November 19, 2007


Service recalls fallen firefighter

2005 SUNY Cortland graduate killed June 21 in NYC loft fire


Bob Ellis/staff photographer       
Cortlandville Fire Department  firefighter Chris Gilfillan stands at attention in the doorway during a memorial service on the SUNY Cortland campus Saturday for New York City firefighter and SUNY Cortland graduate Daniel Pujdak, who died while fighting a fire in June.

Staff Photographer

Friends and family remembered Daniel F. Pujdak, a New York City firefighter and SUNY Cortland graduate, for his smile and drive to become a firefighter during a memorial service at the college’s O’Heron Newman Hall.
Pujdak, 23, fell to his death June 21 while trying to save an artist’s loft less than two miles from the three-story aluminum-sided house in Greenpoint where he and his two brothers were raised.
At SUNY Cortland, he got his degree in kinesiology and physical education in 2005, but his goal was to fight fires.
“This is where everything started for Daniel,” said Lt. Bryan Lillis, of Ladder 146, Pujdak’s unit.
Lillis urged the gathering of around 75 people — firefighters, family, friends and college faculty and staff — to “look at the love we all had for him” and pick a fond memory of his life.
Lillis recalled the excitement Pujdak had for the job, relating his excitement the day of the fire that took his life.
Leo Pujdak, Daniel Pujak’s father, recalled another fire on Queen’s Boulevard that his son responded to. “Danny had the saw,” his father said.
To vent the fire, his son started cutting around what he thought was a window frame, but there was concrete. He continued to cut because that was what he was instructed to do. Behind the concrete was metal, and so he began to cut that.
“Then he was told to stop. There was a safe behind the metal — a bank safe,” Leo Pujdak said.
Donna Young, a secretary in the Physical Education Department at the time, said Pujdak worked for her, greeting her with a smile. “He never hesitated to help a student or faculty member that came in the office,” she said.
Pujdak shared his goal of becoming a firefighter and shared the news when he passed the fire-fighting test, she said.
Younger brother Matthew Pujdak said he and his brother took the test at the same time, four years ago. Matthew Pujdak, who graduated from SUNY Cortland in 2007, is about eight weeks from graduating from the academy. He said he would also be a member of the Fire Department of New York, but stationed at a different house.
“Dan was the least adventurous,” said David Pujdak, Daniel Pujdak’s older brother. He said his brother opted out of skydiving but had started to take climbing trips with him and they had become best friends.
David Pujdak recalled one particularly challenging climb in which his brother did not want to do a blind reach 100 feet off the ground.
“I played to his competitive nature,” said David Pujdak. He said his brother did the move and then said, “‘That wasn’t so bad.’”
Sherry Snell, a secretary in the Physical Education Department, read a letter from another student, Lisa Zevan, who worked in the department with Pujdak. She said he was her first friend at SUNY Cortland.
“Danny and I would sit and talk for hours. He would always listen and smile,” Snell read.
SUNY Cortland President Erik Bitterbaum said he had met Daniel Pujdak in the Park Center, the physical education building. He said he remembered Pujdak because his “dream job” was to be a fireman.
Songs, prayers from the Rev. Donald Wilcox, Protestant campus minister, and Marie Agen, Catholic campus minister, were also offered Saturday at the Calvert Street church.
The Rev. Allan Ferguson, chaplain of the Cortland Fire Department, played the bagpipes at the opening and closing of the ceremony. He asked all firefighters to stand as he led them in the “Fireman’s Prayer.”




Family grieves loss of hunter

Staff Reporter

Terri Smiley remembers all the practical jokes her younger brother would play on her as a child, especially the time he dumped a jar full of spiders on her when she was in the shower.
“It made me mad, and I wanted to kill him,” said Smiley, a 37-year-old Washington state resident. “But we loved him for those things.”
Smiley, relatives, friends and acquaintances are all grieving the death of Ricky Huffman, a 33-year-old Cortlandville resident who was accidentally shot to death by his uncle Friday morning while hunting illegally in Summerhill.
Those who knew Huffman say they won’t forget his ease with people and love for life.
“He was a daredevil,” said his mother, Jeanette LittleHall, 56, of Cortlandville. “I realized he was going to push it and one of these days we’d get a phone call.”
Huffman was born in Cortland, lived in Cortland until about age 6, and spent the rest of his childhood moving around the country with his family, whether it was for a parent’s job or for his mother’s remarriage. “His goal was to get an ID from every state in the U.S.,” Smiley said.
When he moved back to Cortland in 2002, his nickname became “cowboy” because he regularly sang karaoke at the One Cent Saloon on south Main Street.
“When he sang karaoke he always wore a big cowboy hat,” Smiley said.
This Saturday family and friends plan to gather at the One Cent Saloon for a karaoke night in remembrance of Huffman. The  event starts at 9 p.m.
Huffman, who spent two years in the Navy before getting discharged for medical reasons, had just recently figured out what he wanted to do for a career, his family said.
He wanted to be a photographer for National Geographic, and was taking photography and communications classes at Tompkins Cortland Community College.
“He loved nature and he would have been out there taking all these pictures,” said his brother  Page “Shawn” Huffman, 35, of Cortland. “That’s all he did. He was constantly in our faces with a camera.”
Huffman said it is fitting his brother’s life ended with him being out in nature.
LittleHall, whose brother Michael Hall Sr., 49, of Moravia, is charged with shooting Huffman, termed what happened Friday a tragedy.
Hall accidentally shot Huffman while they were hunting on family-owned property on the road where Hall lives. He was charged with criminally negligent homicide. Hall will appear Tuesday in Throop Town Court; he remains in Cayuga County Jail.



5 women and 25 years of DeRuyter Christmas bazaar

Staff Reporter

DeRUYTER — Five women set out 25 years ago to raise money for the DeRuyter Free Library and they have been doing it ever since.
June Miller, Shirley Fuller, Nancy Woodin, Lora Woodin and Sandy Camelbeek put on their 25th community bazaar Friday and Saturday.
Burdick, 82, said she and Woodin, 83, were members of the library board when they decided on the fundraiser. “The others wanted to help with the bazaar,” she said.
This year Miller, 70 and Fuller, 73, co-chaired the event. “We all work together,” said Camelbeek, 59, and the youngest of the group.
Soon after starting the fundraiser they decided to split the money with the American Legion in DeRuyter, where the bazaar has been held for 25 years.
“We always have it the weekend before Thanksgiving,” Burdick said. “It gives them (people) an early start,” she said, of the Christmas shopping season.
Camelbeek, Miller and Fuller sell crafts and other items, and Burdick and Woodin work in the kitchen. Camelbeek explained that crafters are given a number and all their items are labeled with the number. “They don’t have to stay … It doesn’t cost for a table,” she said.
She said all crafters have to do is bring their items. The women said crafters receive 80 percent of the profit and 20 percent goes to the fundraising.
Miller said this year the bazaar sold items from 36 crafters. She said one year there were 60, but that was too many and now they cut it off at 50.
“Thank you for doing this again,” Bob Conway said after he purchased sugar-free candy. He said he came to DeRuyter in August 1983 when he became the postmaster there. Although he is retired and lives in New Woodstock, he still returns every year.
“I’ve been coming every year.” His first priority is Camelbeek’s candy. “Then I look for other things,” Conway said, including usually something to eat.
“Lora’s a wonder out there in the kitchen,” Miller said.
“She’s the head honcho,” Camelbeek added.
Burdick supervises all the food preparations. “I have some very good help in the kitchen,” she said.
One of those helpers is Woodin, who despite not being able to stand, continues to help in the kitchen taking orders and money from customers. “I feel bad I can’t do as much,” she said. “I get to see everyone — that’s why I like to work here.”
Burdick said they mostly offer the same things such as corn chowder, turkey soup, hot beef and turkey sandwiches, which are the favorites.
“We have to have hot dogs for the kids and sometimes for the young at heart,” Burdick said. They also have doughnuts, pies, tuna and egg salad sandwiches and tossed salad.