Longtime residents of Ogdensburg may remember the 1966 Chamber of Commerce Beautification Program that saw roving gangs of do-gooders painting bridges, building new stairs and generally sprucing things up.
The program began with Ogdensburg residents Charles Fox and William Farrand, through the Chamber of Commerce, requesting Jerome Mark Antil – then a young advertiser – come and make a promotional video for the city to attract new doctors.
But when Mr. Antil arrived in Ogdensburg he said to the chamber that the city didn’t need a movie to make doctors want to move up, they needed a nicer city.
“I told them quite frankly, ‘the place is run-down,’” he said. “They challenged me to do a beautification program.”
So for six months in 1966 Mr. Antil gathered together groups of volunteers who worked on small projects across the city.
This is just one of the many recollections contained in Mr. Antil’s autobiography, “The Long Stem is in the Lobby,” that chronicles his life as a young ad-man from the mid-60s to mid-70s.
“During the last 10 or 15 years everyone has been asking me to write a book on marketing,” Mr. Antil said. “The best training today is story telling.”
“If a small business read that book five times they could turn around any business,” he said.
In particular Mr. Antil said the episode in Ogdensburg is illustrative of the power of communal action once people feel they are part of something bigger than themselves.
In Ogdensburg, Mr. Antil said it was initially difficult to get people to join hands in the beautification project because “the civic leaders were all holier-than-thou among the community.”
“I ended up going to the local bars and I met the younger crowd. I created a thing called the night-marauders,” Mr. Antil said, where local businesses would donate supplies and the kids would go out and paint bridges, fire-hydrants and trash cans.
“[The kids] started setting an example and then everyone started working in daylight,” Mr. Antil recalled.
“The point is, if you really look at the town and make a classless society everybody will work hand in hand and be proud of it,” he said.
The beautification project ended up working, Mr. Antil said, with a renewed sense of community and a new doctor.
Mr. Antil was embraced by the community, according to newspaper accounts from 1960s, and was invited back to speak at the 1967 Ogdensburg Free Academy Graduation where he said, “commit yourself to a high goal, and you will find the job easy.” He also spoke at the Rotary club in 1972.
“I fell in love with the town and they kind of adopted me,” Mr. Antil said.
Originally from Cortland, Mr. Antil now splits his time between Southampton, NY, and Dallas, TX. He lives with his wife of two years, Pamela. “The Long Stem is in the Lobby” is available at Amazon.com and through Barns and Noble.