Hero’s hall

Photo by Dion Ogust

The Saugerties Town Hall is now officially the Col. Roger Donlon Town Hall – and after the controversy of the past few months, no one will ever forget it.

The Town Board voted last week to name the hall for Donlon, a Vietnam War hero, and the new renovation, which includes the police station, the planning department and former library section, for Greg Helsmoortel, the supervisor from 1999 to 2011.

The board voted to approve the compromise, which it had voted against two months earlier, by a vote of 4-0, with Councilman Bruce Leighton absent. Councilman Fred Costello said he had spoken to Helsmoortel, who said the compromise would work.

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The board had voted unanimously in April to name the building for Helsmoortel, who was instrumental in the town’s effort to purchase the former warehouse and renovate it as a municipal building. At the time, none of the members knew the building had been named for Col. Donlon in 2001. (Donlon, a native Saugertesian, was a Green Beret who received the first Medal of Honor of the Vietnam War.)

Councilwoman Leeanne Thornton said that in hindsight, the board should have tabled the motion when Myers proposed it, and taken some time to discuss it and think about it before voting. Thornton said she was surprised to learn that Donlon was not aware he had been honored with the Town Hall name.

Helsmoortel was not aware that the Town Board planned to honor his 12 years of service by renaming the Town Hall. “He was surprised. He didn’t look for it; it wasn’t something he asked for,” Thornton said.

Helsmoortel “had a reverence for the service Roger Donlon and other veterans in the community provided. He was encouraging us to support this. That, combined with other things we have considered, persuaded me to change my vote,” said Councilman Fred Costello.

Prior to the vote, Vincent Hackett spoke for about 20 minutes. He stressed Donlon’s heroic service as a recipient of the Congressional Medal of Honor, but also noted that “Donlon has said he believes all veterans should share in this honor (the Town Hall name).”

Hackett, the first of several speakers among the 25 or 30 veterans present, named several veterans whose service was outstanding during wars from World War II to Iraq.

Town Clerk Lisa Stanley blushed visibly as Hackett mentioned her sons, one of whom recently graduated from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point; the other is at the Naval Academy.

Hackett told the board to “do the right thing,” and name the building for Donlon. In fact, that was the first item on the printed agenda.

The board drew cheers from the audience as it voted on the resolution.

How we got here

The motion to name the building for Col. Donlon passed 3-2 at the April 18, 2001 meeting. It was proposed by Councilman William Scala and supported by Marie Post and Michael Somers. Supervisor Helsmoortel and Councilman Phil Palladino voted against it after first proposing that the building be named after all veterans and fallen soldiers.

In order to surprise the former supervisor with the honor, board members did not seek his advice or tell him of their intention to rename the building, so the issue of the former action did not come up. However, soon after the name change, Scala contacted a number of people informing them of the motion passed in April, 2001.

The motion to name the building for Donlon did not include any funding source for a plaque or marker on the building, so the name change was forgotten over the years. The vote last week also did not specify a funding source for a plaque. Supporters of naming it for Helsmoortel raised money to pay for a plaque; no taxpayers’ money was spent. Patti Kelly, one of the organizers, said the plaque has already been purchased, and she hopes it can be altered, as it would be very expensive to replace it completely.

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