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Barber Conable

May 11, 2015 - 4:30pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in alexander, Barber Conable.

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The flowering crabapple trees that line the streets in the Village of Alexander perfectly capture the spirit of her father said Emily Conable, daughter of the late Barber Conable, the former U.S. Congressman and World Bank president.

"The trees are really typical of the way he thought," Emily said. "He liked color, he liked trees, he liked the shape of the crabapple trees and he liked that they didn't produce a lot of fruit that would create a mess for neighbors to deal with."

Inspired by the seasonal bloom of cherry trees in Washington, D.C., many years ago Conable embarked on a mission to populate his hometown village with its own distinctive arborous splendor. 

A placist and Alexander loyalist even as he rubbed shoulders with presidents and potentates, Conable dreamed of a village that would burst forth in vibrant raspberry sherbet every spring, giving Alexander its own distinctive flavor.

"He loved Alexander," said Jane Schiemder, another daughter. "He was so enormously attached to that place as his home that he wanted to give it a beautiful gift and pay it back, at the same time making it more beautiful with its own special identity."

Conable offered to buy trees every year for the village, for the school, for any resident, business or church willing to have one planted in a yard or along a drive.

"One year he did five, another 10, another three," Emily said. "It really came down to how much time he had and how many people wanted trees."

At one point, Jane said, village officials were concerned they were running out of places to plant new trees, yet the statesman of local values wanted to buy more, and more.

Both Emily and Jane said Conable would certainly want to see his gift to the village enhanced by residents and officials buying more trees. The tree is not necessarily common anymore, said Emily, who currently works at an arboretum in Pennsylvania, Longwood Gardens. She said the tree can still be found at some garden shops locally and online.

Conable planted nearly a dozen trees in the Alexander Cemetery. He always planned to be buried there, as he was, even though he could have been buried at Arlington National Cemetery. The cemetery is next to the Schmieder property.

"He wanted the Schmieder cows to come to his funeral," Emily said.

Jane lives in Bethany now and drives through Alexander frequently, where she can take in the rugged, radiant brilliance of her father's bequest. He would be heartened to know, she said, that people still notice.

"I'm proud he did that," Jane said. "I really enjoy seeing such a beautiful addition to a really nice small town."

FOOTNOTE: We use the word "placist." In our conversation, Jane said the trees were part of her father's "placism." Though already familiar with the word, for whatever reason, I decided to google "placist." Every online dictionary defines the word along the lines of "somebody who discriminates against people from other places." That's never been my understanding of the word's meaning. So I called Bill Kauffman, one of the nation's leading experts on placism. Bill was surprised the word is even in dictionaries. "I thought I made up the word," he said (he's used it in his books). "No, that's not what the word means," he said. "It means somebody who loves their own place." Loving one's place is hardly the same as resenting those from other places. We hope they love their place, too. Bill and I agreed -- we're taking ownership of the word. There's no negative connotation in it whatsoever.

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July 22, 2013 - 11:29am
posted by Howard B. Owens in batavia, Barber Conable, alexander.

Charlotte Conable, the wife of the late Barber Conable, passed away yesterday in Sarasota, Fla., after a long battle with cancer. She was 83.

Conable was a graduate of Lafayette High School, Cornell University and George Washington University and wrote the books "Women at Cornell: The Myth of Equal Education."

Charlotte Williams was born in Buffalo. Her honors included being named a Woman of Distinction, an honorary doctorate from Genesee Community College, and being included in Feminists Who Changed America, 1963-1975.

She was a board member of the Women’s Hall of Fame, Seneca Falls and a trustee of Cornell University.

In 1952, Charlotte married Barber Conable, who would be elected to Congress, representing Batavia and parts of WNY, in 1964. He served 10 terms, earning the reputation as the "most respected member in Congress." In 1986, Ronald Reagan appointed him president of the World Bank.

Barber Conable died in 2003.

Charlotte Conable is survived by the couple's four children, Anne, of Bennington, Jane Schmieder, of East Bethany, Emily, of White Hall, Md., and Sam, Sarasota, Fla.

Services will be held in Alexander at a time to be determined.

(Full Obituary)

November 16, 2011 - 6:04pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in Barber Conable, alexander.

In local politics, there's no bigger name than Barber Conable.

The longtime Genesee County resident started his career as an attorney in Batavia, and eventually became a 10-term congressman who went on to lead the World Bank.

Besides championing creation of 401(k) accounts, Conable also sponsored legislation that eventually made microbreweries possible (though that wasn't his intent -- he just thought one of his constituents should be able to brew his own beer).

Conable remains highly regarded for his integrity and intelligence.

The Post Office in Batavia is named after him as is the Conable Technology Center at Genesee Community College.

Then, there is the matter of his stately house in Alexander.

Conable and his wife, Charlotte, purchased the home in 1959 and raised their four children there. Until recently, Emily Conable lived in the house, but with her youngest son going off to college, Emily decided to move out of the 2,772-square-foot residence and put it up for sale.

The remaining household items of Barber and Charlotte are also being auctioned off at Bontrager's (a number of items are up for auction tonight (see pictures below)).

The listing went to Paul and Mary Ellen Hartwick, of Nothnagle, who lived for many years across Main Street in Alexander and were friends with Barber and Charlotte.

The Hartwick's took me on a tour of the house today and clearly cherished their memories of the Conables.

The house has four bedrooms and was built in 1830 by an Alexander attorney, A.B. Harrington. Harrington also built, for his son, the house across the street where the Hartwicks now live.

"If we could make our living selling historic homes, that's all we would do," Paul said.

The house, at 10532 N. Main St., sits on a five-acre, park-like lot that zigzags from Main Road to Route 20.

The house is listed for $199,900.

Chair given to Barber Conable by the Brookings Institute.

Barber Conable's collection of license plates

Barber Conable's Cornell University yearbook (Conable is in the first column, lower right).

A book by Henry Kissenger, former secretary of state, signed to Barber Conable by Kissenger.

March 21, 2009 - 11:34am
posted by Howard B. Owens in Barber Conable, holm.

I spent a good portion of the morning reading about Barber Conable. What a good man.

No wonder he made number two on the list of 25 Things that Made Genesee County Famous.

Not only did Conable give us the term "smoking gun" (during the Watergate Scandal), but he was regarded by his peers as the most respected member of Congress (he never accepted an individual campaign contribution for more than $50); he also "put the 'K' in 401(k)" when he helped rewrite the tax code to help protect pensions at Eastman Kodak; and. as president of the World Bank, he transformed the organization into an institution that assisted women and children in poor nations.

Throughout his career, Conable maintained his connection to Batavia, returning home every weekend to meet with his friends and constituents.

My favorite passage in articles I read about Conable came from historian Yanek Mieczkowski:

I noticed framed, meticulous pencil sketches on some walls, and he explained that they were just doodles that he had made while a congressman.

Just doodles? They looked beautiful, and they had been enough to impress Ronald Reagan. The president had heard about the congressman's drawings, and asked to have some. Conable sent a few samples to the White House. In return, the president sent a page of his own sketches, on White House stationery, to the congressman. "Barber," the president wrote. "These are just doodles. Yours are art."

Mieczkowski's piece on Conable is outstanding, I recommend reading the entire piece.

I also found these two notable quotes from Conable:

"He (the first President Bush) thought I should be supporting an American agenda (as World Bank president). I thought I was there to help the poor people. So I got the reputation of not being a team player, and that was the one thing George wouldn't stand for."

"I could have stayed in Washington at six figures if I had wanted to. I considered it. But they wanted a stuffed exhibit and not a lawyer, and I didn't want to be a stuffed exhibit. They wanted to use my name and put me in the firm and give me a special 'of counsel' status. At the appropriate time the senior partner would push a button and I would come into the consultation he was having with his client and he'd say, 'You remember former Congressman Barber Conable, don't you? Remember the great role he played in Ways and Means?' That image frightened me."

Not only did Conable help make Genesee County famous, he should be at the top of any list of things to make Genesee County proud.

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