Forty years in Albany; two score!

Shall the city of Albany accept the offer of Mr. Andrew Carnegie of $150,000 for public library purposes?

Albany.land trustIt had totally slipped my mind that I have lived for forty years in Albany, NY. I moved to an apartment on the corner of Morris and Ontario Streets in August 1979 My intention was to attend graduate school at SUNY Albany in Public Administration.

I spent one year in grad school, pretty much hating it for a variety of reasons. Working at FantaCo, the comic book store, was meant to be a summer job; it turned out to be 8.5 years. After a little over a year at a not-great insurance job, I went back to UAlbany, this time to library school.

I worked for the NY Small Business Development Center for 26.7 years, in five different spaces. This included two in the same building, and one in Corporate (frickin’) Woods, also the general locale of the insurance job.

Since I lived in close to a dozen places in my first two decades here, my friends told me they put my information in their address books in pencil. I resided on both Morris Street in the Pine Hills section, and on Lancaster Street, off of Lark, two different times. The nice two-family house where I lived in the West Hill section of town now has a red X on it.

Before I moved to Albany, I resided in Schenectady, in the same metropolitan area. Though less than 20 miles apart, they’re quite different places. Schenectady has had Democratic mayors and Republican mayors.

1902

Forty years in Albany means that Erastus Corning 2nd, “the longest-serving mayor of a major American city,” was still running the show. The Democrats have been in control for nearly a century, and the Republicans for the previous 30 years before that. I blame the patroons.

In 2007, the city voted to create a much more robust library system. This was in stark contrast to a century earlier. From the Library Journal, volume 27, Nov 1902, under NEW YORK STATE LIBRARY SCHOOL, CALENDAR, 17TH SCHOOL YEAR, 19O2-3, NOTES AND NEWS:

“The students have been interested in watching the Carnegie library campaign, which culminated on election day, Nov. 4. The following question was submitted to the people on a separate ballot: Shall the city of Albany accept the offer of Mr. Andrew Carnegie of $150,000 for public library purposes?

“The offer was rejected by a majority of 5056. There were 7152 votes for and 12,208 votes against the proposition, 23,334 being the total city vote cast for Governor. Only four out of 19 wards gave a majority for the library.”

Albany was one of the relatively few cities in the US that rejected a Carnegie library because they didn’t want the comparatively small cost of maintenance. So Albany has evolved somewhat.

Sometimes, my wife asks where we might move to if ever that was our choice. I dunno. Right now, I’m within three blocks of a pharmacy, a grocery store, a library branch, a police station, a half dozen restaurants, and at least four bus lines. Whatever its flaws – and there are still a few – Albany is still home.

Demisemiseptcentennial or dodransbicentennial?

Rats and cops and drug dealers

175thMy grad school alma mater, UAlbany, is celebrating its 175th anniversary. It was founded in 1844 as the New York State Normal School. It became the Normal College in 1890, the College for Teachers in 1914, and a university in 1962. So 2019 is its demisemiseptcentennial.

WHAT? Demisemiseptcentennial is literally one-half (demi-) x one-half (semi-) x seven (sept-) x 100 years (centennial). Is this a real word? Villanova used it 2017.

According to the Wikipedia, the Latin-based term for 175th anniversary should be dodransbicentennial. It’s from “a whole unit less a quarter,” but I’d never heard that one and I’m even less likely to remember it. My spell checker likes neither of the terms.


There’s a large window behind me where I work in downtown Albany, on the third floor. (Note to self: Water the plant!)

About 4:50 p.m., I hear some male voice yelling. I assume he’s part of an argument. But looking up the street, I see just one guy . He’s carrying some sort of plastic bucket, with stuff, and holding a thin white pole. Even from fifty meters away, I can tell he has holes in the knees of his jeans, and it was cold enough for him to be wearing his dark knit cap.

I tune him out and leave to catch the 5:40 p.m. bus. When I exit the building, the guy is still there. Now I can understand what he was saying: “Rats and cops and drug dealers”, which he repeated every ten seconds, sometimes directed at worried pedestrians.

The #10 Western Avenue bus arrives and folks queue up to enter it. The guy mumbles, “Oh, this will do,” and returns to his litany. He enters, then stands near the front of the bus, saying to nearby customers his message. The driver miraculously ignores him.

Sometimes he adds a few words. “Do you you know it’s rats, and cops and drug dealers?” At least one rider is amused, but others are clearly terrified.

He gets off at the stop near the Washington Avenue branch of the library. At once, I am both relieved that the auditory performance is over, and worried the APL patrons will be subjected to it.

Beauty and the Beast; Sweet Charity

I should note that in Beauty and the Beast, Belle was played by Alexa, my niece – my BIL’s daughter.

Beauty and the BeastMy family saw two high school musicals the last weekend in March, Beauty and the Beast at Catskill HS and Sweet Charity at Albany HS. They both were excellent, so I’ll be rooting for both schools in a competition.

“The School of Performing Arts at Proctors announces the 3rd Annual HIGH SCHOOL MUSICAL THEATRE AWARDS for New York’s Capital Region in partnership with The Broadway League. Fashioned after Broadway’s Tony Awards…”

Our family attended the awards event last year. Caitlin Van Loan was nominated as best supporting actress for playing Marion the Librarian’s mom in Catskill’s The Music Man; she was excellent this year as Mrs. Potts.

Annabelle Duffy WON as best actress in AHS’ Hairspray last year, and got to represent “the Capital Region at The National High School Musical Theatre Awards competition in New York City” last June. She played Charity this year. Albany also won three other awards in 2018, including best choreography.

I should note that in Beauty and the Beast, Belle was played by Alexa, my niece – my BIL’s daughter. She’s been in the CHS productions for seven years – and I believe I’ve seen them all – but this is her first lead. My unbiased opinion is that she was very good.

So was the guy playing the Beast, Magnus Bush; Alexa and Magnus are pictured. The performers playing Lumiere, Gaston, Cogsworth, Madame Bouche and many others were also strong. There are far more decent male singers in the CHS productions than there were even three or four years.

While the Albany HS productions have been solid for a while, there has been a real emphasis on its social relevance in recent years. So they’ve taken the historically sexist play, written by Neil Simon, and attempted to give it a feminist spin.

I was unfamiliar with the story of Sweet Charity, though I knew three songs: Big Spender, If My Friends Could See Me Now, and the faux religious The Rhythm of Life.

In any case, we’re making plans to attend the High School Musical Theatre Awards ceremony on May 11 at 7 p.m. at Proctors.

Rev. Robert Pennock (1926 – 2019)

The funeral of Robert Pennock will be on Saturday, February 16 at our old stomping grounds, Trinity UMC.

Bob PennockThe third funeral I will sing at this calendar year is for the Rev. Robert Pennock.

At the FOCUS churches service in early February, I happened to be sitting behind Nancy, an alto at Trinity United Methodist Church in Albany. I used to sing with Nancy there until 2000 and “the troubles.”

Nancy enjoyed my familiar voice behind her. It prompted me to say that back in the 1990s, that Trinity choir was really good. And Bob Pennock was a large part of that.

I generally sat near Bob in the choir loft. When I joined the ensemble in early 1983, my choir singing skills were rusty. As the bass soloist and section leader, he was quite helpful in getting me on track.

He and his wife Holly often hosted choir functions at their home. I watched his younger kids, David and Jessica, grow up in the church.

There was a move at Trinity in 1997 or early 1998 to consider changing the organizational structure of Trinity. It was allowed by the United Methodist governing body. But it was Bob who rightly said, “Where are the checks and balances?” The proposed plan, it seemed, gave too much power to the pastor.

As a minister ordained the year I was born, he immediately recognized the potential for usurpation of congregational authority. He voiced what I, who had served as chair of the Administrative Board, had only been thinking.

Someone said, “Give [the new structure] a chance,” and it was passed. Just as predicted by Bob, the pastor achieved more control without accountability, which led to my departure and that of others less than three years later.

I would see Bob only sporadically after that, including at least twice at a small rural church he served as pastor in the early 2000s.

The funeral of Robert Pennock will be on Saturday, February 16 at our old stomping grounds, Trinity UMC. We will sing two John Rutter pieces, The Lord is My Shepherd from the Requiem, and The Lord Bless You and Keep You, music I first learned while I was singing with Bob and Holly.

Reverend Bob Lamar (1922-2019)

Bob Lamar had become the senior pastor of First Presbyterian Church of Albany in 1958, and served in that capacity until 1992.

Bob LamarLong before I started attending First Presbyterian Church in Albany in 2000, I knew Bob Lamar. My previous church, Trinity United Methodist, only two blocks away, was part of something called the FOCUS churches. FOCUS was where faith communities of different backgrounds (initially Baptist, Presbyterian and Methodist) worked together to create a food pantry and other needed functions. Bob Lamar was instrumental in bring that about.

Periodically, there would be joint FOCUS services, so I got to sing at First Presbyterian, my current church, and see the then-current pastor, Reverend Lamar. I wouldn’t know for another decade and a half why he was so interested in the folks in the other choirs. It was that he himself had a beautiful singing voice – I saw him perform with his old quartet when he was in his eighties, and he sounded quite good – and had other musical talents as well.

His oldest son Paul is quoted in a news article that his father “knew from when he was a teenager he wanted to go into the ministry.” Robert Clayton Lamar graduated from Yale University (1943) and Yale Divinity School (1946).

After a stint in a Connecticut church, Bob had become the senior pastor of First Presbyterian Church of Albany in 1958, and served in that capacity until 1992. He was instrumental in developing an interfaith community in the Capital District with then-Bishop Howard Hubbard of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Albany and the late Rabbi Martin Silverman. After leaving the first Pres pulpit, Bob became executive director of the Capital Area Council of Churches. He was a lion in the ecumenical movement, not just locally but nationwide.

A bit of his history I only discovered recently is that Bob Lamar rose to become moderator of the United Presbyterian Church in 1974. He was co-chair of of the Joint Committee on Presbyterian Reunion from 1969-83 that resulted in the unification of the southern and northern branches of the church. Being a Methodist, I knew that denomination had its own racial and geographic skeletons before the United Methodist Church was created in 1968.

He was always very active in social justice concerns, both locally and nationally. He served as an officer and/or board member for a slew of organizations way too numerous to mention here. So he had a lot of amount of gravitas by the time I was attending First Pres.

But I never found pompous or self-absorbed. He was genuinely interested in what others had to say, even this former Methodist. As his obituary read, he had “lived a life of faith, gratitude and grace.” I’m pleased to be part of the choir honoring him on January 25 at 11 a.m. at FPC.