2019 Greater Amsterdam School District Hall of Fame Quiz

The Greater Amsterdam School District’s fifth annual Hall of Fame Induction Dinner is scheduled for Friday, September 20 at the Perthshire. The Hall of Fame Class of 2019 consists of ten deserving individuals and two legacy teams. In addition, a display (accompanying photo), which includes the names of every AHS Student since 1931 who earned Valedictorian or Salutatorian honors will be added to the District’s Hall of Fame.

See if you can answer the following questions about this year’s inductees. You’ll find a link to the correct answers at the end of this quiz.

1. This young powerhouse was Amsterdam’s first NY State Public High School Wrestling champion, the program’s first Eastern States Classic Champion and the first AHS wrestler to break the 250 career victory mark. Who is he?

2. She is the daughter of a former Amsterdam orthopedic surgeon, who now has an M.D. (and Ph.D) of her own and serves as an Associate Professor in the Departments of Pediatrics and Molecular & Human Genetics at Baylor College of Medicine. She is also the director of the Bone Marrow Failure Program at Texas Children’s Hospital in Houston. What is this brilliant woman’s name?

3. This former Amsterdam High School Physics teacher was born on August 5,1908 in a small village in Russia to Jewish parents, when that huge country was still a monarchy, and under the rule of the Romanov’s. Who was he?

4. He was considered the “Godfather” of the Greater Amsterdam School District’s instrumental music program. What was his name?

5. This Amsterdam native was paired on the anchor desk of a Boston TV news program with Natalie Jacobsen in the early 1970’s. Their on-air chemistry was instant and dynamic propelling their newscast to the top of the ratings. The couple’s off-air chemistry was pretty hot as well and the two were married in 1975. That made them the very first husband and wife co-anchors paired together on the same major market  newscast in television history. Who was this Amsterdam-born new anchor?

6. After she set a school record for most career three pointers (59) by an Amsterdam High basketball player between 2006 and ’08, this hot-shooting guard then put together a stellar hard-court career at Skidmore before earning her Medical Degree at U of Buffalo. What’s her name?

7. In 1995, Amsterdam Kicker Alvaro Montes nailed a last-minute 23-yard field goal to provide the winning points as the Amsterdam Rugged Rams captured the 1995 State Championship. What was the name of their opponent?

8. This amazing athlete was a gifted wide receiver on offense and a tough, ball-hawking safety on defense. He also punted the ball and returned kicks for some of Coach Pat Liverio’s greatest teams, including the 2005 State Champions. He was also a gifted basketball player for AHS and a sprinter and jumper on the School’s track and field squad. Who is he?

9. This amazing softball pitcher averaged 16 strikeouts per game while leading the AHS Softball team to its first Sectional Title in a quarter century back in 2005. Her first name is Sara and her last name was Puglisi back then. What is her last name now?

10. First hired as a Spanish teacher in 1961, this 2019 HOF inductee climbed the career ladder during his 30 plus year GASD tenure. He also served as a department chair, assistant principal, principal, director and finally superintendent. What is his name?

11. Probably because he coached the lines of two different Amsterdam High School State Championship football teams, his contribution to another sport often gets overlooked. In the early 1980’s he became head coach of an AHS Track & Field Program that had fallen on hard times and turned it into one of the School’s most popular and successful sports. Who was this outstanding mentor?

12. The 2007-08 AHS Girl’s Basketball Team will be inducted into the Hall of Fame this year. Who was the head coach of that team?


September 16 – Happy Birthday Joe Riley III

pictureofjoe2When I wrote his original Amsterdam Birthday post in 2016, I put Joe Riley III in the same “likable”category as apple pie, Friday night high school football and hitting an exacta at the flat track. Simply put, he was one of this town’s all-time most well-liked individuals. Born on September 16, 1952, he was the oldest of the four Riley boys born to Joe Jr. and his wife Mary Ann, who was the sister of long-time St. Mary’s and Bishop Scully three-sport coach, the late Dutch Howlan. The boys also have a younger sister named Marybeth.

Joe Riley III attended SMI through eighth grade and then Bishop Scully, graduating in 1970. He was into sports his entire life and he was very good at all of them, earning several of those huge green “S’s” in high school for his play on Uncle Dutch’s basketball, football and baseball teams.

After graduating from Scully, he went on to Niagara University. He then returned to his hometown and started his one-man version of a “jobs program!” I met him for the very first time when he umpired one of my Shorty’s softball games in the early seventies. He also became a familiar site wearing one of those zebra shirts at Capital District high school gymnasiums as he evolved into one of this area’s best high school basketball referees. I used his moving company every time I’ve moved to a new home in this city. He also served as Montgomery County Coroner forever plus he and his brothers operated Riley Mortuary on Division Street, which has been in their family since 1921, when Joe’s great grandfather Arthur Riley bought into the business.

Joe married the lovely Karen Murphy and together they raised four kids, Kathleen, Patrick, Dennis and  Anne (though when I asked him once how many kids he had, he told me five if you count Chris Leonetti, who was Joe’s best friend and constant companion).

Tragically, Joe passed away in March of 2019 after a valiant struggle with cancer. It is still difficult to accept the fact that he is gone. When I found out he passed I wrote the following: “Here’s the God’s honest truth. There was not one time ever, either when I had business with him or ran into him somewhere, that I didn’t come away from the encounter thinking to myself “Joe Riley is one of the nicest people I ever met” He was always an absolute joy to be around, an exceptionally funny, witty, sincere, caring class act, an Amsterdam gem. His death last evening leaves a huge hole in both the spirit and personality of this city.” Happy Birthday Joe!

About a year before Joe’s illness was discovered, I asked him if he could move a piano from our home in Amsterdam to the fourth floor of a Brooklyn townhouse that had just been purchased by my youngest daughter and her husband. She lived on a hugely busy, one-way, very narrow Brooklyn street and the only way up to their place was a winding staircase, consisting of about 70 steps. As I was explaining the logistics of the horrifying and near impossible task I could actually see the famous twinkle in Joe’s eyes slowly fade away. He should have simply said: “Mike are you out of your mind?” but instead he told me he’d get back to me with a price. I spoke to him at least twenty times after that and Joe never once mentioned that piano. It’s still sitting in my front hallway.

Ironically, that piano once belonged to another guy who, like Joe Riley was born on September 16th.


September 15 – Happy Birthday Alex Torrez

Alex Torrez y Los Reyes Latinos
Alex Torrez y Los Reyes Latinos

Today’s featured Amsterdam Birthday celebrant is the most popular Latino resident in the city’s history. Unfortunately he doesn’t live here anymore. Alex Torrez came to Amsterdam with his family from the Bronx when he was just 14 years old. He credits his Mom for his love of music because she played the radio in their Bronx apartment 24/7, always tuned to Latino music channels that featured the the music of Latin legends like Machito, Tito Puente and Tito Rodriguez.

Then the family moved upstate to Amsterdam. For a community noted for its large Latino population, Alex was shocked by the total absence of the music he loved so much. He could not believe that there was no radio station or local music store he could turn to so he did the only thing he could. He decided to form a band of his own. This was in 1980 and though their were plenty of Latinos living in Amsterdam, very very few of them were musicians so in addition to teaching himself how to play bass guitar, Alex became a music teacher, introducing some of his neighborhood friends to the music and musical instruments needed to evolve into a Latino band. And when he couldn’t find fellow Latinos he called on some of his Anglo friends to join his group. They started practicing their instruments individually and then jamming and rehearsing together as a group from the time they got out of school till they had to get home for dinner. In addition to keeping them off the streets and out of trouble, they started sounding pretty good. They called themselves Alex Torres y Los Reyes Latinos and began accepting gigs at any and all kinds of community functions.

It wasn’t long before the band caught on big in Amsterdam’s Latino neighborhoods and soon thereafter in Latino communities outside of Amsterdam as well. Before you knew it, they began recording their own music and were getting invited to bigger and bigger events throughout the northeastern United States. They started winning awards and getting asked to play for bigwig public figures including New York Governor George Pataki and Bill and Hillary Clinton. They hit the big time officially in 1999 when the group’s fourth album entitled Entre Amigo was a Grammy Award semi-finalist.

In addition to Torrez, Los Reyes Latinos featured Nicholas Lue (assistant director, piano, vocals), Miquel A. Cruz (lead vocals), Jimmy “Pelu” Fontanez (bongos, tambora), Todd Fabozzi (congas), John Bronk, Kevin “Pan” Hendrick, Brian Patneaude, Terry Gordon, Mike Perry and Chuck “The Mime” Yurgans (trumpets), Ken “Snoopy” Olsen and William “Professor” Merkley (trombones), Juan Carlos Marrero (timbale), and Angel “Sweet Pea” Dueno (guira, vocals).

As his popularity grew Torrez became the unofficial spokesman for Amsterdam’s Spanish community on all sorts of issues. He also opened a popular Latino music store in the East End of the city, which became the base of operations for his band and a popular destination for Amsterdam’s Latino music lovers. As the band became more popular, its demands on Alex’s time grew exponentially. Then the Internet developed into everyone’s preferred source for the music they purchased and Alex decided to close the store and move his base of operations to the larger market around Albany. In February of 2015, he and his Latin orchestra were invited to tour and perform in the People’s Republic of China. The young man who bought the Latino beat to Amsterdam is now bringing it all over the world.

Torres shares his birthday with this well-known and respected Amsterdam jurist.

September 14 – Happy Birthday Tom “Flick” Flint

fit_softball_lgEvery Labor Day for over twenty years running, just about everyone in and around this community who loves the game of softball gathers up at the Four Diamonds at the bottom of Lindbergh Avenue for the best softball tournament this City has to offer. Its called the Recorder Robert Flint Memorial Fast Pitch Softball Tournament. It has become a sports institution in this city and the person most responsible for making it so is the eldest son of the tournament’s namesake, the late Tom “Flick” Flint.

Born on September 14, 1961, Tom had started playing recreation softball in the late 1970’s as a catcher with the DePalma’s team and earned his nickname for the way he used to flick the ball from the top of his ear when he threw it. He later switched to pitching and joined a new team, the Mohawk’s in 1990. During the next two decades he evolved into one of this town’s best fast-pitch softball hurlers. Softball was a genetic thing for the Flint’s and there’s no doubt that Tom inherited his love for the game from his dad, a former Recorder Newspaper employee who played the game passionately for years. That’s also why when the memorial tournament began, Tom became its driving force as Director. He spent large chunks of his life making sure the event was a top-shelf softball affair every year and he certainly succeeded.

Flint didn’t just organize the event, he and his Mohawks competed in it as well and in 2010 the team won its second straight Tournament title. The following April, he discovered he had cancer of the esophagus. In an outstanding article about Flint written for the Amsterdam Recorder newspaper by Dan Kelly, Flint was shocked by the news. He told Kelly at the time that didn’t smoke, he was in great physical shape and the only symptom he had experienced was a chronic upset stomach. Then all of a sudden he finds himself sitting in front of a doctor who is telling him he’s got cancer and the chances of survival are just 15-to-20 percent. The news certainly floored him but Flint had always been a fighter. He had a seven-year-old daughter at home he adored and a beloved fiancée he planned to marry. He intended to fight the cancer as hard as he could and he knew the treatment required to do that would be difficult on him physically so he made sure others would step in and keep his beloved softball tournament going.

Tom’s first round of treatments ended that August so when Labor Day rolled around Flint was able to make it to the tournament games as a spectator. Each year, Tom and his younger brother Matt would decide who receives the event’s lifetime achievement award handed out during the closing ceremony. But Matt didn’t give Tom a vote in 2011 because so many people had come up to him and told him the award had to go to Tom. When it came time to present the plaque, Tom’s sister read the following inscription to the assembled crowd: “Tom ‘Flick’ Flint began playing in the Amsterdam Recreation Softball League 30 years ago for De Palma’s. After joining the Mohawks, Flick became a top-notch pitcher and feared hitter. He has gone on to become a respected umpire and outstanding tournament director. Tom is loved by his teammates and revered by his opponents. Simply stated, Flick is Amsterdam softball.”

Thomas “Flick” Flint passed away on October 26, 2012 at his Romeyn Avenue home after a valiant struggle with esophageal cancer. He was 51 years old. He loved life, he loved his family and he loved playing softball.

The 2019 version of the Flint Memorial Tournament was just completed over Labor Day Weekend. Many who played in the Tournament over the years have also gone to their final resting place. The following Facebook post from Tom’s brother Matt Flint does a beautiful job describing what this event has come to symbolize for Amsterdam’s softball community:

“Huge thanks to all the players, umpires, and spectators who made this Flint Softball Tournament such a success. It is humbling to know how much it means to so many people. For my family it is a way to honor our father Bob, our brother Tom, and our mother Mary. To many others, they play in honor of loved ones passed. Great people like Jack Terwilliger, Carol Hoefs, George Rivera, Paul Karutis, Chuck Parslow, Dick Hartig, Bob Cetnar, Rich Auricchio, Mike Garrison, Adam Jackson, and Pat Cushing. They are always alive in our memories and never more than this weekend where their stories are shared with family and friends. Thank you.”


September 13 – Happy Birthday Chris Marcil

marcilI continue to be amazed by the talent and accomplishments of folks who come from my hometown. If you’ve ever found yourself laughing during an episode of Frasier, or Beavis and Butt-head or the old hit comedy News Radiothe chances are pretty decent that it was a script line written by Amsterdam native Chris Marcil that was making you chuckle.

He was born on September 13, 1963 at Amsterdam’s St. Mary’s Hospital, the son and second of three children born to Market Hill residents Ed and Diane Marcil. His dad had begun teaching at Perth Central the year before that and would end up becoming the last superintendent of that district before it merged with the Broadalbin School District in 1987. The elder Marcil was a driving force behind that merger and I remember admiring his gracious ceding of the Superintendent’s position to his Broadalbin counterpart, rather than let it become a bone of contention in the merger process.

Meanwhile, Chris Marcil graduated from Bishop Scully High School in 1981 and then went on to Yale University, where his roommate was a kindred soul and native of Omaha named Sam Johnson. After graduating from the Ivy League school the pair stuck together professionally, accepting writing assignments with the New Yorker, Mademoiselle and the New York Times and then serving a stint as editors at National Lampoon.

From there it was on to television when they joined the writing staff of the groundbreaking TV series Beavis and Butt-head in 1992 and then wrote the pilot for its spinoff, Daria. Those stellar credits brought the pair widespread recognition in the industry and they were soon moving to LA and taking over as story editors for the hit TV comedy News Radio and eventually becoming co-executive producers of that show. Next came Frasier and the pair’s first two Emmy Nominations for Outstanding Comedy Series. During their tenure with Frasier, the show became the most Emmy Award–winning series of all-time with 37 wins.

In an interview with TV Land, Marcil and Johnson explained that they write comedy by sitting around a table in a locked room with their staff of writers trying to make each other laugh at stories about each other’s lives. The pair has lots of experience with that method since they’ve been trying to make each other laugh since their days as college roommates.

Their most recent small-screen success story was the TV Land Network half hour comedy, Hot in Cleveland, which starred the ageless Betty White. Marcil and Johnson were executive producers of the show, which enjoyed a six-year run that ended in 2015.

This pair’s most current project was the NBC comedy Crowded,about two recent empty nesters whose two grown daughters unexpectedly move back home, as do the husband’s retired parents. It debuted in May of 2016 but was cancelled after just one season.

There’s no doubt in my mind you’ll see this Amsterdam native’s name popping up in the credits of another new hit comedy special before he retires.

Chris Marcil’s brother Peter Marcil, another Amsterdam native was the New York City-based investment banker working with Montgomery County and the Canadian-based investment firm, Clairvest Group that spearheaded the failed 2014 effort to bring a casino to Amsterdam.


Marcil shares his September 13 birthday with this former Amsterdam native who also worked for a time in the entertainment industry. She never achieved the widespread fame or success Marcil has but her Birthday post was one of my favorites.

September 12 – Happy Birthday Nicholas Ephraim Young

220px-nicholas_youngI remember actually feeling a bit disappointed when it became common knowledge that Abner Doubleday was in fact not the inventor of baseball. Why? Well there was that beautiful Baseball Hall of Fame ballpark down in Cooperstown named after the guy, which I always thought was about as perfect a tribute as possible for the person who invented my all-time favorite sport, even if it no longer is “Our National Pastime.

But Doubleday doesn’t need credit for inventing the game to go down in history. After all, he had a pretty distinguished Army career and fired the first shot in defense of Fort Sumter which is where the Civil War began. Then during the battle of Gettysburg, it was Doubleday’s division of 9,500 men who held off 16,000 Confederates in one of the fiercest defenses of ground in US Military history.

It was during the Civil War that the soon-to-soar flame of Doubleday’s role in the beginning of baseball probably got its fuel. By the time the War began, early versions of the game were already being played throughout the North and especially here in New York State. That’s why baseball games became a favorite pastime for Union Army troops, waiting to march into their next battle. And it is at this point of my story that I get to introduce today’s Amsterdam Birthday Celebrant, Nicholas Ephraim Young.

Born in Amsterdam, NY on September 12, 1840, Young’s family had taken up residence in Old Fort Johnson almost 100 years after Sir William Johnson had built the two story stone structure a mile west of this city. Young’s father, an owner of an Amsterdam mill was evidently well-to-do, affording his boy the opportunity to attend Amsterdam Academy and to have enough spare time available to learn to play the game of Cricket and become quite good at it. But when the War between the States reared its ugly head, Young did not avail himself of the rich folks’ option of purchasing a substitute to fight for him. Instead, he enlisted in New York’s 32nd Regiment, eventually landing with the Signal Corps, where he became in-the-field tent mates with John F. Dwyer, an Amsterdam, NY plumber who would one day become Mayor of his hometown.

Both soldiers had become fond of baseball during their Army hitch and would often participate in games while in between marches and battles. It was during one such lull in the action, while bivouacked in Virginia that Young and Dwyer decided to organize a game between soldiers from New York and troops from other states. They called the team of Empire Stater’s the “New York’s” and the other squad the “United States.” Young pitched for the New York nine and Dwyer was the catcher. Though I cannot locate a final score, it was reported that 15,000 spectators showed up for this contest including generals and a bunch of newspaper reporters and the event got nationwide publicity. As both captain and manager of the New York team and an organizer of the game, Young’s name was prominently mentioned in these accounts. Thus began his public affiliation with the sport that would end up getting him elected as the fourth-ever President of the National League.

After the war, Young secured a position with the US Treasury Department in Washington DC. In his spare time there, he joined an amateur baseball team called the Washington Olympics and became the club’s starting right fielder.  It was Young’s suggestion that a group of baseball enthusiasts representing teams from major Northeast and Midwest US cities meet to discuss forming a national league of teams in 1871. The meeting was successful and it resulted in the formation of the National Association. At first the rules of the Association were very informal. Any professional team was permitted to join simply by paying dues. Teams created their own schedules and played against opponents of their choice. The only other requirement of membership besides the dues provision was that each team had to schedule a certain number of games against each other ball club in the Association.

Young became owner and manager of the Washington team as well as the first ever secretary of the National Association. When the National League was formed in 1876, Young became its very first secretary and treasurer as well and then served as the NL’s third President from 1881 until 1903.

He was well-liked and nicknamed Uncle Nick but he had a tendency to let the owners of the league’s most prosperous franchises dictate. He also wasn’t strong enough to stop the fighting and rowdiness that was marring many of the league’s games during the 1890s. When the rival American League formed in 1901, many of the NL’s best players, tired of this violence, jumped to the new league whose leaders had promised to enforce a cleaner style of play. The NL decided to follow suit and elect new leadership, forcing Young out as president. He then returned to his job at the Treasury Department. Young died in Washington DC at the age of 76 in October of 1916.

Young shares his September 12 Birthday with this former Amsterdam attorney who back in the 1960’s developed a reputation for being a non-conformist.


September 11 – Happy Birthday Harvey Chalmers II

chalmers4Today’s Amsterdam Birthday Blog Celebrant was born on this date in 1890. He was the son of a wealthy industrialist and he took over the largest pearl button manufacturing operation in the world after his father retired in 1943, just a bit before zippers and plastic buttons took over as the fasteners of choice in the World’s apparel industry. By 1966, the two Amsterdam plants he and his family had operated at the foot of the Chuctanunda Creek were both gone, demolished to make way for the new arterial system.  At its zenith the business employed as many as 1,000 workers. Meanwhile, Harvey Chalmers II had happily transformed himself from industrialist to well respected historical novelist. It was making buttons that made him rich but writing books that made him happy.

Harvey’s parents were Arthur A. Chalmers and Emma Appleton Chalmers who made their home in Broadalbin, NY. He was educated in Amsterdam’s public schools and then after a two-year-stint at Williams College, he completed his four-year degree at Yale in 1914, where he became an intercollegiate fencing champion. He worked briefly for a company in Boston before enlisting in the Army and serving in the Medical Corps as a lieutenant during WWI. It was upon his discharge from the service that he returned home to Amsterdam to join his father at Harvey Chalmers & Son, the button manufacturing company first started by his grandfather and namesake.

The company had perfected the process of transforming pearl clamshells into buttons. The shells Chalmers used as raw materials were scooped up along the banks of the mighty Mississippi River and transported in railroad cars to Amsterdam. They were then punched and drilled into millions of buttons. Whole neighborhoods of Amsterdam housewives used to earn piece-rate compensation working at home by sewing the finished buttons onto the cardboard cards on which they were sold to end users by retailers around the country.

Once his factories ceased operation, Harvey Chalmers was able to begin his second career as a historical novelist. He would eventually complete and have published 8 books which included such titles as “West to the Setting Sun,” “Joseph Brandt, Mohawk,” “Birth of the Erie Canal,” Last Stand of the Nez Perce,” “How the Irish Built the Erie,” and “Tales of the Mohawk.” His novels were distinguished by their extreme detail and historical accuracy. Chalmers enjoyed researching the history he used in his novels even more than he enjoyed actually writing them. In the process, he became an expert on the history of the Empire State and was often called upon as a consultant on that topic by the New York State Education Department.

Perhaps the only thing Chalmers enjoyed more than working on his novels was fishing, particularly fly-fishing. That’s what he was doing early in the evening of October 6, 1971 at Cieply’s Pond in North Broadalbin, NY, when he suffered a fatal heart attack and died at the age of 81. He had two children, a daughter who married George Carter and moved to Cambridge, MA and a son, Arthur II, who would become a realtor in Schenectady, NY




September 10 – Happy Birthday Donna Purnomo


Whenever I hear the maiden name of today’s Amsterdam Birthday Celebrant, the first memory that flashes in my mind is of her as a teenager, dressed in this full body dog costume playing the role of Nana, the Darling family’s irascible pet dog in Bert Derose’s 1969 AHS Drama Department’s production of Peter Pan. Donna Metallo was a key member of that late 1960’s early ’70s ensemble of outstanding young thespians who helped DeRose put together a memorable string of hits on the famous Wilbur Lynch auditorium stage.

I remember Donna had this wonderful singing voice and a very funny and outgoing personality that made her a pleasure to be around and a joy to share the stage with. When she graduated from Lynch in 1970, she had decided to pursue music as a career and she went on to earn degrees in Music, Theater and Education at Long Island University.

Fast-forward to today and you will find Amsterdam’s Donna Metallo has become Albany’s Donna Purnomo, the co-owner of  Yono’s, one of the Capital Region’s most popular and critically acclaimed dining spots. Her husband is the flamboyant Indonesian Chef Widjiono Yono Purnomo. His resume is distinguished by an education at the illustrious Culinary Institute at Hyde Park, work experiences in some amazing dining venues, and a cookbook filled with a signature blend of contemporary American cuisine uniquely and dynamically flavored with Yono’s native Indonesian influences.

You could say it was “love” that pushed Donna into her current career. Yono was a superb chef with a charismatic personality but no practical business experience. So when this couple married and decided to go into the restaurant business, it was Donna who switched careers and dove into the operations and management end of the business. She certainly learned her lessons well.

Though I’ve tried to dine at Yono’s on at least three occasions, I’ve not yet done so but my son has had the pleasure and I know several folks who do so often. They’ve all told me how impressed they are with not just the unique and delicious food but also the atmosphere. It’s Donna who created and manages every aspect of that atmosphere and her superb talents in this area have not gone unnoticed. She has twice received the Restaurateur of the Year Award. She’s the first recipient of the Toque Award from two Chapters of the American Culinary Institute and a recipient of the Governor’s Award. She also has served as a multi-term President of the New York State Restaurant Association. Did I mention she also serves as Yono’s talented Pastry Chef?

The Purnomo’s have two children. Their son Dominick manages the family’s second eatery in downtown Albany called An American Brasserie as well being the Chef-Sommalier and Maitre d’ of Yono’s. Their daughter Alexandra is a Manhattan schoolteacher.

Yono’s is located on 25 Chapel Street in Albany. The phone number is 518-436-7747.


September 9 – Happy Birthday Mary Van der Veer

One of Van der Veer's portraits.
One of Van der Veer’s portraits.

Whenever I catch myself feeling the slightest bit sorry for myself, I think about the very real and significant struggles that people with physical and developmental disabilities face in their lives every single day. Not only must they figure out how to accomplish life’s tasks in spite of their disability they must overcome the stigma society places on people who don’t look, move or talk like “normal” people do.

These folks don’t want your pity. What they do want are opportunities to prove that they belong in the same neighborhoods, workplaces and social gathering places that people without disabilities congregate. They want the chance to prove their disability doesn’t define who they are or limit what they can accomplish. This explains why it was actually an honor for me to learn about and write about an individual who just might be the most accomplished artist in the history of Amsterdam. Her name was Mary Van der Veer and she was a talented enough painter to have studied under Whistler in Paris and have her canvased creations win medals and be chosen for expositions and exhibits all around the country and the world. But what could never be seen when you looked at one of her beautiful landscapes or portraits was the woman with deformed hands and back, whose atrophied legs were paralyzed by a severe case of infantile paralysis when she was just three years old.

Van der Veer's Arnold Avenue studio/home was a barn that was converted by her dad.
Van der Veer’s Arnold Avenue studio/home was a barn that was converted by her dad.

Mary Van der Veer was born on a farm just outside of Fort Hunter on September 9, 1865. It was there that she was struck with crippling polio as a very young child. Her miraculous journey from a severely disabled toddler to an incredibly gifted artist probably would not have been possible without her amazing parents. She was the daughter of John and Jennie Van Evera Van der Veer. Her dad went into the residential construction business. He built several homes in Amsterdam’s Market Hill neighborhood and moved his family into one of them, on Lincoln Avenue.

Van der Veer’s parents never coddled their daughter and if they had tried to, something tells me little Mary would have told them to cut it out. She grew up into a bold, unafraid young woman with an incredible passion for art, all of which enabled her to overcome her handicap with incredible determination and amazing effort to become a highly skilled artist. So skilled, that she was accepted to study at the prestigious Academy of Design in New York City and one of her paintings was selected for exhibition at the 1893 Worlds Fair in Chicago.

She then went to Europe a first time to study with the American artist James Whistler, who chose a Van der Veer self-portrait for a 1900 exhibit he put on for his students. Back in America, she continued her studies at the Philadelphia Art School where fifty of her paintings were featured in a one-woman exhibit in 1904. That same year, one of her paintings was awarded a bronze medal at the St. Louis Exposition.

In a 2007 essay about Van der Veer, Amsterdam, NY-born historian Bob Cudmore described a woman who “smoked cigarettes, bobbed her hair and travelled in wheel chairs and on crutches.” She was also known to curse pretty liberally.

Just before World War I, her father disassembled a barn up on Amsterdam’s Market Hill and reassembled it into a charming combination home and studio for Van der Veer that still stands on today’s Arnold Avenue. The finished home was featured in a “House Beautiful” magazine pictorial in 1915.

After the war Van Der Veer returned to Europe where she focused on painting landscapes in Holland, her family’s ancestral home. When she came back home to Amsterdam, she created some of her most memorable works associated with this area, including local landscapes and portraits of area notables, like Recorder Publisher William Kline and Annie Allen Trapnell, the founder of Amsterdam’s Century Club. A collection of her work can now be viewed at the Walter Elwood Museum at 100 Church Street in Amsterdam.

Miss Van der Veer was a life long member of Amsterdam’s Second Presbyterian Church. She had one sister, who married Amsterdam businessman James Smeallie. Mary Van der Veer passed away suddenly at the age of 79 in May of 1945.

September 8 – Happy Birthday William Claus


w200-1902Sir William Johnson was famous for his ability to get along with Indians and with women. Though he was never formally married, he had at least 16 children that we know about and was rumored to have fathered even more. One of his known daughters was a girl named Nancy. She was one of three children Johnson had with a white German settler named Catherine Weisenberg. Nancy, who was more commonly known as Ann married Christian Daniel Claus, a German-born silk and tobacco trader who had come to America on a speculative deal to obtain those items. That deal had gone bad and lacking the money necessary for the return voyage home, he ended up becoming the tutor of the son of the English King’s Indian Agent in Pennsylvania. That agent introduced him to Johnson, who served as the Crown’s Indian agent for the Northern Colonies. Claus moved north to this area and married Nancy Johnson in 1762 and their son William, today’s Amsterdam birthday celebrant was born three years later, on September 8, 1765, at Fort Johnson.

As the grandson of this area’s most prominent citizen, there is little doubt that William Claus was one of the greater Amsterdam area’s first young “blue bloods,” sort of like being a Sanford heir at the beginning of the Twentieth Century. His parents had hoped to send him south to New York City to obtain a formal education but before they could do so, rebellion began breaking out throughout the Colonies  and the entire Johnson family was forced to flee to Canada in 1775.

Young William began his military career in the British Army at the age of 12 in 1777, as an orderly in his Uncle, Sir John Johnson’s camp. There is evidence that five years later, he took part in the successful British raids against Fort Dayton and Fort Herkimer. Those raids were led by Mohawk Indian Chief Joseph Brant, whose older sister Molly had been Sir William Johnson’s last live-in consort before he died in 1774. By the end of the War, Claus had advanced to the rank of lieutenant and would later become a captain.

By 1788 Sir John Johnson had become the crown’s superintendent of Indian affairs in Canada and though it took him a while to do so, he was able to get his nephew William and appointment as a deputy superintendent. As soon as Claus took over the title he found himself in conflict with Joseph Brant, who wanted the Indian tribes of the Six Nations to have the right to sell land. Claus opposed Brant’s effort and after seven years of diplomatic wrangling with the British government, he was successful in thwarting it.

When the War of 1812 came, Claus led his units of militia troops competently and fought bravely for the British side. After losing two wars on the North American continent, the British decided to stop trying to dominate the native Indians of Canada and instead help them develop reservation-like settlements. Claus was lauded for his sincere advocacy of Indian interests during this transformation. So one of Amsterdam’s earliest highly-privileged bluebloods  evolved into a much respected member of Canadian society. Cancer would clam Claus’s life in 1826 at the age of 61.