HAMBURG — Hamburg has come under a lot of scrutiny recently. This past week, Hamburg Central School Superintendent Richard Jetter turned himself in for falsely reporting his car vandalized, in connection with turmoil surrounding elections to that board. The superintendent has been placed on paid administrative leave, while the Hamburg police continue their investigation into the damage done to Jetter’s car. The administrator admitted skimming a pole with his vehicle in South Buffalo after leaving the home of another administrator. The two had been drinking at a bar that evening, and Jetter had gone back to her house to sober up. After the car was damaged, he drove it to work the next day and only after the board meeting that night, discovered a threatening note and damage he attributed to irate Hamburg residents.
Jetter’s rental car was egged the next day, and local residents, students, teachers and parents rallied around the administrator, thinking him a target of the area’s ill-will.
Jetter’s accusations rode easily on the reputation of some parties in the Hamburg school district, who have been embattled for months and even years, prior to that incident. In a nutshell, Board Member Catherine Schrauth Forcucci has been disrupting the actions of the board and causing disturbances both during and outside of meetings to the extent that official action has been taken against her by the district. Misconduct hearings continue next week, to decide whether or not she will be allowed to remain in her position.
The Hamburg School Board has been in the news recently for intimidation, name-calling, vandalism, conspiracy and now, falsifying police reports.
This is not the Hamburg I know.
I grew up in the town of Hamburg, close enough to the Armor Fire Hall to hear the sirens go off. I did not attend Hamburg Central School District schools, but I did participate in town recreation activities. Residents can (as far as I know) still see a mural I contributed to in the recreation center in the village. I learned to swim in the village pool, including one incident in which my swimsuit became, well, significantly more revealing as I cannonballed off the diving board. Fortunately, I think the lifeguards who witnessed that are now long retired.
As I grew older, I took tickets at the Erie County Fair. For several summers, I first ripped, then scanned thousands or maybe millions of tickets, standing in hot sun and rain that pooled up to our ankles. At lunch break, I’d visit the cows (my favorite) or grab a treat from one of the concession stands who happily took most of my fair salary.
And on breaks from college, I returned to my parents’ house in the Hamburg I know so well, I could draw a map from memory.
The Hamburg I know is the kind of place where I could walk to my job at the fair without fear of getting run down or catcalled. It’s the kind of place where the kids I babysat one summer could go outside and play with their friends, all day long, without my needing to go with them. It’s the kind of place where I could walk the village with my friends at night, once we reached past-dark curfew age, and our parents never feared for our safety. That’s the Hamburg I know.
Every day, I receive notices about achievements Hamburg students are earning. This week, I went through 92 emails of Hamburg and Hamburg-area college students who have earned a spot on the dean’s list at their respective schools, showing how well-prepared they were for higher education by the teachers in our local districts. The honor roll lists I receive from Hamburg schools is so long, it can fill two, full newspaper pages. Those 92 emails included students who have graduated with honors from their colleges and high schools, who have earned scholarships, been granted awards and gone on to ranks in the military that make our entire nation proud. That’s the Hamburg I know.
Last weekend, I attended the Blast on the Beach, an event organized in large part by the Hamburg Rejuvenation Committee. I stayed for most of the day and saw vendors selling food (including fried corn on the cob which, as curious as I am, I have yet to try), outfits for pets and other goodies. I wandered through the exhibit showcasing 100 years of Hamburg beach, smiling at the photos of some faces I recognized, others I didn’t, and many whose features I can see echoed on the faces of grandchildren and great-grandchildren of Hamburg families that have made the town and village their home for generations. On the beach, families picnicked under a partly cloudy sky, made sandcastles in the waves, played a raucous game or two of beach volleyball, snacked on Longboard’s offerings, tried out jet skiis, longboards and kayaks and later, watched one of the best fireworks displays this side of New York City. The number of people who came together to make this annual event happen is amazing. That’s the Hamburg I know.
Last weekend, I also visited the Buffalo Garden Walk with my mother, an avid gardener, and several of her friends. As should surprise no one, I found myself in conversation with many people along the way. One couple, when they found out what I do for a living, shared that their family lived in Hamburg for generations. As I admired their garden, we talked about stores that used to line Main and Buffalo streets, the success of the Kronenberg building renovation, the roundabouts and the gardens and pots “The Beuts” have kept up for us all to enjoy. Those now-Buffalo residents shared with me how much they love Hamburg, and welcomed me to their neighborhood, smiling broadly to have found a local friend. That’s the Hamburg I know.
Whenever I walk through the village, I always receive a friendly smile, a wave or a chat with a resident. Sometimes I know them, often I don’t. It can take me an hour to pick up two items at the grocery store, because Hamburg residents are interested in what’s going on around town and want to talk about it. All week long, I’ve been receiving phone calls, emails, Facebook messages and Twitter alerts about the latest scandal to hit this town we all know and love. And one sentiment is almost 100 percent present in each of those conversations, although each of them has been a little bit different: These scandals are not the Hamburg we know.
“We’ll get through it,” one man told me with a sigh, as we spoke on the phone last Wednesday. “We just have to hold our heads up and keep on doing what we do, because we know we’re better than this.”
We, the residents of Hamburg and its surrounding areas know that. We know it when we visit our local businesses, when we read about the great things our friends and neighbors are doing with and for one another. We know it when we go to events like Burgerfest, Blast on the Beach and before we know it, Oktoberfest and celebrate all that’s good about Hamburg. We know it when our children bring home A’s on their report cards, when they make the dean’s list in college and graduate with honors, because they received the kind of educations that lead to success for the rest of their lives. That’s what we need to celebrate. That’s what we need the rest of Western New York and the rest of the country to know: Hamburg is so much more than a few bad decisions, a few salacious headlines and a few punch lines on late-night television.
In Western New York, we have to be a hardy bunch. Our weathers are long, cold and snowy. Our sports teams give us hope every season and, most of the time, dash it on the rocks of defeat a few games later. Our national reputation can be hard to grin and bear, but we know we’re better than snow, sports and scandal.
So let’s show ‘em, Hamburg. The Sun has been proud to be your local newspaper for many years. Through those years, we’ve seen turmoil and strife. We’ve seen embattled boards, crime that make the national news and heartbreaking stories that make ink run. But we have seen more stories that warm our hearts. We have seen more stories about the projects our students are undertaking in our community, be that as members of our many local churches, Boy and Girl Scout troops, Youth Engaged In Service, National Honor Society or other organizations. We have celebrated the openings of countless businesses, the anniversaries of so many others and the milestones along the way. We have sampled local cuisine and danced to bands that got their start right here at home, and those that still blare from our many bars and restaurants. Every week, we list more events than any one person could possibly attend, and we cover as many of them as we’re able, too. This is the Hamburg I know, as a resident, a longtime Sun reader and now, its editor. This is the Hamburg I want to publicize, for all of you and for everyone else who forms their opinions elsewhere.
We have to deal with scandal. We have to heal from heartbreak. But we have to do it together, Hamburg.
This is a challenge to all of you, whether you live in the town or village or any of the towns The Sun covers in our pages: Send us your good news. Show your fellow readers what great things are happening, right here in our backyards. We can fill these pages with stories about our children earning accolades, our businesses holding events that bring in new customers and celebrate consistent ones, our many attractions that bring visitors from outside our borders, our festivals and special events that recognize who we are and what makes us unique. What makes us the people and places we know and love.
I’m proud to be a Hamburger, and as saddened as anyone about the events that have transpired, over these past weeks, months and years. But I also know that we are better than that. As one resident said so eloquently last week, “Let’s show them what we’re made of.”
I’m not made of vandalism and lies. Are you?
Prove the naysayers wrong. Let’s give them something to talk about.
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As your hometown paper, we report whatever we have to, but what makes us proudest is to report the good things that make this area great places to live, work and play.