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2016 in review: The year’s standout people

Bob Ellis/staff photographer

Surrounded by photographs he took on his small camera, Jim Weinerth, 94, talks about his days in WW ll as a paratrooper in the 82nd Airborne Division, landing behind enemy lines in France.

2016 saw the accomplishments of many residents highlighted on the pages of the Cortland Standard. As we begin 2017, here is a look back at some of them.

Jim Weinerth, veteran

Today, Jim Weinerth of Cortland is a 94-year-old retiree accustomed to being called “sir,” though he was never more than an Army corporal.
But 72 years ago, he can recall lying on his back in a field, looking up at a mostly cloudy midnight sky, wondering how he was going to get the 150 pounds of weapons, explosives and equipment off his chest.

He was one of the first 200 people to parachute into Normandy on D-Day, 1944. He was a Pathfinder; his job was to mark the landing sites so nearly 13,000 other paratroopers knew where to land to help get 150,000 other soldiers ashore in the invasion of France.

They had no guides. They wouldn’t know whether the sound across the field was a lost ally or a German soldier ready to kill.

Nervous? Scared? “Eager,” Weinerth said.

“Eager to get the hell out of the air to begin with. … I couldn’t get my arms up to get my shrouds. The landing knocked the poop out of me.”

The shooting began maybe an hour after they landed. Weinerth’s team eventually collected 50 of the 250 men they were supposed to be with.

“Our mission was to block all the main roads in the center of the peninsula — to Cherbourg,” Weinerth said.

“We ran into all kinds of trouble,” Weinerth said, including a machine gunner on a platform in a tree. “We lost quite a few people.”

Maybe a half-dozen other Pathfinders remain alive. Fewer than 700,000 of 16 million World War II veterans remain.

Another 450 die each day. Time is doing what war could not.

Tim Baroni, researcher

The Amanita bisporigera — commonly known as the Destroying Angel — is one of the most toxic mushrooms in the world.

If ingested and not treated quickly, there is a 50 percent chance of death within a week for the person who ate it.

Or at minimum that person may lose a kidney or experience liver failure.

Just before fall break at SUNY Cortland, Tim Baroni, a distinguished professor of biological sciences at the college — most notable mycology, the study of fungi — received a message about a man in Rome, Oneida County, who might have swallowed a poisonous mushroom.

After receiving some images and a sample of the mushroom, his diagnosis was evident: the man had eaten a Destroying Angel.

Baroni said he knew right away, even before receiving the mushroom sample to confirm his hypothesis. A picture of the man, who he did not know — not even his name — showed him with blue lips and blue at the end of his fingernails.

He knew of a particular mushroom whose symptoms are commonly associated with, but knew there were none in the area. The Destroying Angel — a seemingly innocuous looking white, long-stemmed mushroom which can be found in upstate New York — was the only other option.

Because of Baroni’s quick diagnosis, the man survived. He was given the appropriate antidote, discharged from Strong Memorial Hospital in Rochester and fully recovered a week after accidentally eating the mushroom.

Baroni said he receives all kinds of calls about dogs eating mushrooms, but this is the first time his expertise helped to save a person’s life.

Michael Brownell, teacher

For almost 30 years, Michael Brownell has served as McGraw High School’s music teacher, working to enhance hundreds of students’ musical experience, and beginning this year he took on a role allowing him to represent millions of students.

Brownell is the president of the New York State School Music Association, which works to advance music education.

Since being elected president of the music association, Brownell’s influence on music education has grown exponentially, getting to meet with influential political figures and develop new initiatives.

In November he was part of a roundtable on the future of music education with State University of New York Chancellor Nancy Zimpher and hosted by Renée Fleming, a celebrated opera singer.

“It was a fantastic discussion,” Brownell said. “Music has a strong future. There will be challenges, but music education has always been strong.”

One of Brownell’s priorities as president of the association is to encourage schools to look at emerging ensembles such as guitar ensembles, folk music ensembles and digital tablet ensembles — creating music through the tablets with digital instruments.

Pete Barber, firefighter Salvador “Pete” Barber, 90, went before the Harford Town Board in 1953 with 15 others, raising the idea of starting a volunteer fire department.
The town agreed after much debate. From there, a two-bay firehouse was built, which Barber helped construct.

In later years the firehouse was expanded and five trucks are now housed there.

Barber had grown up in Harford, where he attended school until eighth grade and then went on to high school in Marathon.

In 1944, when he was 18, the U.S. was in the middle of World War II and Barber enlisted in the Army. He was sent to France, then Germany and was assigned to the 3rd Infantry Division. Barber was on a train headed to the front lines when news was received that the war in Europe had ended.
Ultimately, he landed back in Harford.

Over the years Barber served as second fire chief twice, in 1954 and again in 1955.

For more of 2016’s top stories, check out our year-in-review roundups.

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