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Friends, coworkers remember Ogdensburg’s Joseph Sears as a tireless advocate for the elderly

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A champion of St. Lawrence County’s elderly was remembered by friends and former coworkers this week as someone who dedicated his life to helping others.

Ogdensburg’s Joseph R. Sears died May 23 at the age 86, but his memory lives on in his work on behalf of the county’s elderly.

At the time of his retirement in the early 1990s, he was director of the county’s Office for the Aging, a position he used to ensure the county’s elderly had a voice that was heard.

Stanley A. Morrill of Hermon, a former county legislator, said Friday that he has fond memories of Mr. Sears.

“He was good at helping whenever there was a problem,” Mr. Morrill said. “I remember specifically when Fort Drum was looking to have low-flying planes overhead and bombers. When the seniors were concerned about the noise levels, he stood up on their behalf. I remember that very well.”

Mr. Morrill said he served on the county’s committee for senior citizens with Mr. Sears.

“He was strong-minded,” Mr. Morrill said with a chuckle. “He liked things going his way. But we never had an unkind word to say to one another. I had a lot of respect for him.”

Mr. Sears went to work for the county’s Community Development Program in 1967. Shortly thereafter, recognizing the need for ground-level assistance for the county’s low-income and elderly people, he etablished neighborhood centers including those in Potsdam, Massena, Waddington, DeKalb, Canton, Brasie Corners, Star Lake, Heuvelton, Gouverneur and Ogdensburg.

Two years later he 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 Golden Age Club and the original Meals on Wheels program in the region, among the first in New York State, his obituary stated. Later that year, Mr. Sears established Ogdensburg’s first geriatric day care center.

Allen J. Rishe, who retired as county administrator in 1995, said Mr. Sears was a model employee.

“He helped seniors with whatever problems they had — financial, meals, entertainment,” Mr. Rishe said. “There was no shortage of things he would do to help them out.”

In early 1975, Mr. Sears was appointed director of the St Lawrence County Office for the Aging. In that position, he established the county’s senior nutrition program to ensure elderly access to meals.

In 1981, Mr. Sears was selected to represent the interests of Upstate New York senior citizens at the decennial White House Conference on Aging in Washington, D.C.

Later in his career, Mr. Sears and The Rev. Steven Gratto, former director of Catholic Charities for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Ogdesnburg, undertook a $31 million-dollar project to ensure safe housing for senior citizens in various communities. Shortly before his retirement, he also campaigned heavily for the Office for the Aging to be located in building senior citizens could more easily access. The Joseph Sears building was erected on Judson Street, Canton, and dedicated in 1990.

His devotion to caring for the elderly landed him the North Country Citation from St. Lawrence University, Canton, in 1986.

Long after his retirement, Mr. Sears played a prominent role in the New York StateWide Senior Action Council, which represents senior citizens and senior groups throughout the state.

Duana D. Carey, of West Stockholm, a former county legislator who served as Legislature chairwoman and vice chairwoman for three years, said he was an “excellent advocate” for seniors.

“He worked very hard for the seniors in the county,” Mrs. Carey said. “I would say he was the best advocate we’ve ever had.”

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