May 26 – Happy Birthday Stephen Sanford

The future of Amsterdam New York’s rug-making legacy was at stake. John Sanford had settled in the city along the Mohawk River in 1821 and built a rug mlll. Today’s Amsterdam Birthday Celebrant went to work for his father in that mill in 1844. Ten years later, a monster fire burnt the place to the ground. John, who was 52-years-old at the time of the blaze, threw in the towel and retired. his oldest son Stephen, who had attended both West Point and Georgetown could have moved to any city in this country and had his pick of the very best jobs at the very best companies, chose instead to remain in Amsterdam and rebuild the mill.

That decision secured the future of this city. By the time he handed off the reins of the company to his own son John, the Sanford rug mills were employing 2,500 people whose wages were being spent in Amsterdam businesses that employed thousands more. Just as important to this town’s development, Sanford’s success also attracted other entrepreneurs to locate their mills here.

Stephen married Sarah Jane Cochran in 1849 and the couple had a total of five children. After she died in 1901, Stephen donated the land and the money used to build the elegant Sarah Jane Sanford Home for the Elderly that still stands and operates at 69 Guy Park Avenue and was in fact recently expanded.

Another famous Amsterdam landmark today’s featured Birthday Celebrant was responsible for was the Stanford Stud Farm. Stephen’s doctor had advised him to take up farming as a way of relieving the pressure of running his huge industrial enterprise. Instead of growing corn though, Sanford chose thoroughbred horses instead and had the then state-of-the-art training and breeding farm built just north of Amsterdam on Route 30. He originally named it Hurricana Farms and it would go on to produce some of the greatest thoroughbred champions in history, including a Kentucky Derby winner.

Like his father before him and his son after him, Stephen Sanford also served as Amsterdam’s representative in the US Congress. He was elected in November of 1868. He served one term and then refused to run for reelection. He was already a good friend of Ulysses Grant, who was serving as US President at the time because the two men had been cadets at West Point together. Sanford also became a good friend and confidant of the powerful New York State Senator and political boss, Roscoe Conkling. Those relationships and his fortune helped the Amsterdam Industrial Baron quickly become a force in Republican Party politics at the national level.

At the time he passed away in 1913 at the age of 86, his carpet mills, racehorses and political resume had made the name “Stephen Sanford” one of the most famous in America.

 

May 25 – Happy Birthday Isabelle Orante

orantehome
Former home of the Orante’s

They were one of Amsterdam’s coolest couples. He was the artist, a painter and sculptor who also owned Matthew’s, a different kind of men’s clothing store on Main Street in Amsterdam’s downtown. She ran an interior decorating company called Eljoor’s from a second floor office at that same location. They were the Orante’s, Isabelle and Matthew and if you were fortunate enough to have known either or both of them, you will never forget them.

It is Isabelle who celebrated her birthday on today’s date. Back in the 1960’s, 70’s and 80’s she was the go-to decorator for Amsterdam businesses- and upscale homes. She had the absolute perfect look for the job too.

Born in New York City, she carried herself like a runway model and usually dressed like one as well. I remember during my bartending days at Ralph’s on Market Street, her and Matthew would very occasionally stop in on a Friday evening if the right band was performing. They’d sit in a corner booth and he would always wait on her like she was royalty and he loved doing it. They were one of the best dancing couples in the City at the time and I’ll never forget how the entire crowd at Ralphs’ would gawk at the two of them perform what seemed like choreographed routines on the lounge’s ten foot square parquet dance floor.

Early on in her career as an Amsterdam interior decorator, Isabelle had partnered with Elsie Curran and John Wolfe. She and Wolfe then established Eljoor’s as a partnership and when Wolfe left the business, Isabelle became the sole proprietor. Her and Matt ended up purchasing several Amsterdam properties and converting them into stylish apartment buildings.

The Orante’s own apartment was as cool as they were. It was in the refurbished former headquarter building of the City’s old telephone company at 40 Division Street. The place served as  an ongoing real-world exhibition of Isabelle’s decorating skill and Matthew’s artistic talents.

As you might imagine, to function even semi-regularly as an interior design consultant in this town required one to be flexible. Isabel worked her magic on everything from mansions to a bowling alley during her heyday. Her company vehicle was a gray Cadillac convertible and her assistant was usually Matthew himself. I only wish the two of them had been in their prime when the hit design show Trading Spaces debuted on TLC in 2000 because the Orante’s had the talents, personalities and intriguing eccentricities to become television stars.

Isabelle passed away in 2011 at the age of 85, three years after Matthew died.

 

May 24 – Happy Birthday Monsignor Peter Nowak

FatherNowak222One hundred and thirteen years ago, a delegation of Amsterdam men, all of them natives of Poland, called on Father Anton Gorski, who was then the Pastor of St. Stanislaus, the city’s first Roman Catholic Church for people of Polish descent. It was not a social call. Quite the contrary, the men were there seeking Gorski’s permission and blessing to create a second church for the segment of Amsterdam’s Polish families who had congregated several blocks north of St. Stan’s, Reid Hill neighborhood. A reluctant Gorski gave them neither. Undeterred, the delegation then approached the Bishop of Albany, Thomas Burke, who was most gracious and receptive to their request. He did give them permission to begin the process of forming a new parish along with instructions on how to do so, but he also cautioned the men to proceed carefully and not get ahead of themselves.

Filled with enthusiasm, the delegation returned to Amsterdam and as Bishop Burke instructed, formed a committee to find a building site for the new church, a rectory and a school. They selected four lots on Van Derveer Street and proceeded with a fundraising campaign to build the new house of worship, which was to be christened St John the Baptist. A total of 48 families had expressed an interest in joining the new parish but back in 1909, the average salary in Amsterdam was only about $8 per week. Despite that, the first $1,600 was raised relatively quickly. But the antagonism from the parishioners of St. Stans proved to be an intimidating and divisive force and with no counterweight to the influential Father Gorski, the committees’s fundraising and recruitment efforts stalled. So in September of 1909, they went back to Albany and asked Bishop Burke to appoint a priest for their new church. The Bishop had none available to give them but he promised he would do so when a new group of young men were ordained the following June.

True to his word, on June 2, 1910, today’s Amsterdam Birthday Celebrant was brought to Amsterdam by Burke’s assistant and introduced to the St. John’s committee as the new pastor of their new church. The Reverend Peter Nowak would spend the next half century, making St. John the Baptist Roman Catholic Church a spiritual bedrock of Amsterdam.

Born in Koscina, Poland on May 24, 1883, he studied for the priesthood in Belgium and was ordained on July 12, 1908, celebrating his first mass in his hometown parish. His older brother, Father Stanislaus Nowak was already a priest and already in New York and he had told Bishop Burke about his younger brother’s ordination. Burke quickly sent the younger Nowak an invitation to join the Albany Diocese. It was just as quickly accepted and Nowak boarded a ship and sailed for America. The young priest spent a few months getting acclimated to the US at a Schenectady parish. Burke then sent him to Granville, NY to organize a new church there. One year later he came to Amsterdam to begin his long and illustrious career at St. John’s.

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The committee had been right. Their floundering church had needed a priest and leader to legitimize their efforts and Nowak would do much more than that. Within two years, the impressive white brick structure with its trademark double-steeples rising 137 feet above VanDerveer Street, opened its doors for the first time. A new rectory was finished by 1917. Both buildings were completely paid for by 1926. Nowak’s flock then built a convent on Milton Avenue for the parish’s Nuns and in 1929, purchased 16 acres of land and built a cemetery and a chapel off of Widow Susan Road.

He oversaw the formation of several societies for both the men and women of his parish and a church choir. He also served on the advisory board of St. Mary’s Hospital and for many years was also that health care facility’s chaplain. He truly did for St. John’s what Father Gorski had done for St. Stan’s and was rewarded for his effective stewardship by Pope Pius XII in 1955, when he was elevated to the position of Monsignor.

In early February of 1960, the then 76 year-old Nowak entered St. Mary’s Hospital and underwent abdominal surgery. He died one week later on February 17 just a few months shy of his 50th anniversary as pastor of his beloved St. John the Baptist. The Church would continue in operation until February 25, 2009, when it was closed by the Albany Diocese.

May 23 – Happy Birthday Theron Akin

Here’s ten reasons why I think today’s Amsterdam Birthday Celebrant was by far, the most interesting and controversial Mayor in our City’s history.

1) His first name was Theron. He is the only person I’ve ever heard of with that first name. Actually, it was a pretty common first name for boys in the early 20th century. Theron has a Greek origin and means “hunter.” I Googled “famous people with the first name “Theron” and the first site referenced listed only one, the actress Charlize “Theron”. A second site listed “Theron Pond” as the most famous Theron. That Theron invented Ponds’ Hand Creme. Perhaps if they had called it Theron’s Hand Creme, the name might still be somewhat popular but then again, maybe not.

2) Theron Akin’s Dad actually owned and lived in the historic main house of the Old Fort in Fort Johnson. His name was Ethan Akin and he ended up selling the fort to the Montgomery County Historical Society in 1905

3) Before he entered politics, Theron Akin was a practicing dentist in Amsterdam. He then began working with his Dad, who owned a successful farm.

4) Akin was the guy who led the successful campaign to incorporate the village of Fort Johnson in 1909 and he became the village’s first Mayor. And by the way, it wasn’t named Fort Johnson at first. It was incorporated as the Village of Akin.

5) Akin was elected to Congress representing the 30th district as the Progressive Party Candidate in 1910. His neighbors back in Akin, NY would grow so upset by his subsequent voting record in Washington, they voted to rename their village Ft. Johnson.

6) He was unable to secure the Progressive Party’s nomination for a reelection bid in 1912, so he returned to the family farm in Ft. Johnson. He would spend the rest of his political life trying to get back in Congress.

7) When he again sought and failed to secure the Progressive Party’s nomination to run for Congress in 1914, he began running for Mayor of Amsterdam instead. This caused the editorial board of the Amsterdam Recorder to issue a scathing rebuke of his candidacy, accusing him of being nothing more than a carpetbagger. They said he should stay in Fort Jonson and leave Amsterdam alone, insinuating that Akin only wanted the Mayor’s office of the Rug City to puff up his resume for another run for Washington and they probably were right.

8) Akin finally succeeded in becoming Mayor of Amsterdam in 1920 and served through 1923. His term in office was dominated by a nasty, ongoing battle with the Common Council over what the Mayor could and couldn’t do based on the City Charter. Some things never change do they? The attorney Carl Salmon succeeded Akin as Amsterdam’s Mayor in 1923. Akin tried to become Mayor again in 1927 but failed.

9) Besides running for political office, Akin’s second favorite pastime was getting married. He did that four times..

10) Akin died in 1933 and is buried in Tribes Hill’s Pine Grove Cemetery. By all indications, his funeral was not well attended.

In addition to archived articles from the Amsterdam newspaper as references for this post, I utilized Akin’s Congressional biography and Bob Cudmore’s profile of Akin, which appears in his excellent book, entitled; Stories from the Mohawk Valley.

I’d also like to assure readers of this post who will be voting in the November 2019 election for Amsterdam Mayor that I have very little in common with Theron Akin. First of all, I’ve always lived in this City so I can’t be accused of being a “carpetbagger”. Secondly, I have been married to only one woman, my beautiful wife Rosemary, for 43 years. Thirdly, I’ve never lived in an old fort and finally, I promise on the souls of my parents and grandparents that if elected, when I leave the office the name of our City will still be “Amsterdam”.

 

May 22 – Happy Birthday TJ Sumigray

Just about every Sunday, Tony Sumigray would show up at Mass with today’s Amsterdam Birthday Celebrant in tow and sit next to, in front of or behind me and my kids. Back then, little TJ was a study in perpetual motion, crawling, squirming, standing, making crazy faces, doing everything but sitting still and his antics would always entertain my four kiddo’s while Tony would look at me, smile and just roll his eyes. He knew he had a bundle of pure energy he was raising and fortunately, he and his wife Paula were up to the task.

This cute, squirmy kid would grow up to become an outstanding Amsterdam High School athlete. According to former AHS Coach and Athletic Director, Bob Noto, TJ Sumigray was one of the top ten AHS baseball players he’d ever seen play during Noto’s 40-plus year involvement with the program. He was a stellar third-baseman for the Rams, who could hit a baseball a mile. As good as he was on the baseball diamond, he was probably an even better golfer. His Dad loved to play golf and he made sure TJ had the opportunity to fall in love with the game as well. I saw Tony Sumigray hit some drives on the golf course and the guy could absolutely crush the ball. I’ve never seen TJ hit one off the tee, but friends of mine who have tell me the son could hit the ball longer than the father, which I find incredible. In any event, TJ Sumigray was good enough with all the clubs in his bag to play four years of Division I collegiate golf for St. Peters University in New Jersey.

Tony Sumigray was one of the most genuine, nicest human beings to ever call this place home. His death from cancer in 2012 was a huge loss to his legion of friends and a crushing blow to young TJ.

Fortunately for him, a new love had entered his life to help him get through the grief. Her name was Megan Gaugler. She happens to have been one of the very best lady basketball players to ever play for Amsterdam High School. She was also a great student, who went on to play hoops at Skidmore and then get her medical degree from the University of Buffalo’s Medical School. Today her patients refer to her as “Dr. Sumigray”.

TJ is no slouch in the academic department either. While Megan was getting her medical degree at Buffalo, he was attending their school of management. Today they are living back in this area and are the proud parents of the newest Sumigray, a boy they named Gabriel. I’m not positive of this but I’m willing to place a wager that if little Gabe gets taken to Church on Sunday, he doesn’t sit still and if in a few years he takes a liking to sports, not only will he win some longest drive contests, he might become a pretty decent three-point shooter as well. Happy Birthday TJ!

May 21 – Happy Birthday Chet Opalka

opalkaChet Opalka was born in Amsterdam on this date in 1949 and grew up on Mathias Avenue. When it was time for high school, his parents decided to send him to Schenectady’s Bishop Gibbons and from there, he went to Niagara University, where he graduated in 1970 with a BS degree in Chemistry. He accepted a position as a research chemist at Sterling Winthrop Pharmaceutical Laboratories in East Greenbush, where he worked for the next two decades. It was while with Sterling Winthrop that Opalka co-invented the drug Inocur, which is used to treat congestive heart failure.

In 1991, Opalka teamed up with a co-worker at Sterling named Thomas D’Ambra and started a new company called Albany Molecular Research, Inc., (AMRI) that provided contract research and manufacturing services for the pharmaceutical industry. It was the perfect time to form such a business and AMRI grew quickly from a staff of just a few scientists to one with over 300. The company is perhaps best known for discovering the active ingredient in the allergy medication Allegra, which at its peak was generating $50 million a year in royalties for AMRI. By the year 2000, Opalka was ready to retire from his full time role with the firm. By that time he had his name on 27 US patents and had authored several scientific publications. He was also a very wealthy man.

Since retiring from AMRI, Opalka has sat on several boards and become an active angel investor. In 2011 he made lots of local headlines when he came out in support of prolonging New York State’s “millionaire’s tax.” Opalka told the Capital District Business Review at the time that “The average wages of CEO’s, relative to their employees, are outrageously high. It is obscene.” He also donated to the Occupy Wall Street movement that had sprung up back then, citing the need for the people at the top who could afford to help to do so and mentioning the fact that his own blue collar parents had lost their careers when Amsterdam’s carpet industry folded.

 

May 20 – Happy Birthday Russ Dickson

There have been some great Amsterdam High School football teams over the ninety-plus year history of that school’s interscholastic gridiron program. Whenever a discussion about which of those team’s was the very best,  Frank Derrico’s 1986 Class A Section II Championship squad is always given top consideration. They finished with a 10-0 record, outscored their competition by a 296-48 margin and completely demolished a previously unbeaten Saratoga High School 35-0 in that year’s Super Bowl, rolling up 428 yards of offense and holding the much heralded Blue Streak’s to just 28. Perhaps never has a purple and gold football team had so many outstanding players on it’s roster. But for certain, these 1986 Rugged Rams had the greatest starting running back tandem in AHS football history.

Kevin Billington and today’s Amsterdam Birthday Celebrant were the first and only pair of Amsterdam running backs to finish in the top three in Big Ten League total yards rushing in the same season. They had been running out of the same backfield together since grade school, when their Maroon Wildcats Little Giants team was demolishing the opposition up at Amsterdam’s Veterans’ Field. Russ Dickson was strong and quick and the type of player who could do everything well and at full throttle. He ran over and through people.

I can’t believe Dickson turned fifty-years-old today. It seems like just yesterday I was leaning against the wooden snow fence that used to surround the western end zone up at Lynch Stadium watching this kid put every ounce of effort into every carry. He spend his time nowadays buying and selling real estate, riding his motorcycle, hanging out with his family and going the gym. He looks like he could still take a hand-off from his old QB Aaron Cotugno and run fifty yards over and through people. Happy Birthday Russ Dickson and thanks for all those great Friday night memories all those years ago.

 

May 19 – Happy Birthday Vincent Rossi

It was a particularly tough time for my Mom. She was recovering from her first battle with cancer and trying to get her small catering business off the ground at the same time. Her signature side dish was a mushroom and broccoli rice casserole that was absolutely out of this world. The stars aligned for her when today’s Amsterdam Birthday Celebrant happened to be at an affair she catered and he had the opportunity to taste that casserole. A few days later, Vince Rossi called my Mom and asked if she was interested in catering a post funeral gathering for a family he was serving. A business alliance was forged that helped my Mom get her new business over the hump.

Vincent J. Rossi was born in Amsterdam, NY on May 19, 1958. He graduated from Bishop Scully High School in 1976 and then got his degree in Mortuary Science from Hudson Valley Community College two years later. He has been a Licensed Funeral Director since 1979, when he purchased the Sargalis Funeral Home that used to be located on East Main Street, near St. Mary’s Church. In my humble opinion, since the day he took overthat location, Mr. Rossi has set the standard for funeral direction professionalism in this town.

Most of us have experienced the trauma of losing a loved one. We know firsthand how the resulting emotions, concerns, and important decisions and actions that must be taken can be extremely difficult to deal with. It seems as though Vince Rossi was put on this Earth to help people make it through that unwanted but inevitable moment of life.

But he’s also a very wise businessman. In 1984, he merged his business with David Bellinger, who had earlier purchased the Johnson & Lindsay Funeral Parlor on Mohawk Place, to form the Rossi Funeral Home. It turned out to be a great partnership and they built a solid business together.

In the mid nineties, I met with Vince and Dave to discuss a new product my publishing company was considering for the funeral industry. During the hour or so we chatted, they gave me a concise overview of that industry. My Aunt had passed away the previous year and they took the opportunity to ask me why my family had chosen one of their competitors to handle the funeral. I told them my Aunt had written instructions for her funeral and my family felt obligated to follow them.

Both guys completely understood and went on to explain how such requests made it so challenging for a funeral home, particularly a newer one, to increase market share in any market. As hard as they tried, great service, community service and word of mouth references just didn’t outweigh the expressed instructions left by the deceased and since Rossi Funeral Home didn’t even exist at the time most of those instructions were written down, I quickly realized their point. Vince went on to tell me there was then a huge movement toward consolidation in the industry. Large companies were coming into markets and purchasing all the funeral homes.

When I left them that day, I remember thinking that they probably had been approached by such a company with an offer to buy their business. A few short months later, however, it was Rossi and Bellinger who changed the funeral business landscape in Amsterdam with their stunning announcement that they had merged with their biggest competitor, Betz Funeral Home.

Since then, the business has added five more funeral homes to their network and today the Betz, Rossi, Bellinger and Stewart Family Funeral Homes have become the largest provider of funeral services in Montgomery and Fulton Counties. One of the things that most impresses me about their operation is how they have constantly recruited new  talent to their staff. Many of them like Marty Hughes, Pete Rose and Ninja Sagarese grew up in this community, like Vince himself and you can tell he takes great pride in helping them grow professionally.

Vince Rossi himself hasn’t changed. He’s as personable, professional and compassionate as he was during his earliest days in the business. But Vince’s life has changed in a big way. He and his partner Rob are now loving and proud parents of a son named Luca Marc and he absolutely loves being a dad!

He has also given much back to this community over the years. He was a driving force behind the formation and early success of the Horace J. Inman Senior Center. He has been an incredibly valuable member of the Board of Directors of the Montgomery County Office for Aging, Inc. for many years and in 2015 was awarded that organization’s Father Joseph F. Girzone Crystal Pillar of the Community Award for his years of volunteer service to that agency.

Happy Birthday Vincent! Thank you for what you did for my Mom and for what you’ve done and do for Amsterdam.

 

 

May 18 – Happy Birthday Dr. Peter Diamond, Sam Greco & Bob Fetterly

diamand-peter-m-d_l

Without a doubt, my family and I were blessed for over thirty-plus years because we were fortunate enough to have Dr. Peter Diamond as our family physician. When Pete was a teenager attending Wilbur Lynch High School in the late 1960’s and lettering in three varsity sports, his goal was to go to medical school, become a doctor and return to Amsterdam and open up a general practice. Thousands of us who experienced his unique form of professional care are extremely grateful that he was able to fulfill that challenging career objective.

Most people who entered his examining room were usually nervous or concerned when doing so. Pete realized this and before he’d do anything else, he’d sit down and just talk with you. Simply having that initial conversation with him instantly made you feel better. Coming into that room he probably had ten thousand things on his mind but as soon as he closed that door, he made you feel like you were the only patient he had to see that day, and that’s exactly how he treated you. Time simply did not matter to him. He remained with you until he was sure he had treated or answered every single one of the concerns and questions you had when you arrived for your appointment. As a result, there was not a single time in all these years that I didn’t leave Pete’s office feeling relieved and happy that I went to see him. That’s a remarkable statement to be able to make.

After retiring from his practice, Pete and his dear wife Bridgette moved to Philadelphia a few years ago to be closer to their children and grandchildren. I was so fortunate to have him as our doctor and so honored that he is my friend. Happy Birthday Doc.

Growing up in Amsterdam’s West End during the 1950’s and 60’s, everyone knew Sam Greco from Carmichael Street. I sort of thought of him back then as a young jack-of-all-trades in our neighborhood because he could do everything well. He was a great athlete, a talented musician and an excellent student.

After graduating from Amsterdam High School in 1969, he went to Bryant University in Rhode Island to earn his degree in accounting and early on landed in Kingston, NY where he learned about the health care business working for a very generous CFO at Kingston Hospital. He had found his professional passion. From Kingston, he moved south and became the associate administrator of financial operations at Florida Medical Center in Ft. Lauderdale. He especially loved that job because it was there that he met his favorite nurse, Karen Moskal who has been his wife and soul mate for the last 34 years.

In 1989, Sam went to work for a small emerging group that was buying hospitals around the country. It didn’t stay small for long. With Greco serving as the senior vice president of financial operations, Columbia Hospital Corporation grew to $35 billion in revenues and operated over 350 hospitals 150 surgical centers and many other healthcare facilities.

As you might imagine, a job with that much responsibility in a company growing so huge so fast required Sam to relocate on demand. He and Karen moved several times before finally settling in Dallas, Texas. Along the way, the two best things that ever happened in their lives came along, their sons’ Anthony and Jonathan.

After moving to Texas Sam co-founded a new health care network and later became CEO of a public healthcare IT company. He then took a deep breath, contemplated retirement, but instead began consulting with hospitals on topics ranging from financial modeling to supply chain management. Who could blame him? His career experiences make him one of the foremost authorities in health care finance, operations and management in the entire United States.

His younger brother Tony, who has been a close friend of mine forever, his sister Marie and his ageless and radiant Mom Mary, still live in Amsterdam and Sam visits here regularly. Happy birthday Sam Greco, you’ve had an amazing career and made your hometown proud!

Yet another Amsterdam High School Class of 1969 member and another long time friend of mine would have also celebrated a birthday today. Bob Fetterly passed away in January of 2014 after a long and very difficult illness. Nobody loved his community more than Bob loved Amsterdam and fortunately for all of us, he was always willing to do whatever he could to make this a better place to raise our families. To describe just a few examples, he served on the Boards of the Greater Amsterdam School District, Liberty Enterprises, Montgomery County Industrial Development Agency, the YMCA and the Amsterdam Waterfront Commission.

Bob just didn’t sit on these Boards, he was one of those people who got fully invested in the mission of each organization. He had the ability to break down and simplify complex issues. He had a keen understanding of program development, finance, construction, state government, social services, history etc. His passion was brainstorming and problem solving. He was a voracious reader and he absolutely loved to sit down and talk to anyone about anything because most of all Bob Fetterly loved people.

The one he loved most on this Earth was his dear wife Darlene. They were married for 41 years and raised four kids who Bob absolutely adored. Toward the end of Bob’s life, it became very difficult for him to physically function. He was confined to a wheelchair and he had to expend great amounts of energy just to speak. In what would be my last conversation with him, he didn’t want to talk about himself. Instead he asked about the progress of an idea for improving our hometown, which we had discussed perhaps a year earlier and he urged me to keep working at it. Even at the very end of his own life, Bob Fetterly was excited about the future of this community. Happy Birthday Bob. You are deeply missed.

May 17 – Happy Birthday Sue Dunning Matthews

Since I started writing about people who have lived in my hometown, many regular readers of my Amsterdam books and this Blog have approached or messaged me to tell me how impressed they are with my memory. I’m flattered of course but I truly believe the secret to my ability to recall people and events so well is more a credit to the talents, skills, accomplishments and in many cases friendship of the individuals I write about. That plus I appreciate excellence in any form. I’m passionate about so many things, history, sports, music, business, politics, love of family etc. and have been from a very young age so it is extremely easy for me to remember moments in my life when I’ve been thrilled, touched, deeply impressed or enchanted by the performances and actions of others who’ve lived in my hometown.

Today’s Amsterdam Birthday Celebrant is a great example. I will never forget the evening I sat in the Lynch Auditorium and heard Sue Dunning sing the song “Misty” accompanied by  the amazing Amsterdam Stage Band. It was either in 1968 or ’69 and I vividly remember being absolutely in awe of that beautiful and talented young woman that night. First of all, I was a big fan of the song she sang. Secondly, back in the 1960s, the Amsterdam High School Stage Band was truly a professional quality ensemble, loaded with extremely gifted young musicians led by the incredible trumpet player Mike Pallotta. But it was Dunning’s voice and pacing that made the magic.

She was just a year ahead of me in school. Her dad was the long-time Amsterdam dentist, Dr. Robert Dunning. Being just a fan and not really a friend, I completely lost track of what happened to her after she graduated from Lynch in 1971. I just hoped she kept on singing.

Well guess what? She did and still does, concentrating mostly on jazz. She also got married and now lives in Maryland and goes by the name, Sue Matthews. I found a detailed description of her, her music and her career at the Web site AllMusic.com. Here’s an excerpt from that description:

Like Eden Atwood and the late Susannah McCorkle, Sue Matthews is a very accessible jazz singer who incorporates cabaret and traditional pop elements. Matthews, who lives in the Maryland suburbs of Washington, DC, has a clean, crystal-clear, pretty sort of voice; she isn’t a rugged, hard-edged singer à la Ernestine Anderson or Carmen McRae. Nonetheless, Matthews swings, and she brings a lot of blues feeling to her work. She has a big, full voice and an impressive range; for all the vulnerability that she displays, Matthews will never be accused of sounding like a waif. In fact, one can hear how she has been affected by some aspects of Ella Fitzgerald’s singing, specifically, the softer, more caressing side that Fitzgerald often displayed on ballads…

I also found this recording of Sue singing “I Love Being Here With You.” Happy birthday Sue and thanks for the memory!

Sue Matthews shares her May 17th Birthday with this former Amsterdam industrialist.