Arkell Hall Foundation CEO Joseph Santangelo described the villages of Canajoharie and Fort Plain as neighbors of the Mr. Rogers variety.
They’re separated by less than four miles of highway, which is close enough to extend the figurative hand up when one takes a fall. That’s why, when Fort Plain was laid low by major flooding of the Otsquago Creek on June 28, the Canajoharie-based Arkell Hall Foundation got out its checkbook and provided a $100,000 grant.
“We met with [Fort Plain Mayor Guy Barton] just days after the flooding,” Santangelo said. “That’s when the village looked really bad. We didn’t want to publicize the money. We’re not politicians.”
Barton announced the grant at a village board meeting earlier this week. The money is in a special account, waiting to be used. Barton just has to figure out how to spend it.
“It’s for the betterment of the village,” he said, “not for personal enrichment.”
There are plenty of solid possibilities. The village offices need a total overhaul. Much of the fire department’s equipment was ruined and there are a number of not-for-profits that could use some help.
“We could also use it for the alarm system,” Barton said.
He is currently working to raise funds for a flood alarm system — something akin to the horns ready to blast Schoharie Valley residents awake should the Gilboa Dam break loose.
“I have guys coming out in two weeks to see where we should put the equipment,” he said.
The equipment will consist of six great horns mounted around the village and a float gauge in the Otsquago Creek connected to a solar panel. The whole thing will cost roughly $15,000. One-third of that was already donated by a local business, but Barton said the remaining $10,000 could be pulled from the Arkell grant.
“It all depends on what we decide,” he said.
Santangelo said the foundation is leaving the decisions up to Barton and the Village Board.
“They’re closest to the disaster,” he said.
The money is significant to Fort Plain, of course, but it also marks a milestone for the Arkell Hall Foundation: It’s the first major grant given out by the foundation since the Great Recession fell upon the nation in 2008.
“We took a hit just like everyone else who invested money,” he said.
With smaller returns on the Arkell endowment, the foundation had to stick to its regular financial responsibilities, like its adult care facility and the Arkell Museum. For the last five years, that’s been the status quo, with a few exceptions — small scholarships to the Canajoharie school system and the like.
“But this was such a disaster,” he said. “We decided to dig a little extra deep.”
Seven years to the day before the Otsquago Creek leapt its banks, Canajoharie and Fort Plain both were hit with a massive flood as the Mohawk River overflowed after days of heavy rain. The Arkell museum was under construction at the time.
“I personally sloshed through flood waters around the museum,” Santangelo said.
The villages still feel a kinship based on that shared misery.