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Joseph R. Sears

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Joseph R. Sears, Recognized Northern New York State Champion of the Elderly, Dies at Age 86. Ogdensburg native, Joseph Richard Sears, a public figure who for decades factored prominently in pioneering programs for the elderly and the less fortunate in Northern New York State, died on Friday evening, May 23, 2014 at his home in Ogdensburg, NY surrounded by his loving family. Mr. Sears began a career in social work in 1967 when he was appointed Field Advisor for the St. Lawrence County Community Development Program (CDP). Immediately upon accepting that role, Sears established several neighborhood centers in St Lawrence County, specifically in Potsdam, Massena, Waddington, DeKalb, Canton, Brasie Corners, Star Lake, Heuvelton, Gouverneur and Ogdensburg, NY. The centers provided quality programs that emphasized self-sufficiency and positive community engagement for individuals throughout the County. In 1969, Sears became director of Ogdensburg’s first neighborhood center, operating out of the former Nathan Frank Building on Ford Street. There, he opened the City’s earliest Golden Age Club and the original Meals on Wheels program in the region, among the first in New York State. Later that year, Sears established Ogdensburg’s first geriatric day care center. In early 1975, Sears was selected among some 40 candidates by the St. Lawrence County Board of Legislators and appointed Director of the St Lawrence County Office For The Aging. Under his leadership, new programs emerged to serve the needs of the county’s elderly, beginning with a nutrition program aimed at older residents throughout the region. During time, Sears was responsible for the creation of numerous meal sites, using his leverage and influence with his substantial contacts in the region to make use of idle public buildings, houses of worship, and a variety of institutions of higher learning to make the program a reality. In 1981, Sears was a New York delegate selected to represent the interests of Upstate New York senior citizens at the decennial White House Conference on Aging in Washington, DC. Sears extensively prepared for the event by traveling throughout the region to meet with seniors so that he could effectively voice their needs and desires in Washington. Sears played a prominent role in the New York Statewide Senior Action Council, a grassroots membership organization made up of other individual senior citizens and senior citizen clubs from all parts of New York State. Later in his career, Sears, in cooperation with Rev. Steven Gratto, then Diocesan Director of Catholic Charities, embarked on an ambitious $31 million-dollar housing project for senior citizens. On October 25, 1986, Sears was recognized for his unyielding dedication to the needs of the elderly, when he received a North Country Citation from St. Lawrence University in Canton, NY. He was cited for his “exemplary commitments to improving the quality of life from the area’s elderly, and for his proof that loving concern if forever new. He worked tirelessly to preserve the dignity of elderly people in the region. His voice became the strong voice for all in the area who suffered discrimination, ostracism or indignity because of old age. He pioneered an emergency fuel program during the mid-1970’s energy crisis that assured the elderly that they could hear their homes.” The citation further noted, “Sears initiated a ‘Green Thumb Program’ in the area, enabling older people to work in New York State Parks. Nutrition awareness programs, a health screening unit, and information and referral services for the elderly, recreation programs and access to home health care professionals all became possible in St. Lawrence County through the efforts of Sears.” Near the end of his career, Sears campaigned heavily for a new, more accessible location for the St. Lawrence County Office For The Aging. In August 1990, before members of the press and a large crowd of well-wishers, comprised of county legislators, family, friends and followers from throughout the region, the new Joseph R. Sears building in Canton, NY was dedicated. Sears’ philosophy throughout his career was that aging is an opportunity to expand our lives and build on our unique strengths. He will be best remembered for making things happen; a “doer” with extensive connections; a ‘miracle worker” who, together with his staff and network of volunteers, worked hard to effect considerable positive changes for the elderly in St. Lawrence County and beyond. Sears’ signature management style was to find creative ways to fund a variety of his office’s projects designed to help seniors; projects that typically had minimal financial impact on taxpayers. Sears was born in Ogdensburg, NY on May 29, 1927 to the late Charles and Florence Sears. On May 29, 1950, he married Jacqueline D. LeRoux, with whom he had five children. She predeceased him in 1997. Sears served in the US Army and was a member of the Ogdensburg Fire Department. During that time, he was injured and consequently lost his left ring finger during Operation Sun Drum, a large-scale combined military and civilian exercise that assumed a nuclear attack on the United States & parts of Canada. The operation anticipated extensive direct and collateral damage with heavy casualties in Syracuse, Rochester, Utica, Buffalo, and New York City. For years, Sears was a highly effective leader in scouting where he became a member of the prestigious “Order of the Arrow”, the national honor society of the Boy Scouts of America. There, he also earned “The Scouter’s Key Award” in recognition of his ability to provide unfailing quality leadership and character-development programs for his troop, #68, over a number of consecutive years. Sears was a graduate of St. Mary’s High School in Ogdensburg, and later earned his master’s degree in social work through Syracuse University. He opened his own plumbing and heating business for a time, inspired in large part by the success of his father-in-law, well-known Ogdensburg businessman, Leo G. LeRoux. He was previously a member of the Ogdensburg Kiwanis Club. At the time of his death, Sears was a 4th Degree Knight in the Msgr. A. D. Charbonneau Council 258 Knights of Columbus. He was a devout Christian and for most all of his life was a member of Notre Dame Catholic Church in Ogdensburg, where he also served in a variety of roles. His survivors include the light of his life, Marjorie McCaffrey (Hallenbeck) Sears, to whom he married on August 21,1999; his brother Gary and his wife Janet of Plant City, FL; his loving devoted children – son Joseph T. Sears and wife Gail of Marietta, GA; his four daughters, Melanie Sears of Ogdensburg; Cynthia Sears Miller and husband Ronald of Syracuse, NY; Lori Sears Ezell and husband Jeffrey of Annapolis, MD and Teresa Sears Scanlon and husband Michael of Poughkeepsie, NY; his caring, wonderful step-children, Gary Hallenbeck and his life-companion, Dee, of Winchester, TN; Maureen Walasek and husband Henry of Prescott, ON Canada; Deborah Savage and husband Edward of Canton, NY, and Kathleen Wylie and husband Donald of Ogdensburg, several grandchildren, great-grandchildren and several nieces and nephews. He was predeceased by his brothers - Charles, Bernard, and Bruce Sears. He also leaves behind “Moose”, his faithful German Shepherd mix canine. Calling hours will be held on Monday, May 26, 2014 from 2:00 to 4:00 and 6:00 to 8:00 PM at Frary Funeral Home on 515 Caroline St, Ogdensburg, NY. A Mass in celebration of Sears’ life is scheduled for Tuesday, May 27, 2014 at 10:00 AMat Notre Dame Catholic Church, 125 Ford Avenue, Ogdensburg, NY, with Fr. James Shurtleff presiding. Donations may be made in Sears’ name to the St. Lawrence Valley Hospice and Palliative Care, the Notre Dame Heritage Fund, or to the charity of one’s choice.

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