October 25, 2021

2020 was a hard year, but people kept spirits up

Todd R. McAdam/managing editor

Ashley Martin, left, hunts teddy bears with her kids, 11-year-old Micah, 8-year-old Abigail and 3-year-old Lizzie (in father Peter Martin’s arms) on Tuesday on Jewett Avenue in Cortland. Neighbors have been putting stuffed animals in the windows to give kids something to hunt as families walk for exercise.

In a year filled with political divisiveness, racial tensions and a deadly pandemic, 2020 could seem like an ongoing slog. Add to that canceled pastimes and outings to challenge people.

But one thing remained for the residents of Cortland County: Hope.

Greater Cortland area residents worked to make each day better than the last with events that brought hope to the community.

Here are some of the highlights.


The start of the pandemic in March presented a bleak and uncertain outlook, but Chuck Hendrickson Jr., a teacher’s aide in the Groton Central School District, looked to brighten the picture for kids stuck at home when he delivered a daily lunch.

He dressed like a chicken. Or Elmo. Or a superhero of Hendrick’s own creation.

“It really brings a smile to the kids and adults,” he said.

Groton Superintendent Margo Martin praised Hendrickson’s idea and costumes. She said other aides were catching on as well and began wearing costumes, too.


To get families with children out of the house, some Cortland and Groton residents in April created scavenger hunts by putting teddy bears in the windows of their homes.

Children, while out walking, would see how many they could find.

“I was kind of looking for a way to feel like we’re still a part of the community,” Cortland resident Ashley Martin said while out hunting for bears with her family. “We can walk around our community, but we can’t really visit with our neighbors. It’s a really great way for people to feel more connected.”

Martin said she was inspired to participate after seeing a post on Facebook with the idea and wanted to share it with her neighbors, who bought into it. She shared it to other community pages on social media and it took off.

The Cortland Youth Bureau shared it as well.

A similar event for people to put teddy bears and other stuffed animals in their windows picked up in Groton as well. Village Trustee Betty Conger was one of the participants, putting red, white and blue bears in her windows to match the colors of her house.


Many traditional events were canceled, but those that weren’t had to adapt: staying socially distant in people’s cars.

One of the biggest events each summer — the St. Anthony of Padua’s festival in Cortland — was converted to suit people in cars, offering a drive-through style to order Italian foods across several weekends.

“I get to see a lot of faces I haven’t seen since February when I was last in church,” said Peg Dienhoffer, co-chairwoman of the festival.

In August, people could go through a drive-through at the Cortland County Fairgrounds to order fair food in place of the canceled Cortland County Junior Fair.

The Stories in the Park and Ghosts in the Park events by the Cortland Repertory Theatre at Dwyer Memorial Park in Little York let people experience various fictional and mythical characters from their cars, as did a concert at the park by the Center for the Arts of Homer.

Greek Peak Mountain Resort in Virgil set up a drive-in theater next to one of its parking lots, allowing people to watch movies from the comfort and safety of their car from summer to late fall.


The charitable spirit of Cortland County didn’t leave when the pandemic arrived. Two events in April and May showcased that.

Pudgie’s Pizza in Cortland gave away more than 400 free pizzas on April 28, first to health care workers and then to the rest of the general public.

“It’s more about doing something positive than giving away free food,” owner Bill Cleary said. “Although people need it.”

On May 5, 235 meals were given out to first responders by members of Homer’s American Legion Auxiliary Post 489.

“We want to give back to the community,” said Mike McDermott, the state’s American Legion Commander who is from Homer, before the event. “Why not start here with the people I know?”


Cathleen Calale VanOrden had lots of books lying around her house in Homer and wanted to donate them to the Homer Intermediate School, where she worked.

Then COVID struck and closed the school.

Looking for a way to share her books with others, Calale VanOrden created a pop-up front yard library made from old storm windows, old shelves and old shutters.

The library had around 100 books, audiobooks and DVDs when it was set up in March.