Ode To An Iconic Public Servant

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I don’t remember the first time I met Jeanne Loberg, but I remember how I felt. She immediately struck me as the new kid on the block. What did that make me? The newer kid on the block.

This may sound ironic, but her knowledge and wisdom overshadowed all that “new kid” stuff. She was “new” because she hadn’t lived in Mendon her whole life. I was new because I had just moved into town. And because I wasn’t yet thirty years old. Despite my obvious youth and inexperience, she took it upon herself to help ease my transition into the community.

Together and at different times with Lucy Parsons, Chuck Meisenzahl, Jack Leckie, Jeanne acted as teacher, mentor, and surrogate parent. She taught me things about town government I needed to know, things I should know, and how thinking that you “know” something can fool you. Town law, just like any municipal law, doesn’t always make sense. Her actions implied I should avoid overthinking things, a trap I was quite vulnerable to (then and now).

Still, she allowed me to think. Not just to think, but to think outside the box. You see, that’s the one advantage all us new kids have. We can get away with thinking outside the box because, well, I guess the older kids just think we don’t know any better.

Every once in a while, thinking outside the box is exactly what needs to be done. What Jeanne did and how she did it also showed me this. In quite a few ways. Here are a couple of examples.

Jeanne saw Carl Foss

as a visionary. When they, together with Bill Fletcher, founded the Mendon Foundation, they introduced a well-established civic model into a community that feared it might represent something radical. This reaction never concerned Carl. He was full of ideas and knew some would stick and others wouldn’t. He just kept producing them like the creative fount he was.

For Jeanne, the Mendon Foundation idea wasn’t just an idea to send up the flagpole and see who saluted. She fully embraced its potential to reframe the tired old view of environmental preservation. This irked some, but it delighted Carl. He was always looking for a new way of doing things.

To work in a lasting way, Jeanne knew the Mendon Foundation had to have some meat to it. With her many years’ experience on Mendon’s Environmental Conservation Board, the Mendon Planning Board, and land preservation techniques, she was familiar enough with the relevant laws, town-wide trends, and constituency groups to take Carl’s raw idea and weave together a fabric of practical and sustainable support. Bill was the steady rudder that kept things within the guidelines necessary to remain true to the fiduciary demands of a 501(c)3.

Mind you, many still viewed the Mendon Foundation as an activist idea. But Jeanne’s ambassadorial acumen built a steady support of followers. She was the Galileo to Carl’s Copernicus (which I guess means Bill played the part of Kepler?).

How do I know all this? I rode shotgun to the whole thing. Carl wanted to make sure there was no government involvement. In fact, he wrote the bylaws to prevent elected officials from serving on the board. As a then current Town Board member, these bylaws prohibited me from sitting on the Mendon Foundation’s founding board. That doesn’t mean I wasn’t invited to participate. To flip the metaphor, perhaps you might consider me the Fourth Musketeer of the Mendon Foundation.

Indeed, I was the Town Board member who proposed the resolution that had the Town of Mendon recognize the Mendon Foundation. I could not have done that if I was also on the board of the Mendon Foundation. Jeanne understood this, which is why, despite her wish to acknowledge my contribution formally, she saw why it could not be done. Carl wasn’t just an idea man, he was also pretty smart. This impressed Jeanne (and me).

And Carl was impressed with Jeanne, too. She had her own creative spirit. With his knowledge of real estate and her environmental insights, they crafted a strategy for the Mendon Foundation that transformed it from simply maintaining the Lehigh Valley Linear Trail (a critical job that helped secure the seven-figure federal grant to create the trail) into an active land trust.

Along the way, their collaborative work (together with many others) set into motion what would eventually become “Mendon Station Park” and “Rochester Junction Park.” Kudos, of course, to the Boy Scouts whose various Eagle Scout projects (under the expert guidance of Warren Wallace) turned and continue to turn these visions into reality.

Warren took over Jeanne’s role when Jeanne had to resign from the Mendon Foundation Board following her election as Mendon Town Supervisor. Carl wanted to celebrate Jeanne’s contribution properly, so his early drawings of Mendon Station Park called it “Jeanne Loberg Park.”

While the fruits of the Mendon Foundation remain visible for all to see, there’s another quite visible artifact whose full story you may not know. This tale truly testifies to Jeanne’s environmental creativity, and it serves as a lesson we can all learn from. (I’ll reveal in a moment how I learned from it.)

At the time she was involved in forming the Mendon Foundation, Jeanne served as the chair of the Mendon Planning Board. For those not acquainted with it, the Planning Board reviews and approves major developmental projects within the Town.

Except when the state intervenes.

While this (thankfully) rarely happens, with the Empire State Pipeline, New York State approved the plans to avoid the need to appear before every municipality’s planning board.

This posed a problem. Empire State Pipeline selected Mendon as one of the metering station locations. While the pipeline itself remains out of sight buried beneath the earth, a metering station sticks out like a sore thumb. You might have seen one of these if you traveled along the Thruway near Buffalo. It’s an industrial-looking facility of exposed pipes and gadgets that doesn’t quite fit within our community’s rural character. And Mendon had no say about it.

Until Jeanne Loberg stepped in.

Sympathetic to angry citizens at the public hearing meeting, she pulled out every trick in the book. “We’re pursuing every legal avenue available to us to either relocate or give the town the authority for site plan review,” she told the Sentinel in June of 1993. She gave RG&E two options: move the site or hide the station by building “miniature barns or silos.” She further instructed the Town Board to file for a rehearing with the New York State Public Service Commission (which we did).

Within weeks, New York State Supreme Court Judge Paul Kehoe signed a temporary restraining order preventing Empire Pipeline Company and RG&E from beginning construction of the metering station. Concurrently, the Town Board endorsed Jeanne’s idea to cloak the station in “pleasant” buildings, reflecting something more appropriate for the gateway to Mendon.

By the end of the month, Jeanne Loberg’s strategy successfully solved the problem. By standing up to New York State and corporate goliaths, she protected the best interests of the Town of Mendon. Here’s how the Sentinel described it in the July 29, 1993 issue:

“Look! Right near the Thruway! It’s a house! It’s a farm! No! It’s a national gas metering station!”
“The Town of Mendon on Monday agreed to withdraw a legal action in the State Supreme Court against Empire State Pipeline and RG&E, who will construct the metering station. Instead, all the parties consented to resolve past disagreements regarding siting and construction of the facility.”
“As a result, some of the Planning Board’s fondest dreams are coming true…”

Jeanne’s vision worked. How many have passed by the Thruway on Route 64 and paid no mind to the barn buildings on the side of the road? Who would have thought it was really a gas metering station?

Doesn’t that inspire you? Jeanne understood win-win scenarios. She knew you could both protect the environment and not prevent progress.

It certainly inspired me. Within a few months, fate placed me in a similar situation. I used Jeanne’s playbook. You won’t find this in any of the contemporary reporting, which appears odd given the significance of the story and its pipeline parallel.

In 1994, Rochester Telephone wanted to build a cell tower in Mendon. This was very controversial and, like the pipeline, citizens opposed it and the town had little choice but to accept it.

That’s when I summoned up my inner Jeanne.

While newspaper reports made it sound like the Town Board united behind the Rochester Telephone proposal, we didn’t. I sided with the citizens. I insisted the tower be built to look like something other than a tower. Based on what I’d seen other towns do, I suggested it look like a tree. This was rejected. Frustrated, and using a variance on Jeanne’s theme, I offered, “Well, we made the metering station into a barn, so why not do the same thing with the tower and make it a silo?”

Here’s the thing: at any time the Town Board could have voted against me. They never called the vote. I don’t know why. They would have certainly won. Perhaps it was because the Planning Board (mainly member Chris Holliday rather than Jeanne, but he spoke for Jeanne) regularly appeared at the Town Board meetings and supported what I was saying. Finally, shortly before my term expired, the Zoning Board approved my idea.

Incidentally, Carl Foss was Chairman of the Zoning Board.

Do you know where this cell tower is? You probably do. If you live in the Village and work anywhere north, you pass by it every day. You might never have guessed it was a cell tower. You might simply think it was built for a bigger barn. By the time the cell tower (and silo) was built, Mendon voters had elected Jeanne Loberg as Town Supervisor.

These structures (the metering station barn and the cell tower silo) represent the permanent physical legacy Jeanne Loberg left the Town of Mendon.

But she left us all something much more important. She stands as a courageous role model. She teaches us even new kids can succeed. That you can take on giants. That life doesn’t have to be win-lose, it can be win-win. That nature and man can co-exist in a way that doesn’t impede progress.

Jeanne Loberg left this for us. Let us not forget it. Let us learn to practice her ideal in our everyday lives.


  1. […] Do you know these pioneers aren’t merely centuries old? Read this week’s Carosa Commentary “Ode To An Iconic Public Servant” to hear a couple of stories about one of […]

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