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Charlie Orlando Memorial

BELMONT: Charley and Betsy. Betsy and Charley. So many thought of them together, a partnership brimming with energy, knowledge and creativity, always ready to teach or to learn. On January 23rd, Charley (Dr. Charles Phillip Orlando) died while Betsy held his hand and silence wrapped around them.

            I’d met Charley as Dr. Orlando in 1974 during my job interview for a position as special education teacher at the Allegany County BOCES. I walked into the Learning Center a bit nervous but dressed, I thought, presentably in my new coat-dress. Charley suggested I hang my coat in the closet.

            “This is my dress,” I said.

            His eyebrows strained upward, struggling with disbelief. “That’s a dress?”

            Luckily style wasn’t part of the job so we talked about behavior management, lesson plans, educational philosophy. Hours later I had a new job and had begun learning from one of my greatest teachers.

           

My arrival at the Belmont Learning Center came about after my husband joined the faculty at Alfred State College but what brought Orlandos to Belmont? A job, of course.

            Charley was teaching at Penn State in 1972 when he was asked to inform his students that the Learning Center in Belmont needed a director. Instead, he sent his own application and landed an interview. He spent the night at the motel (now the ACCORD building) near the waterfalls in Belmont.

            Arriving late, he found a key under the mat. The room was cold but he showered, dressed (even donning his coat) and burrowed under frigid blankets. In the night, he woke up sweltering. The heating system had turned the icy room steaming-hot.         

            At his interview he discussed not only education but fly and trout fishing. Job in hand, he and Betsy went house hunting. At the time there were only 2 homes for sale in Belmont and neither suited.  

            Still Belmont was the best choice for anyone working work half time at The Learning Center in Belmont and halftime teaching at Alfred University. Locals know that hills dictate road placement so other towns were just not as reasonable for someone splitting time between those towns.

            Luckily a home on Ackerman Hill was listed. It was a mobile home which wasn’t to their liking but the land was wonderful. The previous owner had a runway for his plane, his way to cover a huge service area. Orlandos added another 30 acres to the property and they, their 3 girls (miracles Charley called them) and a parade of dogs, cats, horses and goats moved in.

            Betsy had several years at home and in service groups. She was president of the 4H Committee and Charley took charge of the 4-H horse club. The girls presented horses, goats, dogs, sewing and crafts at the county fair. Over time, Betsy served on the Belmont Library Board, and performed with the Genesee Valley Chorus and the Allegany County Players. They both served as board members for the Allegany Artisans where Betsy is currently secretary.

            Charley was a member of the Amity Town Board and worked as the town assessor. He was on the Alfred State College Council for 17 years and, a person full of ideas, insights and inventions, he was always learning, teaching and supporting his family and friends.

            During those early years in Belmont, the family took 3 westward road trips in a pop top camper. They went to Yellowstone, to Albuquerque, and then back to Yellowstone with a side trip to Glacier Park.

            During the first trip, the family trained in behavior management. Charley and Betsy wore golf counters. They set a timer and if, when the bell rang, all the behavior during that period had been acceptable each girl got a click or 2. If there was a behavioral disruption, they tuned the timer back. Now and then they caught someone being good and gave an extra click. Two clicks were worth 1 cent so that clicks converted to spending money for ice-cream or trinkets.

            Everyone had click-earning jobs at meal time and during camp set up. Betsy said she wasn’t sure she wanted this program, especially for 4-year old Jessica, she but clicked into position as a believer. Consistency teaches and all of them modified their behaviors.

            “We had such good times just being together on those trips,” Betsy said. “We went to ranger talks, read stories around the campfire, worked together and just enjoyed each other.”

             After Jessica started Kindergarten, Belmont Schools asked Betsy to apply for a job. She didn’t think she wanted to teach where the girls attended but she went to the interview. It was her first. She’d never had to have a job interview before.

            Here’s some recent history. There was a time when teachers were hard to find and schools begged for applicants. Interviews included asking women if their husbands approved of their working.

            Betsy was also asked if she would ignore her years of experience and accept beginning pay. No, said Betsy, she would not. After a different job interview, Betsy began teaching Kindergarten in Rushford to the great benefit of many children and several adults.

            Betsy provided experiences in her classroom. Many children arrived for Kindergarten never having used crayons or scissors, never having heard a story read to them. Betsy’s classroom was about practicing, learning and growing and not about any product to take home.

            The best part of teaching, she said, was the kids. Kindergarteners have no filters. Their thoughts and ideas pop into their heads and fly out of their mouths. No filters needed.

            Both Orlandos earned reputations as skilled, energetic, creative artisans, in part through the Allegany Artisans. One might wonder how they started their creative lives.  Charley started knitting in 4th grade. During WWII, every child knitted weekly for the war effort. Younger kids made squares for lap robes while older kids and teachers made socks and sweaters for the military.

            For his 80+ years, Charley learned things. He’d start with an idea, get stack of books on the topic and the girls would say, “Great, we’ve got another hobby.”

            When Charley mastered one thing, he moved to another but when he discovered artistic blacksmithing, he said it was a medium so complex and versatile he’d never master it.  

            He started as a farrier, in part to save money on shoeing all their horses.  He had a portable forge mounted on his pickup and shoed horses on site. After a while, he made hooks, spatulas, pot hangers, glass table bases. Whatever entered his mind, heat and hammers helped him forge.

            Then there were his musical accomplishments.  As a child, Charley was told that he was a listener, decidedly not a singer.  When school groups performed, he was told to silently mimic until in 8th grade when teachers decided that each student would sing a solo. “No way,” Charley said, “I’m a listener.”

            The listener turned singer when he and Betsy had summer jobs at Camp Snipatuit. They learned the rudiments of guitar so they could lead camp fire songs. Betsy still thinks of it this way: “Down in the valley, valley so (change-the-cord-now) low.”

            Likely 8th-grade-Charley didn’t expect to build and master several instruments but over time, after Bobby Hansen introduced him to tin can folk art, that’s what he did. He built and played banjo (his favorite), mandolin and violin. He also sang, solos if you please, and he was pretty good.

            Betsy’s mother and grandmother knitted, sewed, embroidered and made many things so Betsy grew up thinking that she could make anything with a pattern. About 25 years ago she tossed out patterns and came to know her inventive mind through art dolls.  She knits and felts and creates with paper and intends to build the studio that she and Charley planned.

            At heart, Orlandos are teachers and in the past many years they’ve taught or learned basket weaving, knitting, paper arts, tin can folk art, blacksmithing and more at the John C. Campbell Folk School. Betsy recently joined people there to celebrate Charley’s life and was touched by their regard for her husband.

 

As his 80th birthday project, Charley Orlando wrote an autobiography so that his children and grandchildren could know him as a person. Life Has Been Good by Charles Orlando is available on Amazon.com in kindle edition or as a paperback. It can be borrowed free for one month with Amazon Prime and there’s a copy at the Belmont Free Library.

 

Should you wish to make a memorial donation in his name, the family thanks you and proposes the Amity Rescue Squad, the Belmont Free Library or a charity of your choice.

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