This week the Star shining in the dark winter sky will be extinguished until next year. While it will be sad to see it go we will be left with good memories of Christmas 2017. Two memories in particular….. one of a journey completed; another of rebounding community spirit.
Dick VanAlstyne erected the Star on his property that overlooks the Village of Liberty in 1967. Dick maintained and kept the Star lit until his passing 10 years later. His son Chris left the area and the Star continued to be lit by neighbor Linda Bult, the Johnstone family and town residents.
Although Chris moved away he returned periodically and over the past year proudly shared with anyone who would listen the “fact that the 50th anniversary of the Star’s lighting was approaching….and my Dad built it”. To his surprise, and without exception, the response was one of fond memories and emotion. “I remember taking my kids up there on a sled when they were young”; “a winter date on a snowmobile took me to the Star”; “we would go out on our front porch to look at the Star” were some of the responses.
Chris realized the “connection” was universal and the Star didn’t belong only to his family history, but to that of the town. With that understanding he had an idea to use the anniversary of the Star as an opportunity to plan a family reunion for relatives who hadn’t seen each other in years.
Chris also recognized that his Dad was alive for 10 years of the 50 that the Star was maintained. Neighbors, friends & townspeople took it upon themselves and kept it going for 40 more years. They raised money and volunteered to replace lamps, repair and rebuild the Star. They not only considered it theirs, but they were willing to take money out of their pockets and get their hands dirty to make sure it survived. That was what has made the Star so special and that was the story Chris wanted told.
He can’t say exactly why his Dad built the Star. He was too young and doesn’t remember, but he does know they were extremely blessed and had many presents under their tree. Chris believes he built it to remind us what the holiday was supposed to be about. Not something we could touch or play with, but something we should feel. An article in the Liberty Register referred to the Star as a “symbol of light and hope at Christmastide.”
Chris wanted an event and to spread the word, but had no idea how to make that happen. He knew he wanted to say “thank you” to those involved with the Star.
By happenstance the “Spirit of Liberty”, was having their very first meeting at Charlie’s Restaurant on Main Street. They were shortly interrupted by Chris who asked, “are you locals…and do you know anything about the Star”? They were surprised to hear him tell his story about his Dad and the upcoming anniversary. They were just discussing ideas on how to revive Liberty when Chris and his Star came their way. Wheels began to turn & ideas were formulated. They worked to put an event together with the help of Brian Rourke who supported their efforts.
On December 1st many braved the cold winter night to meet at the Liberty High School. The venue was chosen as the viewing point for the lighting “countdown” complete with fireworks. As Chris was surrounded by his Mom, cousins and family friends I could see his journey was complete. Chris was estatic & humbled as he took the opportunity to share his story & honor his Dad. Chris has come full circle & is following in his Dad’s footsteps with his altruistic desire to give back to Liberty ! He calls himself a “die-hard optimist” and he looks forward to Liberty’s positive future. We thank him for that!
Spirit of Liberty member, Cindy Kurpil Gieger spoke about the Star saying, “ It’s our Star…our symbol of community spirit and the selfless volunteerism of those who continued the tradition for generations. For me personally, it has been a reminder of the first Christmas Star leading to the manger where the Christ child lay….a symbol of light and life to the world. To others, it’s a symbol of community that says “Here in Liberty, we care”.
“And so… upon a chance meeting of the “Spirit of Liberty” folks and Chris VanAlstyne, who expressed a desire to honor those who continued his fathers efforts…a Star event was born! Tonight…as we look upon the Star shining throughout our town, we are filled with hope that through renewed efforts of our newly elected Supervisor Brian Rourke, Deputy Russell Reeves and our Town and Village boards we can move forward with new initiatives. We can work together with a mutual passion and shared energy to revitalize our town …together…reaching common ground. To quote, “At the end of the day, it’s not about what you have or even what you’ve accomplished ..it’s about who you’ve lifted up, what you’ve made better.. it’s about what you’ve given back”.
Supervisor Brian Rourke did the honor of declaring that the VanAlstyne Star “shines brightly over us throughout the holiday season and connects us with its warm history” and recognized and thanked the VanAlstyne, Bult & Johnstone families for their keeping this “beloved tradition shining bright above our beautiful town & making the holiday season happy & bright for 50 years”. The Star is forevermore a part of Liberty’s history!
Chris was proud of what his Dad did and looked for an opportunity to acknowledge him publicly. The event that night was perfect & he was blown away by the affection, dedication and sense of community it represented. “In an era of fear, greed and divisiveness, the light of the Liberty Star remains a beacon of hope, joy and gratitude. How cool is that! ”
In conclusion we say “thank you” to: Steve, Cheryl, Troy Johnstone & Kassondra Ambrosi for organizing; Santa Claus; Mrs. Nolan & LCHS Honor Students for assisting; LCHS chorus for singing; Project Identity teens for singing; Cindy Gieger & Christina Jones for their music; Linda Babicz for her “Star” craft; Friends of Liberty Library; Mr. Strassman; Dara Smith & cafeteria; Liberty Diner for the cake; Mark & Lane Mitchell for fireworks,; volunteers who donated cookies. I apologize if I’ve missed anyone.
And those over the years: Linda Bult and family, Barbara & Bob Burns, Johnstone family; Liberty Bells; Liberty Masons; Elks, American Legion, VFW, Clickin’ Chicken 4H group; Liberty Police PBA; St. Paul’s Church; St. Peter’s Church; Livingston Manor Lumber; Ken Ross & Ross Electric; Mike Schwartz; Roger Mohrmann; Vinny McPhillips; Allie Hasbrouck; Woods family; NYSEG; Chester Slaver; and numerous anonymous donors who contributed money towards the Star’s upkeep.