The winter sun seemed to shine specifically on the mountaintop when ceremonies were held naming a rural section of Route 23 in memory of former Greene County Legislature chairman Wayne Speenburgh.
Senator George Amedore and Assemblyman Peter Lopez, who co-sponsored the special state bill, were on hand, January 25, for a sign unveiling at the Centre Church in Windham.
Travelers along a two-mile stretch of the state highway between the towns of Windham and Ashland, including Windham’s Main Street, will forever be reminded of the powerful personal and political presence of Speenburgh.
“This is a great day for Greene County and everyone on the mountaintop,” Amedore said. “This is the right testimony to his legacy.
“Whether it was serving in the army in Vietnam, or being reengaged in the community as a civilian and postmaster, or getting elected to local government, Wayne Speenburgh was an individual who dedicated every ounce of his body and his time to public service,” Amedore said.
“Wayne was only interested in what was best for all of the residents of Greene County,” Lopez said, “There are many titles that fit him but the best one I could give him was 'friend.' That’s the most endearing for me.”
Nearly 100 family members, friends and town, county and state officials gathered Wednesday morning for the ceremonial uncovering.
Current county legislature chairman Kevin Lewis, who replaced Speenburgh, called his predecessor a “dear friend and mentor,” sharing a poignant story of driving to Windham from his valley home in Greenville.
“Leaving my house this morning I looked up here at the mountains and there was a glow over this area,” Lewis said.
“The mountains were highlighted with snow and I was happy to see a little sun shining on Wayne. His common sense and boots-on-the-ground leadership have been an inspiration to all of us who have served with him and around him in the legislature,” Lewis said.
Speenburgh, a mountaintop kid and graduate of Windham-Ashland-Jewett Central School, served as legislature chairman for several years prior to his passing in 2015, changing the way county politics took place.
He was a Republican in a GOP-controlled body but named a Democrat to head a legislative committee, an unprecedented move that sent ripples of goodwill and non-partisanship from the valley to the mountaintop.
“Wayne was a very rare politician,” said Dan Frank, the onetime interim county administrator under Speenburgh and former general manager of Windham Mountain.
“He was a no-nonsense guy who wasn’t afraid to work with both sides to get the job done. We need more Wayne Speenburghs. People up here have often felt a little disconnected from [the county seat in] Catskill.
“Wayne made sure that never happened on his watch. It’s very fitting and appropriate that they dedicate part of this road to him. He was the thoroughfare to the mountaintop in terms of the legislature,” Frank said.
“Speenie,” as he was affectionately known, was a constant and positive force in the aftermath of Hurricane Irene, especially in the town of Prattsville, having spent his youth as a foster child in the nearby hills.
“This is where his road should be,” said Dan Lalor, a retired Greene County judge and neighbor to Speenburgh in the river town of Coxsackie.
“I know where his house was in Coxsackie but I also know where his heart was. He was always a mountain boy,” Lalor said.
“I would say that to him sometimes, kidding him, and he would say to me, ‘What are you talking about?’ but he never denied it,” Lalor said.
Amedore and Lopez, as a final gesture, presented Speenburgh’s widow Debbie with the bill signed by Governor Andrew Cuomo designating the section of Route 23 from Old Road on the east end of Windham to North Settlement Road, on the west side, leading to Speenburgh’s boyhood home.
‘Thank you everyone,” Debbie Speenburgh said. “I’m so grateful and Wayne would be so proud. We all know it’s true, that the mountaintop was Wayne.”
The cover was lifted from the Wayne Speenburgh Memorial Highway sign by (left to right) Debbie Speenburgh (Speenburgh's widow), Windham Hose Company No. 1 fire chief Michael Scarey, Senator George Amedore and Assemblyman Peter Lopez. Photo by Michael Ryan.