by Bill Batson
No one took Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s life on April 4, 1968, he gave it. In an act that was the ultimate example of the non-violent philosophy he championed, King absorbed a fatal blow, borne of the racial animus his 14 years of non-stop activism hoped to end. James Earl Ray may been have convicted of killing the anti-racist, anti-poverty and anti-war leader with a Remington Gamemaster rifle, but King consciously signed his own death warrant by living the social gospel of his faith to the letter. In a speech publicly opposing the Vietnam war, given at Riverside Church in New York exactly one year before his death, King said “Have they forgotten that my ministry is in obedience to the one who loved his enemies so fully that he died for them?”
King’s death came eight days before Good Friday, the date when Christians commemorate the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. As a third generation Baptist preacher, the martyrdom of Christ on the cross was a cornerstone of his belief system, as was the story of the resurrection of Christ on Easter. King did not seek martyrdom, or a violent death, but early in his ministry, he quickly came to expect both. Subjected to constant death threats from the moment he took the pulpit at Dexter Avenue Church in Montgomery, Alabama, the epicenter of the 381 day bus boycott that broke the back of segregation in public accommodations in the South, King preached “God grant that we shall choose the highway, even if it will mean assassination, even if it will mean crucifixion.” He was just 27 years old.
Fourteen years later, King’s choices were racing him towards the destination he prophesied in Montgomery. James Lawson, Pastor of Centennial Methodist Church and leader of the Vanderbilt Sit-In Movement invited Dr. King to Memphis. His hope was that King could lead a mass protest that would result in better working conditions and wages for the cities lowest paid workers, the garbage men. Like prior campaigns in Montgomery and Birmingham, King would use creative non-violence and passive resistance to achieve social justice. In his letter from the Birmingham Jail in 1963, Dr. King describes his strategy this way “non violent direct action seeks to create such a crisis and establish such a creative tension that a community that has constantly refused to negotiate is forced to confront the issue.”
Unlike Montgomery and Birmingham, King had weeks to reach goals that had taken months to achieve. Complicating and compressing his calendar was the fact that on May 2, King was launching his most ambitious undertaking, the Poor People’s Campaign, a one-way march on Washington where protesters would set up tent villages and engage in protests aimed at disrupting government until Federal legislation was passed that would ensure economic equality. “What does it profit a man to be able to eat at an integrated lunch counter,” King had begun it ask, “if he doesn’t have enough money to buy a hamburger? ”
King was also facing the compassion fatigue of the public and the fickle attention of the media. After a decade of protests in the south, and spasms of riots in the north, The Post-War idealism of the Kennedy/Johnson era was yielding to “Law and Order” cynicism of Nixon/Reagan ethos. King’s trip to Memphis was actually an attempt at a do-over. A March 25 protest for striking Sanitation workers had devolved into a riot. If King could not demonstrate that his philosophy of nonviolence could prevail, his Poor People’s Campaign and this very relevance, were in jeopardy.
In Redemption, Martin Luther King Jr’s Last 31 Hours, author Joseph Rosenbloom reconstructs the civil rights leader’s last day and a half. Facts contained in the readable volume portray King as an unstoppable life force moving toward the immovable object of fate. For those looking for the more elusive evidence of a conspiracy to silence the voice of non-violence, there is plenty of ammo.
At 5:05 pm on April 3, King’s police protection was withdrawn. If a police detail had been on duty on April 4th, which was customary law enforcement protocol when King, who was the object of constant threat, traveled, Ray’s plot may have been exposed. The binoculars and rifle muzzle that Ray had to stick out the window of his sniper nest in an adjacent rooming house could have been observed and investigated.
Memphis Police Director Frank Hollman never conveyed the volume of threats against King. Hollamn was a former FBI agent who rose to the ranks of Inspector-in-Charge of bureau’s headquarters in Washington. Scholar David Garrow has extensively documented the bureau and its director J. Edgar Hoover’s obsession with “neutralizing King as an effective Negro leader.” In fact, Rosenbloom shows that while Hollman drew down King’s security, he left a surveillance team up and running.
Even if King had known the full scale of the danger that awaited him in Memphis, he was determined to proceed. People who fear for their lives often changed their routes and routines, not King. Every time he visited Memphis, he stayed in room 3016 of the Lorraine Motel. Ray could have learned where King was staying by watching local television or reading the Commercial Appeal. Rosenbloom suggests that “precautions did not interest him (King) because he did not think anything or anybody could protect him against a determined assassin.”
King was unafraid. The day before his death Rosembloom could portrait King’s composure by pouring over the accounts of multiple FBI informants that have been de-classified. From these pages, King was reported to have said “I’d rather be dead than afraid.”
No, King was not afraid to die, a fact that the FBI was counting on. Yale Historian Beverly Gage recently uncovered the first copy of an un-redacted “anonymous” FBI letter sent to King suggesting that he kill himself. It is not widely known, but King tried to kill himself twice as a teenager. The attempts were reported in Time Magazine in 1963. In A First Rate Madness, Dr. Nassir Ghaemi chronicles that some of histories greatest leaders during times of great upheaval suffered from depression. King kept good company in Ghaemi’s historical psychological diagnosis, including Abraham Lincoln, Winston Churchill and Mahatma Gandhi.
The FBI wanted King to take his life by his own hand, in punishment for mortal sins and shortcomings documented in tapes that the FBI threatened to release. King, despite numerous bouts of depression, refused to commit an act of self-violence.
The highway that King chose to travel, that led to his martyrdom through assassination, is a heroe’s journey of mythic and divine measure. By passively resisting oppression so stoutly that he welcomed an painful death, King transfigurated from flesh, into a holy ghost that permanently resides in the psyche of our nation.
His example, and the techniques that he normalized, such as petitioning the government through mass protest marches, elevating rhetoric and economic boycott flow from the child gun control activists of Parkland, Florida as if they were possessed by King.
When a CNN anchor asked former King lieutenants Andrew Young and Jesse Jackson what King would do about gun violence if he was alive today, they both corrected the broadcaster, asserting that King lives.
When King’s grand daughter, Yolanda, age 9, spoke at the March for our Lives in Washington DC, you could hear that King’s cadence and spirit are still on the national stage.
When you watch the last public words spoken by Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. at the Masonic Temple on April 3rd, you see a man who knew he would not live another 24 hours. In Rosenbloom’s book, Jesse Jackson described “a mysterious aura around him” after King gave a speech that some described as his most electrifying. King slumped back into his chair, reciting the Battle Hymn of the Republic in a barely audible voice as the crowd convulsed in cheers and tears. The abolitionist anthem was a fitting choice for King’s Final official statement. The words portray the epic struggle that we won we are dedicated to the advancement of human rights and dignity and the tumult that accompanies social change.
Here is the complete last passage from Dr. King’s eulogy to himself:
Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord;
He is trampling out the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored;
He hath loosed the fateful lightning of His terrible swift sword:
His truth is marching on.
by Bill Batson
After sustaining three injuries in the same battle in Vietnam and losing the lower portion of his leg, Jerry Donnellan lived a full life as a veteran’s advocate, and for a short time, the road manager for Frank Sinatra. The former director of Rock Vets (County of Rockland Veterans Service Agency), died in his Valley Cottage home on Friday, March 23.
Donnellan recognized that returning Iraq and Afghanistan soldiers were joining a line for Department of Veteran Affairs services that includes, Vietnam, Korean and World War II vets, like my father, depicted here in Rome in 1945. Donnellan used his 25 years of experience as an advocate to led local government’s efforts to support veterans.
“Jerry was a guy who always had a good joke and a big smile. He was a dear friend of ours. As one of the founders of the Park Conservancy Jerry saw a need and filled it,” said former Nyack Mayor Jen Laird White. “Without Jerry there would be no Music on the Hudson, no new playground or skatepark and certainly fewer flowers, no educational programming, no new gazebo and a whole lot less to smile about on our waterfront”
Donnellan was also the president of New York Vets, the non-profit entity that raises the money to operate the Camp Shanks Museum. Always eager to deflect praise, Donnellan wouldn’t accept the title of museum curator. “You can call me the aesthetic custodian,” he would modestly concede. From 1942 until 1946, 1.3 million soldiers passed through Orangeburg’s Camp Shanks on their way to their deployments. Known as the “Last Stop U.S.A,” Camp Shanks was the embarkation point for 75% of the troops that fought on D-Day.
He was less demur about the accomplishment that Camp Shanks symbolizes. “We were a different country before Camp Shanks was built. In the early months of World War II, we were losing. We were coming out of the Depression. We were the 15th or 16th ranked military power. The Army Corp of Engineers arrived in September 1942 and by January 1943 they put up 2500 buildings. You can’t build a deck in three months nowadays.” Donnellan declares, suggesting that this explosion of ingenuity and effort led to our victory in the World War.
Donnellan marveled at how Camp Shanks “rose from the mist like an American Brigadoon, and then disappeared.” In 1946, Camp Shanks was converted into Shanks Village, a transitional housing facility for returning vets. With typical humor, Donnellan reflected on the irony that the soldiers who followed General Dwight D. Eisenhower into battle, found his leadership difficult to escape. Many of the returning vets who stayed in Shanks Village attended Columbia University on the G.I. Bill, where General Eisenhower was installed as President in 1948. “They must have thought Ike was following them,” Donnellan said.
Donnellan described the origins of his military career in the most self-effacing terms. “I was Rockland County’s least successful draft dodger. When I got out of high school in 1964, we had advisers in Vietnam, but we were not at war. I wasn’t anti-war. I just didn’t want to get up early and roll around in the dirt. The alternative was to go to college, where there were girls, music and beer. Unfortunately, I ran out of college before they ran out of war.” He was drafted in 1968 and injured near the North Vietnam border a year later. He received three Purple Hearts for his conduct.
After the war, Donnellan returned to Rockland County working as a stage manager for venues like Rockland Community College, Theater-Go-Round in Nanuet and the Westchester Premier Theater. One night in Westchester in 1976, Donnellan was drafted again, this time by Frank Sinatra. Sinatra’s road manager Bob Keirnan had to rush back to Las Vegas to help Ann-Margret stage her act, leaving Donnellan to call the show. Jerry spent the next 11 years as Sinatra’s road manager.
Donnellan lived for a while on houseboat that was moored at the Nyack Marina. Sadly, his floating home sank into the Hudson on October 29, 2012 when waters driven by Hurricane Sandy came surging up the river. The boat was not Donnellan’s primary residence. Donnellan and his wife Mari Ellyn had a house in Valley Cottage.
When Nyack Mayor Jen White called to mourn the loss of the houseboat, an iconic river village landmark, Donnellan suggested that the ruins be recycled. “If we stick a pair of fake legs with stockings and ruby red shoes underneath the remains and stick it on a flatbed, we can enter it as a Wizard of Oz float in next year’s Halloween parade.”
When Donnellan talked about himself he was always all laughs, but when he talked about his fellow vets, it was strictly business. “I want to make sure that every vet applies for the benefits that they have earned,” Donnellan
Just as sure as there are super storms on the horizon, there will be armed conflicts in our future. We would be fortunate if one in every thousand who answer the call of duty have half the humor and humility of Jerry Donnellan. That would make the future of our country and our communities, no matter what comes, more secure.
by Bill Batson
There is a fairy tale quality to the pyramid-shaped building on the east side of South Broadway near the corner of Cedar Hill Avenue. Baxter Hall is the first impression of Nyack for anyone disembarking from the bus line that originates in New York City. The Carpenter Gothic architecture announces a village that champions the arts, and the permanently placed water bowl on the curb celebrates our dog-friendly culture. This is the home of Creative Financial Planning, an enterprise started 32 years ago by Lisa Hayes and dedicated to making people’s financial dreams come true.
Hayes purchased and renovated the former church building in 2011. Erected in 1871, the address has sheltered two churches, the Universalist Church (1871-1904) and the First Church of Christ Scientist (1904 – 2010). The building is visible on the 1884 L.R. Burleigh map and listed in the legend. In order to preserve the history enshrined in the building, Hayes commissioned a report from architectural historian Hugh Goodman.
Goodman’s excellently crafted account is equally divided between spiritual and structural considerations. Adding credence to the theory that Nyack was a stop on the Underground Railroad, Goodman reports that the Universalists “vigorously opposed slavery and favored post-bellum legislation such as the Fifteenth Amendment and the Freedman’s Act to enfranchise all American citizens.” Goodman also found a connection between the Christian Science Society in Nyack, that operated a reading room in that location until 2010 and their mother church in Boston, built by the faith’s founder Mary Baker Eddy. “From October 1903 through June 1906, the local society gave their entire building fund on three occasions to assist in the building of the church in Boston,” Goodman reported.
As charming as its facade may be, ultimately, it was the ethereal quality of the interior that attracted Hayes. “I was drawn to the idea of working in a space where the windows open and I can smell the fresh air and look out and see nature.” This fondness of the outdoors was inspired by her grandparents who bought land in Hampton Bays and where her folks built a small, beautiful home on Shinicock Bay.”
Hayes’ entrepreneurial spirit emerged in that bucolic setting. “I started cleaning houses in the Hamptons to pay back student loans after I left law school. I started a business called “Helpful Hand.” My sister and her friends pitched in. It grew to 9 employees.”
As the enterprise became successful, Hayes became curious about investing. “Several self study books and exams later, I realized my calling. Financial Planning.” Now her team at Creative Financial Planning manages approximately $150 million in assets.
In most versions of the acronym CFP, the “C” means certified. For Hayes, creativity is the element that makes for successful financial planning and wealth management. “When I write financial plans and offer a blueprint of how the clients can achieve their goals, I incorporate creativity.” This predilection for imaginative thinking surely inspired her to acquire such an iconic building in our unique village.
Hayes was also attracted to “a community that honors diversity and caring.” Hayes has been on the board of Nyack Hospital for six years. “For 20 years plus, I have been on the board of the Center for Safety and Change. I support the Nyack Center and I’m helping to start a local nonprofit to help young people with financial literacy.”
In a concrete example of her commitment to share her wisdom, one of her financial planners, Dan Gwizdak, joined CFP 15 years ago as a high school intern. After graduating SUNY Binghamton in 2007, Gwizdak worked side-by-side with Hayes, and under her guidance earned his CFP® certification in 2011 through Pace University.
“I would like to see more equality in our society,” Hayes said. She is also concerned about the environment and supports the Nature Conservancy as well as the Cornell Lab for Ornithology.
Hayes’ embrace of equity transcends species. Not only does Baxter, her rescued AKC-registered Havanese have a building named after him, (yes, he’s the Baxter in Baxter Hall) he is a valued member of the CFP team “managing the overall vibe of Baxter Hall, working hard each day to ensure an environment that is serene, comfortable, and, above all, productive,” proclaims their website. You can follow his travails on Instagram at @BaxterMeansBusiness.
If you are a person who desires a bright economic future and wants to take control of your financial life visit Creative Financial Planning. And if you want to see a beautiful building, walk past Baxter Hall.
by Bill Batson
The last time a wave of student protest reshaped the political landscape of a country, Nyack High School students attended classes in a building with a clock tower. After the deadly shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida on February 14, (17 dead, 14 injured) the nation has witnessed a cadre of student activists who are making progress where adults have failed for decades. In the wake of shootings at Columbine High School in 1999 (15 dead, 24 injured) and Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012 (28 dead), a Federal Assault Weapons Ban expired and no major gun control measures have passed.
Is Parkland the fulcrum of our frustration with rampant gun violence? Do these student protestors, booked on every news program for the last month, have their hand on the lever that moves public policy? The proof arrives in Nyack tomorrow. On Wednesday, March 14, High School and Middle School students will participate in a planned national walk out called by these courageous children.
Since the mass killing in Parkland, a group of student survivors have successfully lobbied for enhanced gun control in Florida. The new law, signed by Republican Governor Rick Scott on March 7, raises the minimum age to buy a firearm to 21, extends the waiting period to three days, funds more school police officers and mental health services, broadens powers to seize weapons, and allows certain staff members to carry guns in schools.
Political pundits where shocked by what the students had achieved in the “gunshine state.” Progressive organizations have spent millions of dollars and thousands of hours failing to move the dial an inch on gun control. Predictably, the National Rifle Association is already seeking injunctive relief against the Florida law, but has public sentiment on gun control finally shifted? Opinion polls show an overwhelming 97% supporting gun control measures. Will the nation follow suit?
Thanks to the organizing of Parkland students Cameron Kasky, Alex Wind, Emma Gonzalez and David Hogg, parents across America are receiving a letter like the one Nyack’s Superintendent of Schools James J. Montesano sent on March 1. Superintendent Montesano outlined a protocol “allowing for a brief educational walkout event with a return thereafter to classrooms” on Wednesday, March 14. The carefully crafted letter cites Nyack’s district mission and “our goal to promote and maintain a safe and secure environment” to allow students who want to protest for 17 minutes in commemoration of those who lost their lives at Stoneman Douglas. Students that do not wish to participate will be “respected and supervised inside the school.”
Suddenly, America has a national students movement with recognized leaders who get split screen direct debates with the President. The closest parallel that comes to mind is the Soweto uprising in South Africa in 1976, when African students withdrew from school to protest the introduction of Afrikaans as the compulsory language in the classroom. You can draw a direct line from Soweto in 1976 to the collapse of Apartheid in 1994.
Our country’s slow descent into a culture that condones gun violence stands in stark contrast to the swiftness of the student victory in Florida. The tragic timeline plays out on the Wikipedia page List of School Shootings in the United States. The first recorded shooting takes place in the 18th century. There is almost a hundred years until the next one, but that is where the tender mercies cease. By the mid-20th century, technology and distemper take over. There has been a school shooting every year in America since 1972. Since, 2014, virtually every month and in every state that a school is open, someone has stepped into a hallway and discharged a weapon. In 2018, there have been ten shooting, almost one a week. This a slow boil of butchery that has captured us unaware, like the proverbial frog who doesn’t know he’s stew meat until it’s too late.
Speaking in Fort Lauderdale on February 17, three days after the shooting, Emma Gonzalez spoke with the spirit that would have made any member of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) proud. SNCC was the student group that faced down the violence of armed supporters of segregation in the American south in the 1960s with their bodies during the Freedom Rides and sit-ins. “They say that tougher gun laws do not decrease gun violence,” Gonzalez called out. “We call BS,” the crowd responded.
After Wednesday’s walkout, a March for Our Lives is being planned for Washington, DC on March 24. Over a quarter million have signed the March for our Lives petition. Another walkout of a more indefinite duration is being called for April 20th. One student, Alex Wind, says he will not return to school until meaning gun reform has been enacted. Shades of Soweto.
One of our countries greatest political thinkers, Thomas Paine once said, “Lead, follow, or get out of the way.” Let’s follow the lead of these students, or get out of their way. Or we follow the current trend and find ourselves living in a country where not a day goes by without a school shooting. Join the growing choir, led by young voices, and shout #neveragain.
by Bill Batson
Thirty one years ago, physicist Larry Shaw rebranded March 14 as Pi Day to celebrate the infinite number 3.14159265359. In an example of coincidence that must annoy scientists, March 14 is also Albert Einstein’s birthday. Locally, Pi Day is not just about bringing math education to the masses, it’s also all about adding an “e” to the equation and ordering up some pie.
Wil Tyler, the owner of Pie Lady & Son, has been observing Pi Day for last 7 years. A Pi painting by Peter Cheney, which includes 11 digits after the decimal, hangs in his 9w flagship store year round. “When you have all of these delicious pies, you need to bake a few more pie eating holidays into the calendar,” said Pie Lady owner Wil Tyler.
Deborah Tyler, Wil’s mother, had 300 pie orders to fill in the Fall of 2001. The single mother of three had converted her one floor rental into a Department of Health approved commercial kitchen. A New York Times review and a Good Morning America segment were bringing in business from both sides of the Hudson River. It was at the height of her notoriety that Deborah sold her equipment and moved to Cooperstown. Here is the story of how the popularity of their pies once imperiled the Pie Lady and now propels the Pie Lady & Son.
From 1995 until 2001, if you were in the know, or you stumbled upon the hand painted sign that said “Pie” on Piermont Avenue in Nyack, New York and followed the arrow, you would arrive at Tyler’s back porch. If it was a busy day, she might have her youngest daughter Carly under her arm as she took your order. If apple pie is the closest thing we have to a national dish, serving the iconic desert from a kitchen door is pure Americana. The scene on the corner of Spear and Burd Street, where Tyler sold her pies, was straight out of a Norman Rockwell painting.
Tyler calls her style of baking vintage. When it comes to cookbooks, she prefers the Betty Crocker era. She cuts butter with her hands and uses as few ingredients as possible. Her approach to cooking comes from her family, who emigrated from Europe in the early 20th century and settled in Montana. Baking was practiced as an essential prairie craft: Mondays were for washing, Tuesdays for ironing, Wednesdays for mending and Saturday was for baking. Tyler learned to bake from her mother, Maybelle, who was one of 11 children.
When she moved to Burd Street she was on her own with three young children. Baking was a way to earn Tyler some extra money. But as soon as the sign went up on the corner of Piermont and Burd, word of mouth drove business in her direction faster than Deborah could manage. Her brother helped her convert her son Wil’s bedroom into an extra kitchen. Her upstairs neighbor offered additional space.
The renovations and kitchen sharing were all done with the blessing of her landlord, Joe Lagana. Deborah acknowledges without the people of Nyack she would have never found success. The village even gave Tyler her name. She tried in vain to get people to call her business “the pie kitchen.” But from the moment she started selling baked goods from her back porch she would be affectionately known as the “Pie Lady.”
The Pie Lady would eventually become a victim of her own rapid growth. As the orders poured in, she wanted a business partner to appear: someone to handle the administration, leaving her to the baking. But a culinary comrade never emerged. The only thing that arrived was more business. By 2001, exhausted and unable to keep up with the demand, Tyler closed shop and moved to Cooperstown.
Her son Wil, who gave up his bedroom for years to allow for kitchen expansion, immediately wanted his mother to reconsider. He took a job in marketing out of high school but his heart was with the family business. Wil converted his mother’s recipes from index card to computer files and traveled to Cooperstown for baking lessons. He also convinced his sister Brianna to help obtain a home food-processing certificate from the Dept. of Agriculture for his apartment in Upper Nyack.
Wil and Briana’s efforts were enthusiastically welcomed when baked goods labeled “Pie Lady” were spotted at The St. Ann’s Holiday Bazaar in 2009. Their next step in the rebirth of their brand was a booth at the Nyack Chamber of Commerce’s Farmer’s Market in 2010. Together the siblings were making 30 pies a week and were feeling quite proud of the results. They outgrew Wil’s apartment and were working out of rented kitchen space at the Fellowship of Reconciliation, when Deborah came to check on their progress. She was impressed by their zeal, but not as pleased with the product. Since that visit, Deborah has made a weekly trip back to Nyack to oversee production.
After a second successful season at the Farmer’s Market, Wil followed a tip from ACADA‘s Jack Dunnigan and found a rental space on North Highland near Nyack High School. The Pie Lady & Son now has a staff of five, operates a retail facility and sells their goods at several markets throughout the region.
The legacy of neighborhood support is baked into their menu. One item “Mrs. Cooke’s Sweet Potato Pie” is named after Burd Street neighbor Elizabeth Cooke. The wife of the late Commissioner of the Nyack Water Department Leonard Cooke, Mrs. Cooke lent the recipe for her namesake pie and helped look after Deborah’s daughter when the line at the back porch kitchen door got too long.
There is nothing secret about the Tyler recipe for baking or success. Community support is like yeast, the love of family is the filling and the crust is just the right proportion of flour, water, salt and fat. The reign of the Pie Lady is over: long live The Pie Lady & Son.
The Pi painting is by Peter Cheney
This Nyack Sketch Log was originally posted May 22, 2012.
by Bill Batson
“This church is a miracle.” That is how the wife of the pastor of First Church, Evangelist Myrtle Jones, has described this brick and steel structure. The evidence to support her comment is extensive. From 1990 until 1995 the spiritual home of this congregation was condemned, demolished, rebuilt, demolished, and finally rededicated. In a community with many storied houses of worship, the journey that this flock endured through the wilderness of real estate limbo might make you say: Amen.
The man who led this congregation through a harrowing interval of uncertainty to the stability of a new sanctuary was its pastor, Superintendent Eugene Jones Sr.
The story of this church is a study in tenacity and perseverance that must make every anniversary and milestone they observe all the more poignant.
The Church Of God in Christ denomination came to Nyack in the 1930s through the determination of Pastors Hawkins and Parsons. Early services were held in the homes of members and eventually in a storefront at 104 Depew Avenue.
In 1941, Elder Walter Hollingsworth was installed as pastor and began to raise the funds to purchase a proper place of prayer. In 1964, after years of thrift and a profitable barbecue pit, the congregation purchased a church at 187 Main Street from the parishioners of Pilgrim Baptist who were moving to High Avenue. The new church would soon be named Hollingsworth Temple.
According to village records, the property had been converted by the officers of Pilgrim Baptist Church from a carpentry shop and stable into a church in 1903. When Elder Jones was installed as the fifth pastor of the parish in 1983, renovations to the one hundred year old building that he was inheriting were certainly high on his agenda. But he could not have imagined that the walls of the temple were soon to come tumbling down.
Seven years after assuming leadership, Rev. Jones was pictured in a Journal News article standing next to a roofless church. Major renovations would not remedy the structural flaws found by building inspectors. The reverend had become a construction manager, overseeing the demolition and reconstruction of his church. In the same article, Jones expressed appreciation to the First Presbyterian Church, now Nyack Center, for hosting his members during construction, which he expected to take six months.
The congregation was without a church for close to six years. Two years into their wanderings, a contractor reported to Rev. Jones that the four walls and foundation of the new temple had been completed but had inadvertently encroached over their neighbors’ property line. This three foot error would cost Hollingsworth two years in court and almost $100,000 in legal and construction expenses.
Thus began an agonizing period of homelessness that would have taxed the proverbial patience of Job. When the media reported that the real estate investor who demanded that the church demolish their errantly constructed foundation was also the owner of a property that included an all-nude bar, Rev. Jones wondered whether a Satanic force “was trying to keep us from building on this hill.”
Because of the support of many including, Pilgrim Baptist Church, Simpson Memorial (now the Living Christ Church), St. John’s Deliverance Tabernacle, Rockland Minister’s Alliance, the Church of God in Christ regional headquarters in Brooklyn, the administration of Nyack Mayor Terry Hekker and countless individuals and families, a dedication ceremony for a new brick church was held in June, 1995. Harold Owens’ design for this building makes it seem like its clinging to the curve of the hill, refusing to surrender its hard-won foothold. The modern metal steeple that pierces the sky above Main Street announces, as it reflects the morning light, that in the battle for Hollingsworth Memorial, good has prevailed.
On January 7, 2017, Rev. Paul Jones, the son of Superintendent Eugene Jones Sr. and Evangelist Myrtle Jones became the Senior Pastor of what is now known as First Church. A gifted singer, songwriter and musician, Pastor Jones can still draw on the inspiration of his father, who continues on as Executive Pastor.
In 2008, North Mill Street from Main to Burd was designated to be known each August as Superintendent Eugene Jones Sr. Boulevard. The renaming of part of our community for this member of the clergy is only fitting because the numerous churches that grace our village shape more than just our landscape. We all benefit from the spirit of interdenominational fellowship and community cooperation that was exemplified in the struggle that secured this church’s place on this hill.
Special thanks to Carol Weiss, Former Nyack Village Clerk and First Church member Mary White for their assistance in gathering research materials.
by Bill Batson
During his journey from Harlem to Martha’s Vineyard to Nyack, Preston Powell has melded a teacup, Karate and a tradition of the African American church from his childhood into his holistic and locally based business, Teagevity.
Tell me about this teacup?
When I was about 19 or 20, I walked into a martial arts dojo on Lexington Ave in New York City and saw a man, who turned out to be the Sensei, holding a cup of tea. The way he held that teacup struck me. It reminded me of my childhood, when women would sit for tea after services at Abyssinian Baptist Church. When I started my martial arts training everything was about holding a cup of tea; your posture, your movement, you had to defend a teacup. Eventually, I was given this teacup. For over twenty years, I have protected this cup. It has been my introduction to Asian and other tea drinking cultures. It is a connection to the fellowship of drinking tea after church.
What is your connection to Abyssinian Baptist Church?
My grandfather was Adam Clayton Powell Jr. He was pastor of Abyssinian Baptist Church in Harlem and in 1945, he was the first African American from New York State elected to Congress. My grandmother, Isabel Washington Powell, was a dancer at the Cotton Club when she met and married Adam Clayton Powell. I am in the process of donating some items from my family to The Smithsonian Institute in Washington for their new African American wing. One of the exhibits is going to be about early black residents on Martha’s Vineyard. My grandparents summered and owned a cottage there.
How did you come to Nyack?
As a child, I spent my summers by the water in Martha’s Vineyard. I also spent a lot of time in Sag Harbor. When I came across the Tappan Zee Bridge one day around 1999, and I saw the Village of Nyack and the Hudson River, I instantly knew this would be a home for my family. It helped that it was only 20 minutes from New York City, where I had a music business. My company, Jazzateria, managed jazz and reggae artists including Reuben Wilson, Bernard “Pretty” Purdie, Jimmy McGriff, Miri Ben-Ari and Midnite, a reggae band from St. Croix.
When did you open your dojo?
To-te Ueshiro Karate Club opened in 2006. It is organized as a club more than a business. We don’t advertise, we don’t have a neon sign. The focus is on training for personal growth, not for competition or trophies. In our Shorin-Ryu tradition, skills are handed down through the family. We try to prepare the father to train the daughter and the grandfather to train with the grandson. It’s an activity for the whole family. Our style of Karate was brought to Okinawa, Japan by men who were taught by Shaolin monks in China. They were in Okinawa as traders and taught their trading partners martial arts to protect themselves from the mainland Japanese. My teacup came from Japan.
When did you launch Teagevity?
I was frustrated with the business of music, and I wanted to create something new and local that my family could be a part of. Tea had been on my mind. I loved the substance of it and the rituals around it. In the dojo, students would ask what to do when they didn’t feel well. I had become an elder dispensing wisdom about medicinal properties of different teas and herbs.
“An Adam Experiment” is a one-man play, written by and also starring New York -based actor Michael Chenevert, (“The Following”, “Boardwalk Empire” and “Ugly Betty”) which explores a day in the life of Preston Powell’s grandfather, Adam Clayton Powell, Jr., a pioneering crusader for justice and equality during the Civil Rights movement.
Produced by L.A.I. Communications, “An Adam Experiment” traces Powell’s career from his tenure as Baptist Minister at the famed Abyssinian Baptist Church in New York City to becoming the first African American to be elected to the New York City Council and also the first African American from New York to be elected to Congress.
The play in on a national tour being hosted by Jack and Jill of America, Inc. is a national membership organization of mothers with children, ages 2-19, that is dedicated to nurturing future African-American leaders by strengthening children through leadership development, volunteer service, philanthropic giving and civic duty.
The only local performance will be held on Sun, February 25, 2018
3:00 PM – 5:30 PM EST
Rockland Community College
Cultural Arts Center Theater
145 College Road
Suffern, New York
Click here for tickets
Then one day, when I was driving with my wife and saying how much I loved life, she said the word longevity, and then added the word tea. When I heard “Teagevity,” that was it. I got the domain name that day. That was two years ago.
How many varieties of teas do you offer?
I have 54 teas that I carry at any time. With blends it can be 75 or more.
What is your most popular item?
Is there one tea in particular that people should know more about?
That would be Pu-erh, from the Yunnan province, China. It has beneficial properties that many in the world have known about forever. Dr Oz talks about it and all the fashion models in Europe drink it. The tea breaks down cholesterol. It’s good for your blood pressure too. It works as a detoxifier, helping with the liver, because it helps you flush water. And if you are looking to cut weight, this is your tea.
What’s the best way to make a cup of tea?
The water you use is very important. The number one beverage in the world is water. The number two is tea. Since a good tea is rich in anti-oxidants and minerals, the water should be pure as well. If you had a free flowing spring, that would be best. If not, use bottled or filtered water. Try not to use water from the tap.
The temperature depends on the tea; for a green tea, pre-boiling or about 170-175; for black tea, herbal and botanicals bring your water to a 210 – 212 degree full boil.
- Black teas should steep no longer than five minutes. At six minutes, it gets bitter, however, people may like the taste.
- Green tea, after three minutes, it will get bitter.
- White tea is the rarest of teas, picked before the bud comes at the beginning of spring. It should be steeped for one or two minutes.
Visit to-te.com for information about martial arts classes. To-te Ueshiro Karate Club is located at 85 South Broadway, Nyack, NY