May 4 , 2007

A perfect moment

A time capsule found in the cornerstone of an old Groton church almost was missed


Photos by Bob Ellis/staff photographer
Janet Jacobs-Fish leans next to a stained glass window “Presented by The Band of Workers” at the former Congregational Church in Groton. She discovered information about the Band of Workers in an 1883 time capsule found Wednesday in the church’s cornerstone.


Bob Ellis/staff photographer
Items found in the copper time capsule include an 1883 copy of the Groton and Lansing Journal newspaper; a Congregational Church manual; The Bridge Builder, a local Groton newspaper published by the Groton Iron Bridge Company; and a list of church members.  

Staff Reporter

GROTON — The new owner of the old Congregational Church building says it’s no coincidence that she came across a 124-year-old time capsule containing a list of the women who helped get the church started.
Janet Jacobs-Fish found the list of women, who called themselves the “band of workers,” at a time a new group of women, including herself, are trying to give the building a new beginning.
“Again the church is all women,” she said. “I feel like we’re the new band of workers.”
Jacobs-Fish, a masseuse who is 44 and lives in Groton, is joining forces with three women — her masseuse co-worker, an artist and a musician — to make the church a bustling community center. She said the women are guided by the work of the original band of women, whose spirits still fill the church, as well as philosophies revealed in the time capsule.
Jacobs-Fish bought the church — which was built in 1883 at 11 Church St. — April 27 from Jeremiah Donovan, a pottery professor at SUNY Cortland who lives just behind the church.
Donovan, who bought the church six years ago and did extensive work on it, had grand plans to make it a community center. Unfortunately, he didn’t end up having enough time to fulfill his dream.
“My original intentions were being formed before I started teaching and being involved at SUNY Cortland,” he said. “I realized my dreams that I initially had for the church would require me not to be as committed to what I was hired to do.”
In November, Jacobs-Fish, who has had a massage business — Essential Unwinding and the Art of Massage — with Laurie Sinclair in a quarter of the church for the last three years, asked Donovan if she could buy the building from him, she said.
“I just heard I was supposed to buy the church,” said Jacobs-Fish, who says she’s very spiritual. “He was comfortable with it because he had the same vision I have.”
Donovan said that while he owned the church, he heard that a time capsule was buried behind the church’s cornerstone. About a month ago, before selling the church, he decided it was time to find it.
A mason removed the 250-pound cornerstone, he said, but no time capsule was to be found behind it.
“I was horribly disappointed,” he said.
But just Wednesday, when the mason was chipping old mortar off the back of the stone before putting the stone back, a copper box fell from inside of it.
Jacobs-Fish said it was fate. Not only was she walking by the mason when capsule fell out, but she had done something else that explained its appearance at that moment.
Jacobs-Fish said she had just cleared out bricks filling up a fireplace inside a room in the back of the church that once served as the band of workers’ kitchen.
“I feel like we released the band of workers and the whole kitchen is open,” she said.
The time capsule contains a list of the 26 band of workers’ names, a $10,000 “bill of sale” from 1883 from church architect Lawrence Volk to church officials, a church manual stating how the church formed, a document about the first service inside the church, a copy of the July 12, 1883, edition of The Bridge Builder, a Groton newspaper, and a copy of the July 2, 1883, edition of the Groton and Lansing Journal, another Groton newspaper.
Jacobs-Fish said it is interesting to see how people used to value natural treatments, something she strongly believes in as a masseuse. One article discusses the “preserving power” of soil, while ads refer to doctors who believe in natural medicine.
“I thought it was interesting how the past was coming to the present,” she said.
Jacobs-Fish said the documents had been folded into small squares. She said she and Donovan were able to open them easily Wednesday night because they were moist.
Now that they are all dry, someone from Cornell University’s Herbert F. Johnson Art Museum will come to preserve the documents. The document about the service, for example, needs an expert to fully open it.
She said she may let the 1890 House Museum display the documents for a little while, but she intends eventually to put them on display inside the church.
The church soon will be filled with other interesting objects. In June, Nancy Boyce, a Groton artist who has works for sale at the Red Door Café in Groton, will be setting up an art gallery called Thou Art Gallery and Gifts in the church’s sanctuary, which takes up about half of the building.
She will display and sell unique art and crafts from local artists, and rent out spaces for art and music classes.
Maryfaith Miller, for example, will be teaching an African music and drumming class for children this summer, she said.
“That’s just the start of the community center,” Boyce said.
“Eventually I really want to be able to have classes for all things and to be able to rent out space for groups,” she said.
Another quarter of the church houses the massage business, while the last quarter serves as living space for Fish and her 17-year-old daughter, Sara. The women finished remodeling the space in April and have lived there since.
Fish said that within the next month, she and the “band of workers” will put together their own time capsule for future residents to learn from.
It will show them just how much the women wanted to launch a bustling community center.
“It’s really needed here,” she said. “It’s really cool to have the church alive again.”


Parishioners weren’t sure of time capsule

One former Congregational Church parishioner does not recall hearing about the time capsule uncovered Wednesday, while another remembers hearing a myth about it.
Irene Dates, a 90-year-old resident who attended the church with her husband, Karl, from 1941 until the mid-1960s when the church closed, said she knew nothing about it.
She said she does remember very well, however, the closing of the church. The number of parishioners had dwindled over the years, sparking church officials to merge the church with the village’s Baptist and Methodist churches.
The Congregational and Methodist parishioners joined their Baptist counterparts at the Baptist Church, which is located on Church Street.
The church is still active, though its number of parishioners has dwindled as well, she said.
“Everybody goes to everything on Sunday but church,” Dates said.
Janet Fuller, a 73-year-old Groton resident, said her family has the silver trowel that her husband’s great-great-grandfather — Dr. Clark Chapman — used to help lay the 1883 cornerstone.
She said neither she nor her husband — 78-year-old Irving Fuller — knew for sure if there was a time capsule, but heard a myth there was.
“I thought there may have been some history there,” she said.
She said there may be a time capsule in the church’s second cornerstone, which was added by her husband’s father, Harold, when an extra entrance was built onto the church around 1960, but neither she nor her husband are sure of that.
— Christine Laubenstein



Cortland part of growing student loan investigation

Associated Press Writer

ALBANY — New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo has broadened his student loan investigation to alumni associations nationwide, including SUNY Cortland’s, that he believes steer students to loan consolidation companies.
“We are fully cooperating,” said Doug DeRancy, executive director of Alumni Affairs at SUNY Cortland. He said that a month ago, before being asked, SUNY Cortland sent SUNY administration its contract information with Lincoln, Neb.-based lender Nelnet.
DeRancy said the college has not received a subpoena and does not have a lawyer representing it, but has been requested by the SUNY system not to answer questions regarding the practice of steering students to loan consolidation companies.
Two other SUNY_colleges, Buffalo and Fredonia were involved in the investigation as well. 
Cuomo said he issued 90 subpoenas and letters to alumni groups, including those representing graduates from The Juilliard School in New York, the University of Illinois, the University of California at Riverside and San Jose State University.
All the groups had agreements or relationships with lender Nelnet, he said.
Cuomo is asking whether the alumni groups that endorsed loan consolidation companies received any benefit or payments from lenders. Cuomo also wants to determine whether students were informed of any benefits paid to an association before they chose Nelnet.
“Unfortunately, it appears that student loan scams don’t end at graduation,” Cuomo said. He has released no information on any of the relationships.
Loan consolidation allows borrowers to repackage debt — often held by several banks or lenders and covering undergraduate and graduate studies at different schools — into a single loan.
Nelnet said it has agreements with 120 alumni groups that are legal under federal law.
“Nelnet has concluded that these affinity and license agreements do not constitute prohibited remuneration and are permitted under federal law,” according to the lender’s statement.
The company said it uses member lists to market its consolidation loans and uses the alumni association’s logo. Nelnet pays the alumni group a fixed or annual fee for each loan. Nelnet said alumni associations don’t recruit customers.
The company said it was surprised by Cuomo’s announcement because it has been cooperating with the attorney general.
Staff reporter Ida M. Pease contributed to this article.


McGraw schools may  fingerprint volunteers

Staff Reporter

McGRAW — The Board of Education discussed fingerprinting school district volunteers, but made no decision on the measure Thursday.
Superintendent of Schools Maria S. Fragnoli-Ryan said there is no requirement for doing so and no other district in the area requires it. She said the district has three or four volunteers at the elementary school and one volunteer for athletic programs.
Fingerprinting is required of district employees. At McGraw, the school district pays the cost of fingerprinting substitutes and non-instructional staff and teachers pay the cost for themselves, said Fragnoli-Ryan. She said fingerprinting costs $99 per person.
Dave Bordwell, a board member who had asked that the move be considered, said there is opportunity for anything to happen. Board President Michelle Stauber agreed.
“Where’s it going to end?” asked Kolby Avery, a board member. “Are we going to fingerprint board members, too?”
Pat MacLean, an elementary teacher, said teachers supervise volunteers.
Beth MacRae, another elementary school teacher, said some volunteers do take students into the book room to read to them.
“I have no problem doing it, but we need to absorb that cost,” said Fragnoli-Ryan. She said the district wants to encourage volunteers, but making volunteers pay the cost of fingerprinting would discourage volunteerism.
Fingerprinting volunteers will remain an agenda item at a future meeting or meetings.


Purr Fect World trial ends

Staff Reporter

Purr Fect World chose not to call any witnesses in its defense at the conclusion of the corporation’s trial Thursday. However, while citing a 1919 Supreme Court decision, defense attorney James Stevens asked that the charges be dismissed based on insufficient evidence.
City Court Judge Thomas Meldrim reserved decision on the dismissal request, as well as the 49 charges the corporation faces at the conclusion the testimony Thursday.
He is scheduled to give a verdict on May 10.
Purr Fect World Inc., a nonprofit spay and neuter clinic, is charged with 49 counts of failure to provide proper food and water to a harbored animal, an unclassified misdemeanor.
If the corporation is found guilty of neglecting the animals, it could face up to a $1,000 fine for each count. Eugenia Cute, 54, was the only board member for the corporation present for the non-jury trial. Lisa Alderman, 43, of 503 Third St., Liverpool, the clinic’s founder, was not present.
The charges against Purr Fect World stem from a Sept. 1 police raid during which officials found 21 dead cats in a freezer and then later euthanized 28 more after veterinarians determined the animals were feral and infected with feline AIDS and leukemia. There were nearly 300 cats in the house and clinic at 5 and 7 Wheeler Ave. at the time of the raid.
After Assistant District Attorney Jevon Garrett concluded his case, Stevens presented City Court Judge Thomas Meldrim a multi-layered argument that the charges should be dismissed. In his statements, Stevens cited a Supreme Court decision from 1919 in which the court ruled that the charge Purr Fect World faces is meant to be used against a person who found and harbored an animal, not against the animal’s owner.
Stevens argued that because Purr Fect World owns the cats, the charge does not apply.
Stevens also argued that Garrett did not prove any of the cats the corporation is accused of neglecting were harmed by the environments of the house and clinic. He said, of the 21 cats found in the freezer, one died naturally in birth and one was too far decomposed to specify how it died. He said the others could have died from old age.
Dr. Sean McDonough, of Cornell University, conducted tests on the cats’ bodies. He testified Tuesday that most of the cats found in the freezer were malnourished. Stevens argued that cats often refuse to eat and drink in their old age and there was no proof that wasn’t the case with the dead cats found in the Purr Fect World clinic. When asked during his testimony if he knew how the cats died, McDonough could not say.
Stevens said the remaining counts should be dismissed because Garrett did not prove the conditions in the house contributed to why the SPCA had to euthanize the other 28 cats.
“They were euthanized because they were fractious. They were bad apples,” he said.
Citing testimony from Dr. William Cadwallader, the veterinarian who examined the cats and testified on Thursday, Stevens pointed out that all of the animals were put down because they were too feral, or had feline AIDS and leukemia — none of which were the result of the cats’ environment, he said.
In his response to the motion, Garrett argued that the conditions in the house and clinic violated the law.
“The circumstances as a whole violate the statute,” he said. “If they are going to have the habit of picking up stray animals, then they have the responsibility of taking care of them.”
Garrett argued that based on testimony from his expert witnesses, including veterinarians, firefighters and SPCA investigators, Purr Fect World had not maintained a clean shelter for the animals it took in.
Many of the witnesses testified about strong odors coming from the house and clinic, as well as to the large amounts of feces found throughout both buildings.  Firefighter Michael Tenkate testified the ammonia in the air was at a dangerously high level at the time of the raid.
“There is no way a responsible person can find that those conditions were wholesome for the animals,” Garrett said.