Friday, October 15, 2010

Greene Delights

THE TRIUMPH. When 351 supporters of GreeneLand’s Thomas Cole National Historic site quaffed “independence cocktails” at a fund-raising feast at a Catskill estate back on the 4th of July, they celebrated, in effect, two forms of independence. They celebrated (with fireworks custom-tailored by Rick Pilatch) their country’s declaration, 344 years ago, of independence from the English Crown. They also celebrated an imminent local event: transformation of the Cole site’s governing board from a committee of the Greene County Historical Society into an independent entity.

The latter independence was not a product of rebellion. It was the culmination of developments that had been foreseen ten years ago by County Historian Raymond Beecher, who had led early phases of the campaign—the risky, expensive campaign--to rescue GreeneLand’s most important cultural landmark from ruin and oblivion; to fund and supervise the restoration; to get the home of the first distinctly American school of art designated by Federal law as a National Historic Site under management by the Historical Society; to get the place furnished and ready for visitors; to build a collection, a membership, a staff of volunteers, a program; to achieve, through ticket sales, memento sales, memberships, grants, bequests and donations, a state of solvency.

In legal terms, the first step toward separation involved the acquisition, by way of a copiously documented application, of a charter from the Board of Regents of the State Department of Education. Then came the laborious composition of a Memorandum of Understanding, whereby the Cole House would no longer receive a subsidy from the Historical Society, and the Society would transfer, to the chartered Cole House board, titles to several non-profit properties.

The accomplishment of those steps, with all the work that made them possible, was hailed by Joseph Warren, chairman of the board of the Historical Society, as one of the great “success stories” of 2009-10. “With the acquisition of Cedar Grove and the guidance and sustenance provided by the Society over the years, it is with pride that we can look upon our offspring as an asset to Greene County. This triumph is a tribute to the Society’s selfless dedication to the principles of preserving our heritage for future generations.”

EXTRA GREEN. The Bank of Greene County’s parent company, Greene County Bancorp, reports continued growth. Although the local economy is sluggish, with substantial unemployment, a slow real estate market and poor retail sales, the county’s foremost local bank has posted, for the last fiscal year (July 1, 2009-June 30, 2010) and over the latest quarter, gains in net income and in assets. The reported net income, of $4.9 million, represents a percentage gain over the previous year of 19.5. Company assets grew by $34.8 million (up 7.6%) to $495.3 million. Funds on deposit with the bank rose to $421.7 million (as compared with $399million by the end of June 2009 and with $268million back in 2006). What with the opening of a branch in Germantown, more growth is anticipated.

The bank’s president, Donald Gibson, said the year’s results “more than met our expectations.” He also mentioned in the annual report that the bank has done no sub-prime lending and has, upon due deliberation based partly on awareness of the “perilous national economy,” passed up opportunities to “acquire other banks and other bank branches.” (Don’t be astonished, though, if a branch in Ulster County—Saugerties; Kingston…) eventuates in 2011.

Among surprises in the report is the fact that the bank’s growth in assets, in transactions and in branches has not been accompanied by growth in staff. The reported number of full-time equivalent employees, as of mid-2010, was 114, down by three from mid-2009.

MEOWING. The auction of the 59 decorated fiberglass felines that ornamented the sidewalks of downtown Catskill this summer took place on September 26th and fetched more than $60,000, according to a Daily Mail report (9/29). The auction at Catskill Point and attracted more than 400 bidders and spectators. Successful bids ranged from $185 to $6000. The take fell short of last year’s total, even though the cat supply was a bit more abundant, but it may suffice to sustain the interest of prospective designers of cat figures. The 2010 designers received 30 per cent of the bid money. The rest goes to the Heart of Catskill Association (=Catskill Chamber of Commerce, the organizers) and to local non-profit good causes.

MOUNTAIN DREAMING. A developer from Delhi, Scott Clark, proposes to transform the old gravel mine that is off Route 23A, plus the site that once housed Camp Mayfair, just east of Hunter Village, into a resort. According to a Daily Mail report (Jim Planck; 8/17) Mr Clark envisions a 120-unit hotel, 50 townhouses, 11 single-family home lots, 42 triplexes in 14 buildings, a spa, a pool, a fitness center, and an equestrian facility. It’s all very preliminary. And it marks a contrast with ambitious proposals for resort developments (with golf courses) in Greenville and in Coxsackie; they seem to have been placed on hold.

BEAMING Our new community radio station WGXC will soon be on he air, at 90.7 on the FM dial. From the Acra headquarters and two more studios. The event will be preceded immediately by a weekend “barn raising”—technical training and celebratory events. Abundant local material (audio recordings, videotapes, reports) already is accessible on the station’s web site,

SCREENING. “Lost in the Crowd” is the title of a minute documentary made by part-time GreeneLander Susi Graf. It’s all about trans-gendered young people who are homeless in New York City. It took seven years to make and, at the International LBGT Film Festival in San Francisco recently, attracted warm critical praise (“…magical evening; “dispelled ridiculously antiquated thought forms” says Charlie Demos). To see a trailer of the doc, Google ‘Lost in the Crowd’ or ‘Susi Graf’.

SHOWING. In four shows, in three countries (Dominican Republic, Turkey, U.S.A.), creations by GreeneLand artist Vahap Avsar Funk are on display. And in Manhattan, four Chekhov plays are being blended by thespian Casey Biggs into one theatrical event to be performed by New School actors.

PADDLING. Launched in conjunction with the Great Hudson River Paddle this summer (from Corning Park in Albany, 7/29) was a new book published by GreeneLand’s Black Mountain Press (=Deborah Allen): A Kayaker’s Guide to New York’s Capital Region, by Russell Dunn. Like the two guides for Adirondack region hikers that Mr Dunn wrote with wife Barbara Delaney, this volume blends practical guidance—where to go, how to go on the Hudson and Mohawk rivers--with history.

WORKING and not. While the employment picture in GreeneLand still is bad, the trend is favorable, and the rate of improvement lately has been better, evidently, than in many other counties. The latest figures issued by the State’s Department of Labor apply to the month of August. The rate of unemployment (portion of “labor force” members who do not have jobs) for GreeneLand in August was 7.5 per cent. That figure is higher than for neighboring Albany and Columbia counties (6.7%; 6.8%), slightly lower than for Ulster County (7.6%), and substantially lower than for the whole country (9.5%) and for the State (8.2%). GreeneLand’s August unemployment rate was substantially better (as in lower) than in July (7.9%) and much better than in the final months of 2009 (8.3-8.6%).

SCROUNGING. Local efforts to keep the county’s Arts Council alive, amid the evaporation of accustomed government support, made some progress last weekend. On short notice, on a balmy afternoon at Beattie-Powers Place, more than 100 supporters turned ou, along with entertainers and staff members, for a happy fund-raiser that yielded, says Council manager Kay Stamer, yielded “a little over $3,000. That will buy us a few more weeks when we need it. And, we’ll need it.” The State Comptroller’s Office has stalled on approving State arts council contracts for the release of authorized funds. “We could be waiting until…December for our contracts of over $120,000. Meanwhile, we're under contract to deliver services.... It's one hell of a way for the State to stay liquid!"

WASTING. In keeping with some law or other, banks take out newspaper advertisements giving “Notice of names of persons appearing as owners of certain unclaimed funds” held by them. First Niagara Bank’s latest GreeneLand list included 12 names. Among the names were Greg Lubow, the well known attorney, and Raymond Pacifico of Cairo. Along with people named Nemeth, Knudsen, McCorry, Kubler, Deluccy and Coleman, these people are “entitled to abandoned property in amounts of fifty dollars or more.” Some are listed in the telephone book. Why not call them?

BANNING. Greene County’s legislators have imposed a ban on the sale and possession of a substance, known in some quarters as “Spice,” that is reputed to be a synthetic imitator, in terms of effect, of marijuana. That’s in Greene County, Indiana. Meanwhile, this ‘Spice’ has been added to the list of substances whose consumption is prohibited on Catskill school grounds. It is construed as an “herbal smoking and incense mixture” (also known as Silver, Genie, Smoke Skung, K2, K3…). The school board also banned “synthetic cannabinoids or cannabidiol analogs, such as daamiana” AND “power drinks” (or “high energy” drinks), heavily caffeinated, such as Red Bull, Monster and (it’s a brand name!) Cocaine. (Daily Mail, 10/14/10).

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