Not only does Dina LaPolt represent some of the most famous musicians in the world, like Cardi B, Steven Tyler and deadmau5, but she also represents the spirit of her hometown, New Paltz, where most of her family still lives: a place steeped in pastoral beauty, activism and respect for all facets of its history.
Like many people, LaPolt had not made her regular sojourn back home for almost a year-and-a-half due to the pandemic. So, when she was able to board the flight from LA to New York, with her wife Wendy and their two sons, Buddy and Wilson, she couldn’t wait to set foot on what she considers hallowed ground.
One of the first places she looks forward to seeing when she pulls off Exit 18 on the New York State Thruway is the Put Corners Cemetery, where 120 people are laid to rest. It lies south of the Hampton Inn on North Putt Corners Road and is one of several small, intimate burial grounds where Paltzonians tended to lay their loved ones to rest, near their homes and businesses.
“This cemetery has an unmistakable energy and epitomizes the proud history and enduring beauty of New Paltz,” said LaPolt, who was dismayed when she saw how dilapidated and unkempt the cemetery had become since their last visit. “We love the Hampton Inn and have been staying there every year since it opened when we come for our visits in December and June.”
In fact, that cemetery is one of New Paltz’s most important historical sites, having been officially designated as a historic landmark in 2009. The earliest grave dates back to 1801, belonging to Maria Van Wagenen; two of the later graves from 1880 belong to Henry J. Freer and New Paltz councilman Cornelius Polhemus (www.townofnewpaltz.org/print/32086).
“We hide our dead in California,” said LaPolt, owner of LaPolt Law, which will be celebrating its 20th business anniversary this October. “So, it’s a big deal for us to show the kids. You don’t see graveyards like you do on the East Coast, and I know that New Paltz traditionally takes such good care of their historic gravesites and properties. We have the African American burial ground that is literally on someone’s private property, which I think is so cool that they agreed to have it recognized there. We have beautifully kept graveyards on Plains Road and Huguenot Street, and it bothered me that this one had become overlooked. So, I decided to write to mayor Tim Rogers and let him know about my concerns.”
From there, Mayor Rogers looped in representatives from Historic Huguenot Street (HHS) and the Village Historic Preservation Commission. Within less than two weeks, the graveyard was mowed, trimmed, pruned and restored to its quiet corner of serenity.
According to Liselle LaFrance from HHS, the owner of the Hampton Inn, Jay Modhwadiya, “restored the cemetery at his expense, an effort that was greatly appreciated. HHS has owned it since 1899, and up until early 2020, we’ve been responsible for the cemetery’s ongoing maintenance. But in light of COVID and reduced staff hours, we sought the Town’s help, and they stepped up and provided maintenance for the remainder of the year.”
With staff stretched thin during the pandemic, there was an oversight in remembering to ask the Town for their continued support. LaFrance was grateful to LaPolt for writing local representatives, as a result of which, HHS’ “site supervisor, Renzo Cinti, made several trips to get the overgrowth under control, and the Town is once again amenable to providing maintenance through the reminder of the year, which we greatly appreciate.”
“I was very impressed with Mayor Rogers and how he responded to me so quickly,” said LaPolt. “I’m a lawyer. I write people to let them know I’m going to sue them, and I don’t get a response that quick! But he kept adding more people to our e-mail list and making phone calls; and the next thing I know, I’m being sent a picture of the graveyard, which looks beautiful. I think we have a lot of happy souls there now!”
Mayor Rogers said that it was just a matter or reaching out to the right people. “I got the e-mail from Dina,” said Rogers. “I looked on the county parcel viewer website to see who owned the cemetery, saw it was HHS and messaged their team. I’m not surprised they cleaned it up quickly.”
This is one of the many reasons why LaPolt not only enjoys bringing her family to New Paltz, but is also planning on bringing her entire law firm to celebrate their 20th anniversary in October of 2021. “I wanted to go back to where it all started, which is right here in New Paltz. We are home to Sojourner Truth, who won her son back from slavery; of the gay weddings conducted by Mayor West. We grew up with people protesting injustices outside of the Elting Memorial Library. We had people march up the mountain to save it from development. My father has been fighting for prison reform for more than 40 years, and my mother supporting the Black Panther movement. I was an overweight, dyslexic girl whom people here, like [retired New Paltz High School music teacher] Margaret Bagley, believed in. This is where I want to be to celebrate this success, because it started here.”
To that end, LaPolt and her team of high-powered music attorneys have rented out the Hampton Inn. They will go on a long bike ride at the Minnewaska State Park Preserve and Mohonk Preserve, led by her brother Glenn LaPolt – a local triathlete and president of the New Paltz Central School Board – and then have a lunch catered by Doug Thompson of The Bistro. “C’mon: Doug was the drummer for Murphy’s Law! Now he’s a longtime owner of this fantastic restaurant, and a triathlete. Who else would I want to help us celebrate?”
For LaPolt, Hollywood is full of glitter, but she knows that her cornerstone of gold lies right here in the Hudson Valley.