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Profile: Batavia's Barb Toal, first female master plumber in New York

By Anne Marie Starowitz

In the 60s, every girl in high school would have been encouraged by her guidance counselor to be a nurse, teacher, secretary, or homemaker.

Barbara, a girl born in 1948, did not like those choices in high school. She wanted to be a plumber like her dad.  Her father, Dwight, began his plumbing business at their home on South Main two years before Barb was born.

On her ninth birthday, she was given her first toolbox. Growing up, she loved nothing better than to watch her father work. In high school, she began working with her father and held onto her dream of following in his footsteps and becoming a plumber.

High school requirements presented problems for her. Girls were barred from taking shop. They were required to take home economics. For this future plumber, making a skirt was not high on Barb’s list of accomplishments. However, she was grateful that her mother was best friends with the home economics teacher. When Barb attached a piece of elastic to some material, her teacher gladly accepted her “skirt” and wished her well on becoming a plumber.

Her next assignment was to write a paper on a chosen topic.   She was an avid car racing fan and wrote about drag racing and driving. The book her report was based on was Dragging and Driving by Tom MacPherson.

Writing about something that interested her, she earned an A+ on her paper and the ticket to graduate and continue working with her dad as she had been doing during high school. 

After high school, rumor has it that Barb owned one of the faster cars around, and she could be seen in either her 1958 Chevy 348, one of the first big block motors, or in her 1969 SS Chevelle 396.

In August 1975, she became a licensed plumber. She is the first woman to be certified as a master plumber in New York State. To become a master plumber, Barb had to complete many stringent requirements. It takes ten years of experience to qualify for the master plumbers exam. An apprentice has to work under a master plumber for five years. Then, for the next five years, a journeyman plumber works full-time under the supervision of a master or licensed plumber. A plumber must understand and learn the nuts and bolts of the trade and be familiar with technical standards and all plumbing codes. Understanding the codes allows a plumber to keep buildings in the proper repair. Besides understanding all of the codes, a plumber must be able to draft diagrams to illustrate the work needed. 

The next step to becoming a master plumber is the exam. Barb and her brother Larry prepared for the plumbing exam by going back to school to learn the techniques needed to take the exam. As a result, she proudly owns the title of a master plumber, along with her brother Larry. 

Her mentor, teacher, and role model was her father, Dwight. Any training necessary to be a certified plumber had to be done under the supervision of a master plumber registered in the New York State Department of Labor. Barb and her brother trained under their father, a master plumber.

License numbers 16 and 24 have a special meaning to the Toal plumbers. Barb’s father, Dwight’s number was 16, and now Barb’s brother has their dad’s number. Barb’s license number is 24, a title she worked for and will proudly own for life.

In 1975, Dwight turned over complete management of his business to Barb.

Besides being a master plumber, Barb could run heavy machinery, lay pipes and work with a jackhammer. Some of her bigger jobs were the plumbing for Ebling Laundry on Ellicott Street and the installation of all bathrooms when the Holiday Inn added 58 new units to their existing inn. Then, on January 6, 1989, she became a plumbing inspector for Batavia, a job she would hold for 20 years. She also inspected the Town of Batavia, the Village of Oakfield, and the Town of Elba.

Barb retired in April 2010. She was also the Batavia Town Historian and created a video from 1802-1998 on our local history. She also wrote a book called Images of Batavia.

After her retirement, Barb was co-founder of the Friends of the Batavia Peace Garden, where she has been past president, project manager, and marketing.

She spends her winters in Charleston, SC, with her sister. Barb drives around Batavia in the summer months on her Honda Gold Wing motorcycle and serves hot dogs on Friday for the Peace Garden in the Holland Land Office Museum parking lot. Batavia is so fortunate and proud to have the first female master plumber in New York State from our city.

Photos courtesy Barb Toal.

City releases authorized plumbers list

By Howard B. Owens

Press release:

The following is the list of City of Batavia Plumbers who have obtained their 2018 Plumbing Renewal License to do plumbing in the City of Batavia, NY.

Arthur Allen
2927 Main St.
Leicester, NY 14481

Richard Biegasiewicz
2 Burke Drive
Batavia, NY 14020

Jason Brownlie
100 Nassau St.
Rochester, NY 14605

Anthony Cellino
631 Bullis Road
Elma, NY  14059

Henry H. Cook, Inc.
3508 Rose Road
Batavia, NY 14020
345-0915 or 762-8064

Christopher Cook
3508 Rose Rd.
Batavia, NY 14020
345-0915 or 762-8064

James J. DeWald
JW Danforth
300 Colvin Woods Pkwy.
Tonawanda, NY 14150

Diegelman Plumbing LLC
4995 Ellicott St.
Batavia, New York 14020

Michael Dollendorf
140 Cooper Ave.
Tonawanda, NY 44150

James Ficarella
19 Warren St.
Batavia, NY 14020

Timothy Fortin
JW Danforth
300 Colvin Woods Pkwy.
Tonawanda, NY 14150

Joseph Grasso
2690 Wilson-Cambria Road
Wilson, NY 14172

Ricky Hale
28 Swan St.
Batavia, NY 14020

Warren Herdic
5769 Herman Hill Road
Hamburg, NY 14075

Matthew Kandefer
2215 Broadway
Buffalo, NY 14212

Richard Lovria
150 Ross St.
Batavia, NY 14020

Michael Mager
8939 Alexander Road
Batavia, NY 14020

Robert Marvin
Tradestar Mechanical
764 Flower City Park
Rochester, NY  14615

Carl McQuillen
8171 E. Main Road
LeRoy, NY 14482

Philip Martorana
64 Hickory Hill Road
Williamsville, NY  14221

Fredrick Mruczek
1 Valle Drive
Batavia, New York

Thomas Mruczek
3 Valle Drive
Batavia, New York

Dave Muskopf
3198 Union Road
Orchard Park, NY 14227

Mark Napoleon
44 Morrow Ave.
Batavia, NY 14020

William Penepent
7182 Kenyon Ave.          
Basom, NY 14013

David Pero
Charles R. Pero & Sons
121 Trumbull Pkwy.
Batavia, NY  14020

John Pestillo
8486 Seven Springs Road
Batavia, NY 14020

Erich K. Postler
615 South Ave.
Rochester, NY 14620

Alfred Rosemark
27 West Ave.
Elba, NY 14058

Gabriel Sepi Jr.   
25 Ganson Ave.
Batavia, NY 14020

Walter Szczesny
24 Wood St.
Batavia, NY 14020

Mark Taylor
8734 Stahley Road
East Amherst, NY 14051

Larry W. Toal
3670 S. Main Street Road
Batavia, NY 14020

Ryan Toal
3670 S. Main Street Road
Batavia, NY 14020

Joel Tucciarone
202 Roosevelt St.
Tonawanda, NY 14150

City announces four newly minted licensed plumbers

By Billie Owens

Press release from the city Department of Public Works:

The City of Batavia is pleased to announce that Ryan Toal, Anthony Cellino, Robert Marvin and Erich Postler have passed the necessary exam and successfully met the requirements to become licensed plumbers in the City of Batavia.

Plumbers' lawsuit against Batavia over plumbing inspector, board members is dismissed

By Howard B. Owens

A lawsuit filed by a group of local plumbers against the City of Batavia over an alleged lack of a qualified person in the plumbing inspector role and the make up of the plumbing board was dismissed Aug. 8 by county Judge Robert C. Noonan.

The decision was made public today.

Noonan ruled that the plaintiffs failed to present any facts that could be used at trial to support their claims and that the city had demonstrated it has made every effort to comply with New York's General City Law.

City Manager Jason Molino said the dismissal substantiates what officials have been saying all along.

"We're happy to see the court agreed that the city has made its best effort, done its due diligence, to do what's best for the taxpayers," Molino said.

The attorney for the plumbers, Brian Degnan, could not be reached for comment. We also tried contacting the plumber who has been most outspoken on the issue, Barbara Toal, and were unsuccessful.

Molino said the city's efforts to bring fairness and impartiality to the plumbing board and the exam process have been successful.

In the past year, the city has gained six new licensed plumbers, he noted.

One of the controversies that arose last year about the plumbers is that the licensing exam had some poorly constructed questions and the grading wasn't being applied fairly. Three people who had taken the test and given failing grades were re-graded by Assistant City Manager Sally Kuzon and all three passed (Correction: two of the three were passed by the plumbing board.)

As part of the lawsuit, the plumbers challenged Sally Kuzon's qualifications to grade the test and to sit on the plumbing board. In addition to being the assistant city manager, she is director of the Public Works Department.

The suit also challenged Code Enforcement Officer and Superintendent of Water/Wastewater Matt Worth's appointment under an emergency declaration as plumbing inspector to the plumbing board, and the qualifications of Bill Hays as a journeyman plumber to sit on the plumbing board.

Noonan ruled that all three people were qualified for their positions under the guidelines of state law and that the city had made every effort to find a qualified master plumber willing to give up his or her business in order to become a plumbing inspector.  

The ruling states that the plaintiffs failed to establish that the city had disregarded its statutory duties under General City Law.

The suit was brought by Mark Walton, Peter Dellapenna, Kenneth Toal, Ryan Toal, Henry H. Cook, Ryan Cook, Christopher Cook, Ronald Toal, Paul Salway, Larry Toal, Barbara Toal, Walter Szczesny and Carl McQuillen.

For previous coverage of plumbing board issues, click here.

Batavia City Charter Commission and the Examining Board of Plumbers

By John Roach

 There has been some deliberate misinformation about the City Charter Commission seeking to do away with the City Examining Board of Plumbers. This is not true.


New York State laws, rules and regulations are always changing and it’s hard to keep up with them. The Charter Commission asked the City Manager to check with the City Attorney and determine if Batavia was still required by law to have an Examining Board of Plumbers, as it has had for years. That’s our job. There has been no change in the State requirement that the City of Batavia still have the Examining Board of Plumbers, so there will be no change in the Charter.

As a point of information, this board consists of 5 members. Two (2) shall be Master Plumbers with no less than ten (10) years of plumbing experience. One (1) member shall be a journeyman also with at least ten (10) years experience. The other two members are city employees involved with plumbing, sewers and drainage.


John Roach

Charter Commission Chairman

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