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Hilltowns Archives —The Altamont Enterprise, September 7, 2006

Man dies after truck rolls off Cole Hill Road

By Tyler Schuling

BERNE — A Berne man died Saturday after his truck went off Cole Hill Road Friday night and burst into flames.

Joel L. Rapp, 34, failed to negotiate a turn, police say, and his truck went off Cole Hill Road near Willsie Road, hitting a guardrail and then turning over in a ditch.

Rapp was a carpenter and outdoorsman. (See obituary.)

A passer-by called a medic stationed in Berne, at about 7 p.m., according to Lieutenant Mike Monteleone with the Albany County Sheriff’s Department.

Rapp was ejected from his 1996 Dodge Ram pick-up before it burst into flames, police said. Rapp was transported to Albany Medical Center Hospital by Medflight, where he was treated for serious physical injuries, police said.

The Helderburg Ambulance Squad and members of the Berne Volunteer Fire Company responded to the call, Monteleone said.

According to a preliminary investigation, speeding, alcohol, and inattention to road signs and conditions may have caused the accident, he told The Enterprise.

Though blood tests have not yet been released to the sheriff’s department, the information at the scene and the preliminary investigation indicates alcohol may have been a factor, said Monteleone.

Asked if other accidents had occurred on that stretch of Cole Road, Monteleone said, "I believe there have been some accidents, but I can’t give you exact dates."

Volunteers help flood victim
Citizens change the course of stream and Whiteford’s life

By Tyler Schuling

RENSSELAERVILLE — After government agencies failed to act, citizens came to Sheila Whiteford’s rescue last Tuesday. Whiteford’s home, located near Potter Hollow Creek, has been flooded four times since 1997; she has made multiple phone calls and has sent letters and e-mails to several government agencies and organizations asking for help.

Bob Bolte, Steve Wood, and Ralph Borwegen, Rensselaerville area residents, came to Whiteford’s aid with a permit issued by the state’s Department of Environmental Conservation and two bulldozers. They moved a considerable amount of dirt to redirect the stream’s path near Whiteford’s home, which had shifted in recent years and flooded after heavy June rains.

"This whole thing had to start and be blessed by the DEC," Rensselaerville Supervisor Jost Nicklesberg told The Enterprise this week. He had stated his concerns earlier about the flooding creek washing out Route 81, the evacuation route recently posted by the state.

The permit, issued by the DEC on Aug. 21, was to "restore the stream to its pre-flood conditions."

The DEC has issued over 800 permits to the nine counties flooded with the late June rains, most of them issued in Delaware County, DEC spokesperson Rick Georgeson said.

"We just issue the permit and make sure the environment is protected when the work is done," Georgeson explained earlier.

"Nicklesberg," Bolte said, "was certainly instrumental" throughout the process of obtaining the permit — including getting in touch with the proper people, obtaining signatures from Whiteford’s neighbors, and having DEC inspectors evaluate the work site.

"The work took about a day and a half," Bolte said. "The stream, which had moved over 75 to 80 feet in June, made a bend, and was cutting a chunk out of route 81."

Whiteford’s neighbor, Tony Vetrano, was also affected by the flooding and stated at a town board meeting in July that the stream, since coming over the bank and making a new channel, took 50 to 100 feet from his property.

The work was done at no public cost. Nicklesberg had estimated earlier that it would cost $50,000 to $100,000 to return Potter Creek to its original cost.

Whiteford greatly appreciates the efforts of volunteers Bolte, Wood, and Borwegen. While trying to find relief, Whiteford’s frustration mounted.

"Over a month ago, I sent a letter, an application, and pictures to the Department of Labor. I haven’t heard back from them. Rural Housing wouldn’t help, because my home is in a flood zone"Because we’re in Albany County, we’re ignored," Whiteford said.

She was referring to FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) not designating Albany County for aid after the June flooding; neighboring Schoharie County was designated.

She told The Enterprise there is mud throughout her house and "everything is ruined."

Whiteford rebuilt her house in 1974 after it was destroyed by fire. Flooding didn’t occur, she said, until 20 years later. The house has flooded four times since 1997, Whiteford said earlier.

She had just finished paying out-of-pocket for tens of thousands of dollars in repairs from the last flood when June rains caused more flooding. The estimate for mud-removal alone was $4,000, she said. She is now living in a house nearby.

"These guys did it for nothing," Whiteford said of Bolte, Wood, and Borwegen.

Bolte, as well as providing one of the bulldozers and his expertise, was also instrumental in obtaining the necessary signatures from Whiteford’s neighbors. Before any work began, and before the DEC could grant the permit, Bolte had to have permission from surrounding residents.

Bolte said he saw a great deal of understanding and generosity from Whiteford’s neighbors throughout the process to obtain the permit and during the day and a half project.

"When we were working, people from Potter Hollow and Preston Hollow came up to us and gave us money. I didn’t want the money," he said. "If people would help people, this would be a better place," he added.

The money, Bolte said, was given to Whiteford.

Nicklesberg said he hasn’t seen a case of a homeowner having such extensive flood damage and said the process of helping out a member of the community was "gratifying."

Paul Zuk, Berne farmer and mechanic, dies at 90

By Melissa Hale-Spencer

BERNE — Paul Zuk — a farmer, a mechanic, a woodworker — was a man of many talents, all cultivated through hard work and shared with generosity.

He spent most of his life in Berne where he and his wife, Mary Kozar Zuk, raised three children.

Mr. Zuk died on Friday, Sept. 1, 2006, at the Avenue Nursing and Rehab Center in Schenectady. He was 90.

"He was so patient," said his son and eldest child, Alan Zuk. "I don’t recall him raising his voice — ever. However, when he said something, you did it. There was no discussion. It was the law of the family...not in an aggressive or bad way."

Mr. Zuk also said, "He had such a work ethic; it was a great influence on me and my two sisters."

Paul Zuk was born in New York City to parents who came from the Ukraine. "My grandmother stowed away and came through the original Ellis Island," said Alan Zuk. "She lied about her age to get in."

Paul Zuk’s father was a chef and his mother was a homemaker. He spent his early years in New York City before the family moved to a farm in Berne. "It was at Zuk’s Four Corners," said Alan Zuk.

Paul Zuk got a strong work ethic from his father and learned generosity from his mother, said his son.

Alan Zuk described him as "absolutely generous, like his mother." He went on, "When you visited Grandma — she didn’t have much — you came home with more than you brought. Even if your visit was unannounced, you came home with something she baked or canned or sewed."

Paul Zuk was a World War II veteran. He served in the United States Army from 1941 to 1945 in New Guinea and the Philippines.

"He worked in vehicle maintenance close to the front lines; he carried a weapon," said his son of Mr. Zuk’s military service. "He really never talked about it much...He said many times he wouldn’t take a million dollars for the experience, but he wouldn’t do it over."

Mr. Zuk married Mary Kozar in New York City while on leave in January of 1942. He spent three years after the war in the city, working as a taxicab mechanic before moving to Berne in 1948. The next year, he purchased the Austin Shultes farm on Canaday Hill Road, now owned by Laurel Dover and Duncan Searl. He ran a dairy farm there until 1975.

"He had a sense of the natural order of life," said his son. "He knew the time to plant, the time to watch things grow, the time to harvest."

His son went on, "He would be so patient. When weather was bad, he would wait. Maybe it would be a Sunday or when you had other plans, but you would do the business of farming."

Paul Zuk was a member of the Albany Cooperative Extension Service and the Farm Bureau. He was also a member of the Beaverdam Reformed Church and the First Reformed Church of Berne. The two churches shared a minister and, when the congregation dwindled at the Beaverdam church, it combined with the church in Berne.

"I am fortunate enough to have grown up on the family farm and spent countless hours with my father...operating machinery, driving the tractor from an early age," said Alan Zuk. "It gives you a sense there’s a job to do...You start the job; you finish the job."

Mr. Zuk admired his father’s strength.

"During the summer, he would hire teenagers to help him harvest the hay crop," recalled his son. "He wouldn’t show off his strength. But he could throw a hay bale like people throw a shot put....

"Some of the teenagers would try to do it. They couldn’t come close; I never could. It was strength and technique. He demonstrated he was the strongest guy around. He didn’t do it to brag."

Mr. Zuk’s strength was matched by his stamina. "He was the hardest worker," said Alan Zuk. He recalled when, as a teenager, his parents would take a weekend away, leaving him and his two sisters to do the farm work.

"I would literally be exhausted with what he did day in, day out," said Alan Zuk. "He would work 14, 15 hours a day."

Mr. Zuk’s work wasn’t confined just to farming. In his early years at the farm, he would drive a snowplow for the county in the winter months. He then worked for decades as a bus driver and mechanic for the Berne-Knox-Westerlo School District.

When Alan Zuk became BKW’s transportation supervisor, he would call on his father to fill in for absent mechanics. "It was a pleasure to have him with me," said Mr. Zuk. "He was a great mechanic; he needed no supervision. He could fix anything."

His father had the ability to analyze a problem, and solve it, Mr. Zuk said. "He would take it as a challenge if someone said something was beyond repair. He’d get whatever it was back running again."

At the end of his work day, Paul Zuk would spend time in his wood shop. Over the years, he completed a wide variety of projects, ranging from the practical — step stools, chairs, and tables — to the fanciful, such as exquisitely crafted doll houses.

He sometimes found his materials in odd places. Once, on a trip to the town landfill, his son recalled, "He spied some oak boards. He brought them back home and turned them into a table for the kids."

Mr. Zuk also transformed discarded household objects into finery for his miniature houses. The plastic cork from a bottle of sparkling wine, for example, served as a splendid lamp in a doll-house living room.

Mr. Zuk could replicate an object just by looking at it. For example, his son said, he once saw a clothes hamper in a department store. "He took a snapshot and built it from scratch," said his son. "We have it in our house.

"When he retired from farming, his projects got much larger," said Mr. Zuk. "He made roll-top desks and a replica of his farmhouse."

His proudest moment as a woodworker came when Jack Norray Jr. took his doll house to a Woodworkers’ Society convention in Saratoga. "Everybody hung around his doll house," said Mr. Zuk. "Someone wanted to rent it to display the miniature furniture he made; someone else wanted to exhibit it at a museum."

Describing his father’s doll houses as "art work," Mr. Zuk went on, "It was never his intention to show off his work."

Paul Zuk often gave his handiwork away. If someone asked him to build something, said his son, "He took barely enough or the materials."

He built things not to show off, but to make others happy. "He built kitchen sets for his grandchildren," said Mr. Zuk. "He took pleasure in giving things away."


In addition to his wife, Mary Kozar Zuk, Mr. Zuk is survived by three children, Alan Zuk and his wife, Mildred, of Berne, Joan Pearson and her husband, Jonathan, of Glenville, and Marilyn Warner and her husband, Dennis, of Amherst, N.H.; four grandchildren, Stephanie and Laura Zuk and Jonathan and Christopher Pearson; and one sister, Stephanie (Tessie) Youmans of Schenectady.

A funeral service was held on Monday at the Fredendall Funeral Home in Altamont.

Memorial contributions may be made to the First Reformed Church of Berne, Berne, NY 12023 or to the Helderberg Ambulance Squad, Post Office Box 54, East Berne, NY 12059.

Joel L. Rapp

SOUTH BERNE — Joel L. "Jody" Rapp "loved everything," his mother, Rachael Rapp, said.
Mr. Rapp died on Saturday as a result of injuries he received during an accidEnt on Friday evening. He was 34.

Mr. Rapp, a carpenter, graduated from Berne-Knox-WestErlo High School in 1991.

Rachael Rapp describes her son as an outdoorsman, one who loved to hunt, fish, camp, and loved animals and people. "He loved dogs, he loved the outdoors, and he loved it at his job," she said.

"He touched many lives," she said, "and was soon going to be promoted to be a foreman."

Mr. Rapp, who was employed by the Local #370 Carpenter’s Union in Albany, had been at his job for less than a year, and was "loved by employees and could motivate others," his mother said.

Jaimee Thompson, Rapp’s fiancée, knew Rapp since their youth; the couple was together seven-and-a-half years. The twO, she said, enjOyed taking trips.

Ms. Thompson and Mr. Rapp had planned a trip to Pulaski to salmon fish at the end of this month, and were planning to build a house. Upon its completion, the couple was to be married next year.

"He loved his property," Ms. Thompson said. "He took a lot of pride in it."
In his youth, Mr. Rapp loved to ride horses, rode bulls in shows, and was involved in 4-H, and the South Berne Youth Fellowship, Mrs. Rapp said.

Despite his rugged side, his mother said, "He liked to get dressed up a bit."

"He was very neat and orderly"He had a big heart. He never let anyone be upset for long," Thompson said.

"He had a good heart," Mrs. Rapp reiterated. She added that the family donated his heart "so that goodness could live on." She concluded, "Somebody out there has a good heart."


Mr. Rapp is survived by his fiancée, Jaimee Thompson, of Reidsville; his parents, Robert and Rachael Rapp, of South Berne; two brothers, Randy Rapp and his wife, Beth, and Jamie Rapp and his wife, Carol Ann, both of South Berne; and his grandmother, Ethel Rapp of South Berne.

He is also survived by nieces and nephews, Renée, Jesse, Randy Jr., and Billy Rapp, all of South Berne; his godparents, Debbie Stalker, Sue Ragone, and Randy Rapp; and his dear friend, Tony Bischert. Mr. Rapp is also survived by several aunts, uncles, and cousins.
His brother, Jeffrey Rapp, died in 1988.

A funeral service will be held today (Thursday) at 11 a.m. at the South Berne Christian Congregational Church in South Berne. The Fredendall Funeral Home made the arrangements. The burial will be in the South Berne Cemetary.

Memorial contributions may be made to the South Berne Christian Congregational Church, Berne, NY 12023.

— Tyler Schuling

In Memoriam:

Love ya.

— Bob, Rachael, and Jaimee

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