Remembering a friend: Town ponders way to honor Orvil Norman

Orvil Norman.

The Ulster Town Board is seeking input from local residents as it thinks about a meaningful way to commemorate former councilman Orvil Norman, who passed away in mid-June. Norman served on the board for 20 years on five consecutive four-year terms from the mid-’70s through the mid-’90s before opting to retire.

Norman was 88 at the time of his death on June 14 at the Ten Broeck Commons nursing home in Lake Katrine. According to family, he had recently been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.

At a town board meeting late last month, Supervisor James Quigley III, noted that officials had received numerous requests in the past to dedicate property — a bridge, a road, a building — to Norman, but had yet to find a suitable candidate. There was also the historically controversial issue in the town with making a dedication to someone who had yet to pass away, Quigley said.

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“The idea has been floating around for a number of years,” Quigley said, noting that the issue may have arisen duringNorman’s tenure as a councilman. “I think it was the consensus of the group that had been formed to let the passage of time truly measure one’s contribution to the town. During Orvil’s last few years, people would come to the town board with suggestions to name this after him or name that after him, and we accepted those statements respectfully, but we recognized that until one’s passage, one’s contribution and one’s record is still open either for future accomplishment or potential diminishment.”

Quigley added that while he didn’t believe anything might have ever emerged to cast Norman in a negative light, the unwritten rule was meant to be applied across the board so as to both ensure there wasn’t any potential embarrassment and to reduce the impression of political or personal favoritism.

Norman, a Republican, joined the board in 1978 at the behest of then-councilman Fred Wadnola, who would serve with Norman through 1993 when he left to join the Ulster County Legislature. Wadnola, a fellow Republican, returned to the town board afterNorman’s departure, becoming its supervisor before leaving the board again 2006 and re-joining the legislature.

“He was thinking about running for the county legislature and I talked him out of it,” said Wadnola of his successful mid-‘70s push to get Norman into town politics. “I just thought he would be a good mix for the town board. Orville was really easy to get along with. We had a great board during those years with Orville, Dick Boice, Frank Sottile and myself.”

In addition to his political life in the area, Norman had a legendarily green thumb. He owned the Kingston Garden Center from 1965 through 1986, first on North Front Street in Kingston, before moving it to Route 9W in Lake Katrine. He extended that love of gardening to the radio with a popular call-in show on WGHQ-AM 920; later, he hosted a morning show on the station, as well as Kingston Community Radio.

“Orvil was what radio is all about,” said Walter Maxwell, former WGHQ owner and Kingston Community Radio organizer and host. “He was able to weave information and humor together to present a lawn and garden show as well as being a major part of the morning show on KCR.”

Himself a longtime Town of Ulster resident, Maxwell lauded Norman’s community spirit. “He would volunteer his time without ever complaining when asked to do so. Not only on radio but for the community where he was involved on the Town of Ulster board and many other civic activities,” said Maxwell. “He was an integral part of the WGHQ Happy Christmas Fund working tirelessly during the holiday season raising money for needy families. I can’t tell you how many times he would show up for early morning broadcasts at the different Stewart’s shops with his equipment all set up and ready to go. This was all volunteer work. Orvil was not only a friend but a valued member of the community.”

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