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Saw Mill Tavern owner Donald Birch dies at 79

Saw Mill Tavern owner Donald Birch dies at 79

He's recalled for his constant desire to help others
Saw Mill Tavern owner Donald Birch dies at 79
Donald Birch, left, owner of the Saw Mill Tavern in Schenectady, serves up a free dinner in 2011.
Photographer: Daily Gazette staff

Donald Francis Birch, of Glenville, who owned the popular Saw Mill tavern on Schenectady's South Avenue, died Tuesday. He was 79.

Birch's service will be held Monday at the Glenville Funeral Home, 9 Glenridge Road.

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An avid motorcyclist since his teenage years, Birch's tavern catered to members of the biker community for nearly 40 years. For 31 years, Birch hosted free Sunday buffets at the Saw Mill for those in need. He also organized annual Toys for Tots fundraisers and put together bike runs for homeless veterans and the City Mission of Schenectady.

Gary Birch, of Wilton, said he'll always remember his father's community involvement.

"He just had a big heart; he liked to do well for others," Birch said.

Birch said his father also liked the Saw Mill's "biker bar" reputation.

"I think that's what he always wanted to show, that bikers weren't bad people," he said.

Birch expects motorcycles will be part of Monday's procession to Parkview Cemetery.

"That's what we're planning on," he said. "The weather's not looking good for motorcycles, but he's the type of guy, he would be on the bike."

Scotia's JoAnn Aragosa, who moved her family's longtime restaurant, Cornell's, to North Jay Street in 2003, said everyone on North Jay knew and loved Birch. The tavern was located on the corner of North Jay.

"He kind of watched over the whole street," Aragosa said. "He was so good. When we would have the Little Italy Festa on the street, he and his customers, his men, they would help. They'd always clean the street at the end of the festa."

Barbara Patalino, who worked as head banquet manager at Cornell's, said Birch had "millions" of friends.

"He was a wonderful human being; he did a lot for the poor," Patalino said. "He would raise money for Christmas. He would find poor families and help them out. All his bikers, they would do runs to make money for Christmas."

"He was just a wonderful human being," Patalino added. "You can't say anything bad about him -- not one thing."

Mike Saccocio, executive director of the City Mission of Schenectady, remembers a Christmas toy run that helped out the mission. It happened every June, he said, with about 150 Harley Davidsons leaving the Saw Mill. They'd cruise through Central Park and then visit the mission, delivering hundreds of toys.

"We always knew we had a good start on our toys in June," Saccocio said.

One year, Saccocio said, the mission was light on gifts for kids.

"Christmas was coming, we had set up some tables at the Rotterdam mall, and who shows up with three or four carts full of toys but Donnie Birch," Saccocio said. "This is a man who, throughout the day, kept asking, 'Who can I help?'"

Saccocio added that Birch was at this past June's toy run. "He was the lead Harley," he said.

Birch, who was born in Saratoga Springs, also grew up in Mariaville. As a teenager, he played football and ran track at Schoharie Central School.

He always worked with engines. He had his own shop, Don's Transmission and Engine Services on State Street in Schenectady. He also worked bridge construction jobs on the Adirondack Northway from 1959 until 1965.

For 20 years, from 1965 until 1985, Birch worked on truck lines for CONDEC Mobile Equipment. After CONDEC, Birch moved to Brownsville, Texas, where he built buses for Adirondack Tours and singer Kenny Rogers' tour bus.

Birch moved back to the Schenectady area in 1990 and worked as plant manager for NOVA Bus. When NOVA closed, Birch joined Super Steel, where he worked as assistant plant manager.

Calling hours will he from 1 to 5 p.m. on Sunday at the funeral home, 9 Glenridge Road.

Reach Gazette reporter Jeff Wilkin at 395-3124 or at [email protected] or @jeffwilkin1 on Twitter. His blog is at www.dailygazette.com/weblogs/wilkin.

 

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