Legislators Honor Art Ospelt’s Memory

OSWEGO, NY – Prior to the start of their last meeting of 2012, county legislators recalled the many colleagues they’ve lost in the past several months.

“Since August, we have lost a number of elected officials,” said Legislator Louella LeClair.

The list includes Legislator Mary Flett; County Clerk George Williams; Bill Brouse; former legislator Paul Santore; Paul Stoner (STOP DWI coordinator) and the latest, Art Ospelt.

Ospelt, District 12 Legislator and Vice Chairman of the Legislature, passed away Dec. 18, 2012.

“I got to know Art well the last couple of years. I found him to be knowledgeable, he was witty, kind, honest and personally, I am really going to miss him,” LeClair said. “He was so instrumental in building the infrastructures we have in our towns today.”

It’s sad that we’ve lost so many people in the last five months, she added.

“We’ve lost a generation this year really,” agreed Legislator Shawn Doyle. He added John R. “Ring” Murray, a former Oswego County District Attorney and Surrogate Court Judge, to the list of those who passed away recently.

“We should always remember and recognize the contributions that Art made to the infrastructure in this county. You can always tell an Oswego County road when you come in from Lewis, Jefferson and Oneida counties because they built the roads very well,” he said.

Doyle said he enjoyed his years on the legislature when he sat next to Ospelt.

“I remember his wit and trying to keep a straight face during a meeting,” Doyle said. “Under his breath, he had a rolling, running commentary about whatever was going on that the cameras never caught. But I had to sit with my hand over my mouth at times trying to keep a straight face.”

In the midst of the debates on the floor or in caucus, Ospelt always maintained a civility and a sense of humor, Doyle noted.

He realized that we should be able to leave here as friends and respect each other’s right to disagree, he added.

Legislator Morris Sorbello said he came in when Ospelt was county administrator.

“I learned a lot from the gentleman. He loved his family and he loved county government and county people,” he said. “He was a visionary. He was always talking about, ‘We ought to do this, and this and this.’ He did things not on a personal level but for the county. He enjoyed challenges.”

Legislator Jack Proud recalled his days as an English teacher and acquainting students with the power of symbolism.

“The biggest thing that I see that is symbolic here today,” he said stepping back and gesturing to the vacant desk beside him, “is an empty space. A very empty space; because basically a giant of a man, both physically and in terms of the types of things that he did while he occupied that space.”

For the past couple of meetings, Proud admitted, he felt uncomfortable because he couldn’t look over there and share an idea. And he’s sure his good friend Bob Hayes (on the other side of Ospelt’s vacant seat) feels the same kind of loss.

Ospelt was a believer in the power of government to do positive things for its constituents, Proud noted.

“He made Oswego County an example of that,” he said. “Art organized and directed … he imagined what Oswego County Government could do for its constituents and then he brought that to a reality. Today we are all benefiting from that.”

“Art never took it personally,” added Minority Leader Mike Kunzwiler. “Art was always the first person to come over and put his hand on my shoulder and say, ‘good job.’”

Recently after just getting out of the hospital, Ospelt called Kunzwiler to thank him and the minority for working with the majority to finalize the 2013 budget.

“That really impressed me,” Kunzwiler said. “He will be missed.”

“He was a great guy and somebody I had a lot of respect for,” added Legislator Terry Wilbur. “He’d want us all to pick up where he left and off be the public servant that he was. If I can be half the public servant that Art Ospelt was, I tell ya, I’d be one heck of a servant.”

Former legislator Barb Brown said she remembers Art when he was administrator and she got a letter asking her to serve on a resolutions committee for a state organization.

She took it to his office and said “what is this?”

“He looked at me and said, ‘Do it. It’s an honor.’ Well, for 20 years I represented all of you on that committee. We fought for capping Medicaid, I found information that brought two salt sheds into this county and many other things that saved you money,” she said.

“His heart and soul were truly devoted to Oswego County,” said Legislature Chairman Fred Beardsley. “Art truly was a larger than life presence in Oswego County. His knowledge of the county and his dedication to it was immeasurable. His accomplishments will continue to benefit our citizens for generations to come.”