The Week: What Caught Our Eye

August 21, 2021

Historical photo of an old Stewart's ice cream shopDear Colleagues and Friends:

Fall is still a month away. The best days of summer are still ahead. Chilly mornings. Long, warm afternoons. Camp fires. Bugs. How about a little ice cream?

FORGET BEN AND JERRY. The original ice cream entrepreneurs were Percy and Charles V. Dake.

Their ancestors had been farming in Saratoga County, N.Y., since 1787 when, in 1921, Percy and Charles began churning out Dake’s Delicious Ice Cream, a delicacy that they delivered in bulk only (no retail then) in a bright red Model T truck to the finer restaurants of Saratoga, Schenectady, Albany and Troy. Five gallons of ice cream, five bucks.

After World War II, with Americans feeling more optimistic and in the mood for a treat, the Dakes ramped up production in a converted railroad freight station and purchased a small dairy and ice cream business from a gentleman named Don Stewart in Ballston Spa, who gave the business its new name. A Stewart’s store still stands on the spot where Don Stewart had his place.

Today, there are 348 Stewart’s shops across 31 counties in New York and southern Vermont. Every morning, Stewart’s still draws fresh milk from 23 local dairy farms and produces, in the view of Cornell University, the best milk and the best chocolate milk in the State of New York. The business itself has become an Upstate New York institution, 40 percent of which is owned by employees (100 or more of whom have become millionaires). It is a major charitable benefactor in every community where it does business and an Upstate New York treasure that Food and Wine magazine ranks as the third best convenience store chain in America. This summer Stewart’s is celebrating the 100th anniversary of its ice cream business.

THE COMPANY THAT invented Make Your Own Sundaes and whimsical ice cream flavors like Mint Marcy, Black Bear-ry Sighting and Brew-Ha-Ha has a less well known serious side. In 1935, New York State required that farmers pasteurize their milk. The health regulation was essential, of course, but it posed an existential threat to small dairy farmers who could not afford the equipment. The Dake family approached local farmers about creating a facility that would pasteurize and bottle their milk. Their investment saved much of the local dairy industry and the agricultural tradition of Upstate New York.

The bond between Stewart’s and local farms remains strong. Dairy farmers have been under economic pressure for years, and COVID-19 made those pressures much worse. Schools and restaurants closed and milk consumption plummeted. In some parts of the country, dairy farmers were forced to dump milk they could not sell. Stewart’s stepped in and paid local dairy farmers premiums for their milk and reduced their hauling costs while reducing milk costs to consumers to spur demand.

Congratulations, and thank you, to Stewart’s and the Dake family for a century of sweet excellence and service.

AND WHILE WE’RE TOASTING CENTENARIANS: Meet 101-year-old lobsterwoman  (subscription) Virginia Oliver, who still works the waters off the coast of Maine just the way her dad taught her during the Great Depression. The first lobsterwoman married and took time off to raise four children, but when she lost her husband 15 years ago, she came back to the docks. It’s not hard work, she says. It’s what she knows.

NO MASKING THE UGLINESS: Eventually, every social problem finds its way to the steps of the school house. Now, local school leaders are struggling to mediate the COVID-19 culture wars over masks as well as transgender rights and critical race theory. In Clifton Park, Guilderland, Rockland County and across the country, some parents are angrily protesting the “medical tyranny” of mask mandates, arguing — often loudly and aggressively — that masks are uncomfortable, restrict children’s breathing and prevent young children with special needs from connecting emotionally with their teachers and peers. Parents who favor masks, and who may already have had some experience with COVID-19, are quietly urging school districts to follow the mainstream health precaution that teachers, staffers and students should wear masks this fall. Incoming New York Gov. Kathy Hochul says the state has the legal authority to mandate masks in schools where infection rates warrant the step and signaled she will do so. Across the state line, Gov. Charlie Baker of Massachusetts is recommending masks for the unvaccinated but has left the decision to local districts. Meanwhile, the spreading of misinformation at public forums continues to be rampant.

COLLECTORS’ ITEMS: Almost anyone who owned baseball cards has complained at one time or another about a collection that they swear would’ve put their own kids through college if only a fastidious parent, usually a mom, hadn’t thrown them out. Sports trading cards are having a moment, none bigger than the circa 1910 Honus Wagner that just sold for $6.6 million, the third time in a year that a record price was paid for a baseball card. And though they haven’t been around nearly as long, vintage video games also are fetching top dollar, with an unopened copy of “Super Mario Bros,” released in 1985, selling for a record $2 million a few weeks after a sealed copy of “Super Mario 64” from 1996 went for $1.5 million.

TOPPLING TOPPS: Speaking of kids and baseball cards, Topps, the company that has produced them for 70 years, just lost its exclusive license to the sports apparel and merchandise firm Fanatics, effective in 2026. Making matters worse for Topps, its owners had to cancel a plan to take the company public in a deal valued at $1.3 billion.

INSIDE THE CUOMO HEAD: London had Dickens and Greene, Dublin Joyce, the Mississippi Twain. New York had Hamill, and Albany thankfully still has Kennedy and Grondahl. The latter, Paul Grondahl, an exquisite writer because he is a so keen an observer of human beings, still favors readers with his prose in the Times Union on a regular basis but these days is employed as head of the New York State Writers Institute. This week, in a flood of political coverage of Andrew Cuomo’s demise characterized mainly by its lean news content, Grondahl made a distinguished contribution: An insightful piece on the complex, competitive, fraught relationship between the state’s 52nd governor and its 56th.

AND WE’VE NEITHER seen nor heard the last of Andrew: He’s a central character in an adversary’s new Broadway musical set to open this fall that draws its name from a famous Bill Clinton line: “If you see a turtle on a fence post, you know it did not get there by itself.’’ Get your tickets early.

MAN O’ WINNER: 100 Augusts ago, Saratoga Race Course earned the nickname “Graveyard of Champions” when the most celebrated horse of the roaring ’20s, Man O’ War, lost for the first time in his career. But losing was not in Man O’ War’s DNA. Two weeks later, he won the Hopeful stakes and a year later the Travers. The jockey of his defeat fared worse. He was widely criticized in the press and never rode again. And he was denied admission to the Jockey Club, as was, curiously, the jockey aboard the horse that beat Man O’ War that fateful day. The horse named Upset. A fascinating look back by horseracing historian Brien Bouyea.

STARRING: OLD HOUSES: Old houses make great TV. Evan and Whitney Williamson are renovating the Dutch Colonial house in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., that members of his family have called home since 1864. You’ll be able to relish the entire project without noise and dust when it’s broadcast on PBS’ “This Old House.” Meanwhile, Elizabeth (Solomon) Finkelstein grew up in her family’s historic home in Queensbury and she and her husband Ethan are now producing “Cheap Old Houses” on HGTV and Discovery Plus. They search for homes of great character, from Peoria to Amsterdam and beyond, to let other young people know there are many on the market for less than $100,000 just starving for a little TLC.

DON’T BE A BOOBOO: The old joke is you don’t need to outrun a bear, you just need to outrun the other people trying to outrun the bear. With 3,000 to 4,000 black bears said to be roaming the Adirondacks, there are occasional interactions between the human visitors and ursine residents. To help keep a friendly distance between the curious, intelligent residents and the often naive visitors, the Adirondack Mountain Club is out with helpful tips on bear-friendly camping etiquette

CHAGA UP ANOTHER ONE: Chaga is a dark mushroom that grows on birch trees in cold climates. Some alternative medicine advocates think it has potential health benefits. The health research may have to wait. The Adirondack entrepreneurs at Birch Boys Chaga and Raquette River Brewing have teamed up to create a new honey brown ale with a sweet, subtle taste called Chugga Chugga Chaga. Finally, a birch beer for adults with health benefits!

BULLY FOR HEIDI: If you regard Yale as a stiff and august institution of tweedy academic elites, you have not met Heidi, the yellow lab who is the first police department service dog in the Ivy League and friend to Yale’s forever mascot Handsome Dan the bulldog.

Photo of a multitude of flowers and treesA scene of August beauty at Balet Flowers and Design near Saratoga Lake. "Fairest of the months! Ripe summer's queen. The hey-day of the year. With robes that gleam with sunny sheen. Sweet August doth appear."
-  R. Combe Miller

AN ADIRONDACK LEGACY: Verplanck Colvin mapped the wild 18th century Adirondacks, drew the famous “Blue Line” around the region, was the first to advocate for preservation of the millions of forested acres at the headwaters of the Hudson, and may well be the most important figure in Adirondack history. A century later, Joseph M. Jillisky embarked on no less a crusade to secure for Colvin the respect and appreciation Colvin failed to achieve in his lifetime and, importantly, to clear his reputation. Jillisky followed the same paths that Colvin hiked over the 28 years he spent surveying the Adirondacks. He pored over the words Colvin wrote in 440 field books and in annual reports to the New York Legislature from 1872 to 1889. He produced a monumental 1,156-page, 200,000-word biography that remained unfinished at the time of his death at 39 in 1992. Writer Jim Odato traces the intersecting lives of two enigmatic men obsessed with the Adirondacks.

LEGENDS OF THE STAGE: Howard Stern, who got his start as a host and disc jockey for rock music stations, has never been shy about sharing his opinions, including who he thinks are the three greatest rock bands of all-time, complete with his signature salty language.

HE CAN’T GO FOR THAT: Staying with musicians, Daryl Hall of the band Hall and Oates had something to get off his chest during a performance last weekend at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center. He offered the stunned crowd an unsparing critique of his accommodations at the Albany Hilton, telling them, “I'm giving you the worst review of a hotel ever,” and explaining that the band stayed there because nothing was available closer to Saratoga Springs. Which begs the question: Even in this busy summer, how is it possible that no one thought to reserve rooms closer to the venue for the Live Nation performers?

RULES FOR LIFE: Clover Weitsman, the 11-year-old daughter of Central New York scrap metal mogul Adam Weitsman, is working on a homeschooling project to learn about all sides of the political spectrum. Her first interviewee: Former President Donald Trump, who, in response to a question about advice for her father on raising his children, replied, “I have five children. From the day that they were old enough to speak, I said no drugs, no alcohol, no cigarettes. And I told them that all the time.”

NO IDLE SPECTATOR: A handler at a Utah reptile center was grabbed by an alligator that then began thrashing her about in the water, a frightening turn of events that could have been much worse if not for the quick-thinking heroism of a visitor who leaped into the enclosure, grabbed the gator and held it down until another spectator could help her break free. The video is breathtaking.

OLYMPIC CHAMPION: Maria Andrejczyk, a javelin thrower from Poland, won a silver medal in the Tokyo Olympics that she promptly sold at auction for $125,000. The cash wasn’t for her — a bone cancer survivor, Andrejczyk donated the proceeds to the family of an 8-month-old boy with a heart defect to pay for potentially life-saving surgery at Stanford University Medical Center.

IN PEAKS CONDITION: Fort Drum, near Watertown, N.Y., is taking advantage of its proximity to the Adirondacks and Finger Lakes regions to organize weekend hikes for soldiers looking for that extra challenge, culminating in a climb up Mount Marcy, the state’s highest peak. One soldier who started in the Fort Drum program said his goal now is to hike all 46 High Peaks of the Adirondacks.

MOTHERS’ LITTLE HELPER: A study examining America’s drinking habits since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic found dramatic increases in consumption between February 2020, before the start of the pandemic, and November 2020, particularly among mothers of young children. The study found women with children under age 5 in their homes increased alcohol consumption 323 percent. As a whole, Americans gulped down 39 percent more alcohol after the pandemic than before, which may help explain why so many of us gained weight.

A GOLDEN MOMENT: Brenna Stewart, a Central New York native widely regarded as the best player in women’s basketball, and her wife, retired Spanish basketball star Marta Xargay, this week announced the birth of their daughter, Ruby Mae Stewart Xargay. She was born two days after Stewart and her U.S. Olympic teammates won a gold medal in Tokyo, where Stewart was named the most valuable player. “It took my breath away,” Steward told The New York Times. “The most important moment of my life.”

FOLLOW UP: Last week we reported on Barstool Sports’ Dave Portnoy’s video reviews of the pizzerias of Saratoga Springs. This week he savors pizza from the old school, where grandmother’s bread dough still makes all the difference, at DeFazio’s in Troy.

LIVES

HERBERT HUGHES was a community leader and advocate in Albany who founded the group Parents Against Drugs in the 1970s not because he had a child or family member battling addiction but because he saw it as a broader issue that needed to be addressed. That’s how he lived. He focused on creating opportunities for young people, launching a construction apprenticeship program and becoming president of the Capital District Minority Contractors Association, advocating for minority representation in the granting of construction contracts for public projects. He was 79.

BRYAH GIFFORD’s family business, Giffy’s Bar-B-Q in Clifton Park, is a staple of fund-raisers and other community events in the Capital Region, their chickens cooked in the open air over giant sizzling grills. He spent a recent scorching afternoon cooking for an event, and later started pitching in to help the kitchen staff at Power’s Inn & Pub, where he was chef-owner. He collapsed shortly thereafter and died of a heart attack at 42.  

JOE WALTON coached the New York Jets from 1983-89, twice leading them to the playoffs. His 1986 team started 10-1 before dropping their final five regular season games and then blowing a 10-point lead late in the game and eventually losing in the second round of the playoffs. He later started the football program at Robert Morris College, near his hometown of Beaver Falls, Pa., and served as head coach until retiring in 2013. He was 85.

ALMOST FINAL WORDS

“You can’t buy happiness but you can buy ice cream and that’s pretty much the same thing.”

—    Unknown

THE SIGNOFF

HIGH TIMES: Deep-fried Oreos and other calorie bombs are about to get a whole lot more popular at the New York State Fair in Syracuse, which announced that attendees will be allowed to smoke marijuana in the designating smoking areas of the fairgrounds. The fair, which opened Friday, runs through September 6.

Thank you to our contributors: Bill Callen, Bill Richmond, Lisa Fenwick, Matt Behan, John Behan, Claire P. Tuttle, John Brodt, Tara Hutchins, Kelly Donahue, and Katie Alessi.

FACING OUT is what we do. We help companies, organizations and individuals work effectively with their most important external audiences – their customers, their shareholders, their communities, the government and the news media.  www.behancommunications.com

Facing Out features news and other nuggets that caught our eye, and that we thought might be of value to you, our friends and business associates. Some items are good news about our clients and friends, others are stories that we hope will leave you a bit more informed or entertained than you were five minutes ago. As always, we welcome your ideas and feedback. 

Let’s make it a conversationmark.behan@behancom.com

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