March 16, 2007

Parade to honor trailblazer

Former Cortland resident Nancy Duffy, founder of the Syracuse St. Patrick’s Day parade, died in December.


Photos provided by Channel 9
A photo taken by Al Miles shows Nancy Duffy (waving, with white bag) marching in the 2001 Syracuse St. Patrick’s Day parade.

Staff Reporter

CORTLAND — On St. Patrick’s Day in 1962, the editorial staff at the Cortland Standard interviewed one of its own, a “news gathering gal in green” named Nancy Kate Teresa Duffy.
The paper’s first female police reporter, then in her teens, said that not only had both of her parents come over from the Emerald Isle, but that her roots went much farther back.
“All the way back to my great-great-great-great-grandfather. He was the first king of Ireland,” the former Cortland resident proclaimed, adding, “It was about 1500 B.C.”
Although the newsroom staff was skeptical at the time, Nancy Duffy spent nearly three decades showing she was Irish royalty in Syracuse as the founder and lead organizer of the city’s St. Patrick’s Day parade — now in its 25th year.
The Channel 9 reporter died in December after a long illness, and this year will be the first in which Duffy won’t be overseeing the organization of the parade.
This year’s theme is Irish Trailblazers, which current parade President Janet Higgins said was chosen with Duffy in mind.
“This is my second year as president, and it’s great, except I really miss Nancy,” Higgins said Wednesday. “Because last year, she would always call me during parade season and say ‘God bless you, how are you holding up?’ Because she was so involved in the parade, people would always call Nancy.”
Over the course of her career, Duffy did hold many firsts — she was also the first female police reporter at the now-defunct Syracuse Herald-American; the first female television reporter in Syracuse — it is, in fact, an extensive list.
This year, the parade’s promotional poster includes a depiction of Duffy marching along the parade route, downtown Salina Street, which for the parade is being renamed “Nancy Duffy Lane.” Also, special envelopes, with Duffy’s picture as she marches, are being sold to raise money for Project Children, an organization that brings children from Northern Ireland to the United States for six weeks.
“They’re (stamps) going to be canceled on March 17, 2007, with the parade logo itself, and then Nancy’s picture is over to the left of that with an inset on the back,” Higgins said.
The caption on the envelopes read, “In memory of Nancy Duffy, may God hold you in the palm of His hand.”
“Before we knew she was ill, we begged and cajoled her to be grand marshal of the parade, but she would never do it,” Higgins said. “She was just nice — I’ve never heard anyone say anything bad about her, and I knew her for 25 years.”
When Duffy was organizing the first parade in 1983, she contacted Higgins’ husband, Ed, who was the only person in Syracuse with experience organizing parades.
Higgins said her husband initially turned down Duffy’s request, but when she called back a few days before the parade, she was able to charm him into giving her a hand, and he continued to be the operations director for many years.
“I really miss her, and I miss her phone calls, and we would laugh and laugh about the phone calls we received,” Higgins said. “One year, this guy wants to bring Saddam Hussein and put him in a coffin and march him down the parade route — and we’re like, ‘Ummm, nooooo.’”
Thursday night, Peter Duffy arrived in Syracuse from his home in New York City, in honor of his mother’s commitment to the parade.
“When my mother was really front and center on it, we went every year,” Duffy said Thursday afternoon. “There’s going to be some honoring of my mother, which I’ll be there for with the mayor tomorrow, and at the dinner tomorrow night, they’re presenting me with I don’t know what.”
Although his mother occasionally became frustrated dealing with competing egos and priorities, Duffy said she was able to create something that would stand up to the kinds of pressures that might paralyze other community projects.
“The idea that she created something that will live, who knows how long, but certainly past her immediate existence, is something that’s very heartening and I think that will counteract the bittersweet stuff,” Duffy said.
At the end of the Cortland Standard’s 1962 article, the editors finally computed that it would take 1,133 and one-third “greats,” as in great-grandfathers, to reach back to the first King of Ireland.
Nancy Duffy became Irish royalty, with or without a genealogical tree.

She also disclosed to the newspaper staff the motto of the Duffy family coat of arms — “Never give up.”



Crash kills Homer student, grandmother

Staff Reporter

HOMER — A Homer High School junior and her grandmother were killed Thursday  in a two-vehicle accident on Kinney Gulf Road.
No tickets have been issued and the accident is under investigation, said Sgt. Rob Derkson of the Cortland County Sheriff’s Department.
At about 4:30 p.m., Alissa J. Churchill, 17, of 1715 Little York Crossing Road in Homer, took a left turn from Bond Road onto Kinney Gulf Road in her 2006 Toyota Camry, with her grandmother, Sally Churchill, 69, of 4429 Kinney Gulf Road in Cortlandville, riding in the passenger seat.
As Churchill entered the intersection, her car was hit by a 1999 Dodge Ram 3500 traveling north on Kinney Gulf Road, driven by John Hammond, 62, of 1255 Atwood Road in Summerhill, Cayuga County. Hammond was not injured.
Alissa Churchill was pronounced dead at the scene, and her grandmother died later that night at University Hospital in Syracuse.
The Homer Fire Department, TLC Emergency Medical Services, Cortlandville Fire Department and State Police assisted at the scene.
Homer High School Principal Fred Farah was unwilling to speak about the incident this morning.
“We’re just gathering ourselves here,” Farah said, adding that a news conference likely would be held later in the morning.
Sally Churchill is the wife of a retired county police officer, Lt. Robert Churchill.


County doles out occupancy tax dollars

Staff Reporter

The Legislature’s Budget and Finance Committee Thursday recommended the allocation of $357,400 in county occupancy tax money to 18 local festivals, museums, theater groups and other tourist attractions.
The funding, generated by a 5 percent tax visitors pay when staying at hotels in the county, will allow these organizations to market themselves and ideally draw more visitors to the county, according Jim Dempsey, director of the Cortland County Convention and Visitors Bureau.
“In a way it sort of pays for itself, because the more we invest, the more visitors we draw in and the more tax dollars we generate,” Dempsey said.
The total occupancy tax revenue increased from $330,678 in 2005 to $360,081 in 2006.
In 2006, hotels in the county earned $8.9 million in revenue from renting rooms, a 15 percent, or $1.1 million, increase over 2005, Dempsey said.
Meanwhile 2005 saw a 7 percent increase over 2004, Dempsey reported, and 2007, despite concerns about losing winter tourism during a mild early winter, the county is already on pace to improve on 2006.
“I absolutely believe that that increase is because of the cooperative efforts of all the organizations in this industry,” Dempsey said. “This system the county set up is helping bring dollars in.”
Included in the allocations approved Thursday was $150,000 for the Convention and Visitors Bureau, up from $145,000 allocated last year.
The county keeps 10 percent of the total occupancy tax revenue to cover administrative costs.
Dempsey presented the committee with $325,500 in requests, recommended by a committee that reviews all applications for occupancy tax dollars.
Because of the limited dollars available, many of the recommended allocations did not meet the amount requested, with some allocations dramatically lower than requested.
A total of $482,840 was requested by the local organizations that received funds.