Former Seneca Nation of Indians President George Heron learned skills during his service with the Civilian Conservation Corps that he has used throughout his life.
''I found out there are different people in the world ... who thought differently,'' said Heron when he and other corps alumni gathered Wednesday at Allegany State Park to accept a $1,000 check from Robb Hampton of the National Public Lands Day Toyota Hybrid Tour. Heron said the corps taught him to get along with other people, including those from other states, who he worked with to cut trees as well as build cabins, bridges and roads still in use at the park today.
Not only did the park benefit from their work, but Heron did too, he said.
Alumni of the Civilian Conservation Corps gather Wednesday at Allegany State Park.
P-J photo by Sharon Turano
For instance, he recalled learning, not only, to work with others with different ideas, but, enjoy them too. He took time Wednesday to remember their evening swims at Red House Lake and gathering around the one radio corp members had to listen to Benny Goodman. Heron later went on to deal with the likes of U.S. officials when serving as Seneca Nation president during Kinzua Dam discussions.
Others who gathered Wednesday reported their corp experience helped them too.
''It was a lifesaver,'' said David Pennell, who joined the conservation corp to help with his family's finances during the depression. Corp workers, he said, made $1 per day, sending some home to their families. Salamanca's Ralph Bowen remembers the depression being why he began with the corp.
''I was hungry,'' he laughed.
Jamestown's Tony Costanzo thought his work with the corp was so valuable he'd like to see it implemented today.
''It was the best thing for a young fellow,'' he said, adding when he worked for the corp at the park, no one was working, but, rather, standing in bread lines. He joined and learned about discipline and nature as well as work. He later used those skills at Omaha Beach when he took the skills he learned and used them to fight for his country in the war.
''I'm still living; that's what the corp did for me,'' he said, adding some who may not have had the corp's training may not have lived through war. Such training, he said, would work for youth today, who, he is concerned are selling drugs instead of learning the work ethics he did through the corp's work.
Mike Miecznikowski, park manager for Allegany, said reinstating the corp is a concept being considered by state park systems.
Until then, park officials will use the $1,000 Hampton gave to the park Wednesday to plant trees, similar to the work done by some corp members. Hampton said CCC alumni elsewhere handed off a shovel to others to do such work, and, now, he has visited Allegany so that work can be done here, too, along with ''keeping the legacy of the CCC alive.''
''Now it's up to us to try to keep up the work they did,'' he said.
Hampton said National Public Lands Day will be held Sept. 27, with Allegany being one of 13 parks to get a grant to celebrate it during the 75th anniversary of the corp, whose members planted three billion trees in the 1930s. In honor of that, one million trees are being planted between April 25 and Sept. 27 throughout the nation.