Living 100 years is a heck of an accomplishment.
Packing as much into those years as Albert “Sam” Nader has is another deal altogether.
Nader is an Oneonta guy through and through, born in the city on July 8, 1919, to Lebanese immigrants. From humble beginnings, living in housing built by the D&H Railroad for its employees — his father worked on the railroad — Sam grew to be a local leader and icon.
Along the way, he caddied at the Oneonta Country Club during the Great Depression, played amateur baseball, took a couple shots at college and, when World War II came along, joined the Army. He fought at The Battle of the Bulge.
Family, work and politics filled Sam’s life after the war, and baseball never really went away.
He was a director and public address announcer for the Oneonta Red Sox, a team in the Canadian American League in 1949, when he was asked to run for the Sixth Ward seat on the Oneonta Common Council. He ran, won, and served three terms. He also served two terms as city assessor before setting his sights on the office of mayor.
After failing to gain the Republican nomination in his first run, he formed his own party — the Good Government Party — and, with backing from Democrats, won the mayoral election in 1961. He won a second term four years later.
Much happened during his eight years in office.
“One of the best things I accomplished was getting the airport built, in my opinion,” Nader told an interviewer in 2007. “If you were going to do well in the 20th century, you sure needed an airport in a city.” The airport was dedicated in September 1966.
There was an expansion of SUNY Oneonta ,which meant extension of water lines, sewers and streets.
City parks were expanded. New industries came to town, even as the railroad was fading.
The city pushed for the creation of an expressway — now I-88 — and the route was pretty much set during Nader’s second term. Flood control measures for the Sixth Ward were part of the deal.
Nader also advocated for housing for the elderly and established a housing authority. The result was the complex, Nader Towers, that was completed a few years after he left office and bears his name.
Urban renewal, still going on and not always popular, began during the Nader Administration and resulted in replacing crumbling structures with new ones, including the city parking garage.
For many, Sam Nader is synonymous with baseball in Oneonta. The city had been without professional ball since 1953 and, in 1966, Nader changed that, bringing a New York-Penn league Red Sox affiliate to town. The Red Sox left after just one year, but opened the door for a much better fit — the Oneonta Yankees — who stayed until political forces stole them away in 1998. An affiliation with the Detroit Tigers kept pro baseball in Oneonta another 10 years, until Sam and his baseball partner, Sid Levine, sold the team.
All of this went on while Nader maintained a 42-year career at the Bendix Corp. factory in Sidney, where he started in a 35 cents-per-hour job and retired as director of purchasing.
He also raised a family. One of his children, son John, served as Oneonta’s mayor, too.
Sam Nader’s fingerprints are all over the city. Tangible evidence of his work still stands and likely always will. The city’s municipal airport was recently renamed in his honor.
We echo the sentiments of current Mayor Gary Herzig, who told The Daily Star last week, “Sam Nader as an individual is a very special person. ... We’ve been fortunate here to have him as part of the Oneonta community.”
Happy birthday, Sam!