Eighth grade back in 1958 was a pivotal year for future Saratoga Town Supervisor Thomas N. Wood III.
History teacher Miss Cudahy sparked a lifelong interest in Wood, a former Saratoga town historian and local history author.
It’s also when a guidance counselor for the Schuylerville schools steered him toward a teaching career.
“I said I wanted to be one of three things — a farmer, an auctioneer or an agriculture teacher,” Wood fondly recalled. “He said, ‘why don’t we go with agriculture teacher.’ ”
Wood would grow up to teach agriculture at the college and high school level, serve as a school principal and also spend more than 20 years as a town historian.
He was well-known and well-respected enough that he was elected town supervisor in 2003 — and on Monday his colleagues are expected to elect him the 2011 chairman of the Saratoga County Board of Supervisors.
Wood will replace 2010 chairman Bill Peck of Northumberland in the $25,186 position, which is rotated annually among Republican supervisors who haven’t already held the post.
“I think Tom Wood is going to be an outstanding leader for Saratoga County,” Peck said. “He has spent his career in education and government. He’s a real team-builder. He has an even-keeled temperament, and he keeps an eye on the long-term goal.”
It will be a challenging year for county government, the 65-year-old Wood said in a recent interview.
Even though Saratoga County looks fairly strong financially, after its sales tax revenue rebounded in 2010, Wood fears the continuing state budget crisis will result in more state aid cuts to local governments.
“I’m both pleased and worried at the same time,” he said.
But Wood readily admitted there will be unforeseen challenges as well, as there are for every chairman.
“Much as we think we know what the big issues are, there will be big issues we’re not aware of,” Wood said.
There will be general concerns about the state of the economy and government finances, but Saratoga County leaders will also be dealing with plans to assert some control over the Luther Forest Technology Campus.
The future ownership of the enormous high-tech industrial park where GlobalFoundries is building its $4.6 billion computer chip plant became a point of controversy this fall, when the state threatened to seize the property from the private nonprofit that owns it over allegations of slow progress on infrastructure.
A tentative deal struck in November would see the state back down but the county take responsibility for the 1,414 acres of land in Malta and Stillwater. Wood said he supports that.
The biggest unresolved issue, he said, is how the county would pay off $12 million in debt the state is owed on the property. He said that remains under discussion.
The coming year is expected to see major economic development activity as companies that will supply or service GlobalFoundries start coming to the area in advance of the factory’s 2012 opening.
“I think the key to a strong Saratoga County is economic development,” Wood said.
It will also be a year of transition within county government.
Wood and other supervisors will be dealing with leadership changes in many county departments after senior department heads took early retirement deals in 2010. Among those gone are such key figures as County Administrator David Wickerham and County Attorney Mark Rider — though both are being replaced by longtime deputies who are unlikely to seek radical changes.
Wood’s twin passions for history and teaching will show in a new county initiative.
County chairmen generally have one pet project they push. Wood plans to make his mark by promoting history and local knowledge with Internet-based interactive educational materials.
They will be tied to some major historic anniversaries in 2011: the 220th anniversary of the county’s founding, the 150th anniversary of the start of the Civil War, the 70th anniversary of the Pearl Harbor attack and the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, Wood said.
Wood’s own interest in history started with the American Revolution sites around Schuylerville but expanded. He said history in general is worth studying.
“If you know where you come from, it gives you a better understanding of where you are,” he said.
Wood has written two Arcadia Publishing pictorial history books about the Schuylerville area: “Around the Town of Saratoga” in 1999 and “Saratoga” from the Postcard History series in 2010.
Edinburg Supervisor Jean Raymond, the county board’s longest-serving member, said Wood is well-liked.
“He’s reserved and calm and thoughtful, very intelligent,” she said. “He works hard at the job.”
Wood grew up on a small dairy farm between Schuylerville and Grangerville on Route 29. As a youth he was known by his middle name, Nelson, so his mother could differentiate him from his father and grandfather, both named Thomas, who also lived on the farm.
Wood said he has lived in the town of Saratoga all his life except for four years at Cornell University and five years teaching agricultural engineering at SUNY Delhi.
Wood taught in Delhi from 1968 to 1973, but he and his wife Veronica, a native of rural Rensselaer County, wanted to return to the Schuylerville area.
He obtained a job teaching agriculture at Salem Central School, in Washington County, and remained in Salem until retiring as elementary school principal in 2002. He was also an interim principal in the nearby Hartford district from 2003 to 2005.
The Woods, who have been married 42 years, have two grown children, Natalia and Thomas N. Wood IV.