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Friday, 23 October 2015 17:32

John F. Safford, 2015 Mayoral Candidate

SARATOGA SPRINGS – John F. Safford, 70, (REP, CON, IND, RFM) Professional Managing Agent, CMCA, is a newcomer to politics, seeking the office of Mayor of Saratoga Springs as his first run. For his interview, we met at the beautiful grounds of the Pine Grove Family Camp, one of his favorite places in Saratoga, where he is a trustee and treasurer. 

“I love this place,” he said. “We fight to keep this camp viable, as pristine as possible. I am a peaceful person, and although I work on real issues, I am still peaceful inside and this place reminds me of that. I love that in Saratoga we have open space and beautiful trees like this, but we need a balance between our ecological goals and property rights. We need to continue our growth as a year-round destination and place to live.”

Safford’s military service included a stint in Japan in the Army Security Agency, where he worked on security and information. “Yes, I was a spy,” he said. After his honorable discharge in 1973, that experience informed his business career, where he developed further expertise in computers and information technology, applying it to emergency services for municipalities, among other things. 

“I have been in every emergency service bunker in the state,” Safford said. This peaceful person has decades of experience in helping cities and towns of all sizes plan for the worst. Given that, a logical question was why run for mayor rather than public safety commissioner? 

“My strongest gift is being able to pull different departments and agencies together,” he said, “which is vital to emergency planning, but especially needed as a mayor. My work has involved finance and budgeting, public works, and public safety, and I can bring people together to get things done. I think the mayor’s role is where I can do the most good for Saratoga Springs.”

Safford also feels his business experience will help Saratoga’s economic vitality. If elected, he intends to plan for responsible growth, providing quicker turnaround for permitting and doing more for entrepreneurs and business owners. “The Mayor’s department has a fund that most people are not aware of,” he said. “The capital improvement loan capability of the office of economic development is not used properly. It’s very difficult for business owners to spend time searching for capital, and those with capital think businesses will come to them. I can put those two together.”

Safford’s goals also include improving parking and infrastructure, improving communication between departments, and enhancing downtown safety and quality of life. He supports parking over mixed-use for the High Rock lot because the demand for parking for existing businesses in the area in addition to the City Center’s needs is higher than the need for senior or other housing and businesses in that particular location. He also supports a golf resort at Saratoga National. 


For Safford’s biographical information and endorsements, please visit LWVSaratoga.org

Friday, 09 October 2015 17:58

Protecting Children from Online Predators

BALLSTON SPA – The Internet revolution has changed childhood as we know it. Children tag each other on Facebook photos rather than in the neighborhood parks. They play charades on Instagram, cops and robbers on Xbox 360, and swing a bat on the Wii. Their pen-pal letters travel instantly to every corner of the world, which now include photos and videos of the far-away homes of these online friends.  

Like any technological evolution, there are equally great opportunities and challenges for parents raising children in this high-speed, global-access era, but the most disquieting challenge is online safety. Children are meeting strangers online nearly as frequently as they meet them in a shopping mall, but without a parent’s hand to hold onto. 

“Years ago, predators would go to the playground or food court at a mall looking for kids,” said John Kelly, Community Educator for the Capital Region office of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC). “Now they’ve adapted to today's technology. They don’t have to kidnap them. They just arrange to meet them.”

Kelly, a retired Saratoga Springs police officer and former DARE officer for the Saratoga Springs school district, leads the educational programming for NCMEC locally, teaching parents, children, and law enforcement about child abduction prevention, Internet safety, cyberbullying, and more. 

“We have to embrace the technology because it’s not going away,” said Kelly. “It’s getting bigger and better, so we have parents learn about it, Google it, find out what SnapChat is, play one of their kids' games for a bit, know who’s in the game playing it with your kids. Parents ask me a lot, ‘Am I the only one that knows my kid’s password?’ Well, no, you’re not. Parents should know their kids’ passwords. Remember, you paid for that phone or gaming device. You should have complete access.”

According to John Shehan, Vice President of the Exploited Children Division for NCMEC, an exploitation technique known as “sextortion” is on the rise. “We found a pattern where children were being coached into taking photos of themselves,” he said, “and those photos are being used to blackmail them into taking more graphic ones. What we gleaned out of this is that children are not telling anyone. They continue to take the photos in order to make the situation go away.”

Online predators make contact with children through online gaming, Facebook or other innocent social networking sites. After the individuals make contact, they try to move communication into a private chat, then video chat, and then to graphic content and finally to meeting the child.

Federal Bureau of Investigation Special Agent David Fallon, who works closely with Kelly and the Capital Region office of NCMEC, investigates crimes against children in all of upstate New York. He was the team leader investigating the abduction and successful recovery of two Amish girls in the North Country last year, and performs undercover operations online to find child predators. 

“The target audience for guys doing this type of crime are middle school and younger,” said Fallon. “It’s critical to pay attention to what they are doing online. These guys find them through cell phones and tablets, so be really careful what apps they download. We get a lot of complaints of kids being contacted through Kik Messenger for photos.”

Fallon also warned that parents should make sure the geolocating feature on devices are turned off for photos. If a child sends a selfie, anyone with the knowledge can get the geolocation data off the image. Facebook automatically strips all that data off, but Kik and other sites do not. Facebook is making every effort to be safer, but Fallon said to keep in mind that unsupervised access is never good. 

That is why the Capital Region office of NCMEC offers free age-appropriate programming for parents and children with law-enforcement-endorsed tips for keeping children safe while they explore the World Wide Web. 

The Ballston Spa Central School District is one of the many districts that have partnered with NCMEC to implement child abduction prevention education in the schools. NCMEC has provided training to Ballston Spa teachers to implement their curriculum in the district’s K-8 schools. The nonprofit has also worked with the district’s Middle School Peer Leader Program, directly training a group of peer leaders who will in turn share the information with their peers.

“Internet safety is part of living in the 21st century,” said Joseph P. Dragone, Ph.D., Superintendent of Schools, Ballston Spa Central School District. “Like it or not, much social interaction occurs in a virtual space, which by its nature promotes a high degree of anonymity that allows access to children. Regardless of how proactive we are protecting students in this environment, the first line of defense will always be parents. It is critical that they know and understand their child’s Internet presence, social activity and who he/she is communicating with.”    

"The Internet is a fantastic tool and parents, by and large, should not fear their children using the Internet,” said Shehan. “It goes back to communication between parent and child – if something goes wrong, let's discuss it. Parents should also know the free resource to help parents – Netsmartz411.org, dedicated to parents and guardians to learn about Internet safety and usage. It’s staffed by highly trained individuals who understand technology as well as the dark side of the web.”

NCMEC resources are online and free to teachers, parents, and community members. The Capital Region office of The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children serves the children, families and professionals of the 11 counties of the Capital Region: Albany, Columbia, Fulton, Greene, Montgomery, Rensselaer, Saratoga, Schenectady, Schoharie, Warren and Washington counties. 

The office provides abduction and sexual exploitation prevention education programs for parents, children, law enforcement, and other professionals; Netsmartz Internet and Real World safety education programs for children (grades K - 12) and parents, (including state-of-the-art “train the trainer” program for educators); and expert training for law enforcement and professionals serving missing and sexually exploited children and their families.

To arrange a program presentation, please contact Capital Region Community Educator John Kelly at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. The primary fundraiser supporting the work of the Capital Region office is an annual masquerade gala, which is taking place this year on Friday, October 30 at Prime at Saratoga National Golf Course. For more information about the nonprofit's local services or the gala, visit NCMECNYCR.org

Friday, 25 September 2015 17:47

Healthy Living Market Opens Café on Broadway

SARATOGA SPRINGS - Vermont-based Healthy Living Market is expanding into the Spa City. The company, which already operates one New York location at the Wilton Mall, is opening an additional Healthy Living Café at 420 Broadway in downtown Saratoga Springs. The new café will be located directly between Northshire Bookstore and Saratoga Cycling Studio, and will be open from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. seven days a week. 

According to Chef Matt Buley, the café has incorporated favorites from the former Around the Corner café such as the Twain and Poe sandwiches, and will feature a range of healthy options, including Healthy Living Café’s line of signature sandwiches. 

“The original owner here reached out to us after enjoying our offerings in the Wilton store,” said Buley. “He said he thought we had a superior product and would love to offer it here.” 

Buley said one of the missions of the Healthy Living Market and Café brand is to serve the cleanest, best-tasting product with outstanding service. The goal is to make shopping in the café an enjoyable and relaxing experience. 

The décor certainly provides that, with an eclectic mix of bright color, casual rustic trimmings, and modern comfort. Added to the authentic smiles of a knowledgeable, friendly staff, and customers feel right at home. The healthy breakfasts and lunches even have a comfort-food taste and feel. 

“It’s about knowing your product,” said Buley, who has been the family-owned company’s chef responsible for the overall healthy menus and recipes branding for three years. “An organic apple tastes phenomenal. An organic, green bell pepper is so good; the key is to not over-season it. Let the natural flavors do the work.”

Buley is an expert at combining flavors and even has some off-menu customer favorites, such as a Vermont maple chai latte that is the perfect combination of spice and earthy sweetness.

Local and organic foods are used whenever possible, such as items from Eagle Ridge Farms. Meats are all-natural, and roast beef is roasted in-house. Scones, cookies, and muffins are all made from scratch and baked on the café premises. “If you happen to walk by around 8 in the morning before we open, you can smell the fresh baked goods in the ovens,” said Buley.

The rebranding has taken place over the last month, and a grand opening will be announced soon. For more information stop by the store, give them a call at 518-652-3501, or simply check out healthylivingmarket.com.

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Friday, 25 September 2015 17:41

SS School Board President Faces Felony Charges

WILTON – On September 22, Charles “Chip” Locke, 42, of Porters Corners, was arrested and arraigned in the Wilton Town Court. He was charged with Grand Larceny in the Third Degree, a class D felony, and Falsifying Business Records in the First Degree, a class E felony. 

The day before, the Saratoga County Sheriff’s Office was called by members of the Greenfield Elementary School Home/School Association (HSA), which reported the theft of several thousand dollars from the HSA accounts. The Greenfield Elementary School is part of the Saratoga Springs School District.

According to a statement released by Sheriff Michael Zurlo, an investigation revealed that over the past year the HSA Treasurer, Charles Locke, had allegedly stolen $9,973.82 from the HSA accounts. In an effort to cover up the theft, Locke allegedly falsified business documents, resulting in the Falsifying of Business Records in the First Degree charge.

In addition to his position as treasurer for the parent-teacher group, Locke was serving his fifth year on the Saratoga Springs City School District Board of Education President and had been elected as President of the Board in January of 2015 and again in July of 2015. He resigned from the Board of Education effective the date of his arrest “for reasons unrelated to his position on the board,” according to a notice released from the school district. 

In the release, Superintendent of Schools Michael Piccirillo stated, "Mr. Locke was an asset to the Board and his leadership will be missed."

The Board of Education will work to determine its leadership structure moving forward and the process it will use to fill the vacancy caused by Locke's resignation. 

"I want to assure the community that the Board will continue to focus on its core mission to provide an excellent educational experience for all of our children," stated Joanne Kiernan, Vice President of the Board.

Locke was released on his own recognizance. He is scheduled to appear in Wilton Town Court on October 6, 2015 at 4 p.m. The Greenfield Elementary HSA and the Saratoga Springs School District were fully cooperative in the investigation. 

Friday, 25 September 2015 11:35

Education Briefs 09/25/15

MBPA Donates $4K to Partnership for Innovation in Education Fund

Ballston Spa Board of Education President Kevin Schaefer (left) and Superintendent
Joseph P. Dragone, PhD. (right) accept the donation from Malta BPA’s Ray Patterson.

MALTA — The Malta Business and Professional Association (MBPA) recently hosted the 7th annual Taste of Malta at Hudson Valley Community College’s TEC-SMART in Malta. The evening featured a variety of area restaurants that served samples of their best fare to over 300 attendees. This year’s participating restaurants included Bentley’s Tavern, Dock Brown’s, Lake Ridge, Nanola, Panza’s, Pasta Pane, Recovery Sports Grill, Spa City Bakery, Villago Pizzeria, and Wolf Hollow Brewing.

As they have for the past five years, the MBPA donated event proceeds to the Ballston Spa Central School District to support educational enrichment programs and initiatives. This year’s event raised $4,000 for the Ballston Spa Partnership for Innovation in Education Fund, a component fund of the Community Foundation for the Greater Capital Region. The funding will be used to support the District’s Clean Technologies and Sustainable Industries Early College High School, implemented in partnership with Hudson Valley Community College and NYSERDA. 

Corporate sponsors for the event included Ballston Spa National Bank, The Adirondack Trust Company, Excelsior Springs, Capital InteriorScapes, Stewart’s Shops, and TapSnap. More information about the event can be found at MaltaBPA.com. For additional information on the Ballston Spa Partnership for Innovation in Education Fund, please visit the Office of District Advancement page on the district website, or contact Amber Mooney at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or 518-884-7195 x1369.

Citizen Preparedness Training

SARATOGA SPRINGS — Skidmore College is hosting a Citizen Preparedness Corps Training Program on Saturday, September 26 at 9:30 am in the Gannett Auditorium. Please feel free to share this invitation with any individuals who you think might want to attend. To register, people can sign up at: http://prepare.ny.gov/training-events.

Project Lift University Fundraiser

Program to expand to additional schools

SARATOGA SPRINGS — The 5th annual Project Lift University, presented by Informz, will be held on October 8 at 6:00 p.m. at Longfellows in Saratoga Springs. 

This fundraising event is to benefit the Franklin Community Center’s Project Lift, which has been serving the Saratoga Springs community and local families in need for over 30 years. 

Franklin Community Center is proud to announce the program will be expanded to include Dorothy Nolan and Caroline Street Elementary Schools this October and will be in all six of the local elementary schools beginning October 2016.

The fundraising evening on October 8 includes excellent food from Longfellows, live music by Jim Mastrianni and Kristen Renenhan, tarot card reading, open bar, a large silent auction and photo booth. Additionally, there will be a live mission-based auction led by comedian Greg Aidala and a Pick Six Vodka tasting to round out the fun.

All proceeds will benefit Project Lift. Tickets are on sale at www.franklincommunitycenter.org or by calling Franklin Community Center at 518-587-9826.

Invitation to Showcase at Fair

SARATOGA SPRINGS — The Saratoga Springs City School District (SSCSD) is proud to announce that Parent University will kick off the 2015-16 school year by holding a Parent University Family Day on Saturday, October 17 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. 

The event will include a community resource fair, kid’s area, and presentation by internationally known speaker Robert Rivest.

Parent University invites your organization to participate in the community resource fair to share services that your organization is able to provide to SSCSD families. Set-up begins at 9 a.m. and resource fair participants are asked to commit to staying for the duration of the event.  In addition, while it is fine to provide hand-outs or free items to attendees, organizations must refrain from selling goods or services at the event.

To participate, please call 518-583-4786 or email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. by October 1, 2015. Participant tables will be filled on a first-come, first-served basis and will be limited to an estimated 50 tables.  More information about the event can be found online at www.saratogaschools.org/parentuniversity/.

Flip Phillips to Keynote SFIL Fundraiser

SARATOGA SPRINGS — The Saratoga Foundation for Innovative Learning (SFIL) invites the community to attend its dinner reception fundraising event, “Celebrate. Innovate. Educate.”  The event will be held from 6 to 9 p.m. on Wednesday, October 28, at PRIME at Saratoga National. 

The reception will include dinner, a showcase of innovative grants that have been awarded during the past year, and performances by district students. The event will also feature guest speaker Flip Phillips, a professor of psychology and neuroscience at Skidmore College, who previously worked as an animation scientist for Pixar.

Tickets are priced at $100 per ticket and may be purchased until October 20. All money raised will support innovative programming in the Saratoga Springs City School District. To learn more about the event, please visit SaratogaLearning.org or email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

SFIL is a non-profit organization, comprised of community members that share a common goal of fostering forward-thinking and creative opportunities in the Saratoga Springs City School District. The foundation provides grants to implement original and creative programming for Saratoga Springs City School District students. 

BALLSTON SPA – Malta Avenue Elementary students greeted riders on Friday, September 18, who were taking part in the Greater Capital District’s 8th annual Ride for Missing Children. The Ride raised funds to support the recovery efforts of missing children of local families, honored missing children and fallen law enforcement, and provided brief educational programs during the daylong event.

This annual fundraising event, which brings in approximately $20,000 a year, was brought to Albany by Stacy Herron, on behalf local families and her sister-in-law, Audrey May Herron, who disappeared over 11 years ago.

Mary Lyall, mother of missing Suzanne Lyall; Veronica Freer, mother of missing Craig Freer; Nancy Hieber, mother of missing Tammie McCormick; and other family members of local missing children participated, as well as about 50 bikers in the New York State Police-escorted ride around the Greater Capital Region. Educational Rest Stops took place in several school districts along the 100-mile route, with “Silent Tributes” for those the Ride honors.

Event proceeds benefit The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) poster program and are distributed locally to the Capital Region’s NMEC office to be used for personal and online safety education programs in local schools and to train local law enforcement.

The Capital Region Office of The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children on Ballston Avenue in Saratoga Springs provides Netsmartz Internet and Real World safety education programs for children (grades K -12) and parents; a state-of-the-art “train the trainer” program for educators; abduction and exploitation prevention education programs for parents, children, law enforcement, and other professionals; and expert training for law enforcement and professionals serving missing and exploited children and their families.

The Ride is sponsored by CDPHP, Albany Marriott, Stewarts Shops, Bimbo Bakeries USA- Freihofer’s, Vincy’s Printing, Saratoga TODAY, and many more local companies. The Ride is one of two fundraising events to support the work of the Capital Region Office of NCMEC. The 8th Annual Halloween Masquerade Ball will take place on October 30 at PRIME at Saratoga National to support the office. For details about the Capital Region office and the gala, please visit Facebook.com/ncmecnycr.


For more information about The Ride for Missing Children-Greater Capital District, please visit RideForMissingChildrenGCD.org.  

Friday, 25 September 2015 10:55

Ballston Hannaford Celebrates Expansion

Grand Re-Opening Marked with Giveaways and $7,500 for Inclusive Playground

BALLSTON SPA — Hannaford Supermarkets will unveil a series of renovations and improvements to its Ballston Spa store located at 11 Trieble Avenue off Geyser Road with a grand re-opening celebration on Saturday, September 26 at 7 a.m. 

The store renovations expand the Ballston Spa store by 8,000 square feet and offer increased variety of products and a better shopping experience. Shoppers will find an expanded selection of locally grown produce; natural, organic and gluten-free products; as well as a larger butcher shop with a four-foot section of local meats; deli and seafood sections, including ready-to-cook options, a new salad and soup bar, and more local products. 

“Our customers have been saying they love our friendly service, but wish we had more variety in our offerings,” said Ballston Spa Store Manager Heather Monroe, a 15-year veteran of the company. “We’ve succeeded to do that and more. We’re one of the first to be completely integrated with organic, natural, and gluten-free options in every area, so shoppers don’t have to head to different sections. They are able to shop for the family and those with special needs all in the same aisle, now. We look forward to showing the Ballston Spa community the results of what we have been working on.”

The newly remodeled store will also offer shoppers the opportunity to select their groceries online at Hannaford.com and pick up the order curbside through the Hannaford To Go service. 

“I’m excited about this,” said Monroe. “The first time might feel a little clunky when you go online to build your shopping list because you’re choosing from everything in the store. Once you build your list, though, all your items are already there whenever you go back to it. Just select which you want, the time and date you want to pick them up, go through the drive-through and we’ll take your payment and load your car. You never have to step out of your vehicle. It’s the wave of the future. We had 105 To Go orders last week.”

Monroe said that each department chooses the items to fill the To Go orders. For example, a staff member trained in meat from that department chooses the meat. The staff choosing produce is carefully trained to pick the best quality, and any substitutions are cleared with the customer before being charged. 

The updated store also features a new drive-thru pharmacy and private consultation rooms for speaking with pharmacists and administering flu shots, which are available without an appointment. According to Monroe, the store has hired 50 additional associates between all of the departments, and the business has grown double digits over last year’s numbers.

On Saturday, September 26, the first 300 customers through the doors beginning at 7 a.m. will each receive a Hannaford mystery gift card valued anywhere between $5 and $250. The first 100 children through the doors will receive a free set of markers and reusable bag, which they can custom design. Shoppers will enjoy giveaways and samplings throughout the store.

In recognition of the grand re-opening, representatives from Hannaford Supermarkets will present a donation of $7,500 to the new all-inclusive, handicapped-accessible Town of Milton playground located at Burgess-Kimball Park on Rowland Street, across the street from the Ballston Spa store. 

The Ballston Spa store is open daily from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. Pharmacy hours are Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.; Saturday from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m.; and Sunday from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Friday, 18 September 2015 10:41

Sneak Peek Into The Grove

 Transforming the Neumann Residence

SARATOGA SPRINGS — An historic home for retired priests will soon be welcoming active seniors 55 and older who are seeking an upscale, independent lifestyle. 

The former St. John Neumann Residence, adjacent to St. Clement’s Church at 233 Lake Avenue, is nearing completion of its transformation into The Grove at Neumann, a luxury residential community featuring 76 apartment homes. 

The Grove was the brainchild of developer Sonny Bonacio and financial partner, Mark Haworth. They took the 99-year old building on 11.2 acres that had been sitting on the market for over seven years and poured their vision into it, investing in serious asbestos abatement and restoring original pieces such as doors and hardware. 

“I’m a historian by training,” said Haworth, “and interested in old things. I treasure them, and we worked hard with the city to protect as much of the history as possible.” 

The chapel ceiling and original casement windows are beautifully complete but for the stained glass, which Bonacio says was gone long before he purchased the property. “We’re respecting the chapel and repurposing it as a gathering community space with a computer area and business center with WiFi,” he said. 

Upwards of 400 people worked on the project, sometimes as many as 94 a day. Nearly 30 units have already been rented, and residents can begin moving in toward the end of October. 

“We’re very pleased that we could save the building,” said Bonacio, “especially given all the asbestos issues. It’s been updated to 2015 insulation code, there’s forced air heat and air conditioning, triple the normal sound insulation between floors, four elevators, and all high-end specs for the Saratoga Springs resident.”

Amenities include an indoor pool, fitness center, on-site Café to Go, concierge and shuttle services, 24/7 emergency maintenance, maintenance-free living, stainless steel kitchen appliances, granite countertops, glass cooktop stoves, a full size washer and dryer in each apartment, community gardens, a game room, movie theater, saloon, hair salon, dry cleaning services, an activities director, and a library with original doors that overlooks the great room in the chapel. Some units have gas fireplaces. Pets are welcome. For more information, call 518-729-8705 or visit TheGroveAtNeumann.com.

Friday, 18 September 2015 10:35

Ordained at 60

BALLSTON SPA — St. Mary’s parish in Ballston Spa welcomed newly ordained Father Rick Lesser with open arms. Known as Father Rick, the 60-year-old chose the priesthood as a second vocation after the loss of his wife, Marilyn Schmidt Lesser, ten years ago. 

Father Rick has the approachable smile and ready laugh of a person sure in his faith, displaying a relaxed confidence that can put even the shyest person at ease. He was raised Catholic in Bradford, PA. One of six children, he loved camping and hiking in his rural community, and begged his father for a horse. He was told he could have one as long as he paid for it, so the young Rick Lesser sold 144 brooms as a teenager door to door to raise the money. “I’m not sure my father was happy that I succeeded,” he laughed. 

Horses remained a big part of his life, although he originally thought he’d be a dairy practitioner when he went to the veterinary college at Cornell. He met his future bride at school in 1977 and joined the horse practice she was in. Together they began the Equine Clinic at Oakencroft  in Ravena, and a bulk of the practice were equine patients in the Saratoga area. 

“We took care of show horses, brood mares, foals, and pleasure horses,” said Father Rick. “We had about 100 horses on the farm back in 2008, but averaged around 60 or 70 since then.” 

He and Marilyn raised three children: Evan, 30, a rancher in Kansas; Craig, 25, a new horse veterinarian in Minnesota; and Taryn, 21, who is in college in Colorado studying psychology with an eye toward therapeutic riding. They all grew up around horses, cattle and sheep. “Old McDonald had a farm,” said Father Rick. “It was a great place to raise the kids. It was pretty run down when we got it, but we worked side by side to build up the farm.”

Then the unthinkable happened, and his healthy, athletic wife was lost to an unexpected fatal heart arrhythmia in 2005. “We always assumed I would be the one to go first,” Father Rick said. With three kids and a very large practice, the widower had some decisions to make. “Some of the farm staff had been there forever. Marilyn and I, we did this together.” It was not the same without her.

Father Rick decided to retire. “It was not running away from it, but I just didn’t need it to find fulfillment.” For that, he started at the Kateri Institute for Lay Ministry Formation. From there, he went on to earn his masters in divinity at St. Bernard’s School of Theology and Ministry. After seminary and meeting all requirements, Frederick Richard Lesser was ordained in June of this year at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Albany, with his children in attendance at the ceremony.

“It was just a few years after Marilyn died that I realized God was calling me,” said Father Rick. He said that a call does not have to be a big rainbow voice, but is often a quiet realization. “I’m positive that God knows what’s best for me, and He meant for me to be married and raise a family. Then He meant for me to be a priest. There were so many things that could have derailed it, but none of that happened. The kids thrived, people bought the practice, and St. Bernard’s was a close and viable option – the lack of any obstacles was a call for me to follow and trust where God was leading.”

Father Rick is now a parochial vicar at St. Mary’s Church, where he assists the pastor in the celebration of mass, baptisms, funerals, and weddings. He participates in many home and hospital visits, and is happy in “this beautiful church community filled with people who are rich with faith,” he said. “Whatever God puts on my plate today, I’m happy just doing what is asked.”

He still rides horses and spends quality time with his family. “I went on a cattle drive in Montana with my daughter and fell off the horse the first morning,” he laughed. “Turns out I had broken two ribs, but I got up and rode anyway.” 


“I think that because of the life I’ve lived, that I’m better equipped to help people find their faith in the joys and sorrows that go with having a family,” said Father Rick. “It’s so easy for us in our comfort to forget that God is around us all the time, even in joyful moments. He sustains us in hard times, but also plays the major part in all that learned, lived faith can provide in the realization that God made me and God is nearby.”

Thursday, 10 September 2015 17:12

Hands of a Surgeon, Heart of a Warrior


Staunch Ally in the War on Breast Cancer Arrives at Saratoga Hospital

SARATOGA SPRINGS – Brooklyn-born, Boston-trained, and polished with a generous helping of Midwest cordiality, Dr. Patricia Rae Kennedy, M.D., FACS, offers the right combination of surgical skill and patient care for women facing breast cancer. 

The fellowship-trained breast surgeon has joined Saratoga Hospital and its Saratoga Regional Medical Group. As the Clinical Director, Kennedy will lead a multidisciplinary breast health program that will coordinate and build upon the hospital’s already strong breast care services.

“There are so many components involved to treat breast cancer,” said Kennedy. “Surgical, oncology, plastic surgery – it can be daunting to someone reeling from a new diagnosis. We can coordinate everything for them. We’ll do the heavy lifting through the process so all they have to do is focus on getting well.”

Kennedy has more than a decade of experience as a dedicated breast surgeon. She comes to Saratoga Hospital from Indiana University Health North Hospital, where she launched and led a successful, nationally accredited breast care program.

"With her training and experience in building a comprehensive breast health program, Dr. Kennedy complements our exceptional breast care team," said Angelo Calbone, Saratoga Hospital president and CEO. "With her at the helm, we look forward to enhancing and elevating the coordinated care that we provide."

A graduate of Bryn Mawr College in Pennsylvania, Kennedy earned her medical degree and completed an internship and residency at State University of New York at Stony Brook. She completed a surgical fellowship in breast disease at Faulkner Breast Centre in Boston and was a surgical fellow in breast disease at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, also in Boston.

“Saratoga Hospital has a great patient-centered focus,” said Kennedy, “and is really growing with all the right ideas. It’s the perfect environment for someone who’s a breast specialist to see all the pieces come together for my patients. There’s a really good rehabilitation program here for people following surgery and radiation; survivorship programming; physical therapy…and in future, I’d like to incorporate some complimentary therapies. Acupuncture, for example, can be helpful with chemotherapy side effects.”

Kennedy clearly loves her work, and it shows in her clear, direct language, compassionate voice, and the relaxed confidence of her bearing, garnering instant trust upon meeting her. She did not start out seeking to be a breast cancer surgeon, however. 

“In high school, I knew I wanted to go into medicine, but I thought I wanted to be Marcus Welby,” laughed Kennedy. “Marcus Welby, M.D.” was a television series that ran 1969-1976, portraying the work of a fictional doctor practicing general medicine. “I went in [to medical school] thinking I would practice family medicine, but then I rotated through surgery and absolutely loved it. I found I have a surgical personality, that I see a problem and want to cut it out.” 

She worked with a breast surgeon who mentored her toward general surgery and breast surgery. “There were only a handful of breast surgery fellowships in the country in the early ‘90s,” she said. “I could see the need right away.” 

She noted that much has changed in medicine since she first began. In-patient treatments at the time are now outpatient. Back then, a patient going in for a biopsy had to give signed consent to a mastectomy as well, in case the biopsy was positive for cancer, so the surgeon could take care of it right away. 

“Patients didn’t know whether or not they’d had a mastectomy until they woke up,” said Kennedy. “Imagine that. Waking up to a stranger changing your bandages to find out what happened. In those cases, I would sit with the patient before and after, going in early to change her first bandage myself and sit and talk with her about it.”

The attending surgeon at the time found out what she was doing and encouraged her to focus her surgery on breast health, saying they need surgeons who care as much as she does.

“Some said I’d be bored focusing only on breast surgery and breast health,” remembered Kennedy. “They thought I’d miss abdomen or other interesting areas of the body, but it has never been boring. I’ve found it to be extraordinarily rewarding. Keep in mind, you’re going through this really horrific journey with someone. Your relationship with her matters. You have to partner with the patient. In the beginning it can be so frightening, and the fact that I’m confident helps us get to the other side.”

It is this level of compassion and search for best practices that led Kennedy to become a medical facilitator and serve on the board of trustees for Casting for Recovery, a program that combines breast cancer education and peer support with the therapeutic sport of fly-fishing.

Casting for Recovery aims to enhance the quality of life of women with breast cancer through a combination of breast cancer education and peer support at fly-fishing retreats, which are open to breast cancer survivors of all ages, in all stages of treatment and recovery, and are free to participants.

“I’m a better surgeon than a fly-fisherman,” laughed Kennedy. “But there’s something so therapeutic about being out in nature, and the graceful and gentle stretch of the cast is good for the muscles after surgery. It’s meditative, making you stay in the moment. Everything else drops away. Over 70 percent of women at the retreats had never been in a support group. Here they were, among people where they don’t have to explain why their hair is growing back in. There’s this quote that’s always stuck with me about it – that most people fish all their lives and don’t realize that it’s never been about the fish. It’s transformative, a gift.”

Kennedy’s empathy is born from years of experience and education, working closely with patients in a manner not unlike her childhood hero, Marcus Welby. She takes seriously the meaning behind the letters FACS (Fellow, American College of Surgeons) that follow her name. It signifies that her education and training, professional qualifications, surgical competence, and ethical conduct have passed a rigorous evaluation, and have been found to be consistent with the high standards established and demanded by the College.

"Our breast cancer patients have always had access to some of the finest surgeons in the Capital Region," said Richard Falivena, MD, chief medical and physician integration officer. "There is a segment of our population that has been traveling outside the community, seeking care by a dedicated breast surgeon who is fellowship trained in that specialty. Now, those patients can receive that specialty care right here, at Saratoga Hospital.”

Kennedy intends to develop a cohesive breast program, tailoring the surgical and non-surgical options for patients utilizing the latest technology and research. “The newest breakthroughs have to do with being able to really tailor the therapy,” she said. “Chemotherapy is not one size fits all. We can now tailor it to the disease so we are not over-treating people.”

She says imaging and early detection have greatly improved over the years, and there are so many more options than surgery for women now, including better reconstruction options should a mastectomy be necessary. Kennedy is committed to seeking and incorporating best practices for the patients of the program, not only locally, but nationally as well.

"Dr. Kennedy is also a surveyor for the National Accreditation Program for Breast Centers," Falivena said. "We are determined to advance our program to meet the exacting accreditation standards—and we are confident that Dr. Kennedy has the expertise to help us meet that goal."

As a surveyor, Kennedy has evaluated breast programs around the country to ensure that the standards are met for accreditation. “I want women to receive the best care possible, no matter where the get their care,” said Kennedy. 

Kennedy has two children, a 14-year-old daughter and an 18-year-old son who is attending Rochester Institute of Technology. She and her family are delighted to settle here.

“Saratoga is so charming,” she said. “There’s so much going on. It’s a college town, there’s the track, and the downtown is so vibrant. I remember driving through here once and saying to my husband – there’s a hospital here. Not long after, I found out they were looking for a breast cancer surgeon, and it seems all these things were leading me here.” 


Kennedy will begin seeing patients on September 14 at Saratoga Medical Park in Malta. There are also plans for an expanded facility in Wilton. For an appointment, call Saratoga Hospital’s HealthSource line at 518-580-2450. No referral needed.

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