They called sharpshooter Tim Murphy the "Savior of Schoharie."
Well, I'd like to submit the name Wes Laraway for the modern-day version of that title.
Savior, maybe. But don't call Wes a saint.
"No, no, no," he chided me. "I am no saint. Just a guy with a mission."
And what a mission it is! Wes heads up the New York Wildlife Rescue Center in Middleburgh.
"We do it all with volunteers," he told me. "High school students and SUNY Cobleskill kids, family and friends. We all pitch in to make it work. We're really one big family here."
Wes recently made national news when he rescued 100 llamas from a farm in Montana that went bust. "These animals were hurting, and I had to act."
Wes organized, arranged and financed the migration of this large number of exotic animals from one side of the country to the other. They were trucked to Schoharie County, where they were integrated into Wes' wildlife refuge.
"We take all kinds of animals up here at Red Maple Farm (his property). I get calls from all over to help animals in distress."
I visited Wes at his hilltop aerie with the million-dollar view of Vroman's Nose last week. Amid the squealing, squawking and braying din of the barnyard, Wes' calm demeanor seemed to put it all into a peaceful perspective.
Like I said (and he denies), this guy is a saint.
Our afternoon tour around the farm was like visiting the set of the movie "Dr. Doolittle." I met some shy pot belly pigs from Ballston Spa, an emu from Unadilla, a Brown Swiss dairy cow that looked like it had just strolled down from the Alps, some skittish falcons and a couple of fully plumed peacocks that were found meandering around downtown Schenectady.
I met a sheep with four horns (even the Catskill Game Farm didn't have one of those!), horses, donkeys, a one-eyed barn owl from Richmondville and a bobcat from Florida with a brand new $5,000 hip.
"The students from Cornell University come here regularly. This old bobcat had been hit by a car and needed a new hip. Guess what? They gave him one!"
I asked Wes if he ever had to refuse to take in an animal. He scratched his head for a minute. "Generally speaking, we don't take cats and dogs, because we would just be overrun. But have I ever turned an animal away? Yes. There was a circus elephant once." And he wasn't kidding. "I simply didn't have the room for the poor thing."
"Wanna see the llamas?" he asked me. I couldn't say yes fast enough.
I'll tell you, I was not prepared for what I saw. One hundred of the most intriguing-looking animals God ever put on Earth. Wide-bodied, tall-as-me woolen-coated Disney characters with the most beautiful human-looking eyes you've ever seen. Wes and I walked right into the middle of the crowd.
I think I was as much of a curiosity to them as they were to me. They slowly circled around me, sometimes venturing up close enough so that we were literally nose-to-nose. These gentle beasts looked none the worse for wear for the overland passage from the heartland of America to Central New York.
"Right now, they're the stars of the show. I've had many inquiries about their adoption and care and feeding of them (an amount that exceeds tens of thousands of dollars monthly). We have no paid staff and we exist only on the kindness of others. From food to hay to materials to medical care, people have been wonderful," Wes told me.
"But we almost never have enough," he sighed.
I asked him how he got started on his road to the Wild Kingdom.
"I was always the kid with the frog in my pocket at school," he said with a laugh. "My first animal rescue was a baby robin when I was a little boy. And I've never stopped."
Laraway's farm sits high atop a hill behind the Middleburgh Cemetery (on Llama Lane!). The llama pen is near the grave site monument of Revolutionary War hero Tim Murphy.
"Yes, they called Tim a savior. But I'm neither that nor am I a saint. Although, if it ever rains hard enough up here, I may be another Noah," he chuckled.
Either way, there is a special place in heaven for people like Wes Laraway.
To find out more about his organization (and see photos of each of the 100 llamas), visit www.redmaplefarm.net.
I'll catch you in two ...
'Big Chuck' D'Imperio can be heard on weekdays beginning at 6 a.m. on WDOS-AM 730 in Oneonta, and also on Thursday nights from 7-9 p.m. on WSRK-FM 103.9 for his "Oldies Jukebox Show." You can find "Big Chuck" on Facebook under Upstate New York Books. He invites you to contact him at email@example.com. His columns can be found at www.thedailystar.com/bigchuck.
They called sharpshooter Tim Murphy the "Savior of Schoharie."
- Big Chuck
Safety Patrol D.C. visits never get old
I asked Cam Morris, head of Eastern Travel/Oneonta Bus Lines, how many years her company has been handling the Safety Patrol trip to Washington, D.C.
My pal Brucie, savior of Sidney's hospital
Ask any hospital administrators if they've ever heard of a closed hospital in New York state that has ever been re-opened. They will say, "Impossible." In a half century of going through records you can't find any.
Catching a whiff of 'Vermont Vapor'
We just came back from a weekend in Manchester, Vt., and my wife insists that something "magical" happens when you pass the state sign. "I think they spray 'Vermont Vapor' out of the sign or something," she opined, "something that actually changes us."
Selections from the virtual mailbag
Well, it's time to open up the email bag, and it's really full!
Recalling days of 'Doughnut King'
In 1969, I was "The Doughnut King" in Sidney.
- Monday, March 11, 2013
Opera great's visit still a thrilling memory
Opera singer Marian Anderson (1897-1993) has been called the "most distinctive American voice of the 20th century."
- Monday, February 25, 2013
Film clip a window into Oneonta's past
One of my radio listeners sent me an astonishing piece of video recently. I posted it on my Facebook page (go to Facebook, search "BIG CHUCK") and it has been viewed by well over 1,000 people in just a week.
- Monday, February 11, 2013
Many made stop at upstate naval base
My father was in the U.S. Navy. Not for long, but he did enlist out of high school in 1944. He did his naval training at Sampson Naval Training Base in Romulus. Shortly after Dad's basic training, he was honorably discharged because of a health issue. So, although his service was brief, I needed to find out as much about it as I possibly could.
- Monday, January 28, 2013
Local foods worthy of national spotlight
Well, President Obamaâ€™s second inauguration is over and we can all breathe a sigh of relief and satisfaction.
- Monday, January 14, 2013
Remembering lives of the not-so-famous
I write about 25 columns a year for this paper. And I must admit, this annual one is always my favorite. A lot of famous people left this world last year, including General Norman Schwarzkopf, Senator Daniel Inouye of Hawaii, jazz pianist Dave Brubeck, singer Andy Williams and TV's George Jefferson actor -- Sherman Hemsley.
- Monday, December 31, 2012
Canines create unforgettable moments
Last year, I used my holiday column to pay tribute to my dog, Stella. The darn dog actually received fan mail after that, and has insisted that I do a shout-out to her canine colleagues each year around this time. So, to keep Stella happy, here goes.
- Monday, December 17, 2012
Nothing like an old-fashioned movie theater
What is it about a movie theater?
- Monday, December 3, 2012
Chuck's daughter returns to a town full of memories
My daughter Frances, OHS Class of 2000, came home for Thanksgiving last week after not having been in her hometown for nearly five years. I asked her to be my "guest columnist" to share her thoughts about coming home for the holidays. I hope you enjoy her story.
- Monday, November 19, 2012
Time to move on after grueling campaign season
Nobody likes a presidential election campaign better than I do. But this one darn near took a piece out of me.
- Monday, November 5, 2012
One nasty hurricane more than enough for one lifetime
Hey, Sandy! Don't let the door hit you on the way out.
- Monday, October 22, 2012
Latter-day stunt men still knew how to thrill
What is it with all these crazy stuntmen all of a sudden?
- Monday, October 8, 2012
Andy Williams, last of the great crooners
When singer Andy Williams died a week ago, it truly was an end of an era.
- Monday, September 24, 2012
Senator's farm was all I imagined
Many years ago, when I first arrived in Oneonta, Daniel Patrick Moynihan was the senior senator from New York state. His top aide, Ross Frommer, used to come into the radio station for interviews and to tell my audience about the various legislative efforts involving "their senator."
- Monday, September 10, 2012
Family's history includes ancestor who knew Lincoln
- Monday, August 27, 2012
Making up for lost time on Facebook
If there ever was a true-blue phenomenon, it is Facebook.
- Safety Patrol D.C. visits never get old