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Positively famous

Former Johnstown mayor may be selected to join another Hall of Fame

March 27, 2011
By RODNEY MINOR, The Leader-Herald

JOHNSTOWN - When Bill Pollak hears people talk about killing time, the former mayor of the city has trouble understanding that sentiment.

With interests ranging from beautifying the city to spreading ideas and encouraging reading with deliveries of "brain food," Pollak has plenty to do.

"I'm not just going to sit here and watch TV," the 75-year-old former teacher said at his Prindle Avenue home Wednesday.

Article Photos

Bill Pollak, former mayor of Johnstown and longtime Johnstown High?School teacher, shows articles involving his accomplishments and activities on Thursday in Gloversville.
The Leader-Herald/Bill?Trojan

That same energy and drive to help others and improve the city may get Pollak selected to another Hall of Fame.

Pollak - already a member of the Glove Cities Colonials' Hall of Fame and one of the first inductees into the Greater Johnstown School District's Hall of Fame - is one of the semifinalists to be the 2011 inductee into the Energizer Keep Going Hall of Fame.

Pollak said his daughter, Sue, sent in information for the contest.

"I actually have no idea what it's about," he said.

"[Pollak] is being recognized for his unstoppable energy and commitment to making a positive impact," a news release from Energizer said.

Wally Hart, president of the Fulton County Regional Chamber of Commerce & Industry, said he has seen the positive effect Pollak's energy can have over the years.

As a student at Johnstown High School in the late 1970s, Hart was part of a group Pollak organized to pick up recyclables around the city.

"He has been a mover and a shaker for a long time. He still is," Hart said.

Hart noted Pollak was concerned about beautifying and cleaning up the city long before he became mayor.

"That was always [Pollak's] thing," he said.

Beautifying the city

Pollak, who retired in 1996 after teaching for 32 years at Johnstown High School, served as mayor from 1998 through 2001.

He became well known for traveling around the city, often after spending hours at City Hall, picking up litter that was improperly disposed of.

Pollak said the idea was simple: Keeping properties clean and attractive made the city look more appealing to residents and visitors.

It was not always an easy thing to do, however.

Pollak and a city Department of Public Works employee were hit by a van on West State Street in 1998. Pollak ended up with stitches and broken leg, but still managed to make it to an event soon after attended by then-Gov. George Pataki.

In 1999, Pollak was charged with trespassing after he returned a bag of garbage to a Market Street woman after she put it out on the curb almost a week before pickup. That case was settled after the two parties agreed to drop the charges.

In 2001, he was charged with petit larceny, and later trespassing, on a complaint he removed a tipped over jug of windshield washer fluid and a broken sled from a yard on West State Street, which he believed to be trash. The case was later thrown out of court.

While Pollak admits he is still upset about how some officials chose to handle the petit larceny charge, he has no regrets about getting his hands dirty.

"The whole process was aggravating, but I've been doing this my whole life," Pollak said. "I would rather set the example than sit here and philosophize about what someone should do."

Mayor Sarah Slingerland said Pollak proved himself to be a creative and capable leader who worked with others to get trees planted downtown and helped launch the sidewalk replacement program.

Pollak's passion and concern for the city affected other people, Slingerland said. His beautification efforts are something she has tried to build on since taking office in 2006.

"[Pollak's work] was a really good thing," Slingerland said. "It made people think about their community."

As a way to encourage reading and get people thinking, Pollak has been making deliveries of "brain food" for years.

It started when he was a teacher in high school, he said, giving students newspapers and saying "Here's some brain food for you."

It is a practice Pollak continues with his friends and some former students. Some of the articles - culled from a variety of magazines and newspapers - even have a little stamp that says "Food For Thought From Bill Pollak."

Hart frequently gets deliveries of "brain food."

"The teacher in him still comes through," Hart said.

What takes up many of Pollak's thought's lately has been the Greater Johnstown School District Museum.

Pollak, the curator of the museum in what was the original fieldhouse at Knox Field, said the museum contains memorabilia from Johnstown schools going all the way back to the turn of the 20th century.

He proudly noted they are still collecting items for the museum, such as articles marking the closing of Jansen Avenue school.

"That's not something you'll see in most schools," Pollak said.

While it's hard to imagine Pollak slowing down, he said the death of his son Michael in 2009 has taken some of his energy.

However, he remains committed to working at the museum, volunteering with the United Way of Fulton County, assisting local animal shelters, and helping his friends whenever he can. That does not even include the numerous organizations he and his wife, Winnie - including the Friends of the Johnstown Library and the Anti-Defamation League - help support.

"I just try to pitch in and make things better than they are now," Pollak said.

While Pollak said there are some things that could use improvement - including more dead trees being removed around the city and areas along the Rail Trail being cleaned up - the city is by no means going downhill.

However, when Pollak sees something that could be better, he will not hesitate to say so.

"I mean well," he said, noting with a laugh "But I am aggressive."

According to the Energizer Keep Going Hall of Fame website, at, the top 10 finalists will be announced April 4. People will be able to vote at the website from April 4 to May 13 for the winner from that group.



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