Category Archives: Featured Stories

Grindstone Farm owner to speak April 6 in Central Square

Dick deGraff, who with his wife, Vic Ladd-deGraff, founded Grindstone Farm, will speak at noon Sunday, April 6 at First Universalist Society of Central Square, 3243 Fulton Ave. (state Route 49 west of U.S. Route 11).

DeGraff has more than 30 years of experience as an organic farmer and mentors young farmers. His operation, south of Pulaski, was a Community Supported Agriculture supplier for many years, providing produce to families in Syracuse and Central New York. The farm continues to provide ways for folks to support local and community agriculture.

For more information about the farm, visit its website at www.grindstonefarm.com.

DeGraff will speak as part of the Voices for Worker Equality Series co-sponsored by the church and the Workers’ Center of Central New York, based in Syracuse.

The program is free, but donations will be accepted to support the Workers’ Center, which strives to empower low-wage and vulnerable workers.

Light refreshments will be served.

Fulton wrestlers place at NYWAY tournament

Quinn Burlingham and Matthew Woodworth of the Fulton Wrestling Club participated recently in the NYWAY wrestling tournament. They left the event as champions winning in their respective weight classes.

NYWAY`s mission is to develop opportunities to advance the sport of wrestling by uniting New York`s leagues and giving youth wrestlers the opportunity to learn the sport at all levels.

Other Fulton Wrestling Club wrestlers placed at the NYWAY New York State Wrestling Tournament March 16 at Onondaga Community College included Adam DeMauro who came in third, Travis Race who finished in sixth place, Nick Noel who made it to the championship round and ended up in second place, Dylan DeMauro who came in third and Camrin Galvin who earned a fifth place. 

Learned chosen as Hannibal Library’s Woman of the Year

3-29_HANlearnedBy Debra J. Groom

Christine Learned has been named Hannibal Library’s Woman of the Year.

It was the sixth time the award has been presented. She was honored during a special lunch and program March 22 at the library.

Learned, 41, worked as a certified nursing assistant at St. Luke’s in Oswego for seven years before she was diagnosed with breast cancer.

She took time out for surgery and treatment, all the while also taking care of her family, which includes three daughters and a granddaughter.

“I loved my job — I love taking care of the elderly,” she said during a phone interview Wednesday.

She tried to go back to her job, but found the mastectomy surgery made it difficult to care for the nursing home residents properly.

She was diagnosed with an aggressive form of cancer in 2004, but did go into remission. But in September 2013, she was diagnosed with stage 4 metastatic breast cancer.

“There is no cure for my cancer, so I am taking medications that help in stabilizing it,” she said. “Now, I’m living life, taking care of my family and doing what I can. I remain hopeful.”

Her family includes daughters Kayla, 22, who worked in Radisson; Sarra, 16, who attends Hannibal High; and Amanda, 13, a student at Kenney Middle. She also has a granddaughter Claire, 2 1/2, who she looks after during the day.

Learned received a plaque and certificates for being named Woman of the Year.

“I am very honored,” she said. “I was in total shock — it was totally unexpected.”

Women nominated for the honor this year were: Donna Blake, Linda Ford,  Christine Bortel Learned, Kim Heins, Carol Newvine, Linda Remig, Lenore Richards and Shelly Stanton.

Residents of the area voted on the nominees through March 15.

The annual award was begun by librarian Shelly Stanton as a way of recognizing outstanding women in the community. It always is done in March — which is Women’s History Month.

Empower credit union employees clean up Voorhees Park

Employees from Empower Federal Credit Union West Branch in Fulton are volunteering to help prepare Voorhees Park for the summer.

As a community outreach project, they are working with the Friends of Fulton Parks and the Fulton Department of Parks and Recreation to install safety landing material at the Voorhees Park Playground during Earth Week. For information on how you can “Sparkle-a-Park” at other locations in Fulton, email friendsoffultonparks@gmail.com.

Fulton’s “Sparkle-a-Park” activities are part of the Oswego County Environmental Management Council’s Earth Week Cleanups and Projects, to be held across the county through May 4.

Fulton school district residents to vote on public library propositions

By Ashley M. Casey

The Fulton City School District board of education voted March 25 to include propositions concerning the Fulton Public Library on the May 20 special election ballot.

Library Director Betty Maute and Board of Trustees President Marian Stanton presented two propositions to the board.

One would make the library a school district library and increase the annual tax amount the district collects for the library to $350,000 (currently, the school collects $170,000 a year on behalf of the library).

The other allows school district voters to elect members of the library’s board of trustees.

“We have to have stable funding,” Stanton said. “When push comes to shove, the library gets shoved.”

Fulton resident Bill Pierce spoke against the library propositions during the evening’s first public forum.

He said he had heard a lot of “misinformation” about which taxpayers would fall under the new levy amount, and he opposed the original 1999 New York state law that allowed libraries to collect taxes through school districts as well.

“It should have nothing to do with the school system,” Pierce said.

Fulton Superintendent Bill Lynch explained that only property owners who live in the Fulton City School District will pay the tax.

“The levying of the library tax will not be related to zip code. It will be on those who live in the Fulton school district,” Lynch said. “The school district will have no responsibility for the library building, staff or budget.”

Stanton also said the library would not “impinge on their (the school district’s) functions.”

Lynch told The Valley News if voters approve these propositions, they will have more control over the library than they do now.

“The registered voters are going to elect the library board,” he said. “The library is saying, ‘You will now have a stake in the governance of the library.’”

Currently, the Common Council approves the mayor’s appointments of library trustees.

Although the school board has approved the propositions for the May election, ultimately, it is up to the school district voters.

Budget waiting for state aid

Superintendent Bill Lynch and Director of Finance Kathy Nichols introduced a second draft of the proposed 2014-15 district budget.

The numbers are the same as in the first draft: The budget is expected to increase by 2.66 percent to $66,992,685 over the 2013-14 total of $65,259,100.

Lynch reiterated the district will increase the local tax levy only by 1 percent over last year’s rate.

“I just don’t think the community is in a spot to be able to handle (more than) that,” he said.

The district still faces a shortfall of $1,280,378. The district is hoping to close that gap through analyzing its revenues and spending, receiving a portion from the BOCES administrative budget, state aid and a possible reduction in the Gap Elimination Adjustment the district must pay.

New York state is expected to complete its budget by April 1.

“We are a high-need, low-wealth school district … We are relying on aid from New York state,” Lynch said. “Foundation aid has essentially been frozen since the 2008-09 school year.”

He explained that for the 2008-09 year, state foundation aid covered 40 percent of total education costs. Now, that aid covers only 35 percent, shifting more of the burden to local taxpayers.

Nichols and Lynch will present a third draft of the budget at the April 8 board meeting. The board is expected to adopt the budget at the April 23 meeting, and district taxpayers will vote on it May 20.

Coming up

Public propositions for the May 20 election are due April 1.

The next regular meeting of the school board will be at 7:30 p.m. April 8 at the Education Center, 167 S. Fourth St.

The public hearing for the proposed school budget will be at 7 p.m. May 7 at the Junior High School, 129 Curtis St.

The vote on the school budget, library propositions and election of school board members will be May 20 at the elementary schools.

Fourth-highest vote getter in May 20 election will fill Occhino-Pilawa’s vacant board seat

By Ashley M. Casey

Rosemary Occhino-Pilawa’s term on the Fulton school board would have expired in 2015.

Now that she has resigned, the remaining board members have two options: appoint someone to take her place, or wait for the May 20 election.

Given that the election is less than two months away, the board is opting to wait.

“When we have the election in May, the person who is the fourth-highest vote-getter will be elected to fulfill Rosemary’s term (ending in 2015),” said Superintendent Bill Lynch.

The seats of David Cordone, Barbara Hubbard and Fred Cavalier are also up for election.

Lynch said the district has given out six sets of petitions to potential board candidates, but the exact number of people running won’t be available until the candidates return their petitions to the school April 30.

Candidates must reside within the Fulton City School District and need 100 signatures on their petitions to run for the school board.

The board will accept election results and swear in new members at the May 27 meeting.

Occhino-Pilawa says goodbye to Fulton

By Ashley M. Casey

School’s out forever for Rosemary Occhino-Pilawa.

After more than 40 years of living in Fulton and working with local schools, the former educator and school board member is bidding the city adieu as she prepares to move to Onondaga County with her new husband, engineer Donald Pilawa.

Occhino-Pilawa has resigned her position on the Fulton City School District board of education, where she has served since 2009.

She announced her resignation in a letter read aloud to her fellow board members at the March 11 school board meeting. She attended her final board meeting March 25, and her last day of service is March 31.

Occhino-Pilawa said her goals for her time on the board have been “to make a positive difference” and “to be transparent.”

“If I had just touched the life of one child (while) serving on the board, it will be positive,” Occhino-Pilawa told The Valley News.

Over her four decades in Fulton, Occhino-Pilawa has touched many lives. She taught at the now-defunct Erie Street and Phillips Street schools, Fairgrieve and Granby. She retired in 2003 after spending 19 years as a first-grade teacher at Granby. Her first husband was an educator as well.

Occhino-Pilawa said she ran for school board after her first husband, longtime teacher and the Hannibal district’s Fairley Elementary School principal Dr. Joseph Occhino, passed away in 2008.

“I needed to give back to the community that welcomed me and my husband and my children with open arms,” she said.

Originally from Gloversville, N.Y., Occhino-Pilawa was a reluctant transplant to Fulton in 1973.

“I was living a charmed life in Vermont, my first love,” she said of the state where she spent her college years. Occhino-Pilawa received her bachelor’s degree from Castleton State College in 1968 and did graduate work at the University of Vermont in Burlington.

The late Dr. Occhino took a job at the Erie Street School in Fulton. The Occhinos agreed to give Fulton a try for three years and planned to return to Vermont.

“When the three years came to closure, he said, ‘We’ll put our house on the market,’ and I said, ‘If you want to leave, you’ll have to leave by yourself!’” Occhino-Pilawa recalled. “Those three years have turned into 41.”

Because New York state did not honor Occhino-Pilawa’s Vermont special education certification, she became a substitute teacher and eventually an elementary school teacher. Her husband built his career as an educator and spent 27 years as principal of Fairley in Hannibal.

Dr. Occhino had been a strong supporter of the Ronald McDonald House, so to honor his memory, Occhino-Pilawa coordinated a recyclable “pop tab” collection to benefit the charity.

“It was so phenomenal,” Occhino-Pilawa said of the student and community response.

That year, the Fulton district collected more than 1,000 pounds of tabs from soda cans and soup cans. The donation was worth more than $600. McDonald’s sent Ronald McDonald to the winning school — Fairgrieve, with more than 500 pounds of pop tabs — to present a program on bullying and safety.

“Helping others is really what life is about,” Occhino-Pilawa said.

The district’s teachers’ association presented Occhino-Pilawa with a community award at its banquet that year.

“It’s very dear to my heart because my late husband endorsed the McDonald foundation,” she said.

The Occhinos raised three sons: Martin, Alan and Jason. Martin now lives in Connecticut, but his two brothers remain in Oswego County.

“This is a great place to raise children,” Occhino-Pilawa said. “If you ask (my sons), ‘Where is home?’ they’ll say it’s Fulton.”

Upon her marriage to Donald Pilawa Nov. 9, 2013, Occhino-Pilawa chose her new last name to reflect her family pride, both old and new.

“I hyphenated the name because of my three sons and I have seven grandchildren who all carry the Occhino name, and I’m very proud of it,” she said.

“I have enormous anxieties about departing,” Occhino-Pilawa said of leaving the city she’s called home since 1970.

At her final board meeting, her colleagues expressed their sadness and well wishes too.

“You are an inspiration,” said Christine Plath, whose daughter worked with Occhino-Pilawa as a student teacher.

“She made her the teacher she is today in Hannibal,” Plath said of Occhino-Pilawa’s guidance.

“You added laughter, candor and a heart of full dedication,” David Carvey said. “You will be sorely missed.”