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Guilderland Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, June 16, 2005


GOP settles on partial slate

By Nicole Fay Barr

GUILDERLAND — It looks like Democratic town Supervisor Kenneth Runion will win the November election.

Guilderland’s Republican committee chairman, Tony Cortes, told The Enterprise this week that his party has no candidate to challenge Runion. The GOP also has no one to run for receiver of taxes or town clerk.

"We couldn’t convince people to go for the positions," said Cortes. "....People were reluctant to face Ken Runion."

Runion declined comment this week.

Currently, the town supervisor, all five councilmembers, the receiver of taxes, and the clerk are all Democrats. This is the fifth year that the town has been dominated by Democrats. For nearly 200 years, it was Republicans who controlled town government.

About a third of Guilderland voters are enrolled as Democrats, about a third as Republicans, and about a third are enrolled in small parties or not in any party.

The Republican committee said in February that it had no real contenders for the election. So, it put an ad in The Enterprise. The ad asked anyone interested in running for supervisor, town board member, town judge, receiver of taxes, or town clerk to send a résumé to the committee.

Cortes said then that the Republican committee would endorse residents from any political party.

"We want people who are open-minded, who are willing to negotiate with our political compromises," he said.

Cortes said later that The Enterprise ad was a sort of training process that brought local Republicans to the committee to find out about elected positions.

In May, the Republican party was eager to announce its partial slate — long-time justice Steven Simon is running again for judge and newcomers Mike Donegan and Ed Glenning are running for two town board seats.

Cortes told The Enterprise then that the party would have a supervisor candidate by the second week in June. He was less confident about filling the slots for town clerk and receiver of taxes.

Last Monday, the Democrats officially chose their candidates. Incumbent Supervisor Runion, Councilwoman Patricia Slavick, Receiver of Taxes Jean Cataldo, and Town Clerk Rosemary Centi will all run for re-election on the Democratic ticket.

Paul Pastore, the town’s planning board attorney, was nominated to run for the other town board seat. Incumbent Bruce Sherwin told The Enterprise last month that he wanted to run again, but he felt he wouldn’t get the party’s nomination because of his independent thinking.

The Democrats also nominated Denise Randall, assistant town attorney, to challenge Simon.

Cortes said this week that his party will now concentrate on getting the Republican candidates for town board and justice elected.

"We decided to put our economic resources there," he said.

Asked how he felt about putting up a partial slate, Cortes said, "It’s a mixed emotion....At the same time, I feel it’s good to concentrate all our resources on Ed Glenning, Mike Donegan, and Steve Simon."

Some Republicans were interested in running for supervisor, Cortes said, but then complained that the post didn’t pay enough. Runion earned $88,347 this year.

"If you want to have a good race, you need to quit your job sometime in the summer," Cortes added. "You have to be ready to go to all the events."

The GOP’s focus for next year will be to get Republicans elected to smaller offices, like the school board or the library board, Cortes said.

"We need to get names out there, to get people to understand campaigns," he said.


Library rejects labeling policy

By Nicole Fay Barr

GUILDERLAND — The public has spoken.

About 100 people attended a library board meeting last Thursday where the trustees ultimately defeated a proposal, 7 to 1, to label sexually-explicit books for young-adult readers.

Thirty-five people voiced their opposition to labeling. They said censorship is wrong and that it is a parent’s responsibility to monitor his or her teenager’s reading.

Trustee John Daly had proposed the labeling policy system in part because he believed descriptions of sexual acts in books might cause teens to have sex.

"Kids 12 to 16 that are having sex right now wouldn’t be caught dead in a library," said Lily Rowen, a freshman at Guilderland High School, whose mother works in the Guilderland library’s children’s department. "Just because you’re reading about sex doesn’t mean you’re going to have it. We’re just curious...I just read a book about climbing Mount Everest and I’m not going to do that," she said.

"Labeling books undermines freedom and is a solution to a non-existent problem," said José Cruz, a parent of two teenagers.
Most of the library board agreed. Although five citizens supported Daly’s proposal to label books, Daly was the only trustee to vote for the policy amendment.

The Enterprise wrote about Daly’s proposal last week. He said then that it was his obligation, as an elected trustee of the Guilderland Public Library, to warn parents about the books their teenagers are reading.

He proposed labeling young-adult books — which he feels have sexually-explicit content — with orange, "PG Rec" (Parental Guidance Recommended) stickers. Books determined to be free of sexually-explicit material would have been marked with green stickers.

A few days before the proposal was to be voted on, Daly changed it so librarians would only have had to label 5 percent of newly-acquired books per year. This was to lessen the workload for library staff, he said.

Daly got the idea for the labeling policy in February, after he read an article on young-adult literature in The New York Times by Dinitia Smith.

What Daly got from the article is that authors who write for the young-adult genre, ages 12 to 16, are writing material more sexually-advanced than the people reading it, he said.

He then decided to see what kinds of books the Guilderland library has on its shelves. Daly read eight or nine young-adult books and found two "with sexually-explicit material," he said.

The material was in a few pages of the books — Forever by Judy Blume and The Hanged Man by Francesca Lia Block.

Public reaction

Barbara Nichols Randall, the library’s director, told The Enterprise last week that she was against Daly’s proposal.

"As librarians, it’s part of our ethical code or professional code of conduct to provide materials of all kinds for the community," she said. "We try to purchase things that are on all sides of an issue."

At a special meeting last month, the committee reviewing the library’s policies voted to reject Daly’s amendment. At last Thursday’s packed three-hour meeting, trustee Ellen Doolin reiterated Nichols Randall’s sentiments as to why the committee rejected the proposal.

Then, trustees heard from the public. In all, 27 people spoke against the amendment and eight more wrote letters or e-mails to the board. Three spoke for the proposal and two wrote e-mails in favor of it.

Jerry Houser said he found it odd that Daly was offended by "love-making," but descriptions of "senseless violence and murder passed his test."

Walt Jones said he respects the library’s staff. "I wouldn’t want to put them in the position of being the thought police for the community," he said.

Walter Silver, a retired high school history teacher, said the idea of censorship is appalling.

In other countries, he said, censorship began with small, insignificant things and slowly grew to take away serious rights.

Classic authors like Jack London and Geoffrey Chaucer might be labeled, he said. Even the Bible, he said, might be deemed unsuitable.

Not everyone was against Daly’s proposal, however. Two parents wrote e-mails saying they were for it because they don’t have time to read every book their teenagers bring home.

"Parents trust in cultural institutions," said Lamont Hungershafer, an older man. "I don’t think a parent should have to look at a library like an adult book store."

Lenora Daly, the trustee’s wife, told the board that, as a parent, she supports his proposal. Her twin sons are 25 now, she said, and she would have been upset knowing they were reading these kinds of books when they were teenagers.

"No one wants censorship," she said. "...There’s a lot of material here that makes sex unhappy and evil and ugly when it should be beautiful. This is a problem."

Trustee views

After the public comment period, the trustees’ names were drawn out of a bowl. The board members then got 10 minutes each to speak, in the order in which their names were drawn.

Each trustee, except Daly, spoke against the proposal.

Doolin and Barbara Haught said book reviews and content information is available in the library’s on-line catalogue.

Doolin also said that some might find books with violence or with racial slurs more offensive than sexually-explicit material.

Haught and Merry Sparano said that, although they might not want their children reading these books, it is not their role as trustees to label books.

Brian Hartson thanked Daly for bringing his concern to the board. He said it was unfair of some of the speakers to suggest Daly was advocating censorship. Labeling is not censorship, he said.

But, Hartson said, he finds Daly’s proposal counterproductive. Teenagers would be attracted to the labeled books, he said.

"The real 800-pound gorilla in this room is that parents aren’t parenting," Hartson said.

"I think censorship of any degree is simply wrong," said Bruce Sherwin. Of his children, he said, "I don’t want them to be afraid of reading things or trying things."

James Denn also commended Daly for bringing up the issue. He told a story about his 11-year-old daughter’s recently choosing a book from the library called The V Club. Denn helped her pick the book, he said, and it was described as a book about four friends, each vowing to keep her virginity.

But, Denn said, while his daughter was reading the book, she came to him, confused about some material. The book was really about one friend who lost her virginity and another who planned on losing it soon, Denn said.

"The book caused a family discussion," Denn said. "At the time, I wasn’t happy the library was causing so much discussion and emotion in my family. But, it was good. It was helpful."

He recommended that parents be involved with their children’s reading, but not totally reliant on reviews or short descriptions.

Board president Robert Ganz said he’s been an avid reader since he was a child and he had no restrictions. When he was in the fourth grade, Ganz said, he found a book with racy passages and he showed the book to all his friends. The teacher caught him and called his father, he said.

Although his father had a long discussion about the book with him later, Ganz said that, to the teacher, his father defended his right to read whatever book he wanted.

Young people’s rights shouldn’t begin when they are 18, Ganz said. Some adults don’t give teenagers enough credit for their maturity, he said.

"To shelter denies their right to mature, to confront the material," he said.

Peter Koonz said Daly’s proposal was well-intended, but not practical.

"I believe exposure only breeds education," said Matthew Goland-Van Ryn, a non-voting student member of the board.

"I’m hopeful that at least raising this discussion will be helpful to parents," Daly said.


New pipes planned

By Nicole Fay Barr

GUILDERLAND — To improve water quality and supply, the town is reviewing plans to loop dead-end water lines in a project that is estimated at a cost of $2 million to $4 million.

Because of the project, the water supply on part of Western Avenue and in Guilderland Center and Fort Hunter will need less chemical treatment, Supervisor Kenneth Runion said at last week’s town board meeting.

The project will also help the town to meet federal Environmental Protection Agency standards for healthy drinking water. The town has been meeting the standards, but they are becoming more stringent, he said.

While this is true, The Enterprise reported earlier that the EPA’s measurement system is flawed. Every quarter, levels of haloacetic acids in drinking water are calculated by a system of averaging.

Individual hot spots, often on dead-end water lines, can have much higher, unsafe levels.

In 2007, each sampling site will have to meet standards and averaging will be eliminated, said William West, Guilderland’s superintendent of water and wastewater management.

This will be good, he said, because the town will have a better way to notify individuals living in areas above standards. Also, he said, the town can examine these areas to try to determine why the levels are so high.

Of the current high levels, West said, "That’s why we’re doing what we have to do now."

Long-standing problem

In September of 2002, an Enterprise article — "Hot spots: Water woes beneath the surface" — uncovered the problem. Many areas of Guilderland had levels of disinfectant byproducts in the 100’s, mostly because they were at the end of unlooped water lines where chemicals became more concentrated. The EPA’s maximum contamination limit is 60 parts per billion.

Higher chlorine amounts are typically needed to reach the end of a distribution system; at the end of a pipeline, water and chlorine are in contact for long periods of time. Often dead-end lines produce higher readings.

Chlorine is added to the water to make it microbiologically safe. The disinfectant, however, can react with decaying vegetation or other organic matter and possibly create carcinogens. Two disinfectant byproducts are trihalomethanes (TTHMs), such as chloroform, and haloacetic acids.

In the 2004 water-quality report, which The Enterprise reviewed this week, parts of Guilderland are still shown to have much higher levels of TTHM’s than acceptable.

In August of 2004, Guilderland High School’s level was 93.6 parts per billion. Then, at Serafini Drive, the level was 115 parts per billion, and, in November, the level was 74.8 parts per billion.

Also, in August of 2004, Westville Apartments’ level of TTHM’s was 126 and, in November, it was 88. On Birch Court, it was 80 in August and 89.5 in November.

In February and May, the two other months when samples were drawn, the levels of TTHM’s met standards. This is because, in the winter months, acid levels are lower, dropping the TTHM’s levels.

The areas with levels above the maximum contamination limit didn’t show up in official reports because a system of averaging was used. The EPA is currently working on a new regulation that will eliminate averaging across the system, but it will not be in place for a few more years.

Earlier, Robin Woods, a spokeswoman with the EPA, listed liver and kidney cancer and central nervous system damage as possible risks of drinking water above state standards.

"People who drink water that contains byproducts in excess of EPA standards over many years, have a higher risk for these diseases," she told The Enterprise.

The town’s drinking water is from the Watervliet Reservoir and three town wells. Most of that water is treated at the town’s treatment plant before it is piped out.

In March of 2003, Guilderland’s average maximum contamination limit was 80 parts per billion; the standard is 60. The town was then required to send notices to residents using town water.

"Some people who drink water containing haloacetic acids in excess of the maximum contamination limit over many years may have an increased risk of getting cancer," the notice sent by the town stated in italic print, attributing the information to the Environmental Protection Agency.

Residents should not be alarmed, West told The Enterprise at the time. The town was required to send the notice, under orders by the EPA, he said. "It’s more of a consumer’s right to know thing," he said.

Referring to the statement in the notice, West emphasized the word "may."

"To me, that’s a pretty broad statement," he said. "...The language is not that specific because the science is not that specific."

West reiterated these comments Wednesday, and said that, if someone drinks two gallons of water per day for 70 years, they still have one in a million chance of getting cancer.

"I stand a better chance of hitting the mega lotto," he said.

The town also does lead and copper sampling, he said, and in most cases, the levels are normal. But, West said, old pipes can cause high levels of lead to contaminate the water. A house with old plumbing could show unhealthy levels, he said. The town would notify the residents of this house, recommending they let their taps flow for a few seconds before drinking the water, he said.

West added that last year’s work at the town’s water-treatment plant, including adding a new filtering system to the plant, is also helping to clean the town’s water.

Taking action

Last week, the town took its first steps towards correcting the town’s water-quality at dead-end lines. The town board voted unanimously to allow Delaware Engineering to conduct a feasibility study.

Tuesday, West told The Enterprise that he’s pleased the town is considering looping some dead-end lines.

"The looping will have a couple of positive effects," he said. "It’s a positive aspect for water quality in that, with positive hydraulics, we can move water better."

Water that is constantly flowing is less likely to have particulates settling in the pipes and contaminating the water.

"We have dead ends all over town, but those may be smaller," West said. "We try to loop wherever we can."

The new project will be for areas on Western Avenue and in Fort Hunter and Guilderland Center, where many dead-end water lines lie.

The project will not be small, West said. In some places, lines will have to go under the Bozenkill and Normanskill, and go through rock formations, he said.

The town tries to lay the lines in rights-of-way, so as not to disturb people’s properties. When looping lines, the town may have to get easements from residents, West said, but he expects the digging to be simple and to not adversely affect anyone.

Although many factors can cause price fluctuations, West estimated the whole project to cost between $2 million and $4 million.

The town has installed many water-district extensions, West said. Then, it usually loops existing lines, he said.

The town has been considering this project for 20 years, West said. Earlier, however, with most water lines in the eastern end of Guilderland, the town was not in a position to extend lines this far to the west, he said.

Now, he said, with more development in the western end of town, it is easier to extend and loop lines there.

Much debt on the town’s water system is now being retired, West said, making the project more affordable.

The project still must go through a public-hearing process and receive approval from the state’s Department of Environmental Conservation and other agencies.


Board urges healthier snacks at school

By Melissa Hale-Spencer

GUILDERLAND — As the district is making health a new priority, the school board is scrutinizing the grocery list for school lunches.

The school lunch program at Guilderland pays for itself, taking in over $1 million annually.

Last Tuesday, the board tabled a motion to award bids for school-lunch products — usually a routine procedure that passes without comment — as some members objected to so many unhealthy products.

First, board member Colleen O’Connell expressed surprise that the district was selling students 2-percent milk.

"The low-fat milk is by far the greatest quantity we purchase," responded Assistant Superintendent for Business Neil Sanders.

"We don’t sell any whole milk," said Board President William Brinkman.

O’Connell was willing to let the milk and dairy products go, but she dug in her heels when it came to the snacks. Ultimately, the board agreed unanimously to table awarding the bids.

Last year, O’Connell reminded the board, she and board members Linda Bakst and Barbara Fraterrigo had raised the issue of unhealthy foods being served in school cafeterias.

O’Connell said it would be difficult for the school lunch director to defend items like honey buns and fruit gummies.

"I’m disappointed people haven’t listened to what we said a year ago," O’Connell asserted.

"Certainly, there’s an effort to move away from those products," responded Sanders. He said that healthier snacks are promoted at the elementary level and, once those students are educated, it will work up to the higher levels.

In light of the district’s new priority to promote healthy choices, board member Richard Weisz moved to table the motion. He also said that dropping all unhealthy snacks overnight could create a cash-flow problem.

Bakst seconded Weisz’s motion.

Brinkman asked how long a company would hold a bid. Sanders answered, typically 30 to 60 days. And, he said, changes could be made among the choices as long as the dollar value remained the same.

March presentation

In March, at the board’s request, Linda Mossop, school lunch director, made a presentation to the board during which Fraterrigo questioned whether the drive to make profits might cause unhealthy foods to be offered.

"This is a self-sustaining program," she said, stating that is one reason she’s been given that all the snacks can’t be eliminated.

Mossop had outlined the 30 menu choices at the high school each day, the 26 at the middle school, and the six at the elementary schools. Guilderland’s menu choices, Mossop said, not only meet but exceed state standards.

"You have children that are literally eating six chocolate chip cookies for their lunch even though Mom and Dad think they’re eating one of those really great lunches," Fraterrigo said. "The program has to pay for itself."

Superintendent Gregory Aidala confirmed that the school lunch program is separate from the rest of the budget. "It’s still operating in the black, which I think is a good thing," he said.

Profits from the lunch program pay for a number of things, Mossop said, including: employees’ health insurance; workmen’s compensation; all equipment and repairs; and part of the water, electric, and custodial fees.

"I would really like to keep it self-sufficient," Mossop said. "I’d hate to see it go out for budget vote and make it a burden on the taxpayers."

She concluded, "I want to do whatever I can to make the kids healthy but I also want to have a successful program."

Sanders told The Enterprise that the school lunch program took in $1,149,000 during the 2003-04 school year.

Expenses are paid out of that, he said. "Some years," he said, "if we buy new equipment or if there’s a major repair, it affects the bottom line."

Asked if serving healthier foods cuts into profits, Sanders said, "We’re selling less snacks overall as we’ve gotten healthier snack choices."

Moving forward

Towards the end of last Tuesday’s meeting, O’Connell said that, if there is a list of 50 snack items, eliminating four or five a year would take too long to change the culture. She recommended a system being used in New Jersey that, she said, eliminates products with eight or more grams of fat. "If sugar is the first ingredient, it’s out," she said. "I think that’s what we’ve got to do."

"How do we move forward"" asked Brinkman.

Aidala responded that the matter would go back to Mossop.

Other business

In other business, the board:

— Heard from three Guilderland High School seniors who praised their honors physiology course and recommended it not be cut next year.

Alex Chapman said it was the "favorite class" of all three of the students.

"It’s really hard but we learn an incredible amount about the human body," he said.

Chapman said he has been accepted into the eight-year medical program at Siena College and, without the honors physiology course, he didn’t think he would have been.

"It’s challenging but rewarding at the same time," said Henna Boolchandani, who added that she is not going into medicine, but that the course will fulfill a college requirement for her.

Karie Luidens described the course as college-level. She said it was something seniors need and said it was the most challenging course she has taken.

"We agree it’s an excellent class," responded Superintendent Aidala. But, since fewer than 10 students were enrolled in the course, and since a Regents-level physiology course is offered, Aidala said the honors course was cut as the district "wrestled with paring down the budget."

Aidala added that, if there were "a ground swell of support" for the course, the issue could be re-examined.

Fraterrigo said she’d like to "ask the science department to re-think its position," concluding, "It would really, really be a shame to lose it";

— Heard a glowing report from German teacher Hanna Hickey and some of her students about a trip they took to Germany in February as part of the German-American Partnership Program, a first for the district.

In the fall, 16 students from Brandenburg, Germany were hosted by Guilderland families and attended classes at the high school. In February, 20 Guilderland students visited Germany for a similar experience. The Enterprise featured the trip in an earlier edition.

"There’s no better way for students to learn about other cultures than to live in it...The friendships we made were irreplaceable...We learned so many things that cannot be learned in a textbook...This experience was so dear to us and will stay with us throughout our entire lives," senior Erin Parks told the school board;

— Accepted the proposal of Bell’s Auto Driving School to provide behind-the-wheel driver-education services for three years beginning with the 2005-06 school year.

The cost is $275 per student for next year.

The board also appointed Roderick MacDonald as the in-class instructor for the driver-education program for next year. He will be paid $42.79 per hour;

— Received from Assistant Superintendent for Instruction Nancy Andress three state-mandated district plans — the S.A.V.E. (Schools Against Violence in Education) Plan, the Professional Development Plan (on staff training), and the Academic Intervention Services Plan (outlining procedures for assessing and helping students).

The plans must be updated annually and there are no "substantive changes," Andress said. The plans are available at each school, at the district office, and on the district website.

The board is slated to approve the updated plans at its June 24 meeting;

— Heard congratulations for Leonard Bopp, a second-grader at Pine Bush Elementary School, who was selected for a Schenectady YWCA Volunteer of the Year Award. He organized a bake sale which raised $108 for the YWCA’s homeless shelter;

— Heard congratulations for Amy Zurlo, the district’s communications specialist, who had two articles on Guilderland programs published in the spring Journal of the School Administrators Association of New York State;

— Reviewed a policy on student complaints and grievances; and

— Met in executive session to discuss the superintendent’s annual performance review and to discuss a real property issue as well as to hear negotiation updates on six employee groups — teachers’ aids and monitors, teaching assistants, non-instructional supervisors and other management personnel, assistant principals, technology and communications personnel, and district-office administrators.


O’Brien’s marathon: She runs for those with blood cancers

By Melissa Hale-Spencer

GUILDERLAND — Debra O’Brien is running for life — but not her own.

She gets up every morning at 5:30 to run three or four miles before she goes to work as a physical education teacher at Farnsworth Middle School.

She wears the reason around her wrist.

O’Brien’s plastic bracelet bears the name of her uncle who died of leukemia four years ago and of her cousin who survived the disease.

It also bears the names of seven people in the Guilderland school community. One of them is Thomas Farrelly, a beloved high school math teacher who died in April after battling leukemia. Another is the daughter of a Guilderland Elementary School teacher; the young girl has just been diagnosed with leukemia.

Five others are Guilderland students. Sixth-grader Kameron Conner, a Farnsworth student, has survived leukemia after braving a bone-marrow transplant.

Another Farnsworth sixth-grader, Dominic Tralongo, is undergoing chemotherapy, O’Brien said. Her brilliant smile evaporated as she went on to say, "He’s allowed to wear a baseball cap to school" because the chemotherapy has caused hair loss.

An eighth-grader with a form of Hotchkins disease is in chemo right now, O’Brien said.

Another name on her bracelet belongs to a fourth-grade girl at Lynnwood Elementary School, and the last name is of a girl who was once a student of O’Brien and is now at the high school.

"All of these kids touch me," she said. "I’ve had them as students or they will be coming to me....When I get up in the morning and it’s raining or I’m tired, I just look at the bracelet and I think what these kids have been through." And then, said O’Brien, her run seems like nothing.

And yet, the event she is preparing for has come to mean everything to her.

She is a runner for The Leukemia & Lymphoma Team in Training.

She is preparing to complete a full marathon, 26.2 miles, in San Francisco on Oct. 23. O’Brien is raising money by getting pledges for each mile she runs as well as through other events. Her goal is to raise $4,000.

Challenges

"I’m not a true runner," said O’Brien.

The rigorous training is new for her, and difficult, although her athleticism comes naturally.

O’Brien plays tennis, softball, and basketball.

Her father was an athletic director at Bergen County Community College in New Jersey and she describes her mother as a nurse and an athlete. "Her father wanted her to be a secretary," said O’Brien, but her mother was an independent woman and left her home in Canada for New York City where she pursued nursing.

O’Brien herself left her New Jersey home for Miami University in Ohio with plans of studying accounting to go into business. "Math was my strongest subject," she said. "Instead I pursued what made me happier."

She is an athlete who loves working with kids.

O’Brien, like her mother, was an independent young woman and ready for adventure. She did her student teaching in Germany in a Department of Defense school.

"I was the first physical-education person to do it," she said.

She has also worked with Outward Bound and is trained in Project Adventure.

She uses that training at Farnsworth where middle-school students perform such feats as using a zip line to go 400 yards across a field.

"I like teaching kids how to challenge themselves," said O’Brien. "It promotes growth and trust and gives them a real sense of accomplishment."

The Project Adventure program is very popular, she said, and it "really improves self-esteem."

"You can see a kid who is afraid and help him overcome that fear, and then he’s set," she said.

"Gangbusters"

O’Brien herself relishes a challenge.

She received a flyer in the mail from the Team in Training and was intrigued.

"Every five minutes someone new is diagnosed with a blood cancer — leukemia, lymphoma, and myleloma; every 10 minutes, someone dies," it said. "In fact, leukemia causes more deaths than any other cancer among children and young adults under the age of 20."

As O’Brien read the flyer, she said, "My first thought was I lost my uncle to an acute leukemia...He was diagnosed on a Friday and died on Saturday."

Then she thought of her cousin. "My cousin is a survivor," she said. "He had a bone-marrow transplant."

Although the cause of blood-related cancers remains unknown, literature from The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society states, steady advances in research and treatment are bringing cures closer. "In fact, thanks to research funded by The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, the survival rate for the most common form of childhood leukemia has improved from 4 percent in 1960 to over 80 percent today. Bone marrow transplantations as well as chemotherapy — the backbone for treatment of most forms of cancer — stemmed from leukemia research."

O’Brien decided to find out more and attended a chapter meeting. Although she had never done a long-distance run before, she set her sights on the Nike Women’s Marathon in San Francisco and set a goal of raising $4,000.

"I’m going to go gangbusters," she said. "It’s making me feel good, working for such a worthy cause. This is the number-one killer of children ages two to 15."

She has already sent out letters, looking for backers and has set up a website: www.active.com/donate.tntnyvt/tntnyvtDOBrie1. She has also scheduled her first fund-raiser, a car wash and bottle drive this Saturday, June 18, at Albany Beverage on Carman Road from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.

"I’ve got boys in sixth grade putting flyers in mailboxes," she said of spreading the word about the car wash.

About 75 percent of what O’Brien raises will go directly to the society while the remaining 25 percent will go towards the Team in Training program for such expenses as coaching, lodging, and race entry.

O’Brien has already spent her own money on such necessities as two good pairs of running sneakers, at $100 a pair.

"I’m going to do whatever I need to do to cross the finish line," she said.

O’Brien had never before thought about running a marathon. Right now, she’s running three to four miles on weekday mornings and six to eight on Saturdays. She averages about 10-and-a-half minutes a mile.

O’Brien sandwiches her practices in between her busy teaching career and family schedule. This past weekend, for example, she was going to a baseball game for her nine-year-old son, Connor, and was the "costume mom" for the dance recital of her six-year-old daughter, Clare.

Her daughter will ask, "Are you running again, Mommy"" and her husband is a little concerned about the effect on her knees. But he is supportive and "says the whole family will fly out to see me in the marathon," O’Brien said.

She will gradually build to running 12, then 14, then 18 miles, she said, before she completes a 20-mile practice run.

Asked if she enjoyed her runs, O’Brien smiled and said, "I’m not quite there yet."

She has had knee surgery, she said. "My knee caps go out to the side," O’Brien said, and dislocation is a problem.

Consequently, she said, she might complete the marathon with a combination of walking and running.

"I don’t care what my time is," she said. "This is not about me."

In its mission statement, the Team in Training says, "We will use endurance training as a symbol of hope...."

Looking at the bracelet on her wrist, O’Brien said, "I’m running in honor of all these courageous people."


AfricanAmerican roots music to replenish hope on GPAC stage

By Maggie Gordon

GUILDERLAND — Linda Tillery and the Cultural Heritage Choir sing what Tillery calls "survival music."

The Grammy-nominated, five-member acapella group, based in Oakland, Calif., features call-and-response songs with multi-layered harmony.

The Cultural Heritage Choir will be the finale for the summer season of the Guilderland Performing Arts Center, which opens next Thursday with the Burners UK, a local R&B, rock, and pop band.

"We’re a percussion-driven vocal ensemble," Tillery said.

The group has been together for 13 years, since Tillery sent out a letter to a large group of singers, looking to form a group to sing African-American roots music. Eleven singers responded to Tillery’s letter, and the group performed its first concert in 1992.

"From there, the group evolved," Tillery said. "We changed the number from 11 to six initially, and then to five."

The Cultural Heritage Choir has received many honors. Its CD, "Shakin’ A Tail Feather," was nominated for a Grammy in 1997.

The group has released five CDs and is planning to release another live album at the end of August.

"Our CD’s have received lots of library awards and parents’ choice awards, because the music that we do has a historical significance," Tillery said. "Educators love to have us come and address young people — especially in February, because of Black History Month."

The group has also had the honor of performing at Carnegie Hall.

"The most memorable thing our group has ever done was visiting the MoTown Museum and, standing under the echo chamber, singing our song," Tillery said.

"Our songs are survival music," she said. "Spirituals... seem to nurture and uplift people in some pretty desperate times. Throughout their existence, when things would get rough for people on the plantations, they would go to these songs and somehow get the energy to replenish their supply of hope and courage. They still do that to this day.

"Spirituals have been, and still are, used as a catalyst for just about every political movement around the earth in history," Tillery said. "They were singing ‘We Shall Overcome’ in Tiananmen Square. The songs have a life, and a personality, and a force that transcends the people who sing them.

"The life lesson is in the song. They’ll be here long after I’m gone," she said. "Way after people have forgotten about Justin Timberlake."

Linda Tillery and the Cultural Heritage Choir will perform at the Guilderland Performing Arts Center, in Tawasentha Park, on Aug. 25

The group was in the Capital Region this winter, and Tillery said the performers are eager to return. "I’m looking forward to having a feel good time," she said. "We’re just nice people — not very controversial."

"A nice variety"

The Guilderland Performing Arts Center Summer of 2005 will kick off its 26th year, on June 23, with a performance by the Burners UK. The concert series, free to the public, will take place in Tawasentha Park, on Route 146, every Thursday night at 7:30 p.m. — with the exception of the Zucchini Brothers performance, which will begin at 7 p.m. — regardless of weather conditions.

"The stage is large enough that we can fit about 250 people up there," said Claudia Gottesman, a spokesperson for the concert series. "So if it rains, the performers are pushed to the back of the stage and the chairs are put up there. The only ones that are canceled are the Guilderland Town Band, because they fill up the entire stage."

The audience is made up of adults and families, Gottesman said. "There is nothing on there that is inappropriate for children."

Some of the bands have played at the concert series in past years, including the McKrells and the Zucchini Brothers.

"It’s a nice variety of different types of music," Gottesman said. "From bluegrass to Celtic to jazz... The children’s ones are always a big hit."

The summer schedule follows:

—The Burners UK, an eight-piece band, has sold more than 10,000 albums, will play June 23. The Burners have played with such notable artists as B. B. King, The Spin Doctors, and The Village People.

The band plays a variety of music, and some of the songs it has played in the past include "Blister in the Sun," "I Love Rock ’N’ Roll," "Margaritaville," "You Can’t Always Get What You Want," and "Piano Man."

—The McKrells will play on Thursday, July 14. The band is described in various reviews as playing Irish, Celtic, folk, pop and world music. Kevin McKrell, the lead vocalist and songwriter for the band, was named male vocalist of the year by the Northeast Country Music Association in 2000.

—Sweet Cider is an acoustic bluegrass band that will be playing at the concert series on Thursday, July 28. This band has also been honored by the North East Country Music Association.

This April, the band received trophies for three categories from the Northeast CMA’s awards show: Best Bluegrass Band, Best Vocal Group, and Best Instrumental Group. Its bassist and vocalist, Walt Yanis, was also named Best Male Vocalist and Best Songwriter at the awards ceremony.

—The Zucchini Brothers, who hail from Saratoga Springs, will perform on Thursday, Aug. 18, at 7 p.m., with special guest Mr. Twisty.

The band, which has been referred to as the "Beatles of Kids’ Music," has a nationally-syndicated radio show. The show, "The Zucchini Brothers, Live! at the Clubhouse," is modeled after old-time radio, before the invention of television, and is targeted toward children and their families.

The band tours on a nationally, and performs at elementary schools across the country. Some of the songs it has performed on its radio show include "Share," "Teacher Song," "Sweaters and Cheese," and "Let’s All Get Together."

—The Empire Jazz Band will perform on Thursday, July 7.

—The Guilderland Town Band will perform on Thursday, June 30, Thursday, July 21; and Thursday, Aug. 11. The band is conducted by Kathleen Ehlinger, who also directs Guilderland High School’s wind ensemble.

—Valerie DelaCruz will be performing on Thursday, Aug. 4. DelaCruz is originally from upstate New York, though her music has taken her various places.

She has received many awards and honors, including the 1997 Songwriter of the Year award from the Northeast CMA; first prize in the USA Songwriting Competition, Country Category, for her 1997 song, "You’re the Happy Ending;" and her induction in the New York State Country Music Hall of Fame in 2001.

— Linda Tillery and the Cultural Heritage Choir will be the last band to perform, on Thursday, Aug. 25. Linda Tillery describes the group as "exciting, musically competent, invigorating, and uplifting."


Ginger Miller recalls a duet that lasted a lifetime

By Maggie Gordon

GUILDERLAND — Ginger Miller moves to her own beat — always has.

Her life has been a series of scales, chords, and arpeggios since she taught her first keyboard lesson at the age of 14. In the 45 years since, she has helped countless local musicians and artists not only to discover their talent, but also to share it with the Capital Region.

In January of 1999, Miller opened the Mini Mall theater at the Hilton Center for the Performing Arts, next to Westgate on Central Avenue. She wanted "something to do," she said, and asked Art Hilton, the owner of the building, and the son of her former piano and guitar teacher.

"See what you can do with this place," was Hilton’s reply. In the past six years, she has done quite a few things there. She has brought in a section of the Air Force Band; hosted tributes to Elvis, Janis Joplin, and Tina Turner; featured mystery theater; and staged plays written by local talent.

"The best part of my job is making new talent happy and giving them a chance to perform," Miller said, as she sipped a can of soda through a straw at her kitchen table.

She knows a lot about working with new talent — she began teaching her children how to play piano when they were five months old. Her three sons, including Glenn Miller — named after the composer from the big-band era — have been playing together since they were three, five and seven. Now at 39, 41, and 43, they are three of the five members in the local rock band, Overture.

Miller is a proud mother, with a magnet declaring "I Love You Mom," displayed on her refrigerator. "My sons are pretty well known. They opened for Marshall Tucker," she said.

"People told me, ‘If you make them do it, they’ll hate it later on.’ Well, it’s their whole life," she said. "If you start teaching them when they’re young, by the time they’re three or four, they’ll automatically play. The bottom line is that you’ve got to make them do it."

Miller began teaching her grandniece how to play the piano when she was one. Now, she is two years old, and can sing, and play the piano and drums.

"Working with kids and helping others can be very rewarding for those who succeed," Miller said.

While Miller does teach young people how to play —"Some of the kids I taught, I teach their grandkids now," she said — she also works with adult artists at the Performance Center.

Lifetime love

Miller puts on one big show of her own each year. Last year, it was a four-hour show called Music Around the World, featuring music from seven different countries. "I went to Disney World, and when I was in Epcot I noticed that they didn’t have as good of a show as I had here for 10 dollars," she said.

This year, Miller’s big show is going to be a Christian Blues show, which will be a benefit for Alzheimer’s. "It will be dedicated to my husband," she said. Miller’s husband died earlier this year from the disease. "It’s going to feature the greatest singers in the area."

Miller and her husband, Joe Miller Jr., were married for 47 years. They met as members of their high school band, and were "going together" since they were 16 years old.

After her husband’s death, Miller patented a ring called Ginger’s Widow Ring. "It’s for people who want to stay dedicated to their spouse for the rest of their life," she said.

She has photo albums filled with pictures and autographs from her contemporaries. "They were just as famous as Elvis," she explained. The albums also hold pictures of the band the Twilight Trio, which her husband stayed with for 35 years.

Her husband’s band "played with a lot of big people on the road," she said. Some of the bigger names she mentioned were Louis Ramundo, and Brenda Lee. The Twilight Trio also did a lot of charity shows for cerebral palsy.

Miller’s musical life is preserved between the covers of her photo albums. She was part of 26 bands since her son was born, andthe albums hold them all. While flipping through the pictures and newspaper clippings from old performances, Miller reminisced about some of her more memorable performances.

"I played some shows with a leopard named Tanya," she said. "She didn’t scare me."

Miller was a member of the all-female band, Mesamies, which was made up of seven women. "I was 40; they were in their 20’s," she said.

The band recorded a 45 in 1980, the same year Miller had to leave the band. "I’d probably still be in all of this if it wasn’t for..." Miller said before drifting off. That year, the group broke up due to Miller’s brain tumor.

She went to Tennessee, where the best doctors for the operation were based, she said. The surgery was a success; however, it left her with facial paralysis.

After the surgery, she left the stage and worked in insurance for 17 years, until the idea for her studio took off.

"You name it, I did it."

"I’m into so many things," Miller said. "You name it, I did it." Not only did she play 10 to 15 instruments, and raise three musicians of her own, she is also working on bringing soapbox derbies back to the area.

In 1976, her son, along with her husband and a family friend, Art Hauser Jr.,built a soapbox car from scratch, to race in the annual derby. Her son came in fourth, but the car, sponsored by the Guilderland Elks, received first place for its decoration.

Recently, Miller tried selling the car, decorated like the American flag, on e-Bay. The car didn’t sell, and instead, Miller brought it to a soapbox derby in Glens Falls. The car was displayed during the derby as an antique, with photographs, the trophy it won, and newspaper clippings.

Now, the car is being housed in the Saratoga Auto Museum, a two-year-old museum in the former Bottling Plant. "It’s worth so much more to us to have this car on display in the Saratoga Auto Museum forever, than if we had sold it for $250," Miller said. "Especially because my husband and his best friend just died this year... Their names will be on it in the museum forever."

Now, Miller is trying to bring the derby back to Albany, for next year. However, that is not her only long-term project.

Miller is also planning on opening another theater in a few years. The location she is looking into is a 175,000-square-foot area, also owned by Art Hilton. "It’s right on the river in Rennsselear," she said. "Tour boats will stop there and there will be fireworks at night."

Miller acknowledges that her life has lost some of its luster since her husband’s death. "I just thank God I’ve got all of this to do," she said.


Altamont playground drive — Family festival raises funds for fitness

By Melissa Hale-Spencer

ALTAMONT — Fun will be afoot in Altamont this Saturday.

As a finale for a month-long marathon fund-raiser, walkers will check in at the gazebo in the center of the village Saturday morning. A day of physical activ-ity and fun will follow.

In May, the Altamont Elemen-tary School PTA launched a drive to begin raising $100,000 for a new playground for the school, a place that is widely used by the community. The money is to be raised in stages and the playground will be built in phases.

The current playground was built 15 years ago with pressure-treated lumber. Like many play sets and decks, it is built of wood injected with chromated copper arsenate, which is 22 percent ar-senic.

In 2003, the Consumer Protec-tion Safety Commission affirmed that arsenic-treated wood — meant to foil bugs and prevent rot — poses health risks for chil-dren, who frequently put their hands in their mouths. Arsenic can cause lung and bladder can-cer.

The school district annually treats its wooden playground with sealant and also follows two other guidelines from the federal Environmental Protection Agency: Staff have children wash their hands after using the playground, and no food contact is allowed with the wood.

Other Altamonts

The marathon event is meant to raise consciousness about fit-ness as well as to raise funds. It is also raising awareness about Altamont’s identity.

Students and staff at the school have been walking a mile a day, to total 26 miles, 385 yards, just like a marathon. Organizers have plotted a virtual walk across the country — from Altamont, N.Y. to Altamont, Calif., and back.

"We’ve gotten to California, Utah, Kansas, and Illinois," said Tina Williams who chairs the walkathon.

She has corresponded with other Altamont Elementary Schools across the country and put together a booklet describing the history of each Altamont, which will be available on Satur-day.

Walkers earned wristbands for each five miles they completed, she said, and wristbands given out Saturday to the finishers at the finale will be have a distinc-tive red-and-white swirl pattern, in Guilderland’s school colors. T-shirts will also be available.

Williams hopes the donations and pledges for the walkers will total $5,000, which will bring in a total of $10,000, she said, since Stewart’s has promised to donate matching funds to the play-ground project.

"Awesome job"

Opening ceremonies will be held at the gazebo in Orsini Park at 10 a.m. on Saturday. The state’s Department of Health will present an "Eat Well, Play Hard" award, Williams said, in recogni-tion of the project’s promotion of good health.

Altamont’s Veterans of Foreign Wars Post will be the site of the Hall for Family Fun and Health Festival. The festival, which is open to the public free of charge, will run from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.

"We’ll have a soccer shoot, a basketball throw, a rock-climbing wall and lots of games," Williams said.

While Williams is excited about the amount of money being raised for the first phase of the playground, she is even more proud of the change in attitude she’s seen among Altamont youngsters since the campaign started.

"The biggest thing for me is to hear the kids ask every day what they can do for exercise. Instead of playing on their Game Boys, they’ll ask, ‘How many times can I jump on a the trampoline to equal a mile"’"

Williams lauded the way ev-eryone at the school is involved and singled out the students in the BOCES program for special praise.

"For kids with physical chal-lenges, it’s amazing to see what they’ve done," she said. "They’ve done an awesome job."


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