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Remembering 12-24-12

23 Dec

This Saturday, Dec. 24, 2022, marks ten years since the tragic events on Christmas Eve 2012 when a crazed gunman took the lives of two West Webster firefighters, Tomasz Kaczowka and Lt. Mike Chiapperini, and injured three others as they were responding to a house fire on Lake Rd.

Despite the passage of many years, the details are still fresh in our minds. The story has been told and retold countless times, especially as we’ve commemorated the anniversaries of that terrible morning. This Christmas Eve, on the tenth anniversary, everywhere we look, we’ll all be reminded once again of what happened.

But another, equally important story hasn’t been told as often: how, following the shootings, the Webster community immediately stepped up and came together as one, offering emotional and monetary support to the firefighters’ families and to the West Webster Fire Department as a whole.

For five straight days, I wrote about nothing but the tragedy in my blog. I passed along information about memorial events, took photos, made videos. It was my way of contributing and helping the community work through its grief.

As it turned out, the blogs also helped chronicle exactly HOW our community stepped up, and how the people of Webster became more than just a community; we became a family.

I’ve pulled together a handful of those blogs, and with some other supporting materials (and lots of design help from my husband Jack), have created the publication pictured above, which you may enjoy reading as we commemorate this solemn anniversary.

Click here to see the online .pdf, and feel free to print the entire publication if you’d rather.

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(posted 12/23/2022)

1000 days, many new friends

21 Dec

For the last few years, Covid has done a really good job of keeping families and friends apart. But here’s a nice story about how the pandemic actually brought a group of neighbors TOGETHER, and helped forge new friendships.

The story begins more than two and a half years ago, in March 2020, at the height of the pandemic. The country had just entered shut-down mode. The kids weren’t going to school, many of us couldn’t go to work, we couldn’t eat out with friends or even go grocery shopping without fear of getting sick.

Basically, we were all forced into our own personal, anti-social bubbles, and it was awful.

Jack Turan decided to do something about it. He heard on the news one morning how, in small towns all across Italy, residents were opening their shutters, sitting in their windows with their glasses of wine, and singing. The story gave him an idea. When he got home after work, he saw his neighbor Jamie, and told him to grab a beverage and meet him at the end of his driveway later that night. Then he went over to tell another neighbor, and a third.

That was the evening of March 22, 2020, and the beginning of a nightly tradition in one north Webster neighborhood that has continued every day since.

Last Saturday, Dec. 17, the gathering, fondly known as “Yack With Jack,” marked a very special achievement: 1000 straight days on which at least two neighbors have met at the end of Jack Turan’s driveway every night at 5 p.m. to share a beverage, and just hang around and chat.

Donna Fonda, who first told me about this happy group, said that the daily meetings have been a way to “check in” with the neighbors and get some actual real-person-not-Zoom time with other human beings, something we all craved especially during the height of the pandemic.

“During this 1000 days we’ve really gotten to know each other,” Donna wrote, “and enjoyed each family’s joys like births, engagements, anniversaries and retirements.” The friends have also been able to “hold each other up through health issues, deaths of loved ones and of course the isolation that Covid brought,” she added.

The meetings might be as short as 25 or 30 minutes, or as long as an hour and a half, depending on what’s going in peoples’ lives that night. There might be two people, there might be four, there might be 14. Most of the participants are Turan’s immediate neighbors, but a few come from farther down the street, and even a street over.

The neighbors marked both the first and second anniversaries with parties. The 1000-day celebration, however, was something else. More than 20 people were there, including their young children and dogs. There were snacks and crock pots filled with soup. There was a fire pit. There was a trivia contest complete with musical clues. And Deb Ford even made up some custom-designed drink cups, reading “Yack Anniversary, 1000 Days — 12/17/22.”

For this group of Webster neighbors, the “Yack With Jack” gatherings have taken the idea of “neighborhood” to an entirely new level.

Sure, we all wave to the neighbors before and after work, or when we’re out mowing the lawn. More often than not, though, we don’t have the time to do much more. Drive down this street any night of the week, however, and you’ll see a bunch of folks standing at the end of a driveway, beverages in hand, who’ve discovered the awesome result of making that time.

According to Jack Turan, that is: “We got to know each other, and we got to be friends, actually friends.” 

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(posted 12/21/2022)

Behind the scenes with Santa Claus

12 Dec

I’m pleased to bring you another of my East Extra Afterthoughts installments today.

Afterthoughts is a completely separate blog, where I’m reposting some of my favorite columns from when I was the Our Towns East Extra columnist for the Democrat and Chronicle.

This particular column was published two days before Christmas. Earlier that month I was struggling to come up with an appropriate holiday-themed piece. Then I remembered that I had met Santa himself, and immediately knew I’d hit on the perfect idea.

It was originally published on Dec. 23, 2014.

A Q&A with Santa Claus

I have pretty much the best job in the world. I mean, how many people actually get to interview Santa?

Fittingly, it was a cold, wintry day when I met Santa at his home. No, not his workshop at the North Pole, but on Lake Road in North Webster.

Outside, the home is trimmed with colorful lights and decorations, and four Santas adorn the front yard. Inside, the atmosphere is equally jolly, positively glowing with Christmas cheer. It’s the perfect setting from which a 71-year old Kodak retiree spreads holiday joy.

Click here to go to Afterthoughts and read the rest of the post.

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(posted 12/12/2022)

I got my photo with Santa Friday night

3 Dec

I just love the annual Evening With Santa at St. Martin Lutheran Church, for so many reasons.

For starters, they give out free pizza (always a bonus) and you can make your own Christmas cookie (topped with more frosting than anyone should eat in one sitting). I love how the Scouts from Troop 110 always help out with the children’s games. And of course it’s a great place to meet with Santa, because the lines are super short and the photos are free.

But as I stood back last night and watched the activity all around me, I realized that the thing I like best about the event is the way it brings the community together. There were probably about 75 or 80 adults and children wandering around the church’s community room when I was there, and I asked one of the organizers how many people she recognized. I assumed that most of them were parishioners.

But she told me she only recognized a handful. The rest were neighbors or other community members unaffiliated with the church who had come to join in the festivities. That is exactly what the organizers wanted to accomplish when they put out an all-community invitation. Congratulations, St. Martin, for another successful event.

Here are a few photos from the evening (thank you to my firend Rebecca for providing a few of these):

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(posted 12/3/2022)

Remembering Lee Burgess

27 Nov

I was surprised by some sad news the other day. I read in the Webster Herald that Lee Burgess has passed away.

Lee attended college at Miami University, where he was immediately drawn to the media, spending time as a sports announcer and writer. After graduation he spent his early career in advertising, but eventually found his true passion: teaching. For 30 years he taught multimedia and journalism at R.L. Thomas High School.

But many Webster residents know Lee Burgess best through his work with the Webster Herald, which he started writing for in 1969.

I didn’t know Lee very well. However, I did meet him for coffee at the Atlantic Restaurant one morning years ago. We chatted about the projects he was working on, the class he was teaching at the Webster Recreation Center, and journalism in general. Many times in the following years I told myself I’d try to reconnect with him and continue that conversation. But I never got around to doing that. So on the occasion of his passing, I decided to get to know Lee Burgess a little better. I realized a good way to do that was to examine his long career with the Herald, using the terrific NY Historic Newspapers database as my guide.

Lee’s name started appearing in the Webster Herald back in 1967, even before he began writing for the paper. At the time, he was yearbook advisor for the R.L. Thomas Reveille, and his name would pop up regularly in the “Thomas Tales” column written by Marsha Kuhn and Cheryl Koopmans. In September 1968 he was introduced as the school’s new journalism teacher and advisor to the Courier, the school’s brand new newspaper.

Lee’s first bylined article seems to be one published on May 21, 1969 about the Monroe County Harvest Queen Contest (pictured below). That summer he also started to help out behind the scenes at the Herald. In his regular “Ridge Runner” column, Webster Herald editor Curt Gerling called Lee “our summer ‘swing man,’ a fellow who fills in on the editorial side for vacationing members of the regular staff.” Gerling also talked Lee into covering school board meetings.

For the next several years, Lee would occasionally write about other topics as well, including politics, new businesses, even auto accidents. But when he added sports stories to his beat, he really found his niche.

In September 1976, Lee Burgess became a regular Webster Herald columnist. His “Sports Shorts” column was a pithy, informational, opinionated look at local and national sports. But it was when he took over the weekly “Ridge Runner” column from Gerling on Feb. 1, 1989, that Lee Burgess really hit his stride. He would write that column for the next six years.

In his first column (pictured below), Lee wrote,

And what’ll the column be? A lot of opinion, the kind of argument that folks loading up on groceries at Nesbitt’s or Seitz’s in Webster or at Linken Ridge in Ontario Center can chew about. A few thought provokers that’ll make “tippling talk” at The Old Ridge Inn or Sodus Hotel. Humor to pass along while you’re waiting for ice cream at Friendly’s in Webster or Russet’s in Ontario. And some names now and then, perhaps neighbors along Eddy Ridge Road or Klem Road or kids from schools in Webster or Wayne or Williamson or Sodus.

Little bits and pieces that put the “home” and “town” into where you live.

“Ridge Runner” may very well be what Lee Burgess is best remembered for, and for good reason. He wrote the kind of small-town-weekly-newspaper column that celebrates the ordinary people, places and events that often go unnoticed but make up the fabric of a small town. Through his words, Lee Burgess brought our community together.

As his family wrote in his obituary, Lee Burgess was a “larger than life figure in Webster.” He will be missed.

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(posted 11/27/2022)

How to help feed our neighbors in need

25 Nov

During this Thanksgiving season, we need to all remember that not everyone in our community was able to sit down to a plentiful dinner on Thursday. Even here in Webster, many families simply do not have enough to eat, and children are going hungry.

Two local agencies are working hard to help out as much as they can, during the holidays AND all year ’round. Read on for some information about Webster HOPE and the Webster Community Chest and how you can help them help our community.

Webster HOPE

The mission of Webster HOPE is to serve the needs of residents in the 14580 zip code, providing food, clothing, household goods and furniture. Financial assistance, with the emphasis on preventing homelessness, is also available.

Webster HOPE is located at 1450 Ridge Rd., adjacent to Holy Trinity church. They gladly accept donations of nonperishable food, hygiene products, gently used clothing, and monetary donations. (You can even click here to donate through their PayPal site.)

They’d also love to have more volunteers to help stock the food pantry, work in the garden, organize the clothing closet or work with the clients. Email to find out how you can help.

Here are a couple of other easy ways to help out in the next several days:

  • Tuesday Nov. 29 is ROC the Day. Webster HOPE is participating for the first time and hoping to raise $5,000 to cover food costs for a whole month. Log onto to donate.
  • Shop with Amazon Smile. Designate Webster NY Hope as your charity of choice and every time you shop on Amazon a donation will be made.
  • Look for the Webster HOPE donation table set up in front of Village Hall on Saturday Dec. 3 during Webster’s Winter Wonderland. Click on the flyer below for a wish list of food and clothing items.

To read more about Webster HOPE, check out their website and Facebook page.

Webster Community Chest

For almost 75 years, the Webster Community Chest (WCC) has provided information and referrals, emergency financial assistance, food assistance, summer camp scholarships, high school senior awards for community service, and financial aid to organizations whose programs benefit Webster residents. Like Wester HOPE, the agency serves the 14580 zip code area.

This year alone, the Webster Community Chest provided

  • 878 meals to the elderly through Meals on Wheels
  • 475 meals to families
  • six high school scholarships
  • four vanloads of food to Webster HOPE
  • summer camperships
  • therapeutic services for disabled children

plus they helped 49 families avoid being evicted from their homes.

The Webster Community Chest’s annual fund drive is underway right now. To find out more about the agency and how you can help, visit their website here.

Bonnie Reynolds from WCC also just told me about a great event the agency is sponsoring next week at the Webster Public Library. She wrote,

Girl Scouts Reis Arnold and Ainsley Smith of Troop 60415 spearheaded a food drive for our Food Giveaway to be held at the Public Library on Monday Nov. 28 from 5 to 7 p.m.

People can come in and grab a bag which has ingredients for three meals, plus a recipe card. Some of the meals are themed and include Pizza Night and Italian Night. Other meals are Shepherds Pie, Taco Chicken and BBQ Chicken. The girls will be there to help distribute the bags. 

Webster Community Chest Webster Community Chest does not have a permanent home for their food pantry right now. But they do have a storage room and will be hosting pop-up food give-aways for now. We are also searching for places to put food donation boxes and for people to organize these food collections, so if you know anyone who can help …..?

Little Free Pantries

Have you heard about “Little Free Food Pantries”? They’re a great twist on Little Free Libraries. These are small, stand-alone pantries filled with non-perishable food items, where the concept is “take what you need, leave what you can.”

There are six pantries in the Webster area. Five are hosted by church congregations and can be found in the church parking lots. They’re at the Webster Baptist Church on South Ave, Immanuel Lutheran Church on West Main St., the United Church of Christ on Klem Rd., St. Martin’s Lutheran Church on Bay Rd. and Bethlehem Lutheran Church on Plank Rd. The sixth can be found at Phillips Village.

Donations can be made at any time; just drive up, open the pantry and put in your donations. So maybe next time you head to Wegmans, consider picking an extra half dozen cans of veggies, a few boxes of cereal, maybe some spaghetti, and swing by one of these pantries on the way home.

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(posted 11/25/2022)

Local Nurse Corps veteran recognized

20 Nov

In this month of November, when we make a point to recognize and thank our nation’s veterans, here’s a nice story about one of Webster’s own.

On Friday Nov. 11, Town of Webster Deputy Supervisor Patti Cataldi and Cherie Wood, from the Daughters of the American Revolution, Canandaigua Chapter, attended the Veteran’s Day ceremony held at the Maplewood nursing home. They made the trip especially to present a Certificate of Appreciation to Maplewood resident Marie Gyles.

Marie had been invited to a Thank You Celebration held on July 30 at Webster Union Ceremony to recognize first responders, veterans and the military. But due to COVID restrictions, she was unable to attend. So Cataldi and Wood brought the certificate to her.

Marie Gyles was a member of the U.S. Cadet Nurse Corps during World War II. In her remarks at the presentation, Cataldi explained,

The U.S. Cadet Nurse Corps was the nation’s first integrated uniformed U.S. service corps. It fulfilled an urgent need for nurses during World War II. During that time many nurses were called to military service to care for soldiers overseas, creating vacancies of approximately 17,000 nursing positions in civilian hospitals in the United States. Many hospitals were on the verge of collapse. In 1943 President Franklin Roosevelt signed the Nurse Training Act to provide accelerated nursing training. The federal government covered the cost of tuition, room and board, a monthly stipend and the Cadet Corps uniforms. By 1945, Cadet Nurses were providing 80% of the nursing care in the hospitals in the United States. The Corps celebrated the 75th Anniversary of their creation in 2018.

Marie began her training and was admitted to the United States Cadet Nurse Corps in August 1944 at just 18 years old. She began working as a registered nurse at a tuberculosis hospital in Auburn. She later worked in maternity and pediatric care at Wilson Hospital, where she had trained for the Cadet Corps.

Cataldi also pointed out that the U.S. Cadet Nurse Corps remains the only uniformed corps members not to be recognized as veterans. An amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act is pending approval, so hopefully that will soon change.

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(posted 11/20/2022)

My first Nutcracker will not be my last

20 Nov

I know that many will find this hard to believe, but in all my 60-plus years, I had never seen a complete version of the Nutcracker ballet. That changed a few nights ago when my friend Denise Baller of Dancing With Denise hooked me up with some excellent tickets to Friday night’s production of Nutcracker! Magical Christmas Ballet at the Auditorium Theater, so I could sit right in the middle of the auditorium to experience this magical performance for the first time.

Any of you who have had the pleasure of seeing Nutcracker know that I don’t use the word “magical” lightly. From the bright Christmas-Eve-celebration colors, costumes and staging in the first act, to the sparkling wintry scenes in Act II, I sat enraptured through the whole show.

The dancing was magnificent, of course, presented by an international cast at the top of their game. But the stars of the show? That would be the 40 local children who played the parts of mice, party kids, snowflakes and several other characters. Those little dancers included 35 Dancing With Denise students, including two with special needs.

I had to feel a little sorry for the professional dancers when the kids were performing. I’m sure I wasn’t the only one, for example, paying more attention to the little rats scurrying around the stage than the pitched battle taking place between the Rat King and the Nutcracker.

Adding to my wonderful experience, Denise was kind enough to take me to the backstage dressing rooms, where she introduced me to her young cast. I took some great photos of the kids, which you can see below.

It’s safe to say I’m already looking forward to attending this glorious production again next year.

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(posted 11/20/2022)

Mrs. Claus has reached her goal!

19 Nov

Thanks in part to the generosity of my wonderful readers, Florence “Mrs. Claus” Kinney has reached her incredible goal of collecting and donating 100,000 Christmas gifts for children.

If you don’t know her story, here it is in a nutshell:

Florence Kinney is the driving force behind a grassroots ministry which she calls “Santa’s Workshop,” dedicated to bringing presents to children who might not get many gifts, or anything, for Christmas. It began in 2003, with the purchase of just two toy trucks for two brothers who would be spending Christmas in the hospital. In the 33 years since, it has grown to the point where Santa’s Workshop has delivered more than 97,500 gifts. This year she was hoping to put that number over 100,000. (Click here to read more about the Florience and how she got started.)

On my my recent visit a few days ago, Florence told me that a donation she’d received on Tuesday night had put her over her goal, just in time for her volunteer “elves” to swoop in and start packing the toys and clothing items for delivery to agencies all over the Rochester area.

I cannot thank you all enough for helping Florence fulfill what she considers her divine mission. Several of my readers went out and bought brand new toys, socks and winter wear. Others donated new toys and books they had around the house (some which were dropped on my porch anonymously), and more than a few actually sat down and knitted or crocheted dozens of pairs of mittens, hats and scarves.

The Webster Central School District also helped out. When Superintendent Brian Neenan heard that Florence and her elves were going to be short on boxes for their deliveries, he was happy to let me bring her dozens of boxes that were being emptied at the Schlegel Elementary School library.

Here are some more photos of some of Florence’s elves:

“Santa’s Workshop” officially ramped up operations on Monday, when Florence’s elves gathered to start the packing and delivering. When I stopped by to check out the operation, Florence reiterated how grateful she is for all of your help. She considers it a miracle.

As for me, this experience has confirmed my sincere belief that there are a lot of good people out there, and when someone is in need, those good people come out of the woodwork. From the bottom of my heart, thank you for helping make Florence’s dream a reality.

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(posted 11/19/2022)

Remembering Pat Copeland

2 Nov

I heard some sad news the other day. Pat Copeland, one of the Village of Webster’s bright spots, has passed away.

I didn’t know Pat very well, but I did get to meet her a few years ago when her daughter Molly organized a surprise car and truck parade for her 90th birthday. I heard about it on Facebook and made very sure I was there for the festivities.

Precisely at noon on April 28, 2020, dozens of cars, truck and jeeps covered in banners and balloons, led by emergency vehicles all sounding their sirens and air horns, streamed past Pat’s East Main St. home as she watched with a huge grin on her face. The parade even included a drum majorette, Webster’s own Denise Baller of Dancing With Denise.

Denise still remembers the day well.

I met (Pat) after seeing a post from Molly saying she wanted to have a parade for her mom for her birthday, and wanted to have a majorette in the parade. Well, my days at Bishop Kearney were filled with high kicking as a majorette in the BK Marching Kings, so I located an old uniform and boots and coordinated with Molly to be part of the parade!

As my mom had just passed away, I knew how important it was to fulfill the desires of her elderly mom. So I was so happy to be a part of such a special day and create such a nice memory for both of them.

Another very special moment that day, Molly remembers, is when an opera singer, who had once sung the National Anthem at a Florida Marlins game, sang it and “God Bless America” for Pat. Molly wrote, “Finding such a needle in a haystack was the Lord at work giving me a hand in creating such a day!”

The community came out in droves to drive by, honk their horns and lean out their windows yelling “happy birthday!” Many others stood along the sidewalk to watch the festivities. (Click here for the blog I wrote that day.)

Pat was rather blown away by it all. In a television interview she sat for after the parade was over, she told the reporter, “I don’t know where they all came from. (Molly) certainly went out of her way to create a birthday I will remember forever.”

“I’m overwhelmed. I just couldn’t breathe,” she added. “It’s a wonderful gift, a marvelous gift.”

Pat passed away on Saturday Oct. 15, at the age of 92. Her daughter Molly writes that she was not afraid to pass, that she was looking forward to seeing her brother, sisters, husband and friends.

Molly wrote, “The entire family, immediate and extended, will miss her dearly as she never left anyone with anything less than a smile.” It’s fitting, then, that in her later days, the Village of Webster community was able to bring a smile to her face.

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(posted 11/2/2022)