long-distance sharpshooter -- and, thus, an offensive force -- has completed a four-year career at Russell Sage College in which she earned a nursing degree and played four years of varsity basketball.

Amanda was a team captain this past season, completing a career in which she played in 81 games (8th on the Sage career list) and sank 63 three-pointers (5th on the list). She was also a member of the Sage College Intercollegiate Athletic Honor Society her junior and senior years -- reserved for student-athletes with a cumulative grade-point average of 3.2 or better who have been members of a varsity team for at least two seasons. She is now beginning a career as a Registered Nurse at Arnot Ogden Hospital.


And earlier:

His name was Bobby Farmer

By Charlie Haeffner

Odessa, May 27, 2010 -- I couldn't help but notice, as a second day of sweltering temperatures embroiled us this week, that people were talking less.

It takes energy to talk, and energy to ward off excessive heat. The choice is easy. We tend to slow down and shut up.

In my own slowing down, I sat immobile, letting some air-conditioning cool me off. To step outside was pointless, unless I was deliberately looking to sweat.

And in the sitting, I pondered and mulled ... and as often happens in such circumstance, my mind wandered back in time, back to the 1970s, to Watertown, New York -- where I was employed in my first truly adult job, as a journalist.

And the image popped up of a middle-aged man of that time, short of physical stature, suitcoat off and necktie loosened, and sweat glistening on his brow. His face was red.

This was how Bobby Farmer would look on one of these hot summer-like days. But all in all, he was a pretty cool customer.


Newsrooms -- at least those many years ago, when they had full contingents of employees -- were places of ambition, and shifting loyalties, and platforms from which societal outsiders could do something useful for the very society they tended to skirt. I'm talking about that unique breed known as journalists.

Journalists are almost uniformly dedicated to their craft, and generally a little skeptical about authority, which they are in a unique position to monitor. The term adversarial relationship is often used to describe this balance of power -- of government officials exercising power, on the one hand, and journalists ready to blow the whistle if those government officials exceed the authority we, the people, have provided them.

Journalism is also occupied by people with widely divergent levels of ability -- the low side sometimes alarmingly so. This is due in part to the absence of any stringent course work or tests that must be passed in order to pursue such a career. (Such an absence is a philosophical and practical necessity, the reasons for which could fill another column.)

And where I worked, at the Watertown Daily Times, there was a divergence of generations.

There were kids like me, fresh out of school, being recruited by the young son of the editor-publisher. Both the editor and the son were named John B. Johnson -- the younger known simply as Junior.

And there were elders there -- gentlemen who were old-school journalists, starting with an 80-something, white-haired, cigar-chomping and somewhat frightening Executive Editor named Gordon Bryant. He had been at the Daily Times roughly forever -- all his working life, I believe -- which gave him the edge in seniority, but not by much, over four or five craggy-faced reporters.

I tended to hang out with these older fellows in the newsroom, because I saw the chance to learn from them. But outside the office, I gravitated toward the younger reporters -- golfing regularly with two of them, and drinking on Friday evenings (at week's long-awaited end) with the full contingent of them.


But this is not about drinking -- I left that behind many years ago -- and not about my relationship with either the elders or with people my own age. No, this is about one fellow in particular who was in-between those two camps -- and whose kindness and ability impacted my development daily. I refer to the aforementioned, ruddy-faced Bobby Farmer.

Bobby was pretty much the heart of the newsroom, at least after my first few years there. By then he had advanced from Assistant City Editor to City Editor upon the retirement of his predecessor, one of those old-school gentlemen named Fred Kimball. Bobby was 15 years or so my senior.

He was a local boy, from the Thousand Islands area, and always smiling, even when stress was evident in his eyes. He was the balancer in that newsroom, keeping both the old guard and the young whippersnappers happy, which was no small feat -- not when the one group knew everything there was to know about journalism, and the other only thought it did. And he was a manager of the mercurial moods of Junior, who back in those days was widely known for his journalistic passions and demands. Junior was, in short, sometimes difficult to please.


Bobby was always there, at my elbow, whenever I hurriedly typed a deadline story -- which in those days meant using an old typewriter the company provided. He'd snatch the sheet from my roller after every paragraph, jot some editing marks on it, and send it out to the composing room -- and then return for my next paragraph.

He was a married man -- with a wife named Jean who, I always thought, was the boss of that union. They had no children.

The newspaper was his child, in a way, and was his larger family. He worked there from the time he was a young man, doing odd jobs and eventually assisting Mr. Kimball on the copy desk before taking over as City Editor. He wasn't the hard-driving City Editor of movie lore, but rather a soft-spoken man, quick with a soft quip, cherubic in appearance -- chubby cheeked, with glasses and thinning hair. And short, probably no more than 5-5.

His dream, I'm quite sure, was to snag that job -- and he did. That's where he was -- what he did -- during my last few years in Watertown, and that's where he was and what he did for years after I left.

I saw him a couple of times after I had moved on -- after I had traveled the country and settled down in the Southern Tier and worked at the Elmira Star-Gazette. He was always the same when I saw him -- always smiling, always friendly, always welcoming.

And then word came one night: Bobby had left the newsroom at day's end and gone down the elevator to the first floor, and was waiting for his wife to arrive in their car to take him home. He was standing in the lobby when he got dizzy, and he told someone, and co-workers jumped to his assistance; had him sit down.

And he died.

Just like that. A stroke had ended his life.

And so it was that I returned to Watertown that week ... for his funeral. The service featured an open casket, a tradition I normally despise -- but I found myself standing there, looking down at him, shaking my head.

"Damn, Bobby," I said. "Damn. So this is what it's come to."

And standing there, I wept.


There was a reception at a public hall afterward, and people were going up to Bobby's widow, Jean, to express condolences. I was hanging back, thinking she wouldn't even remember me. We had never been close, and I had been gone for some years, and she was no doubt in some shock.

But eventually, with a lull in the crowd around her, I approached, intending to explain who I was. As I approached, she looked up at me and smiled weakly.

"Oh, Charlie," she said before I could utter a word. "This has been a terrible week."

And we hugged there. And she wept.


Now, after reaching the age at which Bobby Farmer left us, I found myself sitting on a hot day and thinking -- thinking about the vagaries of the weather and the vagaries of life. I found myself searching for some clue as to why we're here and what we're supposed to be doing. And I came to this, an answer that avoided a cosmic generality, focusing instead on one man -- on Robert Farmer.

Bobby, I decided, was here to make life a little easier for a young fellow stumbling his way through the early years of a journalism career. He was here to bring balance to a newsroom that -- with its widely divergent mix of generations and talents and ambitions -- could easily have swung to anarchy and failure ... but didn't.

He was one of life's referees.

And he was doing exactly what he was supposed to be doing.


Of note:

-- There will be Memorial Day services on Monday, May 31 at the base of the Shequagah Falls in Montour Falls at 9:30 (keynote speaker is Sheriff Bill Yessman) and in Watkins Glen.

The Watkins activities start at 10:30 at the naval memoriial at the Seneca Harbor pier. A parade follows along Franklin Street to the Courthouse, where the annual service will be held at 11 a.m. on the front lawn.

-- I've received word from two readers that Odessa-Montour graduate Zach Williams, son of Nancy and Pat Carlisle, was wounded recently while serving in Afghanistan and has undergone two surgeries in Germany. He was shot in the stomach and small intestines, said one of the readers.


And earlier...

The One More Thing Society

By Charlie Haeffner

Odessa, May 1, 2010 -- Welcome to the inaugural signup for the One More Thing Society.

It's an extension, I suppose, of the Bucket List -- only organized in group fashion, sort of a fraternity of people who want to do exciting things in their lives, but have trouble getting started doing them. The idea is to push club members on to the next thing and the next thing ... always toward One More Thing to experience in life.

The idea came to me the other night, in my sleep ... in a dream. I don't usually remember dreams, but this time I dreamed, too, that I was writing down the name of the organization so that I could recall it in the morning. And that did the trick.

The dream was taking place, for some reason, on the campus of Colorado State University. Mind you, I've never been to Colorado State University, but there was a gathering of the club there, on a lawn on campus, with stately buildings in the background.

Honestly, I can't tell you if they even have stately buildings there. But in my dream they were there, as were I and a female companion and a whole bunch of like-minded folks. I don't recall exactly what we were doing there -- what One More Thing we were up to -- but the sense of the atmosphere still lingers.

There was something about the lawn, and how it needed cutting.-- it was as though it had a fuzzy topping that hid objects, such as baseballs ... which I assume had some sort of symbolic importance.

Anyway, I'm back from Colorado State University now, it is daytime in Schuyler County, and I've decided to spread the gospel of the One More Thing Society. Any takers? We can push one another to do those things we've always intended to do, but just haven't quite gotten around to.

Anyway, I'm signing up, and giving serious thought to doing something ... anything ... other than the day in and day out routine that has my head spinning and my enthusiasm waning. The same old, same old can be debilitating across time. (No, I probably won't disappear; just realign.)

Anybody care to join in ... to do One More Thing?


In that vein, there is a local businessman-politician who is planning to hike the extent of the Appalachian Trail this summer. What a great, ambitous idea. I told him he could blog his experience, and we could post it here.

His name is Paul Marcellus, a county legislator, and he e-mailed me the following note after I told him about the One More Thing Society, and its origin, and how it reminded me of what I'd heard of his pending adventure:

"How interesting," he wrote. "Acting on ideas straight from the sleep state! Emily (his daughter) and I plan to start hiking no later than July 1st. We will be hiking southbound from the Northern terminus of the trail, Mt. Katahdin. The southern terminus is Springer Mountain, Georgia, 2,168 miles later. Emily will be with me during July only as she will be heading back to school for an early-starting fall semester at Flagler College.

"I will be accepting pledges from all animal lovers within the community, like this: so many pennies per mile I complete, with all proceeds collected going to the Humane Society building fund. Their plan is to erect a new building that will house both feline and canine.

"Potential pledgers will be reminded that only about 12% of those who start on the trail intending to go the distance ever complete it. I think the percentage is probably lower for southbounders as well, due to the fact that 80% of the effort expended on the length of the trail is generally recognized to be spent in the northernmost 20% of the trail: the venerable mountains of New England."


Plans have come together quickly for the Devon's Day Benefit in support of Devon Shaw, who has been diagnosed with cancer in his right femur and his lung.

We have a copy of the poster on the PSA page (here), and a story about Devon's plight here.

Under the guidance of Mark Stephany, who has coached Devon in soccer across the years, committees were formed, and a plan swiftly formulated. Thanks to the generosity of Mark Simiele, the problem of where, exactly, to hold the benefit was solved: his Seneca Harbor Station restaurant and his Seneca Legacy vessel (for a Teen Cruise).

The event will run from 4-9 p.m. Sunday, May 16 at the restaurant. It will feature a Chicken Dinner, a silent auction (with lots of items donated by local businesses), raffles, and entertainment. Cost of dinner is $20; the same for the Teen Cruise. Tickets are available at various places, including the Watkins Glen High School and Middle School and Seneca Harbor Station.


Oh, happy day ...

By Charlie Haeffner

Odessa, May 20, 2010 -- So the school budgets passed, despite some trepidation on the part of administrators that they might not. Such is the lot of school leaders: they get to worry a lot.

But even with the passage -- by wide margins in both the Watkins Glen and Odessa-Montour School Districts -- there is always next year to worry about.

The economy continues to sputter, and with that, lives are being disrupted. The number of teacher positions cut in Watkins Glen (10), O-M (a couple) and -- more strikingly -- in Corning (24 among 43 total positions) means in some instances (where attrition or retirement weren't the reduction mechanisms) that there are real lives and real families that were thrown into a turmoil of potential joblessness, depression and, yes, fear.

Layoff numbers don't ever reveal the toll on the victims. The numbers belie the pain..


And with the economy still a big question mark -- and with God knows what effects the oil spill in the Gulf will have on it -- we all can look forward to even tougher times ahead, the President's assurances to the contrary. (Listen to the sounds coming out of Albany. Those are screams of agony and frustration amid the ineptitude.)

Schuyler County leaders have warned that the layoffs of the past year are just a precursor to a tougher budgetary squeeze the next time around, and school officials have said that as tough as the just-passed budgets were to fashion, next year's will likely be a good deal more difficult.

One could extrapolate from those outlooks that more jobs are at risk in the county and the schools, and that student services to which we've become accustomed might be trimmed back.

"It won't be pretty," said one school administrator about the coming year.


The Devon's Day benefit May 16 on behalf of cancer-stricken WGHS freshman Devon Shaw and his family was a thing of beauty. The weather was nearly perfect, the setting (the Seneca Harbor Station restaurant) was ideal, and the cause was one which hundreds of area residents embraced with fervor.

As the saying goes, a grand time was had by all.

On a personal note, I won two raffle prizes and two silent-auction paintings (by a Texas artist named Laurie Pace) during the benefit. All of that was rather surprising, since I rarely win anything.


This year's Top Drawer 24 team has been selected, and the honorees notified. We'll soon have a story introducing them and inviting you, the public, to attend the party celebrating their achievements. It will be held at the Watkins Glen State Park Pavilion (near the south entrance, across from Seneca Lodge) on Wednesday, June 2, with a social hour starting at 5:30 p.m. There will be brief speeches, and presentation of a medallion to each honoree. Finger foods, cake and ice cream will be available, all at no charge.

The Top Drawer program, with representation from the Watkins Glen, Odessa-Montour, Trumansburg and Bradford High Schools, is in its fifth year of existence. It annually celebrates two-dozen students who excel athletically, academically, and in citizenship and character. This year's membership was decided over a period of months by a 16-person committee. There are 10 seniors, 10 juniors and four sophomores on the squad.


And earlier:

A little of this, a little of that

By Charlie Haeffner

Odessa, May 10, 2010 -- Some of these weeks are so full of things happening that I can't even begin to keep up with everything.

Of course, it was never my intent to cover every bit of news. I've always figured if I tried that, I'd just be duplicating to some degree what some perfectly fine publications were already doing.

Nonetheless, it is worth noting in passing what one such publication reported on Saturday -- that the P&C in Watkins Glen will continue to operate as a Tops Market. Given the time that has passed since Tops picked up the P&C stores from the bankruptcy-filing Penn Traffic, it seemed logical to assume that this would be the outcome.

Assumptions are dangerous things, of course, but this one seems to have held true. The report said the Watkins Glen store and ones in Penn Yan and Elmira are among 30 that Tops decided to continue operating.


I met a remarkable young woman Saturday, who you can read about here. Her name is Judy Chrisman, and she's been battling breast cancer.

She didn't know I was coming to meet her at Bleachers, or for that matter that a half-dozen police officers from Ontario and Wayne Counties were. They wanted to present her with a donation of $500.

When I received a request earlier in the day to show up there, I wondered if I might be walking into a situation where I wasn't really welcome. But when I got there, everybody -- and in particular Judy -- was very friendly, very open, and remarkably upbeat.

Having been through my late wife's cancer battle, I could understand if perhaps Judy would prefer privacy; some people in such a situation do. But she was very open, very warm, and very brave.

A lovely lady.


Saturday Night Live with Betty White as guest host was a hoot -- laugh out loud funny. Ribald. Racy. And with some great old familiar faces joining in: Amy Poehler, Molly Shannon, Tina Fey. It was, as my son Jon said, "the best ... SNL ... ever."

And what's remarkable is that White, at 88 years of age, had the stamina to be in as many skits as she was -- which is to say a lot of them.


Don't forget: The Devon's Day fund-raiser at Seneca Lake for cancer-stricken Watkins Glen High School student Devon Shaw is this coming Sunday, May 16. The main event is at the Seneca Harbor Station Restaurant from 4-9 p.m. -- with lots of food and music, and raffles, and auction items. There is also a teen cruise from 5-8 p.m. Tickets for either, at $20, are available at various locations, including the Watkins Glen High and Middle Schools and the restaurant.

If you're not up to speed on Devon's situation, click here.


The Concerts in the Park at Watkins Glen's LaFayette Park resume under new leadership on June 22, when Ed Clute's Dixie Five Plus performs.

In succeeding weeks come the Hepcats Big Band, Joe Cavallaro's Dixieland Jazz Band, the Ageless Jazz Band, Dave Paugh, The Musicmakers Big Band, the Route 66 Country Band, the Sgro Brothers, Bob Melnyk's Polka Magic Band, Steve Southworth and the Rockabilly Rays, and Girls Gone Mild (with some blues, folk, jazz, rock and pop music).

Julie Sissel is in charge of the concert series now, taking over for the retired Rose Ciccone. The concerts run every Tuesday from 7-9 p.m.


The 5th annual Live Liz Liz 5K Run/Walk is coming up -- on June 6, on the Watkins Glen High School Track and the nearby Catharine Valley Trail. There will be a 1 Mile Fun Run for the kids, a keynote speaker, an education tent, and camaraderie. It's all in memory of Liz Amisano, who died on Oct. 12, 2005 of ovarian cancer at the age of 20 -- and it is designed to raise awareness of the disease.


And earlier:

As May nears, so do awards...

By Charlie Haeffner

Odessa, April 26, 2010 -- The rain has settled in as I write this, and my mood seems to reflect the color of the sky -- which is to say one of a dark nature.

It is in times like this that I ponder the meaning of ... heck, of anything -- the why of our existence, if you will, or for that matter the why of any part of it: why Jimmy Carter was President, or for that matter why Franklin Pierce or George W. were; why Eric Massa went on the Glenn Beck show, and so on.

Since answers to such puzzles are beyond the realm of simplicity -- are too hard bought -- I tend to sidestep the struggle, to draw back from philosophy and readjust to the here, now, and soon to be.

I'm looking ahead, in fact, to May, since I seem to operate best when time is compartmentalized in easily identifiable chunks, such as months.

So ... May means lots of things. It means proms, and spring sports heading toward conclusion, and school budget votes, and school board elections, and the start of tourist season, and the approach of the high school awards season.


The awards that matter most to me are, I think quite naturally, those that emanate from this website.

The Odessa File will, this year, be providing Athlete of the Year awards to student-athletes at the two high schools it covers with regularity --Watkins Glen and Odessa-Montour -- as well as a Schuyler Spring MVP award to one student-athlete in the county.

There will also be the sixth annual Susan B. Haeffner Schuyler County Sportsmanship Award, named in honor of my late wife. The first five Susan Award winners were O-M's Sally Wilcox, Watkins Glen's Courtney Warren, Sophie Peters and Ian Remmers, and O-M's John Blaha.

The Athlete of the Year Awards and the Susan Award will be presented on June 2 -- at the site and night of the Top Drawer 24 party at the Watkins Glen State Park pavilion. The Athlete of the Year awards will likely be presented before the formal Top Drawer ceremony, and the Susan Award during it.

For those who are a little foggy on Top Drawer lore, this will be the fifth annual presentation of Top Drawer awards to 24 outstanding high school students. The Top Drawer 24 is subtitled the Brian J. O'Donnell Schuyler County Scholar-Athlete-Citizen Team in honor of the retired WGHS principal who is currently president of that school district's School Board.

There will be representation on the team from WGHS and from the O-M, Trumansburg and Bradford school districts, each of which lies at least partly within Schuyler County. Ninth through 12th graders are eligible, although a freshman has been named only once. The criteria are varied, with a focus on achievement in sports and the classroom, and on citizenship and character.

The team is selected through a school-year-long process that involves the wisdom of well over a dozen committee members, including teachers, coaches, administrators and a community representative from outside the teaching and coaching professions.

Certain other coaches are sought out for their opinions, or seek me out to provide them.

Selection of the Top Drawer 24 team is, in other words, taken quite seriously -- and is ultimately marked by an early evening awards ceremony at the State Park featuring such foods as cheese, grapes, ice cream and cake for everyone attending. As in past years, there will be several speakers this time -- we'll be announcing them soon -- and medallions presented by O'Donnell to each honoree. Last year we also had certificates of achievement for each team member sent from our State Senator, state Assemblyman and Congressman.

I figured out some months back that in the four years in which we've held the party, we've honored 69 different students, which means we've had some repeaters. It's an elite group, and it is one -- judging from the turnout of honorees thus far (just one absence, and that for a very good reason) -- that takes the award to heart.

So ... stay tuned. The final decisions on who makes the team will be completed soon, and the honorees will be informed in mid-May. The announcement itself will be several days later -- a divergence from our first couple of years, when we would tell the honorees they were on the team, give them their party, and then announce publicly who had been selected.

I kind of liked that, but this way we can get the word out to you, the public, in advance and encourage you to attend. This is a celebration of outstanding young people in our county -- among them, very possibly, our future leaders.


And earlier:

Hal Holbrook speaks to the media in front of a steamboat mural in the Holiday Inn's Tom Sawyer Room.

And the Twain shall meet...

By Charlie Haeffner

Odessa, April 21, 2010 -- Hal Holbrook -- an actor with a long and distinguished career in stage, film and television work -- was once featured in a movie called "Wild in the Streets." It was an outrageous tale starring Christopher Jones as a musician named Max Frost who becomes the leader of a movement to dispatch anyone over 30 years of age. If memory serves, such "oldsters" were packed off to concentration camps.

Holbrook played a Senate candidate named Johnny Fergus who was, alas, over 30, and thus ended up in a bad way.

I bring this up because the film, although it came out in 1968, has stayed with me over the years, and because Holbrook -- many, many years beyond 30 now (he's 85), arrived in Elmira Tuesday and held a press conference at the Holiday Inn on East Water Street before receiving a Global Legacy Award from the Chemung County Chamber of Commerce.

And I bring it up because, oddly enough, Holbrook made a reference to that film -- whether intentionally or not I don't know. But more on that later.

Holbrook, who amazingly enough made this journey East just a week after the passing of his wife, Dixie Carter, was in both thoughtful and comic form in front of the media and Chamber members. He choked up but once, when he made his lone mention of how much his wife would have liked this trip -- which was culminating with Holbrook appearing Wednesday night at the Clemens Center in his one-man show Mark Twain Tonight, a role he has presented on stage some 2,200 times since he first tried it in 1954. The appearance had been long planned, falling on the 100th anniversary of Twain's death.

He told in detail about those early days, how Twain had first been an occasional character in a two-person show Holbrook performed with the first Mrs. Holbrook, and then how he haltingly took on the role of Twain in a solo setting in order to put food on his table, and then watched as the role seemingly took on a life of its own -- gaining fans and bookings and fame. It was only then that he truly studied Twain and his era in detail, and started morphing into the man. On stage, Holbrook is wholly appealing in his impersonation -- and being a great actor, he is by turns moving, thought provoking and very funny. I've seen the performance on TV, and have an old audio recording of it that I first obtained back in college.

Holbrook is quick to say that he is just an actor, and that he owes much to Twain -- that in fact Twain deserves all the credit for the long-running success of Holbrook's show.

But to hear Holbrook speak is almost to hear Twain speak -- in the sense that both are acerbic while amusing, and deeply intelligent while possessing a common touch.

And both are fearless. For instance, Holbrook -- in front of media Tuesday -- tackled the media.

He said that cable news "has people it's hard to look at -- who are so unaware of their arrogance ... These are very dangerous times in which we live ... they're cutting down on newspapers, which you could read and think about. (Instead) we get 8-second sound bites (of interview subjects), and then a commentator takes a minute or two or three to move his mouth around. We don't want to hear those idiots; we want to hear (the people) they interviewed."

After 56 years of performing as Twain, he was asked how long he might continue.

"I don't know. Until I drop dead on the stage, I suppose. As long as I can keep strong, and hear the audience (he has reduced hearing), and put up with the travel arrangements, I'll keep going."

When asked how he would feel and what he would ask if he had a chance to sit down with Twain, he smiled. "I would be nervous or scared (because) it's almost an affront to try to be him on stage." But he said he would ask Twain what he thought about "our political climate. I'd want to know what he thought about it; about our excursions in various parts of the world, taking on a role unasked for, and uninvited, to reform (other lands) to our way of life. That's a great trap for a powerful country."

Of Twain, he said that the biggest surprise he's encountered in studying the man is that "he was no joker. He was a joker, but he wasn't a joker. I think he was a profound thinker. We don't have anybody like that now. When something happened in the world, reporters went to his home to ask his opinion. He represented something very visible about America. But somewhere, sometime, somehow, some sort of shuffle was done, and all that (about Twain) was lost, forgotten."

He said for years Twain was widely considered a children's author, when in fact he was so much more. "The man is so relevant today, it's almost mystical, mysterious. I never update Mark Twain (on stage). You don't have to update him. If you leave out the name of the war, and the politician and the incident, the audience thinks you're talking about today."

Twain, he said, has had a vast influence on his own thought process. "My ideas have very powerfully been affected by studying Mark Twain's world. I think that something within me was waiting to be opened by Mark Twain."

So, while health and stamina are a concern in continuing on his chosen path of channeling Twain to audiences around the country, there is still the matter of a spark -- that inspiration that can lift Holbrook from the depths of personal loss and from the well of fatigue that accompanies age. And that's where that movie comes in, the one where anyone over 30 was in deep trouble.

"There are so many idiocies running wild in the streets," he said, perhaps subconsciously, "that to get fired up to do the show" -- to bring the Twain brand of skepticism, cynicism and sharply barbed observations down on the heads of the high and mighty -- "is very easy."

It is as though the spirit of Twain has taken over the soul of the actor. It is as though the actor, despite his words to the contrary, is every bit as important as his subject because he has, in abstract but noticeable ways, become the subject -- and carried that subject's message, and spread his gospel: The Gospel According to Twain.

Photos in text:

Top: Hal Holbrook examines his Global Legacy Award. He is the fifth such recipient of the Chamber of Commerce honor. Previous winners were Tommy Hilfiger, Joey Sindelar, Rob Brown (who portrayed Ernie Davis on film) and former Congressman Amo Houghton.

Next three: Holbrook at the podium, responding to questions.

Bottom: Holbrook at a table during the Chamber of Commerce party that followed the press conference, talking to a guest.


And earlier:

Should truth be told ...

By Charlie Haeffner

Odessa, April 18, 2010 -- It's just three days after Tax Day, so my mind is still dwelling on politicians who bring us ... yes, taxes.

This is quite a time we're living in, what with burgeoning burdens such as taxes (thank you, lawmakers), shrinking buying power, increasing job losses, villages dissolving or thinking about it, high school sports programs combining, and so on.

It is a time of tremendous stress for many people, and despite assurances from the White House, not too many of us are nodding and saying, "Yes, the economy is improving."

But that's par for the course, such assurances. It's called politics.


Words from politicians are often apart from the truth, aren't they? I was going to write about that here, about political mistruths, and spin off into the realm of lies in general -- congenital, habitual, situational and defensive, to name a few types.

I was going to talk about how the Internet and social networking and instant communication have amped up the opportunity for politicians to spin their mistruths, and how disheartening that seems to be. I mean, it was almost charming when we only got fed their sound bites once every 24 hours, on the evening news. Now it's all turned so ... strident. So ceaseless.

I was going to talk about the liars among us, and the hurt they inflict, and the legacy they leave behind. I was going to tell about the BS meter a lot of us have developed as we are exposed more and more to mistruths.

But I haven't got it in me. I'm just too tired of it.

And that's the truth.


I'd rather talk about Saturday, April 17. That was more uplifting.

It was a day of irony, for I attended the birthday celebration of a man turning 99 -- Bill Milliken, renowned auto racer, race official and aviation engineer. He was feted at the International Motor Racing Research Center, and it was a scene of great charm and warmth and joy. Milliken is amazing -- sharp and engaged. And, I'm told, he still drives.

After that gathering, I went back up the hill to Odessa for the ceremony honoring Bobby Franklin, a former Odessa Fire Chief who died April 11 of cancer. He was 46, a fellow a bit larger than life -- and now gone. There were hundreds who showed up -- for visitation at the Municipal Building adjoining the Fire Hall, and at the high school for a memorial service. In between, the urn carrying Bobby's ashes was transported in Engine 27 along a route that passed by scores of saluting firefighters from departments around the region.

This was a celebration of life, too -- but a very somber one.

99 and 46.

It makes you think.


I completed my rounds that day by attending the final of three performances of "Twelve Angry Jurors" -- a Lake Country Players production in the Watkins Glen Elementary School auditorium. It was disappointing that relatively few people were there -- relative to the musicals that the group produces. But it was entertaining nonetheless -- fascinating, really.

I know the story pretty well, having seen the movie several times -- the one where Henry Fonda is the only juror in a murder case who votes not guilty, and then, one by one, turns the jurors over to his side.

A fellow named Mike Truesdail nailed the composure and intellect of the holdout juror beautifully, and the rest of the cast was smooth, too -- in parts emotional, intellectual, confrontational and so on.

Nicely done, so kudos to the first-time director, Beth Clark.


I ran into a fellow the other day who complimented me on the website and said he would contribute to its upkeep if he could ... but he can't. In these economically troubled times, that is too true with a lot of folks.


An interesting tidbit: Since we started tracking traffic on the website through Google Analytics in early November, we've been visited by 121 countries and/or territories. That includes Canada, Germany, Japan, the UK, Spain, Mexico, Switzerland and so on. Who would have guessed? Not me.

And we've reached all of the states (heavy in New York and light in the Dakotas), with Florida second in visitors, Pennsyvlania third, Virginia fourth, Massachusetts fifth and California sixth.


And earlier:


By Charlie Haeffner

Odessa, April 5, 2010 -- I detest bullyism. Alway have, always will.

It reduces the level of our existence ... demeans it, and often draws the worst out of us.

Phoebe Prince -- certainly not the first victim of bullyism, but in this age of tsunami-style informational waves, the most catalytic -- reacted with suicide. If you've missed the coverage of that desperate act's aftermath, then you're clearly not a current-events kind of person.

I've followed it, and pondered it, and drawn on my own experiences to try to come to terms with it. And the bottom line, on a personal basis, is this: I have, when confronted by bullies, reacted with a sort of controlled anger -- a "not to my house and not to me" mentality. I'm not proud of it, but neither am I ashamed.

My first memorable brush with bullyism came when I was in high school -- as a runt that a particularly distasteful fellow decided to push around. I took it from him for a very short time, and then challenged him to meet me in the parking lot after school. I took along a couple of friends -- not to back me, but to scrape me up and carry me away should it go as I expected.

But the bully didn't show up. And lo and behold, he was always civil to me after that.

I encountered it in my high school gym teacher, too -- a very large fellow who literally threw me out of his office and into a nearby wall when I told him I couldn't dress for gym because of a stiff neck. It was a legitimate malady, but without a doctor's excuse. In the absence of an excuse, the teacher told me to suit up and participate. I declined, and he threw me. The collision with the wall didn't help the neck.

My next stop -- minutes later -- was the principal's office, where I lodged a complaint. That resulted in school action, at my parents' insistence, against the teacher. He kept his job, but he was on notice and was very nice to me after that.

I've encountered it in my role as a reporter -- when an irate caller threatened to enter the newsroom where I worked and use my head for batting practice, and another time when a fellow phoned to berate and threaten me. In the first instance, I made sure the front door to the building was locked; in the second, I turned once again to authority, calling the Sheriff to alert him not only to the threat, but to the person his deputies might arrest if I turned up dead. I didn't hear anything further on the matter.

I've encountered bullyism second-hand, too -- where it affected my children. Three instances come to mind that occurred in school -- years ago now, but still fresh in the memory. One thing about bullyism: it scars, and lasts.

In two of those instances the bullyism involved teachers -- one directly (involving my oldest son, for which the teacher was called to account) and one more deviously, where a teacher at the very least failed to discourage bullying of my middle son, and I believe actively encouraged it. I couldn't prove that, though, since bullies often operate in the shadows. I confronted her, and pleaded my case to the administration, but was rebuffed. And so I pulled the boy from that school for the duration of the year, sending him to one in another community.

The third incident was pure students-on-student physical bullying, involving my youngest son. The school -- despite some positive efforts by one guidance counselor -- could not curb it, and so I pulled that boy out, too. This was in the eighth grade. He attended school in another district starting the next year -- and found a pronounced absence of bullies. He stayed there through graduation, went on to a successful college career, and now has an excellent job in the Washington, D.C. area.

I could go on -- but the simple point is this: There are lots of bullies out there, and oftentimes in a school environment.. If such a situation exists -- and persists -- in the classrooms, in the hallways or at lunch or recess, parents of the victimized should be proactive, or at least creative. And that might involve, as it did with my family, creating a new environment through the simple act of extraction and/or transfer.

I'm sure the fine folks who run the school where Phoebe Prince attended would -- until the past few days -- have told anyone who asked that whatever was going on there was not abusive, and that any reports to the contrary were a figment of the conspiratorially minded. Or put another way: the reports were "unsubstantiated." That's a useful term of the ineffectual or, worse, the bully enabler. It is a word large enough to hide behind.


The fact is, very few of us like confrontation, and thus allow the relatively small cadre of bullies to flourish. It's easier to let them do their thing -- but in a school setting, this is particularly onerous. Allowing it -- turning the other way, saying "Well, that's just kids being kids" -- breeds a culture that can too easily become ingrained.

While I'm not trying to indict every district, it appears that such a culture, such ingrainment, might well have been the case in South Hadley High School in Massachusetts -- Phoebe Prince's school. The physical abuse and verbal and text taunts against her were not only allowed, but reportedly allowed to escalate. The district ducked and bobbed afterward, trying to avoid the spotlight, but when the district attorney -- herself a graduate of that school -- brought charges against nine students, it was hard to hide.

The facts emerged from the dark, where the fungus grows -- from the dank world of the devious. And the facts were disturbing, as they always are with bullyism.

Yes, I've seen it first-hand. And you've pro