OLEAN — A celebration of community spirit packed the banquet hall at Good Times of Olean Events on Thursday.
“Tonight we celebrate optimists and realists — which is a common theme throughout the evening, said John Bartimole, master of ceremonies of the 114th annual Greater Olean Area Chamber of Commerce Dinner. “These businesses represent the indelible spirit of the Olean community — and it truly is an evening of celebration.
“Feel the spirit in this room tonight,” he added. “Carry the spirit with you into the rest of the year.”
Award recipients included:
- L.O.U.I.E. — Brian O’Connell Jr.
The award, which stands for Love of Olean, United in Enterprise, is given to an individual who symbolizes the enterprising spirit for the greater Olean community. The award is named after Louis Marra, a local restaurateur who was known for saving the Old Library and restoring it into a restaurant, as well as his many civic endeavors.
He led the restoration efforts of the former Pennsylvania Railroad depot and the Olean Business Improvement Association’s revival of Santa Claus Lane in 1986. Marra died in 1990, with Chamber officials creating an award in his honor shortly thereafter. Last year’s recipient was Jack Whipple of Buffamante Whipple Buttafaro.
O’Connell grew up in Olean and attended St. Bonaventure University for his undergraduate studies. He later attended Syracuse University College of Law, earning his law degree. He has practiced law since 1993 with an emphasis on personal injury and medical malpractice. In addition, he has served as a special prosecutor for Cattaraugus County; and he has served as a lecturer and adjunct professor at Jamestown Community College, down the street from his office.
O’Connell lives in Olean with his wife, René, and his three children. He is a member of the Ancient Order of Hibernians, a National Irish Club, and is involved in Olean Youth Baseball as a sponsor and coach.
O’Connell was also the driving force behind bringing baseball back to Bradner Stadium. Founded in 2012, a wood bat collegiate summer team was founded under the historic Olean Oilers name. In 2014, O’Connell helped move the team back to the stadium following major renovations. The team won back-to-back league titles in 2015 and 2016.
“I am damn proud to call Olean my home,” O’Connell said. “Keep standing up for Olean, we have a great community here.”
Growing up, “I didn’t know Louie all that well,” he said, noting he saw him at the Downtown Deli or the Old Library for special events. “To me, as a kid, he was larger than life. He was a legend in this community. To be a recipient of an award with his name on it is truly an honor.”
Bartimole lauded O’Connell for staying in Olean, when his skills could have taken him anywhere in the country.
“I learned that from my parents,” O’Connell said. “They stayed here and they fought for the community.”
- ENTERPRISING BUSINESS AWARD: Henry H. Hill and Angee’s Restaurant
The honor is presented to a business or a non-profit organization which exemplifies the unique “hometown” charm of the greater Olean area in manners of administration/operation, customer service, or display of inventory. Fox Financial and Granger Family Businesses were the 2018 recipients.
The firm celebrated its 100th anniversary in 2018, having been formed by Henry Hixon Hill in a house on Main Street, repairing magnetos for primary ignition systems in the oil well industry. After his death, his first employee, Justus Derx, bought the firm. Today, the company is operated by Derx’ grandson, Donald and his wife Cathy.
“They are disruptors — they do things before other people think of them,” Bartimole said, lauding the family for being “optimists in knowing what they want to do, and realists in knowing what they can do.”
“My grandfather had a couple of ideas and he passed them down to the Derxes. Rule No. 1 is recognize and care for the customer’s needs and do your best to provide them,” Tom Derx said. “When times are tough and money tight, go back to No. 1 and try harder.”
Founded in 1948 by Italian immigrant Libratore Angelo Fratercangelo, Angee’s Restaurant at 475 N. Union St. has always been a family affair. Within a year of opening, Libratore’s son, Nicholas “Little Nicky,” left his job at Clark Brothers to assist his father in managing the enterprise. The pair worked side by side building the business into the early 1960’s when Libratore retired.
Nicholas retired in the mid-1980s, turning the business over to his sons, Angelo and Anthony. Angelo and Anthony ran the restaurant for a few years together until Angelo decided to pursue another career. Since 1988, Anthony has been at the helm of Angee’s.
“If there is a restaurant that epitomizes Olean, it’s Angee’s,” Bartimole said. “I consider Angee’s Olean’s ‘Cheers,’ where you go where everyone knows your name, and you’re always glad you came.”
Anthony Fratercangelo lauded his father and grandfather who started the business.
“They were the real entrepreneurs,” he said. “They were the ones who decided to open a restaurant in a not-so-nice area of town back in those days known as ‘below the tracks,’” he said.
He also thanked the many regulars who make the business possible.
“It’s your customer base that makes your restaurant,” he said.
- PRESIDENTIAL AWARD — YMCA of the Twin Tiers
The Y received the second Presidential Award, which was created in 2018 to honor a business, organization or individual that are iconic and integral to the fabric of the business community in the greater Olean area. Recipients are selected by the Chamber’s Board of Directors, and the inaugural recipient was Red’s and Trudy’s.
Olean’s YMCA opened in 1886. In its 133 years, the Y has grown to meet the evolving needs of those it serves, going from a small space for young men to exercise or study the Bible to a communal hub for overall health and well being.
In 2004, the Y relocated to its current home on Wayne Street, a $9 million facility with an Olympic-size swimming pool, three gymnasiums, an indoor track and many other amenities. Three years later, the Y joined together with the Bradford YMCA to form the Olean-Bradford YMCA. Seven years later, the YMCA expanded again and formed the YMCA of the Twin Tiers, adding a site in Wellsville.
Combined, the YMCA of the Twin Tiers serves more than 11,000 members and another 3,000 program participants. In addition, it also provides after school child care within seven school districts, as well as daycare and early childhood learning services.
“There is no more sacred duty in our daily lives … to take care of our bodies,” Bartimole said.
“Community is the keyword — community is key here tonight,” said Y CEO Barb Sweitzer, noting the organization has come a long way from its founding by five men in a small room wanting to find a place for young men working on the railroad to go instead of the taverns.
“Over the years, we’ve had many volunteers who have carried the torch … what we do today is build the community,” she said. “The only way an organization can survive in a community this size is adapting to changing needs … and support from our community.”
(Contact City Editor Bob Clark at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter, @OTHBob)