20 for 2020 Series - BlueStone Press
October 28, 2020
Special Series

20 for 2020 Series

Posted

20 for 2020 Series from the BSP pages

 

The Bluestone Press is committed to featuring 20 folks who have significantly contributed to community for 2020. Would you like to nominate a community member to be featured? Call the office at 845-687-4480 or email bluepress@aol.com with your nomination. Here are a several from our series so far. Look for more throughout the year.

 

20 for 2020: John Novi

The 1960s and ’70s in High Falls have taken on an almost fabled quality. Get a group of old-school townies together and it begins to feel like the folks at Woodstock were missing out on the real party. From the open porch at the Eggs Nest, the pop-up tropical bakeries and the highly active social clubs, it’s clear; High Falls was hopping. At the center (of the universe) of it all, was John Novi. Inarguably one of High Falls’ most famous residents, Novi put High Falls on the map in the culinary world and has spent the ensuing years committed to the unshakeable belief that food is truly at the heart of everything.

Novi’s parents came to the United States in 1932, all thanks to good olive oil. Novi’s paternal grandfather imported olive oil, and on his 11th trip across the Atlantic he brought his pregnant wife. While the couple was in the U.S., Novi’s father was born, making him the one natural-born American citizen among his 10 brothers and sisters. The family returned to Italy, but John’s father, at the tender age of 15, was emboldened by his dual citizenship and made his way back to the States, ready to see what he could make of the New World. He returned to his homeland only once in the first few years, to pick up a wife in a marriage arranged by the two families. Once the couple settled in Brooklyn, Novi’s father took work as a longshoreman at the Brooklyn Navy Yard. Eventually, he purchased a waste material yard and began to bail paper products – an early precursor to recycling. Even in the midst of the urban surroundings, however, the Novis cultivated good food. Part of the large property was allocated to livestock, so early food memories for Novi include goat milk, fresh eggs and family-raised meat – including a 600-pound whopper of a pig that was featured as a centerfold in the New York News. 

“We were raised on fresh homegrown pork and lamb on holidays,” said Novi. “My job was to feed these animals after school. I was also commissioned by my father to collect the blood from the pig butchered each year. I remember at 9 years old I would stand under the pig’s head and my father poked the pig in the neck. I collected blood and ran into the house where my mother was standing by the stove with a wooden spoon, ready to bring the blood to the boiling point, stirring constantly. That night she would serve us what I got to believe was chocolate pudding in champagne glasses. We knew it was blood pudding, however, it was sweet.” 

In 1954, after renting a couple of houses upstate for holidays, Novi’s parents moved fully into High Falls and dedicated the basement of their new home to a new venture: Novi Frozen Italian Foods. One ravioli machine that could produce 8,000 ravioli an hour, and the beginning of the Novi food dynasty began. It is here, within the family business, that Novi cut his culinary teeth. In addition to helping out with production, teenaged Novi became the star salesman of the business, selling to everyone from West Point to Grand Union.

Just a few years later, the tides of the business had turned and Novi’s parents knew that it was time for a change. The couple closed down the frozen food business, sold the equipment and opened Novi’s Bakery and Restaurant on the corner of Route 213 and Mohonk Road (where the Kitchenette Seafood Shack is now). Soon the town was filled with the smells of Italian cooking as fresh-baked Italian bread, pizza, pasta dishes and dishes common to the Neapolitan region of Italy started to make their way onto the menu. 

It was in his late teens, baking for his parents and attending Dutchess Community College, that Novi first started his love affair with history.

“At that time I became fascinated with the history of the town and the canal system that went directly through the center of High Falls,” said Novi. “I collected early photos of the town back in its prosperous days as a small canal town. At one time the town supported two groceries, Good Year appliance store, a meat locker, a couple of cafes, a gas station, a couple bars and houses of ill repute, which I found reference to as warnings to stay away from in church publications. High Falls was another of Father Divine’s settlements, and his groups occupied the corner building as a restaurant and a few other buildings in town, including a hotel.” 

And it was his love of history combined with a generous sprinkling of kismet that attracted him to the Canal House.

“After many walking trips to the post office past the Depuy Tavern I took a self-guided tour of the inside of the house,” Novi said. “The door was open, and the entrance shed made it easy to enter the house! I began to dream of how to bring life back into this magnificent structure. I knew then the importance of this building since another important structure in town, the stone aqueduct, was destroyed after being listed as an attractive nuisance.”  Fired up and freshly turned down by his father (who insisted the building would require too much work), he put on his best suit and went to see the richest person he could think of – A.J Snyder of Rosendale Cement fame. After passing the muster of the secretary, he sailed into Snyder's office and laid out his vision for the Canal House. Snyder courteously listened and then swiftly pointed Novi in the direction of a local bank, seemingly disinterested in the project. Novi returned home, changed into his work clothes, and headed back to work at the family business, completely defeated. Imagine his surprise then, while walking up to the store, he saw a gleaming dark-green Rolls Royce parked in the bakery’s parking lot and Snyder himself standing outside, asking to take a tour of the property.

“As we were walking out of the Canal House he said, OK, you call the owner, Robert Hill, and tell him you have a partner,” Novi recalled, “and that he is not willing to spend any more than $6,000 for the property.” After some nail-biting negotiations, which ended up with a purchase price of $4,500, the Canal House was finally his, and Novi began to step into his role of head chef of “the center of the universe.” 

From the time of the purchase in 1964 until 1968 the Depuy Canal house served as a hub for Novi’s burgeoning passion for the community and the history of High Falls. In 1966 he helped organize the Delaware & Hudson Canal Historical Society, and the board of directors held its first meeting on March 31 that same year, a meeting where Novi was made president and 65 people joined the society at $5 a head. Soon Novi was working to resurrect the civic association and recalls the palpable sense of civic engagement, which would continue in full force and be waiting to welcome him home after his life-shaping trip to Italy in 1968. 

It was during his year in Italy that Novi truly began to shape his palette, a palette that would come to define the Depuy Canal House. After a stopover in England to pick up a brand spanking new 1968 Triumph TR250 convertible straight from the factory, Novi headed to the family farm in Italy. Work was hard to find at first, but soon, thanks to the generous introduction from a priest to a newly opening restaurant, Novi was rolling up his sleeves and tasting everything he could get his hands on.

“The experience started for me working on my family farm in early mornings and then driving south for 45 minutes to beautiful Sorrento to work the hotels,” said Novi. “I was most of the time a waiter and sometimes worked in the kitchen.  I sometimes was asked to come into the kitchen to decorate cakes or dessert and so forth.  I showed the chefs and other staff some pictures of the Canal House, telling them my plans to open a restaurant in my hometown, High Falls. The chefs and staff were very respectful and helpful by having me taste some foods or giving me recipes for me to duplicate in my future restaurant.”

In mid-October in 1968 Novi returned home full of ambition and brimming with ideas. He began his restoration of the building in earnest upon his return. “The first thing I did when I got home and into the house was to uncover the fireplaces and start a fire to warm the house up again,” he said. Ever the conservationist, Novi was determined to restore the Depuy Canal House in a way that was thoughtful and historically relevant. He spent hours at the county office building researching the Depuy family and uncovering plans for the house showing which walls and staircases were and were not original to the house. Novi was amazed at how the locals rose to the occasion to support his endeavors.

“I discovered the original color of the wood in the house using the Electric Iron paint remover lent to me by Farmer Paul on Hurley Mountain Road,” Novi said. “One of the first projects I used this iron for was to discover the first color paint that covered the wood trim.”

On June 14, 1969, the Dupuy Canal House was officially open for business.  Initially, the restaurant operated out of an 8-by-10-foot kitchen (the kitchen addition wouldn’t arrive until the ’70s), and Novi brought to the table many of the hospitality traditions of Italy, including San Pellegrino on every table and a set seven-course menu – no willy-nilly ala carte menu in sight. He also began cultivating relationships with local farmers, opting to make the real stars of the plate local fruits and vegetables. While the early reception was most certainly positive, life changed for Novi on a blustery night in February of 1970. 

On that Sunday night, just seven months into the restaurant’s operation, a table of nine was seated in the main dining room. Among the notables of the party (which included Jacque Pepin, Pierre Franey and a couple of other famed chefs) was the person who would shape the narrative of the Depuy Canal House as everyone knows it: the equally celebrated and feared Craig Claiborne, food editor of The New York Times. Claiborne would go on to publish a four-star review in early March, and suddenly the sleepy days were over and Novi had patrons knocking on the door at 11 p.m., hoping to squeeze in for dinner.  

Meanwhile, the civic life in High Falls was in full swing, with Novi reclaiming his place at the center of it all. “The High Falls Civic Association had many events involving the whole town planned monthly in the ’60s and ’70s.  The year 1969 High Falls celebrated its tricentennial,  and we had float-ins, parades, and an ice skating show at the Granit Hotel in Kerhonkson. Over 100 people attended the on-ice production, which took the performers many months to learn ice skating to music.” Unquestionably, Novi helmed the food portions of these events, cooking in his parents’ and (eventually) the Canal House’s kitchen.

In the ensuing years the restaurant played host to an entire gamut of celebrities including John Lennon, Robert DeNiro, Aidan Quinn and Debra Winger. It would expand to encompass Chef’s on Fire and a sushi restaurant. Novi’s endless creativity and commitment to the community that raised him drove him to manifest something more than the sum parts of a building and food – a place where absolutely everyone had a seat at the table.

After 51 years, Novi was faced with a stressful financial decision: to fund-raise to take the building out of foreclosure or consider selling the building. Novi says that it was always his intention to donate the house to the Delaware & Hudson Canal Historical Society that he had founded over half a century ago and recalls discussing it with a friend as far back as 1975. He saw the potential for the Depuy Canal House to belong to the community and to take its place among world-class cultural institutions. He believed fully that the D&H Canal Historical Society was the right choice to transfer the house to. Closing day was, however, bittersweet.

“I had great expectation to be the museum project manager and include a museum café,” Novi said. “It was my heart and my gut feeling that I should be involved with house to help foresee its future. I wanted to help fundraise. I wrote them a 10-page proposal years ago to this effect and worked to sell the idea with local government, but I’ve found myself cut off from the project. And I’m really disappointed not to be thanked or invited to be part of the vision of the Canal House’s future. ”

The Depuy Canal House was more than a building. It was a movement dedicated to food and community and art in all its many forms. So what does a man who was utterly and inextricably connected to a building do without the building itself? These days, Novi is spending time with his grandchildren and channeling much of his creative energy into Christ the King Episcopal Church on Route 213. Novi, who is not religious, has always wanted to sing in a choir. His dear friend Brian Taylor of the Stone Ridge-based Enneagram Institute (where Novi is now the executive chef) just happened to be the organist at Christ the King and suggested that Novi give their choir a try. While Novi ultimately balked at wearing a choir robe, he found that he loved the community at Christ the King.

“I quickly found myself helping out in the kitchen preparing for coffee hour,” he said, “served with crumpets and whatever anyone else in the congregation would bring in for the coffee hour buffet.  With the financial help of members, along with food contributions, we were able to serve some foods like ham and eggs, et cetera, to produce more of a Sunday brunch.” Novi noticed that the kitchen as it stands could not, in his words, “be used to any great expectations,” and he dedicated himself to raising funds toward the capital efforts. “As part of the campaign I was able to suggest a new kitchen. I did my own drawings for a new kitchen, and it was accepted by the vestry board and the architect.”  He continued, ”We have done and will do more capital campaign fundraisers using my kitchen at the Enneagram.  The new kitchen at the church will allow us to produce value-added products as well as supply foods to the food pantry. Many other ideas have come up. One is a church community cookbook. I am anxious to work as one of a couple members of the church conducting cooking classes. We are waiting – and the world is waiting – for this virus to be cured and release the many people who have been affected by the epidemic.”  

In the meantime, Novi is working furiously on his first book with the working title “Storybook Cookbook,” based around the weekly changes that Novi made to the Depuy Canal House menu. “ I recorded all the changes, starting with using a Radio Shack 280 computer,” said Novi. “ I hope to show how a particular soup, for instance, changes from a summer cold soup to a fall soup, and so on through the year … a recipe in evolution.”

It’s not just recipes that are evolving, though, it’s Novi himself. As he moves farther away from the building that defined him, he’s poised for a new chapter that encompasses food, love and, of course, the community.

 

 

20 for 2020: Alice Cross

 

printed on March 6, 2020

 

Volunteers are the backbone of community. These often unsung heroines and heroes lend foundational support and elevate, inspire and empower most every facet of local life, ranging from education to human services and historic preservation … to name a few. Chief among our local heroines is Alice Cross, who has been living, working and giving back to the area for the past 60 years.

Born in New York City to two teachers, Alice moved across the country at age 2 when her father took the family to California with a dual purpose: to accept a teaching position and to follow the recommendation to move to a warmer climate to improve his health. Growing up in Claremont, California, was nothing short of magical, and Cross has fond memories of the town, which was lined by eucalyptus, palm, and pepper trees, and was delighted in seeing the occasional monkey in the sycamore-dotted parks.

“Our house was in the middle of one of the many orange groves in the area, 10 miles from the base of the San Gabriel mountains,” recalled Cross. “Since the land sloped gently downhill, irrigation of the groves was accomplished every 21 days by turning on standpipes at the north end of each irrigation ditch; the water would run for eight hours. During the winter, on the rare occasions when there was a frost, it was considered glamorous when the boys tended the smudge pots in the groves all night and were excused from school the following day. We would wake up with black soot around our nostrils; imagine what our lungs must have looked like!” The location was ideal for a family. “We could choose between the mountains, the desert, or the beach.  Nice options!” said Cross.

As her later career in education would indicate, Cross says she was a serious and studious child and enjoyed school, to and from which she rode her bike daily. Her passions emerged early in life. Sometimes it just takes one good teacher to ignite a lifelong passion, and in sixth grade, Cross had one such teacher.

“My favorite subject in school was social studies, inspired first by an exchange teacher from England in the sixth grade,” said Cross. That interest would endure and be further kindled by her Western civilization professor in her freshman year of college. In high school early stirrings for a love of local architecture would begin. Cross recalled noticing the striking appearance and ideal location of her high school.

“Claremont High School was a beautiful Spanish-style stucco building with colored tiles around the entrance doors and a red ceramic tile roof,” said Cross, “fronting on historic Route 66 as it wended its way to its terminus in Los Angeles.”

Cross’ connection to the East, however, remain undiminished despite the move. Each year the young family would return to New York via train to the sleepy hamlet of Kyserike to spend the summers with her paternal grandparents, the Westbrooks. Cross’ ancestry can be traced back to the original Hasbroucks on Huguenot Street, and the farm had been in the family for generations. And it would be in Kyserike that Cross would meet her husband.

“John and I first met when we were very young; definitely not love at first sight,” said Cross. “When my family would travel East for the summer to visit relatives, my cousins and I would visit our grandmother at the farm in Kyserike. John would come over to play with my cousins; I was the pest who would crawl busily over and knock down their block buildings. More hopeful glimmers came a number so summers later when John took me for a ride on a tractor while he mowed a hay field for his father's Brown Swiss cows.”

Upon graduating high school, Cross started at Pomona College in Claremont, and after the first year she transferred to Mount Holyoke College in South Hadley, Massachusetts. During these early days of college, Cross knew one thing for certain: She would never be a teacher.

“My family had all been teachers, and that was the one thing that I was NOT going to do,” she said. “I wanted to have something of my own.” However, after two hard summers working in the social work field, she had an epiphany. “I decided that it would be so much better to work with little ones to help build their lives. To help from the start.” It was this realization that would lead her to SUNY New Paltz to earn her New York state teaching certification.

Remember that cute guy who took her on that fateful tractor ride? His name was John Cross, of Cross Lumber. He had completed college and been in the army and was back in the area working in the family business. Cross’ aunt played matchmaker and reintroduced them, and the pair married in 1960 and moved into the family farm. Cross began teaching, initially at the Tillson School (which was part of the Kingston School District).

Although Cross reports that the area has always felt like home to her, once that she was settling in permanently she found herself the new girl in town. Cross’ mother had always been community minded, and so the desire to get involved for the greater good and to make some friends came naturally.

“I wanted to be involved in the community,” said Cross. “I was a stranger and yet coming back to roots. I didn’t know anybody and was a way to get to know people.” Cross dove headfirst into community activities at the Rochester Reformed Church, the Stone Ridge Library and the Junior League. As fate would have it, at the time Cross joined the Junior League one of their projects was research and publication of "Early Architecture in Ulster County" – a subject right up her alley. Historic preservation would prove to become a through thread of Cross’ work in the community, and she would go on to get involved with Ulster County Historical Society, the Town of Rochester Historic Preservation Commission and Friends of Historic Rochester. 

“Having been away from this area as a young person, the impact of its historical significance was especially seductive,” said Cross. “For a visitor passing through the Town of Rochester, there is very little that would attract attention. I realized what a huge difference is made when one can look at apparently un-noteworthy structures or spaces with a knowledge of the story behind them. Each historic property is a family's story, or was a popular resort, or a one- or two-room schoolhouse, or a grocery store or feed mill, or an important canal or railroad. As old-timers near the end of their time, this local history will be forgotten unless it is recorded or written down.” Cross has dedicated herself to the task, explaining, “The Accordian, a quarterly publication of Friends of Historic Rochester produced since 1988, has become a fascinating and important record of our town's history. For the past many years, I have had the pleasure of working with many others to edit this publication, including a great variety of research, which is like a treasure hunt for me. Also, along with other dedicated volunteers, we have gathered, stored and displayed treasures from many local attics in the Friends of Historic Rochester Museum on Main Street, Accord.”

Cross’ life work as an educator has also informed her community engagement. After the birth of her children, Johnny and Kathryn, Cross took a job substitute teaching with Rondout Valley. She had the pleasure of moving through the school with her children, initially substituting in elementary before moving on to substitute teach in the high school. In this way Cross was able to be home when they were home. After the death of her daughter to cancer in 1984 Cross turned her efforts to the Rondout Valley Scholarship Fund. Initially the involvement came in the form of donations for a fund in memory of her daughter and over time grew to Cross sitting on the board, a seat that she maintains.

“I like to joke that joining the board is a lifetime commitment,” said Cross. She is passionate about the scholarship fund and finds deep pleasure in helping match deserving students with the right scholarship. Many of the scholarships are in memoriam, and Cross says that it is incredibly rewarding to be able to match a student with a scholarship that is in line with the character, career or passions of the person for whom the scholarship is in memoriam. Local businesses and individuals also sponsor scholarships, and the possibilities range all disciplines and encompass students across the academic spectrum.

“Winning a scholarship gives the kids a boost and gives recognition where recognition is due,” Cross said. “It encourages good grades, great attitudes, strong character and engaged citizenship. It represents huge community support for these kids.” This past year, 75 awardees received scholarships totaling $42,600, and since the inception in 1964, the fund has awarded just south of $900,000 in scholarships.

Cross retired from her career substitute teaching in 2006, noting that she was “the oldest person in the high school building … some statistic!” She says that she has enjoyed working with the staff and becoming friends with many generations of Rondout students and finds special pleasure in the work of substitute teaching.

“After our daughter died I had all this love that couldn’t spend on her so I sort of adopted all these other kids, and that’s what gave me solace and joy. As a substitute teacher I didn’t have to worry that they weren’t going to pass a test. I didn’t have any pressure on them, I just made sure they did their work for their day and they knew I could be a friend to them. Finding former students in the community is an incredible pleasure.”

Cross and her husband moved New Paltz in 2010, coming full circle, ancestrally speaking. “The farm had gotten be too much, so we moved to a retirement community, which is just want we needed. We sold our house to people from Brooklyn Heights who love it and have done beautiful job, planting berry bushes and tapping maples.”

Cross reports that the influx of second homeowners has, in a way been good historic preservation. “In general people coming from the city are very used to and accepting of historic preservation.” Cross points out knowing the history of your local area adds an unexpected richness to life. “Knowing the history of something gives you a different dimension of appreciation for what you are looking at. It gives you an entire depth and breadth of appreciation,” she said.

 

20 for 2020: Barry Medenbach

 

printed on Feb. 21, 2020

If you do not know Barry Medenbach, it can be promised that you know his work. From the Stone Ridge Towne Centre (known colloquially as “the Emmanuel’s plaza”) to the Mohonk Preserve Visitors Center to the forthcoming Applestone Grilling Park in Stone Ridge, Medenbach has been diligently working behind the scenes before the first shovel hits the ground to bring locals some of their favorite local spots into fruition.

Medenbach grew up in Monmouth, NJ, a small Jersey shore community with a small fishing port and plenty of farm land, at least when Monmouth grew up there. Ever the civil engineer, Medenbach is quick to point out that the area has changed significantly since his time there is now, decidedly, suburban. He spent his time growing up unsurprisingly, building & fixing things. Says Medenbach, “I liked to build things like go carts and work on cars and boats and I would hang out at the fishing docks where I kept a row boat. I liked to repair small engines. I was the kid on the block who would fix anything for everyone. It was convenient that my dad had a machine shop in our basement.” As teenager Medenbach discovered a passion for surfing and spent free days driving up and down the coast chasing waves.  His 17th summer he and a friend drove as far as Florida, spending every day of the season in the water. While Medenbach has taken a (point) break from surfing in more recent years he now keeps the passion alive by sailing both for leisure in his own boat in the Hudson River and for sport with the Kingston Sailing Club, which he’s been a member of and held most positions on the board at various times- for the last 20 years.

After graduating high school Medenbach headed to Newark College of Engineering.  Initially he majored in mechanical engineering based on his experience tinkering as a teenager and his experience of this father’s profession, which was in tool and dye casting.  By the grace of his fraternity, who seeing his talents urged him to switch his focus proclaiming, “you’re a civil!” Medenbach took a leap of faith and shifted focus to Civil Engineering and graduated with a degree in Civil and Environmental Engineering. “Turned out, they were right.” Says Medenbach.  A civil engineer, for those who may be unclear, explains Medenbach, “Do anything related to land use, such as water, sewage and drainage, roads and bridges.” He continues, “Today it includes anything related to land use including environmental effects. Most of my work starts with an inventory of the site including mapping wetlands, floodplains, step slopes, Archaeological areas, and significant habitat in addition to environmental and regulatory restrictions. We then determine if the site is suitable for the project the client wants. We often determine its not and recommend the best use for the site. This may include leaving it wild.”

 

It just so happens civil engineering wasn’t the only thing that Medenbach has to thank his fraternity for. It was at the parties that his fraternity house threw that Medenbach met his wife. Medenbach was learning to play guitar and would often bring out his guitar and play at the parties. His wife Debby and her sister, who liked to sing, would hangout and sing along with his playing.  Medenbach confesses, “I first noticed her beautiful singing voice.”

The pair married shortly after college and bought a house in Atlantic Highlands New Jersey and in the five years that they lived there welcomed the first two of their three children, kept bees and put in a large garden. But by 1983 the area was feeling overcrowded and the young family was longing for space to spread out.  They couple found 20 acres in Kerhonkson that had not only a main house but also cottages…and was in need of some significant work.  Undaunted the family moved in hook, line and sinker in a snowstorm no less and over the next few years slowly renovated the structures. Medenbach set up a home office, switched engineering license to New York State and got to work.

Business was good and Medenbach teamed up with Tom Jackson, who was surveyor and the pair moved into the office that they still occupy on 209.  In 1995 the business grew yet again in 1995 when Bill Eggers, who had been working with Jackson became a partner in the business and the business was officially renamed Medenbach & Eggers, Civil Engineering and Land Surveying, PC.  “I like working with the land and seeing things get done.” Says Medenbach, “I'm very particular about what projects I get involved in. I am selective. I only take on projects that I think are good for the community and region. I work for private developers, towns and non-profits.”  His list of clients is extensive, including Town of Rochester Highway Department (who they advise for on the repair and replacement of their many bridges), Mohonk Preserve, Sam’s Point, The Stone Ridge Towne Center, & Skate Time, to name a few.  In New Paltz, Medenbach did the site design and for the forthcoming “Zero Place”, a net energy use building with retail on the ground floor and apartments above. Outside the realm of buildings, he also designed the Rail Trail from Accord to Kerhonkson and is currently working on the one from Kerhonkson to Napanoch. One project close to Medenbach’s heart is the suspension bridge at Black Creek Preserve. “A little project that I'm especially proud of because of its aesthetic and functional value is a cable suspension bridge I designed for Scenic Hudson at Black Creek Forest Preserve in West Park which provided trail access over the Black Creek from the parking area to the hiking trails. This bridge needed to be constructed under the canopy of the trees with no disturbance to the stream or the forest. We used helical pilings to support the bridge, which could be installed with hand equipment.” For those who have not been, it’s clear why the suspension bridge at Black Creek Forest is an oft-used location for engagement and wedding shoots. The experience of walking across it is positively magical and it’s nearly impossible to feel as if you’re not walking into Lothlorean. The bridge seems at once a part of the forest yet decidedly inspiringly structural.

Medenbach says over the 37 years that he’s witnessed significant growth in the area. “The area has grown quite a bit.” Admits Medenbach, “Traffic has increased. When we first moved here there were no traffic lights between Kingston and Ellenville. How many are there now? There must be at least 8.” However, Medenbach believes the development has thus far been healthy. “I love the diversity of people. “ Says Medenbach, “Local people who've lived here for generations, professionals, highway workers, weekend people, the large population of artists and musicians, craftsmen, wood cutters, farmers with diversity in many skills and interests. There's a large amount of open space and recreational land and I like hiking and cross-country skiing. The area is developing in a very healthy way.”

While time off is rare for Medenbach he reports that when he does indeed find the time he can be found most often sailing, gardening, or more recently, building acoustic guitars and ukuleles.  Medenbach harvests the black walnut for the instruments locally and gives them to family and friends and reports that they make great graduation gifts. Additionally, he says that the highlight of time out of the office is his family. “I very much enjoy spending time with my family. We usually have a weekly family dinner with our three children their spouses, three grandchildren and their dogs.” Says Medenbach, “Our children are all grown and have all chosen to live in the area and raise their kids here. Our move to this area was one of the best decisions we made and I am most pleased to see my children agree.”

 

20 for 2020: Tim Sweeney

 

Printed on Feb. 7

 

Most folks in the area know Tim Sweeney. Whether through Stone Ridge Wine & Spirits, the real estate world, local government or one of the several boards that he serves on, Sweeney can be found just about everywhere in the community.

Sweeney began his life in North Bennington, Vermont. Early on, themes emerged that continue today, specifically the importance of community, a passion for sports and the knack for business. Through his parents, Sweeney learned early on how essential – and joyful – volunteerism was within community.

“My parents were great, and I certainly learned the joy of volunteerism from them,“ said Sweeney. “They were involved in everything from the Boy and Girl Scouts, the Lions Club, Elks Club, Little League, church, food drives and many other community activities.” 

He spent his time fishing and playing just about every sport available, including baseball, hockey and football. Even in his tender years Sweeney was so dedicated to football that he won the Vermont State Pass, Punt & Kick competition. Vermont was also where he would start his very first business, selling painted rocks door to door. “I sold a lot,” recalled Sweeney. “I think people thought I was cute and felt sorry for me.”  

When he was 11, Sweeney’s mother accepted an appointment at Vassar College and moved the entire family to Arlington, New York, to the absolute thrill of Sweeney as the move placed them on a U-shaped road in a neighborhood full of other children to play with.

“There were so many kids living on Hendmond Boulevard that they filled up a whole school bus,” said Sweeney. “If you ever saw the movie ‘Sandlot,’ that was my summers. Baseball every day, swimming in the Wappingers Creek and playing capture the flag at night. It was a great place to grow up.”

High school cemented Sweeney’s love of sports, and throughout high school he continued to play baseball, football and basketball, adding golf to the mix. His love for golf grew, and when he was 16 years old he started working at two local golf courses (College Hill Golf Course and McCann Memorial Golf Course), and by 18 he was the assistant club pro at McCann. After graduating high school Sweeney decided to take the leap into professional golf.

“Although a lot of fun, the problem with golf is it was so highly competitive it was difficult to make living,” said Sweeney. “In 1974 you had to earn $80,000 just to break even in that profession.”

After three years Sweeney decided to focus on his interest in sales and took a job, one that would alter the course of his life, at Barron’s clothing store in Poughkeepsie. In late July 1977 Barron’s had a massive sidewalk sale that drew thousands of customers. To guard against shoplifters, Sweeney’s boss asked him to sit on top of a stepladder and keep a sharp eye.

“So here I was on stepladder, doing what any 20-year-old single guy would, not looking for shoplifters but looking for attractive women,” Sweeney said, laughing. “I saw Laurel, her friend Julie and her brother Bob coming down the sidewalk. They stopped at a jean/head shop across the street from Barron's. Something about her immediately caught my eye. I got down off my ladder, walked across the street, and asked if I could help her. She said she was looking at jeans, so I dragged her across the street to sell her jeans. Little did I know she was just five weeks out high school, and she thought I was 30. I tried for 10 minutes to get her name and phone number without any luck. Off she went, and I said to myself, I've never seen her before and probably won't see her again." Spoiler alert: He did.

That night after work, Sweeney and a friend headed out to a live music club called Easy Street in Hyde Park.

“A friend said, ‘Come over to our table, my girlfriend has some friends that want to dance,’” said Sweeney. “I walked over, and Laurel was one of the friends. We were both shocked. We had a great evening, and I asked her out on a date the next night. We were married 10 months later and have had 42 wonderful years together. I believe in love at first sight. Laurel had a beautiful energy about her that still burns bright. She's interesting, smart, organized, competent and beautiful. I never get tired of spending time with her. We probably talk 10 to 15 times a day when we're not working together.” 

Once the couple was married and with a someday family to think about, the weekend and nighttime hours that were required working retail were not as conducive to Sweeney’s life as they had been in his early 20s, and Sweeney set his sights on a more traditional 9-to-5 job. While it can be argued that Sweeney’s interest in design can be traced back to his very first business, painting rocks, he identifies his interest in drafting in design as starting in high school.

Taking a chance, he replied to an ad for a draftsman for a customs plastics manufacturing company called NOW Plastics, which was a division of Kolmar Laboratories. Despite not having the required college degree the ad had listed, Sweeney landed the job on a trial basis and within three years was vice president/ general manager of the company. “It was a very interesting job,” Sweeney said. “We custom manufactured plastic products for the defense and computer industries. I traveled a lot and met many interesting people. It was at NOW Plastics that Laurel and I moved to Stone Ridge from Rhinebeck.” 

In 1986 NOW Plastics was sold to a company based in Ellicott City, Maryland. The family was faced with a big decision. Could they pick up and move to Maryland, leaving behind the friends, family and community they had built? In the end, Sweeney accepted a job on Long Island, which would allow for the family to stay put … as long as Sweeney was willing to commute.

“For one year I commuted daily from Stone Ridge to Garden City, Long Island,” said Sweeney. “In that year Laurel and I built our home, brought our first child Jessica into the world, we both changed jobs (me twice), and I lost most of my hair. It was a little stressful!” So stressful that when a company offered Sweeney the position of vice president of sales with the condition that he spend one week of every month in Maryland, he took the job. 1991 brought the arrival of the couple’s second child, Sean, and by 1994 Sweeney was tired of being away from the family so much.

“I'll always remember in October of 1994 I traveled to Maryland on a Monday for a sales meeting then flew to Atlanta for a trade show,” recalled Sweeney. “I flew back from Atlanta on Friday, had dinner with the president of our company. After dinner I decided to drive back to Stone Ridge so I would be home in the morning when our kids woke up. At 1 a.m., driving past the New Brunswick exit on the Jersey Turnpike I remember saying to myself, I can't do this for 25 more years." Sweeney knew it was time for a change, and he started to look around for a business that would keep him closer to home.

It was 25 years ago that Sweeney went from being a collector of wine to the proprietor of Stone Ridge Wine & Spirits. The Stone Ridge Shopping Center was in the weeds of the Planning Board waiting for approval to come through. Sweeney, who felt that the wine and spirits industry could use expanding in the area, had a hunch that it was the perfect location for a wine store and approached the developer. The developer loved the idea, but there was one hitch.

“When I approached him (the developer) about the location he told me I would have to buy the business from the older couple with the wine store located next to Benny's Pizza,” said Sweeney. “I stopped to see Richard and Wilma Mathews, the owners, and asked them if they would be interested in selling their shop. Richard had a manila envelope in his hand. He said to me, ‘I'm just getting ready to sign the contact in this envelope to sell the store.’ I asked him, ‘Do you have to finance the purchase or are they paying you for it?’ His response was, ‘I have to finance it, but we trust the buyers and we really want to retire.’ I told him, “If you give me three years’ tax returns and it makes sense, I'll pay you cash.’ He said, ‘Let me put this right back in this drawer.’ That was it – 30 minutes later I would have missed the opportunity. It was 25 years last week that we opened the store.”

Twenty-five years later and the industry has changed, says Sweeney. Along with an influx of wines outside of heavy hitters of days of yore such as France, Italy and California, newcomers such as Chile, Argentina and New Zealand (to name a few!) have taken a significant share of the market. In terms of spirits, Sweeney reports that when the store opened the majority of the spirits sold were vodka. Now the more amber hued of the family dominates, and most sprits sold are bourbon, rye, tequila, rum and Scotch.

Sweeney opened a second business, Nutshell Realty (along with his partner in the business, Tom Jackson), in 2001 and says that one of the most satisfying by-products of the businesses is the ability it gives him to contribute to the community in ways that his parents would be proud of.

“We have blessed by the amazing support of our customers in the Rondout Valley,” Sweeney said. “Our businesses have led to many friendships and relationships with many organizations in the valley. Those relationships and core values given to us by our families have led to our stewardship efforts on the behalf of many nonprofits in our region. Education and land preservation come first and foremost in our giving.”

Between Sweeney and his wife, one or both have been honored many foundations over the past 25 years including the Women's Studio Workshop, SUNY Ulster Foundation, Ulster Greene ARC and The Community Foundation, and he sits on the board at the Ellenville Hospital. While Sweeney says that he finds all the giving back rewarding, he particularly enjoys his work with the President’s Challenge Scholarship.

“I find the work with SUNY Ulster so rewarding because the Community College system provides a great opportunity to help economically challenge students achieve a college degree. Simply said, it changes lives.”

Sweeney’s community work extended into local government where he was a town councilman between 1998-2005 and again between 2016-2019. While on the board, Sweeney found immense satisfaction serving on the committee for Commercial Design Guidelines and the Hamlets Plan as well as organizing the Town Visioning with the Business Association. His advice to incoming elected officials? “Don't let criticism get to you,” he said. “As an elected official you are dead square in sights of the electorate. It is impossible to please everyone. I've always been good at not taking things personally. If you feel what you're doing is correct and is in the best interest of your community, then don't pay attention to the noise. Just stay focused.”

Marbletown has grown considerably in the 35 years that have passed since Sweeney came to the area, but much of what he initially admired has stayed the same.  

“We moved to Marbletown in 1984 and immediately fell in love with the historic feel of the community,” Sweeney said. “You can't help but notice the stone homes along the 209 corridor or the feeling you've arrived somewhere when you drive into High Falls. I still have that same feeling today when I move around our town. As for changes, certainly we are more of a destination community for second-home owners and weekend tourists. When I opened the store I would get to the end of Schoonmaker Lane to turn left toward the store. On a Saturday morning I might see five cars go by. Today I might encounter 25 cars. With the exception of that, the area has remained largely the same. Between excellent zoning and the commercial design guidelines, Marbletown is in a good position to maintain its rural/historic character.”

 

 

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