Sun keeps shining
Great Cortland Pumpkinfest remains a hit after a decade


Joe McIntyre/staff photographer

Mike and Amy Wehnke of Cortland give their daughter Alysha, 5, a tour of 400-plus-pound pumpkins at the Cortland County Pumpkin Festival Sunday. These heavy-weight pumpkins were judged in the categories of color, shape and uniqueness.

Staff Reporter

CORTLAND — For the 11th year, the Great Cortland Pumpkinfest dazzled visitors over the weekend with giant pumpkins and the roar of the antique tractors that could be heard blocks away down Tompkins Street.
Large crowds filled Courthouse Park in Cortland for the event on Saturday and Sunday.
“I would say it was one of our largest crowd ever,” said Jim Dempsey, executive director of the Cortland County Convention and Visitors Bureau.
Dempsey estimated between 10,000 and 15,000 people attended. He said there is no way accurately determine the total because no attendance is charged, there are many ways to enter the park and people come and go throughout the day.
Byron Horak, a board member for the Cortland County Historical Society, manned the large pumpkin tent. Inside, festival-goers could guess the combined weight of two large pumpkins. Proceeds from the contest benefit the Cortland County Historical Society.
“A couple years ago two people nailed it right on the head and we had to give away two afghans,” Horak said.
First prize for the closest guess of the combined weight was an afghan woven with scenes of Cortland County and second prize was a book titled, “Images of America: Cortland County,” by Mary Ann Kane.
Stan Lowell, who has attended the Pumpkinfest for four straight years, took his first attempt at guessing the pumpkins’ weight.
“I wrote down 1,275,” Lowell said. “I don’t expect to win anything.”
Lynette Cook of Cortland won with a correct guess of 876 pounds. The contest raided nearly $600 for the Historical Society.
Vanessa Scott, 9, and her sister Michaela, 10, have accompanied their cousin Donna Bartholomew for the past four years.
“It’s fun and there are a lot of different (vendors),” Vanessa said.
Bartholomew, 53, said the festival gives her an opportunity to see her friends.
“I see people here that I don’t get to see all the rest of the time,” said Bartholomew, a Cortland resident.
Much like the Scotts and Bartholomew, Jim Price, a retired professor of economics at Syracuse University, keeps coming back.
“It’s fun,” said Price, who used his red, 1949 Farmall H tractor to give hayrides. Price described his tractor as a “toy.”
The Pumpkinfest had it all, from pony rides to face painting.
Lori Worth, of Jamesville, attended the festival with her husband and daughter.
“We love the pumpkins, crafters and entertainment,” said Worth. She said the food, entertainment and crafts would keep them coming back. Worth and family have attended the festival for five years.
There was an abundance of crafts and food.
Lisa Curry sold homemade tarts, cookies, scones, coffee and cider in a tent with the banner Pane di Casa tacked on.
Curry said it was her second appearance at the festival and the reason she returned is because “I’ve had great support and appreciation from the community.”
Cookies and pastries weren’t the only things on the menu. There was an influx of hotdogs, pulled pork sandwiches and beer.
Micro brew tasting, which is the sampling of beer and food, rivaled the hayrides for the event with the most patrons.
Vendors peddled their wares, which were everything from beaded jewelry to handmade soap.
Eilene Lant, of Eilene Woodcrafts, said, “It’s a great show “It’s the best one in Cortland.” Lant and her husband, Paul, are Cortland residents.
“It’s a great place to take your kids,” Paul Lant said. “It’s family oriented.”


County, sheriff’s unions agree on contract terms

5-year contract would extend to 2010

Staff Reporter

After months of negotiations, Cortland County has reached tentative agreements with two of the three unions representing employees of the Sheriff’s Department.
County correction officers and the civilian division of the Sheriff’s Department will vote on new contracts this month, and, if accepted, the contracts will be voted on by the county Legislature at its Oct. 26 meeting.
The tentative contracts will go before the Legislature’s Personnel Committee Thursday. Current contracts for the two unions expired at the end of 2005, but employees have continued to work under the terms of those contracts.
Under both contracts, employees will pay a higher percentage of health insurance premiums, said County Administrator Scott Schrader, but the county ceded ground by reworking pay structures.
The tentative five-year agreement for the civilian division, which includes 26 employees — dispatchers, clerks and civil employees — calls for an additional $1,850 for full-time employees in 2006, the first year of the contract.
Employees will then see a 2.5 percent raise in 2008, a 2.75 percent raise in 2009, and a 3 percent raise in 2010.
In addition to the raises, a new step system for employees will also be implemented beginning in 2007, with employees receiving a 4 percent salary increase every other year of service, replacing a seven-step system that did not have consistent raises from step to step, Schrader said.
Negotiators for the county’s 36 correction officers reached a similar five-year agreement, with each full-time employee getting $1,675 in 2006 and receiving the same pay raises as the civilian division between 2008 and 2010.
Both agreements call for employees to pay 20 percent of health insurance premiums, a standardized rate that would replace a system in which employees paid between 10 and 30 percent of their premiums based on their hire date.
Also, under the proposed agreement, retirees would pay premiums based on length of service.
“Prior to what’s been proposed, we were allowing a retiree to take health insurance no matter how many years of service they had, but now it’s going to be on a sliding scale,” Schrader said, noting that under the proposed contract, retirees with 10 years experience would have to pay a 50 percent premium, while those with 20 or more years experience would pay the 20 percent rate.
“The biggest savings for the county is going to be the money saved on retirement health care.”
Chip Elwood, a union representative for the civilian division, said although the negotiations, which had been ongoing since about June, were tough, he was generally pleased with the results.
Mike Babcock, who represented the corrections officers in negotiation, was unavailable for comment.
“It was a long battle but we stood fast on some of our more important issues, and I think it ended up working out to the benefit of everyone,” Elwood said.
Health insurance costs were a key issue, Elwood said, but he was hopeful pay increases would counteract the increase in costs.
Schrader wasn’t sure of exact figures, but said the money the county would save in health insurance costs would not completely offset the salary increases.
“We’re looking at future savings, not anything that’s going to be seen right way,” he said.
Elwood said he was glad the proposed contract includes language that guarantees insurance for retirees, although some may have to pay higher rates.
“I don’t think they were necessarily taking the insurance away before, but it’s in writing now, and that’s very important,” Elwood said.
If both the tentative agreements are ratified, the only remaining contract that needs to be negotiated is with the county deputy sheriffs, Schrader said.
The county ratified a new contract with the Civil Service Employees Association last October, and agreed to a deal with the New York State Nurses Association in May.
Schrader was hopeful that an agreement with the deputy sheriffs could be reached by the end of the year, although he said he couldn’t be sure.




Cortland native treating children with AIDS in Botswana

Staff Reporter

The picture Dr. Mandeep Jassal paints of Botswana is not a favorable one.
A poverty-stricken country of 1.7 million, Botswana has an HIV rate of 37 percent, said Jassal, a Cortland native providing AIDS relief in Africa. Many of those stricken are children, he said.
Still, after a month in Botswana, Jassal, 29, sees the situation in the nation he’ll call home for the next year as far from bleak.
“The situation here is critical but not dismal,” Jassal said. “Despite the hardships, I have yet to meet one child not dressed in their best clothes when they come to see us in our clinic. There is an unending hope that exists here.”
Jassal, a 1994 Cortland High School graduate who has a medical degree from Stony Brook University and a master’s in public health from Harvard University, is one of 52 young pediatricians working in seven different countries as part of the Baylor College of Medicine International Pediatric AIDS Initiative.
The program is in its first year, according to  its president, Mark Kline, and the hope is that the young doctors can make an impact across Africa.
“There are literally tens of thousands of children dying of HIV/AIDS today — it’s the leading cause of death in sub-Saharan Africa,” Kline said. “This program is designed to _immediately expand access for these children _to quality treatment programs by having _outstanding young physicians like Deep _participate.”
Kline referred to Jassal by his nickname, Deep.
There are an estimated 2 million children with HIV in Africa right now, Kline said, including about 600,000 who are in immediate need of treatment.
“This is the first program of its kind, so Deep and his colleagues are really trailblazers or pioneers out there helping immediately,” Kline said.
Stationed at the Botswana-Baylor Children’s Clinical Center of Excellence in Botswana’s capital, Gaborone, Jassal has been both treating children with HIV, and helping to train local physicians — he noted there are only 30 in all of Botswana — to deal with the virus.
“We are dealing with a powerful disease that can be controlled if attacked in an appropriate manner,” Jassal said.
Decorated entirely with children’s artwork and prone to outbursts of gospel singing every morning to welcome patients, Jassal called the clinic “the most beautiful” environment he’s worked in, and credited it with helping to break down any stigma surrounding HIV treatment.
“When it opened, many skeptics thought that few people would seek care for children with HIV because of the stigma associated with entering such a facility,” Jassal said. “Fortunately, the doubters were very wrong.”
The clinic usually operates far beyond capacity — it’s even gotten to the point where patients have been housed on mattresses on the floor, Jassal said — and while the pure breadth of the effect of HIV can be staggering, Jassal said the number of people seeking treatment was encouraging for Botswana.
“Botswana has developed a national AIDS campaign that has become a leader in the fight against HIV, and the Botswanan government has acknowledged the crisis and is facing it with a great fury,” Jassal said. “I really believe that countries like Botswana have the capacity for greatness, and that by providing medical care here, we will literally be changing an entire generation.”
Jassal has always displayed such idealism, said his father, Harjinder Jassal, a retired SUNY Cortland professor who still lives in the area.
“He was more interested in international issues when he was young, but he was always most interested in helping people, that’s always been his attitude,” the elder Jassal said. “He’s seeing a lot of challenges because of the working environment in Botswana, and he’s just a boy from Cortland, but I think he’s done very well. He seems very happy there with the work he’s doing.”
Kline said idealism is a necessity for the type of work Jassal is doing.
“Personally I think it’s an extraordinary thing these young doctors are doing, moving away from their families to the other side of the world sometimes to very harsh conditions — it speaks to their selflessness,” Kline said.
Jassal said his experience would make him a better doctor when he returns to the United States to accept a pediatric pulmonary fellowship at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore.
He noted that the overwhelming effect of malnutrition, especially in HIV patients, is something he never saw during his residency in New York City.
“The virus literally can change the appearance of a child,” Jassal said. “Many children look like they’re 6 years old when in fact they’re 12 or 13, and puberty is often delayed well into many children’s late teens because of the demands that HIV places on the body.”
The vast number of children orphaned by HIV in Botswana has also made an impact on Jassal.
“When the parent dies, the child is usually then taken into their extended family, and these families are already filled with many other children so it is difficult to take care of all of the issues that HIV creates,” he said. “It’s amazing how one disease can rob so much of a society.”
Despite the difficulties, Jassal said he is enjoying himself, and said life in Botswana was like nothing he’d experienced in American cities.
Although he spends much of his time working, Jassal said he’d seen exotic wildlife on a number of safaris, and was looking forward to a camping trip in the Kalahari Desert.
“I’ve heard that in the daytime there’s no place better to see lions and at night there’s no place better to see the stars,” he said.




State Police car crashes on Route 11

Trooper in route to burglary collides with car driven by Preble teen

Staff Reporter

Two Preble teens were involved in a two-car crash Saturday night with a State Police car.
State Police said this morning that Trooper Richard Ellis was responding to a burglary complaint at 5:57 p.m. when Ryan Richards, 17, pulled out in front of him, causing an accident.
According to police, Ellis was traveling north on State Route 11 in LaFayette with his emergency lights and siren on when he pulled into the southbound lane to pass vehicles that were moving to the east shoulder of the road in order to get out of the his way. As Ellis traveled around the vehicles, Richards made a left turn in a 1992 Ford Taurus from Wilbur Road, colliding with Ellis and leaving the police car in the ditch on the west side of the road, police said.
Ellis, Richards and Richard’s passenger, Samantha Scott, 18, of Preble, were all treated and released at University Hospital, police said.
As of early this morning, police said no tickets have been issued and the accident was still under investigation.