Meet The Essentials
38 honorees -- 19 women and 19 men -- are honored here. None of the 38 are in the Schuyler County Hall of Fame, but perhaps will be.
By Charlie Haeffner
The Odessa File Editor & Publisher
WATKINS GLEN, Oct. 29, 2023 -- Welcome to The Essentials -- a compendium of outstanding Schuyler County individuals. There were 24 selected in 2018, two more in 2020, four more in 2021, two in 2022, four more earlier this year, and two more now.
These latest bring to 38 the number of Essential honorees -- people who are not in the Schuyler County Hall of Fame, but might be someday. There are 19 men and 19 women among the ranks of The Essentials.
All 38 have impressed with their contributions -- historic, artistic and societal -- to Schuyler County over a wide swath of time. They include a few historic figures of note, but are mostly contemporary or recent citizens of Schuyler County. Some have left the public stage, but others are still very much a part of its fabric.
The Essentials' small selection committee decided there were certainly as many females worthy of notice as there are men, a divergence from the Hall of Fame's tendency to favor males. Even with three women joining the Hall at its last induction in 2018, men outnumber women there by a 40-8 margin.
The selections here are subjective in nature. Other women and men could easily have been chosen. This is not intended to disparage or slight anyone, but merely to accentuate the positive -- to turn the spotlight on some among us who have made life a little better for the rest of us.
The latest honorees:
Cyndy Wood: A longtime (1978-2017) employee of the Watkins Glen Central School District, she served as a Physical Education teacher and as Aquatics Director -- overseeing the training and assignment of many lifeguards and schooling coaches in certification-required CPR. A swim coach, a Life Guard Instructor, a Water Safety Instructor and an Instructor Trainer, she lobbied for and established a swim curriculum for Watkins Glen students, working in tandem with Kate LaMoreaux's long-running Summer Swim Program. Said LaMoreaux: "It was a matter of pride for Cyndy that her guards were the best trained in the state, and they were! She prepared lifeguards with a passion, often on unpaid time," and changed the lives of many students "by the quality of instruction" she imparted. Added LaMoreaux: "As for saving lives, that's one of those rewards that you never can count. When you teach water safety, you just live with the knowledge that many tragedies have been averted because of the work you do, and in Cyndy's case that is absolutely true."
Glenn R. Larison: Longtime owner-operator with his wife, Pat, of Larisons Poultry outside Odessa -- a business that had many employees across its 40-plus years -- Larison (now 94) served in the National Guard before opening his business. He was on the Odessa School Board for a decade and, after fire devastated Larisons Poultry in 1993, he served as a Schuyler County Legislator for 16 years (helping to hire the first county administrator, initiate the Schuyler County Ambulance Service, and procure cell towers on Sugar Hill), and was a volunteer firefighter, an original member, president and treasurer of the service-oriented Odessa Lions Club (and instrumental in running its Easter Egg Hunt in Odessa for many years), a founding member of St. Benedict's Church in Odessa and a president of its Society, a member of the Schuyler Hospital Chaplaincy Board, a Meals on Wheels volunteer, and a longtime member of the American Legion. He was particularly known for his low-keyed negotiating skills.
The previous 36 selectees are as follows.
Glenda Gephart: A longtime reporter for the Star-Gazette, she is also the former editor of the Watkins Review, which she turned from an advertising medium into a journalistic one. She headed a successful WGHS Sports Boosters; is currently executive director of the Schuyler County Historical Society's Brick Museum; held a key role at the International Motor Racing Research Center; has helped spearhead the annual Friends of the Library book sale; and has headed such organizations as the Schuyler League of Women Voters.
Angeline Franzese: Now retired from political life, she, along with her husband, runs the Villager Motel in Watkins Glen, but more notably was an effective member of the Schuyler County Legislature for 16 years, and was in fact the first female to chair the Legislature -- a reign respected by many and feared by some, for she was an intimidating presence. She served the former Legislative District 1 from 1981 to 1997.
Barbara Halpin: Twice a member of the Schuyler County Legislature, she served for a total of 15 years -- first from 1991-1997, with one year as chair, and then from 2010-2017. She was known as a very direct, very smart, very effective legislator who never hesitated to speak her mind. Recently retired, she has left a void -- including a gender void, since the Legislature is, alas, all male.
Beverly Stamp: She and her late husband, Monty Stamp, took over Lakewood Vineyards decades ago, building the business into a tourist destination while also building a family. Widely admired as an ambassador of the region's wine and grape industry, she was one of the founding members and longtime treasurer of Women for New York State Wines, a promotional arm of the state Wine Grape Growers. Active too, in the Seneca Lake Wine Trail, she has served on various industry organizations and on the Reading Town Board, and was named as one of the New York State Senate's Women of Distinction in 2013.
Judy McKinney Cherry: A relatively recent arrival, she has in her few years here packed a wallop as Executive Director of the Schuyler County Partnership for Economic Development. She was instrumental in Watkins Glen securing $10 million in Downtown Revitalization Initiative funds from the state, serving as co-chair of the DRI Local Project Committee; and in establishing a business (at long last) in the Business Park alongside Rt. 414 in the Town of Dix. She personifies a can-do spirit that promises to turn Watkins Glen into a tourist mecca beyond its most aspirational imaginings.
Jane Delano: Turn-of-the-20th Century figure from Townsend and Montour Falls who was known as "the Nightingale of America" for her nursing service during a Florida yellow fever epidemic. She served as Superintendent of the Army Nurse Corps, and then built up the fledgling Red Cross Nursing Service, along the way designing the outfit -- blue cape with scarlet lining, and a cap with a red cross in front -- still worn by Red Cross nurses today. When Schuyler Hospital was built in 1972, it was dedicated to Jane Delano.
Kim Laursen: A longtime teacher, now retired, Kim has served the children of the county for decades, directing many school plays, and has tended to adults by organizing the Easter Sunrise Service each year and community choirs to perform at special functions like Memorial Day services at the Schuyler County Veterans Park. She has performed the National Anthem at countless events, and served as Mrs. Claus at the Odessa-Catharine United Methodist Church for years. She is currently head of the Lake Country Players acting troupe. If there is a musical voice of Schuyler County, it is hers.
Carmella Hoffman: A longtime clerk/collector of the Town of Catharine and the town's court clerk, she is founder of the Sunset View Creamery on her family's farm at Catharine Corners, a 415-acre dairy operation. The cheese business has continued to grow, reflecting the growth, too, of the annual Finger Lakes Cheese Festival held on the same farm grounds each July. It attracts thousands of people each year. Hoffman was also honored in 2017 as a New York State Senate Woman of Distinction, with the award presented in Albany.
Peggy Scott: A former member of the Watkins Glen School Board, she is longtime head of the Seneca Santa organization that provides Christmas gifts to children in need; longtime executive director of the United Way of Schuyler County that serves 22 member agencies; and president of the Watkins Glen High School Alumni Association, spearheading an annual banquet which -- before the pandemic -- attracted hundreds of alums each year and honored distinguished WGHS graduates.
Michelle Benjamin: She has been the voice of Schuyler Hospital public relations for years, serving most recently as its Community Relations Director and as Executive Director of the Schuyler Health Foundation. She has been a force behind the Schuyler Steps Out walking competition that occupies local businesses and their employees for eight weeks each year, and with husband Tim served as director of Watkins Glen High School senior plays for 15 years. She has also been a kickboxing, indoor cycling, and Step Class instructor at Exercise Enterprise, and helped organize a Family Fit Fest in Montour Falls.
Rev. Sheila Price: Longtime and now retired pastor of the Odessa and Catharine United Methodist Churches, she oversaw consolidation of the two, and was instrumental in a Soup-to-Go-Sale that raised funds to help send the church's children to summer camp. She is beloved by her former congregation and by others -- such as Odessa File publisher Charlie Haeffner, who says: "Reverend Price was on her way to the hospital to visit my cancer-stricken wife when Susan was killed by a pulmonary embolism. Rev. Price ended up ministering to me instead. So I speak from personal experience when discussing the special gift of kindness and healing that she brings to her parishioners, and it resonates many years later." Added Haeffner: "Spiritual guidance, especially from a caring soul, is essential to any community."
Rebecca (Cleveland) Franklin-Guild: A former longtime Odessa firefighter, she works as laboratory manager in Bacteriology and Mycology at Cornell University. She is also an EMTB who has worked with local, regional and state emergency-service organizations; has been a member of the Firemen's Association of New York State's Membership Committee for 17 years and is currently its chair, and is a past president of the Central New York Firemen's Association, representing fire departments in 20 counties.
Dr. Blanche Borzell: A Watkins Glen High School graduate, she was the first female Family Practice Physician in Schuyler County, serving the county for decades. She registered more than 45 years in the medical field after graduating from Cornell University and, in 1973, from the SUNY Upstate Medical University. She was also a coroner for the county for over 30 years, serving as Chief Coroner for more than 20 of them. She died in 2019.
Dr. Cynthia Warner Terry: A longtime area physician, now retired, she was a standout student at Watkins Glen High School, the Cornell College of Agriculture and Life Sciences (cum laude), and Upstate Medical Center. She served over the years with Gannett Health Services, Schuyler Hospital, Foster House Medical Affiliates, and beginning in 1994 with Arnot Health, first in inpatient, outpatient and nursing home care, and then as primary care physician in Watkins Glen until her retirement. A wife, a mother of two and a grandmother of three, she loves travel and has with her family hosted a number of exchange students. A member of local service organizations, she has also been a library volunteer.
Olivia Coffey: A Watkins Glen native, she was the center on the Watkins Glen High School girls varsity basketball team in her freshman year as the Senecas went all the way to the Sectional final, losing in the closing minute. She then attended prep school, where she was an outstanding ice hockey player, went on to All America status at Harvard University in rowing, has been on three World Championship rowing squads, and was in the women’s eight boat at the Tokyo Olympics, where her team finished in fourth place. An Olympian who has brought pride to the residents of Schuyler County, she has most recently been a resident of Burdett.
Belle Cornell: A banking pioneer and community benefactor, Cornell worked her way up in banking from file clerk to president. A graduate of Cook Academy in Montour Falls, she joined the staff of the Montour National Bank in 1918. She became its president in 1964, the first female bank president in the state. In 1966, she donated 15 acres on Montour Falls' west hill for a new Schuyler Hospital. She served on the hospital board as treasurer for years. She also founded the Watkins Glen-Montour Falls Zonta Club. She died in 1980. At the time of her death, she was serving as a Chemung Canal bank vice president.
Tamre (Tammy) Waite: Long a fixture atop the Schuyler County Office for the Aging (beginning in 2006), she has run an operation there that has helped numerous elderly (in the words of the New York State OFA) “access ... services that enable (them) to live, work and age in their community of choice.” This includes help in the areas of health, insurance, transportation, housing, employment and food. She held a related role in Tioga County from 2003-2006, and before that, for 15 years, was the Activities Director at Schuyler Hospital. Her drive to benefit the community has extended to her free time, in key roles with the service-oriented Watkins-Montour Lions Club.
Robin Burnett: A fixture on the regional music scene, Robin has long led her own band, providing residents of the area and its visitors with quality performances for decades. In addition to rock, she plays country, folk and blues -- and often sings at the First Presbyterian Church of Watkins Glen. Once a Special Education teacher, she has for nearly two decades been teaching inmates at the Five Points Correctional Facility, focusing on GED and custodial maintenance subjects. A golfer and devoted reader with a passion for animal rights, she learned to love music at an early age (her grandmother sang to her) and taught herself to play the guitar.
Jim Guild: Owner of the Famous Brands department store, which he built from scratch, Jim is also a Watkins Glen landlord, including the building now housing the Chamber of Commerce; helped found a local church, from which he has undertaken mission work; and was the moving force behind the establishment of a Ben & Jerry's ice cream franchise on Franklin Street in Watkins. Considered a maverick by some, he has added significantly to the economic vitality of the village's downtown.
J.C. Argetsinger: A native of Montour Falls, he is a former U.S. government counsel who moved back here and became Schuyler County District Attorney. He was then elected County Judge in 1998, serving too as Family and Surrogate's Court Judge. He was re-elected to the bench in 2008, and retired at the end of 2011. He was also president of the International Motor Racing Research Center for years and -- before the pandemic curtailed it -- represented the IMRRC at the annual Cameron R. Argetsinger Award dinner at the Corning Museum of Glass.
Frank Steber: Recently deceased at the age of 96, Mr. Steber was a beloved English teacher in the Watkins Glen school district from 1955-1984 and, in his long retirement, was a columnist for the Watkins Review and Express ("The Seneca Spectator"), and the author of a history of St. James' Episcopal Church and of three historical novels based in this region: Seneca Dawn, Seneca Sunrise and Seneca Hope. A World War II veteran (service in the South Pacific), he was a gentleman, beloved by many.
Tony Vickio: An accomplished sign painter and sign creator (the welcoming Watkins Glen sign on the concrete wall at the bottom of Corning Hill, and the Hall of Fame and record boards in the Watkins Glen High School Field House, for example), he is also a racing promoter, drone videographer/photographer, author (of Shifting Gears, an autobiography), and head of the Spirit of Schuyler, which provides emergency funding to Schuyler residents in need.
Scott Westervelt: A longtime Odessa-Montour teacher (1970-2003) and coach (85 school sports teams, including swimming, baseball and football) who served as Aquatic Director and Phys Ed Dept. chairman for 25 years and Athletic Director for three years, he is also a 16-year high school swim official. Beyond that, he was an 11-year member of the O-M School Board who initiated a philosophical change in the board that has carried it from administrative helpmate to respected policy-making body. When he tried to bow out by not running the last time his board term ended (2016), he was instead voted in again through write-ins.
Mike Stamp: Mike is head of an insurance firm, E.C. Cooper Inc. on Fourth Street in Watkins Glen. A longtime firefighter with the Watkins Glen Fire Department and a First Responder, he has long served on the board of directors for The Arc of Schuyler (now The Arc of Chemung-Schuyler) -- including two terms as president -- and is currently its treasurer. He is also on the board of Lakewood Vineyards, Arbor Housing and Development, and the Watkins Glen Fire Company, and is a member of the Montour Falls Zoning Board of Appeals
John King: A transplanted Canadian and a U.S. citizen for the past 25 years, he had a successful business career, working for Nortel and retiring as CEO of Computer Consoles in Rochester. Head of the Montour Falls Improvement Association for five years after arriving in Montour Falls, he became mayor and served two terms, ending in 2020. A lay minister and involved in mission work in Haiti, he was instrumental in the development of a regional water treatment plant on the canal between Montour Falls and Watkins Glen, helping to secure financing and serving on its Joint Project Committee.
James Hope: A highly regarded Scotland-born landscape painter in the 19th century, he was a veteran of the Civil War who, sidelined by illness, sketched battle scenes at Antietam and later created five large paintings based on those sketches. He spent his last 20-plus years in the Watkins Glen area, with many of his later works depicting The Glen gorge area. He was the subject of a novel by local author Frank Steber, titled Seneca Hope.
Harold J. "Jay" Hoffmeier, Jr.: A transplanted Pennsylvanian, he has served generations of Schuyler County residents as a Physician's Assistant. He has also been a longtime community leader, serving most notably as board member (beginning in 1992) and then board president -- and enthusiastic promoter -- for The Arc of Schuyler, now The Arc of Chemung-Schuyler. A member of The Arc New York's Board of Governors and of the advisory board for Arnot Medical Services, he was honored by the State Legislature as recipient of the 2018 Older New Yorker of the Year Award.
Anthony Fraboni: Long dedicated to public service, he served as treasurer for the Watkins Glen Area Chamber of Commerce, on the Tri-County Housing Board, and on the Watkins Glen Library Board. A former village Planning Board member, he was -- as a trustee on the Watkins Glen Village Board -- instrumental as a member of the Joint Project Committee in the construction of a regional water treatment plant along the canal between Watkins and Montour Falls. A longtime VP and branch manager of Community Bank in Watkins, he retired in 2021. He was an active Rotarian, having served as its president, and was the moving force behind a successful annual fund-raising auction there. He died in 2022.
Michael Argetsinger: Michael, who died in 2015, was a veteran race-car driver (more than 400 races at 54 different venues in seven countries), instrumental in the formation and growth of the International Motor Racing Research Center, and author of five honored racing books (including works on Mark Donohue and Watkins Glen International). While working his later years in Chicago (the head of Michael Argetsinger Communications), he returned to Watkins Glen many times on behalf of his family and the Racing Center.
Craig Cheplick: A longtime Watkins Glen High School teacher, he had a successful coaching career, including with two honored football teams at Hobart and Cortland Colleges. He was an imaginative WGHS athletic director -- maximizing use of the Field House with various tournaments and events -- and was co-founder and longtime chair of the Top Drawer 24, which honors outstanding high school scholar-athlete-citizens in our region each year. A member of the WGHS Sports Hall of Fame, he was instrumental in the growth (and ultimate success) of The Odessa File -- insisting it cover WGHS, and contributing advice in its formative stages. Without that persistence, vision and encouragement, you wouldn't be reading this.
Nicholas Dugo: A longtime Watkins Glen High School history teacher, he served for many years as a WGHS senior class advisor who spearheaded 30 annual class trips to Washington, D.C, and many other class activities. He served as Secretary of the Watkins Glen Housing Authority from 1981 to 2010, was the Watkins Glen Village Justice for 28 years, and was a leader of his church, St. James’ Episcopal. He died in 2018.
Mark Swinnerton: A former Watkins Glen village trustee (2004-08) and then mayor (2011-15), he helped spearhead the development of the much needed new wastewater treatment plant on the canal between Watkins and Montour Falls that serves both villages. A leader in the Lions Club service organization, he has served as president of the Watkins Glen Lions (2009-10) and the Hector Area Lions (2016-17), and as Lions regional zone chair starting in 2019. An engineer, he has had integral roles in a number of regional construction projects: two halls at Cornell, two Science Buildings at Binghamton University, a Corning Inc. Sullivan Park Draw Tower, and the recent Cargill Salt warehouse expansion project in Watkins Glen.
Nelson Beebe: An educator who gave 33 years of his life to teaching math full time at his alma mater, Odessa-Montour High School, Mr. Beebe -- whose specialty was algebra -- was beloved by his students. He was hugely successful in his humor-laden, direct instruction, referring to his students as his children -- ones he could help influence in the absence of a daughter he lost in her infancy. He also proctored sports events regularly, and ran after-school detention, where he encouraged struggling math students to visit for further instruction. A full-time teacher at O-M from 1968-2001, he continued substitute teaching despite growing health and other personal problems well into the final year of his life, 2005.
Gary Emerson: A longtime resident of Odessa, he was a history teacher at Newfield, where he also coached boys and girls basketball. His interest in history has dominated his contributions to Schuyler County, including publication of a book titled "A Link in the Great Chain: A History of the Chemung Canal," and a biography of area notable John Magee. Emerson has been the Schuyler County Historian since 2017, responsible for collecting and preserving material related to the county's history. He is also notable for the many history walking tours he offers in the area to the public. Not content to rest on his educational laurels, he has recently been pursuing a Ph.D in American History at Binghamton University.
James P. "Jamie" Coleman: A retired doctor, he changed direction (and community service) by entering law enforcement with the Watkins Glen Police Department. He has been serving as School Resource Officer at Watkins Glen High School -- a role that earned him the New York State SRO of the Year Award for 2022 from the state’s Juvenile Officers Association. A Harvard graduate and an Army veteran (a colonel) with numerous awards including a Bronze Star Medal, his dedication has included a scholarship fund he established to benefit students interested in a degree in criminal justice.
Ed Clute: A piano tuner, Ed is, more to the point, a master pianist. Coming from a prominent Schuyler County family, he has, despite being blind since birth, maintained a delightful sense of humor and entertained residents of -- and visitors to -- Schuyler County with his music for decades. Ed, who started playing the piano at 3 years of age, learned to read braille music at the Batavia School for the Blind, and earned a degree from the New England Conservatory of Music. He can still play a lively, uplifting song like Sweet Georgia Brown, as he did at a June 2023 surprise party at Seneca Lodge on his 80th birthday.