This Week in Rockland: Newspaper Excerpts: Flashback Friday: Week of March 17

2023-03-17 TWIR Image-Alma Esmay

March 15, 1873 – 150 YEARS AGO
Rockland County Journal

    The soda water season has opened in Nyack, and P. Moeller, and DeGraff & Haring are now ready to supply the lovers of that beverage with the choicest syrups that art can compound.
    Those who have not sent in lists of their donations to the Piermont Library, can do so now at any time. The books will be received at W. M. Peck’s drug store, W. H. Lusk’s store, or by the committee.
    On Monday, 3d inst., a horse, sleigh, and robes were stolen from Albert Hopper, of Spring Valley; the horse and harness were recovered at Jamaica, L.I.; but the thief, after being arrested, escaped.
    While we do not believe that politics should be made an element in our minor elections, yet we think there are some very worthy men on the Republican ticket who should receive the suffrages of our townspeople.
    It is rumored that the Hackensack and New York, and the Hackensack Extension railroads have been purchased by the West Shore Railroad Co., and that the main route will run in a direct line between Hillsdale and Spring Valley.

March 17, 1923 100 YEARS AGO
Rockland County Times

MUSICAL COMEDY — Mammoth Musical Minstrel Show at Foresters Hall, New City
       On Friday evening, March 23, 1923, the greatest company of lady and gentlemen black face performers ever gathered together under one roof will appear at the New City Hall for the benefit of the Foresters Hall Association.
       These folks have unselfishly donated their services to the cause of the Foresters and will put on the best minstrel ever shown on the board in this county.
       It is unnecessary to describe this troupe to most of the residents of this county, but for the benefit of those who have never had the pleasure of witnessing a performance of the Minstrel troupe of the Stony Point Chapter of the “Sons and Daughters of I WILL ARISE” it is safe to say that they compare favorably with any professional troupe and surpass many.
       Beautiful music, excellent singing and up-to-dated dialogue make up the program.
       Anyone who would enjoy, fifty dollars’ worth of pleasure for the sum of fifty cents will profit by attending this show.
       This is strictly a refined performance.

March 18, 1973 50 YEARS AGO
The Journal News

[Image: Alma Esmay—“She leads a full life,” 1973. Photograph by Art Sarno.]
       About 11 years ago, Alma Esmay, on a visit to the occupational therapy department at Letchworth Village, caught a glimpse of a group of adolescents being taken for a walk.
       There were two attendants in charge, each holding ends of a rope, with the children shuffling along in between.
       “It was almost unbearable to me,” she recalled when I visited her this week, “seeing those youngsters, some quite large but so helpless mentally that they couldn’t even be left free to run about on the grass.
       “They made a picture I simply couldn’t forget. For weeks I was haunted by it, and kept wondering whether, if those children had been given more help in their earliest years, they might not by that time have achieved a happier way of life.”
       Alma had worked with children through most of her adult life with her own brood of five, and with those she helped in nursery school jobs she had “just fallen into,” she says, through the intense love she has always felt for tiny budding creatures, her own and all others.
       But those were healthy, happy tots, joyfully reaching out for new experiences they were abundantly equipped by nature to deal with. Alma had neither training nor experience with the heartbreaking afflictions that stunt and handicap children such as the ones she had seen at Letchworth. Yet somehow she had a feeling that there was something she could do to help.
       Not long afterward she heard that ROMIC (Rockland Organization for Mentally Ill Children) was being organized by a group of parents seeking help for their own handicapped children.
       “The first quarters they found were in an old school-house at Rockland Lake,” she said. “It was all very tentative—almost primitive. Yet I felt it was a start in the right direction and I wanted to be in it.”
       Alma applied for a job with ROMIC and was gratefully accepted. In the years since, ROMIC grew rapidly and was eventually taken over by the county. It is now called RISE (Rockland Institution for Special Education) and operates under the auspices of the Rockland County Mental Health Board.
       This year Alma is working with a group of 4- to 8-year-olds at RISE East in Camp Jawonio, part of a pilot project sponsored by the State of New York for the purpose of evaluating how much the severely handicapped may benefit from special education during the very early years.“I have the lowest functioning group in the project,” she said. “My children are the ones with the very least skills in speech, in toilet control, even in eating. Each child is afflicted with not one but a multiplicity of illnesses—severe illnesses, both mental and physical. Yet sometimes, with patience and hard work, you see an improvement. That’s all I need to make me want to go on.”
       Alma and her late husband, Edwin Esmay, came to Rockland County soon after World War II. They were seeking a home in the country for their children, who ranged from new-born Anne and preschooler Michael to teen-agers Peter, Jane, and Susan. The Esmays landed in Monsey because, Alma said, “to people like us, living in New York, the Spring Valley telephone exchange in the ad sounded so country-like and woodsy.”
       Eventually the Esmays discovered that their true love was not the country around Spring Valley but the Hudson.
       After living in several houses in the South Nyack area they found a house built in 1731 in Grand View—a gem, architecturally and historically. Originally owned by early Dutch settlers, the Onderdonks, it was the headquarters of the local Home Guard during the Revolution. And it was right on the Hudson.
       For the next 17 years that house was the pride and joy—the hobby and the family restoration project—of the entire Esmay clan. Ruthlessly tearing out the so-called “improvements” that had been added through the centuries, they gradually laid bare wonderful old stonework, hand-hewn beams, fireplaces.
       They were still hard at work on their restorations when Ed Esmay died suddenly in 1969.
       By then the four older children had homes and families of their own. The dream house was too much for Alma and Anne to keep up alone. Regretfully, they gave it up and moved to the apartment where I visited them this week.
       But the sadness and the regrets don’t show in the new apartment, which is actually an old one on the top floor of a house in Upper Nyack. It’s like Alma herself—inherent quality in the fine old furniture and such handsome accessories as the hand-woven Spanish spread; gaiety and fun in such bits as the life-size poster of Mark Spitz in gorgeous Olympic nudity that covers the kitchen door. And it overlooks the river.
       I first met Alma one morning more than 20 years ago when we were both enrolling small daughters in the Upper Nyack Nursery School.
       She still looks much the same—laughing blue eyes in a fresh, youthful face framed by close-cropped silvery hair. In the old days we called it prematurely gray. Now, it’s— Well, it’s still beautiful.
       She’s thinner, but that’s not surprising. She’ll be 62 next month, and for the past 11 years she’s been working with all her heart and soul at what just may be—next to the Presidency of the United States—the hardest job in the world.
       That’s not the way Alma speaks of it, however.
       ‘‘Each child is an individual,” she says, “a unique human being, no matter how stunted and handicapped.
        ‘‘With each one you try to clue in on some trait that can give you something to work with some one little thing that will help you get through to that child and establish a warm, loving relationship. Once a child learns to trust you and come to you, your work can begin.”
       Just how do you go about asking a woman who talks like that: “How soon do you plan to retire?” For the purposes of this series, it’s one of the things I ought to ask, but when I did so I was looking away and sort of mumbling.
       I glanced back in time to catch a look of astonishment on Alma’s face.
       “Retire?” she exclaimed with a laugh. “What I’m thinking about right now is a plan for teaching those kids to swim.”
       This is one of a series of vignettes of Rockland County people aged 60 or over by Mrs. Gertrude Dahlberg, a newspaper and magazine writer in the same age category.

This Week in Rockland (#FBF Flashback Friday) is prepared by Clare Sheridan on behalf of the Historical Society of Rockland County. To learn about the HSRC”s mission, upcoming events or programs, visit or call (845) 634-9629.


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