Storied Lives – Jim Gedney

Ralph Chiarella and Jim Gedney

Fifty years after its final season, Camp Mohican still evokes a powerful nostalgia in the men who came of age at the rugged all-boys camp in the Adirondacks. Owned by the Rye YMCA from approximately 1953 until 1969, Camp Mohican lay at the end of a five-mile dirt road on the forested banks of Lake George. The wooden cabins were unheated and uninsulated. The boys would bathe in large wash basins with cold water that was pumped directly from the lake. The hikes and canoe trips were often grueling, multi-day adventures. Timber rattlers would sometimes slink into camp, only to be shot by Tex Kelly, the camp’s hiking director.

And 11-year old Jim Gedney loved it all.

“It was the first time I really felt a part of a community and a group,” he reflected during a recent conversation at the Rye Y. “I didn’t have that same feeling in school in Rye, even though I had friends and was involved in activities.”

Born in Port Chester’s United Hospital in 1952, Jim and his two siblings were raised mostly in Rye. The Gedneys were among the earliest settlers in the Sound Shore area, going back to 1699 when Jim’s ancestor Eleazar Gedney landed in Mamaroneck and married the daughter of that town’s founder. His maternal grandfather, John Kelly, was born on the former Parson estate, now the grounds of Rye High School.

When Jim arrived at Camp Mohican in 1964, his only experience with being away from home had been the occasional sleep-over. “It was kind of a sink or swim,” he recalled. “Either you were going to be engaged with it, love it, or not.” At the end of four weeks, he didn’t want to leave. Forced to join his family for their annual Adirondack camping trip, he was miserable. “I pouted the whole time,” he admitted. “I wanted to go back to camp. So my parents got on the phone with the camp director who said ‘yeah, bring him back!’” Jim finished the summer at Camp Mohican and never spent less than the whole season there again.

“The camp was mainly organized around a wilderness, hiking and camping program,” he explained. Every Monday, after breakfast in the big dining hall, the campers would meet their counselors outside, ready their gear, and head out, sometimes hiking, sometimes paddling old aluminum canoes or rowboats. The older boys might be gone for four or five days, sleeping on islands in the middle of Lake George or in the backcountry of the High Peaks.

“It was tough!” Jim conceded. By the end of his first summer, he had climbed 15 of the Adirondack High Peaks–mountains that soared 4,000 feet or higher. Encouraged by Tex Kelly, Jim set the goal of becoming a “Forty-Sixer”, determined to join a club whose members have climbed 46 of the High Peaks. On August 21, 1966, at just 13 years old, Jim, Ricky Frank–an 11-year-old camper also from Rye–and 19-year-old counselor Dave Harvey, reached the summit of Allen Mountain and achieved their goal.

Three years later, Jim found himself leading groups of boys up the same mountains. “Because I was a Forty-Sixer and one of the only staff who knew the high peaks…I was sent often with groups of kids just a few years younger.” Accompanied by a fourteen or fifteen year-old counselor in training, the group would be dropped off in the wilderness with only the bare essentials: sleeping bags, a change of clothes, rain and cooking gear, canteens, a First Aid kit, a compass and food.

“We had the freedom and independence to do things then that you could never do today,” Jim observed. “[Camp] gave me a place where I felt most like myself. And having that goal—becoming a Forty-Sixer—gave me something to strive for. It gave me that love for the wilderness, for that rugged outdoor experience.” Jim also developed an appreciation for the quiet times, for the chance to soak in the “idyllic setting” and talk with friends or counselors. Beyond the adventures, he found mentorship and camaraderie.

“Ultimately, I think that’s what took me away from Rye,” Jim reflected. “It gave me a travel bug [and the] desire to see the wider world.”

After graduating from Rye High School in 1970 and the University of Maine at Orono in 1974, Jim set out “on a journey of discovery” throughout his twenties. During this time, he lived in New York City, moved to San Francisco, and took a series of short-term “low-paying, character building” jobs. By his early thirties, Jim had settled into married life, fatherhood, and a job at British Petroleum Company. When he was laid off in 1986, he returned to school to become a teacher. An avid reader, Jim also wrote during those years. “I fancied myself a chronicler of my own generation,” he laughed. Much later– in 2015–he would publish a memoir No Experience Necessary: The Redemption of a Bohemian Zero, in which he devoted a full chapter to his time at Camp Mohican.

In 2003, Jim returned to the east coast to care for his aging mother, who had lived alone in Cambridge, New York since her husband died in 1996. When his mother passed away, Jim and his second wife Suzy sold her house and settled in Cambridge, a small town of just over 2,000 residents an hour south of Lake George on the Vermont border. After 20 years of west coast city living, Jim had returned to the mountains he loved as a boy. He took a job as an English teacher, and later Dean of Faculty at Long Trail School, a small, independent day school in Dorset, VT, where he remained until retiring in 2016.  His daughter Lily, now married, lives in Chicago; his sister Ellen Slater still lives in Rye.

It’s been fifty years since the boys of Camp Mohican laced up their hiking boots for the last time. However, there’s a bond that time and distance can’t erase. Earlier this year, Jim contacted forty or so of the camp’s alumni and suggested a summer reunion. Three of the men, including former Rye resident Ralph Chiarella, will join Jim at the YMCA’s Silver Bay Conference and Family Retreat Center on Lake George over the weekend of August 23-25. Those who can’t attend will undoubtedly be with the small group in spirit. In an email to the Rye Y, Tex Kelly wrote “Those summers were the best of my life.”

The sale of Camp Mohican was “a big blow to many who loved the place,” Jim remarked. “However, I carry the memories, images, and experiences of those six summers to this day. Camp Mohican was for me – as it was for a generation of Rye area boys – the formative experience of my young life.”

by Denise Woodin, Director of Community Impact and Social Responsibility
Appeared in the Rye Record,  August 23, 2019

Storied Lives – Dottie Little

Back in the day, Bill Little must have cut a dashing figure. A stunt driver for King Kovaz’s Auto Daredevils in the late 1960s and early 70s, Bill crisscrossed the country, thrilling audiences as he drove cars airborne at state fairs and exhibitions. He certainly caught the eye of Dottie Archer, then a young divorcee with two daughters.

“I was at the Danbury Fair and I met the love of my life,” Dottie recalled during a recent conversation at the Rye YMCA. It was 1972 or ’73 and Dottie had come to the fair to race, of all things, ostriches. However, it was her meeting with Bill that stands out in her memory.

“He traveled all around and he happened to be at the fair for ten days. It was just like my Prince Charming, you know? He was also a star, which made it very exciting.”

Now a 77-year-old grandmother who is nearing retirement from her job with the New York State Thruway, Dottie Little serves as vice president of the Rye Association for the Handicapped. When she and Bill married, she never dreamed that her vital husband would suffer a massive stroke that would upend their lives, but ultimately open doors as well.

After the couple wed, Bill “settled down…and got a real job!” Dottie said. “We were a great family. Everything was going well. We were planning on retirement. And Bill went in for carotid artery surgery to prevent a stroke. He had one surgery; the following month he had the second and he stroked out.”

Dottie paused. “Things were very grim. He was in a coma. The whole left side was gone. And the neurologist said he would be in an institution for the rest of his life. So my life made a complete turn from Prince Charming to like hell. I didn’t know what was going to happen. It was very isolating and very scary.”

The first ray of hope arrived when Bill regained the use of his legs after six weeks at Burke Rehabilitation Hospital. “From there on in, I just prayed that something would come into his life that would make his life a little more enjoyable,” Dottie said. “I was going to work so I had a little break. He was a hard-working man and now he was confined to home and going out with me.”

“Then I went to a senior swim in New Rochelle at Beckwith Point,” she continued. “And I met Irving Rothman, who was a longstanding member of Rye Association for the Handicapped. That’s when my life opened up.

Bill and I came [to the Rye Y] on Mondays and Fridays and it was 45 minutes of swim and then coffee and cake and he met so many wonderful people here. He had so much encouragement from the Rye Association for the Handicapped and from the Y faculty. Before you know it they know your name and you felt like you were a friend. There are so many people here who have challenges. And they were living and happy and having a good time. I felt so great because now he had some comradery and he was being a person himself instead of just me driving him around.”

Ten years after his stroke, nine years after he found new life through the Rye Association for the Handicapped, Bill died suddenly in 2011. “I was quite angry,” Dottie remembered. ”A little scared, but I think I was more angry. You plan on retirement, you plan on everything and life changes. At his funeral, the Rye Association for the Handicapped asked me if I would stay on as a volunteer. And I did, and that was the best thing I ever could have done.”

Dottie threw herself into volunteering, becoming the vice president of the Rye Association for the Handicapped and helping at the annual Rye Derby. Earlier this year, Dottie shared her story with Y supporters by appearing in a video and in person at the Y’s annual fundraising benefit. “There’s nothing I wouldn’t do for the Rye Y if they asked me to do it. I have such gratitude for this place. It was just life- changing.”

As she looks forward to retirement this fall, Dottie is as busy as ever, swimming at the Y, fundraising and organizing events for the Rye Association for the Handicapped, spending time with her daughters and grandchildren, and exploring all of the offerings at local senior centers and libraries.

Looking back, she reflected “there were good times, there were bad times. There was my Prince Charming. There was a hell of a stroke. But it was a life lesson. It was all a growing experience. And I’m comfortable with myself now and I’m comfortable around people. I guess you have to keep growing until you pass away. And that’s what makes life exciting, because everybody has to learn something new.”

by Denise Woodin, Rye Y Director of Community Impact and Social Responsibility



Storied Lives: Michele Santos

By Denise Woodin, Director of Community Impact and Social Responsibility
Published in the Rye Record, July 20, 2018

Twice a month, Michele Santos takes the elevator to the seventh floor of Westchester Medical Center in Valhalla. There, she puts on her brightest smile—not a stretch for someone who has always been upbeat—and warmly greets the leukemia and lymphoma patients who are undergoing treatment. Some days, she leaves inspired. And some days she goes home and cries. Some days, her volunteer work hits a little too close to home.

In March 2014, Michele was diagnosed with Acute Myeloid Leukemia (AML) and underwent a bone marrow transplant at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. In the years that followed, one sister and then a second, succumbed to different types of leukemia. It was, Michele said, “a very dark time in my life.” During a recent conversation with a Rye YMCA staff member, Michele recalled how, at the Y, she found a ray of light in the midst of her most difficult challenges.

Born in New Jersey, Michele married at age 23 and followed her husband Manuel to Mt. Vernon, NY. The couple raised two children, now 23 and 18; Manuel also has a 34-year-old son from a previous marriage. Michele worked in the medical field, scheduling appointments and handling front desk duties and remained physically active. “I was a multi-tasker,” she said. “I used to exercise by walking and doing videos at home.” When she was diagnosed with leukemia, her work and her exercising came to a halt. “I had to be very careful to be around the public because my immune system was compromised,” she explained.

Nine months after her bone marrow transplant, Michele was purchasing a wig in a shop on Central Avenue when “a wonderful lady” handed her a card for “Mondays with SOUL RYEDERS”, a monthly day of complimentary services for cancer patients at the Beauty Bar and Salon in Port Chester. From there, she learned about LIVESTRONG at the YMCA, a free 12-week small group program that helps cancer survivors re-gain their strength.

When she started LIVESTRONG at the YMCA in February 2015, Michele was suffering from a mild case of neuropathy from the medications and chemotherapy and had put on unwanted weight. She also had “a lot of leg and knee issues” and was having trouble with balance.

“My coaches were so supportive and… motivating,” Michele recalled. “When somebody is encouraging you so much, even when you don’t feel like being physically active, it feels good, it really does.”

“All my life I’ve been a happy person,” she continued. “But that was a very hard time. I found life again when I came to the Y. I associated myself with wonderful people; it was my second home. By coming here, I had a schedule, [I was] getting physically fit, I was mentally in a good space and I met other patients and survivors here. I don’t think I would have recovered in a mental way [as fast] if I didn’t happen to fall upon this wonderful program.”

Even though she’s back at work—first as a recreation aid in the Ardsley School District and now as a legal assistant for a law firm—and has to travel from the east side of the county, Michele tries to work out at the Rye Y three or four times a week. “I love Zumba”, she reports. “I’ve done kickboxing. I’ve done the yoga classes. And I like the swimming.”

With that discipline, she has lost the extra weight she gained during treatment. “It took me a good few years to lose 15-20 pounds. But I did it. So to me, it’s like ‘it didn’t happen overnight, but that’s not going to stop me. Each pound I lost it was like ‘you see? That’s because I did Zumba today! That’s because I did the gym today. I went swimming! I’m not done. I just want to be a healthier version of the old me.”

“That’s not going to stop me” might well be Michele’s mantra. Reflecting on her volunteer work with the American Cancer Society, she said “it’s very important to me because every day that I wake up, I feel that I’ve been blessed with a second chance at life. A lot of people don’t have that second chance. I need to do this. I’m very passionate about it.”

“Some days it’s very rewarding,” she continued. “Some days, I leave and I cry. I am human, and you just know that every time you go there you’re going to meet somebody new, with a new story. And you may make them feel a little bit better because you understand. Then there are the ones who are in such a sad state they can’t hear you. But that’s not gonna stop me. This is my path now and I love it.”

For more information about LIVESTRONG at the YMCA, contact Elana Reynolds at or at 914-967-6363, ext. 206

Storied Lives – Sally Wright

cropped-sallyBy Denise Woodin, Director of Community Impact and Social Responsibility
Published in the Rye Record, September 9, 2016

Sally Wright arrived in Rye from Chicago in 1979, leaving behind a career as an Equity Trader and looking forward to three years on the East coast. Thirty-seven years later, she has packed her bags once again and is returning to her home state of Michigan. During the intervening years, Sally raised three children, lived in two houses, divorced, started a new career as the Rye YMCA’s Development Director, and left an indelible mark on downtown Rye.  With her long-awaited retirement looming—her last day of work is August 26—Sally reflected on her unexpected life in Rye and the changes she seen at the Rye Y.

Attracted to Rye for its good schools and proximity to Long Island Sound, Sally and her family settled into a house on Milton Point. They had toured three states searching for a home, but Sally fell in love with Rye. “I had lived on the water in Michigan and after looking at several other towns, I realized how much it meant to me to live on the water,” she explained.

Sally’s son Chris was born in 1979, followed by Amy in 1982 and P.J. in 1991 and before long, she found herself immersed in the world of PTO activities. The PTO, at Milton School and later at Rye Middle and High Schools, would be her bridge to the Rye Y. “We were good friends with our neighbors, who had kids the same age as ours,” Sally recalled. “They saw me doing the PTO work and they knew I was looking for a part-time job. They decided that I would be a good fit for the Y.”

Sally had set foot in the Y only once, when she inquired about a gymnastics program for Chris. And she knew nothing about the organization. Nevertheless, when her neighbor, Rye Y board president Nancy Haneman, asked her in 1993 to work on an endowment campaign with Y volunteer Harry Broom, Sally dove in. She found that her business skills and her experience working with the schools served her well. “It’s all about building relationships and asking people for money,” she observed. “So I was pretty well versed in that by the time I got here.”

Three years later, the Y’s executive director Pat Morrissey hired Sally as the organization’s full-time development director. While happy to land a new job, Sally ran into a few challenges during the first several months. Five months after she started, Morrissey resigned. His departure was followed by the resignation of the Y’s head of administration, Stephanie Lord, who had served as mentor to Sally. “I wasn’t sure what I had gotten myself into. It was a rough start. But the happy side was, the board found Gregg Howells, and he became my new boss. And then everything was just hunky dory after that,” she laughed.

In the beginning, Sally juggled fundraising, marketing, communications and administrative duties. “I was a one-man shop,” she said.  And then there was the learning curve for professional fundraising. “I had so much to learn. But I was lucky enough to be sent off to development presentations and conferences and I joined A.D.O. (Association of Development Professionals). And the Y is such a great organization because you meet development directors from other Ys. They shared their experiences and helped me feel more comfortable in doing my job.”

The biggest challenge, and one of the most exciting phases of Sally’s career came after the board approved a multi-million dollar facility expansion in the late 1990s. “I’m proud of the fact that, although they hired a development director for the capital campaign, she left after two years and then I had to step into the breach and finish the job with Gregg,” Sally recalled. The fact that we raised $5 million to add to the $4 million bank loan was a real feat. It was a team of people, it wasn’t me, by any means. It was the board members who were so dedicated.”

“They say, ‘if you build it, they will come’” she continued. “Well, they sure did. The Y boomed after the expansion. It was a cute little place before and it was a nice asset to the community. But once we were able to build it into a real Y, functioning with two pools and a huge gym, it was just amazing. It was a very exciting time.”

And then came the flood of 2007.  During spring storms that dumped record levels of rain on the region, Blind Brook surged over its banks, inundating the Y’s parking lot and lobby. The first floor of the relatively new lobby was devastated. But the silver lining, “the rewarding thing,” Sally noted, was that “the community responded so amazingly. We raised almost $200,000 within a couple weeks. We had an emergency meeting with the board and trustees and we decided to go ahead with the Rye Derby even though we couldn’t even go into the building.” It was important, Sally explained, to “show the community that we were resilient and that we could come back from a hardship and that we were here for them. And they were here for us.”

As much as she is identified with the Y, Sally is also known for her efforts on behalf of Rye’s business community. Following her boss’s lead—Howells is an active member of the Rye Rotary Club—she joined the Chamber of Commerce. “Gregg set the example of volunteer work and that the Y is a community organization. I decided that since I live in Rye and I care about downtown, the Chamber was the most worthwhile cause for me to be involved with.”  Fifteen years ago, the Chamber was “struggling to reinvent itself,” Sally remarked. But under the leadership of Catherine Parker and Jim Sullivan, and with Sally’s help, the organization began to thrive. She later became an officer and then president and was instrumental in bringing Mistletoe Magic and the Farmer’s Market to Rye, two of her proudest achievements.

Asked what she will miss most about the Y, Sally quickly replied “The people. The folks I have worked with year after year. Gregg has been an amazing boss. He gives his heart and soul to the Y. And we know he doesn’t sleep at night. He’s always thinking about the Y… The Y has been a Godsend to me in my personal life, helping me get through obstacles. Having the Y there to help and support me has been huge.”

Howells is equally effusive about Sally, stating “above and beyond the dollars she’s raised, Sally has always been the quintessential team player helping out wherever she can. She has been a true ambassador for the Rye Y for over 20 years. She’ll be greatly missed!”

As for the City of Rye, Sally reflected “I’m going to miss the Chamber work, and downtown and all the activities and special events. I have friends here, but the community as a whole is so great—the schools, the police, the teachers. It’s a small town, everybody knows everybody. I like that. My kids used to call me the ‘Mayor of Rye’. But when you live in a small town that long, you do get to know a lot of people. So, I’ll miss that. I’m sure I’ll meet new people where I’m going. I’ll just have to work at it.”

Storied Lives: Wendy Baruchowitz

Baruch Family PicBy Denise Woodin, Director of Community Impact and Social Responsibility (Appeared in the Rye Record September 25, 2015)

When Wendy Baruchowitz moved to Rye in 2010, after stints in Manhattan and Hoboken, her future seemed bright. Married to Mitch, an investment banker slash lawyer and mother to five-year old Braden, Wendy was working at an ad agency and just settling into her new home when she became pregnant with her second son, Blake.

But from the beginning, the pregnancy felt off. “I didn’t feel right,” Wendy recalled during a recent conversation at the Rye Y. When she started having early contractions at 15 weeks, her doctor ordered her to bed for the duration of the pregnancy.

Wendy obeyed, until she couldn’t any longer. One week before her delivery date, she stood up. All of her muscles had atrophied. Even more alarming, her heart rate shot up. She felt her blood pool down to the baby and to her feet. She was so light-headed she had to sit down again. When the symptoms didn’t go away, Wendy turned to the internet and found POTS (Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome), a disorder of the body’s autonomic system. With POTS, functions that most people take for granted—the steady rhythm of the heart pumping blood, the flow of air in and out of lungs, the body’s ability to stay cool or warm—become de-regulated, off on their own agendas.

“I knew something was wrong,” Wendy said. “I kept telling my family, I kept telling my obstetrician ‘I think I have POTS.’ I went to my internist. And they all said ‘no’. They didn’t know what POTS was. Everyone said ‘you’re pregnant. Everything will resolve once you have the baby.”
In June 2011, Wendy gave birth to a healthy boy: Blake. And her health went from bad to worse. “I literally became debilitated overnight,” Wendy remembered. “My heart rate, just from moving, would go up to 150-160. I couldn’t sleep. I was incontinent. I was spontaneously vomiting. I was crawling instead of walking because every time I tried to stand up, I felt dizzy.” Wendy paused. “And I had a newborn who I couldn’t hold.”

“I was freaking out,” she continued. Wendy began making the rounds—to cardiologists, neurologists, psychiatrists. No-one had heard of POTS, and those doctors who researched it told her that it was more common in teenagers due to their changing hormones. She was told it was post-partum and that it would pass. She was given anti-anxiety medications. “I was made to feel like I was crazy.” And each day, just getting out of bed, changing Blake’s diaper, showering, even swallowing food, became increasingly difficult.
“It was the worst time of my life,” Wendy recalled. “I was all alone. Everyone, even friends and family, was saying that I was crazy. And I was post-partum. Not necessarily post-partum depressed, but depressed because I didn’t know what was happening to my life. I didn’t know how I was going to live.”

Mitch was supportive, but conflicted. The doctors were saying one thing and his wife another. He was scared for Wendy and as supportive as he could be, but he had to return to work. “I think for a while he was in denial and couldn’t grasp what was happening because none of the doctors were validating it,” Wendy reflected.

In September 2011, Wendy finally found the answers she was looking for when a cardiologist in New Jersey diagnosed her with POTS. And he gave her advice that would start to turn her life around. “Exercise like you’ve never exercised before,” Wendy recounted his words, “drink as much fluid as you can during the day and increase your salt intake.” He recommended that she start in the pool.

“I was one of those people who would sit on the couch and eat and entire box of chocolate chip cookies” Wendy admitted. “Before I had Blake, I never exercised.” So she joined the Rye Y and started swimming. At first, she could barely complete one lap. And the logistics of her new regimen were daunting. “Getting dressed, getting myself downstairs, into the car, parking, walking from the car to the entrance to the locker room, getting into the pool, showering afterward… by the time I got home, I was already back in bed.”

She went every day. In rain, snow, on weekends and holidays. On the rare times the Y was closed, Wendy swam at New York Sports Club. On Christmas, she called the Marriot in Port Chester and told their staff that she had a medical condition and needed to swim. They let her use the hotel pool. Wendy started working with Y swim instructor Sheila Viger, who attended a seminar to learn about the best exercise for people with heart conditions. After three years, Wendy had worked up to 30 minutes in the water.

But she still couldn’t stand for long. Then Wendy learned about a Toledo-based POTS specialist, reputedly the top in his field. She added her name to the doctor’s year-long waiting list and in October 2013, Wendy and her mother-in-law finally boarded a plane for Ohio. Although the flight was “mind-boggling hard,” the trip “changed everything.”

“He told me about different medications,” Wendy reported. “He said that swimming is great, but I also needed to do more cardiovascular and more orthostatic, or upright, exercise.” When she returned to the Y, Wendy walked into the fitness center. “I was so intimidated. I told Laura Laura, [the Y’s Member Wellness Coordinator] ‘I have this medical condition. I might pass out. Can you just watch me on the treadmill?’” She walked for 1 minute and called it a day.

Today, Wendy runs two miles for 30 minutes. She works out with Rye Y trainer Peter Lopez. On her off days, she takes Yoga classes, bikes and walks five miles a day. “I started to train my autonomic system to pump blood back up to my heart,” she explained.

“Exercise gave me my life back,” Wendy stated. “I’m not saying that I’m 100% perfect and I’m fine. I still have my bad days.” However, her new routines have transformed her from a person who crawled around her house to a “person who is functioning like a normal person.”

“And it’s because of this place and this exercise and the support that the Y has given me,” she continued. “Every single person I’ve come in contact with has only wanted to reach out and help. I’ve had opportunities to join other gyms, but I won’t. From the second I walk in the door…just the greetings and the love and the support in this place…I’ll never leave this place, ever.”

When Wendy first told her story to the Y staff, she held her struggles close, choosing to remain fairly private. “I didn’t want people to feel sorry for me,” she noted. “I didn’t want to be viewed as this sick, pathetic person.” Wendy also wanted to protect her children from the harsh realities of POTS. “In the beginning, I tried to hide it from Braden, my older son. Slowly, I started to talk to him. I wanted to show him that you can have a disability and fight and have a happy life.”

As she continues her journey to recovery, Wendy has become more outspoken about her experience and about POTS. “I feel lucky that I’m in a position to speak out and spread this important word to the medical community to make them more educated about this illness so people don’t have to walk around feeling crazy and so sick,” she observed. “Over one million people in the United States are known to have POTS. It’s more common than Parkinson’s or M.S. And if the doctors would just take the time to listen; no-one knows their body better than themselves.”

This fall, Wendy is busy organizing a one-mile walk and run to benefit Dysautonomia International, a non-profit organization working to find a cure for POTS and other autonomic disorders. “My goal is to spread awareness about this syndrome and that it can be o-k. There are some people who are too sick to exercise. I feel that I’m one of the lucky ones.”


The POTS Take a Stand Walk/Run will be held on Sunday, October 4 at 9:30 a.m. It will start and end at Rye Recreation. For more information, visit

Storied Lives: Edison Blanco

 Edison family picture3by Denise Woodin
(Appeared in the Rye Record, July 17, 2015)

Growing up in the landlocked city of Santiago in the Dominican Republic, Edison Blanco never learned to swim.  So when he walked into the Rye Y in July 2014, at the age of 31, he had only one goal in mind: join an adult swim class. Within weeks, he had found so much more.

The son of a teacher, Edison’s early memories were of long summers spent in Washington Heights, a lively, Latino-dominated neighborhood in northern Manhattan. Because her summers were free, Rosa Nelly Blanco would bring her children to visit relatives in New York. By the time he turned twelve, Edison was working alongside his uncle in his grocery store, learning the business and forging strong ties to his second city.

“I made a connection here,” Edison observed during a recent conversation at the Rye Y. “I said ‘when I grow up, I want to live in the U.S.’”

After earning the equivalent of an Associate’s Degree in Santiago, Edison realized that he had the freedom to choose his future.  In 2004, at the age of 21, he packed his bags and moved to New York, where his uncle put him in charge of his store.

As luck would have it, there was a junior high school across the street from the grocery store. And among the staff was a Teach for America faculty member who would drop by the store every day to buy a sandwich for lunch. A Spanish minor in college who had spent a semester in Madrid, Heather would talk with Edison about music, and when he asked her to a Dominican movie, she accepted. They started dating, even though Heather was making plans to attend the University of Chicago Law School. The couple kept a long-distance relationship going, even after marrying in 2006. By 2008, Heather had graduated and the Blanco’s were finally able to establish a home together.

While Heather studied in Chicago, Edison was approached by a supplier for the grocery store, who asked for his help in revitalizing his company. In 2007, Edison left the family business and started working for United Food Processing Company.  Although his new job took him all over the City, first as a driver and later as a salesman, Edison found time to take English classes at LaGuardia Community College. Growing more comfortable with the language, he then enrolled in LaGuardia’s Associate degree program in Accounting. He graduated in 2012, the year Heather landed a job with a financial institution, and the Blancos moved to Mamaroneck. In January of the following year, Edison transferred into a four-year accounting program at Baruch College in mid-town Manhattan.  And In October, Heather gave birth to their daughter Eleanor.

“The bachelor’s degree was more demanding,” Edison recalled. “Work, family, school… it was too much.”

Recognizing the impending challenges even before Eleanor was born, Edison quit his job with United Food and made plans to be a stay-at-home dad and student. “I increased my coursework, but consolidated it into fewer days so I could be home with Eleanor,” he explained. “That way I could have quality time with my family and still pursue my education.”

When Eleanor was just months old, Edison began looking online for a local swim class. “I was never involved in water activities growing up,” he noted. “There was no pool in the neighborhood. Heather was a good swimmer but I never learned.” After finding the Rye Y, he signed up for a class for himself and then learned about the Baby and Me Gym Class and the Parent/Child swim for both father and daughter.

Around the same time, Edison met an alumnus of Baruch who advised him to get involved in extracurricular activities. With that in mind, he met with the Y’s Wellness Coordinator, Laura A. Laura, who told him about the Rye Y’s new Togetherhood program.  A national YMCA social responsibility initiative, Togetherhood engages members in volunteer projects outside the walls of the Y.

“My original motivation was to improve my resume,” Edison confessed. “But once I started getting involved with Togetherhood, I began to view community service as a need of all citizens. We’re entitled to it, and we must do it.”  He continued, “We get detached from what the real needs are.  We all, as a society, need to do community service.  You don’t have to be a Bill Gates; we can all make a difference.  It doesn’t have to be a full-time job. A little bit can mean a lot to others.”

In addition to learning to swim, Edison works out in the fitness center and has become a co-chair of the Togetherhood Service Committee. Heather enjoys yoga at Wainwright House. And Eleanor, now 20 months old, has made friends in the Y’s ChildWatch room. “I’m so glad that I’m here now,” he said gratefully.

This summer, Edison is taking one last class to finish his Bachelor of Business Administration degree and is working full-time as an intern at BDO Accounting. In the fall, he will begin the graduate accounting program at Baruch College.  Asked about his dream job, he answered “I’m still exploring my options, but work-life balance is a priority.”  He added “Having been here at the Y, I see that the people here work with love and passion.”

Storied Lives: Thomas “Tim” Harvey

Tim-HarveyWhen Tim Harvey joined the Rye YMCA at the age of six in 1933, the entire staff could be counted on both hands.

“It’s really amazing to see how many functions go on at the Y now,” Harvey marveled in a recent conversation with a Rye Y staffperson.  “Back then, there was the director Pa Cope; his secretary Minnie Loescher; Mr. Oster, who ran the gym; Mr. Murphy, who was in charge of the under 16 guys; Jimmy Ryan, the maintenance man; and ‘Pop’ Sibley,” who held the all important role of stocking the nickel coke machine.

Born in Darien, CT into a family with deep roots in Rye, Harvey moved back to Rye when he was four.  During the Depression years, the Y was a “very eclectic mix of kids,” Harvey recalled with a clarity that melted away the decades. “It was much more neighborhood-oriented in those days.  Families had one car and the dad took that to work.  So kids walked, biked or took the bus to the Y.  The bus was just .15 a ride.”

“Basketball wasn’t big then, but they had games and gymnastics. I was the smallest guy so I was always at the top of the pyramid,” Harvey said.  Nor was there a pool, but Pa Cope would arrange basketball games at the Greenwich or New York City Y, which did have pools.  Harvey remembers taking the train into Manhattan in his early teens, where the Rye Y boys would play basketball, swim and take in a movie.

“The Y was my home away from home,” he noted.  “I was a bit of a gym rat.”

During the school year, Harvey and his siblings—two sisters and a brother—attended Rye Grammar School and later Rye High School.  But summer–a time for watermelon, hot dog and marshmallow eating contests and arts and crafts—was spent at Rye Rec.  “Rye Rec started on the Y property and was very active in the summer,” Harvey noted.  In the late 1930’s and early 1940’s, we would play baseball in the morning and go on bicycles to Rye Beach in the afternoons.”

From the age of seven through nine, Harvey spent two weeks each summer at the Y’s upstate residential camp, Camp Mohican.  “The campers were from all over.  As I remember, it was $10 a week. Pa Cope was a fabulous storyteller. Ghost stories after the sun went down was his specialty,”

While Harvey’s involvement in the Y waned during his high school and college years—he was busy with academics and sports—he remembers helping Pa Cope move Camp Mohican from Black Mountain to Gull Bay and working as a Junior Counselor. “All of the adult males had left for the service, so Pa had to rely on 16-year old kids in responsible positions.”

Although it has been roughly 70 years since Pa Cope served as a role model for Rye’s boys, men of a certain age still remember him vividly.  “He taught Sunday school at the Episcopal Church,” Harvey remarked. “He was a machine gunner in the English Army from 1914-1918.  He never got a scratch.  Then, he left the country when the war was over.  Pa was very interested in keeping the 16-21 year olds out of trouble.  He was well connected with all the businesses in town—the Y hosted regular Lions Club lunches—and used his connections to find jobs for young men. Many of the jobs were at Bullard’s Machine Tool Company in Bridgeport, CT.”

Harvey also remembers Joe O’Brien, a popular older boy who helped Pa Cope with anything that needed doing and later became the Rye Y’s Athletic Director.  “Joe was a clean-cut, all American guy.  He was a mentor to me when I was twelve to fourteen years old.”

Over the next several decades, Harvey’s stint in the Navy, followed by college (Yale University, Class of 1950) and a successful career in industrial administration took him all over the world.  During that time, he joined eight or nine Y’s in several locations, including Guelph, Ontario, where he lived for 13 years.

In 1954, Harvey married his first wife and had two children, who now live in Colorado Springs. He married his second wife, an Australian, in Rye but they divorced when she returned to her home country. Although Harvey had worked in Australia from 1969-1971, the couple “agreed to disagree,” on a place to live.  “She went back to Australia and I stayed here,” Harvey commented cheerfully.

Then, in 1999, Harvey re-connected with Jean McMath at a memorial service for her sister.  The pair had met in seventh grade when Harvey hit her in the back of the head with a snowball. “She squealed to the principal and that’s how we met!”  Jean and Tim married in 2001 and remained together until Jean’s death in March 2011.  Around that time, Harvey returned to Rye after living in Greenwich, CT.

“In the middle of that,” he continued, “I got sick with pneumonia and the flu.  My doctor recommended pulmonary rehab at Greenwich Hospital.  I started exercising consistently.  I lost 40 pounds.  I went through the YMCA’s Diabetes Prevention Program.  Now I come into the Y three times a week.  I do fitness training with Laura.  I take the Tai Chi class.  And in between, I walk up and down the street or at Playland.”

“It absolutely amazes me the number of people who come through that door, the number of programs and activities,” Harvey concluded.  “I’m sure Pa Cope is looking down and wondering how you do it all.”


By Denise Woodin, Rye Y Director of Community Impact and Social Responsibility

To mark our 2014 Centennial, the Rye Y is inviting anyone with memories of the Y, from any era, to share their story.  Contact Sally Wright at: or 967-6363, ext. 202.

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Storied Lives – Lester Millman

Lester-MillmanAs a photojournalist, Lester Millman has covered wars in the Middle East, traveled with George Pataki as the governor’s official photographer, and documented the devastation at Ground Zero in the days after September 11, 2001. Although Millman has lived as far away as Israel and as near as White Plains where he resided for 25 years, these days he’s happy to have returned to his Rye roots and the Rye YMCA.

When Millman’s family moved to Rye from Boston around 1952, it didn’t take long for the young boy to join the Y.  In 1953, when he was eight years old, Millman left home for his first summer camp experience. “It was all so new to me, so different,” Millman recalled of his time at the Rye YMCA’s camp at Lake Mohican. “The hikes, the canoeing.  I couldn’t swim.  I learned to swim there.”

“For the first time, I was exposed to kids from broken homes, kids whose parents had died and were being raised by other family members,” Millman said during a recent conversation with a Rye Y staff member. “I learned from Joe O’Brien (the camp director) to ask ‘how are your people?’  I still use that phrase because it’s a way of being sensitive to all family types. Talk about an influence!”

Millman returned to Camp Mohican, which was located on Lake George in upstate New York, as a camper for several years before taking his first job–aside from mowing lawns–at age 15 as a “kitchen boy”.  “I worked all summer,” Millman remarked.  “I was paid $50 for the whole summer plus room and board. Something came from that. I’ve been working in kitchens and cooking all my life.”

Back in Rye, Millman and his friends would ride their bikes over to the Y on Friday nights. The “guys”—all junior high school students—would then go over to Rip’s and order hamburgers.

As a high school student, Millman discovered photography, using a fall-out shelter in a house on Mead Place as a darkroom. In 1970, he became a professional photographer, eventually earning a bachelor’s degree in photojournalism. It was a career choice that led to a numerous international assignments for Time, Newsweek, The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, St. Louis Post Dispatch, Financial Times as well as several corporate and non-profit clients. His photos have won several awards, including in the “Picture of the Year” and World Press Photo Competition, two of the most prestigious international news photography contests.

From 1973-1980, Millman and his wife lived in Israel, where he covered the strife engulfing the country at the time. His son Micha, now 34, was born there.  (Millman also has two daughters: Raheli, age 31 and Sarah, age 28, and an 18-month old grandson,)  Asked about his most memorable assignment, Millman quickly answered “I was at the airport when Anwar Sadat arrived in Israel in 1977.”

Millman was also on site for one of the biggest stories in U.S. history, traveling to Ground Zero with Governor Pataki hours after terrorists struck the World Trade Center on September 11.  His photographs of the first responders, the piles of twisted metal, and the long recovery effort comprise a photographic lecture he now gives wherever he’s invited.  His images are on permanent display at the New York State Museum in Albany and will also be at the National September 11 Museum when it opens.

In June 2011, Millman moved back to Rye and re-joined the Rye YMCA.  “I was always connected to Rye, all these years, because my parents stayed in the house where I grew up,” he said. Millman, who suffers from COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease), which he contracted working at Ground Zero, had one goal in mind when he returned to the Y 58 years after he first joined.

“The whole purpose of my being here—I was a ski racer until just a few years ago.  But, when I walked through that door, I had lost faith in my body and didn’t think I would ever ski again.  But, the people here were so nice and so supportive. For a test, I did 10,000 crunches in the four months between September 2011 and the end of the year. So much of my physical life had been out of my control. I wanted to do this, just to say ‘yes, I can do this.’ And then I went skiing again.  I literally owe it all to the Y staff.”

Millman has also joined the Rye Fire Department.  “Ann Ivan was my inspiration,” he noted. Ivan, the Y’s Fitness Center director, is an Emergency Medical Technician and firefighter and battled cancer this past year. “I can’t fight fires,” Millman remarked, “but I can help in other ways.”

Speaking about his experience at the Y, Millman said “I don’t want to just say…” He paused. “But, the people. What a difference.  And the people I work out with too. It’s completing a circle. It feels good. I’m very glad to be back in Rye.”

by Denise Woodin, Rye Y Director of Community Impact and Social Responsibility

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Storied Lives – Brigitte Sarnoff

Brigitte-SarnoffBrigitte Sarnoff had never been much of a fitness buff.  Busy with family, a fulfilling career and volunteerism, she stayed away from gyms or any form of physical activity. So when Dr. Randy Stevens, Director of Radiation Therapy at White Plains Hospital, encouraged Brigitte to join LIVESTRONG at the YMCA to deal with the lingering effects of her cancer treatment, she balked.

“I immediately thought of reasons I couldn’t participate,” she laughingly told a Rye Y staffperson. “It was too far. But it was right here in Rye. It was too expensive. But it was free of charge. I ran out of reasons!”

A resident of Rye for nearly forty years, Brigitte, 67, had suffered through a one-two cancer punch.  After aggressive treatment for uterine cancer in 1999, she was placed on hormone therapy. Then, in 2007, Brigitte received a diagnosis of breast cancer.  Although it was caught early, she was required to take the drug Tamoxifen to prevent a reoccurrence.  Tamoxifen’s side effects—leg pain and extreme achiness—and Dr. Stevens’ advice wore away Brigitte’s resistance to an exercise program.  In February 2012, Brigitte sat down with Barbara Hughes for a LIVESTRONG at the YMCA intake interview.

Launched at the Rye Y in 2011, LIVESTRONG at the YMCA is a free 12-week small group program that allows cancer survivors to reclaim their total health.  Brigitte didn’t know what to expect when she walked through the Y’s doors, but she knew she wanted to reduce pain and “just feel better.”

“I had a wonderful interview,” she remarked, adding that she developed an “instant friendship” with Barbara, the Y’s long-time Director of Member Services. “What impressed me most is that the structure of the program exposes you to a variety of types of exercise in a non-judgmental atmosphere with adaptations made to your particular situation.”

“I love the instructors,” Brigitte continued. “They’re just so caring and kind. I was afraid of the machines. The treadmills scared me. But the trainers stand right there beside me.  And I enjoy the group camaraderie.  LIVESTRONG has been such a gift. I’ve definitely improved my endurance, my flexibility, my balance. I’m just stronger. I feel better.  And I’ve discovered Zumba!”

An effusive and warm woman—she is currently the co-president of the Rye-based Helping Hands for the Homeless and Hungry—Brigitte has found ways to give as well as receive.  “The emotional part [of cancer] is not an issue for me. I think I’ve been able to help some of the other ladies here.”

Although Brigitte “graduated” from LIVESTRONG at the YMCA, she has joined the Y and thrown herself into a new exercise routine that includes Zumba, Limbercize and Group Active classes, and work-outs on the treadmill and recumbent bike.  Since March, Brigitte’s blood pressure has dropped.  “That makes all my doctors happy,” she exclaimed.  Looking back on her experience with LIVESTRONG at the YMCA, Brigitte remarked “I’m just so thankful for the program.”


by Denise Woodin, Rye Y Director of Community Impact and Social Responsibility

For more information about LIVESTRONG at the YMCA, contact Laura Tiedge at or 967-6363, ext. 107.

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