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May 18, 2009

My Turn: People make Oneonta great

This week's "My turn" column is by Geoff Smith, president of Medical Coaches.

My Australian-born dad, Ian Smith, brought our family of six (wife Dorothy; daughters Pat, Sandi and Nancy; and son Geoff _ Brian was later born at Fox Hospital) to Oneonta in the early 1950s.

He thought Oneonta was the perfect place to fulfill his dream of providing doctors' offices on wheels. His first order came in 1949 from Cuba and was built in Oneonta.

After graduating from Lehigh University in 1969 and spending three years with Roadway Express, I followed my own dream of working for my dad at Medical Coaches in 1972.

I married Linda Lehmann, a former Eastern Airlines stewardess, in 1972; our son, Chad, now works with me at Medical Coaches and further strengthened our Oneonta ties by marrying Corinne Bresee, daughter of Marc and Elaine.

Having spent the bulk of my life in Oneonta, I have a deep appreciation for Oneonta's real secret: people. Our citizens are our strength.

The following is my list (not meant to be exhaustive and could run 10 pages) of people I met who made and still make Oneonta a great place in which to live:

Jessie Dewar and Bea Blanding: I only met these ladies a few times, but their unselfish legacy of philanthropy lives on in the Jessie Dewar Foundation and the Blanding Foundation. Oneonta would not be the same without their generosity.

Clyde Wright: Clyde was my Rotary sponsor. You would never know he was wealthy. His philanthropy and generosity while he was living (YMCA, Fox Hospital, Hartwick College, City of Oneonta, National Soccer Hall of Fame, etc.) was substantial. He left his son, Brian, with the same spirit, who carries on Dad's wishes.

Wilmer Bresee: Wilmer was a stalwart of Rotary and the Masons. His dedication to the Bresee family and store gave Oneontans memories they will never forget. His wife and partner, Esther, is still alive at the age of 99.

Charles Belden: He was "Mr. Belden" to everyone. Mr. Belden was the OHS principal for years. I doubt if there was a more respected and loved man in Oneonta.

Carl Delberta: His legacy lives in the spirit of the thousands of boys and (now) girls who used his club. Carl taught everyone what it meant to be courteous and respect others "¦ or else!

Frank Getman: Frank's infectious smile, fierce loyalty and generosity gained him many friends. As a lawyer, he helped shape many company startups. His fair and human attitude as a judge became a breath of fresh air. Aside from his family and friends, he was deeply proud of his successful years guiding the Dewar Foundation.

Sid Levine: Sid's abundant energy, "arm-twisting" skills and love of Oneonta probably raised more money than anyone ever has or will. Well into his 90s, Sid still chairs two very important boards _ the Jessie Dewar Foundation and the Fox Foundation.

Sam Nader: Sam served as mayor, and his persuasive nature and refusal to give up helped Oneonta grow. Oneonta's debt to Sam for keeping baseball in our great city can never be repaid.

Dave Brenner: Dave guided Oneonta through some of its toughest times and we're better for it. After retirement, Dave focused his energy, organizational skill and commanding personality toward serving the community on boards and foundations.

Coaches Tony Drago and Lloyd Baker: No school could ever match the classiness and coaching ability of these two giants. After their retirement, they both stayed in Oneonta and have contributed mightily to our community.

Judge Bob Harlem: Bob reached the pinnacle of his profession, yet he never forgot Oneonta. He works behind the scenes to support Oneonta and shies away from any recognition. He also has two sons in Oneonta whose offspring fill the papers with their sporting successes almost daily.

Bill Davis: Bill is the epitome of a gentleman and good businessman. I see his name or his dealerships' names on virtually every charitable organization or event list. Bill is tireless in his community support.

Nick Lambros: He's everywhere! Nick's mastery of coaching and handling athletes is only exceeded by his love for his family and his community. He is a hard worker, unafraid to share ideas and help implement them.

Al Donovan and Dick Miller: The stars aligned when we had these two

as local university/

college presidents. They both came at the right time and left an indelible imprint on SUNY Oneonta and Hartwick. Both honored Oneonta by choosing to stay here and continue to be active in our community.

Ian Smith: I am prejudiced, I admit. My dad loved this community and how it embraced an "Aussie immigrant" and his family. He said the move to Oneonta changed his life. He always told me, "It's people who count."

My dad was right on target. Oneonta is a great place in which to live because of the fantastic people who live here.

To contact Geoff Smith, call 432-1333, ext. 106, or e-mail

To write for "My turn," contact Daily Star Publisher Tanya Shalor at or 432-1000, ext. 214.