Small church on mission to expand its congregation


Joe McIntyre/staff photographer  
Norma and Nial Smith stand on the steps of the Cortland Cornerstone Church. The church has moved its original cornerstone to be displayed at the steps of the new church on Denti Way. The church has moved its location three times in the last five years.

Staff Reporter

Once known as the Elm Stump Church and located in Virgil on Route 215, the Cortland Cornerstone Church has been struggling with not only its identity but also finding a permanent home.
In 1982 the church, then called the Church of Christ in Christian Union, moved to Cortland from its Route 215 location, into a vacated church at the intersections of Elm and Church streets and Clinton Avenue.
But, when engineers told the congregation in late 2001 the building was not safe and it would have to relocate, the congregation had to find a new location quickly, said Norma Smith, a longtime member of the church.
Smith had started attending the church when she was 1-year-old in 1937 and lived on Page Green Road, about a mile from the church. That was the year her aunt, Mary Edwards Rooker, re-opened the church, serving as its pastor.
“She started the Sunday school — then regular services,” Smith said.
The church used money from the insurance settlement on the Cortland property to lease space on Copeland Avenue in 2002 with plans to purchase the building after the landlord made repairs. Smith said people in the community lost track of the church with this move, and when an article was written in the Cortland Standard in 2004 when the Virgil building was razed, the whereabouts of the congregation was unknown.
The repairs at Copeland Avenue did not happen and the deal fell through, Smith said. So, the church on the move again, finalized the purchase of its current Denti Way property, the former St. Anthony’s Paduan Youth Center, in November 2002.
Smith said with all the changes and then a change in the direction of the church to focus on youth activities, working with many youngsters who did not even attend the church, much of the congregation left; even Smith and her husband, Nial, left for a while. When the church moved to its new location on Denti Way, it was called New Beginnings Christian Fellowship Church.
Norma Smith said the name change to Cortland Cornerstone Church, which happened this summer, reflects a new direction. It also recognizes the actual cornerstone of the Virgil church, added to that church in 1964 and recently moved to the front of the new church on Denti Way.
The Smiths are now working to re-establish the church.
“It is our vision to become a growing and vibrant congregation known for its friendly and compassionate outreach into the community,” Norma Smith wrote.
“We’ve always been busy in the church,” said Smith. She said she plays the piano and helps the new pastor, the Rev. Charles McGraw, by doing secretarial tasks. Nial Smith said he leads the singing and the service when the pastor is away.
“He’s at a seminar right now on how to start churches that have fallen down,” Norma Smith said last week of the pastor.
McGraw, who started his ministry in Cortland in July 2006, is a May graduate of what is now known as Ohio Christian University (formerly Circleville Bible College). He wrote in a short autobiography that he felt a calling to preach in high school and God led him to the Cortland congregation “for this time to work with the revitalization of this church. I believe that this is my calling in life, to work with the Church Extension Department in the building of healthy churches.”
Smith said church services on Sunday attract 25 to 35 people, but that is not enough to maintain the buildings and grounds.
“That’s why we’re trying to make people aware we are here,” Norma Smith said.
Nial Smith said the property is about 5 acres, including the church building, another building and a shed and a soccer field the high school uses for games. He said the school mows the lawn in exchange for use of the field.
The church hosted a kick-off celebration Sunday in which McGraw described his vision and goals for the future of the church. Attendees learned the history of the church and listened to a church quartet. A barbecue followed.
Members of other Churches of Christian Union in the region helped with the ceremony and barbecue.
Another event is scheduled for Oct. 7 when hayrides into the countryside are scheduled to start at 6:30 p.m. at the church.



‘He loved this town’

Friends recall Ken Tobin’s commitment to community


Staff Reporter

CORTLAND — In his 14 years on the Common Council, Ken Tobin was known for voicing the concerns of the 2nd Ward and his conscience.
The 54-year-old lifelong Cortland resident, who served on the council between 1989 and 2003, died Saturday at his home on Arthur Avenue.
“Quite honestly, anything to do with the city of Cortland was a big thing in his life. He loved this town, and everything he could do, from being an alderman to working with the Youth Bureau, he did. He loved being here,” Tobin’s younger brother, John Tobin, said Monday afternoon.
John Tobin said their father, Kenneth Tobin Sr., instilled them with a sense of civic involvement — both brothers had coached youth football, and John Tobin is the program supervisor for the Cortland Youth Bureau.
“I can remember my brother passing out pictures and pamphlets for Bobby Kennedy” when Kennedy ran for U.S. senator representing New York, John Tobin said Monday afternoon. “We were brought up that way — you know, altar boys, and Ken was very active in Boy Scouts. And of course, we probably partook in every program the Youth Bureau offered when we were growing up, and as we got older and we became adults, it was our way of giving back a little bit.”
County Legislator Dan Tagliente (D-7th Ward), served on the Common Council with Tobin, a fellow Democrat. He and Tobin saw eye to eye on a lot of issues, Tagliente said.
“He was a Democrat, he was a Republican, he was a guy who did whatever his constituents wanted. He had that reputation. It was Cortland first, above all,” Tagliente said Monday. “He was just a great guy.”
Lincoln Avenue resident Ann Doyle said Tobin had worked hard for his district.
“He was super, absolutely super. He sort of kept the city fathers on their toes,” Doyle said Monday. “Have a problem? Call him up and he’d come and talk to you.”
With one exception, of course — calling Tobin during a Yankee game was an exercise in futility, Tagliente and John Tobin said, because the conversation was often labored and Ken Tobin’s attention was more than divided.
Close personal friend and political compatriot Andy Palm, a former member of the New York State Democratic Committee, also knew about Tobin’s rabid Yankee fandom, but certainly worked around it.
“If you can find a good quality, Ken had it,” Palm said Monday afternoon. “He had great judgment.”
“He got the diagnosis of lung cancer about this time a year ago,” Palm said. “There are very few people that I have seen face an illness like that with as much kindness, personal strength and family as Ken did.”
John Tobin said his brother had worked at Price Chopper until Sept. 14.
Former Democratic Mayor Marty Mack grew up with and was a year behind Tobin at St. Mary’s School, where Tobin was a member of the last class to graduate from the high school.
“He was a real pleasure to serve with. He was always nonpartisan. He held mayors accountable, regardless of whether they were Republican or Democrat,” Mack said Monday evening. “He was very insistent that the city enforced its zoning and property laws, to protect property values and to protect students from dangerous housing.”
Minimizing the impact of student housing was one of Tobin’s goals, Mack said, and also preventing overcrowding in student housing.
Palm said Tobin never got along with anyone who felt the political parties should be “calling the shots,” and he always listened to his constituents.
“There are people that enjoy serving in office, and he was a guy that enjoyed that,” Palm said. “There are politicians, sometimes, who are in office to satisfy their ego, or are in there for personal gain, and Ken wasn’t one of those people.”
“He was very humble about things,” John Tobin said. “He was one who preferred to be in the background doing, rather than up front taking the accolades. He was just somebody who believed in our community and gave all he could to it.”
John Tobin also noted his brother’s commitment to his family: wife Vickey, son Jason and daughters Tara and Erin.
“He was a good family man, a good Catholic, dedicated to his religion, his family, and his community,” John Tobin said. “I was always very proud to be his brother. He definitely set a good example for people.”