Third Age 2008 Award Winners

The following were honored at the Third Age Achievement Awards dinner held at The Desmond Hotel and Conference Center on November 19, 2007.

Robert Herman, Ph.D. – Arts and Culture

Robert Herman, Ph.D.
Arts and Culture

Robert (Bob) Herman, Ph.D., has a long professional history in economics, public policy and public administration. He began his career in 1950s as Assistant Director of New York State Division of the Budget, and went on to serve as Director of Planning and Development and Director of Research and Fiscal Policy. He’s been a consultant to the Majority Leader of the New York State Senate, Special Advisor to the Speaker of the Assembly, the Director of Higher Education of the New York State Joint Legislative Committee on Education, and spent almost 20 years as the Director of the Institute for Traffic Safety Management and Research.

His international experience and expertise is also extensive. He’s been an advisor to the governments of India and Greece; advisor on economic development to Nigeria, Venezuela, Turkey and Iran; and a consultant to the finance ministers of Denmark, Sweden and Finland. Numerous students have benefited from Bob’s extensive experience as well. He has taught courses at Russell Sage College, Syracuse University and SUNY and he’s an Adjunct Professor of Economics at City University of New York, SUNY, and Union College. He’s a sought after speaker, a published author, a poet, and a humorist.

However, there is more. It is not for these many accomplishments that Bob is receiving a 3rd Age Achievement Award, because in addition to his professional and academic roles, he has also made an impact in the local arts community, and in the lives of people around the world. During his busy career, Bob found time to serve on the boards of many local arts and civic organizations including SPAC, Albany Symphony Orchestra, Albany International Center, Institute on Man and Science, and Traveler’s Aid Society.

However, the most surprising endeavor of them all is his most recent. Although this 89-year-old resident of Slingerlands has never been to China, and does not speak the language, he has become the author of an immensely popular advice column published in two monthly Chinese magazines with thousands of readers. Bob writes from his home computer, talking to his young readers about life, learning and laughter. Since it all began in 2002, Bob and his columns have become so popular that they have been turned into a book, Wit and Wisdom with Bob.

This literary adventure began over a ping pong table in California. Bob’s opponent was the editor of a popular Chinese-English magazine, English Salon. She had read some of Robert’s poetry, and asked him to write a column about his philosophy of life. Now, he has a devoted following and often receive emails from readers, thanking him and asking for advice. He writes in a straightforward, direct style, and focuses on these concepts; learn, laugh, enjoy and share. He doesn’t write about politics or religion, and he’s never been censored or edited. His wife of 62 years, Beatrice, lends an occasional female perspective to Bob’s work.

Bob himself is amazed at the success he’s had; an advice columnist in a country he’s never seen within a culture he has not experienced. It’s a testimony to the relevance of his philosophy, his humor and his positive outlook on life.

Mary V. Ryan – Business

Mary V. Ryan

Mary V. Ryan has been a constant presence at W.F. Ryan Produce, Inc., the well-known Albany wholesale and retail fruit and produce business, since 1955, when she married William F. Ryan, Jr., and became part of a family business that had it’s beginnings in 1910. Mary and William were married for 38 years before he passed away in 1992.

Even before her marriage, Mary was a working woman. She was a bookkeeper for the International Brotherhood of Paper Makers, and was also employed by the NY State Department of Unemployment Insurance and the Federal Government Department of Roads and Bridges.

After her marriage, she was able to transfer the skills and experience she had gained to the successful running of the produce business. She stayed involved while raising her three children, keeping the company’s books, doing the billing and accounts receivables, and answering the phones. She says she was tenacious at collections because as a child, she was taught not to be envious of what others had, but to always get what belonged to her. “I was taught this by my mother, and this advice has served me well,” she said.

Mary also found time to serve her community. She served on the board of the Italian American Community Center and led both a Boy Scout and a Girl Scout troop. She also organizes fundraisers at Ryan’s Produces, among them a Big Easy Bailout that raised $3,000 for Hurricane Katrina victims. For the past ten years she has organized an annual Fishing Contest that has raised more than $20,000 for the Make a Wish Foundation of N.E.N.Y.

Today, Mary is the C.E.O. of the business, and can be found there six days a week. She is involved in all aspects of running the company, from sales and contracts to customer service, advertising, wholesale orders and solving the everyday problems that may arise. She is assisted by her daughters, Sharon Ryan Doubleday and Patricia Ryan Barone, and her son, Michael Ryan. She also has 4 grandchildren and says that her greatest pleasure comes from time spent with her family.

Shirley Curtis – Education

Shirley Curtis

Shirley Curtis teaches piano to 26 children and adults every week during the school year, and to a slightly smaller number over the summer. She also organizes two recitals every year in which her students perform at UAlbany’s Performing Arts Center . That’s a busy schedule, but 92-year-old Shirley enjoys the time she spends with her younger students. She has been teaching piano for more than 50 years, and remains enthusiastic about sharing the gift of music with others.

Shirley started playing piano at age 5 in Montreal, Canada. She studied at St. Helen’s Boarding School and has played nearly every day of her life since then. She teaches music theory and piano, but is also known for adding etiquette and discipline in along the way. Her students range in age from 6 to 18, and she’s taken many from an early start all the way through high school graduation. Many of her students keep in touch with her and many of them visit.

Shirley’s long teaching career began in the 1950s during her first marriage and as she raised her two children. In 1954, her husband George Gillett died. She then met and married Dr. Stanley Curtis, and in 1955, they moved to Youngstown, Ohio. There, Shirley studied piano at the Dana Hall School of Music and with Arthur Loesser in Cleveland.

Shirley moved to Albany in 1970 and began teaching piano full time and kept her own skills sharp by studying with Findlay Cockrell and Stanley Hummel. She also gardens, has published an autobiography, Recollections, and has produced two CDs of her own music. She’s been honored by the New York State Music Association, and in 2002, received a Senior Lifetime Achievement Award.

Today, Shirley studies jazz piano, a gift from one of her grandsons. She’s also an accomplished gardener, volunteers at Albany Med, and knits for her 11 great-grandchildren. She has lived a life dedicated to educating others and sharing her passion for music. She’s given her students the gift of music and more, an appreciation for the rewards of dedication and pride and self confidence that come from achievement.

Cynthia Cromie – Health and Human Services

Cynthia Cromie
Health and Human Services

Cynthia Cromie is the 2008 Third Age Achievement Award winner in the category of Health and Human Services. A long-time Capital District resident, Cynthia was instrumental in the creation of the Mayor’s Championship Team and it is for the success of this program that Cynthia is being recognized.

As a mother of five and grandmother of two, Cynthia’s love and devotion to children is instantly recognizable to all who know her. However, it is her love for children in our community and her dedication to volunteerism that make her a cornerstone in the City of Albany, selflessly offering her time and talent to improve the lives of others.

Cynthia combines her passion for both education and volunteerism in her work with the Mayor’s Championship Team. Each year, more and more children arrive to kindergarten with a limited exposure to books and reading, and many parents are not aware of the enormous impact this can have on their children’s success. With these statistics in mind, Cynthia embarked on the journey to form the Mayor’s Championship Team, reaching out to local children and their mothers.

The Mayor’s Championship Team is an innovative program sponsored by Mayor Jennings and the City of Albany, working in partnership with the Albany City Schools and local support organizations. The goal of the program is to introduce new teen mothers in the City of Albany to a structured literacy program designed to prepare their children to succeed in school by promoting good reading habits early in life. Participating mothers receive a free copy of Mother Goose and agree to read to their babies every day. Mothers are also invited to attend the annual Tulip Festival held each year on Mothers Day weekend, to honor their hard work and receive more books to read to their children. This unique literacy program, recently recognized as an Honorable Mention in the United States Conference of Mayors 2008 City Livability Awards, improves the quality of life for all members involved while promoting intellectual development and eventual academic success. Cynthia Cromie is the driving force behind the development and implementation of this program, donating time, funds, and determination.

Cynthia’s passion for helping children in the community is also reflected in her work with the Ronald McDonald House Charities of the Capital Region, Inc. The mission of the RMCH organization is to create, find and support programs that directly improve the health and well being of children by creating innovative, effective programs that address targeted needs. Cynthia helped to carry out this mission by assisting in the creation and circulation of their local newsletter as well as helping to establish the successful “Caroling for Kids” program. Cynthia was also involved in the formation of the “Assisi In Albany” program which serves the unemployed, elderly and homeless by providing job counseling, job leads, and spiritual support. Additionally, she serves as a member of the Ladies of Charity and is a communicant at St. Mary’s Church in Albany .

Manoj Ajmera – Volunteerism

Manoj Ajmera

Manoj Ajmera is retired from the State Department of Health, but it’s hard to consider him retired at all. A native of Bombay, India, Manoj has lived in the Capital District for more than four decades and during that time, he has been involved in numerous volunteer endeavors that have touched thousands of lives.

The retired state environmental engineer is best known as chairman of the Festival of Nations, a post he has held for 23 years. The festival, attended by thousands each year, is a five-hour extravaganza of music, dance, arts, and food from around the world and is held every October in Albany . He is the driving force behind the event, now in its 37th year.

While the festival is his passion, it’s not his only endeavor. He is involved with the Tri-City India Association (TRICIA), which he helped to found. He is currently chairman of the board and has served as its president. His desire to see the organization be successful has led to its growth from 20 families in the 1960s to more than 1,000 today.

Manoj also serves on the Hindu Temple Board of Governors and is one of the major supporters of the newly built Hindu Cultural Center in Albany. He’s also an active member of the Albany Rotary Club, serving on many committees. He has twice led teams of young professionals to India under the Rotary International’s group study exchange program.

Manoj started the popular “Best Tasting Drinking Water in New York State” contest 23 years ago and still volunteers his time and energy conducting the contests statewide. For his efforts, he received the State Health Commissioner’s recognition award.

He has also served the American Water Works Association, an international professional organization for people in the water industry, in various roles and received the association’s highest award for member recruiting.

Manoj received the prestigious Jefferson Award for Public Service in 2005 and was also recognized by the Town of Clifton Park during its 175th anniversary celebration. He also serves on the Albany Tulip Queen Selection Committee and is a member of the board of the International Center of the Capital Region.

Volunteerism is a way of life for Manoj. He is currently hard at work on this year’s Festival of Nations and probably already planning for the next one as well.