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Kateri’s sainthood, chamber merger among top news

December 28, 2012
AMANDA MAY METZGER , The Leader Herald

The Montgomery and Fulton county chambers this year merged to form one chamber with more than 1,000 businesses, the Gloversville Senior Center laid off its director after nearly closing in 2011, and Montgomery County's Kateri Tekakwitha was named a saint in October.

Those issues were among the top local tourism, religion and social news stories in 2012.

Chambers merge

Article Photos

The Leader-Herald/Bill Trojan
The Rev, George H. Belgarde speaks from the pulpit with a painting of Kateri Tekakwitha alongside him during the Mass of Thanksgiving in honor of the canonization of Kateri Tekakwitha at the Shrine of Our Lady of Martyrs in Auriesville on Oct. 21. Kateri had lived in Montgomery County.

Members of the Fulton and Montgomery county chambers voted April 26 to merge into one organization.

The combined chambers will be known as the Fulton-Montgomery Regional Chamber of Commerce.

The merger was approved by the state attorney general's office. The process is ongoing, though, as the merger requires judicial review before a state Supreme Court judge. Then it requires approval by the Department of State as a valid corporation.

A new saint

Pope Benedict XVI on Oct. 21 named Kateri Tekakwitha a saint in Vatican City while thousands gathered at the Shrine of Our Lady of Martyrs to celebrate the first Native American to be named a saint.

Many traveled to the shrine in Auriesville and the National Kateri Shrine on Route 5.

For the local shrines, Kateri's sainthood ended years of efforts to have Kateri named a saint.

Kateri was born in 1656 to an Algonquin mother and a Mohawk chief in the Mohawk village of Canaouaga, which now is Auriesville. Her father was a pagan Iroquois and her mother was Christian.

Kateri was beatified as Catherine Tekakwitha in 1980 by Pope John Paul II.

In 2011, a miracle involving an ill boy in 2006 was signed by Pope Benedict XVI, paving the way for canonization.

Church closes

In Gloversville, nearly 200 people gathered in the sanctuary for the First Presbyterian Church's final service in June, including at least seven musicians and two choirs invited to join the congregational choir. The church closed after 148 years in the city.

Paul Nigra

Many mourned the death of Paul Nigra in March. He served as executive director of Lexington Center for 42 years and fostered the organization's growth into one of the largest employers in Fulton County.

He died of complications from Lou Gehrig's disease at age 69.

Lexington Center's current executive director, Shaloni Winston, who has been the director since summer 2010, when Nigra retired, said he was "an amazing person. I never knew anyone like him. He made everyone feel better about themselves."

In a message to Lexington that Nigra had typed on his iPad, he said, "Briefly and simply, my family and Lexington have given me such a full and complete life that my gratitude for that far outweighs any remorse about an early exit."

Nigra came to Lexington in 1968, when it was a small operation based in the former Lexington Avenue elementary school in Gloversville. Lexington, the Fulton County ARC chapter, serves people with disabilities. It was founded in 1954 by families of children with disabilities.


Many lamented the fact that the Veterans of Foreign Wars' Bernard Kearney Memorial Post 2077 closed its doors this year due to budgetary troubles.

The post voted in November to dissolve itself of its assets, turn in its charter and transfer its members to the VFW Post 8690 in Broadalbin.

The post has faced financial trouble for more than a year and has been trying to get back money embezzled by a veteran who was sentenced to prison last November. The veteran, city resident Ralph VanAlstyne Sr., was ordered to pay restitution, but so far, the veterans group has received nothing, officials said.

VanAlstyne, who held positions of control at the VFW post, the American Legion post and the Disabled American Veterans Chapter 122, was sentenced to two to six years in state prison after admitting to stealing at least $186,000 from the three groups.

The court ordered VanAlstyne to pay the VFW $70,930, the American Legion $50,917 and the Disabled American Veterans $65,679.

The groups claim at least $300,000 actually was taken, but authorities could prove only the theft of $186,000.

Senior center

cuts director

At another local nonprofit group, the Senior Citizens Service Center of Gloversville & Fulton County cut its director position in October.

Executive Director Catherine Mueller, who worked at the center since 2005, was cut. The center's budget is about $100,000, and Mueller was paid about $24,000 in 2011.

Board of Directors President Eugene Reppenhagen said it's unfortunate the decision had to be made. Mueller was liked by everyone at the center, he said in October.

In June 2011, the board announced the center would have to close due to financial difficulties.

However, due to donations - including contributions of $41,000 and $25,000 - the center was able to stay open.

YMCA building

The expanded Fulton County YMCA residency building on East Fulton Street reopened 14 months after construction began.

The expansion doubled the number of beds offered through the affordable-housing program.

The deteriorating pool and gym area of the structure was removed, making way for a parking lot.

The first and second floors now offer 11 apartments with a total of 23 beds.

In October 2010, the city Zoning Board approved two area variances the YMCA needed to proceed with construction. The YMCA at that point agreed to drop two lawsuits against the city, including a federal lawsuit seeking $5 million in punitive damages under the Americans with Disabilities Act, Fair Housing Act and other statutes. Another suit had been filed in state Superior Court.

The renovations were funded through a $3.5 million grant to the YMCA from the state Office of Temporary Disability Assistance.

The YMCA was awarded two additional grants in December - $552,000 over five years and $50,000 for work that is not covered under the current renovation project - which will help hire more staff.

Kinderhook project

In another project, the $11 million affordable-housing apartment complex planned by Kinderhook Development is expected to be completed in May after a court battle with the city.

The project includes four two-story buildings on the property at 62 W. State St.

Since the project was proposed in 2009, residents in the area have voiced concerns about it.

Particularly, some were concerned the development might exacerbate groundwater problems and change the character of their neighborhood.

Construction on the housing project began earlier this year.



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