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Hilltowns Archives —The Altamont Enterprise, April 26, 2007

BKW garden provides for the needy while helping students grow

By Tyler Schuling

BERNE — An after-school program started last year at Berne-Knox-Westerlo has put down roots and is blossoming.

The BKW Connections after-school gardening program allows elementary and high school students to explore horticulture and also learn valuable team work and planning skills. Produce from the garden, located behind the elementary school, is delivered to Hilltown food pantries.

"We had a lot of produce that was almost sometimes overwhelming. We had a lot of tomatoes and a lot of beans last year," said Bonnie Conklin, a BKW elementary teacher.

"The point of the garden is to have this partnership with the resources in the community and to share the resources," said Linda Berquist, who runs BKW’s alternative education program.

Spearheaded by the Cornell Cooperative Extension in Voorheesville, the program was recently awarded a $250 grant from the Home Depot through the National Gardening Association.

Cornell donated two carts, which are used to organize and store tools. Cornell will also be matching the grant money, said Conklin.

Money will be used to purchase flowers to be placed around the garden’s perimeter and for children-sized tools, said Conklin.

"It teaches not only gardening skills"but also teamwork, self-esteem, and cooperation," said Matthew Canuteson of Families Together in Albany County.

Though torrential rains last June caused flooding throughout the Hilltowns, the garden wasn’t affected. It’s location atop a hill, Canuteson said, is "ideal" for a garden and allows for good drainage.

BKW students knew a lot about gardening, shared information with each other, and had the garden up and running quickly, said Berquist.

High school students educate the younger students, said Berquist. Last year, high-schoolers put down mulch, planted, and developed a plan for the types of produce and flowers they would grow.

"It’s their work to get it started," said Berquist, adding that the high-schoolers lay the foundation.

"That’s the tricky part," she said. "If the high-school students weren’t involved in the project, the garden probably wouldn’t exist," said Berquist.

Elementary students, who maintained the garden last summer — hoeing, weeding, watering, and picking vegetables — will probably be more involved in planting this spring, said Conklin. Elementary students learned about Native-American customs, and planted "The Three Sisters" — corn, squash, and beans, Conklin said.

Last fall, they grew Indian corn and pumpkins, and made a Native-American scarecrow out of turkey feathers, she said.

Donations have aided the program. Berne’s highway department donated mulch; the True Value in East Berne, Conklin said, is donating stain for a picket fence, planned to go up in May.

Conklin said the project organizers are looking for volunteers to put up the fence in May and for donations of paint, and posts; they are planning to decorate the garden with the school’s colors, she said. The fence, she said, will be painted maroon, and yellow flowers will be planted around the garden’s perimeter.

Van Heest brings trinity of values to Knox, Berne churches

By Tyler Schuling

HILLTOWNS — After searching for a pastor for nearly two years, the Knox Reformed Church and the Second Reformed Church of Berne have a leader.

Reverend Timothy Van Heest, a pastor for 28 years, is from a long line of Reformed Church of America pastors. He was hired under contract on April 1.

The Knox Reformed Church and the Second Reformed Church of Berne on Thompson’s Lake are "yoked" — two separate churches with different members and boards that share a pastor to lead their Sunday worship services.

"The congregation had indicated they wanted someone who was a good preacher, and he’d indicated to us that’s what he likes to do," said Patricia Gage, an elder and member of the Knox church. She said the search committee decided to hire Van Heest after interviewing him and listening to him preach twice; throughout the process, he showed his "openness," "warmness," and "congeniality," Gage said.

A Guilderland native, Van Heest moved out of state when he was 18 to attend Hope College in Holland, Mich. After completing his undergraduate degree, he then "went across the street" to Western Theological Seminary.

Following seminary, he became one of 10 pastors at the Crystal Cathedral in Garden Grove, Calif., where he remained for nearly five years.

He then pastored one of the cathedral’s daughter congregations in Anaheim Hills, Calif. The church, he said, had had three pastors in three years — one leaving because of theological reasons and another because of moral reasons — and only had enough money to last through 13 months. He acted as its pastor for 13 years, he said; congregants worshipped in five rental spaces during his tenure.

While in California, his children, Nathaniel and Katrina, were born, he said.

Van Heest then moved to a church in the southwest suburbs of Chicago, where he remained for six years. For three years, he was minister to a "rural congregation" in Kankakee, Ill.

"If there’s been a secret to having an impact on churches or transforming the church or individuals within it, for me it has to do with the integrity, or consistency, between what I say and how people know that I am," said Van Heest.


On Tuesday, Van Heest smiled as he greeted quilters who meet at the Knox church weekly.

Walking the halls and the church’s four levels, Van Heest moved calmly among his new surroundings. Upon returning to New York, he has met people who remembered having his father as a camp counselor, he said.

His father, his father’s father, and his mother’s father, he said, all Reformed Church pastors, had over 110 years of experience in New York churches among them. His father, he said, also had one brother and five sisters, who all became pastors or married pastors, he said.

Van Heest retraced his family’s history. Of his grandfathers’ 40 grandchildren, three have become pastors. "Any thoughts that it was genetic on my part were proven to not be true," he said.

His wife, Mary, is still in Chicago, where their son, Nathaniel, also lives. His daughter, Katrina, is studying for her P.H.D. in California.

His wife has not yet found a job in the Albany area, said Van Heest. Though apart from his wife, living alone in the parsonage next to Knox Reformed, Van Heest said, he is fortunate to have a son who lives near her and technology that allows them to communicate often and quickly.

Goals for the church

Van Heest described his role as a minister, what he wants for members of his congregation, and the difficulties facing churches today.

"If I lose my personal integrity in the sense that people think — I’m just talking, I’m not living — then I lose all my credibility because I can’t make up for it with a good joke or a fancy delivery of a sermon," he said.

If there’s a theme in his 28-year career as a minister, Van Heest said, it would be that people sense he believes what he says and tries to live by what he says.

"That’s a foundation," he said, adding that many things stem from the principle.

"I’m not perfect. I let people down for different reasons," he said. "And it gives me the opportunity then to teach about grace and forgiveness — the spiritual values that make relationships work. Because no one can live up to the expectations others have for them."

God, he said, uses people sometimes more powerfully who are less than perfect but understand truth and grace.

Van Heest said he doesn’t expect people to "show up in droves" just to hear him preach. He has the opposite approach of the Crystal Cathedral in California, which he called "a world-renowned place."

"It’s all about charisma there, and it comes across on the television screen, and I’m just the opposite of that.

"I’m not flashy. I’m not a pulpiteer"I’m more substance than style," he said. "The word ‘minister’ implies you do all the work." Van Heest said he prefers a "more biblical understanding" of the term but is not opposed to others calling him "minister."

"I am an equiper of ministers," he said. "My job is to be a teacher to help other people find what their ministry is." His goal, he said, is to help others minister wherever they are — at work, at home, in the community, and in the church.

"My work is to help each one of them learn how to do their ministry," he said. Van Heest said he has taught in college classrooms and at churches. A church’s attendance, he said, "is just the beginning."

"Get the people here, and then, through that process, help them to grow in their faith," he said.

McCormick tells stories to give voice to those silenced

By Tyler Schuling

We tell stories — sitting around a kitchen table, on street corners, while driving along at high speeds.

Patricia McCormick, a journalist and best-selling author of three novels for teens, is serious about story-telling. She writes, she said, "to give voice to the experience of those who have been silenced."

McCormick held a writing workshop and spoke twice yesterday at the Berne-Knox-Westerlo secondary school and conducted a workshop with teens, parents, and teachers Tuesday at St. John’s Lutheran Church in Altamont.

"Parents are legitimately concerned about what their children are reading and listening to and bringing into their homes," she said. McCormick, a mother of two, said of a parent’s role, "You want to keep your kids young as long as possible."

"I hope all the books are compassionate," she said of her novels, adding that she tries to create characters that are life-like, none of them blameless or without flaws or problems.

"We tend to kind of rush to judgment," she said. "Everybody’s flawed. Everybody has problems," she said.

McCormick, who tackles difficult subject material — self-destructive behavior, prostitution, abandonment, alcoholism, and drug-use — writes compassionately about her subjects.

Tough subjects

In her first novel, Cut, the protagonist, Callie, whose brother has asthma attacks and whose mother fears for her children, blames herself for many of her family’s problems and cuts herself.

She is remitted to a "residential treatment facility" — Sea Pines — with girls who are battling anorexia, bulimia, obesity, and self-mutilation. While at Sea Pines — which the girls receiving treatment refer to as "Sick Minds" — she is kept from "sharps." Without a means to cut herself, Callie finds ways around the center’s rules; she takes an aluminum pie plate from the cafeteria, snapping it in two pieces to form a jagged edge.

"I take my hands away a minute and wipe my wrist on my shirt; the blood pauses, then leaks out again. I go back to gripping my wrist and trying to ignore the throbbing and the pinpricks of sweat on my lip and forehead, then I look down and see blood seeping out between my fingers," she says.

Callie, who narrates the story, is silent throughout, never speaking out in group sessions, with her peers, her family, or workers at the facility. "I want something, but I can’t put a name to it," she says.

Prior to writing Cut, McCormick said she hadn’t visited juvenile treatment centers. She said she had been warned that, if she did too much research, "it would sound like a magazine article."

After writing the book, she visited some centers and spoke with young people afflicted by self-mutilation who had read her book. She found their response was different from what she’d imagined. "I thought they would say: ‘Who are you to tell our story"’" she said. Instead, McCormick said, those who had cut themselves thought she had represented their experience well and truthfully.

McCormick said she gets her inspiration for her novels from news stories and magazine articles. She chooses difficult subject material, she said, because of her background as a journalist. She said of the two disparate writing forms: "Journalism is all about objectivity, and novels are all about subjectivity."

Her topics, she said, make some parents wary, and she takes that very seriously. She said she tries to write in a way that is not too graphic or glamorous.


Sold, written in free verse, was one of five finalists for the 2006 National Book Award for Young People’s Literature.

To do research for Sold, about a 13-year-old girl sold into prostitution by her gambling-addicted father, McCormick traveled to Nepal and India.

Spending a month there, she spoke with families who thought they were sending their daughters off to work or to be married and have not seen their children since. She also visited brothels and spoke with young women dying from AIDS.

While doing research, she kept a journal. "I’d write things down in my notebook and think, ‘I can use that,’" she said. Once stepping back from her work, McCormick realized the experiences of those she interviewed were heartbreaking.

Returning to the United States, she couldn’t eat or sleep for months, she said. "The only way to get out of that funk was to write," she said.

While growing up, she wrote "very bad plays and stories," which her peers graciously performed.

Her family, she said, discouraged her from a career in writing because they were afraid she would become another "starving artist."

She went into politics, then journalism school. Writing for a small newspaper in New Brunswick, she said, she was able to "conquer the fear of the blank page."

Explaining someone’s pain

Now, she wakes in the morning, which are "sacred" to her, and begins writing. In the morning, McCormick said, she thinks her creative powers are at their peak, and she wonders if this is because she is coming out of a dream-like state and hasn’t yet put up her defenses.

"If I don’t write in the morning, I probably won’t write that day," she said, adding that many distractions may keep her from writing, such as keeping up with chores. Her children, 17 and 23, read every draft she writes. Her daughter, she said, is especially helpful and "gives great advice."

McCormick said she "really loves to do school visits." She said she enjoys hearing from teens who read her novels. Writing, she said, is a solitary act. Getting out and speaking at schools, she said, is "really fun" but "also hard."

Normally, she said, she is at home, often writing in her pajamas. When she returns from speaking at a school, she said, she’s very tired.

For her next novel, McCormick is writing about a 15-year-old girl whose brother is killed in the war in Iraq, which she called "another heavy subject."

"I promised myself I’d do a comedy," she said, but then she felt she needed to tell the story. Over 3,000 American soldiers have died in the war, many of them 18-, 19-, and 20-year olds, who have siblings, she said. Stories have been told of the wives who lose their husbands and children who have lost parents, she said.

The teenage experience hasn’t been told, which, she said, is "typical." "We tend to marginalize them," she said of adolescents.

McCormick has been interviewing families — "a process that is required." To write their story, she said, she felt she needed to listen to their stories "to get their blessing."

"There’s a big difference," McCormick said, "between writing something because of its social value and writing to explain someone’s pain."

Second super accused of theft

By Tyler Schuling

RENSSELAERVILLE — David R. Bryan, a former town supervisor, has been accused of stealing $40,000 from the Rensselaerville Library and is being investigated for stealing $8,000 from the Rensselaerville Trinity Church.

He held positions of trust in both institutions, which are vital to small-town life.

Bryan, 53, of 8 Bennett Lane in Rensselaerville was charged yesterday with third-degree grand larceny. Bryan, who serves as president of the library, an unpaid post, wrote several checks to himself from the library’s bank account, and transferred money from the library’s account to his personal account, according to the Albany County Sheriff’s Department.

Bryan could not be reached for comment.

He was released on pre-trial probation after his arrest at the Voorheesville patrol station yesterday and is scheduled to appear in Rensselaerville Town Court on Monday.

Bryan and the library have accounts at different banks, said Chief Deputy Craig Apple of the Albany County Sheriff’s Department. Another person has access to the library’s account, said Apple. "We haven’t spoken with them yet," he said. Bryan had written "dozens, possibly hundreds" of checks to himself, said Apple.

A one-and-a-half week investigation began after deputies were made aware of the suspicious activity of the library’s account while following up on another investigation, Apple said. At this stage, the sheriff’s department believes about $40,000 is missing from the library’s account and that the larceny began in mid-2005.

Bryan, a board member of the Rensselaerville Trinity Church, also deposited approximately $8,000 from the church’s funds into the library’s account to conceal the larceny, the sheriff’s department says.

He is a senior warden of the church, acting as a lay preacher, said the deacon assistant of Trinity Church, Rev. Clement O. Hulick.

Bryan is also the town’s Democratic Party chairman. He was the town’s supervisor from 1987 to 1994. He ran unsuccessfully for supervisor in 2005.

On April 12, John Geurtze, another former Rensselaerville supervisor, was charged with defrauding the government, a class E felony, punishable by up to a year in a state prison.

Ed Lynch, Albany County’s commissioner of general services, compared the mileage of Geurtze’s vehicle with his gas card statement, which showed Geurtze’s county-issued vehicle was only getting three miles per gallon, officials said.

Geurtze, a county property manager since 2003, was placed on unpaid leave pending a disciplinary hearing after a drunk-driving arrest last month, said spokeswoman Kerri Battle last week.

Bryan is the house principal at the Abrookin Vo-Tech Center in Albany. The sheriff’s department spoke yesterday with Assistant Superintendent of Secondary Education Joseph Dragone and will be following up, said Apple.

If found guilty, Bryan could face up to two years in a state prison, said Apple. Apple said investigators spoke with Bryan yesterday, and he was "very cooperative and very remorseful."


Democratic Councilwoman Sherri Pine said she was "dumbfounded" when she’d heard the details of Bryan’s arrest. Pine described Bryan, the Democratic Party’s chairman, as an organized, "decent leader." Bryan, she said, opposed closing the Cass Residential Center, a juvenile detention facility that put many town residents on edge after a youth escaped five months ago.

Bryan opposed closing the center because he thought, by closing it, the kids and workers would be punished, Pine said. Bryan also created the 20-week club, similar to a 50/50, to raise money for party candidates. The party’s treasurer, Pine said, "took care of all of the money."

"I know him personally. He’s a good guy," she said.

Myra Dorman, vice president of the Rensselaerville Library, who is also a Republican town board member, said she had been on the phone all day yesterday and had spoken with the sheriff’s department.

Dorman said she had spoken with people in the community, many of whom were "disappointed."

"We have such a fine library," Dorman said. The library was originally organized in 1798 and the present library was founded in 1896. All of the library’s funding, except a small portion in the town’s budget, comes from private donations, Dorman said. This year, the library was budgeted $3,000 by the town.

"It’s going to be hard to get [donators’] trust back," said Dorman. When people have donated money and it’s taken away, she said, they feel robbed. The small library, located in a Tudor-style building on the main street of the Rensselaerville hamlet, has three paid positions — librarian, assistant librarian, and a maintenance position, she said. Each year, the library holds a cocktail party and a lawn party to raise money.

"People have been extremely generous," Dorman said. "The library means a lot to a lot of people."

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