While there is a strong core of people who are “from” the greater Rochester area, it also seems to be a magnet for collecting life’s nomads.
I know a number of people, including myself, who ended up here one way or another. Not necessarily by design, mind you. But there is something about this area that can capture your soul if you are willing to let it.
My mind has turned to such thoughts because I’m retiring Jan. 1, for the second time, from a local publication. About three years ago, it was from the Democrat and Chronicle. This time it’s from the RBJ.
I’ve also been reading “Can’t Let Go/A Journey from the Heart of Africa to America,” a memoir by Pittsford OB/GYN Dr. Raphael T. Tshibangu (2021, Story Trust Publishing). His own fascinating journey began in what is now the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
Mine began in San Diego. Good friend Cynthia Benjamin’s began in Arkansas. A former boss, Karen Magnuson, started her journey in Detroit. Local photographer Carlos Ortiz is from Spain. I’ve gotten to know several people from New Zealand and South Africa, among other far-flung places.
Whether drawn by local schools, companies or arts, they came and stayed. None of us are “from” here, but we all decided to stay and become “from” here. Think about your own circle of friends and acquaintances. How many of them grew up here and how many didn’t? Have you asked them? If they aren’t from here, ask them why they stayed. And if they are from here, ask them the same question.
When I started working on the copy desk of the Democrat and Chronicle in 1987, the presses were still in the basement at 55 Exchange Blvd., employment levels at the Big Three — Kodak, Xerox and Bausch & Lomb — were still counted in the tens of thousands, and Kodak bonus week was still a thing the local auto dealers looked forward to every year. So much has changed since then, often by painful necessity.
Rochester has remade itself several times, and I think the progress has been mostly forward, even if there have been steps back over the years. A growing willingness to work together on a regional basis with the Buffalo area and others is one of the best things to come out of those re-imaginings. That is a trend that needs to keep growing and improving. We are far more powerful working together than competing against one another.
Another is an awareness of the importance of leveraging the local knowledge base to encourage and support startups, as evidenced by the Luminate program here and 43North in Buffalo. My work at the RBJ over the past few years has given me a new appreciation for how important such innovation is to the economy of the region. Expecting any of those startups to become another Kodak or Xerox is unrealistic, but creating an environment in which many young companies can survive and thrive is imperative to the local economy’s future. It, too, can be an impetus for snagging unwary nomads who think they are coming here just for a few years on the way to something else.
So, too, has been the improvement of downtown, which was pretty much a wasteland after 5 p.m. when I first came to Rochester. Thanks to the efforts of people like the late developer Larry Glazer who saw its potential, there are a lot more residential opportunities and more people in general downtown. And thanks to the artistic inventiveness of people like Shawn Dunwoody, there is an element of playfulness with a purpose mixed in. The pandemic put the brakes on downtown’s resurgence somewhat, but hopefully it can pick up steam again soon.
Rochester’s vibrant arts community, its excellent colleges and its variety of tech companies all contribute to its magnetism. One of my jobs here at the RBJ was editing the award magazines, for a variety of disciplines and segments of our population. It gave me a newfound appreciation for the talent here across all demographic levels, and for the willingness of people to share their knowledge, time and wealth with others.
And while the reputation of Rochester winters is why many outsiders aren’t all that interested in coming here, one of our gems is the summer season. For more than five years, a couple of buddies and I have had a standing weekend tee time in the summer, and we very rarely get rained out. The summers here are marvelous. And those who really get it embrace the winter season, too, and enjoy its opportunities for skiing and other cold weather pastimes.
But most important are the people, whether they are originally from here or nomads. This extends into the leadership ranks. I’m thinking here of Jennifer Leonard, who was always unfailingly kind to me; and of Bob Duffy and Sheriff Todd Baxter, both of whom I’ve had the pleasure of playing Wiffle Ball with on Parcel 5; not to mention Erika Rosenberg, who leads the Center for Governmental Research and who used to be a co-worker at the D&C. There are a lot of good people in this community, from the leadership ranks on down.
I’m not saying Rochester is a perfect place. We all know it isn’t. There are serious problems with inequity — racial, economic and educational — that need serious sorting out. And there are bureaucratic obstacles to perfection created by New York state’s historical development. But too often we focus just on the negative and forget about what makes this place special.
All of the qualities I’ve cited above and more combine into a special sauce that makes Rochester a place some of us nomads decided to call home. Those collective decisions make their own contribution to that sauce, adding the spice of geographic diversity. And they are evidence that what is here is, indeed, special.
I’d like to say a final thank you to RBJ Editor & Associate Publisher Ben Jacobs and Senior Group Publisher Suzanne Fischer-Huettner for giving me the opportunity to extend my career a few years. It has been a pleasure serving the readers of Rochester.
May everyone — with an extra tip of the hat to Dr. Tshibangu and my other fellow nomads — enjoy a happy and prosperous 2022.
Dick Moss is the outgoing special products editor for the Rochester Business Journal and the New York Daily Record.v