Monday, March 26, 2012


     The journey that is life always has an end point, at least in this part of the universe. When you are young, you do not think about the finish line, of course, even if you are reminded, as my own high school class was almost 52 years ago when a fellow senior developed a heart condition and quickly passed away. Though we have lost 18 people now, about 9 percent of our 1961 class, for most of us life still has remaining chapters.
That is up to God, maybe the individual too and perhaps fate. Since it is inevitable, it should not be feared. Only its coming, for that is where each of us faces a final exam. But, as we were all supported by one another in high school, so we are, too, as we age.
Over the years, our class learned of the dignified passing of at least some of my 18 classmates, and they set a standard for us all. One fellow, so very ill with a fatal genetic liver disease, came from Florida to my part of the Northeast to have a final lunch with some of us, never dwelling on his fate but trying to make us laugh, as we did in school. Another classmate called me to talk about almost nothing, but days later when he died, his words were everything. It was his way of saying goodbye.
Now, my class has lost another, Cliff Tallman, the former outstanding athlete and longtime Spring Valley, N.Y., police chief. His cancer was swift, and he chose to burden no one. His passage came at home with family, which is always a gift.
What Cliff left behind was a blessing, too. 
He chose to long give back to the community where he was raised, an achievement that is often a sacrifice, for greener pastures are often beyond what seems so mundane to us. Cliff spent 30 years in law enforcement and rose to become police chief in his hometown.      
He was a dignified, fair man who loved sports and in retirement continued to give as a coach to young people who were just like him in high school: eager, with lots of energy and potential.
Suburbia can be anonymous, but when you have people in the neighborhood like Cliff Tallman, the old downtown connection survives.
Thanks for giving to us in so many ways, Cliff. Thanks for the example. 

Monday, March 19, 2012


By Arthur H. Gunther III
New York City -- When the runners in the half marathon here yesterday made their way from Central Park through midtown to the Hudson River, then downtown and under Battery Park, across town and up the East Side to the finish at the South Street Seaport, at least one participant was running through history -- his own family’s dating back to the 1840s.
My son Arthur 4th, 40, who is a fine runner and has been at it since he won a race in elementary school, really pushed himself and came in 42 of 15,336 runners, second in his age group. If Arthur Jr., Arthur Sr., Henry or Robert Gunther had been there or any of the Lyons or the Bonners, they would have been properly impressed. In a way, they were all there. 
Arthur 4th may not have been aware, but when he began his run in Central Park at 64th Street, as he went up and down those wonderfully sculpted hills in the oasis that is Gotham’s sanctuary for sanity, he was covering territory which his triple-Great Uncle Hugh Bonner reviewed for fire protection as New York City’s first chief of department (later fire commissioner). 
When Arthur emerged from the Park onto Seventh Avenue and took to the downhill course into Times Square, and with all the other runners saw the great lights of Broadway (always on), he passed the recruiting station where his grandfather Arthur Jr. joined the Marines in 1940.
Turning right onto 42nd Street, he headed for the now street-level West Side Highway and a long stretch toward the Battery in lower Manhattan. As he continued a 5:20-mile pace, he entered the Chelsea District where his Great-Grandfather Arthur Sr. worked as a 16-year-old in the Royal Baking Power Co., carrying a required World War I pass in the sensitive dock area.  Arthur also went by the building that once housed the New York World-Telegram and The Sun, the newspaper where his other grandfather, Philip Golando, long worked as a printer.
When Arthur hit the Battery, he went underground, through the Battery Park Underpass that takes West Side Highway motorists to the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Drive on the East Side. If he had been routed topside, he would have run in the Battery, where his Great-Great Grandfather Henry and his triple-Great-Grandfather Robert toiled in the brewery industry. It is also the site of Castle Garden, the pre-Ellis Island immigration port through which Arthur’s Prussian, Irish and English ancestors came to the United States in the 1800s.  
Finally, running up the hill out of the underpass and heading for the finish at the Seaport, Arthur could look to the East River and imagine the seaman’s barge where his Grandmother Patricia lived for a time with Great-Grandparents John and Mary Lyons.
Now, my son was not alone in his run through history in New York City. So many can trace roots back to Gotham, to ports of immigration, etc. Many a spirit must have been cheering them on.

Monday, March 12, 2012


By Arthur H. Gunther III
Pearl River, N.Y. -- The luck of the Irish is always evident in this small community just 22 miles northwest of New York City. Once settled by expatriate Germans and their offspring, the sons and daughters of the Emerald Isle continue the American story -- post-war suburbia and two interstates having paved the way for an easy commute to jobs as Gotham firefighters and police officers.
And ‘tis a fine place she is, this hamlet of Rockland County, with a St. Patrick’s parade nearly equal to the big one itself. Whether the sun shines or it rains, no matter the economy, a hearty time is to be had by all -- luck of the Irish, you see.
Luck because of easy disposition; luck by Irish wit; luck by frequent grand vocabulary and human understanding since these are readers of words; and luck by long suffering this or that, this and that -- a curse and a blessing that is Irish as is the eye’s twinkle, a Guinness and a good red or brown stew.
Luck of the Irish, too, because as with any particular group, and with people in general, there are always noteworthy characters. As a pre-St. Patrick’s Day present in honor of my own Lyons/Bonner heritage, I’ll tell you about one.
On a recent visit to Pearl River, while reading a newspaper in the car, I kept spotting a moving shadow. Eventually I looked up and saw this elderly, straw-thin fellow, some gray hair left on an otherwise bald pate, walking as erect as can be, in purposeful fashion. The gentleman was covering the length of a shopping strip parking lot over and over, obviously for exercise, physical and probably mental.
If a face can be said to be Irish, and of course that can be said, this fellow was of such descent. It was not difficult to imagine his background. Could not know for sure without asking him, but the probability is that he is American-born of Irish parents, grew up in the Bronx Irish neighborhood, became a New York City police officer and moved with his young family to Pearl River. A likely scenario since that is the usual tale in this hamlet, with “firefighter” a substitute profession.
One other observation gave the man away: shiny, dark blue, gabardine pants, the sort cops pulled on for years in the city. They never lose the shine earned by many seasons, and they never wear out. To the thrifty fellow, and that the Irish be, too, they never go out of style.
So in Pearl River, that other county of Eire, where tradition is both Irish and American,  a retired fellow enjoys his afternoons as comfortable in his setting as he can be -- and still walking a beat. Luck o’ the Irish, you see.

Monday, March 5, 2012


By Arthur H. Gunther III
SOUTH NYACK, N.Y. -- Ever since President Eisenhower, with German Autobahn images fresh in his mind, and encouraged by car manufacturers and trucking companies, decided to fashion the interstate highway system, localities -- the sort that built small-town America -- have not counted as much. This is said to be for the greater good, but in the rush to progress, heritage has been lost and so has respect for humble beginnings. 
In this South Nyack village just 22 miles north of New York City but a world apart from Gotham, in this community where Carson McCullers had Tennessee Williams to tea and other beverages, the nation and the New York governor want to build a very big bridge, actually two of them, side by side over the Hudson River. The crossings are to replace the 1955 Tappan Zee Bridge, a structure now discovered to have been constructed on the cheap, and quickly, so as to bring a “cash register” to the New York State Thruway and pay off the bonds. Truckers were happy to oblige in this early addition to a fledgling interstate system, forgoing rail and accepting breaks on tariff charges. But that has greatly increased traffic beyond any expectation and has so stressed the present crossing that government and engineers say it must go. A “shovel-ready, job-making" replacement is in the works, but as with the first bridge, South Nyack is to get no respect.
  When the Tappan Zee was constructed in the early 1950s, the village lost its entire downtown and some 200 houses to eminent domain and to the greater good. Even more land was taken for a very large cloverleaf that was to connect to a New York extension of the then-developing New Jersey Turnpike. That never happened, and the cloverleaf remains overwhelming and confusing to this day, taking up more real estate than necessary.
The new bridge’s approach will not remove the unnecessary cloverleaf. No money, says the government. Yet given the initial projected cost of the two new bridges, about $6 billion, what is a few million more to take away what took away the community downtown, to provide land for a new village center, to raise the possibility of private investment in small shops, a park, a walkable area, to give what was small-town America a reason to smile  though it covers its ears from interstate clamor?
What is this to you, you might ask, those who read this column from afar? You don’t know South Nyack. No, but you do know the small town where you might have been raised, or where your grandmother lived, or like the ones you saw in old Hollywood movies. You should care about South Nyack, I humbly suggest, because it and other villages like it are part of the woven national fabric, even if in the big picture we don't see the smaller parts of the quilt, so handsomely fashioned. 
The United States has come very far in its national progress, conquering one frontier after another, improving the quality of life, building a middle class, providing opportunity. But in that never-ending march that is our DNA, we have, deliberately or not, trodden over our humble beginnings. Interstates are important, but so are downtowns.