February 03, 2007

Remembering a life dedicated to family, city


Joe McIntyre/staff photographer
A photograph of Gary Carpenter taken in Germany while serving in the Army in 1958 rests on the dining room table where his wife Angele Carpenter and daughter Regina Ferro sit.

Staff Reporter

Gary Carpenter was dedicated. He was dedicated to his family, he was dedicated to the city Police Department and he was dedicated to the city. He was so dedicated to every aspect of his life that many wonder how he had time to balance it all.
“Carp,” as his friends called him, was a 28-year veteran of city police department, a father of three, a grandfather of three, a husband of 45 years and a friend to more than can be counted.
Those friends and family mourned his passing Jan. 26 when he died at age 67 of esophagus cancer.
“I think any cop would tell you, if you were a criminal you wouldn’t want Carp on your case. He was like a pit bull,” said Phil Cinquanti, the city’s chief of police from 1978 to 1997. “He was one of the leaders of the department.”
Carpenter, who worked on the police force from 1962 to 1990, was said to have been a diligent student of the law, once saving the city from a billion dollar lawsuit through his own legal             research.
He had an illustrious career, including being named the first “Law Man of the Year” in 1971, but his family never took a back seat to his job.
“I don’t know how he did it,” said his son William Carpenter, who is now a 19-year veteran of the city police department. “I don’t know how he worked like he did and still put family first.”
Gary Carpenter graduated in 1958 from Cortland High School, where he was a star football and basketball player. He was the captain of the school’s football team during its undefeated 1957 season and then joined the Army after graduation.
Before heading to Fort Dix for training, Carpenter met a nursing student who he started dating casually; however, that student had a younger friend who Carpenter married four years later.
“I met him because the girl who graduated ahead of me was going out with him at the time,” said Angele Carpenter, Gary’s wife.
“He knew she would be leaving pretty soon so he thought he would finish dating her so he could date me,” she added, smiling while telling about a time her husbanding got a flat tire on Main Street driving his then girlfriend around town. “He was so embarrassed. I said good for him, it couldn’t happen to a better guy because I thought he acted like he was God’s gift to women.”
In addition to his police work, Carpenter worked a side job delivering juice, and as a photographer in order to support his family. He performed security and took photos at Greek Peek so his children could ski for free, and in his late 30s he learned to ski himself so he could spend more time with his children.
“He learned downhill skiing because he knew that’s what we liked to do and he wanted to do something as a family,” said Regina Ferro, Carpenter’s daughter. “That was our winter activity together.”
As a police officer Carpenter always put others first. In the mid-1980s, after a fatal DWI crash left one SUNY Cortland student dead and another badly injured, Carpenter not only worked diligently on the case, but also reached out to the family of the injured student when they came to Cortland to take their daughter home.
After driving to Cortland from outside of New York City, one family member had carbon monoxide poisoning from the van’s leaking exhaust.
Without hesitation, and at his own expense, Carpenter volunteered to drive the family’s van home for them. He loaned them his car to follow him home safely.
“They (Carpenter and a fellow police officer) took the van with the windows down when it was cold, like now, and drove it home for them,” William Carpenter said.
“He would do anything he could for anybody else,” added Ferro. “He was so committed.”
Carpenter was proud of his children, grandchildren, daughter in-law Renee Carpenter and son in-law Michael Ferror, family members said, while fellow officers and friends never run short of things to say about his character and integrity.
David Baldassarre, a city police officer from 1981 to 1993, remembers Carpenter as a teacher and a leader who was always there for younger policeman.
Gary Polinsky, who went to high school with Carpenter, joined the Army with him in 1958 and worked on the police force with him from 1964 to 1985, described his lifelong friend as “a bit of a bookworm” and a loving family man.
Police Chief James Nichols — who worked under Carpenter from 1969 until 1990 — says Carpenter exemplifies what all police officers hope to be remembered as, a good cop.
“If at the end of you’re career you’re remembered as a good cop, that’s all you want to be,” Nichols said.



Bank robbery suspect’s father shocked by charges

Staff Reporter

Michael Bohn strayed from his usual routine Thursday.
The Rochester father of two had taken the day off from work. He asked his father to pick up his 7-year-old son in the afternoon from Allendale Columbia School in Pittsford where Bohn worked as a teacher.
Michael Bohn told his father, Hermann Bohn, that he had to attend to some “personal business.”
Hermann Bohn said he assumed it was something school-related.
Later on, at 5:30 p.m., Michael Bohn planned to pick up his 2-year-old son from day care.
Instead, Bohn was in Cortland, preparing to rob a bank, city police said.
“We’re very upset about the whole thing,” said Hermann Bohn, who lives on the Rochester suburb of Penfield. “He must have just snapped and cracked.”
Hermann Bohn said his son was a model father and teacher. He could not believe his son was involved in a bank robbery.
Just before 5 p.m. Thursday, Bohn pulled into the Econo Lodge parking lot at 10 Church St., a witness said in a supporting deposition filed in City Court.
The witness said she didn’t really pay too much attention to the car or the man driving it.
Minutes later, Christopher Holl, of Homer, said he saw Bohn walking around the corner of Tompkins Trust Bank at 33 Clinton Ave. as Holl was walking out of the bank.
In an interview Friday with the Cortland Standard, Holl said as he was getting into his car he noticed Bohn put a ski mask over his face. He said he at first didn’t think much of it.
“I was just thinking, ‘Why is he putting a ski mask on to go into the bank?’” he said. “It didn’t really occur me to that was actually going to happen.”
Holl said he was about to leave in his car when he looked up and saw Bohn through the bank window holding a gun up in the air.
He said he immediately called 911, as he drove out of the parking lot onto Clinton Avenue.
“It was just adrenaline,” he said about the whole experience. “I felt like I needed to get out of there because I didn’t want him to see me on the phone.”
Bohn was holding a .44-caliber Magnum, ordering four employees and two customers to get down on the ground.
Hermann Bohn said he couldn’t believe his son had a gun, let alone a .44-caliber Magnum.
“We have no idea where he got the pistol from,” Bohn said. “We normally do not have any weapons in the house.”
Bohn had placed stolen license plates on his Volkswagen, police said.
According to employees’ supporting depositions, Michael Bohn had the bank manager get up and fill Bohn’s Gap bag with money from two different drawers.
He also yelled, “No die packs, just the money,” about six or seven times, one witness said.
The manager filled the bag with money - almost $16,000, police later said.
One witness described what happened after the manager gave Bohn the money.
“The manager gave him the bag and as this guy was walking out he said, ‘Lay on the floor and stay on the floor’ and ‘Don’t move for 15 minutes or I’ll shoot the s—- out of everybody.’”
Hermann Bohn said his son was going through a costly divorce.
The emotional and financial strain from the divorce is the only explanation he can come up with for why his son set out to rob a bank.



St. Mary’s finds divine inspiration

Staff Reporter

Attending St. Mary’s Parochial School has become a family tradition for Margaret Gutchess and her family.
Gutchess and her siblings graduated from the school and at one time or another four of her six children have attended the school.
“I just love the family atmosphere,” Gutchess said. “We just love the fact that they can pray every day, which should be so much of a child’s day.”
As the school celebrated Catholic Schools Week this week, Principal Sister Harriett Hamilton said that while the enrollment has declined in recent years, the school is financially sound and taking steps to assure that it stays that way.
For Mary Ann Fadale, St. Mary’s is an extended family. Not only has she taught in the school for 10 years as a fourth-grade teacher, but her son was a student at the school.
“He had an outstanding education,” Fadale said. “When he left here, he was so well prepared for junior high and high school.” Fadale said she sent her son to the school for pre-school and she was “hooked” on the program the moment he walked through the doors.
St. Mary’s has been in existence since 1928. It started with kindergarten through 12th grade and now teaches pre-kindergarten through sixth grade.
Principal Sister Harriet Hamilton said the school evolved because of declining enrollment and a shortage of nuns. Currently, Sister Harriet is the only nun at St. Mary’s.
“1935 was the first graduation,” said Sister Hamilton.
Thirty-five years later the school closed its doors to students in the 10th, 11th and 12th grades. In 1983, grade nine was closed and in 1987 grades seven and eight were closed.
There are 328 children from pre-kindergarten through sixth grade. That is down from the 2002-03 school year, Sister Harriet said, when enrollment surpassed 400.
Although enrollment has decreased, Sister Harriet said the school is in good shape financially.
“It is not as dire as it seems,” Sister Harriet said. “What we are seeing is a shift in population. Families are moving out of Central New York for jobs, to the suburbs.”
She said the school’s marketing team does a lot to help bolster enrollment. She said the school has fund-raisers, sends out information pamphlets and holds open houses. The school will host an open house on Feb. 11.
“There will always be a need for us here,” said Sister Harriet. She added the school serves 12 school districts and six counties and students come from as far as Moravia and Georgetown. 
Sister Harriet said tuition varies on the size of the family applying and there is also a tuition assistance program to help families afford the school.
A family with one child in grades kindergarten through sixth grade would pay $2,695 for the 2006-07 school year, according to St. Mary’s Web site. Sister Harriet said the school adheres to New York state education standards. She said the school administers New York state tests to the students.
Sister Harriet has been at the school for 21 years and she said she has embraced every year with the same gusto.
“We have a lot more freedom here to be creative,” she said. “I have certainly enjoyed my time here and there is a tremendous amount of support in Cortland.”
Sister Harriet said about 25 percent of the school’s students are not Catholics. She said all students must take religion as an academic subject and the children must attend Mass with the school.
The school has 20 teachers, seven teacher aides and six support staff.
“Sister Harriet is wonderful,” said Gutchess. Gutchess said her oldest child, who is now 19, was in the care of Sister Harriet. She also has a 12-year-old son in sixth grade at the school and two more children who have yet to attend.



Legislators and others look back, wonder if OTB was worth gamble

Staff Reporter

A county legislator for more than a decade in the 1970s and ’80s, Russ Teeter was no doubt accustomed to receiving phone calls from concerned constituents.
None compared, though, to the anonymous call he received in October 1987, concerning a vote to allow off-track betting in Cortland County.
“Somebody called and said that if I voted for it, I’d have concrete feet or something,” Teeter said recently. “That was something else — I think my children or wife said you’d better call the police, just in case anything did happen, but obviously nothing did.”
The caller told Teeter’s wife that her husband would “sleep with the fishes,” according to a Cortland Standard article from Oct. 27, 1987.
It was one bizarre incident in what was a long and virulent battle over allowing off-track betting in the county.
Throughout the 1980s OTB was a hot-button issue in the Cortland County Legislature, which had to weigh the potential problems legalizing a form of gambling in the county would allow versus the potential revenue OTB could bring in, during a time when the county was in need of additional revenue.
“Boy, that was a hard one, we labored over it for years,” said Legislator Sandy Price (D-Harford and Virgil), who was on the Legislature at the time. “I even saw it tear apart some friendships, people who were for it and people who were against it.”
In 1987 the Legislature initially approved OTB, but when a scheduled public referendum had to be canceled because of a technicality, it repealed that approval.
In 1994, the issue was raised again, and this time it was brought to public referendum, passing 7,043-6,286.
Currently there are three OTB locations in the county — the primary OTB Parlor on Tompkins Street in Cortlandville, which is connected to Uncle Louie’s Barbecue, and locations at the St. Charles Hotel on Central Avenue in Cortland and Mijo’s Tavern in Marathon — and together they’ve brought in an annual average of $127,000 to the county in the last four years.
Many on either side of the debate years ago agree today that OTB has faded from the forefront of local discussion, but the effect OTB has on the county — especially when legalized gambling in other forms becomes more and more prominent across the state and the country — remains very much debatable.
The great debate
The county Council of Churches represented one of the staunchest opponents to OTB.
“We didn’t like the idea of government being in the gambling business,” said Don Wilcox, executive director of the Council of Churches. “We thought it was exploitative, that it doesn’t send the right message to our kids, and it takes advantage of people and I still feel that way, and that goes for lotteries, OTB and a gamut of other things.”
That people struggling financially would be most likely to be drawn to gambling was a chief concern for opponents, Wilcox said, and although gambling problems are not prominently visible in Cortland today, they exist, he said.
“What’s frustrating is that it just seems that gambling in general has kind of exploded all over,” he said.
Still, it was precisely the rise of legalized gambling at the time that encouraged some proponents of OTB.
“It held no interest for me personally, but it’s a perfectly valid form of entertainment, and if people were going to be going out of town to hit OTB parlors, I wasn’t going to turn it down for the rest of the community,” said Cortlandville Town Supervisor Dick Tupper, a legislator at the time. “It was revenue at a time in the ’80s and ’90s when we really needed revenue.”
However Carletta Edwards, a legislator at the time who worked with the Council of Churches to oppose OTB, said the revenues simply were not enough.