Democrat Photo by Nathan Mayberg
THE CASKET BEARING Joe Wasser was somberly carried down the steps of Landfield Avenue Synagogue in Monticello Sunday at a funeral attended by hundreds of mourners.
Sheriff Laid to Rest
By Jeanne Sager
MONTICELLO November 2, 2004 One of the countys finest was laid to rest Sunday.
The longest-serving sheriff in county history, Joe Wasser left his mark on Sullivan County politics and Sullivan County police work.
He died last Thursday at 83 in Arden Hill Hospital in Goshen.
But the many friends and contemporaries he left behind have vowed never to forget the man who served his community from the town level to the national.
"I just cant say enough about the man," said current Sheriff Dan Hogue.
Hogue took over the countys premiere police department in 1991 from Wasser but he said he knows hed never be where he is today if it wasnt for Joe.
It was Wasser who made the call to the Monticello Police Department and asked Hogue to leave his job and make the switch to the countywide service, taking him on as undersheriff.
Hogue learned not just police work but politics from Wasser lessons he said have given him the edge in life.
"It was a pleasure and an honor to work for him," Hogue said. "He was always friendly to everyone, went out of his way to help a lot of people nobody else had that kind of compassion.
"Being in police work and corrections, sometimes you get a little callused," Hogue explained. "That never happened to Joe."
Although Wasser had the ear of New Yorks powerful Governor Mario Cuomo during his tenure as sheriff, he was also a man of the people, Hogue said.
"You would see him talking to Governor Cuomo like he was his best friend . . . then see him on Broadway in Monticello talking to the little guy," he explained. "There was no change in the level of compassion."
Sullivan County Clerk George Cooke was saddened to get the call last week that a dear friend had died, but he was nothing but honored when Wassers son Marty asked him to lend a hand at carrying his fathers casket.
Himself a primary figure in Sullivan County politics over the past several decades, Cooke said he never met a man who loved his community more.
"He was Sullivan County," Cooke said.
Cooke recalled a man who put his heart and soul into his family spending every moment with wife Ethel as she was dying, enthusing about son Marty and daughter Ellen and his granddaughter Laurie.
Having known Wasser much of his life, Cooke said he knew him as the "consummate politician."
"He first ran for politics as GOP at Monticello High School," he recalled with a laugh. "He never stopped running till the day he died."
That race took Wasser from magistrate in the Town of Thompson to the town board, from county sheriff to commissioner on the NYS Commission of Corrections.
Tim Hill, head of the countys Democratic Party today, thinks of Joe Wasser as "Mr. Democrat."
"There are people, with all due respect to their opinions, who said they know Mr. Cuomo," Hill said.
But when he goes to Albany, Hill said people hear "Sullivan County" and they ask, "How are things with Woodstock, the racetrack, and, by the way, hows Joe Wasser?"
For Hill, spending time with Wasser, from their trips to former President Bill Clintons inauguration to short treks to Albany, was a chance to learn from the master.
"Joe was always willing to lend a hand and talk," Hill explained. "He really did know the deal and knew the people."
In times when a voice of reason was needed, an idea to run with, Wasser didnt take over, but always came out with something.
It was, well, you know, back when so and so was running, this worked . . . Hill recalled. He was never an intrusive guy, he didnt push it on you, but he certainly offered you his help.
Sullivan County is going to have to learn to remember Joe Wassers advice, without him here to give it to us.
Democrat File Photo
A County Remembers
Sheriff Joe Wasser
By Nathan Mayberg
MONTICELLO November 2, 2004 Hundreds of people crowded into the Landfield Synagogue in Monticello Sunday to pay their last respects to Joseph Wasser, the longest tenured sheriff in the history of Sullivan County.
He passed away Thursday at the age of 83.
Wasser was most often remembered as one who was always there to help people. He was equally recalled as an individual who loved people and Sullivan County.
He received his first taste of elected office when he was voted student body president at Monticello High School. He earned his public duty stripes when he served in the Army during World War II, rising to the rank of first lieutenant.
He earned a bachelors degree in Business Administration from St. Johns University. When he returned home to Monticello, he worked in the accounting firm of Glick and Pickard.
He opened his own linen service, Mountain Linen Company, and stayed in business until he took the job of county sheriff.
Wasser, however, became one of the most famous and revered figures in the county as the operator of his linen store and through his 19-year terms as Town of Thompson justice and Town of Thompson councilman.
While serving nearly 20 years as county sheriff, he was called upon to become a commissioner for the New York State Commission of Corrections by Governor Hugh Carey, a post he held for six years.
At the service on Sunday, Rabbi Ben-Zion Chanowitz described the legendary figure as having special warmth and the brightest smile.
Rabbi Irving Goodman of the Hebrew Day School remarked that Wasser respected all of mankind regardless of their stature in life.
Goodman, like many others, observed that the former sheriff rarely forgot the name of anybody. In one of the most memorable examples, Wasser greeted nearly a thousand of the attendees to his retirement dinner by name while standing at the door. That retirement came after nearly half a century of public service during which he never lost an election.
Although his health had begun to fail him recently, he shared one of his most joyous moments this past July, when his son Marty was engaged and his great-granddaughter Guilia was born to his granddaughter Laurie Guzzinati.
Laurie shared her fond memories during an emotional speech at the synagogue. Among those recollections were the Sundays when he would go with her to pick up bagels in the morning and then newspapers from Joe Rodas on Broadway. He would take her to the golf course and let her drive the golf cart before she was legally able. He was also a politically keen man who regularly watched the Sunday morning news shows.
Another one of his impressive characteristics was his tremendous organizational ability, said family members. He kept fireproof filing cabinets in his basement, which contained pictures, report cards, news clippings and similar nostalgia items of his family and friends.
Wassers only son, Martin, read a moving eulogy which spoke of a beautiful life defined by friendships, a life well lived, a person deeply loved.
As many others reaffirmed, the younger Wasser noted his fathers ability to light up a room with his charisma.
His unique character was exemplified on one day when Wasser returned home from work and casually asked his children about their day at school, while eating a normal dinner.
The next day, his children learned that their father had disarmed a live hand grenade in Liberty.
He called his father a gentle force of nature. . . . He won you over with his genuine concern, his sense of decency and fairness, his unswerving honesty. He loved being around people and drew strength from those he met.
Wasser was buried at the Landfield Avenue Synagogue Cemetery, with military honors, including a memorable performance of Taps, and the presentation of an American flag to the family by two American soldiers.
Afterwards, family and friends gathered at Bernies Holiday Restaurant in Rock Hill.
State Appellate Court Judge and Forestburgh resident Anthony Kane said that Wasser, a Democrat, welcomed newcomers to the county with offers of assistance, regardless of their political persuasion. Kane, who is a Republican, said that throughout my career, I sought out and received guidance from Joe.
Kane arrived in Sullivan County as a fresh graduate of law school.
I didnt know anybody. Having somebody of Joes stature lend a helping hand was a very important gesture.
Wassers nephew, Mark Kutsher of Monticello, called him a great uncle. He loved the county. He loved the people in the county. Kutsher added that Wasser had a great personality. He had a sense of humor that you could always enjoy. He loved the interplay with people.
Michael Bernstein, president of the Monticello Fire Department, recalled Wasser, a fellow fireman, as a good friend to just about everybody in Sullivan County. If you needed something, Joe was there. You cant ask for anything more from a man.
Marvin Rappaport, a good friend of Wassers son Marty, remembered their young days playing basketball in his backyard. He called the elder Wasser one of the good guys. He enjoyed being with people and working for people. That was his greatest pleasure.
He would be working the room if he was here, said Rappaport, whose father also served on the Town of Thompson Board. Both his dad and Wasser attended school together.
Rappaport said that the sheriff was an avid and knowledgeable sports fan who enjoyed watching baseball games on television.
Sullivan County Democratic Party Chairman Timothy Hill described Wasser as a warm party leader who always helped out.
Joe was everybodys friend, and everybody was Joes friend, he said.
Town of Thompson Supervisor Anthony Cellini called Wasser one of my favorite friends forever. Cellini used to bring him and back and forth to the airport. The supervisor would also ask Wasser for advice, which always worked out well.
Wassers son, Martin, added that his father had a warm heart. He used to joke that he and his son were the first father and son team to serve as student body president of Monticello High School.
Wasser was predeceased by his wife of more than 45 years, Ethel Apter. He is survived by his sister, Helen Kutsher of Monticello, his son Martin of Manhattan, his daughter Ellen Golnick of Monticello, his granddaughter Laurie, his great granddaughter Giulia and several nieces and nephews.