Wednesday, June 26, former Oneonta Mayor Sam Nader sat comfortably in a chair overlooking the green front lawn of the house he’s lived in for 64 years. The memories surrounding him — photos of family, greeting cards from famous baseball players, artwork from Lebanon, a resolution naming the Albert S. Nader airport — are a taste of the things he’s seen and done in his 99 years.
A lifelong Oneontan, Nader has seen the city grow and change in ways that few others can say they have.
“We didn’t lack for any place. It was a great trade center,” he said. “Thursday nights ... streets were just full of people. Saturday nights, same way.”
Nader, whose 100th birthday is Monday, July 8, was mayor of Oneonta from 1961 to 1969. Current Oneonta Mayor Gary Herzig declared Nader’s 100th birthday “Sam Nader Day” in the city, in recognition of his “too many to count” contributions to the people of Oneonta, according to a media release by the city.
“Sam Nader as an individual is a very special person,” Herzig told The Daily Star on Friday, July 5. “Despite his accomplishments, he’s very humble. When you talk to him, you feel that he's more interested in hearing about you and what you’re doing than he is about talking about his accomplishments. We've been fortunate here to have him as part of the Oneonta community.”
Nader’s family emigrated from Lebanon to Marseille, France, then to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, where they lived for two years before arriving in the United States in 1912. Like many other immigrants in the multicultural Sixth Ward neighborhood where they settled, Nader’s father worked on the Oneonta Railroad.
Nader’s parents, Elias and Rose, were illiterate upon arrival in the United States, Nader said. He and his siblings learned Arabic from them, and the parents picked up English from their children. Nader said he is both proud of his Lebanese heritage and to be a citizen of the United States. An induction certificate for Elias and Rose to the American Immigrant Wall of Honor from the Statue of Liberty-Ellis Island Foundation, Inc. is displayed proudly in his living room. An intricately patterned painting by a Lebanese artist hangs nearby.
“You should never forget your roots,” he said.
Growing up during The Great Depression, Nader said he remembers picking and selling berries with his siblings for extra income to help support the family of eight. But through the hardships, Elias and Rose made sure their children knew the importance of getting an education.
“They were the hardest working people I've ever known,” he said. “And I mean that.”
Nader began working at Scintilla in 1941 until his service in World War II, where he fought in the Battle of the Bulge. He was a machine gunner in the 28th Infantry Division, earning the presidential citation, bronze star medal and infantryman's badge, he said.
In 1954 he married Alice House, who was a descendent of Eliakim Ford, one of the founders of Oneonta.
One of Nader's childhood ambitions was to be mayor and to do something for his community, himself and his parents, he said. When Nader decided to run, he was unable to secure the Republican nomination so he formed his own party, the Good Government party. He was then endorsed by the Democratic party and defeated the Republican candidate by 17 votes.
Urban renewal, the creation of Oneonta's first airport, Nader Towers and bringing baseball back to the city — starting with the Oneonta Red Sox in 1966 — are the things he's most proud of from his time as mayor, he said.
Nader became mayor during a tumultuous time in the United States and in Oneonta as well, he said. He recalls inviting students who were protesting the Vietnam War to speak to him at his house, offering beer to those who could drink and Coca-Cola to those who couldn't. The railroad industry in Oneonta was also beginning to decline, presenting Nader with a problem of limited transportation into and out of the city. His solution was the creation of the Oneonta Municipal Airport, newly renamed the Albert S. Nader Regional Airport.
Of all Nader's achievements, he said his children — Suzanne Longo, a media director at Harmelin Media; Alice O'Connor, a teacher in Atlanta and John Nader, former Oneonta mayor and president of Farmingdale State College — are what he's most proud of in his life. Their success, he said, is owed to his late wife's attentive care while he was busy with mayoral and other duties.
"All my kids have done well and my wife deserves all the credit," he said. "I'm the most proud of my children. I'm proud of whatever I have achieved. I'm proud of my heritage."
The Oneonta Yankees will host a free baseball game at Damaschke Field in honor of Nader's 100th birthday, and will have the 50th 1969 Oneonta Yankees reunion at 6 p.m. July 12 with events the following day as well, according to their Facebook page.*
*Changed at 4:57 p.m. July 8 to include information about July 12-13 events.
Shweta Karikehalli, staff writer, can be reached at email@example.com or 607-441-7221. Follow her @DS_ShwetaK on Twitter.