November 12, 2009
Community service legacy of longtime Homer mayor
Harry Calale, who died Tuesday, served 10 terms as mayor, creating parks and water, sewer
HOMER — Harry Calale is remembered as a man who was driven to serve his community and helped to modernize the village.
Calale, 84, a lifelong resident of Homer, died of natural causes on Tuesday at Cortland Regional Medical Center.
Calale served as mayor of the village for 10 terms and a total of 20 years, from 1967 to 1987.
He was born on Dec. 13, 1924. Calale and his four siblings grew up in the village, where their father operated a family poultry farm, according to an article written by Calale’s son, John Calale, and published in Cortland County Remembers Volume 2, a book released by the Cortland County Historical Society this fall.
Calale’s accomplishments as mayor include the construction of water and sewer systems, the creation of senior housing and the expansion of recreational facilities, including Briggs Pool, Durkee Park, Vernum Park and Griggs Field, John Calale wrote in the article.
Mary Alice Bellardini, a Homer resident who succeeded Calale as mayor, said developing the sewer system in the 1970s and 1980s was one of his most important accomplishments. When Calale took office, people in the village had cesspools that collected waste, which either stayed in the ground or flowed into the river, Bellardini said. Calale oversaw the completion of 80 percent of the village’s sewer system, and the rest of the system was completed during Bellardini’s term, she said.
Calale faced opposition from some residents who did not want to spend money on the project, she said.
“Harry plunged ahead. He knew it was the right thing to do,” Bellardini said.
Calale also helped arrange the agreement for the village to use the wastewater treatment plant in Cortland, rather than building one in Homer, Bellardini said, adding that she considered it a visionary idea.
When the streets were dug up during the sewer project, Calale and the village Board of Trustees decided to replace undersized and deteriorated water mains, according to an article in the Independent Villager appearing in 1987. The village also covered the two water tanks on the hillside east of the village and installed new pumps during his administration.
John Calale said his father had “a desire to serve, a desire to initiate change and participate.”
“When he gets involved with things, he’d like to think he could initiate positive change,” he said.
Calale’s wife, Marian Calale, described him as soft-spoken, ambitious, hard-working and very considerate of other people’s feelings. They had their 55th wedding anniversary last week on Nov. 7.
Jim Yaman, owner of Cortland-based Yaman Real Estate, was Calale’s cousin, and they attended Homer Academy together. They shared a common Lebanese heritage and lunched together every Monday at Pita Gourmet, a Lebanese restaurant on Main Street in Cortland, often discussing political matters, Yaman said.
“He was certainly very honest. He had strong opinions and he was charitable, he was giving of his time to the community,” Yaman said.
Calale attended Cornell University briefly before serving in the Army during World War II. After completing his military service, he went to Becker College in Worcester, Mass., and earned a degree in business administration. He began his career working for Abdallah Dairy, a dairy processing plant owned by his uncle, Charles Abdallah. Calale eventually became a part-owner in the business.
Calale later owned and operated Calco Real Estate in Cortland, where he was a licensed real estate appraiser and a sole proprietor. He was also an assessor for the town of Madison for several years.
Calale’s grandfather emigrated from Lebanon to Solon, where a group of Lebanese immigrants had already settled on farms, said Calale’s son, Dave Calale.
Calale was active in his church, Cavalry Episcopal, the Cortland Rotary Club, Cortland Country Club and the Cortland Memorial Hospital Foundation.
In 1993 Calale was named the “Lifetime Achievement” recipient by the American Heart Association after serving as volunteer chairman for the Cortland County Heart Association for 35 years.
The village Board of Trustees named Calale Park on Route 281 in his honor shortly before he retired as mayor.
Calling hours will be held on Friday from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. and 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. at the Donald L. Barber Funeral Home, 516 N. Main Street in Homer. A Masonic Service will be held Friday evening at 6:45 p.m. Funeral services will be held privately.
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