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January 22, 2015 - 4:33pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in business, books, corfu, Kutter's Cheese, Tony Kutter.

Imagine a country with only one kind of cheese. If you can, you're thinking of Russia in the aftermath of the fall of communism.

That was the situation Tony Kutter found on his first trip in 1995 to the former Soviet Union as part of a trade exchange program to help aspiring Russian entrepreneurs learn how to start cheesemaking businesses.

Who better to teach how to make and market more than one kind of cheese than the 81-year-old Corfu resident who is a former owner of Kutter's Cheese, a cheesemaker with a reputation for developing dozens of varieties of cheese.

That's what leaders of the exchange program thought after Kutter volunteered for the assignment and his resume landed on their desks.

It was one of Kutter's suppliers who suggested he apply for the volunteer position.

"He said, 'just send in your resume,' so I did," Kutter said. "I did and as soon as I did they responded right away. 'Oh, this is the one we're looking for.' "

Working through Agricultural Cooperative Development International, Overseas Cooperation Assistance and Citizens Network for Foreign Affairs, all three nonprofit, private organizations based in Washington, D.C., Kutter made 31 trips to Russia over a 12-year span.

Batavia's own Barber Conabel, then president of the World Bank, was among the first to suggest Kutter write a book about his experiences during those many trips.

"He said, 'you've got to write a book,' " Kutter said. "He said, 'I don't know anyone who has been there 31 times and all over Russia.' "

The book is published now and it's called "Cheese in the Time of Glasnost and Perestroika."

Kutter tells the tales, recalls the tribulations and revisits the sometimes sad family histories of the people he met while helping to build cheese plants, instructing cheesemakers on marketing, and sharing with them the recipes for any variety of cheese from munster to gouda to cheese curds.

"I got over there and said, 'geez, you make one kind of cheese and it ain't very damn good,' " Kutter said. "So I took about 20 varieties over from our cheese factory and told them, 'tell me what you want to make and I'll show you how to do it.' "

The organizations sponsoring these missions -- and there were many -- wanted to help Russia transition from a command economy to a market economy and help open up the country to U.S. goods and services. American companies helped sponsor the programs in the hopes of developing a new market.

Goals that haven't exactly been met.

His first mission was to help start a cheese factory in St. Petersburg. This mission was also Kutter's first introduction to Russian bureaucracy and the national penchant to operate on bribery.

Organizations sponsoring Kutter's trips purchased supplies for the new factory and Kutter arrived at the border with the equipment. 

A customs official wanted to know, "What the heck is this stuff?"

It's for making cheese, Kutter told him.

The official went through the boxes and proclaimed, "This isn't humanitarian aid. You falsified the papers."  

The fine was $75,000.

Kutter returned to the U.S. without the new factory in place, but when he returned a few months later, the factory was ready to start making cheese. All of the new equipment was installed and ready to go.

He wanted to know how it happened.

"Let's not get into that," he was told. "That's not for you to know."

Kutter added, "everything in Russia is predicated on a bribe. It's still that way."

Sadly, the St. Petersburg factory went bankrupt after two years, but others Kutter helped start are still operational.

In his travels, Kutter was often invited into the homes of his Russian hosts and he often quizzed the older Russians about life under the former Soviet regime.

When Stalin died, Kutter was serving in the Army in Korea and he remembers reading in "Stars and Stripes" about people weeping in the streets, so he asked one old Russian gentleman, "did you cry when Stalin died?"

The man said, no. He wasn't really all that saddened by the brutal dictator's death.

The man told Kutter, "I put spit in my eyes so it looked like I was crying."

Kutter had dinner with a woman whose husband was taken to Siberia during Khrushchev's rule.

The couple had eight children. The man's crime? He took a bag of grain so he could feed his family.

The mother wrote her husband every day, but never got a reply.  They assumed the letters were getting to him, but that he wasn't allowed to respond.

In 1975, after Brezhnev became chairman, she received a letter informing her that her husband "had been killed unnecessarily." The package contained all the letters she had ever sent him.

"I can tell dozens of stories like that," Kutter said.

In the town of Perm, Kutter helped establish a cheese factory and taught the owners how to make a great variety of cheeses, all of which most Russians had never even tried.

He told his hosts that with these great cheeses ready to sell, they needed a way to market them. Thinking of the booming tourist business Kutter's has always done in Pembroke, Kutter suggested they set up a sample table at City Hall. 

As a condition of the permit, Kutter had to speak Russian. Fortunately, he had hired for the plant in Pembroke a woman who was a Russian translator, and she had been tutoring him on his Russian.

"I can speak enough Russian," he told them, "to say, 'I'm from America and I'm working at this cheese plant right here in your city and we developed these new variety of cheese and so perhaps you can try some and tell me what you think.' "

The people came out of the woodwork, Kutter said.

"One woman said to me, 'why are you giving all this stuff away?' " Kutter said.

He told her, "We want to introduce it to you."

She replied, "In Russia, if somebody is giving something away, it usually means it isn't any good."

The Russians liked the free cheese, but that didn't mean they were buying cheese at first.

"I asked one woman, 'would you buy this cheese?' and she asked me what we were selling it for, and I told her, and she said, 'you know, I'd really like to but, no, I wouldn't buy it.' She said, 'I don't have a lot of money, so I would save my money and buy a dress because when I go out in public they can see what I wear, but they can't see what I ate.' "

Asked if he felt he had any lasting impact on Russia, or left a legacy, Kutter demurs.

"I'm just a little old cheese maker," he said.

A little later he came back to the question and recalled the time a sales rep came into the Kutter's factory and asked him if he had heard about the cheese curds recall in Russia.  

"I thought," Kutter said, "there never was any cheese curds in Russia until I went there, so I must have had some effect."

"Cheese in the Time of Glasnost and Perestroika," by Tony Kutter, is normally on sale at the Holland Land Office Museum, but they just sold out. More copies are expected soon. 

October 26, 2014 - 11:11am
posted by Howard B. Owens in batavia, Pok-A-Dot, books, Literature, John Gardner.

Members of the John Gardner Society gathered, as they do every October, for a reading of selections from the work of Batavia's own John Gardner.

Top photo: Bill Kauffman reading a portion of an essay about Gardner by Susan Thornton, who was Gardner's fiancée at time of his death.

Byron Hoot, who began attending the readings a few years ago, driving to Batavia annually from his home in Pennsylvania. 

Jim Gardner, John's brother

Leona Pastore and Terry Abrams

Bill Kauffman

Brian Paris reading

September 25, 2014 - 3:33pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in batavia, arts, books, Literature.

Jen Reardon loves books and wants to encourage people to read more, so she set up a little free library in front of her house on the corner of Washington Avenue and Lewis Avenue.

She got the idea after learning about a web site called LittleFreeLibrary.org. In fact, she bought her brightly colored box from the web site. The site also tracks locations of little free libraries, and hers is the first one registered in Genesee County.

"I knew of nothing in area, at least on the map, so why not do this?" Reardon said. "I love books. I seem to always have lots of readers around me with lots of books and they're like, 'what can I do these,' so I thought we'll put them out and let people take a book, leave a book."

That's the whole concept of the little free library right there -- there's no fee, no library card to sign up for, you take a book and leave a book. Return what you take whenever you like, nor never return it if you like it that much. Just put something else in its place.

Yesterday was the first day for Reardon's little free library and quite a few people stopped and took books. Not too many have been added to the collection yet.

"Yesterday was a busy day at the little free library," Reardon said. "There was definitely more borrowing than trading, but since it's the first day, I don't think people really knew what to make of it."

Reardon already has one of the most colorful front yards in Batavia, with a cornucopia of flowers growing all spring, summer and fall. Her green, orange and purple box fits right in.

Her neighborhood is perfect for something like this, Reardon believes.

"We have all income levels within like a three block area," she said.

"I think people don't read enough and some people might not have access to books. You can always go to the library, but if you have books in your home, you're more likely to pick it up and read it, kids especially.

April 20, 2013 - 6:33pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in batavia, books, Tom Rivers, present tense books and gifts.

Author and journalist Tom Rivers was at Present Tense books and gifts on Washington Avenue, Batavia, today to sign copies of his newest book, "All Ears."

The book is a collection of some of Rivers' best pieces about community life during his 15 years at the Batavia Daily News.

Rivers is now editor of OrleansHub, an online news source serving Orleans County.

"All Ears" is available at Present Tense.

Pictured with Rivers, his 7-year-old daughter, Lucy.

April 16, 2013 - 11:14am
posted by Howard B. Owens in batavia, GCC, books, Literature, John Gardner.

This item was submitted by Byron Hoot, from Wexford, Pa., who has made a couple of trips to Batavia in the past year in connection with his appreciation of John Gardner, including this past Saturday's John Gardner Conference at GCC.

“The letter killeth, but the spirit giveth life.” So began the first presenter for the 15th Annual John Gardner Conference hosted by Genesee Community College organized by Tracey Ford and Charley Boyd of GCC, coordinated by Sandy Hortdahl of Northeast State, Tennessee. 

It was “the spirit (that) giveth life” throughout the conference. The spirit of Gardner was alive and well among the conference attendees, who came from across New York state, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island. 

Presenters spoke on a wide range of topics, from Paul Johnston’s “Taggart Hodge, Antinomian” to John and Helen Maier’s reading of “The Miller’s Tale” in Chaucer’s Middle English, to Denise Divins’ probing look at the archetypical world of Grendel. In addition, there was Bette Smith’s excellent performance of Gardner’s one-act play, Days of Vengeance, and Jennifer Duncan’s talk of Gardner’s influence on her own writing. 

Attendees had a chance to examine some of the original Gardner materials housed at GCC and overseen by librarian Phyllis Andrews. Finally, as a visual coda, there was a screening of "The Sunlight Man," a documentary made by Gardner’s son, Joel. As important as the ideas and insights, the presence of Gardner’s brother Jim and his wife, Wanda, added the personal touch of stories from family members who loved and love Gardner still.

A pilgrimage to the Pok-a-Dot for lunch gave conference attendees added time to socialize. A hidden gem, Genesee Community College deserves much credit for keeping alive the spirit of an important American writer. This is a pilgrimage well worth making.

May 16, 2012 - 3:26pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in batavia, arts, movies, entertainment, books, bill kauffman.

It's now official -- local author, historian and localist advocate Bill Kauffman is now a screenwriter, too.

Kauffman wrote a script based on a novel by Harold Frederic, a 19th Century resident of Utica.

The movie, titled "Cooperhead" and set in the Civil War, recently started production in King’s Landing, New Brunswick, Canada.

Actors Jason Patric and Angus MacFadyen are take starring roles and the movie is being directed by Ron Maxwell.

The story centers around a family torn apart by the war between the states.

Kauffman is a native Batavian and currently resides in Elba. No word on when his book about Batavia, "Dispatches from the Muckdog Gazette," will be turned into a major Hollywood production.

November 26, 2011 - 6:29pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in batavia, books, Tom Rivers, Literature.

Ace ag reporter Tom Rivers was at Coffee Culture this morning with his son Ruben signing copies of his book "Farm Hands." The book is based on a series of articles Rivers wrote for the Batavia Daily News about his efforts to get out and work the fields, experiencing firsthand what it's like to be a farm hand. Rivers said so far the book has sold 5,500 copies. If you don't have your copy yet, it's available at Present Tense books and the Holland Land Office Museum.

October 9, 2011 - 11:14am
posted by Howard B. Owens in batavia, books, Literature.

Miranda Fix was at Coffee Culture on Saturday signing copies of her new novel -- her sixth -- "Calling all Angels."

Fix, a registered nurse with 30 years experience, describes her new book this way:  “It’s about my story and my experiences as a nurse surviving in a profession that is full of illusions, disenchantments and despair. But deep inside that sadness is a rainbow of color and these shades of blues, yellows greens and reds are the true colors of our angels. They are there for us, they guide us, empower us, pray for us and keep us safe. They are there when you call upon them…you just need to ask them for help. 

"Calling All Angels is a novel about true life and the amazing strength in the patients I have met along the way. Stories that will make you laugh and cry, but they are full of hope and wonder. I wish you love and happiness as in the ways of the angels…and remember to believe.”

The mother of two children, and grandmother to three, Fix lives in Corfu.

August 26, 2011 - 4:18pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in entertainment, books, genesee county history.

Just about everybody knows the story of the day Frank Sinatra stopped in Batavia, but what about the day Johnny Cash stopped in Corfu?

It was mid-March, 1985 and the Cash tour bus pulled into the former Super Duper and John and June loaded their carts with groceries, stopping for autographs and pictures along the way.

The story is one of hundreds reprinted in Entertaining Genesee, a new book by County Historian Susan L. Conklin (photo, right) and research assistant Judy Stiles.

The book covers Genesee County residents who sought fame and fortune on stage, screen and in music as well as recounts the famous and nearly famous who passed through the area.

It's the 11th book published by the county's history department -- each paid for by the procedes of the sale of the previous book and funds from the Genesee County Historians Society.

The book is $20 and available at the history department in the old fire house on West Main Street in the City of Batavia.

Using reprinted stories from local newspapers (mostly the Batavia Daily News), letters, telegrams and other periodicals, the book recounts local brushes with the entertainment industry.

Of course, Tom Beers and Joey Pero are in there, but so is Harry Crosby, an actor who garnered some fame in New York City in the early 20th Century, and Miss Mary M. Howard, who wrote a march played by John Philip Sousa.

There's also articles on the times Benny Goodman, Louis Armstrong and Tommy Dorsey came to Batavia. Some of the stories are of the "wish I could have been there type," such as Armstrong's appearance. Satchmo arrived late because his bus broke down, and then played for 700 fans until 5 a.m. Admission was only a buck fifty (tax included).

The next book from the history department, scheduled for 2014, will be called "Criminal Genesee."

July 5, 2011 - 3:41pm
posted by Daniel Crofts in batavia, books, local history, picnic in the park.

Abigail, age 7, showed us her cat-face Monday at GoArt!'s annual "Picnic in the Park." She had just been to the face-painting booth.

While I was there taking pictures, I ran into some, shall we say, figures of historical interest.

Jacob Richardson came dressed in the get up of a Revolutionary War soldier, complete with weapons and an old-fashioned belt (which soldiers needed to keep all their materials together, since their uniforms had no pockets).

Richardson was there to represent "Frontiersmen Camping Fellowship," a program of Batavia Assembly of God Church.

Also, a horse and carriage ride, just like the old days.

Also, Genesee County native Lynda Breckenridge Gaetano, author of the "Up South" series, was there to promote her books.

Gaetano now resides in Austin, Texas, but was raised on a dairy farm in Bethany. Her books are set in Genesee County and, all total, span a time frame ranging from the early 1800s, when pioneers first came to the "woody wilds" (as worded in a promotional pamphlet produced by the publisher, Blue Stocking Press) of Genesee County, up until the time of the World War II years.

They include a mixture of folk tales, real life stories and local history, all told from the perspective of a wizened sugar maple tree.

Gaetano has published her work in three volumes: "Spring," "Summer" and "Autumn." She hopes to publish the "Winter" volume soon.

January 22, 2011 - 2:26pm

thecraft_thomas_talbot01.jpg

Local author Thomas Talbot, whose new novel "The Craft" is based on the disappearance of William Morgan, was at Present Tense today signing copies of his book.

October 31, 2010 - 2:06pm
posted by Daniel Crofts in books, William Morgan, local history.

Tom Talbot loves local history.

And he loves to write.

And he loves fiction.

Over a 30-year period, he worked hard to bring these interests together in a project that would ultimately become the historical fiction novel, "The Craft: Freemasons, Secret Agents, and William Morgan."

Originally from Elba, Talbot has lived in Batavia for more than 40 years. While some people may say that Batavia is a boring place to live, he has always been fascinated by the stories it has to tell.

"We live in an area with a rich history," he said.

His book, which was published in August, is set in 1826 and follows two government agents who are assigned by President John Quincy Adams to investigate the disappearance of William Morgan.

Morgan, as area history buffs know, was a Batavia resident famous for having mysteriously vanished after threatening to write a book exposing the secrets of Freemasonry.

"[The Morgan incident] put Batavia on the map for a while," Talbot said. "In a bad way, but still..."

The book's plot goes beyond William Morgan, placing his disappearance in the context of a larger web of intrigue that involves "rogue British Masons" (as the back cover synopsis puts it) and a presidential assassination plot.

"I didn't want the book to be just about Morgan himself," Talbot said. "That's been done by a lot of people. I wanted to include him, but also have a broader scope."

Agents Matthew Prescott and Zeb Cardwell are the story's protagonists. In Talbot's fast-paced thriller, they travel all over the Eastern Seaboard searching for the truth behind Morgan's disappearance, going from Washington, D.C., to New York City, Albany, Canada, Rochester and, you guessed it, Batavia.

Locals may recognize certain locations mentioned in the Batavia segment, including the Holland Land Office Museum, the Eagle Tavern, and the Mix Mansion (which is over on Mix Place).

Research into what life was like in 18th Century New York State -- including the difficulties of travelling in the pre-railroad days, bedbug infestations at inns, and the dangerous malfunctions of primitive steamboats -- helped Talbot craft some very interesting dramatic situations for his characters.

"A lot of it you have to imagine (as an author), but you do need some basis (in period details)."

"The Craft" is Talbot's first novel and second book. His first book, "Illustrated Black History," was a curriculum guide for social studies teachers (he himself taught history at Batavia Middle School for three years). It is available as a reference text in the Richmond Memorial Library's local history section.

He started working on "The Craft" while attending graduate school at SUNY Brockport and raising a family in Batavia. The busyness of his life required him to set the book aside for long periods of time; but over the years, his wife, Vicki, kept pestering him to finish it.

He credits the completion and publication of the novel to her persistence.

Looking back on this 30-year endeavor, Talbot likes to joke about how he started writing the book on yellow legal pads before graduating to the use of a typewriter, then transferring it onto his Apple computer, eventually putting it on his IBM computer, and, finally, finishing it on his laptop.

Writing is something in which he "dabbled" quite a bit before starting on "The Craft."

"Writing was always one of my major interests," he said. "I played around with poetry and short stories in college. I also did curricular writing for the Batavia City School District and for the Buffalo schools."

Since retiring from his position as an administrator at GCC in 2000, he has worked part-time as a grant writer and data evaluator for the Genesee/Orleans Council on Alcoholism and Substance Abuse (GCASA).

"I like to kid people by saying that I've written a lot of grants, but that's not all I do -- I've also written a book."

His jobs in the Buffalo schools, GCC and GCASA have involved extensive research and data evaluation as well as writing. Between this and a history degree from Georgetown University, his credentials for a research-intensive project like "The Craft" aren't too shabby.

As for whether other Tom Talbot novels are on the horizon, he definitely hopes that "The Craft" is "not a one-shot deal."

"I have some ideas for other books, including a sequel to 'The Craft.' Possibly something in a different genre, too."

Talbot himself is an avid reader and enjoys authors as diverse as John Grisham, Tom Clancy, Daniel Silva, J.R.R. Tolkien and Alexander Solzhenitsyn. He has a blog, Tom's Book Pages, where he writes book reviews.

As for "The Craft," you can purchase it locally at Present Tense or at the Holland Land Office Museum; you can also order it online.

For more information or to order a copy, visit www.thecraftthebook.com. Talbot says he encourages people to comment on the book on the site as well.

"I would appreciate any feedback," he said.

Photo courtesy of Jen Zambito

October 7, 2010 - 11:35pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in batavia, books, outdoors, Jim Nigro.

nigrobooksigning.jpg

Dozens and dozens of people turned out to Go Art tonight for the release of Jim Nigro's first novel, "Tapestry: A Life Walk Among Friends."

When Nigro was at best about half way through signing copies of his book, he said his hand was getting tired. When I arrived, the line out the door was at least 20-people deep. When I left, it was still at least 20-people deep.

For more about the book and Jim, click here.

October 2, 2010 - 5:03pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in batavia, books, outdoors, Jim Nigro.

jim_nigro_birdhouse.jpg

Jim Nigro didn't set out to be a writer. In fact, when he was a kid, he didn't even really like stringing words together.

But with his love of nature and a life path that put him in a position to try some new things, Nigro just sort of fell into telling stories about hunting, fishing and observing what he found around him out in the wild. As for writing, it turns out, he really loves it.

cov.jpgThe Batavian's outdoor columnist, in fact, has just published his second book -- a novel called "Tapestry: A Life Walk Among Friends."

The story revolves around two friends growing up in a small town much like Batavia, starting in the 1950s and going through the 1970s.

Nigro said though it's fiction and most characters are at best composites, about 90 percent of events in the book are drawn from his experiences or those of friends.

"Anybody who grew up here in the '50s, '60s or '70s will recognize their hometown," Nigro said.

Nigro's love of nature began when he was a small child visiting his aunt and uncle's house on Old Creek Road.

"I was knee-deep in mother nature at a very early age," Nigro said.

That love of nature and the friendships that grow from enjoying the outdoors together is the backdrop for Nigro's story.

Regular readers are aware of Nigro's outdoor adventures, which has taken him to various parts of the United States, including Alaska and such exotic locales as the Bahamas and the Sea of Abaco.

Along the way, the 60-year-old Nigro said, he's made some good friends and like anyone in life, had some rough patches.

nigro_shark.jpgIn 1968, Nigro was about to embark on a military career -- all he needed to do was sign the contract -- but one afternoon, just after he had bought a sausage at the St. Joe's Lawn Fete, Nigro spotted a young woman walking by. Nigro dropped the sandwich right in the trash and walked home. He told his mother he was abandoning his military plans and going back to school.

That young lady was Claudia. They married in 1971 and have been together ever since.

After getting married, Jim got a chance to get a good-paying job in construction, so he wound up in that trade for about 20 years. Then he was offered a job -- through a connection of his father's -- at the Meadowlands, so he moved his family to New Jersey.

While Jim said he made some good friends there, it wasn't necessarily a good time.

"Ten years of staring at the New York City skyline, I grew to appreciate where I came from," Nigro said. "I was really homesick. I missed the little simple things like a ride from here to Elba or from here to Oakfield and all of those wide-open spaces."

The Nigros came home and Jim went to work at the Trojan factory and was there until it was sold to foreign investors and closed.

After that, Nigro decided to take advantage of a government program for retraining and returned to Genesee Community College to get a degree in commercial art.

After graduating, he had some scholarship offers, but not enough to pay for him to get a higher degree, so he had to go back to work and wound up in the landscape business, which he really enjoyed for about eight years.

Nigro started his writing career almost by accident. During his first year at Trojan, the Batavia Daily News was advertising for a part-time sportswriter and Jim applied. He didn't get the job because he didn't yet have a degree. The sports editor at the time figured maybe the job should go to somebody with a degree who didn't have a job.

A couple of years later, that editor was in JC Penney buying an engagement ring and Claudia mentioned that he knew her husband. They struck up a conversation and that led to Jim and the editor getting back in touch.

The editor wanted somebody to write a series of five outdoors articles.

That series became eight years of outdoors writing for the Daily. It also became fodder for Nigro's first book, "Dear Sam: Remembrances for My Grandson," a collection of true outdoor adventures and lessons Nigro wanted to share with his first grandson.

Ater the eight-year writing stint, Nigro and the Daily parted company and he came to really miss writing those columns. When The Batavian came along, Claudia contacted the online-only news site to see if there would be space for an outdoor column. Of course there would.

About this time, Jim decided that he really needed to write this novel, but he couldn't get it done while working full time. He and Claudia talked it over and decided they could get by if he quit his landscaping job to write.

"We decided to trust God," Nigro said, who with Claudia had by this time raised a son and a daughter (they now have four grandchildren).

And it's worked out fine, Jim said. And he got his book done.

Besides writing the book, Jim also drew many of the illustrations (there's also two photographs and one drawing by Claudia).

The book release party will be at 6:30 p.m., Thursday, at GoArt!, located at Seymour Place, 201 E. Main St., Batavia. The first copies of the book will be available and Jim will be there to sign personalized copies.

July 7, 2010 - 11:37pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in batavia, books, Masons, Order of the Eastern Star.

leesisters_booksale.jpg

Janet and June Lee had things just about ready by late this afternoon for the annual Order of the Eastern Star book sale at the Masonic Temple, 200 E. Main St., Batavia.

The sale opens Thursday at 9 a.m., rain or shine, and runs through noon, Saturday.

Proceeds benefit the VA Nursing Home and other charities.

Book donations are still welcome, but the Lee sisters request no professional or college books, National Geographics or encyclopedias.

Available are a wide variety of books, both paperback and hardback, from all types of fiction to books on cooking, crafts, sports and politics.

June 11, 2010 - 7:31pm

It appears that when Mother Nature heard that "Make a Splash at Your Library" was going to be the theme of the Haxton Memorial Library's upcoming summer reading program, she took it a bit too literally.

Interim Library Director and Children's Librarian Kimberly Gibson met with a surprise when she came into work on Monday morning. She went downstairs to the children's room, followed by a group of youngsters eager for story hour...only to find the place flooded up to her ankles.

She called in Warren's Carpet Cleaning Service to take care of the problem -- which was no easy task.

"It took two full days to to dry the place out," Gibson said. "And they had to use 10 huge blowers and two humungous dehumidifiers."

The water extended from it's point of origin (which is inside the room slightly right of center, behind the table) all the way to the carpet used for story hours and also sideways to where the stairs are located.

The Warren's employees on the job told Gibson it was lucky she contacted them when she did, because the humidity was already at a very dangerous level.

"We probably would have lost all of our carpeting and everything if we'd waited much longer," Gibson said.

Things could have been a lot worse, and the place is steadily drying out. The saddest part of this whole ordeal for Gibson, though, is that she had just purchased 22 ocean-related books for the summer reading program, and 13 of them were completely ruined.

"I don't think we're going to be able to salvage them," she said. "It's crushing, because I worked so hard to plan these programs, and I bought these books because I thought the kids would really like them. In fact I was just getting ready to put them on display."

The flooding resulted from this past weekend's continual torrential rain -- which, according to Library Trustee Ann Engel, Oakfield residents are saying amounted to about two and a half inches.

Gibson said the same thing happened six years ago.

"We've been lucky not to have anything happen in six years," she said. "But this time it was worse than before."

In spite of this misfortune, Gibson has tried to remain upbeat and to keep her leadership mentality all along. After the initial shock of discovery on Monday morning, she immediately resolved to "just stay focused and get things taken care of as soon as possible." 

"She's a trooper," another library trustee said of Gibson.

Still, Gibson, the library's two other staff members, and the board of trustees would gladly accept any assistance the community would be willing to provide. Gibson said that monetary donations would be especially helpful.

"We have a small budget here at Haxton, and this is obviously going to cost more money than we had planned on spending. With the cost of the books [that were ruined] and the bill for Warren's services, we would certainly welcome any monetary assistance."

The Haxton Library has basic insurance, but they are hoping that they will not need to turn to that to pay for the damages.

"We have a $2,500 deductible," Gibson said, "so we don't want to go to our insurance unless we have to. We don't know what the overall cost will be yet, but hopefully it won't exceed that. Plus, I'm not sure if flood damage is covered, since that kind of thing is fairly unusual in this area of the country."

Gibson arranged for all children's activities to be held upstairs this week, but she hopes to have the children's room open to patrons again on Monday.

March 14, 2010 - 1:45pm

How often does this happen? Batavia got a visit from two acclaimed authors last week -- two days in a row!

The first was Garth Stein, author of the 2010 Tale for Three Counties committee pick, "The Art of Racing in the Rain." At the committee's invitation, Stein came to speak to readers and sign autographs at the Richmond Memorial Library on Thursday night.

This latest work is Stein's third novel and it's about a Seattle family as told by none other than -- Enzo, the family dog.

Stein's book had the honor of a 38-week streak on the New York Times bestseller list, won several awards and honors, and has been translated into 31 languages. Stein recently signed a film deal with Universal Studios and hopes to see the book made into a movie in the near future.

The second author was award-winning children's writer Robert D. San Souci, who came to speak to the children and sign autographs at John Kennedy Elementary School Friday afternoon.

San Souci's works include "The Talking Eggs," "Cendrillon: A Caribbean Cinderella," the "Dare to be Scared" series and "The Legend of Scarface." He also wrote the story for the 1998 Disney film "Mulan." His visit to JK was arranged by Donna Katter, program assistant for Genesee Valley BOCES' School Library System.

Whether you were in the almost-over-crowded reading room at RML or sitting in the school cafeteria as hand after hand after hand shot up from the crowd of fifth-graders during the Q&A session, you would have gotten a good idea of just how much people still appreciate their writers.

Both authors read portions of their books and shared funny anecdotes from their lives and careers, including the setbacks they have faced while trying to get their work published.

Stein, for example, talked about having gone from one agent to another before he finally found someone who wanted to take a chance on a book narrated by a dog.

San Souci -- who realized he was destined to become a writer in second grade -- said that he wrote persistently for many years, facing a long string of what he called "thanks, but no thanks" letters from publishers.

Both men were kind enough to share some of their thoughts, insights and comments with The Batavian after signing autographs -- at RML and the JK Media Center, respectively.

October 22, 2009 - 10:35pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in batavia, books, bill kauffman, localism.

Why do a small town's best and brightest young people relocate to big cities?

The common assumption is that they leave to seek better opportunities or more excitement.

Bill Kauffman has a different theory -- our teachers, civic leaders, parents and American culture try to convince rural young people that to be an achiever, you have to go elsewhere. There's little thought to the notion that you can achieve right where you're rooted.

Kauffman discusses this idea in a book review for the Wall Street Journal:

The sharpest insight in "Hollowing Out the Middle" is that "small towns play an unwitting role in their own decline" by inculcating, in school and too often at home, the belief that fulfilling one's promise means leaving for the city lights or the manicured suburbs. The purpose of education today, as Kentucky poet-farmer Wendell Berry argues, is to train young people to leave home. And so, the authors note, "the investment the community has made in them becomes a boon for someplace else."

Batavia is full of bright, young people who have decided to stay, or who have come back. I've met them. Batavia's future would be even brighter if we could convince more of them to stay and help build new businesses and invest in the community that nurtured them.

Read the whole thing.

September 5, 2009 - 12:58pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in batavia, books.

joseph_langen.jpgOnce in a while, a reader stumbles across a morning post by Joesph Langen which he titles "Conversations with Calliope" and asks us what they're about.

Langen is a writer and he uses The Batavian as a morning writing exercise to connect with his muse.

We've never put these posts on the home page. They're just a writer's journal about his writing.

But Langen has been doing it daily since almost the first day The Batavian started publishing. Now he's made a collection of his writings available for free in PDF form. Click here for home info.

He lists these 10 reasons to download the book:

  1. Find out where writers get their ideas.
  2. Hear what a writer does all day.
  3. Listen to what writers say about being a writer.
  4. I want my muse to be more helpful.
  5. See how to get unstuck when you write.
  6. Learn how to talk with a muse.
  7. Explore what else writers need to know besides how to write.
  8. Discover what keeps a writer going page after page.
  9. Determine who supports a writer’s efforts.
  10. Unearth the sources of writers’ inspiration.

Langen says he's now a full-time writer after 35 years as a psychologist. He recently published his first novel, "The Pastor's Inferno." His other books include on one life's lessons, "Commonsense Wisdom for Everyday Life," and a memoir about his nine years in a seminary, "Young Man of the Cloth."

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Contact: Howard Owens, publisher (howard (at) the batavian dot com); (585) 250-4118

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