Agnes Van Put Wins Local Award
County's 'Goodwill Ambassador' Wins Visitors Association Award
By Dan Hust
PARKSVILLE — Agnes Van Put loves Democrats.
You don't even have to ask her.
Assemblywoman Aileen Gunther was the first to find that out at Thursday evening's holiday social and annual meeting of the Sullivan County Visitors Association (SCVA) at the Dead End Cafe in Parksville.
In the middle of a hug between the two accomplished women, Van Put whispered in Gunther's ear how happy she was that she was receiving the SCVA's highest honor - the TOAST (Tribute to an Outstanding Associate Serving Tourism) Award - from the Democratic Assemblywoman.
Sullivan County Legislature Chair Chris Cunningham got the same warm reception from Van Put when he commended her. He, of course, is a Democrat who heads a legislative body consisting of a Democratic majority.
But it was Tracy Brooks, representing U.S. Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton, who merited the most priceless comment of the evening.
While handing Van Put her certificate of commendation from the Senator, Brooks told the 89-year-old awardee that Clinton regretted not being able to present the certificate in person.
"Tell her I'll e-mail her," was Van Put's quick reply, drawing raucous applause and laughter from the large crowd.
What Gunther, Cunningham, Brooks and the SCVA were lauding was Van Put's commitment to serving up charm, wit, good will - and delicious soup - to visitors at the Catskill Fly Fishing Center and Museum in Livingston Manor.
An employee of the world-famous museum since it opened in 1981, Van Put has welcomed tens of thousands of visitors to the area, taking a brief break four years ago only to once again return to her duties as chief gift shop volunteer, a fly-tier, guide, historian, museum representative and all-around goodwill ambassador for Sullivan County.
"In 2006 the Catskill Fly Fishing Center and Museum will celebrate their 25th anniversary, and Agnes will be 90 - two major events for the Catskills," said Gunther, quoting museum Executive Director James Krul's letter nominating Van Put for the award.
"She continues to be one of the most active goodwill ambassadors for the Catskills and ultimately one of Sullivan County tourism's greatest treasures," quoted Gunther.
Showered with praise and even more certificates (including one from NYS Senator John Bonacic), Van Put took advantage of the situation to cheerfully promote the museum one more time.
"I'll make sure I have enough soup for everyone on [trout season's] opening day!" she remarked.
And for that, she received a standing ovation - from Democrats, Republicans, Greens and Independents alike.
Before Van Put's award ceremony, Gunther and SCVA CEO Roberta Byron-Lockwood handed out an honorable mention version of the TOAST Award to Liberty developer Jeremy Gorelick.
About 60 years Van Put's junior, Gorelick graciously accepted the award for his extensive development efforts, which include helping bring Manhattan's Munson Diner to Liberty and mounting several affordable housing projects in central Sullivan County.
"We know Sullivan County is getting better because we're working together because of the efforts of the SCVA," he told the applauding crowd.
Elsewhere in the meeting, SCVA Board President Paul Carlucci of the Villa Roma Resort Hotel spoke of the association's growing membership (around 250 now) and success in marketing and public-private partnering.
He said the group, which is a contracted agency with the county, is seeking to expand its membership, increase lobbying efforts, redesign the Website, focus on the county's overall image and identify tourism-related trends in the area.
Nominating Committee Chair Norman Duttweiler of the Forestburgh Playhouse announced that Rich Delia of Ferndale Antiques Marketplace, Jonathan Drapkin of the Gerry Foundation and Michele Caltabellotta of the Dead End Cafe had been re-elected to the board, and out of a pool of more than 50 candidates, Shannon Armbrust of the Lodge at Rock Hill and Sims Foster of Peez Leweez and Resort Restaurant had been elected for the first time to the SCVA board.
Current officers include Carlucci, Vice Chair Rick Lander of Lander's River Trips, Caltabellotta (secretary) and Duttweiler (treasurer). Delia is director-at-large and John J. "Bill" Sipos of Mr. Willy's Restaurant is the immediate past chair and director-at-large.
It's a group, said Brooks, that has made Sullivan "the premier county for getting it together," adding that she uses the county as a model for tourism in other counties in NYS.
In demonstration of that fact, it was later announced that the SCVA had won the 2005 American Graphic Design Award for its 2005 Tourism Guide cover.
The Legislature is proud and happy to continue to support all the good work the SCVA is doing," said Cunningham. "We've never had a better program . . . than we have right now."
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