[Return to Home Page] [Subscriptions] [Newsstands] [Contact Us] [Archives]

Guilderland Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, June 2, 2005

Mother protests Sunday graduation

— Melissa Hale-Spencer

GUILDERLAND — The mother of a Guilderland senior is upset that this year’s graduation ceremony is scheduled on a Sunday morning.

"Christian believers are to worship God on Sunday mornings," writes Veronica Graves of Altamont in a letter to the Enterprise editor this week.

She is urging others to join her in objecting.

"Fellow Christian believers," she writes, "it is time to make a stand. When a once-in-a-lifetime event is scheduled on a Sunday morning and a believer has to decide to obey God or a tradition of man, it is time to let those who made this decision know how you feel about it."

Superintendent Gregory Aidala told The Enterprise this week that the high school’s building cabinet — a body made up of administrators, teachers, other staff, and parents — had discussed the matter at length.

In recent years, Guilderland has held its graduation ceremonies in downtown Albany, in the convention center at the Empire State Plaza.

The district was forced into the Sunday slot, Aidala said, if it wanted to continue to hold the ceremony at the convention center on a weekend.

"There’s a reason Sunday mornings are open," Graves told The Enterprise.

The Graves family attends the Quaker Street Bible Church in Delanson and, through the years, fulfilling their priority of attending Sunday- morning worship has become harder and harder, Graves said.

"They’ve scheduled a 9:30 a.m. baseball game for my son this Sunday," she said, referring to her younger son. "He’ll play half a game and then we’ll go to church."

Her older son, Dan, she said, has been distressed by the Sunday graduation. He will be attending Clarkson University in the fall, with the goal of becoming a civil engineer.

"Graduation is a big thing," said his mother. "It’s once in a lifetime. This is just not right.

"There’s a good chance Dan will miss his graduation. I talked with him about it. He’s willing to not go to his graduation to make a point...I hope we can get this changed before my younger son graduates."

Reason for scheduling

"We typically schedule graduation for the weekend following the conclusion of the Regents," said Aidala, referring to state-set exams.

Until last year, Guilderland had held its graduation ceremony on the weekend following the third week in June, he said. Last year, though, he said, "We switched from the third week to the fourth."

So, in 2004, the ceremony was held on a Sunday for the first time.

The convention center will hold a given spot, such as the third Saturday in June, for a school that has used it the previous year.

"Someone took our Saturday slot; we couldn’t get it back," said Aidala.

The building cabinet then discussed holding the graduation ceremony at other venues, said Aidala, such as Proctor’s Theatre in Schenectady, the Palace Theatre in Albany, or the Recreation and Convocation Center at the University at Albany.

"But families and students preferred the convention center, so we accepted the Sunday," said Aidala. "Our highest priority was to maintain the program on the weekend, so friends and family members from out of town can attend."

In previous years, Jewish families have raised concerns about a ceremony on Saturday, the Jewish Sabbath.

Aidala said, "Concerns have been raised previously by other religious groups," but, he said, the decision to schedule this year’s on Sunday wasn’t by choice but rather because of circumstance.

Fond farwell for Farrelly planned, scholarship in his name

— Melissa Hale-Spencer

GUILDERLAND — Thomas P. Farrelly, a beloved high school math teacher and long-time girls’ softball coach, is being memorialized with a scholarship in his name.

Farrelly died on April 21 after battling leukemia.

Last Tuesday, the school board created the $100 Thomas P. Farrelly Memorial Scholarship to be awarded annually to a senior on the girls’ varsity softball team who "is involved in school activities and community service, possesses athletic ability, and has a positive attitude."

Board member Barbara Fraterrigo praised Farrelly’s "technical skills" as a coach, calling them "fantastic" and, she said, "His love for the girls was unbelievable."

In 1997, the year Farrelly’s players were the Section II champions, he was named the New York State Softball Coach of the Year.

The district announced this week that a school-wide memorial service will be held to honor Farrelly on Tuesday, June 14, at 1:30 p.m. in the high school auditorium.

Students, staff, family, and friends are invited to attend the service. They will be invited to share or write down their favorite memory of Farrelly. The written messages will be placed on a tree being planted in his honor at the high school’s memorial garden. A softball game will follow the ceremony.

Farrelly began teaching at Guilderland High School in 1985 and retired in June of 2004. This school year, he taught on a part-time basis.

Two years ago, Guilderland’s graduating seniors chose him for their commencement speaker. Farrelly’s speech that June day took the crowd of excited graduates and their proud families from the off-hand and humorous to the depths of angst — where he shone a bright light on what could have been a dark fear.

Farrelly began by taking off his mortarboard and putting on a Yankees’ baseball cap. This was before the Curse of the Bambino had been broken. "For you Red Sox fans, I have two words...1918," he said, referring to the last year the Sox had won the World Series. The audience roared.

Farrelly said that, as a child, he wasn’t the most cooperative student. He recalled how a sister in his Catholic school told him he would go to hell. "I said, ‘Good, save me a place,’" he reported.

Farrelly particularly disliked Latin and recalled having to translate a passage from Seneca, which he thought at the time might be the name of an Indian chief. Later, he learned Seneca was a Roman philosopher and writer. The passage said, "Men do not care how honorably they live, but only how long. Although it is within the reach of every man to live honorably, it is in no man’s power to live long."

Later, when his father died young, Farrelly said, he drew comfort from that passage; it was what kind of man he was, what kind of a father he was that had mattered, not how long he had lived.

Farrelly drew on Seneca’s words again when he faced his own mortality.

At 4:07 on June 11, 2001, he received a call from his doctor, telling him he had acute myelogenous leukemia.

"My first reaction was, ‘I’m going to kick this thing in the butt’...I had to face the reality; the jig was up," Farrelly said.

He looked at his life and realized he had "done all right," he said, naming the people who loved him and would care for him as he battled leukemia — his wife, his two kids, his brothers and sisters, his 80-year-old mother, and a community that rallied around him.

He concluded his list of assets with a line that made the audience laugh: "A job where I could make 140 kids’ lives miserable every day."

The graduates gave him a standing ovation.

Retiring staff

The school board also honored 27 retiring employees last Tuesday.

Susan Tangorre, the district’s personnel director, sent them off with an Irish proverb: "May you never forget what is worth remembering or remember what is best forgotten."

Board President William Brinkman, who is retiring from the board himself this month, had some lighter words. "Some of you had my kids...What’s really surprising is how young you all look...That’s a good time to retire," said Brinkman.

Those being honored were:

— Sandra Angerami, senior stenographer, secretary to the high school principal, who has worked for the district 16.5 years;

— Deborah Biondo, teaching assistant, Westmere Elementary School, 15 years;

— Sandra Cascini, senior typist, special-education office, 19 years;

— Frank Chmielewski, offset machine operator, district office, 29 years;

— Daniel DePersis, physical-education teacher, Farnsworth Middle School, 32 years;

— Floyd Dederick, head custodian, Farnsworth Middle School, 29 years;

— Eleanore Dunham, first-grade teacher, Pine Bush Elementary School, 34 years;

— Beatrice Fox, speech teacher, Guilderland High School, 14 years;

— Thelma Hildenbrandt, school bus driver, five years;

— Vala Jackson, senior typist, maintenance department, 29.5 years;

— Diane Kingsland, music teacher, Farnsworth Middle School, 32 years;

— William Lynch, special-education teacher, Farnsworth Middle School, 32 years;

— William Maffia, social-studies teacher, Farnsworth Middle School, 29 years;

— Diane Martiniano, first-grade teacher, Pine Bush Elementary School, 33 years;

— Annmarie McCarthy, teaching assistant, Guilderland Elementary School, 14 years;

— Barbara Mitchell, special-education teacher, Guilderland High School, 21 years;

— Laurie Ostroff, math teacher, Farnsworth Middle School, 33 years;

— Nancy Schaefer, fifth-grade teacher, Guilderland Elementary School, 20 years;

— Harry Simmons, custodial worker, Farnsworth Middle School, 16 years;

— Carol Snyder, custodial worker, Westmere Elementary School, 16 years;

— John Sole, administrator for human resources, district office, four years;

— Claudia Summers, music teacher, Lynnwood Elementary School, 32 years;

— Paula Swartz, teacher’s aid and cafeteria monitor, Farnsworth Middle School, 24 years;

— Barbara Tallman, custodial worker, Guilderland High School, 31 years;

— Grace Tierney, typist, district office, 12 years;

— Angela VanDerLinden, teaching assistant, Westmere Elementary School, 32 years; and

— Barbara Westcott, fifth-grade teacher, Pine Bush Elementary School, 21.5 years.

Other business

In other business, the board:

— Authorized the issuance of not more than $6 million in Tax Anticipation Notes; the money is to be recouped in taxes levied for the fiscal year ending June 30, 2006.

Assistant Superintendent for Business Neil Sanders said this is what the district typically needs to borrow over the summer;

— Approved a memorandum of agreement with the teacher’s assistant unit of the Guilderland Teachers’ Association to allow contribution to a 403(b) Plan, effective June 1.

"This doesn’t cost us any money," said Brinkman.

It’s a way to shelter money for retirement, agreed Sanders;

— Appointed a new firm to serve as legal counsel for the district — Girvin & Ferlazzo of Albany, effective July 1. The firm replaces Hancock & Estabrook of Syracuse.

The change is a result of the board’s asking the district to submit requests for proposals for its auditor, bank, and legal counsel.

Girvin & Ferlazzo will be paid an annual retainer of $35,000 for the 2005-06 school year; the agreement covers three years, through June 30, 2008.

School board member Linda Bakst, who initiated the idea, asked the superintendent if the RFP process had worked to the district’s advantage.

Superintendent Gregory Aidala said, although it was time-consuming, he thought it had.

"In the long run, it’s best to have a locally-based firm," he said, adding that Girvin & Ferlazzo came highly recommended from other school districts.

Sanders said nine firms responded; three were interviewed;

— Scheduled the annual reorganizational meeting for July 5 at 7:30 p.m. New school board members will be sworn into office and the board will elect its officers for the year;

— Heard from Sanders that the annual fire inspection conducted by Donald Albright, from the town of Guilderland, resulted in "no areas of non-compliance."

The "extensive walk-through," as Sanders termed it, is required by the State Education Department;

— Heard from Bakst that the high school’s Parent-Teacher-Student Association lacks officers for next year. If no one comes forward before the June 13 meeting, she said, the PTSA will dissolve and money it raised for mini-grants will go to the national organization unless the district office will serve as custodian.

"We will lend our support from the district office...in any way we can," said Aidala.

Brinkman seemed unalarmed. He said, "We’ve had this issue in the past; people always step forward";

— Heard from Assistant Superintendent for Instruction Nancy Andress that, on May 20, Cathy Beadnell, elementary teacher; Kathy Oboyski-Butler, staff developer; and Chris Claus and Lisa Nissenbaum, high-school reading teachers, gave presentations at "Literacy Day" at the Owen D. Young Central School District;

— Learned that the high-school math team, coached by Jacalyn Stein, placed 17th in the state out of 205 participating schools.

Sophomore Beth Schaffer tied for 25th in the state;

— Learned that eighth-graders Samantha Smith and Gabriella Vega were among 31 state-wide to receive awards for special recognition from the National Council of Teachers of English as part of its Promising Young Writers’ program;

— Heard that senior Jen Crowley received a GE/STAR Award. Her English teacher, Aaron Sicotte will receive $500 as part of the award, which will be celebrated in a ceremony at General Electric in Schenectady on June 10;

— Learned that Westmere Elementary School kindergarten teacher Debra Wing has become a member of Phi Delta Kappa International; and

— Learned that eighth-graders Kevin Engelberg, Kevin Ghizzoni, Eric (Gangate) Kim, and Jason Lawrence have been accepted into a summer science program at Brown University.

Cleared of arson, Hunt begins to heal

— Nicole Fay Barr

GUILDERLAND — As Robert Hunt works busily in his yard, he often forgets about his surroundings. Then he turns, catches a glimpse of his house, and feels like he’s been "socked in the gut," he said.

Hunt was careful to keep his back to the house as he spoke to The Enterprise Friday. When he did turn to face the charred, blackened mess of wood and ashes, he squinted and grimaced, as if in agony.

But, Hunt says that his life is getting better.

It’s been a year since his dream house was destroyed by fire, and six months since his insurance company decided that Hunt did not cause the fire.

It’s also been a few months since Hunt decided to relinquish custody of his young daughter and son, a move he said was difficult but in their best interest.

Hunt is now working to re-establish his business selling garden statues from his property at 4379 Western Turnpike. And, since his house was only insured for a third of its worth, he said, he’s trying to save enough money to tear down the remains and build again.

Family home

Hunt’s house was built in the 1860’s and stood near one of the first covered bridges in the area, he said. The house used to be an inn or a tavern.

Hunt’s parents owned the house for 30 years, he said, and then his brother lived there. Eight years ago, Hunt and his longtime girlfriend moved from Rotterdam to the home, he said.

Before they moved to Guilderland, Hunt and his girlfriend traveled all over the country selling antiques, he said; they were a couple for 13 years. When their daughter, Summer, was born, he said, they decided to settle down.

Hunt started to sell his antiques from his home, along with garden statues he made. Their business, Garden Statuary ’N’ Antiques, was quickly a success, he said.

Hunt’s products are all around his yard, from cement angels and cats to a massive elephant with a red tongue. He makes the creatures from molds, sometimes hundreds at a time, and has over 5,000 molds, he said.

In addition to his statues, Hunt is also known for his "rocket truck." A real rocket sits on the roof of his red-white-and-blue pickup and messages threatening Osama bin Laden and Sadam Hussein are painted on the sides.

Hunt’s family was happy, he said, and in 2002, their son, Sky, was born.

But, two years ago, Hunt’s girlfriend left him. When The Enterprise interviewed Hunt last July, he had been battling for custody of his two children. The fact that he had lost his home and had little money to get back on his feet was hurting his case for custody, Hunt said.

This week, he reported that he gave up on getting custody.

"We were going back and forth to court last year and the judge was going for the fact that I lived in a motor home," Hunt said.

But, Hunt decided to let his ex-girlfriend have custody. This way, he said, his children can live in a house and attend school nearby. (His ex-girlfriend lives in Rensselaerville and their daughter goes to school in Greenville, about 25 miles from Guilderland.)

Hunt now sees his children every other weekend and for dinner on Wednesdays. As he did last year, he still speaks of his children with intense love and affection.

"Worst nightmare"

Hutn told the story of his house fire this way: On May 5 last year, Hunt woke up in the middle of the night and smelled fumes. He hurried to his bedroom window and saw smoke pouring out from the first floor of his house, he said.

He jumped out of his second-story window, hurting his shoulder and hip. Hunt ran to the street and flagged down a newspaper-delivery car, he said. The driver asked Hunt if he had a garden hose or a fire extinguisher.

By some "twist of fate," Hunt said, a friend in Virginia had given him six large fire extinguishers a few months earlier and he kept them in the yard near his barn.

He tried them all. Finally, firefighters arrived and pulled Hunt away from the house, he said.

Hunt was taken to the hospital. Before he was discharged, he said, he was told that his house was a total loss.

"I didn’t know what total loss meant until I saw it," he said last year, his face contorted with grief.

A month after losing his house, Hunt said, his "worst nightmare" had begun. After the fire, he said, his insurance company — Farm Family Casualty Insurance Company — sent out an adjuster to examine Hunt’s property.

"She was astounded at the small amount of insurance I had," Hunt said. "She felt sorry for me. She said I’m woefully under-insured."

Then, a month later, a company representative called Hunt and told him that there was a problem. Farm Family decided to open up an investigation for the cause of the fire, he said.

"They told me straight out, ‘We think you burned down your house,’" Hunt said.

Guilderland Police Sergeant Daniel McNally, a fire investigator for the town, told The Enterprise last July that he was one of the first officials at the scene of the fire. He described Hunt trying to extinguish the fire.

"Everything appeared legitimate. Our conclusion was that it was accidental...," McNally said. "It started in the area of the furnace....There is no evidence it was suspicious."

Hunt’s wood furnace was in his basement.

"It’s unfortunate for us, but our privacy laws say that we can’t comment on specific cases," Victoria Stanton, general counsel for Farm Family told The Enterprise last year. She declined responding to any of the assertions made by Hunt and, this week, another representative of the company also declined comment.

Hunt went on last year, describing his plight, "When something like this happens, your entire world crashes. They’re trying to tell me that I burned it. That stings....They’re accusing me of being a criminal.

"Without a house, I’ll probably lose custody of my kids. To me, that’s proof of why I would never do anything like this. I wouldn’t trade custody of my children for a million dollars."

Not knowing what else to do at the time, Hunt spray-painted the charred remains of his house. Next to his daughter’s bedroom window, Hunt wrote, "Farm Family thank you for ‘0’ $."

On a giant banner on Hunt’s barn, it said, "Farm Family Ins. Co. hung my family out to dry and left us homeless."

Trying to rebuild

The insurance company closed the investigation toward the end of last year, Hunt said this week. He laughed as he reported that he got no apology.

The vice president of the insurance company then asked Hunt to take down the sign on his barn, he said.

"The whole while, I begged them for the insurance money so I could get custody of my kids and they said, ‘Whatever,’" Hunt said. "But, to be decent, I took the sign down anyway. They at least came through with closing the investigation."

The spray-painted sign on the house, however, still remains. Hunt is hoping to tear down the house soon, he said.

It would cost around $20,000 for professionals to tear down the house and remove the debris, Hunt said.

"The insurance company gave me nowhere near that," he said.

While his neighbors are very supportive, Hunt said he realizes it’s not fair to them to leave what’s left of the house on his property.

"I’m working on it," he said. "I’ll probably end up cutting it up and burning it in a wood furnace."

Town officials have also told Hunt to tear down the house, he said. At the May 3 town board meeting, the board voted to waive the building fee for Hunt to demolish his home. This is common, the town supervisor said, for those whose homes have been damaged by fire or other circumstances.

"The town said the house has to come down this summer," Hunt told The Enterprise. "Fortunately, we’ve got good people working for the town who are considerate and decent."

Hunt spoke about the history of his house. "I was nostalgic about this place and that led me to be a steward of it," he said. "By some horrible twist of fate, I dropped the ball."

Hunt said his house and property were only insured for a third of what they are worth.

"People have to check their policies," Hunt said. "There should be a course on it. If only I’d had it insured for more. But, who thinks their house is going to burn down"

"I was told it would be $450,000 to rebuild it, so it don’t take a whole lot of figuring out that that ain’t going to happen," he said.

But, Hunt said, he does dream of building on the land again. He will take the trim from his porch, which is hanging from the roof but not burned, and anything else salvageable from the house and try to use it when he builds again, he said.

"Not being able to put it back the way it was is a feeling of remorse and loss that you can’t imagine," Hunt said.

"With it still standing there, you can see some of the architecture and it’s like a testament to how wonderful it was. It’s a strange Catch-22," he said. "It was a wonderful house for 150 years and now it’s like a haunted house.

"I can almost still see how it was before in my dream thoughts and then I look at it and get crushed all over again," Hunt said. "Only people who lose their houses can understand."

At the back of Hunt’s property stands a slanted green trailer with rust spots.

"That was a misguided attempt," he said, laughing. "We found that last year and I thought the town would allow it. I tried to tow it home with my pickup truck.

"I went five miles and then put it in my sister’s yard. She said, ‘Oh my God. What are you doing"’" Hunt recalled. "I had to get a town permit and find a guy with a tractor trailer."

Hunt was able to get the trailer towed to his property, he said, but he had trouble leveling it.

"I tried to jack it up and I bent the frame," he said. "The floor is cracked and I use it for storage now. I’m getting rid of it, though. Rich Guilderland is not big on $10,000 motor homes."

Hunt now alternates between living with his sister and in his motor home, he said.

"I stay with friends and family, in hotels, whatever," he said, laughing. "I’m a vagabond."

He added, "Sometimes it helps to laugh because later I cry and I wish I could just laugh."

Back to business

"It’s life-altering to lose everything," Hunt went on. "It’s multi-faceted. My daughter said to me, ‘I know all my dollies are gone, but I just want my bedroom back.’

"It’s almost a cumulative effect," he said. "Every time you look at it, it’s a new shock. It’s inexplicable."

But, he is getting his life back together. Hunt has a new girlfriend, Georgia Terwilliger, who sat with him as he spoke to The Enterprise this week. She lent him quiet support as he spoke of his pain and laughed with him as he made sarcastic jokes.

"Sometimes I’m working on something and I forget for a while," Hunt said. "Then, I’ll look in a window and remember what was in that room. In the dining room, I’ll think of family time. I’ll see the living room and think about watching TV with my brats. Looking at the windows to the kids’ rooms is the worst..."

The fire was a year ago on May 5, Hunt said. "You’d think with time it would be less, but I remember more and more what was in there...," he said. "I’ll be working and I’ll think, ‘Let me go grab the tape measure.’ Then I remember that it was in the house. It could be the most sentimental thing or the most insignificant, like a damn tape measure, and it hurts.

"Every day you miss something else," Hunt said. "Then, I’d go to court for my kids and I’d realize that possessions don’t mean much."

As for his business, Hunt said it’s not what it used to be. He’s been working in demolition and landscaping, to make extra money. This leaves him with an unpredictable schedule, he said.

"People are so used to being here seven days a week and, after a while, they get frustrated that I’m not here," Hunt said. "I say to them, ‘Hey, my house leaks.’"

Before the fire, Hunt’s business was open all the time. He’d wake up and begin making molds, he said.

"I used to have 10, 15 cars at a time here before, now I have a few cars a day," Hunt said. He motioned to the big paved area around him that he said he made to accommodate the many cars of customers that used to come.

"The people we had established a rapport with had come out here a few times and I wasn’t around," Hunt said of after the fire. "At first, I couldn’t stand to be here. Now, I’m getting a new interest and the reality is finally soaking in.

"I let the yard go last year," Hunt said, motioning to the overgrown weeds and addition of lawn furniture and statues. "Now we’re trying to clean it up....We’re trying to get it neat and organized so people can learn to come back here."

As he spoke to The Enterprise, a few people came and browsed through the statues on the property. One man drove up and asked the cost of two large gargoyles. Hunt told him the pair cost $2,500.

"Things smooth out after a bit," Hunt concluded. "You can get used to anything. You can lose the most important thing in the world to you and then get used to it. I guess that’s human nature."

Dirty water

By Melissa Hale-Spencer

ALTAMONT — When members of the Trumpler family turn on the taps in the Brandle Road farmhouse where they live, the water comes out brown.

The water is coming from a well, one of two, drilled by the village of Altamont as part of an option agreement Nancy and Michael Trumpler signed with the village last March. The village had drilled and found water on the Trumplers’ property and contracted to buy roughly five acres in order to develop a water supply for Altamont.

The March 19, 2004 option agreement states that the village will "cause two residential water wells to be installed upon seller’s parcel...for seller’s use."

The Trumplers are challenging the contract in court and the village has filed counterclaims. (See related story.)

"It’s been that bad for a couple of weeks," said Nancy Trumpler Wednesday of the quality of their water. Her husband, on Wednesday morning, had brought pictures to The Enterprise office of the polluted water, in their sink, bathtub, and washing machine.

Michael Trumpler was visibly upset as he described how unsafe the water was for his family to drink.

Nancy Trumpler said the water had been discolored, on and off, since August when the well was drilled. But, she said, it was "nothing like this." She described the dirt and grime in the dark brown water.

Mayor James Gaughan said he got a call from the Trumpler house on Saturday about the polluted water. He subsequently spoke with Timothy McIntyre, head of Altamont’s department of public works, about how to correct the problem, Gaughan said.

"Tim’s over there right now," Gaughan said on Wednesday.

The mayor said he had contacted each of the village trustees and they felt as he did: "Despite the litigation currently going on, we feel responsible both legally and morally to solve the problem," said Gaughan.

The village paid about $6,000 to have the two wells drilled, said Gaughan, the lowest of three bids. The well driller is now going to "develop" the well, which means, the mayor said, "putting on high pressure and running it very hard to remove the silt and dirt."

"I feel, despite the complications of the legal stuff, we have to do this," said Gaughan. "I’m hoping it gets itself resolved."

Engineer’s view

Richard Straut, senior vice president of Barton & Loguidice, the engineering firm hired by Altamont for the village’s well-water project, told The Enterprise Wednesday that the problems the Trumplers are having with their well-water supply are in no way related to the nearby village wells and do not indicate that the future village water supply could become polluted.

"The village wells are drilled to a much different standard than residential wells," said Straut. Residential wells are typically not engineered, he said. "The driller makes design decisions as he goes."

Altamont’s municipal wells are much deeper, about 45 to 50 feet deep, he said, while the Trumplers’ wells are about 25 feet deep.

Altamont’s wells were drilled by Layne Christianson, a company which specializes in high-capacity wells, Straut said.

Additionally, Straut said, "There’s a gravel pack around a municipal well."

He explained that such a well is drilled with a much larger hole and gravel is placed around it, to act as a filter.

Also, Straut said, Altamont’s municipal wells were pump tested and developed by "surging and pumping." This involves getting the water to flow back and forth to remove the fine silt; it is pumped at a high rate for 72 hours, Straut said.

Straut said he could not speak with any accuracy about the specifics of the Trumplers’ residential well problems since his company had nothing to do with drilling them but, he said, "What may have happened, is residential wells typically don’t have a screen and gravel pack. They have a steel pipe with an open bottom."

He said the pollution would be explained "by natural causes."

Such pollution, Straut said, is not typical of a residential well. "No one would expect it to be acceptable" he said.

He went on, "The village has asked us to consult to solve the problem. As part of the option agreement, the village feels a moral responsibility to follow up."

How will Barton & Loguidice proceed" "First we have to figure out what the problem is," said Straut. "Obviously, it’s dirty water. But what’s causing it" I expect we’ll find the answer to this and get it solved."

Lawsuit triangle —Trumplers’ troubles deeper as Thomas threatens lawsuit

— Nicole Fay Barr

ALTAMONT — The village’s search for water, Michael and Nancy Trumpler’s agreement to provide it, and developer Jeff Thomas’s desire to tap into the supply has resulted in a lawsuit triangle.

Paul Wein, Thomas’s lawyer, told The Enterprise yesterday that, since the Trumplers haven’t dropped their lawsuit against the village of Altamont by the June 1 deadline he set, Thomas will likely file a multi-million dollar suit against them.

"The village is free to sell water to anyone they want to," Wein said. "If I sell you my car, should I care who uses it" It’s silly and just plain wrong."

The Trumplers do not plan on dropping their suit. Their lawyer, Michael Englert, said it’s their right to use the judicial system.

"Apparently Mr. Wein believes my clients are not entitled to use the judicial system to obtain a clarification on the validity of a document," Englert told The Enterprise Wednesday.

The couple owns land on rural Brandle Road outside the village where Altamont drilled and found water. The Trumplers signed a contract last year, agreeing to sell about five acres, with the wells, to the village.

A few months later, the Guilderland Town Board re-zoned land on Brandle Road, just outside the village, for Thomas to build a senior housing complex; the village promised Thomas water then, even though it had a moratorium on granting water outside village limits.

The Trumplers were upset because earlier they had to scale back plans for a place for Nancy Trumpler’s elderly mother to live because of town zoning. They also said they had been told that their well would be used only for water in the village.

In March, the Trumplers filed papers in Albany County Supreme Court to have a judge decide whether the village’s contract for the five-acre site is legal and binding; they sought no money from the village.

The village responded by filing counterclaims, amounting to hundreds of thousands of dollars, against the Trumplers. The Enterprise reported on this on April 28.

In a letter dated May 24, Wein wrote to Englert that he had read Nancy Trumpler’s comments, in the April 28 Enterprise, about her discontent with Thomas’s re-zone and the village agreeing to provide Thomas water.

"I...believe that your client’s actions constituted a tortuous interference with contract intending to prevent the construction of this senior housing project proposed for Brandle Meadows. It is therefore our intention, that unless this lawsuit is discontinued on or before June 1, 2005, that Mr. Thomas will commence an action against the Trumplers seeking damages....in the multi-million dollar range..."

Wednesday morning, Englert and the village’s attorney, E. Guy Roemer, were to meet with Judge Cathryn Doyle to discuss the litigation. They met with the judge’s law clerk instead, and both Englert and Roemer said that no decisions were made.

"It was not my intent to reach a resolution this morning," Roemer told The Enterprise Wednesday afternoon. He would not comment on Thomas’s threat to sue the Trumplers.

"The litigation is proceeding," Roemer said. "I’m not going to litigate this in The Enterprise."

The village’s mayor, James Gaughan, told The Enterprise Wednesday that he doesn’t know anything about Thomas’s plans to sue the Trumplers.

"Mr. Thomas has to do what he had to do," Gaughan said. "I have no control over actions that he takes. I just take note of it."

The village is moving forward, Gaughan said, trying to get water from the Trumplers. According to the village, the capacity of its current system, and the reliability of the system do not meet state Department of Health standards.

Contract dispute

The Trumplers problems with Altamont center on the village’s promising water to developer Thomas, who plans to build a senior-housing complex on Brandle Road, in Guilderland outside the village line. Thomas, as Brandle Meadows LLC, purchased the 15 acres from the Altamont Fair for $250,000.

In March of 2004, then-mayor Paul DeSarbo signed a contract with the Trumplers, who own 75 acres. The contract, with a 21-month option, states the village can buy a piece of land, not to exceed five acres, at $25,000 per acre.

Papers filed in Supreme Court state that the Trumplers were willing to allow the village to drill wells. This was based on the representation of the village, it states, and at no time did "officials indicate or suggest that the village was contemplating entering into an entrepreneurial enterprise to obtain additional supplies of water and then to sell surplus water to new developments located outside village boundaries."

The court papers also state that "the alleged option is null, void, and unenforceable," because it was never authorized by formal resolution of the village board of trustees. The papers also state there is no constitutional or statutory provision that authorizes a village to obtain or purchase water outside its territorial boundaries for sale.

Wein told The Enterprise that the Trumplers’ not wanting Thomas to have water is like saying, "Don’t sell water to people of color or Italian people. Either they want the village to sell water or they don’t. Why do they care who gets the water""

Asked if he thought the Trumplers’ not wanting Thomas to get water was personal, Wein said, "I can’t get inside the Trumplers’ minds. All I can go by is what I read in your paper."

Meanwhile, the village has been to Guilderland planning and zoning board meetings for a permit to drill the well. Questions were raised on whether the property is landlocked, however, and the village is scheduled to appear again at the June 8 planning board meeting.

The Trumplers this week revealed that water from their well — drilled as part of the village’s option to buy the five-acre well site — is polluted. (See related story.)

Rezone conflict

At a July 6 hearing packed with Thomas’s supporters, he presented plans to the Guilderland Town Board to develop 15 acres on Brandle Road with 80 housing units for seniors — increasing the density tenfold over what was allowed in an agricultural district.

Altamont had a moratorium on water going outside the village.

At the July 6 town board hearing, Thomas read a letter signed by DeSarbo stating, "The developer seeks village water and sewer services, a necessity to the project. The village can handle this, but will need to lift the moratorium on water service."

The village board had never voted on the matter. At the close of the hearing, the Guilderland Town Board approved re-zoning the Thomas parcel, circumventing its own moratorium on building in rural western Guilderland.

The town supervisor said at the time that the board’s decision was based, in part, on the DeSarbo letter indicating village water would be available.

In January, the Altamont village board voted unanimously to give Thomas water for his project over the objections of its engineer and its superintendent of public works, who urged waiting until the new water supply was secured. Thomas said his project would be dead unless he received approval that night.

The Enterprise wrote a Jan. 13 editorial pointing out the flaws in the process, and Thomas responded in a letter to the editor, publishing Jan. 20, stating, "...I will not allow this project to in any way jeopardize the village water supply. If, by the time I am ready to break ground, it cannot be substantiated that our project will not put at risk the village’s water supply, I will delay the groundbreaking until such time that it can."

The Trumplers were upset, they said at the time, because they had gone through planning and zoning meetings in Guilderland, trying to get permission to convert a barn on their property into a two-family home to accommodate Mrs. Trumpler’s elderly mother. Since this was not allowed in an agricultural district, they scaled back their plans to create an in-law apartment.

While Michael Trumpler made it clear in July he wasn’t against a senior-housing complex, he was against agricultural land in Guilderland being re-zoned.

The Trumplers hired a lawyer, Michael Englert, who said that Thomas’s re-zone may be challengable on several grounds. Town Supervisor Kenneth Runion disputed those grounds.

New suit"

Tuesday afternoon, Wein told The Enterprise that he had hoped the Trumplers would withdraw their lawsuit against the village.

"He’s concerned and disappointed for all the seniors," Wein said of Thomas. "A lot of people are counting on this development and now it’s being held up."

Wein consulted with Thomas after reading the April 28 Enterprise article about the Trumplers’ suing the village.

"The Trumplers were upset that Jeff Thomas got the re-zone and they didn’t," Wein said. "So, they didn’t want to sell him water...It’s very spiteful."

Wein recommended that Thomas think about suing the Trumplers, he said. They are interfering with a legally-binding contract, he said.

"He’d be suing for damages," Wein said of Thomas on Tuesday. "That’s millions of dollars...multi-millions of dollars, if the deal for the water falls through."

He went on, "I can’t believe they brought the lawsuit. They’re saying, ‘We don’t want to sell you water.’ That’s illegal."

Wednesday, Wein said that, although he must first talk to Thomas and Roemer, the village’s attorney, a suit against the Trumplers will likely be filed in the next few days.

In March’s village election, James Gaughan ousted DeSarbo and the Trumplers were hopeful that a resolution could be reached. Gaughan had talked with them, Nancy Trumpler said, and she felt he was reasonable and progress was being made.

On April 13, the Trumplers and their lawyer met with Gaughan and Roemer.

Last month, sources described the meeting this way: The village asked if the Trumplers would proceed in granting water to Altamont if the offer to give village water to Thomas were rescinded; the Trumplers said they would. Then Gaughan and Roemer adjourned to another room and, when they came back, Roemer said that, since Thomas had deep pockets and could afford court appeals, Roemer would rather take the chance of having the Trumplers sue.

Black Creek fiddlers sound a traditional note

— Matt Cook

ALTAMONT—A fiddler’s reunion at the Altamont fairgrounds this weekend was set up a lot like June’s Old Songs Festival, with groups of musicians gathered under tents. However there was one difference, besides its smaller size. There was no audience.

"We didn’t come here to listen to the music; we came here to play it," said David Gordon, a guitar player from Northfield, Mass., looking slightly annoyed that his playing was interrupted.

Gordon was one of about a hundred musicians in Altamont Saturday and Sunday for the Black Creek Fiddlers’ Reunion. In the shade of tents surrounding the Old Songs barn, they played tunes on their fiddles, banjos, and guitars, eating, and drinking, and talking.

It was a weekend for musicians, by musicians.

"Really, it’s just a group of friends that gets together and sits around making music," said Mark Schmidt, one of the event’s organizers.

The music they make is called old-time Appalachian, Schmidt said. It’s one of the many traditional genres at the popular Old Songs Festival every year.

Six years ago, Schmidt said, some old-time Appalachian musicians wanted to extend the experience of gathering at the Old Songs Festival. They did away with the formal performances of the festival, opting instead for an informal gathering.

Over the two days of the event, participants camp out, drifting from tent to tent with their instruments, playing a tune here, learning a new tune there.

"We just decided to make it more of a reunion besides an actual formal event," Schmidt said.

Making their own

Brian Sullivan, a fiddler, organized the first reunion six years ago. He spoke with The Enterprise Saturday after finishing a spirited version of a tune called "West Fork Gals," with Lisa Johnson on dulcimer, Ray Alden on banjo, and Kevin Krajick on guitar.

"A lot of this music is old," Sullivan said. "Some of these tunes go back to the 1700’s. They’re generally from an era before TV and before movies. It takes you back to another cultural era when people made their own entertainment."

"One hundred years ago, almost every family had people who played instruments," Johnson said. "You don’t see much of that anymore."

Old-time Appalachian music, as its name implies, was born in the rural areas of the Appalachians, in the central and southern United States. Johnson pointed out that people often mistake it for bluegrass and continue to do so even after corrected.

Old-time Appalachian actually precedes bluegrass, Johnson said.

The old-time genre has made a resurgence lately, the players said. Gatherings like the Black Creek Reunion are evidence of that. One in Clifftop, W.Va., started the size of Altamont’s and has grown to include hundreds of musicians every year.

"All these things are growing," Sullivan said. "People are tired of the mall culture, of the cable TV culture. They want culture that’s not provided by a corporate entity."

Alden said he plays this kind of music for a much simpler reason.

"I like playing music that so many other people don’t like," he said.

While a lot of the musicians this weekend had been playing for years, beginners were also welcome

Krajick, who came up from New York City, said one of the best ways to get started playing old-time music is to come to a gathering like the reunion and meet and talk to people, some of whom are among the most talented old-time musicians in the country.

"It’s something that the whole family can be involved in," Johnson said. "People aren’t just left out. You see kids playing on ukuleles and stuff."

As Sullivan, Johnson, Alden, and Krajick struck up a new tune, musicians in a different tent paused to eat.

"What brings us together is the love of the music," said Susan Sterngold, a banjo player from Suffern, N.Y., who was playing with Gordon, and Steve Kessler, a fiddler from Wurtsboro, N.Y.

The other thing that brings them together, Gordon said, is the quiet and scenic atmosphere of the fairgrounds.

"We also like to play in an environment conducive to the spirit of the music," he said, "with the barn, the mountain, the outdoors."

They Also Served: Nurses in ‘Nam

— Maggie Gordon

ALTAMONT — Some lessons stay with you for a lifetime. Helen Vartigan is 63 now. She remembers her tour of duty as a 25-year-old nurse in Vietnam as vividly as if it were yesterday.

She shared her memories this week, the day after Memorial Day, at a quiet corner table in the Home Front Café.

Pictures of a herself in service show a young woman with the same no-nonsense short hair as today — though darker. She has, too, the same steadfast gaze.

At one point, she talked about the challenge of working in a makeshift war front hospital without enough staff.

"We had to learn a lesson — how to triage. Nobody wants to let somebody die, so at first we tried to save everybody, but it was just impossible," Vartigan said. "We provided comfort and pain relief for the dying, and handled those we knew would survive... People felt bad because of those that they had to set aside."

She is proud of her service and has shared some of her memorabilia for an exhibit sponsored by the Foundation of New York State Nurses.

History on exhibit

Traditionally, Memorial Day is centered around men on the front lines. This year though, the foundation is showing an exhibit entitled "They Also Served: Nurses in the Military," which is drawing attention to the women who risked their lives to save others.

The exhibit, open to the public, is located at the Vietnam Memorial Gallery in the Justice Building’s east lobby on State Street in Albany. It features uniforms, photographs, original research, and scrapbooks from nurses dating back to World War I.

"The exhibit gives people a real sense of what a nurse’s experience in the military is," said Rachel Donaldson, the archivist for the Center for Nursing Research at the Foundation of New York State Nurses, located in Guilderland. "I think we often think of the military as the soldiers, but there are also the nurses that help heal the soldiers. The visitors will get an idea of the side of military that they don’t really see."

Cathryne Welch, the director of the Center for Nursing Research, said, "The exhibit provides visitors with a very clear and direct sense of the nature of military nursing and how important nursing services are to those who are serving."

Inspired by Kennedy

A large number of the objects in the Vietnam portion of the exhibit were donated by Vartigan. As an Army nurse, she was stationed in Cu Chi from 1966 to 1967. The exhibit includes Vartigan’s hat, dog tags, shirt, and photographs from her tour of duty.

Vartigan graduated from high school in 1959, and decided to go into nursing. "Most of my friends went into nursing or teaching or secretarial work," she said. "At one time, I had thought about becoming a lawyer, but it wasn’t common for a woman to do that."

After her graduation from nursing school in 1963, she worked at a small hospital in Troy, N.Y.. From there, she decided to join the Army.

"I guess I was a product of the Kennedy era," Vartigan said, as she sat at a table decorated with Benny Goodman sheet music and a recipe for Tasty War Cakes, beneath the Orsini flag in Cindy Pollard’s World War II themed Home Front Café.

"I believed in Kennedy when he told us to ‘ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country,’" she said.

Vartigan was stationed at the 12th Evacuation Hospital, located on the base camp of the 25th Infantry Division. When she first arrived, approximately 29 to 35 nurses were stationed there, assigned to provide medical support for the 20,000 men in the division.

The hospital she was stationed at opened on Christmas Day in 1966. Vartigan described the hospital as a football field with an operating room, emergency room, recovery room, and intensive care units on one side.

"On my side," she said, "we had the orthopedic division, the Vietnamese ward, two general surgical wards, and a medical ward."

For the first six months of her tour, there were no sidewalks to transport patients from one ward to the other, nor was there any overhead coverage to protect the nurses and patients from the weather.

"We had to wait until the rain stopped before transferring wards," Vartigan said.

"The temperature was about 110 degrees daily," Vartigan said. "We actually became acclimatized to the heat, so when it went down to 70 or 80 degrees, we were cold."

Sometimes the weather made it easy for Vartigan and the other nurses to miss home. Christmas came without snow or pine trees. When another nurse received a package from home containing some pie and pine needles from Kansas, it was the smell that made the holiday for Vartigan.

Vartigan worked a 12-hour shift six days a week. While she was not working, she attended parties, watched "cowboy and Indian" movies, and played volleyball. While there were many fun activities for her to take part in, there was always work to be done.


"The most challenging part was trying to provide the best care possible with limited equipment. We had to do a lot of improvising," Vartigan said. At times, the nurses would use empty IV bottles for chest drainage, and construct colostomy bags from the plastic covering on IV tubes.

"It wasn’t ideal, but it served it’s purpose," she said.

The minimal staffing was also a big challenge for Vartigan. She was the head nurse in the orthopedic ward; usually one enlisted person with medical training and one nurse was assigned to each ward, she said. The wards housed 30 patients each, and sometimes there was not enough room for all the patients.

Sometimes Vartigan felt as though her own life was in danger. "Because we were on the grounds of the 25th, we were mortared probably 10 times during the year I was there," she said. "We did feel as though we were in danger.

"I look at history as something really important. In a sense, it’s the map to the future, in that if you don’t know where you’ve been, how do you know where to go"" Vartigan said. "I would hope you would really think we had learned our lesson.

"I’m very supportive of our troops. I just wish that there were ways that this could have been handled without loss of life or severe wounds to our youth," she said of the current war.

Vartigan still keeps in contact with many of the other nurses from their hospital; every four or five years, they hold a large reunion. "The 12th Evacuation is very close," Vartigan said.

Vartigan is even planning on spending some time this summer to visit Beth Parks, an Army nurse who worked in the operating room at the 12th Evacuation Hospital. Parks, who now lives in Maine, spoke at the opening reception of the exhibit this May.

"Visiting the exhibit was kind of fun," Parks said. "I haven’t looked at all those things in years."

"I’m so glad I did it," she said of her time on tour. "I would do it again at the drop of a hat."

[Return to Home Page]