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Historic building preservation event helps fund future veterans' programs

Observer-Dispatch - 1/20/2020

A recent Harvest Dinner in Vernon Center brought together more than 130 people from near and far for a seasonally-inspired dinner, curated by two celebrity chefs and featuring local items. Guests were escorted from their cars by horse and carriage to the front doors of a historic former church, the site of the dinner fundraiser.

The dinner was the first event held at "This Old Church," which was formerly the Vernon Center Presbyterian Church. The historic venue, dating to 1811, longtime home to Vernon's first organized church congregation, is on the National Register of Historic Places as part of the Vernon Center Green Historic District.

The building was recently acquired by Vernon native Garrett Law, who has undertaken the task of restoring it.

Guests were there for more than a great meal and entertainment, as proceeds were supporting two causes: the preservation of the building's remarkable stained glass windows and Clear Path for Veterans, the Chittenango-based veterans support organization. With tremendous guest support, the Harvest Dinner resulted in a $3,200 donation to Clear Path.

"The Harvest Dinner was memorable from several standpoints," says Bill Smullen, Clear Path for Veterans CEO, "(It was) a culinary extravaganza to be sure, a contribution to help restore the historically-prized "This Old Church," and a gift to Clear Path that will be further invested in the well-being of veterans. May the special event live on in perpetuity and may the gratitude of Clear Path for Veterans be duly recorded."

The head chef for the event was Ron DeSantis, one of only 70 certified master chefs in the world. Chef DeSantis, a veteran of the United States Marines, has a remarkable resume from leading the Culinary Institute of America's consulting and director of culinary programs at Yale University, to cooking for multiple U.S. presidents.

His menu featured local items, including potatoes from Simmons Farm in Vernon Center, winter squash from Swistak Farm in Verona, hot mulled cider from the Clinton Cider Mill and gelato from The Cremeria in Clinton. And from Sherrill, Andrea Maranville, runner-up on The Great American Baking Show, supplied the fresh bread, chocolate tort and vanilla bean cupcakes.

Entertainment was provided primarily by the Hamilton College Saxophone Ensemble. The student ensemble's adviser is professor Monk Rowe, noted jazz musician and former Vernon-Verona-Sherrill Central School music teacher. Armed with an old program from an 1866 fundraiser held at the same location, the ensemble learned and performed a waltz from that evening called Flying Cloud Scottische.

Chittenango native Sean Lessard, currently starring in Rock of Ages in Hollywood, sang a locally-inspired version of Autumn in New York, accompanied by Hamilton College student, David Sills.

Law said he sees this as just the first in a series of local events that help tell the history of Vernon and the Vernon Center church and support its preservation, while also supporting non-profit organizations that help the community.

"I'm proud to tell people I'm from Vernon, New York," he said. "And I'm proud of the way this community came together to preserve history and to support local veterans."

Clear Path for Veterans, a non-profit organization, is Upstate New York's archetype veteran service organization serving as a hub of information, programs and resources. They are a welcoming community of staff and volunteers serving all veterans and their families. As a single point of contact for veterans, military members and their families they engage, support, and make it easy to connect with what you need with commitment to providing a welcoming place to call home.

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(c)2020 Observer-Dispatch, Utica, N.Y.

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