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Comics Touched by Cancer Give Back
SARATOGA SPRINGS — The first time comedian Jodi Weiner considered holding a cancer fundraiser made up of comedic acts was not long after she was diagnosed with esophageal cancer at the Saratoga Hospital’s Mollie Wilmot Radiation Oncology Center in 2013. In the midst of her shock and distress, she realized she had just suddenly joined a community of patients and survivors that were some of the kindest and most courageous people she had ever met. She wanted to give back, and give back with laughter and funds.
“The women and men who walk in there [Molly Wilmot Center] are so sweet, even though they are going through the worst time in their life,” said Weiner. “You never meet nicer people than walking into a cancer center, and they shouldn’t be. I’m not.”
At the time, Weiner underwent chemotherapy and radiation therapy, and was too sick to follow through on her wish, but not long after becoming a survivor, she was again diagnosed with cancer.
“It was devastating that first time. You don’t know, you don’t understand,” said Weiner. “The cancer takes control, you have no control and that’s the worst way to feel. This summer I was diagnosed with breast cancer, which wasn’t as bad because I had surgery and radiation. I will have chemo pills for five years, but those haven’t started yet. Five years. Brutal. But this time, I said, I’m going to do something.”
Weiner felt lucky because she and her husband, comedian Vinnie Mark, belong to a close-knit community that spreads across the country – comics. Between her health benefits and the generous support of some of the biggest names in the industry, her husband was able to leave the road and stay with Weiner throughout her treatment.
“People have been very, very good to me. Some major stars, who want to remain anonymous, were very generous,” said Weiner, “but even the guys who only make fifty bucks a show sent fifty bucks. I’ve been very, very lucky. If my life ended tomorrow I could say I had a full life.”
Weiner’s gratitude is overflowing, not only for her extended professional family, but close to home as well. “Remember, the family members are affected as much as the person who has cancer. I have a husband who is really supportive, by my side, takes me to treatment every day, the most supportive man I’ve ever met in my life,” said Weiner. This December, they will have been married 21 years. They renewed their vows in Vegas the same year she was initially diagnosed.
“But some people don’t have that,” said Weiner. “They are alone or their family doesn’t help them. I live in West Fort Ann, and had to be here every day for 33 days for treatment. Some people live right around the corner, but not everybody does.”
Saratoga Hospital has a Cancer Patient Fund to help cover expenses that insurance doesn’t, such as transportation, wigs, dietary supplements, even food. To help raise money so that fund can help as many people as possible, Weiner, Mark, and fellow comedians Chris Monty and special guest Mike Speirs will appear in “Comics Care: Comedians Touched by Cancer Give Back” on Thursday, November 10 at the Embassy Suites in Saratoga Springs. Doors open at 7 p.m. for 8 p.m. show time. Reservations are $25 per person. Proceeds from the event, including an on-site raffle, will benefit Saratoga Hospital’s Cancer Patient Fund.
“The cancer community – our patients, friends and family, and cancer survivors – is an incredibly close group of people, supporting and encouraging each other and programs like our Cancer Patient Fund,” said Jennifer Baldwin, LMSW, OSW-C and oncology social worker at Saratoga Hospital’s Mollie Wilmot Radiation Oncology Center. “To use comedy as a bridge to share and tell personal stories about their experiences with cancer is brave. We truly appreciate Jodi and Vinnie and Chris and Mike volunteering their talent to entertain, as well as raise awareness and funding for our program. They’re pretty special people.”
The three comedians have extensive experience performing on TV (Weiner on ABC’s “The View” and Comedy Central, Mark on Letterman and VH1, Monty on HBO’s “Vinyl”), in film (Monty in “Paul Blart Mall Cop 2”), and live (both Weiner and Mark on multiple USO tours and at The Borgata Casino).
“And we’re so funny! We’re actually funny!” joked Weiner. “This is a fundraiser for a good reason. I’m funny, Vinny’s funny, Chris is funny and my friend Mike Speirs jumped on board and he’s funny as well.”
Mark said he was always interested in magic as a kid, so he auditioned in 1981 for the Long Island Laughter Company. “I got lucky enough to get cast with Rosie O’Donnell, Bob Nelson and Eddie Murphy,” said Mark. “I was just 18 or 19, so young and too stupid to be nervous. We did a live show of improv and sketches every Monday night.”
Mark had owned the Saratoga Comedy Club, which was located not far from the Embassy Suites, which is donating the space and food and beverages for the event. Mark thought it would be nice to perform so close to the venue where he and Weiner had performed before along with stars like J.J. Walker from the television series “Good Times” and Colin Quinn from Saturday Night Live.
“The View I was on twice,” said Weiner. “They treated me so well, such nice people, I loved it. I saw Barbara Walters, Billy Zane and Susan Lucci. She is such a tiny little thing, like a ballerina doll. I’m 5 foot 3 inches, and she was up to my belly button.”
Chris Monty met Vinnie through the comedy circuit, and they’ve been close friends for 15 years. “In the early 90’s, my mother was diagnosed with breast cancer,” said Monty. “She opted to have a single mastectomy and was cancer free, and within three years her sisters got breast cancer. They beat it and decided to raise money to beat it, so since then I do a comedy show every year for the Three STROHM Sisters Family Foundation.”
Then, in the summer of 2012, Monty’s mother was diagnosed with peritoneal cancer. “My mother is tough as anything,” said Monty. “She did aggressive chemo and she fought tooth and nail to her last breath. But it was a very aggressive cancer. She passed on January 4 of 2013. Vinnie called me, it was about the same time that Jodi had cancer, and we were both crying on the phone together.”
Monty said that when Mark called to ask him to participate in this fundraiser, he was immediately on board. “If I’m available, I will always make time to give back to any kind of cancer organization,” said Monty. “Laughter is the best medicine, even when my mother was sick, I try to bring smiles to people’s faces.”
Dinner and pre-show cocktails will be available from 5:30 to 8 p.m. at the Diamond Club Grill at the Embassy Suites hotel. For more information or to register for “Comics Care,” visit www.saratogahospital.org or call 518-583-8340.
Region Mourns Fallen Trooper
WILTON — The tragic loss of New York State Trooper Timothy Pratt, 55, on Wednesday, October 26, as a result of a traffic accident on Ballard Road in Wilton, has left a gaping hole in the hearts of the Capital Region. The shock and grief extended statewide as well as close to home. Governor Andrew Cuomo remembered Trooper Pratt leading last month’s 9/11 motorcade memorial, and he ordered all flags to half staff.
Wilton Town Board Councilman John Lant, a former fire chief, said he couldn’t believe it when he received the phone call with the news.
“I worked with him on many accidents and fires,” said Lant, his voice filled with emotion. “He was a good guy, an outstanding state trooper. I thought the world of that guy. Unbelievable. He’s a great loss.”
Art Johnson, Wilton Town Supervisor, said, “All the troopers in the town provide such a wonderful service and we appreciate all of them. Our thoughts and prayers go with the family.”
New York State Police Troop G Commander Major William Keeler described the incident at a press conference Wednesday, saying, “By all accounts, at 6:30 this morning, it was dark, and Trooper Pratt, beginning his patrol, observed a tractor trailer stopped in the median on Ballard Road just in front of the state police barracks in Wilton, and Trooper Pratt, being Trooper Pratt, immediately went to see if he could be of any assistance. He interviewed the driver and the driver told him that he had missed a turn at the Ace Hardware store, and Trooper Pratt was going to assist in getting the vehicle turned around. Trooper Pratt stepped down from the vehicle, stepped away from the vehicle, into the east bound lane and was struck.”
State Police Superintendent George P. Beach II added, “He was a 30-year trooper who still had the fire in him. He enjoyed doing the job, and died the way he lived, helping people.”
Trooper Pratt was initially treated at Saratoga Hospital, and was airlifted to Albany Medical Center where he died at approximately 9:30 a.m. Trooper Mark Cepiel, public information officer for Troop G, confirmed charges were unlikely, but the investigation is not closed. He said a collision reconstruction unit with investigators trained beyond normal investigation techniques will continue looking at the evidence.
The fact that one simple act, done a thousand times over a career, could be the last one, is a danger faced every day by traffic duty and highway patrol law enforcement.
Beach said at the press conference that Trooper Pratt had more than 25 years of experience working the highway unit on the Northway. “It’s probably some of the most dangerous work that our troopers do,” said Beach. “It’s almost inconceivable to us that Tim could spend that much time working in such a dangerous situation and have a tragedy like this happen. It’s difficult to process.” Beach went on to confirm that most of the on-duty deaths in last 10 years have been traffic accidents.
“I’d like to thank the EMS responders and people who rendered aid to Tim, and the staffs at the hospitals in both Saratoga and Albany who did everything they could,” said Beach.
Beach also confirmed that Trooper Pratt’s family would become members of the greater New York State family. “Never alone,” said Beach before he left the podium Wednesday.
Trooper Pratt joined the New York State Police on March 30, 1987, after serving in the U.S. Air Force from 1979 to 1986. Trooper Pratt was assigned to the Traffic Incident Management unit at the State Police station in Wilton. He served his entire career with the State Police in Troop G.
The Honorable David Towne, Wilton Town Justice, had served in law enforcement over 30 years and knew Trooper Pratt well.
“He was a great guy, a credit to law enforcement,” said Towne. He said people who were ticketed by Pratt often went out of their way to write about the positive interaction they had with him in the space for comments on the back of traffic citations.
“It’s shocking when you know someone fairly well,” said Towne. “Law enforcement is a unique brotherhood. I know they are going through tough times right now and doing what they can for each other to make it through. He perished doing what he was made to do, lending a hand.”
The Honorable Gerald A. Worth, Wilton Town Justice, said it’s difficult for them in the court, too. “We dealt with him for so long, and he was always in a good mood, laughing, joking around. There’s going to be thousands of people wanting to pay their respects.”
Trooper Cepiel said Trooper Pratt was involved heavily in the community, especially at South Glens Falls High School.
“He worked the dance they have there every year, except for those years he was in the military,” said Cepiel. “It is great way to remember him for things like that he did. It’ll be tough for the community because he was integrated so much. People can take solace in the fact that this is what he loved to do.”
Lant remembered being at a banquet at the fire department, sitting with his wife and mother, when Trooper Pratt walked up to him and said, “Okay, you’re going with me.”
“Then he took his handcuffs out. You should have seen my mother’s eyes,” Lant laughed. “I had tears running down. First time I ever met him, he put out a fire and I told him that was our job, not his, and I’d start giving out speeding ticket. That’s how we became friends.”
Lant was quiet a moment, and then said, his voice choking, “An outstanding trooper. An outstanding friend. It’s everybody’s loss. The people of the State – everyone.”
On Wednesday evening, October 26, the trooper’s body was transported by hearse from Albany Medical Center to M.B. Kilmer Funeral Home in South Glens Falls. About a hundred police cars followed in the procession, which passed beneath an American flag hanging between two fire truck ladders. A crowd had gathered as the procession turned into the funeral home, and police and fire personnel stood in the street, honoring their fallen comrade.
Details of the line-of-duty funeral arrangements were not available by print time, but the office of the Village of South Glens Falls confirmed a candle light vigil will be held on Sunday, October 30, at the gazebo in Cooper’s Cave Park in the village. Speakers and bagpipes are planned to honor Trooper Pratt, and although there will be some candles; it is recommended people bring their own.
South Glens Falls Mayor Joe Orlow said the fire department did a great job Wednesday night, honoring the fallen trooper during transport, and added, “We are a caring community, and I hope to see everyone come out Sunday night to pay their respects for this gentleman who gave so much to the community.”
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Keeping Up With Growth - Malta’s Water Woes
MALTA — The idyllic view of Saratoga Lake in winter doesn’t mean much if the house is on fire. Residents of Riley Cove in the Town of Malta would have to wait precious minutes while firefighters chop through ice if the tanker engine runs out of the water it brought. This neighborhood doesn’t have fire hydrants or even potable water. The wells are filled with sulfur and only drinkable if put through expensive filtration systems. And, it’s not the only neighborhood in Malta with water woes.
Generations ago, when these homes were not much more than summer camps, the lack of water was a livable nuisance, but with a growing town, strengthening economy, and year-round living, the town is asking whether it’s time to plan for town-wide water infrastructure.
“We’re asking the residents of the Town of Malta to take a moment to fill out a brief water survey,” said town supervisor Vince DeLucia. “So far, we are getting a good response. We did our best to keep it as brief as possible. And we had robo calls to encourage people to take the survey. The reason I did the voice over introducing myself quickly at the beginning is so people don’t think it’s an advertising cold call, otherwise they just hang up, so by immediately identifying who I am, hopefully they get involved with it rather than thinking it’s a scam or advertisement. They need to fill it out as soon as possible.”
Larry Tomaszewski is president of Riley Cove Corporation, a community along the edge of Saratoga Lake south of Malta Avenue Extension. There are 72 homes without town water because the community is too far from the piping. Tomaszewski is delighted the town is conducting a water survey.
“I just learned about this survey over the weekend,” said Tomaszewski. “I went to Town Hall and picked up about 20 hard copies of the survey. Some of our residents are older and not computer savvy, so I brought copies to them.”
Tomaszewski said his father bought the property 50 years ago, a time when access to town water was unthinkable. “I moved here permanently about 8 or 9 years ago, so we put in a well. A lot of us have wells, and almost every well I know of in this community is sulfur, so you have to have some kind of a treatment going on in your basement or garage. Some seasonal people draw water out of the lake, but you have to have it treated, you can’t drink it.”
He knows of one person who spent $27,000 on a water system, and others that just have a pipe running to the lake. Some in other neighborhoods have salt, and have to replace all the faucets in their homes periodically due to corrosion.
“We pay the same tax rate as everyone else, but have fewer services,” said Tomaszewski. “All we have is volunteer fire. So when they said they are doing this water survey, we jumped on it.”
Peter Shaw, chief of the Malta Ridge Volunteer Fire Company, said the company’s first-line trucks carry a minimum of 1,000 gallons of water, and if that runs out, they will draw from the closest water source, chopping ice if necessary, or rely on mutual aid agreements set up with neighboring fire houses to bring tankers of water. He described a system similar to a fireman’s brigade, but instead of buckets, it is made up of connected tankers between a water source and the fire.
“Believe me, doing a tanker shuttle is not our first choice,” said Shaw. “It’s something we rely on because there’s no water system in that area. If it were up to us, we’d love a hydrant in front of everyone’s house, at least every couple hundred feet or so. We would be very much in favor of a water system for the underdeveloped areas of town.”
Where would the water come from?
DeLucia said there are great existing sources of water through both public and private enterprises. The town’s role would be to find a way to get the infrastructure planned and built, and the existing companies would take care of the supply and delivery and maintenance.
“Riley Cove is a considerable distance from exit 11,” said Ed Hernandez, executive director of the Saratoga County Water Authority, “so it’s not a realistic option to connect it to county water.” The costs would be prohibitive for just a few neighborhoods, although he said there was enough water at that pipeline to serve all of Route 9 and other areas of the town. It would take a town-wide infrastructure to make accessing that county water line cost-effective.
According to Marissa Mackay, executive vice president of Saratoga Water Services, Inc., a private company and public water utility, they’ve done feasibility studies on supplying water to Malta.
“This is very exciting for the residents of Malta,” said Mackay, whose grandfather founded the company. “I don’t think I’ve had a day in the last three years where we didn’t have an application for the extension of water service. It’s a very growing town. If you see a development going up in the town of Malta, they are on our service – provided they are on the east side of I-87. If Saratoga Water Services and the town can create a partnership, we’d be more than happy to work with them on our common ground of getting water to people. We have no surface water sources, it’s all aquifers, so we supply a very consistent water quality.”
Why take the water survey?
The Town of Malta’s water infrastructure has been built piecemeal over the years, development by development, but now DeLucia is looking at the town as a whole and exploring whether there is a better way. Building a well-planned town-wide water infrastructure that takes into account both commercial and residential growth, among other things, could be the most cost-effective way to meet the needs of neighborhoods like Riley Cove and business growth into the future.
“Water and sewer was something that the town board and I recognized was a big issue, especially in a few pockets of the community,” said DeLucia. “It came about as we started looking at changes in zoning for commercial purposes, and especially in this little hamlet called Maltaville that was having serious water issues.”
The town is looking into the interest of residents, the various sources of water that can be obtained, what grants are available, how sewer lines would connect to the county sewer line, and various funding sources. But it all begins with the survey.
“There’s a large part of Saratoga Lake that is not covered by the county’s sewer lines,” said Delucia. “The population at the time was not enough to warrant it. You are talking a lot of money to develop the infrastructure. We’re working both with the county and with Saratoga Water Services to see what can be done, and what the survey will do is identify which areas of the town of Malta seem to have the greatest needs.”
The town will seek out grants and state and federal funds to help offset the cost, but many grants base the amount they give on need, so the more people who fill out the survey, the better the survey results may be able to raise grant funds. DeLucia also said a public referendum would be needed to have the voters decide whether a bond is warranted, as well.
“I’m very sympathetic to folks who don’t have access to clean, potable water, such as in Riley Cove and Maltaville and others,” said DeLucia, “and we’re trying to do all that we can to hopefully be able to provide it while maintaining the various sources of water, and that means public and private.”
The town is not, however, interested in getting into the water business. DeLucia says the government's role is to help with infrastructure and big-picture planning.
“Our intent is not to try to take over any private water companies or sources,” emphasized DeLucia. “We’re concerned about the residents, and make no mistake, wherever clean water is available we have no intention of taking over private water companies. Rather, we’re hoping to provide the infrastructure in conjunction with all water sources, public and private. Infrastructure is the biggest cost.”
Developers and commercial enterprises can easily access water in Malta, they can afford it, but for those who bought property generations before town water was even thinkable, they may still have to go without for a long time, depending on whether the town residents can all come together to decide, once and for all, now is the time to finally, conceivably have drinkable water and fire hydrants for all.
The water survey is specifically for residents of the Town of Malta. If you are not sure if you are located in the town, check the map on the survey, which outlines the town’s boundaries. The survey is available at the town clerk’s office and online at www.malta-town.org under the heading, “Regarding the Robo call you recived.”