A NOT QUITE FAREWELL TO MARTY DONNELLY – April 2019

By Judy Garrison & Maria Ditchek

We had prepared some questions when we settled down for an early morning talk with Marty in his family room. We hoped it would be more of a conversation than an interview, with Marty recalling and reminiscing where his memory led. And that it is how it went.  Marty described the process of transplanting here in Andes in 1981 from West Babylon on Long Island, how he got cajoled into entering political life in the late ‘90s, and the experience of being Town Supervisor. This role was clearly gratifying to Marty, as well as at times a challenge to his well-known equanimity.

Marty recalled how since the 1960s he and Yvonne had visited his mother—who owned a diner on Palmer Hill with her husband. When they made the decision to move upstate, Yvonne encouraged him to seriously consider Andes, near his mother, as well as his sisters, Joy and Helen. They found an attractive house, near, but not on, the main road, with pasture for a horse. The deal was sealed.

At first Marty kept away from upstate politics. He had been able to transfer his insurance company (with its NY state license) that represented unions and school districts. He had plenty of projects to work on, including adding a family room with a soaring ceiling to the house. He had been a district committeeman and town leader on the Island, but it wasn’t until Frank Oles, at the behest of state senator Owen Johnson—who knew Marty from West Babylon and had a farm near Treadwell—encouraged him to run for Town Supervisor, that the subject came up. Oles cited one meeting a month each for Town and County Board of Supervisors meetings. Marty hesitated at first, then said, “I’ll give it a shot.” He proceeded to win the election and tells that in his first week he attended 11 meetings! He went on as Supervisor for 18 years.

The Streetscape Project, with the array of federal and state money that came to it, was at times an awkward collaboration between the Town and the Village. Judy remembers how Marty worked hard to secure state and federal grants, but it was the Village that had to, strictly speaking, make the application. It is hard to overstate how proud we in the community are of having obtained beautiful sidewalks, street parking, storm drains, plantings, benches and vintage lights that enhance our walkable historic hamlet. This was not a given.

Judy brought up the Dissolution of the Village issue. Marty says in many ways he was sorry that it got dissolved, but understood the strong feelings against some of the village leadership at the time. Some town councils might have given short shrift to the needs of the hamlet, but ours never did. Marty feels that Bud Gladstone, who succeeded him as Town Supervisor, is doing a great job, and has his total support. We all agreed that party affiliation does not apply in Andes when policy decisions are being made.

After it became clear that the water/sewer treatment plant paid for by the city (DEP) had enormous problems (The engineering firm that was awarded the project was large, and one the mayor knew well, but this was their first project of this type.) Marty was able to get Delaware Engineering to sort out the mess.

A community group advocated for the acquisition of Ballantine Park for the Town when George Ballantine put it up for sale. There was opposition on the board at that time. Finally, under Marty’s guidance, the board voted to purchase it with the understanding that a community group would be responsible for fundraising to pay for maintenance, a solution that offered the legacy of this beautiful park for enjoyment by the whole community. It’s hard now to imagine the public not having access to it.

The proposed wind turbine project and its opposition are in more recent memory. Whatever Marty felt initially, he listened to his constituents. Later the fracking issue, which had divided many communities, was the hot controversy. Some farmers felt the payments they could receive would save their farms. The opponents believed the long-term environmental effects would be devastating and would ruin the natural beauty as well as the draw of our area for eco-tourism. A group from the state came, Marty recalls, to do a presentation on the pros and cons. His mind was made up after that. “One leak,” he thought, could spell disaster. Again, he listened to what he calls the “People’s Voice.” If the people didn’t want something, he took their wishes to heart.

The proposed location of the Bassett Health clinic adjoining Ballantine Park was one of the more recent controversies. Some neighbors of the site offered vocal opposition at town board meetings, expressing how they felt increased traffic and nighttime lighting would adversely affect their residential neighborhood. Marty was on the O’Connor Hospital board and had heard that Margaretville Hospital had their eye on extending their reach to Andes, so he advocated for a Bassett clinic here. It is clear that the clinic has served to fill a need for health services in our community.

When Ann Roberti and others worked to acquire hiking trails, collaboration with the Town was essential.  Marty, they say, was a wonderful partner. He knew whom to contact and how, and always followed through.

Unfortunately, we didn’t get to topics such as the restoration of the railroad depot, the relocation of Town Hall, and county issues Marty encountered, much less his Navy days or his full family life.* Marty and Yvonne will be leaving Andes this summer to move into a retirement community in Mooresville, North Carolina, near Charlotte, not far from their oldest son. Their 3 Andes buildings are currently for sale. Despite his quadruple bypass operation in 1998 and later carotid artery surgery to remove a blockage, Marty declares that he feels he is in good health. The library board—which he joined 3 years ago—will miss his expertise and counsel. More than that, it is absolutely clear that the entire community will feel a distinct void in his absence. In addition to being a smiling face on Main Street and elsewhere, he has been at the heart of so many projects. When funding was needed for a project, Marty would somehow make it appear. Most visibly, he used his powers of advocacy and persuasion to attract earmark state money through our state senators, first John Bonacic and later Jim Seward. We look forward to return visits by Marty and Yvonne. We really can’t imagine Andes without you both!

*For more about Marty and his family you can search the Gazette archive at www.andesgazette.net “Marty Retires After 18 Years” February 2016.~