Tag Archives: Adirondack Daily Enterprise


I met Dick DePuy covering my first Village Board meeting on my first day working at The Adirondack Daily Enterprise in Saranac Lake, N.Y. It was November 1986, and I didn’t have a clue what I was doing.

Sure, I had gotten a degree in journalism at a New York City college and was thrilled to be in my first reporting job but still I was a jittery wreck.

I am pretty sure my pen shook as I dutifully took notes of the night’s proceedings.

At the meeting, Dick sat at one end of the table with the trustees and then-Mayor Tim Jock.

Dick’s look was fierce: Crew cut hair, square jaw and his mouth set in a permanent grimace.

I wondered whether I should salute rather than shake hands with him.

He read from his manager’s report, gave me a copy and invited me to come by his office the next day. He said he’d show me around.

My early interactions with Dick — I always called him “Mr. DePuy” (see previous comment about authority figure) — were not unlike approaching a snarling dog: Would he merely bark or would he tear my throat out?

I was about to find out: We got into his car and he gave me a tour of the village, patiently explaining about Saranac Lake’s water system and other infrastructure intricacies.

Story after story, I’d call with a million pesky questions about the village’s inner workings, budgets, politics, etc. He unfailingly returned my calls and was always helpful. Spending time with him was like taking a master class in municipal governance.

Of course, I came to later find out that Dick had been in the Air Force and a State Police captain, which explained a lot of his no-nonsense-don’t-suffer-fools-gladly demeanor.

One thing I also found out: If you asked him a question, he’d tell you exactly what he thought, even if it got him in trouble.

Sometimes Dick had no filter and in private conversations he’d say things and I’d go: “But you can’t say things like that!”

I think he got a kick out of my naivete.

For as much as he could be a granite face, his smile and laugh really lit up his eyes behind his thick glasses.

Looking back, I suppose it could be said that at the time, he was something of a father figure to me. I was freshly out of college, on my own for the first time and in a community utterly foreign to me.

I never forgot about him, even after I moved from the Adirondacks in 1991 and advanced in my journalism career. In 2015, I wrote a column that appeared in The Enterprise and he contacted me after he learned I live in Lords Valley, Pa.

It turned out that, as a kid, he used to attend a fire-and-brimstone church near my house called Pillar of Fire Church and he wanted to know if it was still there. We spoke on the phone (he wasn’t one for email) and got caught up.

Shamefully, it took me two years to get around to checking on the church but I did finally send him photos of the building and a letter, which concluded:

“Anyway, I wanted to make good on my word to you to report back on the church. I remain indebted to you for your endless patience in explaining to me as a cub reporter the ways of municipal government and how Saranac Lake’s infrastructure and politics worked — or didn’t!”

We talked again after he got the mailing, and he still sounded sharp but a bit more frail. He talked about physical therapy and how he was getting by.

In a bizarre twist, I had communicated with Peter Crowley of The Enterprise on April 10 and asked about Dick.

Peter wrote: “No, I haven’t heard from Dick, but I don’t usually. I hope he’s well. I’m sure he’d love to hear from you.”

Three days later, Peter wrote me to tell me about his death.

Mr. DePuy, when we first met, you intimidated me and I was unsure how best to greet you, but make no mistake about it now: I salute you, sir.

Rest in peace.

Celebrating local journalism with two anniversaries

Thirty-three years ago today, I walked into the newsroom of The Adirondack Daily Enterprise and started my full-time career in journalism.

This year also marks the 125th anniversary of The Enterprise. Here is an essay I wrote for its special edition to toast its success:

In 1986, when I was just out of college and starting my journalism career, I aspired to work for one of the big outlets, The New York Times, The Washington Post or The Los Angeles Times, or even what were then statewide dailies, like The Miami Herald or The Newark Star-Ledger.

Instead, I started at The Enterprise in a part of New York State that, at the time, this Bronx native had never heard of.

As a stepping stone, The Enterprise, a five-day-a-week newspaper, felt like the size of a pebble.

Looking back though, it turned out to be the bedrock upon which my career was built. I’ve never stopped being grateful for and proud of the experiences I had working there from 1986-88.

Today, as the print newspaper industry undergoes paroxysms of change (read: steep decreases in revenues and readership and sharp increases in job losses and other cutbacks, including closures), The Enterprise celebrates 125 years as a pillar of community journalism.

By the time I arrived at The Enterprise newsroom as a fresh-faced 22-year-old, I had spent my entire life in New York City. My sense of scale was always big: skyscrapers, mass transit systems, museums, food, movie theaters, sports teams — you name it.

That sense of big extended to news as well.

I grew up with The Daily News and its delicious tabloid sensibilities of covering the city, its politicians and their foibles, and sensational stories like the Son of Sam serial killer, and disasters like the 1977 blackout.

So, imagine the whipsaw I had coming to Saranac Lake and covering stories like the theft of the “Keep Right” sign that stood where Broadway and Main Street meet or calling Bob Kampf every morning to collect the latest readings from his weather station in Ray Brook.

It was not that I thought those assignments were beneath me. Far from it, in fact.

I was a newbie who was being schooled in daily journalism by the likes of Bill Doolittle and Carol Bruce, then the editor and publisher, and city editor, respectively.

It was exciting and fun and learning experiences abounded.

For instance, I learned what it meant to work and live in a small community.

On one memorable occasion, in a fit of pique, I randomly complained to an Enterprise advertising rep about a village employee, referring to him in a way unsuitable to be retold in a family newspaper.

Without batting an eyelash, she looked at me and said: “Oh him? Yeah, that’s my brother.”

I can’t be sure but I either spit out my coffee or swallowed my tongue. (She agreed with my assessment, by the way.)

What I came to appreciate — and truly embrace — was the vital role a newspaper plays in a community.

With its obituaries, police blotter, coverage of high school sports and annual events like the Winter Carnival, a newspaper like The Enterprise binds a community and promotes a shared experience among its readers.

I learned about the importance of holding those in power to account but doing it in a way that I could look them in the eye on the supermarket line the next day and we would share no ill will. 

I learned about the importance of sources, of ongoing relationships and how newspapers can help a community heal in times of tragedy and loss.

I’ve been in newspapers for 33 years and now I’m at The New York Times as a senior staff editor and weekend editor for its breaking news desk, the Express Team.

But I spent 28 years in community newspapers – The Press-Republican, The Times Herald-Record in Middletown and The Pocono Record in Stroudsburg, Pa.

I wouldn’t give up a second of my time at those community dailies. They enriched my life and taught me valuable lessons, much the way The Enterprise did.

I know the press has its critics and some will derisively refer to some news outlets as “fake news,” but I’m here to tell you The Enterprise is the genuine article (pardon the pun) and has a special place in my heart.

Enterprise, here’s to another 125 years of great community journalism!

How Kate Smith Got Me In Trouble

Kate Smith, the singer famous for her rendition of “God Bless America,” is in the headlines and that calls to mind the headlines she made after her death nearly 32 years ago when I was a cub reporter at The Adirondack Daily Enterprise.

My coverage of Smith, who was a longtime summer resident of Lake Placid, also drew some uncomfortable attention to myself, but more on that in a minute.

As you probably have read by now in news accounts, including an excellent one in The Enterprise, the Yankees and the Philadelphia Flyers have stopped playing Smith’s “God Bless America” at their games after it came to light that she also sang songs in the 1930s with racist titles like “Pickaninny Heaven” and “That’s Why Darkies Were Born.”

That news brought me back to 1987, when I was a reporter at The Enterprise and for months covered a different controversy involving Smith.

Smith died in June 1986 and in her will she stipulated that she be interred in a pink or rose-colored granite mausoleum at St. Agnes Cemetery in Lake Placid but St. Agnes Church, which oversaw the cemetery, had a ban on above-ground burials.

And thus, a stalemate was born.

Making it all a bit tawdry was that she left $25,000 to the church and half the residuals of her estate. Some critics said the church opposed plans for the $90,000 mausoleum ($201,000 in today’s dollars) because it would eat into its share of the money.

“Time running out to bury Kate Smith this year as mausoleum debate rages,” read the headline on a June 24, 1987, front-page story in The Enterprise in which I breathlessly reported how the feud showed no signs of resolution.

(The church and estate ultimately compromised and allowed a scaled-down version of the tomb she wanted. Almost 18 months to the day after she died, the church hosted a regal sendoff for the woman who was known as the First Lady of Radio.)

Back in 1987, even The New York Times wrote about the battle over her burial. As a new reporter hungry for stories, I was hooked on covering every jot or tittle about this one.

Professionally, that was great. Personally, not so much.

Here’s why: My first wife and I were newly married and newly relocated to Saranac Lake from New York City. She was an elementary school teacher in search of work, and found a job teaching at — you guessed it — St. Agnes School.

My repeated hammering of the controversy in the news pages of The Enterprise caused a wee bit of tension with the parish pastor, the Rev. Robert Lamitie.

My wife had taken my surname in marriage and let’s just say that “Mele” was not a common Adirondacker family name, so he asked her if she was related to this muckracking troublemaker journalist Chris Mele.

As I recall, I think she joked that she had no idea who this Mele character was. Nope, didn’t know him. Never heard of him.

To his credit, Lamitie didn’t give her any more of a hard time. Naturally, though, I found a way to make things more difficult for myself.

Much like Ralph Kramden of “The Honeymooners,” I have a big mouth and opened it wide when a columnist, Jim Six from The Gloucester County Times in New Jersey, not far from Philadelphia, began writing about the prolonged Smith saga.

Smith was revered among fans of the Philadelphia Flyers, where her version of “God Bless America” was played for decades and where she even made personal appearances to sing.

Six called me at The Enterprise to get, I thought, some background. Bewildered, he asked, “So while this is all going on, where the hell is her body?”

Good question.

I explained as how in the Adirondacks the ground was essentially permafrost in the winter and no burials took place until the spring at the earliest.

He was incredulous and again asked where her body was.

And this, dear reader, is when I learned you ought to be careful about what you say to a reporter because they might actually just quote you accurately.

“Oh, Kate’s in a Kelvinator!” I said, referring to one of those large commercial freezers and delighted with my clever little bit of alliteration.

Six wrote a column expressing outrage about how this American icon was being mistreated and, as promised, he mailed a clipping to me.

He quoted me as an authority about the controversy — and he also used that Kelvinator quote.

My city editor at the time, Shawn Tooley, was not at all amused and reamed me out, though the editor and publisher at the time, Bill Doolittle, shrugged it off.

Thankfully, this was at a time before there was an internet and few people were exposed to my insensitive, stupid comment.

Yep, all of that was in the past in those pre-internet days.

Yes indeed, nobody will ever know about it.

Oh. Wait a second…

Celebrating 30 Years as a Newsman

This is a time of year when we pause to give thanks for our blessings.

This is also a significant time of year for me because today – the Monday before Thanksgiving — marks my first day as a full-time reporter.

It is what I consider the official start of my professional career as a newsman.

It was 30 years ago today that a 22-year-old newcomer from the Bronx walked through the doors of The Adirondack Daily Enterprise in Saranac Lake, N.Y.

I have many cherished memories from my two years there.

When I started, I had no concept of the Adirondacks, small-town politics or municipal government.

I did not know a village board from an ironing board.

I benefited from a number of people who were generous guides. So in the spirit of Thanksgiving, let me offer my gratitude to:

* The circulation manager, Jimmy Bishop, who broke my chops for showing up on my first day wearing a tie.

My very first story in the Adirondack Daily Enterprise in 1986 made the front page: “No opposition expressed to bond issue at hearing.”

* Pressman Rick Burman aka Moose for having the patience and fortitude to teach me how to drive a stick shift — in the middle of an Adirondack winter.

* The librarian and assistant to the publisher and mom to us all, Bea Drutz, may she rest in peace, for being a force for calm in the chaos and for ALWAYS being able to find a clip file when I needed it.

* The Carols: Carol Bruce, my city editor, who helped break me in, dusted me off when I fell and gave me the encouragement to keep going; Carol Baker, one of the design paste-up technicians who always had a good word for me (and choice news tips!); and photographer Carol Sawyer, may she rest in peace, who had a tough exterior and scared me at times (!) but who showed great patience in showing me how to work a camera and improve my photos.

* Dave Munn, who walked every morning from his house near North Country Community College and would be the first one at the newsroom in the morning. He’d say he always checked the obituaries first to make sure he was not listed.

* Editor and publisher Bill Doolittle, a delightfully incurable gossip and veteran newsman to whom I owe a deep debt of thanks for teaching me so much about reporting. Working at the ADE was like a journalistic boot camp minus the calisthenics.

* To the folks in advertising, such as Sharon Branch, Cathy Moore and Debbie McDonnell, who cheerfully took calls for me and kept me clued in about what was happening in the community I was learning to cover.

* The Saranac Lake Village Manager Dick DePuy, who, despite his gruff exterior and military buzz cut that telegraphed he did not suffer fools gladly, found endless hours to teach me about infrastructure, politics and how things worked.

* Village Clerk Marilyn Clement, who put up with my pestering questions about budgets, resolutions, meetings, etc. with cheer and took the time to help me make sense of it all.

* David MacDowell, the community development director; Ernest Hohmeyer, the head of the Adirondack Economic Development Corp.; Tom Tobin, the head of the Adirondack North Country Association, and Jim McKenna, the director of the Lake Placid Convention and Visitors Bureau, for being good sports, keeping me flush with stories and helping me adjust to my newly adopted home.

* My fellow reporters, especially Nancy DeLong, with whom I covered the fire at the Mirror Lake Inn; Liza Frenette, a former ADE reporter who worked at The Press-Republican and who kept me on my toes, and WCAX-TV reporter Jack LaDuke, with whom I shared many uproarious jokes, news tips and time at news scenes waiting for something to happen.

Today I am a reporter at The New York Times, a job unthinkable to me 30 years ago. While that is a crowning achievement, I have never lost sight of my formative experiences at The Enterprise — and all the people who helped make them.

The Worst Interview Ever

Marc Maron, host of the podcast WTF, made headlines recently with his interview of President Obama.

In a later interview, Maron described being a nervous wreck leading up to the presidential sitdown but how he sought to engage the president.

All of which reminded me of the worst interview experience of my nearly three-decade career as a newsman.

It happened in the first year of my career.

I worked in the Adirondack Mountains of New York and was assigned to interview the Woodsman of the Year (or maybe it was the grand marshal or Lumberjack of the Year — I cannot recall) for the Woodsmen’s Days event (“Celebrating the Logging Industry and Tupper Lake’s Roots”) that takes place each year in Tupper Lake, N.Y.

These festivities were a big deal involving tractor pulls, ax-throwing contests and other displays of manly skills.

I was a newbie reporter at the Adirondack Daily Enterprise, newly relocated from the Bronx, and still adapting to and learning the culture of the North Country.

So when I went to meet with this honoree, I was ill-prepared for his Canadian accent.

It was as thick as maple syrup on a cold day.

I could barely understand a word of what he was saying.

I kept asking him to repeat himself, hoping my ear would become attuned to his speech and I would pick up on what he was saying on the second pass.

Forget it. Nothing doing.

So here I was, with my Bronx accent, trying to interview this guy with his thick Canuck accent.

I recall sitting on his back porch and it was hot outside.

His wife came out with cold drinks and she saw (or heard) me struggling with the interview.

“Here, let me help,” she said, to my great relief.

Yes! I thought. Salvation!

She would translate my questions into French and then translate his answers into English.

Problem solved! Or so I thought.

Instead, what she did was loudly shout my questions at her husband as if he were hard of hearing! (For the record, I don’t think he had any trouble with his hearing.)

It was just like that old “Saturday Night Live” sketch with Garrett Morris during a newscast of “Weekend Update” and Morris is in a circle in a corner of the screen to help “translate” the newscast for viewers who are hard of hearing.

So what does Morris do?

He cups his hands to his mouth and shouts the newscast!

I don’t know how, but somehow I finagled a story.

But in the words of Garrett Morris from that SNL skit: “IT WAS THE WORST INTERVIEW OF MY LIFE!”

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Reforming My City Mouse Ways (Or Life in the North Country)

For those who have been keeping close track of the story of the escaped inmates from a maximum-security prison in Dannemora, N.Y., you have no doubt come across descriptions of the prison’s hometown as “remote,” “way northern New York,” or a “five-hour drive from New York City, if the roads are clear.”

All those descriptions are spot-on accurate. They are indeed facts. But what bugs me is that they belie a certain prejudice of geography.

That is, New York State revolves around New York City and anything outside of the city is viewed dimly as “other.”

The most popular tweet I’ve ever written — as measured by retweets and favorites — stemmed from the expansive search for the escapees, which has stretched from the North Country to the 2,000-resident town of Friendship in southwestern New York.

The tweet I wrote: “If nothing else, #nyprisonbreak is some lesson in the geography of NY for those who think the state ends at the Tappan Zee Bridge.”

I say all of this by way of confession: I was once one of these geographic ethnocentrics who thought the world not only revolved around New York City but that New York City revolved around my beloved Bronx!

I was so ignorant of New York’s geography that I honestly and truly thought there was Albany and then came Canada!

I consider myself reformed of my urban-centric ways, hence my sensitivity to slights I perceive that are aimed at rural counties.

Here’s why: My epiphany came when I got my first break in journalism in 1986 working at the Adirondack Daily Enterprise in Saranac Lake, N.Y., about 11 miles west of Lake Placid, two-time host of the Winter Olympics. (I also later worked for the Press-Republican, which is based in Plattsburgh.)

lp office

The editor at the Enterprise at the time was Bill Doolittle. I responded to an ad for an opening and he offered to fly me from New York City to the Adirondack Regional Airport in Lake Clear, N.Y.

I booked the flight and told him I would be arriving at Gate 1. He laughed and assured me he would find me. (I discovered why when I landed: There was only one gate.)

I got the job that very day. It was on my return flight that I realized just how much this city mouse had to learn about living in the country.

The gentleman behind the counter who took my ticket at the airport was also the rental car sales agent. He also took my bag. And radioed the plane. And went to the runway with the orange-coned flashlights to taxi the plane to the terminal!

I was slack-jawed. Now, this was nearly 30 years ago and I am sure it’s not that way anymore. (Update: I am informed it still is!)

At the time, as a stranger in a strange land (correction: with my Bronx accent I was more like a foreigner in my native state), I could not have been more warmly welcomed by everyone.

People extended themselves in their hospitality and courtesies that was breathtaking for this hardened New Yorker. The small-town culture was infectious and comforting.

I spent five years working in the Adirondacks and loved every moment of it.

So when you read or hear some big-media accounts that describe the North Country as “remote,” “forbidding” or “inaccessible,” remember the folks who live there, and trade those adjectives for “friendly,” “generous” and “good people.”

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