Thursday, April 21, 2011

Now Grown, Adoptee Seeks Roots In Oneonta’s Hungarian Refugees

In the depth of the Cold War, the Hungarian Revolution of 1956 against their Soviet overseers thrilled Americans, and when 13 refugees – 10 men, three women – arrived in Oneonta on New Year’s Eve of 1957, they were hailed as “freedom fighters” and heroes.
But they were human beings, too.  And in October of that year a baby girl was born in Bassett Hospital, and two weeks later was adopted by the Harrison family of Burnt Hills, north of Albany.
That baby girl graduated from high school, attended Wittenburg and Western Michigan, received bachelor’s and master’s degrees, and spent her career in academe, married and raising two children, a girl, now 21, and a boy, 18.
Then, as an associate director of Loyola University’s Center for Community Service & Justice in Baltimore, Christina Harrison and a group of students visited a halfway house to spend time with residents.
The residents and students went bowling, then engaged in a conversation back at the house.  The young people, who had connected with the older men as individuals, were more than surprised to learn one was in prison for 10 years, another lived on the streets, a third, a heroin addict.
“I’d been interested my whole life,” Christine said of her mysterious past, “but never to the point of initiating the search.  Because it’s a little scary.”  But the men “were so courageous and so honest, speaking about their lives so boldly, for the first time I decided to take a tangible step.”
The first step was to send a request for records to the state Adoption Registry in Albany, where she learned the records are only available if both child and birth parents ask for them jointly.
Otherwise, all information that might reveal the names of birth parents remains confidential.  However, she did learn about her birthplace, and that her parents – her mother was 31; her father, 35 – claimed to be of Hungarian origin.
“There were some descriptors of my birth parents,” she said.  “My birth father had completed college and was an engineer (tall, athletic).  My birth mother had completed two years of college, loved music and literature, worked as stenographer.”
From a newspaper clipping, she learned of the Hungarian refugees, who stayed at the former Homer Folks TB hospital on West Street before being absorbed into the nation. 
Last October, Christina came to Otsego County for the first time, staying at the Creekside B&B in Fork Shop.  She visited Bassett – “It was very meaningful to see the hospital where I was born and that in some distant way I was connected to that place” – and sought out Hungarian-Americans.
She sat down with Annette Vincze of Oneonta, the youngest daughter of a Hungarian-American family, and a little girl in 1957.  “She remembered her mom hosting these Hungarians.  They would come to the house, have dinner, sit and talk.  They were handsome, stylish people.”
Since few local Hungarian-Americans had gone to college, Christina concluded her parents must have been at Homer Folks.
“It’s very interesting,” her father observed.  “During her growing up years, she was never involved in this.  But I always said I would like to find her birth mother and thank her.

Apartments, Stores Due In Long-Vacant Anchor


Liz Rose, left, and Karey Foster of Oneonta Realty discuss plans for the ground floor with Mickle.

One of downtown Oneonta’s largest empty buildings is a beehive of activity these days, as new owners seek to renovate its 11 apartments by June 1 and create a shopping mall on its ground floor.
Vacant for seven years, the property is the former Resnick Furniture building – it originally was the downtown J.C. Penney – at Main and Ford, across from City Hall.
It was purchased Wednesday, April 6, by Peter Clark and Ron Mickle, longtime associates in creating housing for students, in a foreclosure sale. Clark also bought the former Samson Furniture building, 9-15 Elm Street, Mickle said. 
The total price for the two properties was $511,000, according to county Real Property Tax Services.
“I’m thrilled,” said Mayor Dick Miller.  Clark “is a well-known Main Street operator.  He is one of the best apartment operators we have.  It cried out for new ownership and development.”
During a walk-through with Mickle the other day, crews from Roseboom Brothers, the Schenevus contractor, were at work throughout the bright, skylight-dotted second-floor, replacing kitchen appliances and counter tops, doing general repairs and painting.  (The building had been re-roofed by the previous owner.)
There are three one-bedroom apartments and eight two-bedroom apartments on the upper floor of the two-story, low-slung yellow-brick building.  Already, eight of the rentals are “locked in,” and conversations are underway with tenants for another two, Mickle said.
There is parking behind the building, not enough for everyone, but the city lot between Deitz and Ford is a half-block away.
“It’s in great shape,” said Mickle, who operates United Student Rentals with his wife, Jennifer, managing 38 buildings in the city, 200 beds in all.  Clark, of Peter Clark Student Rentals, hired Mickle to handle maintenance in 1992, and the two men eventually began collaborating on projects.
Meeting on the 7,500-square-foot ground level with Liz Rose, Oneonta Realty general manager, she said the plan is to build 20- by 20-foot units for shops around a central food court.  Windows will be added on the Ford Street wall.
Rose, accompanied by Karey Foster, her office manager, said she is already lining up clients – the plan lists a chocolate shop, a dress store, an art gallery – and hopes to have the mall functioning by early summer as well.
The building had been tied up in a lengthy proceeding brought by Fannie Mae, which prevented its sale and redevelopment.  The Bank of Cooperstown is handling the financing for the partners.
While acknowledging this is a positive development for the downtown, the mayor was able to tick off a list of other properties in need of redevelopment, beginning with Bresee’s.  (Developers have been solicited, and a contract could be let in the next several days.)
Java Island, a half-block west from the Resnick building, also needs work.  And the lot between Foothills and Ristorante Stella Luna was recently cleared and is available for development.
The vacant second and third stories above Key Bank, owned by Sarkisian Brothers, the Binghamton developer, are also a matter of concern, Miller said.
At one point, City Hall had identified funds to install an elevator, which would have made the upper floors ADA compliant.  While that money is no longer there, “if Mr. Sarkisian were interested in doing something upstairs that required an elevator, I certainly would put my shoulder to the wheel to find those funds,” Miller said.

Ron Mickle inspects progress in a second-floor apartment  in the former Resnick building.  Jim Connington of Jefferson spackles.

Peter Clark got this Elm Street building as part of the package.

City of The Hills

RECORD INTEREST:  Hartwick College received a record number of applications for Fall 2011.  The 5,769 first-year applications received by early April represent a 52 percent increase since 2010 and 134 percent increase since 2009.

BUSINESS BOOST:    A free three-hour “Business Fundamentals Boot Camp” for anyone planning to start or expand a business is 8:30-11:30 a.m. Wednesday, April 27, in the NBT Bank conference room, 1 Wall St., sponsored by City Hall.  Register by Monday, April 25, at 432-8871, extension 207, or e-mail

BIG SOCCER:  The SUNY Oneonta Student Association’s third “World’s Largest Soccer Game” is Friday, April 29, with a pre-game show and registration at 7 p.m. and the kickoff at 8. If you’re 18 or older, register at 

TOWNHOME DETAILS: SUNY Oneonta presents details on its townhome project at the top of Clinton Street to the public at 6 p.m. Tuesday, April 26, at the Morris Conference Center. 

Susan Plantz cuts a piece of at cake decorated with an image of Electric Lake at the History Center opening of an exhibit on the topic.  In the background, Molly Swain serves coffee.  (Other photo, A2)

Cooperstown, Oneonta Teams To Play Twice

Their relationship got off to a bit of a rocky start last season, but the Oneonta Outlaws and Cooperstown Hawkeyes are putting it all behind them.
While the Outlaws are now with the New York Collegiate Baseball League and Hawkeyes with the Perfect Game Collegiate Baseball League, the two have announced they will play two non-league exhibition games this year.
The first is at 5 p.m., Thursday, June 16, at Cooperstown’s Doubleday Field.  The second is at 7 p.m. Thursday, June 23, at Oneonta’s Damaschke Field.



Bill Davis, founder of what is now the Country Club Automotive Group, accepts applause – it soon developed into a rousing standing ovation – at the Otesgo County Chamber’s Annual Dinner & Celebration of Business, where Country Club received the NBT Bank Distinguished Business Award.

SUNY Oneonta Diversity Entity Receives Award

Thomas Sakoulas and the SUNY Oneonta President’s Council on Diversity are among the honorees at the College Enhancement Committee’s Employee Recognition Luncheon at noon Wednesday, April 27, at Le CafĂ© in the Morris Conference Center.
Diversity council members are Thelma Apicella, Lynda Bassette, Susan Bernardin, Emily Carroll, Joseph Chiang, Susan Clemons, Hilgrove Delancey, Jeffery Dennis, Damayanthie Eluwawalage, Barbara Felter, Lorraine Hall, Miguel Leon, James Mills, Elizabeth Small, Robb Thibault and Sen Zhang.
Other Single Effort Excellence Awards go to Julia Baxter-MacGregor, Michael Koch, Jim Michels and Kevin Wagner.
Sustained Excellence Awards will go to Justin Brymn, Arthur Dauria, Timothy Welch, Gail Feuer, Margaret Monaco and Jean Yaro.

Rotary Club Send Duckett, Sloman, Rule Overseas

Three Oneonta High School students have been selected for Oneonta Rotary Club’s Student Exchange Program, to depart this summer.
Alden Duckett will go to Belgium, Olivia Rule to Japan, and Josephine Sloman to Germany.
Patsie Earle-Richardson is now in France and Jack Maloney in Germany, and they will be returning at the end of this school year.  
 Completing a year at OHS are Adrian Dei Agnoli from Australia, Marco Di Bert from Italy, Maria Carbajal from Argentina, and Naomi Seki from Japan, who will be heading home at the close of school .


 “Victorian Transformations: Genre, Nationalism and Desire in 19th-Century Literature,” edited by Bianca Tredennick, SUNY Oneonta English professor, has been published by Ashgate.  Also, her “Some Collections of Mortality: Dickens, the Paris Morgue and the Material Corpse,” by Victorian Review.


Maria Brockmann won fifth prize at the NYSACRA Annual Conference Art Show on April 14 at the Sagamore Hotel, Bolton Landing.  The annual event draws hundreds of artists.

Morgenstein Joins Hartwick’s Student-Retention Programs

Jennifer Morgenstein of Cobleskill has joined Hartwick College as learning support specialist and director of Start Out Academics Right (SOAR), new positions that are part of the college’s effort to retain students.
Morgenstein comes to Hartwick from SUNY Cobleskill, where she was the coordinator of the MERITS program for at-risk students and served in a variety of roles in the Center for Academic Support and Excellence.
She received her bachelor’s in elementary education and English from the College of Saint Rose and a reading specialist master’s from SUNY Albany.



Jim Loudon, local railroad historian and author of the just-published “Electric Lake:  Oneonta’s Forgotten Gem,” discusses the turbine house (near where Oneonta Iron & Metal is today) at the lake’s west end during a tour of the Electric Lake exhibit that opened Sunday, April 17, at the Oneonta History Center, 183 Main St.  Loudon plans to lead a walking tour of the lake bed (along I-88 between Emmons and the downtown exit) on Sunday, June 5.   Among attendees were Dominick Reisen (center), author and former president of the Otsego County Historical Society.

WHO WILL WIN $1,000?

This is “Last Judgment in Vegas,” by Gilbertsville artist Jane Evelynne Higgins, one of the finalists for the $1,000 grand prize in Leaf Inc. contest on the theme, “Gambling:  A Risky Business.”  The winner will be announced at an Art Opening & Poetry Party 6-10 p.m. Friday, April 29, at the UCCCA Gallery on Ford Avenue.  Poets will compete for a $150 first, $100 second, and $50 third prize as well.



Vendors at the Alzheimer’s Association “Mini Walk” Saturday, April 2, at The Plains at Parish Homestead included, from left, Kerri Post, Bassett Health Network/Fox Hospital; Cheryl Kozak, Sidney Federal Credit Union; Chris Geertgens, Alzheimer’s Association; Frances Wright, Office of Aging; Rich McCaffery, Bassett Healthcare Network; Huemac Garcia, Catskill Area Hospice & Palliative Care; David Thorn, Hospice volunteer; Sean Lewis, Daily Star; Sarah Manchester, Edward Jones; Kate Mancini, First Community Choice; Arianne Dumond, Oneonta YMCA; Judy Sweet, At Home Care; and Pam Conklin Angela Ross, SFCU.  The “Mini Walk” was a preview to the three-mile “Walk To End Alhzeimer’s” Saturday, May 7, also at The Plains.  Registration, 9 a.m.; walk begins at 10.  For details, call Julia Hayden at (518) 867-4999, extension 212, or e-mail her at

Otsego County Chamber Annual Dinner & Celebration of Business: HONORS ABOUND


Erna Morgan McReynolds, managing director, Morgan Stanley Smith Barney, takes a deep breath on receiving the Eugene A. Bettiol, Jr., Distinguished Citizen Award for 2011.  From left are Arnie Drogen, a family friend, chamber President Rob Robinson and, at right, Roxana Hurlburt, chairman, chamber board.

Country Club Automotive Group partners Scott Davis, left, and Tom Armao laugh at a friendly jibe from Jamie Reynolds, NBT Bank regional executive, who presented them with the bank’s Distinguished Business Award of 2011.

County Club Automotive Group employees with more than 30 years of service flank Tom Armao and Scott Davis after the Otsego County Chamber’s Annual Dinner & Celebration of Business Saturday, April 16, in SUNY Oneonta’s Hunt Union Ballroom.   From left are Bob Bennett, technician; John Guntert, technician; Jon Dyer, IT manager; Wayne Shutters, reconditioning supervisor, and Jim Timer, technician.

The SUNY Oneonta Hunt Union’s top chef had gone into the hospital the day before, so Executive Chef Lynn Cross, chef Steven Matteson, center, and chef Damian Price took charge, turning out prime rib, salmon Wellington, chicken marsala and vegetable-stuffed zucchini for 250 guests.

Cowboy-hatted Randy Budine, Country Club sales manager, greets Lori Cudney during the cocktail hour before the dinner.

At evening’s end, Scott Davis departs with wife Kathy and their daughters, Heather, 24, left, a clinical dietitian in New York City, and Erin, a Unatego junior and Miss Otsego County Teen (and second runner-up in the state pageant.)


Social Security Lives!

The poll results released Monday, April 18, by the Siena Research Institute, confirm the public’s anxiety and uncertainty over the future of their retirement. 
Unfortunately, this concern about their retirement security has also left the public open to believing dire predictions about the future of Social Security.
It’s findings like these that have prompted AARP to call for a national conversation about the future of Social Security.   Part of that conversation has to address the facts that often get lost in the debate about the program’s future. 
According to the Congressional Budget Office, Social Security can pay full benefits for over 25 years. And, even if nothing is done, Social Security will be able to pay approximately 75 percent of benefits for the remainder of the century – hardly the “bankruptcy” many have been led to believe is imminent. However, even that shortfall is unacceptable.
Through a national conversation, lawmakers should be able to agree on a package of gradual, moderate changes that will put Social Security on stable ground so future generations can get the benefits they’ve worked for.
Based on our own AARP NY survey released earlier this year, we know there is a tremendous gap between how important New Yorkers age 50+ believe it is to be prepared for retirement and their confidence in being able to meet their own needs.
Of those New Yorkers 50+, 61 percent say they are not confident that their children’s generation will be better than it has been for them. We invite readers to join the conversation at

McNally is interim New York State AARP director.