2020 in review


2020 was one for the books. From COVID-19 to extreme weather to a “Tiger King” arrest in Granville to a pig on parade on Whitehall, there was plenty to report on. Here are some highlights from the year that was.

COVID-19

How do you discuss the virus that has so thoroughly disrupted our lives except to say that life as we know it changed in March 2020, as schools, businesses, county and country shut down in response to the novel coronavirus?

Events were postponed and then canceled, schools were shuttered for an indefinite period of time, businesses closed up shop, New York State went on PAUSE and we entered a waiting period until warmer weather and mitigation methods like masks and social distancing had time to do their work.

Life has not returned to normal yet; we are in the midst of another wave of infections as the virus mutates into a more transmissible form, but a vaccine has been developed in record time and is in the midst of being slowly distributed, first to essential front-line health workers, then the elderly and maybe by springtime 2021 to the general population.
Who could have imagined what we have experienced over the last 10 months? It’s been a rollercoaster of a year and everything that happened during 2020 has been in some way affected by the virus.

Pig on parade

2020 began with a picture of this hairy swine running along County Route 12 in the Town of Whitehall. Town supervisor John Rozell confirmed the sighting, saying he saw the porker near his deer processing facility “looking like it wanted to get eaten.” Rozell said that in his 30-plus years of butchering wild game, he only saw one wild boar, which was tagged in Canada and brought south. The species of pig was in debate, with some arguing Whitehall finally had its first confirmed sighting of a baby Sasquatch, but the soon after the photo ran, the pig was identified as Wilbur, part-pot belly pig who can be seen walking on the side of the road on CountyRoute 12 almost daily. While Wilbur’s home is on Beckett Road under the care of David Woodruff, the pig spends much of his time visiting his friends at the neighboring Amish farms.

Candidate interviews

Austin Crosier, Dan Stec, Jay Mullen and Jared Stamm

The Sentinel reached out to local candidates for elective office in October. NYVT Media reporters Austin Crosier, Jay Mullen, editor Jared Stamm and publisher Mark Vinciguerra sat down in the newspaper’s East Main Street office with Claudia Braymer (D), Matt Simpson (R) and Evelyn Wood (Serving America Movement) who were running for the New York State Assembly’s 114th District seat; Dan Stec (R) and Kimberly Davis (D) who were battling to be the voice in Albany for the North Country’s 45th District after New York State Senator Betty Little’s recent retirement; and U.S. House of Representatives 21st District incumbent Elise Stefanik (R) and challenger Tedra Cobb (D) who discussed their respective qualifications, plans and aspirations to serve the North Country in Washington, DC.

Articles and the full, unedited interviews were published in the paper and posted online at https://nyvtmedia.com/2020/11/02/2020-election-results/

Huge mural celebrates Telescope in Granville

Artist Jordan Flower came back to Granville this summer to start work on a 3,700-square-foot mural celebrating Telescope Casual Furniture’s 100 years in Granville. The artist, who lives and teaches in Richmond, Virginia, spent every other weekend in Granville working on the mural, which is being painted on the side of the furniture company’s buildings facing Church Street and is devoting about 30 linear feet of wall to each decade that Telescope has been in Granville. The company, founded in 1903, moved its operations from New York City to Granville in 1921. Telescope CEO Kathy Juckett, who commissioned Flower for this new project said: “We’re really excited to see it evolve. Jordan is starting the mural in black and white and gradually working in color. We love collaborating with him and look forward to having the mural completed for our 100-years-in-Granville celebration next summer.” At 3,700 square feet, the mural is a much bigger undertaking than the 200-square-foot mural Flower painted overlooking Main Street last summer.

R.I.P Jim Brooks

Jim Brooks

While en route to a structure fire in Dresden on May 2, Whitehall Volunteer Fire Company Second Assistant Chief Jim Brooks “sustained a life-threatening medical emergency.” The Whitehall community rallied around its beloved friend and family member as he endured surgery, a stroke and what was expected to be a long road to recovery. Sadly, Brooks passed away at approximately 10:30 a.m. on Friday, Sept. 18 at his sister’s home in Gansevoort.

When the news of his passing broke people from Whitehall, local surrounding communities and beyond started posting to Facebook sending their thoughts and prayers to the Brooks family.

Even the flags at the National Fallen Firefighters Memorial in Emmitsburg, Maryland were flown at halfstaff.

Sold! Not sold! Sold!

The saga of the former TD Bank parcel on Main Street played out over a number of months, first with a joint bid by the town and village of Granville in late 2019 to purchase the building for use as a joint municipal center, then with a blistering meeting early in 2020 at which Mayor Paul Labas faced an onslaught of questions from requests for public access to the engineering report of the Main Street property and whether the town and village were merging to just how much the endeavor would cost. Resident John Freed, who led the charge said, “I’ve been here 59 years it’s news to me. I miss one meeting and we bought a building.” Following months of scrutiny and criticism, the Granville Village Board voted unanimously to abandon the joint village-town venture. And then in August, the building was sold for $70,000 to Compu-Design USA, a Florida-based retailer of computer hardware, software, accessories and telecommunication devices.

‘Tiger King’ star arrested

Timothy Lee Stark

The Granville Police Department certainly was not expecting to arrest any celebrities in the early morning hours of Oct. 8, but Timothy Lee Stark, 55, of Indiana, famously known from the hit Netflix documentary “Tiger King,” was arrested and charged with one count of intimidation, a Level 6 felony, and one count of battery, a Class B misdemeanor, stemming from warrants out of Indiana. “Around 11 o’clock last night, the State Police in Granville received a call from an individual reporting that they believed that Tim Stark, from the TV show ‘Tiger King,” was staying at the Station House Bed and Breakfast,” Sgt. Ryan Pedone of Granville Police Department said. Stark openly admitted to why he had warrants out for his arrest while he was on vacation in Granville and was planning on turning himself into Indiana authorities when ready.

Elementary school confirms COVID-19 case

Whitehall Elementary School confirmed its first positive COVID-19 case on Sept. 28, which necessitated closing the school for one day. Parents and students took the news in stride, however, confident that the school would take the necessary precautions. Students returned to school on Sept. 30, none the worse for wear and ready to return to class.

Granville got a brand-new track

Granville High School’s new track opened in September.

The first phase of the Granville Central School District’s multi-million-dollar capital project was completed in the fall, including work in the high school and elementary school rooms,work at Mary J. Tanner School not far off and a brand new track and football field scoreboard installed. The new track opened for use on Sept. 21 and boasts a blue surface and gold-painted lines, representing Granville’s school colors. The second phase, which includes renovations in the 1923 wing of the high school, auditorium, cafeteria, library, tech wing and construction of a greenhouse, is scheduled to start next summer. Total cost of the project is $15.9 million, with the first phase totaling $7 million.

The scene outside Whitehall Central School on Aug. 24

Strong storms pound Whitehall

Severe storms and flooding affected Whitehall and surrounding communities in northern Washington County on Monday, Aug. 24. Mayor Phil Smith said he was told Whitehall was deluged with four to six inches of rain in a one-hour span, with many residents experiencing flooding in their basements from the high amounts of rain. The Whitehall Fire Department performed pump-outs to 30 to 40 homes, businesses were forced to close, the town hall was virtually destroyed and plans to send students back to Whitehall High School were scrapped as the entire school was impacted by standing water. Whitehall superintendent Patrick Dee continued through the ensuing months to do battle with the New York Schools Insurance Reciprocal, which denied much of the district’s claim for damages. Nevertheless, by year’s end, the school planned to open four classrooms for students.

Winter storm packs a punch

Not going anywhere!

The storm that dropped between two and three feet of snow throughout the region beginning Wednesday evening, Dec. 16, through Thursday afternoon, Dec. 17, had been estimated to leave the area with about 8 to 12 inches of the fluffy white stuff before moving on as of a winter storm warning issued by the National Weather Service on Wednesday afternoon. When the snow finally tapered off in the late morning/early afternoon on Thursday, local accumulations reported by the NWS were from 30 inches in Hartford to 30.2 inches in Granville, 32.2 inches in Cambridge, 38.0 inches in Salem and Greenwich and an astonishing 39.5 inches in Cossayuna. Vermont’s totals were somewhat less, in the range of one to two feet.

On Saturday, Sept. 26, Jim was laid to rest, and fire companies from surrounding areas came to celebrate his life and mourn his passing.
As the procession began from the fire house to Our Lady of Hope Church on Wheeler Avenue, members from multiple fire companies stood and saluted.
It was a fitting tribute to a man who was known as a selfless person who was always available for anyone and everyone no matter their need.

Controversy plagues the Pember

The Pember’s new elevator

A late-breaking story described the deteriorating relationship over the past two years between the Pember Library and Museum of Natural History and the Village of Granville that has led to a loss of trust on both sides, stemming mostly from the $800,000 Capital Investment project that resulted in the construction of the ADA-approved elevator at the Pember.

Shooting range subject of scrutiny

Daniel Banyai

A three-part series about Slate Ridge, a shooting range facility in West Pawlet, Vermont described the controversy between owner Daniel Banyai and his neighbors. Banyai says his secluded, off-the-grid location just outside of a slate quarry is simply a place that provides education on the proper use and defense of firearms free of charge: “I’m passionate about people learning how to shoot guns properly. If you come here, we will never turn you away.” However, neighbors to Slate Ridge are concerned for their safety, the environment and the value of their property.

Whitehall native sons gain recognition

The end of the year brought good news about two Whitehall natives: Mark Mulholland and Codie Bascue. Mulholland was promoted to co-anchor for the 5 p.m. and 6 p.m. WNYT-TV NewsChannel 13 newscasts, succeeding Jim Kambrich, who retired after 26 years with the station in this role. Mulholland’s first job in the field of journalism was with the Whitehall Times when he was 16.

Codie Bascue

Bobsledder Codie Bascue took another step toward returning to the Olympics in Beijing, China, in 2022 by dominating the Team USA trials at Mount Vanhovenberg in Lake Placid in late November and early December, after which he was named the driver of USA-1 for the 2020-2021 USA Men’s Bobsled National Team. Bascue earned his seat at the controls of USA-1 by winning three of the four selection races. Athletes competed in a series of four selection races – two two-man races and two four-man races– to qualify for the team. Bascue graduated from Whitehall High School in 2012. He competed on the Railroaders’ football, baseball and track and field teams.

Village adds new police officer

Damian Duffy

Early in the year police chief Ernie Bassett requested the hiring of another full-time police officer for the Village of Whitehall, bringing the number of full-time police officers to three to ensure adequate coverage for Whitehall at all times. By the end of the month, Damian Duffy’s hire was approved by the village board. As the current budget allowed for three full-time officers on payroll and with the resignation of an officer in May 2019, Duffy was easily slotted into that vacancy.

Whitehall Studios continues to attract attention

Whitehall Studios

David Brown, the new owner of the former Budget Inn, wanted to make it clear early in 2020 that changes were on the way. Over the next year, Brown said, he would pursue transforming the property from its troubled motel past into affordable living spaces, called the “Whitehall Studios.” However, problems have remained for the space, which community members at a town meeting in August said has not improved as quickly as they might have hoped and still attracts the wrong kind of tenant. At the meeting, Brown provided reassurance that he was working to evict residents who are “not so great.” In early November, the motel suffered damage from a fire in the attic that displaced 28 residents. Brown said an engineer deemed the property structurally sound and that he was waiting for National Grid to restore services to the apartments. After that things will “go back to the way they were,” aside from the repairs that need to be made in the two units affected.

Pair sentenced for kidnapping

More than a year had passed since two Missouri men kidnapped a pair of Whitehall girls. On Nov. 13, they both were sentenced in Washington County Court. Bradley R. Mittler was sentenced to 15 years in state prison after pleading guilty in January for first-degree kidnapping, while Brian Hafer was sentenced to five years in prison after pleading guilty in October to second-degree attempted kidnapping. Both men involved will have to register as sex offenders upon release from prison. Washington County District Attorney Tony Jordan said that they unfortunately see this kind of thing too often. “We always are warning our youngsters,” he said. The kidnapping took place on Aug. 29, 2019 when Mittler and Hafer came up with a plan to get the girls they had been communicating with to meet up with them at a hotel. After Mittler and Hafer became aware that the girls were reported missing and they realized they could be in trouble they dropped the girls off at a diner in Ohio. The parents of the two girls reported them missing to law enforcement, who were able to catch up with Mittler and Hafer and take them into custody.