Social distancing and water safety among reporter’s Top 5

Rev. Judy Humphrey-Fox of Amsterdam, reads from the Bible to Betty Anderson, of Broadalbin, during their daily drive thru prayer and blessings at United Methodist Church of Amsterdam on Golf Course Road on March 24.
PHOTOGRAPHER:

Rev. Judy Humphrey-Fox of Amsterdam, reads from the Bible to Betty Anderson, of Broadalbin, during their daily drive thru prayer and blessings at United Methodist Church of Amsterdam on Golf Course Road on March 24.

Categories: -The Daily Gazette, News

When this year started, I was what I’d been for the 11 years before that, a sports reporter in Amsterdam, though at that point I already knew I was just a couple weeks away from making the transition to Schenectady following The Daily Gazette’s acquisition of The Recorder.

I never imagined what the next 12 months could hold.

In a year where so much has changed so radically, I’ve branched out in ways I never had before throughout my career, producing a more varied body of work than I’d ever done before.

So, without any more fanfare, a roundup of the stories that defined my 2020 on the news side of The Daily Gazette’s operation.

SPIRITUALITY AND SOCIAL DISTANCING

When I was first asked to chip in on the news desk, I was asked to pitch any pandemic-related stories I might like to work on. This was the first story that came to mind.

I was still living in Amsterdam at the time, and nearly every day I drove past the United Methodist Church. When I saw that Rev. Judy Humphrey-Fox was offering drive-through prayer every night of the week to those in need of spiritual counseling in the early days of COVID-19’s impact, I knew I had to put that into the spotlight.

Using that as a springboard, I reached out across the Capital Region to see how different congregrations representing a number of different faiths were adapting when they were unable to hold services in person.

ONE NIGHT IN BANGKOK

Teleconferencing through apps like Zoom became second nature to many this year.

The first Zoom meeting I ever set up was with someone who was, quite literally, on the opposite side of the world.

Tara Savage, a Clifton Park native and Shenendehowa graduate working as a teacher in Bangkok, sent an email to the sports department, letting us know that she’d just turned her ultraendurance running hobby into a fundraiser.

By running 50 kilometers in one night.

Alone.

In a tiny loop on the roof of her Bangkok apartment building.

As someone who taps out after 45 minutes on the elliptical, I had to talk to Savage — time zones be damned.

A DAY ON THE LAKE

Not everything I did in 2020 had to do with the seemingly all-consuming pandemic.

Heading into Memorial Day weekend, law enforcement and emergency management agencies from multiple counties converged on the Great Sacandaga Lake to go through safety training drills in advance of the summer season on the lake.

Thanks to our intrepid photographer, Erica Miller, I was able to snag a spot on one of the Saratoga County Sheriff’s Department’s dive team boats and head out on the water on an absolutely perfect late-May morning to get an in-depth look at how these agencies conduct rescues and investigations.

I got back ashore with a much greater appreciation for the work involved — plus a bit of a sunburn and more than a few dead bugs to pull out of my teeth.

FEEDING THOSE IN NEED

If I’d gone to bed five minutes earlier without checking my email, this story never would’ve happened.

Sports editor Michael Kelly sent me a late-night email with the idea that I could head to a drive-thru food pantry being provided by the Schenectady Foundation the next morning. I caught the message just in time and set my alarm to be up early the next day to head out to the Crosstown Plaza on a grey, rainy morning to see a diligent group of volunteers ready and willing to serve a huge line of cars that wrapped around the parking lot.

With their hard work, the entire line was serviced in less than 45 minutes.

It also served as a chance to examine the eruption in mass food giveaways in a year where food insecurity has increased amid the economic turmoil brought on by the pandemic, and the strain that was putting on organizations like the Regional Food Bank of Northeastern New York and Catholic Charities.

NEARLY 40 YEARS IN THE MAKING

Ray Tannatta’s combination of ingenuity and persistence is endlessly inspiring.

As a Schenectady firefighter in 1983, Tannatta responded to a call where a man was trapped in a second-floor bathroom. Tannatta and his fellow firefighters got the man out, but the smoke inhalation was too much.

When he got home that night, Tannatta — also a licensed plumber — devised the prototype of what became the Highrise Lifeline, a device that allows those trapped in a fire to breathe by connecting a hose to the drain trap of a sink.

Tannatta patented the device and sold it to be produced, even appearing on “Live with Regis and Kathie Lee” to promote it, but the company making the Highrise Lifeline hit financial difficulties and it was never put into mass production.

Years went by, and after finally reacquiring the production rights, Tannatta is making and selling the Highrise Lifeline himself, with the Niskayuna resident hoping to one day have the devices made mandatory in every high-rise building across the state — and maybe beyond.

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