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Model Engineers host annual holiday open house on Dec. 2

By Howard B. Owens
model engineers open house oakfield
File photo of Genesee Society of Model Engineers in Oakfield in 2018.
Photo by Howard Owens.

Press release:

The Genesee Society of Model Engineers will host the club's 21st Annual Holiday Open House on Saturday, Dec. 2, at the club's facilities located at 50 Main Street (Rte. 63), Oakfield, N.Y. 14125 (above the M&T Bank). The "FREE" event runs from 10:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. Stairway access only.

The club's facilities feature operating layouts in O Gauge (Lionel), HO, and N. Club members will be available to answer your model railroading questions. This is a great family-oriented event filled with photo ops and fun for kids of all ages.

"The Christmas holidays seem to bring back those childhood memories of a model train and miniature village around the Christmas tree," said club president Mike Bakos. "Our members are busy keeping the tradition of trains and the holidays alive. We invite you to visit and enjoy one of Genesee County's best-kept secrets."

This year's Open House will be one of the many events featured as part of Oakfield’s Christmas in the Village celebration, along with many other family-oriented activities taking place in the village throughout the day.

The Genesee Society of Model Engineers is located at 50 Main Street (Rte. 63), Oakfield, N.Y. (above the M&T Bank) and is open Tuesdays from 7 until 9 p.m.. Business meetings are held on the last Tuesday of each month. Visit Like us on Facebook.

Veterans Services Officer inducted into Hall of Fame for his dedicated service to veterans

By Howard B. Owens
bill joyce veterans service officer hall of fame
Command Sergeant Major William Joyce (U.S. Army, Retired) of Pembroke, and the Genesee County Veterans Services Officer, upon his induction into the New York Senate Veterans Hall of Fame on Friday at Botts Fiorito American Legion Post No. 576 in Le Roy.
Photo by Howard Owens.

It was obvious on Friday that Bill Joyce is a man surrounded by a family that loves him, and he loves his wife, daughters, and grandchildren.

But he also loves the veterans he serves.

"I can remember the Christmas parties and some of the fondest memories of my sparkly little dress with my sparkly little shoes," said his daughter Jacqueline Joyce. "Watching my dad's troops laugh and joke with him. And the random memory I have of him holding a newborn baby and sitting next to him and watching him look down in awe. It was in that moment I understood. This was his second family. That was what resonated with me. This is my dad's second family, his veterans."

Joyce served in the US Army on active and reserve duty for 40 years.  He is a retired New York State Police mechanic and quartermaster.  Since 2012, he has been Genesee County's Veterans Services Officer and, by all accounts, performing his duties above and beyond the call of duty.

Both because of his service to his community and to veterans, on Friday, United States Army Command Sergeant Major William Joyce (Ret.) of Pembroke was inducted into the New York State Senate Veterans Hall of Fame Friday by New York State Sen. George M. Borrello during a ceremony at the Botts Fiorito American Legion Post No. 576 in Le Roy.

Joyce's three daughters, Verna Cromwell, Jacqueline, and Amanda Werner, with their mother, Susan, and children in the audience, gave speeches at the ceremony honoring him as a father and a man committed to service.

"His transition to VSO only seemed like the next move for him to continue taking care of his boys, his soldiers and his veterans," said Jacqueline, who herself served in the military, the U.S. Air Force and is currently a member of the Air Force reserve. "As a VSO dad has helped countless veterans in any part of the world. In his time, as VSO, he has taken pride in making Memorial Day and Veterans Day more memorable. He takes pride in securing Batavia PD to block off traffic at the Upton Monument and having flags placed for the fallen when their names are read (at the War Memorial at (Jerome Center) improving the experience for the families observing. Most importantly for me, I get to spend half the day with my hero, laughing, joking, sweating, freezing, and getting soaked, similar to last Veterans Day, where my boots had to be disposed of because they were so soggy."

In his opening remarks, Borrello noted the sacrifices Joyce and his family made because of his commitment to serve his country.

After training at Fort Dix in 1972, Joyce entered an Army that was winding down involvement in Vietnam.  He was stationed as a Specialist Fourth Class in Germany to guard the Eastern Border when Czechoslovakia was still communist and a Cold War threat to Western democracy.

"After his active tour ended in 1975, he returned home and began a 40-year civilian career with the New York State Police," Borello said. "He also resumed his military service by enlisting in the Army Reserve to continue defending his home and country. In the reserves. He rose through the ranks to become a Command Sergeant Major. He had several deployments overseas to Bosnia, to Iraq twice, and to Afghanistan. The deployments in the Middle East carried particular risks and often involved breaking down the doors of suspected terrorists and going into the mountains to find their training sites. These deployments were also long, 15 months or more, requiring them to be away from his wife and daughters for long stretches of time. He missed birthdays, holidays, school concerts, and much more."

As a soldier, Joyce has been awarded a Bronze Star, the Iraq Campaign Medal with two campaign stars, and two NATO medals, among many other honors from the U.S. Army.

Joyce's daughters recalled those deployments as times of concern and absence but also of love.

"In the late 90s, things started to get more serious," Cromwell recalled. "I can remember my parents listening to the conflict of Kosovo and Bosnia on the radio while we were getting ready for my school Christmas concert. It would only be a few months later that Dad would leave us to go to Bosnia for nine months -- the longest time he'd ever been away to my memory. I still have the letters he wrote and emails I printed. He may have been half a world away, but he was still very much a part of our everyday lives. This would continue to be the case for his tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. But this time, it was daily phone calls before school and before bed."

Cromwell said her dad was never bothered by being the father of three daughters.

"Sure, I witnessed people asking him about wanting a son, but it's a core memory for me of him replying, 'There's nothing you can do with three boys that you can't do with three girls.' And he was right," Cromwell said. "There were many mornings driving to school listening to Army cadences. I still sing these from time to time and was absolutely thrilled on Christmas when my mom dubbed the cassettes on a CD for us. There's truly nothing like hiking through a state park and belting out, 'Don't let your dog tags dangle in the dirt.'"

Both Cromwell and Jacqueline recalled most fondly their father's assignment to Colorado Springs.  The weekends were filled with trips to Pike's Peak, Garden of the Gods, the Great Sand Dunes, Denver, and other points of interest in the area.

But Joyce wasn't inducted into the Hall of Fame just because he's a good family man.  He was inducted because of the tireless work he has done for veterans.

"It is his policy to never refuse help to a veteran no matter their circumstances or where they live," Borrello said. "In fact, he has assisted veterans from as far away as California, Texas, Germany and even the Philippines."

Joyce has a reputation in the veterans' community for getting things done that few other VSOs can accomplish.

"Among his many achievements are two cases where he was able to secure 100 percent disability ratings for terminally ill veterans in record time, one within 24 hours and another within 18 hours to make government work that fast. God bless you. That's amazing. Those veterans died with peace of mind knowing that their spouses would receive critically needed survivor benefits."

Kathleen Ryan, a retired VA social worker, said she regularly gets calls from veterans throughout the region looking for help dealing with the Veterans Administration. As a result, she still speaks to Bill Joyce at least once a week.

Ryan is the person who nominated Joyce for the Hall of Fame.

"He never says no," Ryan said. "I don't know, anybody, and I've been in the business for a long time -- I'm a veteran -- I don't know anybody who has worked as hard in the daily grind of veteran work. We're talking about the daily grind of things that come in the door. And Bill has never said no."

She recalled a recent example of Joyce's dedication to serving veterans. She got a phone call from the wife of a veteran who couldn't get the help he needed from another VSO, so Ryan called Joyce.

"I call in the county service officer, and he says, 'I don't do home visits,'" Ryan said. "I say, 'this guy who is going to die is Vietnam Vet One Bravo, which is an infantry unit. He's got his house set up, the living room was set up with a hospital bed. His wife is there, and this man is going to pass any moment. He can't get in the car and go to Livingston County. It was a Thursday. I called up Bill.  He says. 'I've got it. I'm going to Albany. I got to be in Albany on Friday, meet me -- because I live in Rochester -- meet me on the Thruway.' I said, 'Okay.' We met at the Cracker Barrel in the parking lot. I got the paperwork. I've got the medical. I got everything. It's a Friday, Bill took it Saturday ... and he did all the work. By Monday, this guy was 100 certified and he had never even been seen in the VA. Never. And his wife now has spousal benefits and has all the things that she needs. And this man was able to pass away knowing his wife was going to be taken care of."

Assemblyman Steve Hawley noted that Joyce has never traveled to Washington D.C. with other veterans on Hawley's annual Patriot Trip, which is a testament to Joyce's commitment to veterans.

"It's four days and three nights," Hawley said. "He really just doesn't want to travel any more. He's traveled around the world serving our country. But he wants to stay right here every single day, helping our veterans, and for that, I respect him."

County Manager Matt Landers, with his oversight over county finances, noted that some might object to Joyce helping veterans who are not residents of Genesee County.

"Some could argue because Mr. Bill Joyce is paid for with Genesee County resources, that were helping veterans from outside of the county," Landers. "That's not even a discussion that I could have with Mr. Joyce, because there is no border for veterans. So Mr. Bill Joyce attracts them from far and away, and we support his efforts to support any veteran that is in need, whether they come across our boundary or border or he goes to them to wherever they are."

Then turning to Joyce with a smile, said, "Just please, limit the number of countries you visit." 

Verna, Jacqueline, and Amanda, all expressed how proud they are of their father.

"I could think of no one more deserving of this recognition than my dad, from the love he has given his family and the dedication and care he has given to the community of veterans, he has shown," Verna said. "He can do many different roles and excelled greatly at them. He is the prime example of 'Army - Be All You Can Be' because he has been in every way possible."

Jacqueline said, "Dad held many titles -- son, brother, husband, father, friend and soldier, and, specifically to me, my hero."

Amanda said she's inherited a title from her father, "Bill Joyce's Daughter."

"I'm Bill's youngest daughter," Amanda said. "'Bill Joyce's Daughter' is an alternative name I've gone by my whole life, even more commonly than my actual name, because he's a person that everybody knows. No matter where I am, I'm recognized by that title at least once. That's a testimony of how many lives he's touched throughout his many phases of life.

She concluded, "This award presented to him today comes with no surprise to the many that know him. He's passionate about the work he does, always sees any given task through and gets the job done like no other. On any given day, but especially today, I continue to proudly carry the title of Bill Joyce's Daughter."

bill joyce veterans service officer hall of fame
Bill Joyce and State Sen. George Borrello.
Photo by Howard Owens.
bill joyce veterans service officer hall of fame
The grandchildren of Bill Joyce leading the Pledge of Allegiance.
Photo by Howard Owens.
bill joyce veterans service officer hall of fame
Photo by Howard Owens.
bill joyce veterans service officer hall of fame
Kathleen Ryan, the person who nominated Bill Joyce for the Hall of Fame, speaking.
Photo by Howard Owens.
bill joyce veterans service officer hall of fame
Genesee County Legislature Chair Shelley Stein.
Photo by Howard Owens
bill joyce veterans service officer hall of fame
County Manager Matt Landers.
Photo by Howard Owens.
bill joyce veterans service officer hall of fame
Verna Cromwell speaking.
Photo by Howard Owens.
bill joyce veterans service officer hall of fame
Jacqueline Joyce
Photo by Howard Owens
bill joyce veterans service officer hall of fame

Photos: Stuff the Cruiser at Batavia Towne Center

By Howard B. Owens
stuff the cruiser batavia 2023
Genesee County Sheriff's Office Chief Deputy Joesph Graff.
Photo by Howard Owens.

Members of Genesee County's law enforcement community were at Batavia Towne Center Saturday for the annual Stuff the Cruiser event.

Shoppers are asked during the event to donate gifts that will be distributed for Christmas to families in Genesee County.

Last year, the event assisted 450 local families.

Officers said that by mid-afternoon, in sunny weather, this year appeared to be a banner year for donations.

stuff the cruiser batavia 2023
Undersheriff Bradley Mazur and Trooper Kelly Fitch.
Photo by Howard Owens.
stuff the cruiser batavia 2023
Probation Officer Bill Bogan.
Photo by Howard Owens.
stuff the cruiser batavia 2023
Officer Miah Stevens and Det. Eric Hill, Batavia PD.
Photo by Howard Owens.
stuff the cruiser batavia 2023
Deputy Jordan Alejandro.
Photo by Howard Owens

Photos: Santa and petting zoo at Oliver's Candies

By Howard B. Owens
santa at oliver's candies 2023
Ryker Dunham, 3, visits with Santa at Oliver's Candies in Batavia on Saturday.
Photo by Howard Owens.
santa at oliver's candies 2023
Santa at Oliver’s Candies 2023
santa at oliver's candies 2023
Landen Strathearn, 4, visits the petting zoo with his mother, Michelle.
Photo by Howard Owens.
santa at oliver's candies 2023
Avery Scofield,2, at the petting zoo with her mother, Ally.
Photo by Howard Owens.
santa at oliver's candies 2023
Girl Scouts were serving refreshments.
Photo by Howard Owens.

Chronicling history: new book reveals how national events impacted local citizens

By Joanne Beck
Michael Eula
Genesee County Historian Michael Eula in his office with some of his research material and books of photographs for his new book, "Historic Chronicles of Genesee County." 
Photo by Joanne Beck

While significant events were happening on the national stage — the assassinations of prominent political motivators, the Cold War, the New Deal and open racism with the existence of slavery — folks right here had their own thoughts, feelings, and ideologies that unfolded into the Genesee County landscape.

Local citizens cared deeply when President John F. Kennedy, Senator Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr. were killed in the 1960s within six years of one another, and this area was full of introspective people — activists, philosophers, independent thinkers and keepers of a heavily agricultural region -- as well as those that were tolerant and welcoming of varying opinions while others were more dangerously skewed.

These details have been unearthed through the research and documentation of Genesee County Historian Michael Eula for his upcoming book, “Historic Chronicles of Genesee County.”

Although it’s not yet out for purchase, Eula teased it during a recent county meeting, also explaining to legislators that he had to switch publishers due to some artistic differences. It was enough of a tease that The Batavian interviewed Eula about the upcoming release, now being published by History Press and set for an April 15 publication date.

Overall, it’s a comprehensive social and political history from 1802, when the county was founded, to the present, he said.

“I wanted to explore a number of topics that hadn't been explored. And I wanted to address issues that had been ignored in the county's past, which is what comes up, with one exception in this in the Historic Chronicles,” he said. “So, you know, for example, when people looked at wars, they would look at things like the Civil War, that was a big one, I looked at the Cold War, and how that played out in Batavia in 1956, for example, no one had done that. And I also looked at the county's reactions to three key assassinations in the 1960s, President Kennedy, Senator Robert Kennedy, and Martin Luther King. That's the first chapter in this book. So I look at different aspects of the county's history by looking at things that had national links, and that had not been addressed by others who have done the county's history before.”

Artistic differences?
As for those editorial differences, Eula had been working with SUNY Press, which, he said, had requested some revisions, including a change of his title, reverting the term of woman slave to instead read enslaved, and — this, he said was the final straw — asking that he insert they for the pronouns he or she in some cases. 

The Batavian contacted SUNY Press for comment, and Senior Acquisitions Editor Richard Carlin said that the publisher does not change gender pronouns for historical figures from he or she to they. 

“We follow the guidelines of The Chicago Manual of Style in the copyediting and preparation of all of our manuscripts,” he said. That manual does have two uses for they, one being when a person does not identify with a gender-specific pronoun or is of unspecified gender.

At any rate, Eula and the publishing company were having difficulty proceeding with the book’s finale, so Eula moved on to History Press and is happily working with Acquisitions Editor Banks Smither. History Press falls under the larger umbrella of Arcadia Publishing, the country’s largest local regional publisher, Smither said.

“The company publishes books by local authors on local subjects, and we market and sell them exclusively in the local market for brick-and-mortar sales. So his book, for example, will sell in accounts throughout the county and maybe a little bit of the neighboring counties. But that's it for brick and mortar, and then we'll put the book online, and then on our website, and then ebook and all that. But our expectations are just itself, as you know, to the local audiences that care about it. We have been doing this for a long, long time,” he said. “So we're looking to sell to people who walk into the bookstore or walk into a gift shop … and want to buy a product that's vibrant and talks about their community. And it's written in a way that I like to describe our style as kind of a feature piece in a magazine, a little breezy, a little easy for the general audience, but also still substantive about the local history. And so, we are finding that academics like Michael are sometimes better off publishing with us because we can reach a wider audience.

“He’s the County Historian, that's an official office in New York State. And so every county has one, and we work with a bunch of them to publish in their communities, and they just have great platforms for it,” Smither said. “So he came to us, I was intrigued by the manuscript. We're continuing to look for more and more products in every town that we can. We do see local history continue to increase in salience in every community in the country. Our business itself has grown substantially over the last 15 years.” 

About the book
There are six meaty chapters sandwiched between a preface and conclusion that cover:

1. In Only Six Years: Genesee County Reacts to the Assassinations of the Kennedys and MLK;

2. Batavia Explodes: Cold War Anxiety and the Preparedness Drill of 1956;

3. Immigrants to White Ethnics Italians and Irish;

4. Hoover, Roosevelt, the New Deal in Genesee County;

5. In Western New York? The Ku Klux Klan in Genesee County in the 1920s;

6. Activists, Farm Women and Professionals

Some locals may have heard Ray Cianfrini’s talk about the Ku Klux Klan’s existence in Genesee County back then, and Eula incorporates Cianfrini’s research into an expanded chapter that raises questions about what was going on at the time.

“My whole chapter is titled Western New York question mark … and I talked about the growth of the Klan, and then it's collapsed by 1924. And to me, how do we explain that? And how do you know who was resisting that? And how do you explain the rise of the Klan, when about three percent of the population of the county was African American?” Eula said. “So what's feeding into this raises a lot of issues. Prohibition was one. Immigration was another. I think people might find that interesting.”

He also made what he found to be interesting political findings about the Hoover years.

“You know, some of the reasons why Republican candidates, unlike most of the rest of the country, were still winning elections here during the Depression, Herbert Hoover won this county in 1932, for example, when Roosevelt was winning much of the rest of the country. Why is that?” Eula said. “And then just very human stories about the Depression that I pulled from different sources.

“And then, finally, the last chapter is a chapter on women's history. So chapter six is about middle-class women … and I looked at a number of things in that chapter, including diaries that we have, right here in the archives, that were kept by farm women. Pretty fascinating stuff, you wouldn't think that when the women were so busy with animal tasks, at home, and on the farm, were reading serious philosophy and really thinking about it in their diaries,” he said. “Women who had more resources, and more access to political power to another woman.

He will delve into women who did not have such means, poor women and women slaves, in a second book that he is working on, he said, but that’s for another story. 

In this book, he covers the suffrage movement, which was big in Genesee County.  That doesn’t mean that everyone was on board with it, however, and Eula also covers women who opposed suffragists, conducting meetings in their Batavia homes at the turn of the century. 

“And what was striking about both sides is their willingness to have conversations with people that they were in disagreement with. I thought that was a striking difference from our own day, where people tend to get so partisan that the conversation dies out,” he said. “You had women who were suffragists who would invite women who were members of groups that were opposed to women having the right to vote into their home to have discussions about both sides of the issue, say in 1904. 

“And then, some of the activists were earlier on involved in the abolitionist movement. Here I talk about some of those, there was a big abolitionist movement here. And there were also people who supported slavery. And so I talked about them as well,” he said. “And they were women who were involved in the abolitionist movement, who then later, or their daughters became involved in the suffrage movement. So it was a seamless movement from one focus on one aspect of civil rights to another.”

One of his favorite chapters is the one about the Cold War, he said. While doing his research, he learned just how much locals, through their letters to the editor, disagreed with the Korean War, which has often been shadowed by Vietnam as being so highly controversial.

I really enjoyed doing Chapter Two on the Cold War because it led me to a lot of other reading to give a context. And since the Soviet Union collapsed, in 1991, and the archives were open, a lot of what we thought the Kremlin was planning, actually, there's no evidence for it. So that caused the question how much of The Cold War anxiety was really warranted. So that leads to really fascinating questions,” he said. “And in that chapter, I talked about, for example, of course, we had, even after the Korean War ended in 1953, there's still a peacetime draft. So young men had to be concerned about where their draft numbers were. We often think of that, something like that with regard to Vietnam and forget that was going on a long time before Vietnam. And even when it was peacetime or relative peacetime after the Korean War. And so it was, it was definitely seen as a very serious reality.”

Eula uses examples from today, such as with behaviors around COVID, and traces certain traits that have been passed on over the centuries and generations from political parties — such as people who were “steadfastly Republican.”

“Meaning they believed in individualism, they believe that there should be as little state interference in people's lives as possible,” he said. “Now, another question I lead the reader with is, ‘will that continue into the future? Or or will Genesee County look very different by the next century?’ One's guess is as good as anyone else’s,” he said. “But at least up until I am with that book, the feeling that there shouldn't be too much-centralized authority is one that's very paramount in Genesee County's culture. It's a very conservative culture in that sense. 

“And I don't mean conservative in terms of a political party, Republican or even Democrat, I mean, conservativeness sensitive, individuals should be able to make their own decisions about what their own lives look like. And so those in authority here have to tread very carefully.”

Another conclusion from his studies?
He thinks that kind of conservative nature comes from the rural landscape and agricultural economy here, he said, and given the wide base of the agricultural economy, “farmers tend to be very independent.”

“Primarily over half the county's acreage is devoted to farming at any point in time, and that produces a very different political culture. And interestingly enough, I think it's one that incredibly has taught much more tolerance than more urban industrial cultures tend to that I was really struck by,” he said. “There is a willingness here to hear the other side. Even though you disagree. I used the example before of the suffragists' movement.”

Efforts to curb drunken driving recognized at annual STOP-DWI luncheon

By Howard B. Owens
stop DWI lunchon 2023
Officer Joseph Weglarski, Batavia PD, after accepting his STOP-DWI Award at Terry Hills from Genesee County Undersheriff Brad Mazur.
Photo by Howard Owens.

At Terry Hills on Friday, the Genesee County STOP-DWI Advisory Board recognized the county's "top cops" for their efforts to help keep drunken drivers off the roadways as well as nine local students for the TOP-DWI posters.

Batavia Police Officer Joseph Weglarski, Genesee County Sheriff Deputy Zachary Hoy and Village of LeRoy Police Department Officer Jordan Wolcott were honored for their top performances in DWI arrests and their dedication to keeping the community safe.

The poster contest is divided into three categories. There are 1st-3rd place winners in two grade categories, 6-8 and 9-12, as well as a Computer-Generated Art Winner.

6th - 8th grade winners: 

  • Alyssa Bailey, 
  • Jameson Hargrave, 
  • Deborah Heineman, 
  • Taylor Louis and 
  • Peyton Gay. 

9th - 12th grade winners: 

  • Taelynn Bragg, 
  • Savannah Meyer and 
  • Aiden Vallett. 

The grand prize winner is Marley Santos.

To view all of the winning posters, click here.

stop DWI lunchon 2023
Officer Jordan Wocott, Le Roy PD, after accepting his STOP-DWI Award at Terry Hills from Genesee County Undersheriff Brad Mazur.
Photo by Howard Owens. 
stop DWI lunchon 2023
Marley Santos, grand prize winner of the STOP-DWI poster contest.
Photo by Howard Owens.
stop DWI lunchon 2023
Savannah Meyer with Carla Mindler, commissioner of the Department of Social Services.
Photo by Howard Owens
stop DWI lunchon 2023
Aiden Vallett with Carla Mindler, commissioner of the Department of Social Services.
Photo by Howard Owens.
stop DWI lunchon 2023
Deborah Heineman, Jameson Hargrave, Alyssa Bailey
Photo by Howard Owens.
stop DWI lunchon 2023
Officer Joseph Weglarski, Batavia PD, Sgt. Jordan Wolcott, Le Roy PD, and Deputy Zachary Hoy, Genesee County Sheriff's Office.
Photo by Howard Owens.
stop DWI lunchon 2023
Peyton Gay and Taylor Louis.
Photo by Howard Owens.
stop DWI lunchon 2023
Taelynn Bragg, Aiden Vallett, Aiden Kiser, Maison Hirsch, Savannah Meyer
Photo by Howard Owens.

Pre-holiday Craft Show is Saturday in Corfu

By Joanne Beck
If you're ready for a little pre-holiday shopping, the Corfu Fire Department will be ready with items to sell this weekend, organizers say.
Set to run from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday, the Pre-holiday Craft Show will be at 116 E. Main St., Corfu.

Chamber of Commerce celebrates a busy 2022 at annual meeting at Terry Hills

By Howard B. Owens
brian cousins genesee county chamber of commerce president
Brian Cousins, president of the Genesee County Chamber of Commerce.

After approving a new slate of directors for the board, Genesee County Chamber of Commerce members heard a recap of a busy 2022 from Chamber President Brian Cousins.

The year started with the annual awards banquet at Batavia Downs, attended by more than 300 people. That was followed by the Celebrate Ag Dinner in Alexander, attended by more than 400 people. After that, chamber staff got busy hosting the annual Home Show at the David M. McCarthy Memorial Ice Arena in Batavia.  During the summer, the chamber hosted its annual golf and bocce ball tournament. In the fall, there was the annual Decision Makers Ag Tour.

And then there were ribbon cuttings.  Lots and lots of ribbon cuttings. There are always ribbon cuttings.

"We get requests all the time for business openings, business milestones -- Tom Turnbull (former chamber president) always taught -- and this was probably the best thing ever taught me -- that everyone always loves a good ribbon cutting," Cousins said. And it's true. A lot of people did a ton of good things in the community this year. I'm very proud of our ability to go out and support them. We probably literally had one to two requests a week. Sometimes we had two a day."

Cousins also praised the monthly Business After Hours, held at a different Chamber member location each time, as a great way to network and form important if not lasting business connections.

All of those big events return in 2024:

  • Chamber Awards, March 2.
  • Celebrate Ag Dinner, March 16
  • Home Show, in March
  • Gold and Bocce, at Terry Hills this year on July 18
  • Decision Maker's Ag Tour, being planned, date to be determined

And one of the highlights, surely, if the weather cooperates, of 2024 will be the viewing of the eclipse on April 8.  

The chamber's Tourism Bureau has been preparing for months -- there have been 50 meetings, 15 in-person talks, several monthly Zoom sessions, and "Jenny," the cow mascot, has made numerous public appearances.

And 2023 has been a good year for tourism, Cousins said.

"We are going to have a record year in terms of visitor spending into our county -- upwards of about $209 million total, sustaining about $65 million in tourism payroll. It's amazing," Cousins said.

New members of the Chamber board of directors:

  • Mickey Hyde, immediate past chair
  • Kristina Raff, with Nortera
  • Mark Brooks, with Tompkins
  • Michael Battaglia, Prudential
  • Megan Palone, Oliver's Candies
  • Jocelyn Sikorski, Cornell Cooperative Extension
  • Jeremy Liles, Oliver's Candies.

The new board chairman is John Whiting of the Whiting Law Firm.

GO-Art! receives piece of pie for culinary kitchen project

By Joanne Beck
Prudence and Joshua
2023 File Photo of Batavia High School students showing their artwork as part of a ceiling tile project for GO Art!'s culinary arts kitchen in Batavia.
Photo by Joanne Beck

 In a bid for a piece of a New York State $5.1 million pie, Genesee County will feast on a bit of that dessert in GO-ART!’s culinary kitchen with an award of $32,775.

The state Homes and Community Renewal announced the grant awards as part of Round XIII of the Regional Economic Development Council Initiative that was opened to municipalities and nonprofit organizations.

The $5.1 million was awarded to 23 projects to “enhance and revitalize Main Streets and strengthen local economies,” HCR said in a press release issued Friday.

Genesee-Orleans Regional Arts Council, the only Genesee County-based agency to receive funding in this round, was given the $32,775 for a project to continue improving its culinary arts kitchen at 201 East Main St., Batavia.

Not that the kitchen hasn’t been spruced up over the years, because bit by bit, artwork by artwork, local students have helped to add a new visual dimension to the place. With a monster theme firmly in tact, there are hand-painted scenarios on the walls, cupboards and — thanks to volunteers from Make A Difference Day — ceiling tiles. 

This new infusion of money adds to the aesthetics with infrastructure. 

Work is to include updates of a roof replacement, a kitchen exhaust hood fan replacement, and installation of an ice machine, convection oven, flat top grill, mixers and point-of-sale system, according to the grant application details. 

GO Art! Executive Director Gregory Hallock was not available for comment Friday.

“The New York Main Street program ensures that resources will be available for municipalities and nonprofit organizations working to revitalize downtown neighborhoods across the State,” HCR Commissioner RuthAnne Visnauskas said in the release. “This $5 million in funding will strengthen on-the-ground initiatives, further economic development, generate more employment opportunities, and create new housing options. Thanks to our local partners for spearheading the types of projects that will elevate the quality of life for residents, businesses, and visitors for years to come.”  

A total of 23 grants were awarded through New York State Homes and Community Renewal’s New York Main Street program, which provides financial resources and technical assistance directly to nonprofit organizations and municipalities to strengthen the economic vitality of the state's traditional Main Streets and neighborhoods through targeted commercial and residential redevelopment. 

Additional information about the New York Main Street program is available HERE.  

Genesee County jail phone system being worked on, IT director says

By Joanne Beck

Given the frequency of phone issues at Genesee County Jail recently, The Batavian contacted the county to find out what was going on, and if other county offices were experiencing similar phone connection problems.

Michael Burns, director of Information Technology for the county IT Department, said that the current problem is that the jail’s main phone number is not rolling over to other available internal phone extensions when more than one call is received. 

“Single calls are connecting as expected. The vendors who supply phone services to the jail are working on this issue,” Burns said Friday afternoon. “This current issue is not related to the previous recent problems that the Jail experienced. This current issue is isolated to the Jail and does not affect other county phones.”

There have been a number of times that the public has been advised to call an alternate number due to the main number at the county Jail being out of service, including Friday.

If you dial the main phone number, 585-343-0838, and it is busy or you cannot get through, call 585-343-0839 or 585-343-0840.  

B-B Board selects new Jr/Sr High School Principal

By Press Release

Press Release:

Paul Hazard 

The Byron-Bergen Central School District is pleased to announce that the Board of Education approved the nomination of Paul Hazard as Jr./Sr. High School Principal at the Nov. 16 meeting. Hazard will fill the position left by Interim Principal Carol Stehm effective Jan. 3..  

“Paul Hazard comes to Byron-Bergen with a specific set of skills that are perfect for our Jr./Sr. High School,” said Superintendent Pat McGee. “He is an insightful leader with extensive administrative and teaching experience to guide the school successfully through this transition. I am excited to welcome him to the district." 

Hazard comes to Byron-Bergen from Alexander Central Schools where he served as Assistant Principal at the MS/HS and was promoted to Director of Student Life and Engagement. Prior to that appointment, he was Elementary Summer School Principal at Geneseo Central School District where he also taught Special Education and 6 th Grade Social Studies for 16 years.

“I am honored and excited for the opportunity to be a Bee!” said Hazard. “I believe there is something special about small towns and schools you can only understand if you have lived and worked within one.  I am looking forward to getting to know our amazing students, staff, and parents over the next couple of months as we work together to continue the proud tradition of excellence at BB.”

Hazard holds an Advanced Graduate Certificate in Educational Leadership from SUNY Stoneybrook and a Masters Degree in Education from Roberts Wesleyan.

Accident slowing traffic on West Main Street in Batavia

By Joanne Beck
Car accident on West Main St., Batavia
Photo by Howard Owens
A two-vehicle accident has slowed traffic in one lane of westbound traffic of West Main Street, Batavia Friday afternoon. The accident is just past the Oak Street intersection.
There is no information on injuries. Batavia Police Department has arrived on scene.  

Sponsored Post: Open House TOMORROW - 5484 Horseshoe Lake Road

By Lisa Ace
Reliant Real Estate
5484 Horseshoe Lake Road, Batavia. CANNOT STRESS ENOUGH WHAT A GREAT HOME AND EVEN BETTER PRICE THIS IS! OTHERS HAVE PAID MUCH MORE FOR MUCH LESS -DEFINITLEY COME SEE FOR YOURSELF!!!!!!!!!!Solid and well maintained country ranch! Located on pretty rural road but close to everything you need-shopping, restaurants, and quick access to all major routes for quick commutes! Also located in Batavia School System and minutes from College. This 4 bedroom 2 bath brick ranch will sure to please and surprise you with its spacious layout and great homeyness! The kitchen is updated with great cupboard space, first floor laundry at your fingertips and large but cozy family room with wood burner overlooking private pretty backyard. There is also an enclosed 3 season back porch for peaceful evenings as well as sunny and welcoming front porch with trex decking to welcome your guests! There is a deep attached garage as well as 8x10 back shed for all your extra storage needs. This home is ready for immediate occupancy and is easy to slip in and see! Call Lynn Bezon at Reliant Real Estate today, call 585-344-HOME (4663).

Phone issues again at Genesee County Jail

By Press Release

Press Release:

The Genesee County Jail is currently experiencing phone issues.  If you dial the main phone number, 585-343-0838, and it is busy or you cannot get through, please call 585-343-0839 or 585-343-0840.  

We apologize for any inconvenience this may cause.  

WROTB president says health insurance provided to only three long-serving directors

By Mike Pettinella

Other than three longtime Western New York Off-Track Betting Corp. directors, no members of the company’s board are receiving or will be eligible to receive health insurance benefits going forward.

WROTB President/Chief Executive Officer Henry Wojtaszek, responding to a Freedom of Information Law request from The Batavian today, said that the public benefit company is paying the health insurance premiums for Dennis Bassett (City of Rochester), Thomas Wamp (Livingston County) and Richard Ricci (Seneca County).

The board of directors consists of 17 members, representing 15 counties plus the cities of Rochester and Buffalo.

“These individuals have qualified for a Medicare plan through Western Regional OTB due to their longevity prior to the board being terminated by state mandate,” Wojtaszek said. “No one else on the board has any coverage.”

New York State legislation last May dismantled the previous board and forced the municipalities to either reappoint the director or appoint someone new. Bassett, Wamp and Ricci were reappointed along with seven other rural county directors.

Following Wednesday’s board meeting at Batavia Downs Gaming, Wojtaszek reported that WROTB’s revamped health insurance plan for employees, other than board members, will be unveiled soon.

“We have the members of the (Labor Management Health Fund) coming in to speak with our employees within the next two to three weeks to inform them of the program,” he said. “And we'll see who takes advantage of it.”

Wojtaszek said two programs will be offered, with an eye on providing something affordable for younger workers and their families. He said WROTB is part of a large consortium with other businesses in the area.

WROTB’s program is a self-insured one where the company pays the cost of claims and also a firm to administer the plan.

When pressed about board members’ health insurance – something that has been in the press for several months and labeled as a “gold-plated” plan for directors, Wojtaszek said all of that changed for any board member approved after July 1, 2021.

“Nobody who is a board member currently is involved in our active (LMHF) program. They could be on Medicare because of an old program (referring to Bassett, Wamp and Ricci),” he said.

Directors who had health insurance through WROTB prior to the reorganization this summer are no longer eligible for the corporation’s LMHF plan, he said. The plan is administered by Lawley Insurance.

In related action, the board approved a resolution to renew a contract with Garland Insurance & Financial Services of Phoenix, Ariz., to provide commercial insurance – liability, property and directors & officers – from through May 31, 2024 at a cost of $1,147,215.46.

Wojtaszek said the premium reflects an increase of 8 percent. 

He also mentioned that WROTB has hired a consultant, Alterity Group, to work on a bidding process after the contract expires. WROTB has contracted with Garland since 2015, he said.

Troopers investigating serious injury accident on Route 98 in Batavia

By Howard B. Owens
route 98 and federal drive accident state police troopers

A 39-year-old woman was injured this morning after her 2018 Toyota left the roadway on Oak Orchard Road near Federal Drive and struck a utility pole, causing the vehicle to overturn.

The woman was the sole occupant of the vehicle. She was ejected from the vehicle. The State Police have not released her name or where she is from.

The woman was flown to Strong Memorial Hospital by Mercy Flight for treatment of serious injuries.

NYSP says this is an ongoing investigation.  

Town of Batavia Fire and Mercy EMS assisted at the scene.

Previously: Person ejected from vehicle in rollover accident near Federal Drive, Batavia

Photos by Howard Owens.

route 98 and federal drive accident state police troopers
route 98 and federal drive accident state police troopers
route 98 and federal drive accident state police troopers
route 98 and federal drive accident state police troopers
route 98 and federal drive accident state police troopers

Pembroke supervisor sees need to 'pump the brakes' on apartment development, modify zoning code

By Howard B. Owens

CORRECTIONS:  The board approved the moratorium on Nov. 9 and the state does not need to approve the zoning changes.

A potential 96-unit apartment complex in the Town of Pembroke raised issues that perhaps the town should address in its zoning code, according to Supervisor Thomas Schneider.

Schneider is suggesting a six-month moratorium on approvals for new proposed apartment complexes while the town forms a committee to study apartment zoning and propose new regulations that would eventually need state approval.

The Town Board discussed a possible moratorium at its Nov. 9 meeting, and will vote on it at a future meeting.

"The town felt it was necessary to pump the brakes a bit before new projects are proposed," Schneider said. "(We need) to bring the zoning law into line with our new normal here in Pembroke.  The current zoning on multi-family projects has been relatively unchanged for 35 years.  The town still supports development, but we do need to update the zoning law to make our expectations more transparent for developers and to give our Planning Board more tools to use in the planning stages of these projects."

Issues to address may include school bus traffic serving an apartment complex, green space requirements, the number of units per acre that should be allowed, and perhaps guidelines on design and materials. There may be other issues to raise, he said.

Schneider also told the board that given the possibility that any new complexes will receive tax abatement incentives from the Genesee County Economic Development Center, the town should consider imposing a community benefit fee.

Scheider said New York State allows for towns to implement zoning agreements with developers. His first idea is to require apartment developers to contribute funds for improvements to Pembroke Town Park.

The need for an update came to light, according to Schnieder, as the town worked through the approval process for Countryside Apartments.

Developer Mike Schmidt of Alden is planning to build four buildings over four phases at 8900 Alleghany Road. Each phase consists of a building with eight one-bedroom and 16 two-bedroom units, totaling 96 market-rate units, with 168 parking spaces along with garages.

Schmidt is planning on investing $15 million in the project.

GCEDC has approved financial assistance for the project, including an estimated $ 739,200 sales tax exemption, an estimated $ 2,020,688 property tax abatement, and an estimated $ 130,000 mortgage tax exemption.

The project has received all of the necessary approvals from the town for Schmidt to begin building.

With the expected job growth coming from two major development projects in WNY STAMP, a new distribution facility opening by the Thruway, as well as a new travel center, the demand for housing in Pembroke is on the rise and Schneider said he believes the town needs to prepare for it.

In a previous interview, Schnieder said he recognizes the need for more housing, including apartments, in Pembroke.

"My personal feeling on the whole thing is, as a former school board member, there are people who want to be in our district," Schneider said.  "Our district does need kids in the district to help it survive."

While Schmidt was going through the approval process, and promising market-rate housing, some residents expressed concern that he would pull a bait-and-switch, the seeming fate of Ellicott Station in Batavia.  Schmidt promised there would be no HUD-assisted units in his complex, the conversation suggested some residents oppose low-income and very low-income housing in Pembroke.

Schneider said on Thursday that even if the town wanted to try and block rent-subsidized apartments, it doesn't have the authority to do so.

"I don’t believe we legally could or should limit HUD-backed or (NYS Homes and Community Renewal)-backed projects, but under home rule, we do have a say in which zoning districts large-scale multi-family projects are allowed," Schnieder said. 

Asked what he would say to residents who oppose such developments, Schneider said, "There’s a place and a need for all types of housing options in a community."

Asked about whether apartments are limited to certain parts of the town, or should be, Schneider said: 

"Under the current zoning law, multi-family housing projects are allowed in nearly every zoning district.  From the developer's perspective, it is cost-prohibitive to install a septic/sewage treatment system for large-scale housing projects.  I believe the town will look to limit these multiple-building projects to areas covered by town sewer, (such as) portions of Route 5 and Route 77 and our interchange, commercial and limited commercial districts."

Once the Town Board approves a moratorium, the board will form a committee. The exact composition of the committee has yet to be determined.  It could comprise two board members, two planning board members, and perhaps a couple of town residents.

The committee would then propose zoning changes to the Planning Board and the Town Board.  The County Planning Department and Planning Board would also review the proposed changes.  Once adopted, the State Legislature would need to approve the changes.


Presentation offers lessons, urges residents to test homes for radon

By Joanne Beck
Sherri Bensley and Allysa Pascoe
Sherri Bensley, left, and Allysa Pascoe, of Genesee and Orleans Health Department, give a presentation about radon during this week's City Council meeting at City Hall. Free test kits are available at the health department to find out your home's level for this odorless, tasteless radioactive gas.
Photo by Howard Owens.

If you were asked to name the number one cause of lung cancer among non-smokers, it may surprise you that the answer is not second hand smoke, often portrayed as perhaps the most dangerous substance to lungs for those exposed to the fumes of others.

The top cause of lung cancer is actually radon for nonsmokers, and overall is the second leading cause of lung cancer for the general population, Public Health Educator Sherri Bensley of Genesee and Orleans Health Department says. 

Not often something discussed at the dinner table or thought about in the home, radon is responsible for about 21,000 lung cancer deaths every year, according to GO Health statistics. 

Although the topic up to now has been a quiet one, Bensley and Environmental Health Specialist Allysa Pascoe have been taking a presentation on the road — including to City Council this week — to review the basics of radon and remind folks about the importance of what to keep in mind with this radioactive gas.

"The GO Health Departments would like residents to know that radon is the leading environmental cause of any cancer and it is the second leading cause of lung cancer, after smoking," Bensley said to The Batavian. "Radon can enter a home through cracks in the foundation, cracks in basement walls, holes, joints, dirt floors, sump pump holes, suspended floors and in the well-water supply. 

“Any home (new or old), that has contact to the ground has the potential for radon to enter the home," she said. "Testing your home is the only way to know if high levels are present and corrective action is needed.”

Tests were conducted in Genesee County, and Stafford was found to be the area with the highest levels of radon in the lowest living area of the home, which was the basement.

Levels were at greater than 10 pCi/L (that is picocuries per liter), with several areas reaching greater than 4 and less than 10, including Byron, Bergen, Batavia, Le Roy, Darien, Bethany, Pavilion and Pembroke. Towns and villages of Alabama, Oakfield, Elba and Alexander had the lowest levels of less than 4.

When testing was conducted on first floors in the county, Stafford remained at 10, and was joined by Darien; whereas the 4 to 10 levels were only in Batavia, Bethany and Le Roy and remaining municipalities had levels of 4 or lower.

The health department distributed radon test kits from Jan. 17 of this year to June 30, with 37 elevated readings out of 174 total kits, Bensley said. From July 1 to now, there were 73 more kits distributed, and 23 elevated readings. 

GO Health has been able to do this through a New York State Indoor Radon Grants Program meant to increase public awareness about th risks and health hazards of radon exposure.  It’s a sneaky inert gas that’s colorless, odorless and tasteless that cannot be detected by one’s senses.

Exposure to radon can damage tissue and may cause lung cancer since it is a carcinogen. It also can be found anywhere, since it’s produced by the decay of uranium in soil, rock and water. 

So now that you may be sufficiently scared, or at least concerned, what to do about it? 

“With funding provided by the New York State Department of Health, the Genesee County Health Department has free radon test kits available to residents of Genesee County,” Bensley said. “If someone finds that their home has a high level of radon, we would recommend that they hire a certified mitigator to install a radon mitigation system to reduce radon levels in their home.”

The department has also proposed that all new homes be built with radon-reducing features, which would be more cost effective, eliminate potential exposure and is currently a requirement in 11 other states, she said.

The test is made of charcoal, and it is uncapped for at least 12 hours during the test period. It will be placed on the lowest level of the home that is frequently occupied. Once radon is detected, certification is not required in New York State, but is recommended, she said.

She also recommends that, when pursuing mitigation, obtain several estimates, check references, and obtain a guarantee that the mitigator will reduce the radon to below 4.0 pCi/L. Go here for more information about mitigators.

 For more information about radon or obtaining a test, email or or call 585-344-2580, Ext. 5528.

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