OBSERVER columnist honored for work in city

Recently, the Historical Society of Dunkirk sponsored a recognition dinner to honor Harriet “Skeeter” Tower. Tower was given the Julia Brooks Award.

In the mid- 1980s, the historical society created two awards: The Walter Smith Award and the Julia Brooks Award. Walter Smith was a business man important to the development of Dunkirk. Julia Brooks was the wife of Horatio Brooks, who founded Brooks Locomotive Works in Dunkirk. Julia was a community leader and, after the death of her husband, bequeathed their mansion to Dunkirk so the city might have a hospital.

Historical Society president Diane Andrasik said, “When we decided to revive the awarding of these two awards, the first person I thought of for the Julia Brooks Award was Harriet.

“Skeeter is really a stranger in Dunkirk, having only lived here a relatively short time – only four years. Yet she has steadfastly worked to improve the quality of life here in Dunkirk since her arrival. She has done what good people do to be good citizens of their community. She bought a house in a neighborhood. She formed a neighborhood group, Academy Heights, a grass roots organization designed to rally neighbors to take pride in their neighborhood and improve it. She has given her time and energy to try to improve the housing situation. She has assisted in events that might raise funding for the museum, including organizing photographing stained glass and leaded glass windows and making them into note cards sold by the museum, and the house tour coming up in fall. She has beautified the city, raising funds to plant hundreds of saplings, plant flowers, and revive the Bicentennial Park across the street from the high school.

“I have said to many people, that if we could clone Skeeter and make 10 of her, we could turn this city around in 10 years. Change is most effective from the ground up and the historical society congratulates Skeeter for her civic responsibility.”

About 60 people attended the event held at Shorewood Country Club. Many were members of the historical society. Others were friends from Tower’s former home in the Niagara Falls area or members of her church, the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Northern Chautauqua. The Reverend Theresa Kime of that church gave the invocation. Tower was accompanied by her son, Chris Bennett of Dunkirk, and her sister Mary Ann Rolland of Youngstown, N.Y. Mayor Anthony Dolce, who could not attend, the dinner, sent a letter, congratulating Tower and wishing her the best with her continued efforts.

Josie Christopher of Dunkirk who is known locally for her charity “Circle of Love” introduced Tower. She said in her experience Tower was an angel. She noted that Tower introduced her to the writings of Wayne Dyer especially “Change Your Thoughts Change Your Life.” Christopher said this book has made a huge difference in her life.

Beginning her speech, Tower said, “I am humbled by the Julia Brooks award.”

She then went on to explain that her parents taught her the importance of giving. Her father helped found the historical society in Porter, New York while her mother was involved in a food cooperative. She decided to move here to be nearer her son Chris, a resident of Dunkirk.

She considers herself an urban pioneer and joked that her son found a house for her where she could walk to the library, the bank, and the lake when she could no longer drive.

“I saw great potential in Dunkirk,”she said.

She spoke about deciding to become involved in Dunkirk. She was impressed by JoAnne Kaufman’s garden. She formed the Academy Heights group to improve the neighborhood. OBSERVER publisher John D’Agostino gave her a sign for the yard of the week and later asked her to write a column. Her column is called “Sunshine Corner.” She began creating a “pocket garden” on Swan and 5th Streets. Others joined in to help.

“We are cultivating a neighborhood,”she said.

The Walter Smith Award was given to Stanley Star. Mr. Star was unable to attend the banquet but was presented the award at a later date.

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