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Woodward new Rotterdam historian

Woodward new Rotterdam historian

Long-time county clerk accepts position
Woodward new Rotterdam historian
John Woodward

If you wanted to suggest that John J. Woodward has been eyeing the job of Rotterdam town historian for a long, long time, he wouldn’t put up an argument.

“In a certain way, you could say that I’ve been thinking about this my whole life,” said Woodward, the long-time Schenectady County clerk who was named historian for the town of Rotterdam last week. “I remember thinking in high school that I wanted to be an elected official or that I wanted to be a historian. Well, I’ve been elected quite a few times, and while I hadn’t really got around to becoming a historian, in a certain way my government job has been a lot about history. What I’ve done as county clerk is often very similar to the job of historian.”

Woodward, a Rotterdam native and 1975 graduate of Mohonasen High School, will finish up his final four-year term as county clerk in 2018. He was appointed to the position by Gov. Mario Cuomo after the death of Merritt C. Willey in 1994, and was elected in 1998, 2002, 2006, 2010 and 2014.

The job of Rotterdam historian had been vacant for nearly three years. Dick Whalen was the historian from 2003-2011, and since his retirement Tim Bradt and Ron Severson had briefly served as interim historians.

Rotterdam Supervisor Steve Tommasone was happy to have Woodward fill the vacancy.

“I could say all kinds of positive things about John Woodward and it wouldn’t be enough,” said Tommasone. “In my view he’s one of the most trusted people in any municipal or governmental agency that you could have working for the people. I’m thrilled that he took the job. He’s done a masterful job at bringing the county clerk’s office into the 21st century, and more importantly for us, we’re very happy that he’s going to get involved with our 200th anniversary celebration in April of 2020.”
The year 2020 will mark the 200th anniversary of the town of Rotterdam, and Woodward remembers growing up in Rotterdam in 1970 when the town commemorated its 150th anniversary.

“The 200th anniversary of our town coming up was really what got me interested in the historian position,” said Woodward. “I was 13 or 14 back in 1970 when they celebrated 150, and I remember all the activities that were going on. There was a rope tug with the town of Glenville on the Mohawk River, all the town officials grew beards and goatees to reflect the time period of the 1820s. There were commemorative plates and mugs made. There was quite a bit going on.”

Woodward hasn’t yet thought about what the town might do to celebrate its 200th in three years.

“We could look into some of the activities they did back then, but I want to say that this will be a citizens committee doing the work,” he said. “This all can’t be done by one person. We have to get the community involved, and really tap into that historical community. We have some great resources in the county; this historical society, the Mabee Farm in the town of Rotterdam, and hopefully we will all work together to figure out how best to conduct this celebration.”

Getting involved in the community is something that Woodward has made his life work. He ran for the Mohonasen school board when he was 18 and won back-to-back terms, and worked as a legislative staff member for the state Assembly from 1979-85. He was also the receiver of taxes for the town of Rotterdam from 1985 up until he was appointed county clerk in 1994. He attended classes at the University at Albany and eventually got his degree in political science and history at Empire State College. Woodward will get an annual stipend of $500 as town historian, and says he expects to have an office at the town of Rotterdam Senior Center.

“One of the first things I’m going to do is to do more research on town historians and find out the expectations the job has,” said Woodward. “Then I have to do a lot of reading, learn more about our wonderful history, and then look at the records the town already has and determine which ones are valuable and those that aren’t. I’m very excited about this opportunity, and I feel very comfortable about how we can promote our history because that takes some of the same skills I used as county clerk.”

Woodward, who lives on Pauline Drive in Rotterdam with his wife, Marie, was named New York’s County Clerk of the Year in 2002 and won the New York State Association of County Clerks Excellence Award in 2008.

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