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Massena recalls Colonel Sanders’ 1976 visit

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MASSENA - Until Massena’s Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurant closed its doors in 2012, the village had played host to the internationally known fast-food franchise since 1971, even receiving a visit from its celebrity founder Colonel Harland Sanders in 1976.

Col. Sanders visited Massena’s restaurant to present the local franchise with the prestigious “White Glove” Award. According to an article in the April 13, 1976 edition of The Massena Observer, store manager Jerry Laurin accepted the award from the colonel in front of a crowd that included “dozens” of people.

“This award recognizes the store for maintaining high standards of sanitization,” Col. Sanders said at the time, noting he had previously stopped at restaurants in Plattsburgh and Watertown. These three north country locations were the first in the franchise to receive the honor.

Last week, which saw the demolition of Massena’s vacant KFC restaurant to make way for a Tim Horton’s, rekindled nostalgia for the fried-chicken legend who once visited the north country.

Carol (Greco) Thompson, whose sister Mary worked at the restaurant, had the opportunity to meet the Colonel.

“I was only in the 11th grade,” she said, adding that was her first time meeting anyone famous.

Ms. Thompson recalled employees and their families being invited to a private luncheon with Col. Sanders that was held inside the restaurant. Unfortunately though, her sister was not among them, as she was in college at the time.

“There were probably only about 20 of us inside the restaurant,” she said, adding there was also a large crowd of people assembled outside.

Those outside the restaurant included John Michaud III.

Mr. Michaud said he was only two-years-old at the time, but he said he remembers the colonel’s visit.

“I was only two, but I remember it,” he said. “I met him, it is actually one of my first memories.”

Mr. Michaud said that his mother took a picture of him with Col. Sanders, although he has no idea where that picture is today.

“That picture is long gone,” he said, adding his impression of the Colonel was likely very different from others who may have been at the event that day.

“He was really tall and scary,” Mr. Michaud said. “When you’re two, everyone seems really tall.”

Ms. Thompson though, said the Colonel was anything but scary.

“He was a very nice man,” she said. “We sat there and talked with him, and he said he would pose for pictures with everyone.”

Bob Smith, who has operated a barbershop in Massena for more than 40 years, said he remembers the visit, but didn’t get an opportunity to meet the colonel.

“I was down here working,” he said. “And the colonel never came in for a haircut.”

Now if it had been Barry Sanders instead of Col. Sanders who came to Massena, Mr. Smith, a well-known, avid sports fan, said he would have closed shop and been there in a heartbeat to meet the Hall of Fame running back.

Longtime Town Councilman Albert N. Nicola, who was teaching social studies at Massena High School at the time, said he remembers the visit, but also did not meet the fast food legend.

Mr. Nicola though said he does miss having a KFC in Massena.

“I think my favorite fast food was Kentucky Fried Chicken,” he said. “I miss having Kentucky Fried Chicken there.”

While Kentucky Fried Chicken, now known as KFC, no longer has a presence in Massena, they still do operate locations in Watertown, Evans Mills, Malone and Plattsburgh.

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