All posts by Colin Hogan

Nutrition standard changes put FCSD food services in red

By Colin Hogan

Changes in the types of foods school districts are required to serve their students left the Fulton City School District’s food services in the red last year, district officials say.

During the 2013-14 school year, FCSD’s student breakfast and lunch programs ended up operating on a $110,000 deficit. District officials say this is largely because changes in state and federal guidelines that mandate what types of food are served, and how big the portions are, caused more students to bring in their own lunches, rather than opt for what the school was serving.

FCSD Food Services Director Terry Warwick said those changes, which were mostly implemented during the 2012-13 school year, included keeping meals to a certain number of calories, lowering sodium levels, making sure whole grains are the primary ingredient in grain-based foods served, and requiring students to take at least one portion of fruits or vegetables with breakfast.

“Basically, when the portion sizes were cut and certain things became mandatory, that’s when thing started going downhill.” Warwick said. “It was like students everywhere just boycotted it.”

Patty Barbar, the director of food services in the Phoenix Central School District and president of the Oswego County School Nutrition Association, said the effect the new standards have had on school food service programs is endemic, not just in Oswego County or New York state, but the entire nation.

“If you look at school districts nationwide, everyone is struggling,” Barbar said.

Reports by the federal government show this to be true. An audit by the the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) released earlier this year shows that about 1.2 million students across the nation stopped buying school lunches after the standards were implemented in 2012-13. Prior to that, participation in school lunch programs had increased steadily for almost a decade, the report shows.

Barbar calls the drop in participation an “unintended consequence” of what was otherwise a well-intentioned policy change.

“The law, in theory, was a great idea,” Barbar said, “but the unintended consequence has been that food services all over the U.S. are losing money.”

And it’s not just the result of lower participation. Barbar said once the new standards were enacted, the prices of many of the required products soared.

“When the guidelines came down, and everyone in the country had to buy these things, prices skyrocketed,” Barbar said. “Even by combining forces (with other food service programs), and trying to gain better buying power, we still can’t save nearly as much as we thought we could.”

Both Warwick and Barbar say their districts had been serving foods that mostly aligned with the new standards long before the policy changed.

While a school district’s food service programs typically run on a combination of their own revenues and state and federal funds, when they fall into the red, the district has to cover the gap with local tax dollars.

“The school districts only help fund us when we’re in the red, and districts, as you know, don’t have extra money to spare,” Barbar said. “So we need to be able to support ourselves and, up until about two years ago, we were doing awesome.”

The situation has left food service directors like Barbar and Warwick with a difficult choice:

“We’re put in this situation where we have to cut costs — and I can’t cut the quality of food, that’s not an option —so we end up having to cut staff, which really hurts our customer service,” Barbar said.

This past year, regulators have lighted the standards a bit, allowing districts to serve portions that are a little bit larger than they had been the year before. In Fulton, that has helped bring back some participation in the school lunch program, but Warwick said the numbers still don’t compare to years prior to 2012.

“This year it’s been better. We’re not losing a ton of meals, but we’re not really gaining a ton either,” she said.

Accomplished author, businessman shares life lessons with local students

Fred Sarkis was 12 years old and working 15-hour days on his family’s fruit and vegetable truck when he learned three important life lessons from his immigrant father.

The lessons of enthusiasm, education and integrity, or “The Golden Rule,” each stemmed from his personal daily experiences he shared with his father.

Author Fred Sarkis shares a laugh with Volney Elementary student Angel Ortiz during his recent visit to the school. Photo provided
Author Fred Sarkis shares a laugh with Volney Elementary student Angel Ortiz during his recent visit to the school.
Photo provided

It was the 1930s, and America was feeling the crippling effects of the most significant economic challenge of its history, the Great Depression, while even more uncertainty loomed with the realities of a second World War.

Sarkis, a Rochester native who is now 88, is the founder of the Yes Pa Foundation; author of “Prisoner of the Truck” and “Yes Pa”; and a World War II Navy Veteran. He is also the motivational speaker for the foundation’s instructional program, which he shared recently with students in Bill Cahill’s sixth grade classroom at Volney Elementary School.

It was Sarkis’ eighth annual visit to Volney Elementary, and he once again provided the lessons learned from his own personal adversities, and the harsh disciplines of growing up as kid during the Depression era.

According to Sarkis, his Lebanese-born father, an uneducated “huckster,” wanted more for his eldest son, and offered three important teachings that would shape him, and his life journey.

A self-proclaimed “prisoner” of his father’s fruit and vegetable truck, Sarkis would use the time working on the truck as a study center, educating himself by the light of his lantern.

The lantern has now become iconic within the Yes Pa Foundation, and Sarkis’ learned lessons are now shared at over 500 schools throughout the country, as well as in numerous prisons, and other educational settings.

Cahill, along with fellow team teachers Daniel Bartlett and Stephanie Zimmerman, have worked with Sarkis for years, introducing his Yes Pa program to their students, while building a curriculum around Sarkis’ lessons.

Pictured is Sarkis with Volney Elementary School student Destiny Miller. Photo provided
Pictured is Sarkis with Volney Elementary School student Destiny Miller.
Photo provided

“The enthusiasm that stems from the Yes Pa curriculum and Fred’s visit is incredible,” said Cahill. “We always welcome the opportunity have Fred work with our students, and have him teach them the importance of establishing goals, character traits, personal accountability, and other keys towards happiness and success.”

“The smiles are contagious from both Fred and the students as a result,” he added.

Sarkis tells the story of how his own lack of enthusiasm selling strawberries at age 12 led to a confrontation with his father and, in turn, led to the three powerful five-minute lessons.

“My father would have my eight-year-old brother and I go door-to-door selling strawberries out of the back of the truck,” Sarkis said. “I began every sales pitch with the words ‘you probably don’t want to buy any strawberries, do you ma’am?’ which resulted in very few sales compared to my younger brother.”

According to Sarkis his father’s advice on taking a smarter, more positive and enthusiastic approach to the sale was something he embraced.

Sarkis explained, “my father’s approach was ‘these strawberries were picked early this morning on a farm in Webster. See how fresh they are. They are only 10 cents a quart or three quarts for a quarter. Do you want one or three, ma’am?’”

According to Sarkis, it was this simple change in approach that shaped his success going forward.

At age 16, Fred graduated from a business school, first in a class of 70. At age 17, earning five times more than the minimum wage, he bought his mother of eight children a home on Park Avenue in Rochester. At age 18, during World War II, he enlisted in the Navy. After discharge, at age 20, he worked full time while attending the University of Rochester at night focusing on business courses.

He started a coffee vending business at age 24 and, with his brother Joe’s help, expanded it into a full line of vending machines and an automatic cafeteria. He later expanded into the management of employee cafeterias for major corporations including Xerox and Eastman Kodak.

At 34, he became a multi-millionaire, and invested in numerous high-risk investments — including a major ski area and a lakeside village in his hometown of Canandaigua which, today, although he is no longer involved, employ hundreds of people and provide recreational service to thousands.

It was 15 years ago that Sarkis founded the Prisoner of the Truck Foundation, now called the Yes Pa Foundation. Since then, through the assistance of volunteer regional and national educators, over 500 schools throughout the United States (including Volney Elementary) have downloaded this character education program that uniquely connects the parent, or mentor, with the teacher and the child.

“Growing up, I was small, knock-kneed, pigeon-toed, dark-skinned and a prisoner of my father’s truck,” said Sarkis. “Feeling bullied, I lacked confidence, self-esteem and many character traits that kids struggle with today.”

“It has been my personal and foundation’s mission to help and serve others to overcome their own inhibitions or obstacles, offer advice on how to embrace failure, admit mistakes, learn from it, and move on to reach their full potential, strive for greatness, and achieve a lifetime of goals,” he added.

Oswego County sends highway crews and equipment to Buffalo

Oswego County is lending some of its snow removal expertise and equipment to the City of Buffalo to assist in the removal of this week’s massive lake-effect snowfall.

County Legislature Chairman Kevin Gardner approved a request from the State Office of Emergency Management Thursday afternoon for additional snow removal assistance. “We’re used to these types of events and are certainly happy to help them out,” said Chairman Gardner.

County Highway Superintendent Kurt Ospelt said a loader, three 10-wheel trucks and a service truck went to Buffalo Friday morning.

“We expect them to be in Buffalo for about three days,” he said.

More than a foot of lake-effect snow fell Thursday night in sections of Oswego County.

New nuclear plants siren system to be tested soon

Sirens in a new public warning system being installed by Exelon Generation and Entergy Nuclear will be ready for testing soon, and residents may hear individual soundings of sirens in the coming weeks.

Full testing of the new sirens will be announced by Exelon Generation when a schedule is established, officials reported. Before that schedule begins, as installation of each siren is completed, the individual sirens will be tested audibly to ensure functionality.

“Residents of the 10-mile Emergency Planning Zone may hear sirens sounding as part of the installation testing anytime during the next few weeks,” Dale A. Currier, director of the Oswego County Emergency Management Office, said. “This is a normal part of the installation process.”

The project is a joint effort by Exelon Generation, which operates Nine Mile Point Nuclear Station, and Entergy Nuclear, which owns and operates the James A. FitzPatrick Nuclear Power Plant, to upgrade the public warning system. It includes replacing 37 existing sirens and installation of two new sirens, as well as battery backup-power in the 10-mile radius around the nuclear power plants.

The system is operated by Exelon Generation and serves both of Oswego County’s nuclear facilities; however, it can also be called upon by county emergency management authorities to provide notification in any type of emergency.

The warning sirens are one of several methods used by county emergency management authorities to provide notification of emergencies. In an emergency, the sirens would be sounded prior to an Emergency Alert System message on broadcast stations participating in the Oswego County Emergency Alert System, which would tell people why the sirens sounded and what they should do.

“The sirens are not a signal to evacuate,” Currier stressed. “People should always consult an EAS station to hear instructions by Oswego County officials on what they should do.”

The new sirens will sound at a volume similar to the old ones. There will be a change to the frequency of testing and details will be shared on these changes. Until the new system is fully tested and approved by federal officials, the existing system will remain in place.

“We appreciate Exelon Generation’s and Entergy Nuclear’s commitment to public health and safety and the investment they’ve made in the new system,” Currier said. “The new sirens will enhance our ability to warn people of an emergency.”

Residents who have questions about the siren activations should call the Oswego County Emergency Management Office at 591-9150.

Purple Heart returns home to Hannibal man

By Nicole Shue

It was a special day for Dan Hunnicutt, a resident of Hannibal, when a certain piece of his personal property was recently returned to him after it went missing for decades. The item was his Purple Heart medal, which he first received in 1968 for his time as a Pathfinder Ranger in the Army Special Forces during the Vietnam War.

Pictured is Dan Hunnicutt of Hannibal donning his decorated uniform from his days as a Pathfinder Ranger in the U.S. Army during the Vietnam war. Photo provided
Pictured is Dan Hunnicutt of Hannibal donning his decorated uniform from his days as a Pathfinder Ranger in the U.S. Army during the Vietnam war.
Photo provided

The medal resurfaced earlier this year when a man in Tigard, Ore. was shoveling in his yard by his deck and found it in the dirt. He brought the worn and tattered medal to Veterans Affairs in Portland, Ore. An executive assistant with the VA, Rachel Hershinow, began searching for the owner. The back of the medal read “Daniel Steifer.”

Hunnicutt’s last name before joining the Army was Steifer, the same surname as his stepfather. After discovering that Steifer was not his biological father, he shed the last name. Hunnicutt was happy to cut ties with the family name. His stepfather had treated him cruelly as a child, so much so that the Army seemed like a place of refuge.

At age 15, Hunnicutt took the Army exam and passed it. Hunnicutt may have fooled the Army, but his deception didn’t get past his mother, who revealed to them her son’s actual age.

On his 17th birthday, Hunnicutt enlisted. He trained for a year at Fort Bragg and Fort Benning before arriving in Vietnam on his 18th birthday. He was an expert in weaponry and hand-to-hand combat.

Hunnicutt spent the next 14 months in the jungle, and witnessed unimaginable violence during the dark of night. It was in the Kien Hoa Province of Vietnam that Hunnicutt’s infantry squadron was ambushed. Hunnicutt and his unit were pinned to the ground, enemy fire whizzing around them.

Amid the chaos, Hunnicutt made the swift decision to stand up and gather scattered ammunition. His upright position made him an easy target, and he was shot at several times. Struck by a bullet, Hunnicutt crawled on his hands and knees, positioning himself close enough to throw a grenade.

The Army citation stated that Hunnicutt’s grenade silenced some enemy fire; enough that the Americans could overrun the field. During the ambush, Hunnicutt was shot in the leg, knee and back of the neck. He was awarded the Purple Heart for his devotion to duty and his extraordinary heroism.

While being treated for the wounds that landed him his Purple Heart, Hunnicutt was sent on another mission, but the fighting still left him with shrapnel in his leg. He was honorably discharged, and moved to Sebastopol, Calif.

“I was a mess when I returned to the states,” said Hunnicutt.

He recalls an incident from that time that lead to his incarceration. He attended a show in uniform, and people seated behind him began throwing popcorn at his head.

“Before the show was over I was at the jail,” said Hunnicutt.

Hunnicutt said his path to the straight and narrow was a long one. He suffered from PTSD and couldn’t understand even his own behavior. He was court ordered to meet with counselors and therapists, but says it wasn’t until he found God that his life began to turn around.

“I was angry back then. I wanted to get even. I found God a few years back and I’ve been able to forgive and put the war and my childhood behind me,” he said.

It was his love for gospel music and Jesus that started his career as a musician. Hunnicutt and his wife Joyce travelled the country for 10 years in a greyhound bus, spreading the word of God and Hunnicutt’s own testimony.

During his tour of the USA, Hunnicutt worked with Point Man International Ministries (PMIM). He visited Rescue Missions from California to Oregon, and jails along the way. PMIM is run by veterans from all conflicts, with a primary focus on mutual support, fellowship and spiritual healing from PTSD.

Hunnicutt’s first prison visit was in Salem, Oregon. He sang songs from Johnny Cash and Elvis to the convicts, and also his own gospel music he had recorded in Nashville under the name “Cross Ties.” Hunnicutt’s wife is also a songwriter, plays the bass and runs sound.

The band now performs under “Christ Ties,” a trio with his son Jason Hunnicutt and musician Jeannie Schmidt. Harmonizing with his son Jason is a real source of pride for Hunnicutt. Jason also shares a criminal past, but has moved forward with his life in a similar way.

Hunnicutt was reunited with his Purple Heart at a ceremony in August.

“Every veteran who came back from Vietnam deserves [a Purple Heart],” said Hunnicutt. “If not physical scars, we all left with emotional ones.”

Hunnicutt is currently mentoring a fellow veteran who also served in Vietnam.

Mary “Midge” Hughes

Mary “Midge” Hughes, 68, of Liverpool, passed away unexpectedly at St. Joseph’s Hospital on Monday, November 24, 2014. She was born in Fulton, a daughter to the late Kenneth and Mary Gleason. Mary graduated from Guilderland Central High School in 1964. She had worked in the photo department at Alcan, Marine Midland Bank in Fulton, Woolworth’s in Fulton and Kohl’s in Liverpool. Mary retired in 2008 to help take care of her grandchildren. She was an avid collector of cardinals and enjoyed meeting with her group of friends every morning at the McDonald’s on Route 57 in Liverpool. In addition to her parents she was predeceased by a son, Terry. Mary is survived by her husband of 43 years, Alan D. Hughes; a son, Chris (Alex) Hughes of Mexico, N.Y.; a daughter, Kendra Hughes of Kentucky; one brother, Pat (Connie) Gleason of Saratoga, N.Y.; three grandchildren, Brook Hughes, David Rowland and Spencer Hughes; one great-grandson, Liam; and one niece, Nicole Gleason of Charlotte, N.C. Calling hours are 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., Saturday, November 29 with services to follow at Foster Funeral Home, 910 Fay St., Fulton. Burial will be in Mount Adnah Cemetery. Mary’s family would like to extend a special thank you to the emergency room staff at St. Joseph’s Hospital for the special care given to her during this most difficult time. Contributions in memory of Mrs. Hughes may be made to the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation CNY Affiliate, 5008 Brittonfield Parkway, Suite 300, East Syracuse, NY 13057.

Margaret Isham Maxam

Margaret Isham Maxam, 70, of Phoenix, N.Y., passed away peacefully with her husband and family at her side on Thursday morning Nov. 20, 2014. She was born to her late parents, Eva M. (Thompson) and Charles H. Isham, on May 21, 1944. Margaret was a graduate of J. C. Birdlebough High School, Phoenix, class of 1962. She furthered her studies at Central City Business School, Syracuse.

11-26 Maxam OB (1)Margaret was a supervising secretary for Coopers and Lybrand Co., Syracuse, for 35 years. In 1988 she received the “Living the Cooper and Lybrand Commitment Award.” As a life member of Phoenix United Methodist Church, she taught Sunday School for 35 years, was president of the U.M.W. for 20 years, a volunteer at the Teen Center inside the church, and she volunteered at the Phoenix Area Food Pantry, as well. Margaret’s love for children and family and friends was shown by her and her husband, Dennis, by hosting many family reunion gatherings; the P.U.M. Church Sunday School Rally Day and Fishing Derby at their home.

Besides her mother, Eva, who died in 1992, and her father, Charles, who died in 2009, she was predeceased by her brother, Charles Wayne Isham, in 1995. Surviving are her loving husband of 46 years, Dennis M. Maxam; her daughter and her son-in-law, Peggy D. Maxam Farr and Patrick Farr of N.C.; her sons, Marc E. Maxam and Kirk C. Maxam, both of Phoenix; her three grandchildren, Tyler P. Farr, Amanda M. Farr and MacKenzie S. Maxam; her sister Carlene and brother-in-law Chuck Gorman of Granby; her brother-in-law and his wife, Leo F. and Sandy (Cronk) Maxam of Syracuse; sister-in-law, Gloria Isham of Phoenix; several nieces, nephews, cousins; and many friends. Calling hours were Monday in the Allanson-Glanville-Tappan Funeral Home, 431 Main St., Phoenix, NY 13135. The funeral service was held Tuesday in the Phoenix United Methodist Church, 49 Jefferson St., Phoenix, with the Rev. Marion Moore-Calgan as presiding pastor, and the Rev. Susan Townsend. Burial followed in Chase Cemetery, 9450 State Route 48, Phoenix. Margaret’s motto was “Live to Love.” She will be missed dearly by all who knew and loved her. Contributions in Margaret’s memory may be made to: Phoenix United Methodist Church for either the Sunday School Program, United Methodist Women, or the Teen Center. Also, contributions can be made to Phoenix Area Food Pantry, 43 Bridge St., Phoenix, NY 13135.

Debra Jean LaQuire Prosenick

11-26 Prosenick OB (1)Debra Jean LaQuire Prosenick, 36, passed away peacefully Friday, Nov. 21 after a hard fought battle with leukemia. She is survived by her husband, Adam; 13-year-old-son, Christopher; 11-year-old daughter, Jennifer; parents, Vincent and Betty Giles LaQuire; sister, Melissa L. (Terry) Royce; honorary sister and cousin, Angela R. LaQuire; brother and sister-in-law, Tom and Tammy Prosenick; several aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews and cousins. Calling hours will be 4 to 7 p.m. Wednesday with a funeral service to immediately follow at Foster Funeral Home, 910 Fay St., Fulton.