Pulitzer Prize winner added to GCC speaker series

Heather Ann Thompson

Dr. Heather Ann Thompson


BATAVIA — Genesee Community College has landed a Pulitzer Prize winner for its Historical Horizons lecture series.

Author Heather Ann Thompson will lead a discussion on her book, “Blood in the Water,” at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 12, in Room T-102 at the school’s Batavia campus.

Released last year, “Blood in the Water” is Thompson’s exposé on the 1971 Attica Prison riot. It won the Pulitzer Prize for History in April.

It is a major get for the school.

“I have known about this book for years, even before it was published,” said associate professor of history Derek Maxfield, who organizes the lecture series. “I had reached out to her when the book was released and told her how much I liked it. Then I congratulated her when she won the Pulitzer. I also told her I would love have her come in if she was ever in the area. Finally, we were able to work out a date this fall.”

Thompson spent 13 years researching the riot before finally writing her book. Part of the reason it took so long was that she waited until certain government documents were made available after being classified for decades.

In her book, Thompson revealed previously unreported details, including the names of state police officers who allegedly committed crimes in the riot but were never indicted.

“Since the book has come out, it’s been really incredible that so many people have read it and the response that has come to me has been overwhelmingly positive,” Thompson told The Daily News in April.

The book, of course, has local interest despite its controversial subject.

“There have been a lot of books about the riot, but I believe this is the first in-depth report by a historian,” Maxfield said. “As a historian myself, that appealed to me. It’s a very balanced and well-researched approach to the story. I’m sure it makes some people feel uncomfortable, because it’s an ugly story. There are still people who lived through it in the area. I have a lot of students who have parents who work at the prison, so this will have local interest for sure.”

For Maxfield, the book and the author’s visit hold even more significance, since he previously taught classes in the prison. It was an experience he called “eye-opening.”

“Your whole outlook changes a lot when you go into that atmosphere and see what kind of life the prisoners have,” he said. “You have an abstract view of it unless you see it for yourself.”

Maxfield added that he hopes this presentation will lead to a discussion about incarceration.

“We send too many people to prison and don’t work hard enough at rehabilitation,” he said. “Certainly there are violent criminals there who should be punished. But we throw these people away and feel they can’t be redeemed or rehabilitated.”

Thompson is not the first Pulitzer Prize winner to take part in the Historical Horizons lecture series. Eric Foner took part in the 2016 series. His book, “The Fiery Trial: Abraham Lincoln and American Slavery,” won the 2011 Pulitzer Prize for History.

2017 Orleans County Heritage Heroes Award Ceremony TONIGHT

Ceremony Recognizing Winners to be held May 5th at GCC’s Medina Campus Center

Medina, NY – Now in its fourth year, the Orleans County Heritage Heroes Awards were created in 2014 as a way to recognize the efforts of those who give their time, hard work and resources to preserve and protect local heritage. Often unnoticed, the efforts of those honored help to ensure that the history of Orleans County will be passed to the next generation.

The 2017 class of Heritage Heroes will be recognized in a ceremony at Genesee Community College’s Medina Campus Center in Medina, NY, on Friday, May 5th at 7 p.m.  According to Derek Maxfield, associate professor of history at GCC and a member of the executive committee that chooses the winners, “It is vitally important that we take the time to honor these deserving folks. Not only does it shine a spotlight on their efforts, but it reminds us that it is up to us – the living generation – to take the steps necessary to preserve our heritage for future generations.”

This year’s Orleans County Heritage Heroes are:

Jim Hancock has always been preservation minded and is a very high profile advocate for Orleans County history and culture. As president of the Medina Sandstone Society, Jim has had some pretty big shoes to fill with the passing of Bob Waters. One of the originators of the society, Jim has been instrumental in the creation of the Sandstone Hall of Fame. Jim has also been a major force in the creation of the John Ryan School of Historical Excellence at Medina Central School. As the former chairman of the Erie Canal Task Force and the present leader of the Christmas Parade of Lights and leadership in the Medina Tourism Committee, one has to wonder if this man ever sleeps.

Ken McPherson personifies what it means to be a Heritage Hero as gregarious keeper of the flame.  A graduate and advocate for the Charles Howard Santa School, “No one has done more to keep Charlie Howard’s legacy alive in his hometown,” according to Phil Wenz when he presented Ken with the Charles W. Howard Award in 2015. A thirty year veteran Santa Claus, Ken has amassed an impressive collection of Howard memorabilia and is on the committee to erect a memorial to Howard in downtown Albion.

Richard and Shirley Nellist work as a team, and they have painstakingly prepared detailed records for the eleven cemeteries in the Town of Ridgeway – over 11,000 burials all told, which are now loaded into the Orleans County Genweb system online and available for anyone doing genealogical research. Active members of the Medina Historical Society, Richard and Shirley have both served on the Board of Trustees.

Gretchen Sepik brings history to life with her engaging and inspirational portrayals of Erie Canal Sal, Susan B. Anthony, Mary Jemison and Beatrix Potter. In 2009, the Genesee-Orleans Regional Arts Council awarded Gretchen a grant to adapt her character Erie Canal Sal into a children’s book. As it is the 200th anniversary of the building of the Erie Canal, it only seems appropriate to honor Gretchen for her work educating young people about “Clinton’s Ditch.”

The C.W. “Bill” Lattin Award for Excellence in Municipal History will be awarded to Alice Zacher.  As historian for the Town of Shelby from 1981 to 1995 and 2006 to the present, Alice is a true inspiration and a tireless advocate of local heritage. In 2012, Alice published “Slate Boards and Hot Soup: A History of One-Room Schoolhouses in the Town of Shelby.” Through this she not only did her part to preserve the history and culture of the one room schoolhouses, but she donated all of the proceeds to the Millville Cemetery. Clearly, another of her passions, Alice has worked to raise funds to preserve the chapel at the cemetery, secured a historic marker from the Pomeroy Foundation, and took the lead in getting the cemetery on the National Register of Historic Places. An active member of the Medina Historical Society, Alice is presently cataloging artifacts donated to the society.

Those selected as Heritage Heroes could be of any age but had to be living residents of Orleans County. No posthumous nominations were accepted. History professionals and GCC employees were also not eligible for the award, nor were those serving on the award selection committees. The selection committees were made up of staff and students of Genesee Community College, community members and history professionals.

The award ceremony on Friday, May 5, 7 p.m. is at GCC’s Medina Campus Center located at 11470 Maple Ridge Road, Medina, NY 14103. The event is open to the public, but seating is limited. A reception will follow the ceremony featuring light refreshments.

For more information on the awards or the ceremony, contact Jim Simon at simon@genesee.edu or Prof. Derek Maxfield at ddmaxfield@genesee.edu or by calling the Medina Campus Center at 585-798-1688.


Attica H.S. Fundraiser MOVED

The fundraiser for the Attica Historical Society, sponsored by the GCC History Club, has been moved indoors to the Attica Presbyterian Church just across the street from the museum at 115 Main St.  The change was precipitated by the forecast for cool temperatures and showers.

Other than the move, all other programs will take place as scheduled.

Historical Horizons Lecture Wednesday (4/19) Features World War I Theme

Rescheduled from last month, Garth Swanson’s World War I lecture will take place this Wednesday.  As always, the lecture is FREE and open to the public.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017, 7 p.m. / Batavia Campus / T102

  • Originally scheduled for March 8, 2017, Garth Swanson, GCC professor of History will present Wilsonian Diplomacy at a Crossroads – 1917: Missionaries of Democracy or Merchants of Death.”  The year 2017 marks the 100th anniversary of America’s entry into World War I.  In his presentation, Professor Swanson takes a fresh look at the events that brought about the nation’s engagement in the war. The lecture will focus on the complex domestic and diplomatic issues that challenged Woodrow Wilson’s internationalist vision of a new world order.

GCC History Club Supports Attica Historical Society and Creates Fundraiser


GCC Associate Professor of History and History Club Advisor Derek Maxfield presents a $250 donation check on behalf of the History Club to Attica Historical Society President Dean June.

ATTICA, NY – In response to the recent flood at the Attica Historical Society Museum, the Genesee Community College History Club is sponsoring a fundraiser on Saturday, May 6th called “Historians for Attica Historical Society,” from 9:00 AM to about 4:00 PM. The event will feature five one-hour history programs. Guests may purchase tickets to individual programs for $5 each or purchase an all-day pass for $20. Young people under 14 get into all programs free.  All proceeds benefit the Attica Historical Society and Museum.

Back in February, Dean June, the president of the society, looked down toward the basement door when he was entering the museum and noticed much water coming from under the door. He pushed it open to find more than two feet of water standing in the basement. He does not know exactly how long it had been like that. The sump pump and other safety mechanisms had failed. As a result, boxes of artifacts including many books were under water. Mold had already set in on the walls and boxes. The society had to discard many artifacts and books that were irreplaceable. Moreover, they had to spend almost $10,000 to clean-up, cut out and replace walls, and to seal the basement.

The day-long event will feature:

9:00-10:00 AM            “History and Politics in 140 Characters or Less: Considering Andrew Jackson in the Age of Trump” with Danny Hamner, Adjunct Instructor of History, GCC

10:15-11:15 AM          “Upstate New York State Suffragists and Radical Reform” with      Melinda Grube, PhD, Adjunct Instructor of History Cayuga Community College

11:30-12:30 PM          Panel discussion: “Living Living History: Becoming Someone Else”

Moderated by Derek Maxfield, Associate Professor of History, GCC       Panel includes: Melinda Grube, who portrays Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Tom Schobert, who portrays Gen. Robert E. Lee, and Al Parker, Great-  Grandnephew and portrayer of Eli Parker, Aide-de-camp of Gen. Ulysses S. Grant

12:30-1:30 PM            LUNCH

1:30-2:30 PM              19th century stories and music by David Armitage and Dona LaValle

2:45-3:45 PM              Civil War Demo/Lecture

The sound system for the event is being provided courtesy of Kirk McWhorter of Penny Whiskey.

Tickets will be available at the door on the day of the event, which will take place on the lawn of the Attica Historical Society Museum. Pre-sale tickets will be available from the historical society.  To purchase tickets or for more information call (585) 591-2161.For more information about the individual programs, contact Prof. Derek Maxfield at ddmaxfield@genesee.edu. Parking is available behind the Stevens Memorial Library, at the historical society or in the Presbyterian Church parking lot across the street.


Adventure Cut Short

Gettysburg Military park in a snow storm and canons.

It’s just not the same.

Gettysburg is not meant to be seen in the snow.  It is just not the same.  It should be hot and sticky to be truly appreciated.  This is what I told myself anyway as the club made plans to return home early.  The projected snowstorm would engulf the entire area we would need to drive through to get home.  And the mountains of Pennsylvania are no place to be in a white out.

Instead of returning Tuesday as planned, the History Club spent three of the six hours we intended in Washington, DC then returned to Gettysburg where we got in our cars and drove home.  Thankfully, we did not run into any snow until we were about five miles outside of Batavia.  It was a little sad to cut things short, but we were all home safe.


History Club Campaign Advances to Washington, DC


The shivering never ended.

Whether it was contemplating the White House and it’s occupant or maybe it was just the weather, the shivering never ended.  Still, the members of the History Club persevered in their quest to make the most of their Spring campaign.

Among the many stops in DC were the Lincoln, Vietnam, World War II and Jefferson Memorials.  We also visited the Martin Luther King, Jr. monument, made a brief stop by the Capital and the White House.  The club also tendered their respects to Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman, though only one rather eccentric member of the group knew exactly who he was.




GCC History Club Conquers the National Civil War Museum


Departing from the itinerary, which had featured a trip to Harper’s Ferry, WV, the History Club opted instead for a more indoor adventure after braving the wind and the cold for several days.  The new destination was the National Civil War Museum in Harrisburg, PA.  It was an interesting experience to be sure, though a bit disappointing to the expert leading the group.

The day turned suddenly brighter with the discovery of a massive indoor used book store in downtown Harrisburg that caused drooling and awe for at least one member of the group.  In fact, he had to be sedated and bodily removed from the store amid cries of “Oh, let me stay.  Let me die here.”  For the good of all, the club removed to Gettysburg and good order was restored.

History Club Ventures to Gettysburg


Despite bone-chilling cold and patches of snow, the determined members of the GCC History Club made their way to the battlefield of Gettysburg today.  Quite contrary to the conditions the soldiers endured in July 1863, the students would have gladly accepted the woolen uniforms discarded by the troops at that time.

In the photo above, the group sits atop the Devil’s Den.  This was a site that must be seen to be believed.  Huge glacial boulders made for a unique fighting environment during the battle on the second day of fighting.  Beyond the Devil’s Den, top right in the picture, is Little Roundtop which was also the scene of gruesome fighting.