Important and Influential People Who Shaped the Hudson Valley (1972-2012)
Meet the people who helped shaped the Hudson Valley for the past 40 years Featuring: Former Governor George Pataki, singer-songwriter Pete Seeger, Scenic Hudson’s Franny Reese, the Bardavon’s Chris Silva
Frank Cabot (1925-2011)
The late Francis Higginson Cabot Jr., better known as Frank Cabot, was one of the world’s leading experts in garden design and preservation. The former Harvard-educated financier founded the Garden Conservancy in Cold Spring in 1989 to avoid allowing developers to take over and destroy precious gardens or landscapes. The organization — which has preserved numerous significant gardens across the country — is located near Stonecrop Gardens, a meticulous 12-acre display that Cabot developed and nurtured over three decades. It features woodland, water, and cliff-rock gardens; an English-style flower garden; raised alpine stone beds; and other diverse blooms, trees, and plants. Although Cabot died last November, Stonecrop is still just as carefully maintained. This year marks the 20th year that it has been open to the public.
In 1993, Gerald “Jerry” Jennings was elected mayor of the City of Albany. The Albany-born Democrat had big plans for the city’s revitalization. In the subsequent two decades, the rest of New York State has taken notice, as its rundown capital experiences a renaissance. This includes a commendable reduction in crime; placing an emphasis on environmental awareness, including the protection of the Pine Bush preserve; and focusing on increasing property values by revitalizing neighborhoods, which in turn has brought new jobs to the area. Redevelopment of Albany’s waterfront is also in the works, with talk of a pedestrian bridge over the Hudson. Jennings has received numerous awards for his role in helping the city get back on its feet again.
The business-minded man responsible for the vastly popular “I Love New York” campaign, John Dyson spent a decade in the state government. It was during his time serving as commissioner of agriculture that he made his largest contribution to the Valley: He and his team drafted the Farm and Winery Bill which passed into law in 1976. The bill lowered state fees charged to small wineries to a mere $125 per year. As a result, the region’s wine-making industry ballooned and now boasts more than 20 operating vineyards (see page 32). A Valley vintner himself, Dyson’s Millbrook Vineyards and Winery produces blends like Chardonnay, Hunt Country Red, and Tocai Friulano that continue to please local and national oenophiles.
Acclaimed Albany author and journalist William Kennedy is nationally known for his award-winning novels, including Pulitzer recipient Ironweed (which was made into a film in 1987 featuring Jack Nicholson and Meryl Streep). But here in the Valley, Kennedy is also known for his support of fellow and future writers through his role in establishing the New York State Writers Institute, located at SUNY Albany. The program aims to encourage and support aspiring writers, while enhancing the role of writers in our society. Kennedy was a creative writing and journalism instructor at the school from 1974 until 1982. In 1983, he received the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation Fellowship award, which included a $75,000 grant to an institution of his choice. Although he graduated from Siena College, he chose his hometown university as the recipient. The university matched the awarded funds and the institute came to be. At age 84, Kennedy continues to pass the torch onto the next wave of authors and journalists at SUNY Albany as a professor in the English department.
Photograph by Jennifer May
In 1994, the area surrounding the 1869 Bardavon Opera House in Poughkeepsie was a crime-ridden scene; the waterfront was undeveloped, the Main Mall section was closed to traffic, and the Walkway Over the Hudson was just an old railroad trestle. But 1994 was also the year Chris Silva became involved with the opera house — which happens to be New York State’s longest-running theater — and it soon became a major part of the city’s revitalization. Currently the executive director, Silva assisted in renovating this 143-year-old theater and brought a whole new level of arts, entertainment, and culture to Poughkeepsie; in the time he’s been there, Bardavon visitors have increased from 50,000 patrons annually to 120,000. With those wheels in motion, Silva set out to rescue other ailing theaters. In 2006, the Bardavon took over the Ulster Performing Arts Center in Kingston; Silva currently is working with the nonprofit group Safe Harbors on the Hudson to bring top performers to Newburgh’s renewed Ritz Theater.
At the age of 26, Jason West shot from a small-town mayor to a national figure when he announced his intentions to solemnize same-sex marriages in New Paltz. On February 27, 2004 he followed through. Defying New York State law, he presided over the unions of 25 same-sex couples in the Village Hall parking lot, grabbing attention from the media, supporters, and critics. His bold actions brought on criminal charges, injunctions, and, ultimately, a defeat at the next election in 2007. Undeterred, he was reelected in May of 2011, just before the state legalized same-sex marriage on June 24.
For the past 11 years, Ryan has been president of the Culinary Institute of America. His association with the esteemed cooking school began 35 years ago, when he himself graduated from the college. In 1982, he returned to his alma mater to assist in developing and running the American Bounty Restaurant, which specialized in the (then) groundbreaking idea that American regional food could be part of the fine-dining experience. The first alumnus and faculty member of the school to rise through the ranks to become its leader, Ryan — considered a pioneer in the American cuisine movement — has catapulted the CIA to international acclaim by redesigning educational programs, adding research facilities, partnering with other institutions (including Harvard and Cornell), and opening more campuses (San Antonio, Texas in October and Singapore in December of 2010). Under his direction, the college started the world’s first bachelor’s degree program in culinary arts management; began a baking and pastry arts management program; and developed award-winning videos and television shows. But more importantly, Ryan, who has received countless honors and awards from virtually every major food industry organization, has not only transformed the CIA, but helped to make the Hudson Valley one of the hottest foodie destinations in the country.
The Valley’s own celebrity chef, Kelly is renowned for his role in bringing fine dining to our area. His four restaurants — Xaviar’s at Piermont, Restaurant X and Bully Boy Bar, the Freelance Café and Wine Bar, and X2O — have gained accolades from critics like Wine Spectator and the New York Times. A Yonkers native, the self-taught chef studied business administration at Marist College before opening his first culinary venture, Xaviar’s at Garrison, at the age of 23. Always inventive, his menus enhance an overall lovely dining experience at all four venues. Of course, nothing less can come from the man who defeated super-chef Bobby Flay on Iron Chef America in 2007.
During the 33 years that he has been at the helm of Poughkeepsie’s Marist College, Murray has transformed the school on the banks of the Hudson into a national leader in higher education (Marist is regularly touted by U.S. News & World Report and the Princeton Review, among others). During his tenure, the campus has seen more than $400 million worth of improvements, including a new sports stadium, the recently opened Hancock Center, and a state-of-the-art digital library. The library is just one result of a long-term partnership with IBM; the two organizations currently are working together to create a cloud-computing center that the school says will lead to thousands of jobs in the Valley. But Marist is known for more than its high-tech expertise: The business, communications, and fashion programs draw students from around the country. The school is also home to the Hudson River Valley Institute (the academic arm of the Hudson River Valley National Heritage Area) and the Marist Institute for Public Opinion (an oft-quoted opinion poll). A native of California, Murray has been lauded with several community service awards, including the Val-Kill Medal.
Franny Reese (1917-2003)
“Revered, feared, and beloved” is how former Scenic Hudson Executive Director Klara Sauer described Reese, the founder of the modern environmental movement in the U.S. Reese was the organization’s board chairwoman for 18 years and, during her tenure, spearheaded a grassroots campaign against utility giant Con Edison’s plans to build a power plant on Storm King Mountain. The battle raged all the way to the federal courts, and the people prevailed: The plant was never built. Just as important, the now-famous “Scenic Hudson decision” of 1965 guaranteed ordinary citizens a say in environmental issues, giving hope to budding preservation groups throughout the nation. A tireless volunteer for many local environmental, cultural and educational groups, Reese organized herself using 35 tote bags — one for each nonprofit she helped. “Though some did not agree with positions she took, both friend and foe respected her ethics, eloquence, sharp mind, and honesty,” Sauer wrote in 2004. Scenic Hudson honored its “guiding spirit” by creating the Franny Reese State Park in 2009. Located on 251 acres in Highland, the park has 2.5 miles of trails and stunning views of the Hudson River and the City of Poughkeepsie. A link connects the park to the Walkway Over the Hudson Loop Trail.
A lifelong Valley resident, Frances Dunwell dedicated the majority of her professional career to conserving and promoting the historic and natural heritage of the Hudson River; her efforts influenced the decision to declare the Hudson an American Heritage River and the Valley a National Heritage Area. As the Hudson River Estuary coordinator for the DEC, she implemented the fulfillment of Gov. Pataki’s Hudson River Estuary Action Agenda, which conserved wildlife, fish, landscape, parks, and water resources from Troy to New York Harbor. In 1991, she penned her well-known tribute to the region — Hudson River Highlands — and in 2008 saw the publication of her second book, The Hudson, America’s River.
Orange County has been on the up and up ever since Republican County Executive Ed Diana took office. Born and raised in Middletown and currently residing with his family in Goshen, Diana was elected in 2001 and still holds a steady grip on his position. Through his initiatives, the county has maintained an unemployment rate below the national average; and several towns in the region have seen less crime, increased neighborhood recoveries, and increased safety measures, such as the medical crisis team Orange County Medical Reserve Corps. Diana is also credited with establishing a veterans’ food bank, which presently serves more than 100 military veterans. His leadership hasn’t gone unnoticed — during his tenure, he’s been awarded more than 20 acknowledgements by groups including the U.S. Department of Defense, United Way, New York Library Association, and the March of Dimes.
When an old stone building in High Falls (previously an early 19th-century tavern frequented by D&H Canal workers) was listed for sale in 1964, local history buff and restaurateur John Novi had to have it. The DePuy Canal House opened in 1969 and enjoyed worldwide recognition. Novi’s philosophy of food as art — something to be crafted, shared, and enjoyed — is perhaps one of the reasons why Time magazine called him the “Father of New American Cooking.” Today, Novi — a supporter of local farms as a board member of the Rondout Valley Growers’ Association — continues to share his culinary skills through private functions and as a consultant to chefs and restaurant owners.
Now president of the Carey Center for Global Good — a think tank located in Rensselaerville — Ash’s professional career path included stints as head of the Palisades Interstate Park Commission (she was the first woman ever to hold that post) and as state director of the Nature Conservancy. An unwavering proponent of land conservation and preservation, she has worked to preserve Sterling Forest and to build the National Purple Heart Hall of Honor in New Windsor. From 2007 through 2010, Ash served as the commissioner of New York’s Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation; the opening of the Walkway Over the Hudson — one of the Valley’s crown jewels — took place on her watch.
It would be tough to find a Valleyite more influential than this Beacon resident — although determining which of his many activities has had the greatest impact, both locally and nationally, is more problematic. As a singer, musician, and songwriter, Seeger helped ignite the folk music revival of the 1960s, performing with the Weavers and writing (or cowriting) several classic tunes (“If I Had a Hammer” and “Where Have All the Flowers Gone,” among others) that became huge hits for other artists. A lifelong political activist, he popularized the spiritual “We Shall Overcome,” the unofficial anthem of the civil rights movement. And as an environmentalist, he founded Hudson River Sloop Clearwater, the nonprofit organization that works to keep our namesake waterway pollution-free. At 93, Seeger’s dedication to music and political causes has not waned with age. He continues to perform locally, taking the stage in 2009 at Vassar College (where his political leanings were front and center) and at last year’s Clearwater Festival.
Though New York’s 53rd governor has been out of the political spotlight for a few years, his impact on the state — and particularly the Valley — remains monumental. Approximately 600,000 acres of state land were preserved during his time in office, which included adding 17,000 acres to Sterling Forest, acquiring Orange County’s Schunemunk Mountain for parkland, and doubling the size of Putnam’s Fahnestock State Park. Communities like Beacon, Greenport, and Hudson developed parks and better access to the river, and cities like Newburgh and Kingston engaged in urban renewal projects thanks to Pataki’s grants. Still an active man, the former governor now serves as counsel at Chadbourne & Parke in New York City.
When the Evening News newspaper endorsed Democrat Lucille Pattison for Dutchess County Executive in 1978, she was described as a “strong adversary” to her Republican opponents, and as one who was “willing to compromise in order to achieve her goals.” She won the position, but it wasn’t just a victory for locals — Pattison was the first female Democrat elected to county executive office in the United States. She served until 1991, when she decided not to run. During her tenure, she not only made an impact on women, but on children and the homeless. In the 1980s, Pattison was concerned about the rising rate of homelessness in the area and worked to develop an emergency shelter that took care of a family’s immediate needs while assisting in their transition to permanent housing. With many buildings still in operation, the main office of Hudson River Housing is located in Poughkeepsie. To honor her hard work and endeavors, the Dutchess Democratic Women’s Caucus established the Lucille Pattison DDWC Woman of the Year award, given annually to a female Democrat who is “working to advance women in elected office and at every level of the political process.”