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March 9, 2012 - 2:42pm

EDITOR'S NOTE: This story is part of a series prepared on behalf of the tourism agency of the Genesee County Chamber of Commerce. The new tourism guide was recently published and is available at the chamber's office and will soon be available at other tourism locations. The guide is also available for download from the official tourism site for Genesee County, VisitGeneseeNY.com.

Of all the art and artifacts in Tony Kutter's home in Corfu, one he's quick to show off is a German beer stein presented to his father, Leo, after he completed his training in making handcrafted cheese.

The hand-painted stein depicts craftsmen making cheese.

“In Germany, if you went to school for a vocation, you would get an occupational stein to keep," Tony said.

Leo Kutter started his cheese-making career after World War I. Kutter had served in the German infantry as a teenager, was wounded, captured by Allied troops, escaped, and by the time the war ended decided he wanted to learn to make cheese.

One day, a boss suggested "you're a young man without a wife or child -- you ought to move to America and seek out better opportunities.”

Kutter set his sights on the then-boomtown of Buffalo and arrived at Ellis Island with only $16 in his pocket.

There were plenty of jobs available for immigrants in Buffalo in the 1920s.

"When he came to America, Buffalo was the largest manufacturing metropolis in the world," Tony Kutter said.

Leo Kutter took a job in a cheese factory and dreamed of owning his own business.

Kutter's Cheese opened in Corfu in 1947 when Tony was 14.

"I admired my father because he was steadfast and he worked hard," said Tony. "I learned from him to appreciate good work habits. I remember as a teenager, I wanted to play football and do all that stuff and he said, 'ah, that's just a waste of time.' I would come home after school, change my clothes and wash milk cans and get things ready for the next day."

There was time for fun, but Tony and his friends, who were all sons of dairy farmers, would complain about their chores and work life.

"Of course, we all thought we were being abused," Tony said with a chuckle.

Tony and his brother Richard learned the cheese business, but Leo Kutter didn't live long enough to see Kutter's grow into a nationally known brand of speciality cheeses.

Leo died when Tony and Richard were in their 20s and the brothers took over the business, with Tony running the factory and and Richard keeping the books.

"My father prepared me for my life and taught me how to set some goals and work hard," Tony said. "He prepared me for being successful in business. I think you can take the easy route, but my father wanted to start a business so much that when he died, I felt obligated to carry it on."

The business paid for Tony's three children to go to college and start careers of their own. The factory is now owned and operated by Yancey's Fancy, and the outlet store in Corfu is owned by Brian and Heather Bailey and Christine Adamczak.

It also opened a door for Tony to go to Russia after the collapse of the Soviet Union and help Russian entrepreneurs get started in the cheese business.

Kutter speaks Russian and owns bits of Russian history, such as sculptures, antique toy trains and a Soviet propaganda flag, all collected over the course of 31 trips to Siberia over a 12-year span.

He helped set up a cheese factory in Omsk that would serve as the central employer of 300 Mennonites.

Mennonites, being of German heritage, would have been granted permission to flee Siberia and return to Germany as refugees, but at the time Germany was suffering from high unemployment, and an influx of refugees would’ve only added to the problem. Instead, the German government offered to pay shipping costs to Omsk for all the necessary equipment for a cheese factory there.

"It was so interesting and rewarding to be able to help those people,” Kutter said.

The Mennonites learned to make cheese the Kutter way, which is to go well beyond a mere sharp cheddar -- the primary cheese being made in New York when Tony and Richard took over Kutter's -- and add flavors to create different specialty cheeses.

"I developed different varieties, such as horseradish cheese," said Kutter. "Everybody is copying me now. I was the first guy to make that stuff and they're making it in California now."

Even so, Tony is proud of the success he's had and warns others who might go into business for themselves: it's hard work.

"My father always told me if you‘re going to do something, be as good at it as you can be and make sure you really like it."

March 6, 2012 - 5:24pm

EDITOR'S NOTE: This story is part of a series prepared on behalf of the tourism agency of the Genesee County Chamber of Commerce. The new tourism guide was recently published and is available at the chamber's office and will soon be available at other tourism locations. The guide is also available for download from the official tourism site for Genesee County, VisitGeneseeNY.com.

At a time when institutions across New York are cutting back on arts program, Genesee Community College built a new, modern art gallery.

The Rosalie "Roz" Steiner Art Gallery is one of several forward-looking initiatives taken by GCC over the years that attracted Shirley Tokash Verrico to a job at the college.

Verrico teaches art history and is director of the gallery.

"It speaks a lot to the commitment of the college to education and the arts,"  Verrico said. "The college has had the Buffalo Philharmonic and the Genesee County Symphony in the arts center. They've done a wonderful job of balancing a commitment to both regional and community arts."

The Steiner gallery opened in the Spring of 2011. The 1,700-square-foot gallery is located inside the Center for the Arts on the Batavia campus of GCC. The gallery is named in honor of a tireless and strong supporter of the arts -- the late wife of longtime college President Stuart Steiner, now retired.

The combination of its soft white walls and lighting, ample natural light, gleaming wooden floors and uncluttered displays, makes for a space that is peaceful, roomy and well-designed, a formula that can only enhance the visitor's experience.

"The gallery space works really well for both multimedia and traditional art forms," Verrico said. "Those white walls can accommodate big paintings, but it's also a good space for sculpture."

The gallery is open to the public and admission is free, but Verrico said she is really trying to bring in shows that also provide teaching opportunities for students across disciplines.

With more than 15 years experience as an artist, cultural critic and educator in Western New York, Verrico is an expert in the regional arts scene. She holds a bachelor's degree in Fine Arts, master's degree in Arts and Humanities and is a NYS certified art teacher.

Artists selected for showings at the gallery come from throughout the region, from Syracuse, Rochester and Buffalo as well as Genesee County and the neighboring rural counties.

The media of the shows are as wide ranging as the artists selected, from  ceramics, glassworks, metal sculptures, abstract modern art, portraiture, watercolors and traditional oil paintings, and a wide array of pen-and-ink and charcoal drawings, along with interactive and multimedia displays.

Shows change every five weeks.

"Our gallery offers an excellent opportunity to see professional work in a state-of-the-art facility," Verrico said.

The spring showings feature the works of GCC students.

The grand opening, for example, featured large-scale sculpture and traditional paintings on canvas. Both worked very well in the gallery space.

When Verrico is in the gallery, she's generally available, and enthusiastic about sharing her knowledge about the work on display.

Currently, the gallery is open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday. Hours may vary during college breaks, including the summer sessions. Groups interested in visiting the gallery on weekends should contact Verrico in advance to make special arrangements.

The campus is at 1 College Road in the Town of Batavia. Once you arrive, park in the main lot, walk toward the main entrance, and on your left you'll see the "Stuart Steiner Theatre." Enter it, turn right, and the gallery is straight ahead.

Check out the website or contact the gallery to see what's on exhibit and the line-up of special events. Plus, you might get a chance to meet the artists, experience live music, or take in a performance at the Center for the Arts. Maybe you'll find a unique piece of art for sale that you simply must have!

Here's contact information:

http://www.genesee.edu/campuslife/arts/gallery/

(585) 343-0055, ext. 6490

[email protected]

March 5, 2012 - 2:17pm

EDITOR'S NOTE: This story is part of a series prepared on behalf of the tourism agency of the Genesee County Chamber of Commerce. The new tourism guide was recently published and is available at the chamber's office and will soon be available at other tourism locations. The official tourism site for Genesee County is VisitGeneseeNY.com.

Some people leave their mark on the land by building highways and shopping centers.

Paul Osborn is leaving his mark by making Genesee County's parks more accessible and inviting to visitors.

Osborn started his parks career 12 years ago after getting a degree in landscape architecture, but he thinks he made the right choice when he decided to apply to the county for a parks job.

"It was an opportunity to be part of creating something that will be there forever," Osborn said. "It my chance to create a legacy, to leave my stamp on things."

When Osborn took over as parks supervisor, the Genesee County Park in Bethany was in pretty bad shape, he said, and Dewitt Recreational Area was less than two years old and needed a lot of improvements.

"It was an opportunity to show what I could do for the community," said Osborn, a native of Oakfield who still lives in Genesee County with his wife of 12 years, Melinda, and their two children.

The vast Genesee County Park, covering 430 acres, was beset by disrepair when Osborn started. The bridges were getting old, the pavilions needed fixing, the playgrounds weren't up to standards and the facilities management structure was just a hut with a dirt floor.

Slowly, Osborn was able to rehabilitate the park infrastructure, and improve access for people with disabilities.

Today, the park is one of the gems to attract people to Genesee County.

With more than 150,000 trees, which were planted between 1885 and 1935, the park was the first county forest established in New York’s history.

Its four acres of wetlands provide habitat for waterfowl. There are also five ponds, a few of which are good fishing spots.

Visitors can enjoy five picnic areas and four playgrounds. There are pavilions equipped with grills and restrooms at each area. Hikers, walkers, runners and long-distance skiers can enjoy more than 10 miles of marked and mapped trails.

There's also a baseball and football field, horseshoe pits, volleyball courts, and a sledding hill.

Dewitt Recreational Area, on Cedar Street in Batavia, is where Osborn has been able to exercise some of his creative energy.

While there was a master plan in place for Dewitt when he took over, it doesn't specify every detail of development. This allowed Osborne to choose the design of pavilions, select picnic tables and playground equipment and decide the best placement for them all.

And the park is still a work in progress.

Currently, it offers a state-of-the-art playground in easy view of either of its pavilions, plus a quarter-mile track, all on the edge of a large pond. The water is stocked each spring with brown trout, providing a lure to young anglers right in the city.

Since Osborn took over the parks, the Nature Center at Genesee County Park has also undergone its own kind of upgrades (the center is off Bethany Center Road, the last left before crossing the county line).

With the help of Judy Spring, environmental education specialist, programs have been added, displays made more interactive and marketing has been improved so local residents can stay apprised of what's going on at the center.

The 3,000-square-foot center was built in 1998. It offers a laboratory, a classroom, several display areas and a conference room. From the back porch, visitors are often able to view wildlife hanging out in their natural setting. The center is open year-round Thursday through Sunday, with hours varying according to the season. 

"The nice thing about our parks is that there’s something for everyone when they come,” Osborn said.

While Osborn is no naturalist -- he considers himself a facilitator for the parks, and finds the right experts to help with forestry and wetlands management -- he does think the parks play an important role in a healthy community.

He frets about childhood obesity and that too many children today do not get enough opportunities to play in the dirt.

"Last year we had a small girl from Batavia who had never been outside in the woods," Osborn said. "She needed a leader to hold her hand because she had never been in the woods before.

"Here we are living in a rural community and there is a little girl who has never been in the woods. That's just shameful for society. We need the chance for natural experiences."

Photos by Howard Owens

January 8, 2012 - 5:42pm
posted by Will Barton in girl scouts, Gregorina Cooper, 90th Birthday.

Gregorina Cooper, known to friends as "Greg," is turning 90 on Jan. 16. For Greg, a volunteer with the Girl Scouts for more than 70 years, turning the page to a ninth decade and heading toward the century mark is pretty remarkable, but Greg's story is about more than longevity.

Saturday, in the community room at Monsignor Kirby Apartments here in Batavia, where Greg has resided since 2008, a celebration of her milestone birthday was attended by grown-up Girl Scouts from destinations spanning Canada to Buffalo and Warsaw to Rochester.

Though Greg was married to Kenneth D. Cooper -- who shared a love of children, and was very involved in Boy Scouts -- the couple never had children of their own.

Six of the Girl Scouts, now adults in their 50's and 60's, and a couple of husbands, formed a support group for Greg Cooper. 

It started with a few of the girls visiting Cooper's place in Warsaw, and helping her with maintenance on her home, cleaning up the yard, and decorating for the holidays.

Members of the group include: Ann Salter, an administrator at the Research Foundation for the State University of New York; Jane Gerken, a teacher; Elle Howard-Fronckowiak, a nurse, plus her husband, Ron; Carol Van Tassel-Creighton, a clinical social worker; Cherie Seifert-Corey, a nurse; and Mary Ann Faulring-Kreuder, a teacher, and her husband, Tom.

For years, Cooper would go to Florida and skip the WNY winters, and the girls would help her to pack up for the trip down South.

Some even flew down to Florida to help her get ready for the return trip. More and more Cooper depended on the girls for extra help, and in 2008, Cooper had a chance to move to the apartments here in Batavia, to be closer to one of her former scouts who is a nurse.

"I figured, I'm safe here, so I moved in," Cooper said.

The group now helps Cooper with shopping, getting around town and medical care.

Even at a time when she needs extra help, Cooper continues to live and love life, she said, enjoying reading, crafts, card games, shopping, farmer's markets, going to concerts and attending church on Sundays.

Cooper doesn’t miss a birthday or anniversary of all these girls and their spouses, always remembering to send a card or make a phone call, and her situation is a great example of that old saying, "You get what you give."

Cooper was awarded the Thanks Badge by the Girl Scouts on her 75th year.

When asked how long she'd been involved with the Girl Scouts, she said, "I'm still involved!"

The community room was bustling Saturday with multiple media outlets and many visitors filling the room.

"I didn't know they'd do all this," Cooper said. "I didn't expect all of this."

Cooper's friends and fans said they were "privileged" to give back to a woman who had given so much to them.

December 7, 2011 - 9:32pm
posted by Will Barton in Batavia Middle School, Leadership, tanner kolb.

Tanner Kolb is 12 years old, a sixth-grader at Batavia Middle School, and is officially an alumni of the Junior National Young Leaders Conference (JrNYLC). Tanner was nominated by her fifth-grade teacher, Mrs. Brown at John Kennedy School, to participate in the annual event held at our nation's capital, and made the journey Oct. 8 -13.

The JrNYLC is designed for high-achieving middle-school students, and offers these students "the opportunity to learn about leadership by studying the leaders of the past and by focusing on social advocacy to make a positive impact in their homes and communities." (http://www.cylc.org/jrnylc/JrNYLC_about.cfm)

Tuesday night, Tanner was excited to share her experiences. She said her favorite place she visited was Harper's Ferry, where she participated in a Civil War era battle reenactment. She met and made friends with students from not just across the continental 48 states, but places like New Zealand, Guam, Germany and Hawaii, and now has herself some pen pals.

When asked what lessons she learned from her experience, Tanner told me "Anyone can be a leader, if they're willing to work for it. Leaders are not born that way, they have to work for it." I asked what message she would like to send to other students who might be able to earn a nomination to participate. Her response was simply, "I'd tell them go for it. Definitely go for it."

She was written a thank-you letter to all her supporters, whose fundraisers made the trip possible. Afterall, going to D.C. can be pricey.

Here's her thank-you letter in full:

"I would like to personally thank everyone who donated pop cans, bought something from one of my fundraisers, or donated money to help me go on my trip to Washington, D.C. I had tons of fun and went to lots of interesting places.

I went to Harper's Ferry, an old Civil War town where we reenacted a battle. We went to lots of memorials, like the Lincoln, the Martin Luther King Jr., the Korean War, the Vietnam War, and many other places such as the Capitol building, the White House, and the Museum of American History. We ate at the Hard Rock Cafe, and Buca di Beppo restaurant.

I made lots of new friends from all around the world and I still talk to them a lot.  We also had a sleepover at the Maryland Science Center! I would like to say a special thank you to my fifth-grade teacher, Mrs. Brown, who nominated me for this trip. It really means a lot to me that she believed in me that much. I loved this trip and it would not have been possible without your help.

Thanks you so much,

Tanner Kolb

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