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December 31, 2012

NASCAR championship among year's brightest moments

By Emily F. Popek
The Daily Star

---- — The Daily Star launched its “On the Bright Side” feature more than 10 years ago, establishing a commitment to bring local readers at least one “good news” story on the front page of every single newspaper. (The only exception to this rule was the day after the 9/11 attacks.) This year, in addition to summarizing the top 10 local news stories of the year, The Daily Star is remembering the 10 “brightest” Brights of 2012.

1. Paul Wolfe of Milford wins NASCAR championship

Race fans can be picky in their allegiances to specific drivers or teams, but plenty of locals were rooting for the No. 2 car in the final NASCAR race of 2012 in November. Some may have been cheering for the driver, Brad Keselowski, but many were also rooting on crew chief Paul Wolfe, a Milford native who has risen in the NASCAR ranks.

Among the fans cheering Wolfe on in November were Harriet Hotaling, 86, formerly of Milford, who was at the Oneonta Veterans Club with her son, Tim O’Donnell. 

“I think it’s just great that a local boy is making it good,” O’Donnell said.

2. Oneonta ‘Nutcracker’ reaches milestone

The Fokine Ballet Company’s production of the “Nutcracker” ballet marked 25 years of presenting the traditional holiday program to the Oneonta area in 2012. Under the direction of Donna Decker, scores of young dancers have twirled on the stage as sugar plums, flowers and soldiers to Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s famous music. 

Decker, whose roots with the “Nutcracker” stretch back to her grandmother, a prima ballerina who once danced at the Maryinsky Theater in St. Petersburg, Russia, greeted many former students who returned for the performance in December, and said goodbye to a dancer who had been with the production since its first incarnation. 

3. Area woman, 90, showered with birthday cards

Birthdays are always a special occasion, but some are more special than others. Alice N. Hanley’s 90th birthday was very special indeed. The Walton woman woke up Aug. 21 to find 144 birthday cards hanging on lines outside her home. 

“It was a total, total surprise ­— it was absolutely gorgeous,” Hanley told The Daily Star. 

A tip from Hanley’s mail carrier put The Daily Star in touch with Hanley, whose card “shower” had been orchestrated by her daughter-in-law, Marcia Hanley, and Hanley’s friend Joanne Sampson. The two posted a notice on Facebook and spread the word around town to get as many people involved as possible. 

“They did a wonderful thing for me,’’ Hanley said. “It’s a wonderful life.’’

4. ‘Sound of Music’ a family affair for cast

The traditional gift for a 29th anniversary is furniture. But Orpheus Theatre celebrated its 29th anniversary with music, and a very special cast helped them do it. 

The first performance by Orpheus was a production of “The Sound of Music” in November 1984. One of the performers in that inaugural show was Rachel Hansen, who played the child Martha. Hansen didn’t perform with Orpheus again until recently, but she returned to the stage in 2012 to sing in “The Sound of Music” once again — this time, as the nun Sister Margaretta. And this time, her own daughter Sarah, 11, joined her, playing the role of the child Brigitta. 

“It was so much fun,” Hansen said of performing with her daughter. “We got to spend more time together.”

5. Beekman Boys take home amazing prize

The ratings may not have been the best for the 2012 season finale of “Amazing Race.” But it’s a fair bet that plenty of local viewers were glued to the screens to find out how Josh Kilmer-Purcell and Brent Ridge, otherwise known as the Beekman Boys, fared in the contest. And those who tuned in were not disappointed as they watched the couple eke out a first-place finish over the remaining teams to take home the prize of $1 million. 

Kilmer-Purcell and Ridge, who live in Sharon Springs and star in a reality television show about their life on a historic farm there, have already begun reaping the benefits of their big win. The couple, who plan to marry in the spring, have used their winnings to pay off the mortgage on their farm and relocate to the village permanently. 

They downplayed any deeper meaning their victory had in advancing gay rights.

“I think what’s great is that the show shows us as just another couple competing on the race and our strengths that come from a 14-year relationship, just like anyone,” Kilmer-Purcell said.

6. ‘Music Man’ takes show on the road to Oman

For a local elementary school student, performing with the Glimmerglass Opera is potentially thrilling enough. But to travel with the company to the Middle Eastern country of Oman was something different altogether. 

Henry Wager, a fourth-grader at Cooperstown Elementary School, said he was “really, really excited” to travel with the Glimmerglass Festival’s production of “The Music Man” to Muscat, Oman. 

“There’s supposed to be a lot of camels just walking around,” Henry said.

Henry was joined on the trip by 10-year-old Aria Maholchic of Norwich, whose mother, Jamie, said performing with the opera had been a great education for the aptly named young woman. 

7. Area girl has novel published

Fourteen-year-old Megan Brown of Greene High School became a published author in 2012 when her debut novel, “Witch Wars,” hit the shelves. 

Brown’s young-adult fantasy novel was published by Open Door Publishers of Ballston Spa and brought the young writer to Oneonta for a book signing at the Green Toad Bookstore. 

Brown told The Daily Star that she is full of ideas for future novels. 

“The ideas just come to me, and then I have to develop them,” she said. “My imagination is off the wall. And I’m very picky about the way things are phrased.”

8. Edmeston grad to climb Mount Kilmanjaro

Graduates are often given copies of the book “Oh, the Places You’ll Go” by Dr. Seuss. Edmeston native Stefanie Cornell took that to an extreme in 2012 when she signed up for a SUNY Oswego course titled “Together We Go: Climbing Kilmanjaro.”

Cornell told The Daily Star that she was “very excited and a little nervous” to scale the 19,000-foot mountain in Tanzania. But, she said, “whatever happens, it will be life-changing.”

9. Locals gather to remember Slovenian roots

Few may realize that Fly Creek is home to an organization for people of Slovenian descent. But in October, the members of the Farmers’ Independent Benevolent Society were out in force at Cornfield Hall, eating, drinking and reminiscing about their history and their ancestors. 

“When I was a teenager, after a heavy day of working in the field ... you got cleaned up, you came down here and you danced like a bloody fool and then six o’clock rolled around pretty early,” Frank Kukenberger Jr. reminisced. “It was just a grand time. It was a great place to come and enjoy one another’s company and dance.”

10. Area students experience Chinese culture

The opportunity to take a group of Milford students to China was deemed “too good to pass up,” high school social studies teacher Jennifer Pindar told The Daily Star in April, so it was off to Beijing and Shanghai for 23 students during spring break. 

Students called the trip eye-opening and exciting, noting that seeing landmarks such as the Great Wall of China and the Temple of Heaven made history come alive. 

“This trip was very educational and opened our eyes and our minds to another culture and its people,” Pindar said. “It was a learning experience and a life-changing experience for many.”