May 29, 2008
‘Everybody is going to miss him’
Bernie Potter, 86, died Sunday after lifetime of leaving mark on community
Bob Ellis/staff photographer
Bernie and Margaret Potter stand in their Truxton backyard in April 2005 after the couple were named Outstanding Citizens by The Boy Scouts of America. Bernie Potter died Sunday at the age of 86. Potter served as director of the New York State Fair for seven years, ran a dairy farm in Truxton for more than 40 years and served as a Cortland County legislator and chairman of the county Republican Committee.
When Tim and Beth Herman moved to Truxton in the early 1990s, the man they bought their house from, Bernie Potter, took them under his wing.
He introduced them to other Truxton residents and invited them to different celebrations.
“When he had his 50th anniversary we were part of that celebration,” Tim Herman said. “It didn’t have to be that way.”
Friends, family and former co-workers of Bernie Potter say he was a man who was proud of where he came from, but always ready to welcome new people and experiences into his life.
“What I learned from my dad is to live my life to the fullest, take lots of time for family and friends, and always build community locally and around the world,” said his daughter Nancy Potter, of Ithaca.
Potter, a well know figure in the area, died Sunday at the age of 86.
Potter served as director of the New York State Fair for seven years, ran a dairy farm in Truxton for more than 40 years and represented his town on the county Board of Supervisors for seven years, among many other professional accomplishments.
In recent years many people knew him for his big pumpkins, which he grew to sizes of more than 800 pounds.
Potter was born in 1922 in Truxton to a farming family. Early on he picked up farming skills, winning the Cortland County 4-H poultry judging contest at age 12.
Growing up in the small town of Truxton, Potter knew pretty much everyone in town.
“He promoted everything that went on in Truxton,” said former Truxton resident John Ryan Jr., who along with his father, John Ryan Sr., was friends with Potter.
“If an event was scheduled, he would be there, or if it needed planning, he would plan it. He was active in his church (Truxton United Methodist Church), and I was in the other church (St. Patrick’s Church), and he would come to our affairs.”
Ryan said a lot of people Potter grew up with left the community, but he dealt with their absence by meeting the younger Truxton residents, who became his friends as well.
Potter was always making new friends, often in unexpected ways.
He became friends with a Venezuelan couple from Boston after inviting them to his Truxton home for the couple’s honeymoon over Christmas holidays, said Nancy Potter.
He met the couple through his daughter Pat, who was going to school in Boston.
The couple were so touched by Bernie Potter and his wife, Margaret’s, kindness they buried their son, who died as a baby, in a Potter family plot in Truxton.
Later they named their second son after Bernie. The two families kept in touch over the years, and Bernie and Margaret Potter visited them in Venezuela.
“He always welcomed everyone,” Nancy Potter said, noting he hosted exchange students and international students for many years.
Others agreed Potter made everyone feel like a part of his biological family, which included five children.
“When my grandson got hurt in a car accident, right until the week he (Mr. Potter) died, he was still asking every week how Jeff was,” said Jane Snell, who was a Cortland Rotary Club member with Potter.
Snell said the accident, which left her grandson wheelchair-bound, took place three years ago in Indiana.
State Supreme Court Justice Phillip Rumsey, who got to know Potter well when serving as vice chairman of the Cortland County Republican Committee while Potter was chairman, said just two weeks ago Potter treated him like family.
Potter had heard Rumsey had hired his son-in-law, Mark Masler, as his new law clerk.
“He was proud of the fact Mark was going to work with me and I was working with Mark,” Rumsey said. “He had a sense it was like a family occasion for me and him and that just made me feel good. He always made me feel good anyway.”
Potter showed pride for his own family by having his grandchildren perform on musical instruments in front of the Cortland Rotary Club.
“I saw the joy in his eyes after I praised his granddaughter,” said Rotary Club member Warren Eddy, speaking of Emily Masler, who earlier this month performed with her violin in front of the Rotary Club.
Potter’s interest in all types of people, paired with hard work, honesty, and enthusiasm, helped him succeed professionally, friends and family said.
Through his job as Cortland County Republican Committee chairman he recruited many people who shared his values of family and community to run for office.
He would inspire co-workers and help them out.
“I eventually became chairman of the party and there were times I would call him for advice,” said Shirley Fish, also a former county legislator. “Then he would call me when he saw something I should know about … He was very gracious, he was polite, and just an all around good person.”
Preble farmer Bill Underwood, who served on local and state agricultural committees with Potter, said Potter was always very friendly, but focused.
“He was a straightforward guy,” Underwood said. “There was no nonsense, no frills. You had the feeling if he chaired a committee he moved everything right along.”
One of his accomplishments in later years was helping start the pumpkin weigh-off contest at the Pumpkin Festival.
He won the contest a couple of years, with his biggest pumpkin at 873 pounds.
Friends he met through weigh-offs, and pumpkin growers he met on-line, are remembering him at bigpumpkins.com, said Matt VerSchneider, who heads the Pumpkin Festival weigh-off contest.
VerSchneider put something on-line about Potter’s passing.
“I got 20 hits this morning around the country on how everybody basically is going to miss him,” he said this morning.
Potter credited his parents with shaping his character in memoirs he wrote, which are available at the Cortland Free Library.
Family and friends said the memories contained within them will live on in his death.
To read this article and more, pick up today's Cortland Standard
Click here to subscribe