Meet Mayor Doctor Lee McGunnigle
McGunnigle honors the past while designing the future.
Renaissance Man Tannersville Mayor Lee McGunnigle has had many roles over the years, including chef and president at Villa Vosilla Boutique Resort.
Photo by Roy Gumpel
What do a talented chef, the mayor of a painted village in the sky, a chiropractor, and a man whose wife’s family owns a unique boutique resort all have in common? They are all actually one man who has reinvented himself throughout different stages of his life. Lee McGunnigle is that man, and he is a rarity in today’s world.
This businessman, father, husband, and mayor is working hard to protect and promote his family’s heritage while striving to improve the quality of life for his village’s residents. He is doing this with both traditional and innovative methods.
McGunnigle is proud to have focused most of his adult life on his wife Doria’s Italian heritage. “It’s not just the food that I fell in love with,” Lee said during a recent visit to the Villa Vosilla, the resort founded by Doria’s parents in Tannersville. “I also saw the closeness of her family and the pride they had for their culture.”
In 1983 he married Doria Vosilla, whom he had met on New Year’s Day at the resort. Doria’s parents, Nattalina and John Vosilla, had moved from Brooklyn in 1962 after the Vosilla family purchased a former kosher resort that was built in 1895. They reopened the business as the family-operated, Italian-themed resort Villa Vosilla Boutique Resort — which also became their home.
This area of the Catskills was well known for an abundance of Italian resorts, but the Villa is the last one operating that is family-owned. The thriving enterprise offers a unique blend of hospitality at an all-inclusive resort that keeps Italian culture and tradition alive. It is the family that makes this resort valuable — a family passionate about a business that is also their home. The Villa Vosilla is not only important to the village of Tannersville and mountaintop community, but to Greene County as well.
Local Pride McGunnigle performing one of his mayoral duties, leading a parade.
Lee and Doria were living in Brooklyn, where he opened his first chiropractic office. He and Doria traveled upstate to help her family on weekends; when Doria’s father passed away, they made a permanent move. McGunnigle eventually gave up his practice (which by then had offices in New Paltz and Tannersville) to focus on resort renovations, become a chef and president at Villa Vosilla, and raise four children with Doria, who now owns the resort.
McGunnigle was determined to improve not only the resort, but also the lives of residents of the village he now called home. In 1994, Lee was elected mayor and served four terms. He returned in 2007 when the village was on the verge of a public water disaster from damaged reservoirs. Initially given an original repair estimate of approximately $300,000, he was able to restore the reservoirs in about two weeks’ time for a total cost of approximately $14,000. “My first infrastructure miracle,” he added, after explaining how he hired local contractors to repair the structures in a short time and way under budget.
His continuing improvement of services and updating of vital infrastructure are accomplishments that have kept him in office for so many years. McGunnigle’s action has also been lauded by county officials and led to membership on the Greene County Planning Board. He is also proud to be one of the original signatories of the Catskill Watershed Agreement with New York City. Next month, he will be on the ballot for Greene County treasurer.
“When I first moved here,” McGunnigle says, “there were a lot of abandoned buildings and empty homes.” Now the village boasts several antique stores, many of which showcase local artists and homemade crafts, along with cozy eateries, ice cream shops, old-time general stores, and a wine store. Most surprising is a movie theater offering first-run films. Much of the restoration was funded through The Hunter Foundation along with local philanthropists.
Tannersville, “The Painted Village in the Sky,” is home to the new Mountain Top Library, which offers programs for children and adults. Mayor Doctor Lee, as he is affectionately called, has worked with both local and state officials to improve and protect the quality of life and the beauty of the mountaintop area. The mayor was recently honored with a “Make A Difference” award by Tobacco-Free Action of Columbia & Greene Counties for measures taken to restrict tobacco sales near the Hunter-Tannersville High/Middle School on Main Street.
In the early 1990s, during a second “depression,” he decided to promote a spirit of community by running a biking and walking trail from North-South Lake that would ultimately connect to Hunter Mountain. He used grant money to start the project, which followed an old railway bed. He met some resistance, but he worked with officials and convinced some local residents of the benefits for all. Today his vision of connecting all the mountain towns is almost complete.
His latest project is the restoration and cleanup of Rip Van Winkle Lake and the surrounding grounds. The project was recently awarded grant funding of $500,000 through the NYS Office of Planning and Development and the Local Waterfront Revitalization Program through the Environmental Protection Fund. The grant will help the Village to implement the Gooseberry Creek Revitalization Strategy, with an additional $500,000 committed in local match.
Home & Hospitality Villa Vosilla is where it all began for Lee and Doria McGunnigle.
This project will provide a direct link from the town to the lake and park amenities that are already being enjoyed by residents and visitors. Through grant money, a performance stage was purchased, and “Music in the Park” — a series of outdoor concerts which include a benefit for veterans — was launched. Plans are also in the works to add picnic grounds, more trails, and observation points with walkways through the wetlands. He would also like to add a bird sanctuary and repair the spillway.
When asked why he has been so successful with his initiatives, he replies, “I think it is because I like to think outside the box.”
Lee is on the committee of the Elder Abuse Prevention and Education Task Force of Columbia and Greene Counties. He has turned the tragic abuse of a beloved family member and his family’s heartbreak into something positive by forming a committee to make Tannersville a template to inform, educate, and protect the vulnerable from exploitation from predators. This initiative, called “Safe at Home,” was recently presented to the community.
When asked what he is proudest of as a husband and father, he says, “I am proud that Doria and I have four children with a strong work ethic. We have always been a close family and enjoy each other’s company. When we are all together celebrating life and having dinner as a family — that’s priceless. But most of all I love my wife. She is an angel. The best time of the day is holding her and I cherish each moment.”