A collection of bicentennial biographies from Chautauqua County, N.Y. featuring Rexford Tugwell (Sinclairville), Charlies Fosdick (Westfield), Jim McClusker (Jamestown), Van Miller (Dunkirk) and 10,000 Maniacs (Jamestown). Originally broadcast on local radio stations Sept. 5 – Sept. 9, 2011.
No. 171 – Rexford Tugwell
Rexford Guy Tugwell was born July 10, 1891 in Sinclairville. In his youth he gained an appreciation for workers’ rights and liberal politics from the works of Upton Sinclair, James Bryce, and Edward Bellamy.
Following high school, Tugwell began studying economics at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Finance and Commerce, and completed his doctorate at Columbia University. After graduation he served as a professor at the University of Washington, American University in Paris, and Columbia University.
In 1932 Tugwell was invited to join Franklin Roosevelt’s team of advisers known as the “Brain Trust,” which helped develop policy recommendations leading up to Roosevelt’s 1932 election as President. Tugwell subsequently served in FDR’s administration for four years – first as Assistant Secretary and then in 1934 as Undersecretary of the United States Department of Agriculture. He was instrumental in creating the Soil Conservation Service in 1933, to restrict and restore poor-quality land. He additionally played a key role in crafting the 1938 Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act.
In the wake of the opposition to his policies, Tugwell resigned from the Roosevelt administration at the end of 1936 and became a vice president at the American Molasses Co. Then, in 1938 he became the first director of the New York City Planning Commission.
Tugwell served as the last appointed American governor of Governor of Puerto Rico and served as Chancellor of the University of Puerto Rico. From 1945-48, he also participated in the Committee to Frame a World Constitution. He viewed a revised national constitution as necessary to enable economic planning, and late in life composed a new constitution for the “Newstates of America.”
Tugwell wrote several books including a biography of Grover Cleveland. He also wrote a biography of Franklin D. Roosevelt and released his memoirs of his years in Puerto Rico. He died on July 21, 1979.
No. 172 – Charles Austin Fosdick
Charles Austin Fosdick is not widely known or read now, but in the post-Civil War era he was the best-selling author of adventure books for boys, using the pen name “Harry Castlemon.” He wrote most of his books in his home on South Portage Street in Westfield.
Fosdick was born September 6, 1842 in nearby Randolph (Cattaraugus County) and received a high school diploma from Central High School in Buffalo. He served in the Union Navy from 1862 to 1865, during the Civil War, acting as the receiver and superintendent of coal for the Mississippi River Squadron.
Fosdick had begun to write as a teenager, and drew on his experiences serving in the Navy in such early novels as Frank on a Gunboat (1864) and Frank on the Lower Mississippi (1867). He soon became a prolific author of cozens of books, and was considered the most-read author for boys in the post-Civil War era, the golden age of children’s literature.
Fosdick once remarked, “Boys don’t like fine literature. What they want is adventure, and the more of it you can get in two-hundred-fifty pages of manuscript, the better fellow you are.”
No. 173 – Jim McCusker
James Brian “Jim” McCusker was born in Jamestown in 1936. He played football for Jamestown High School in the early 1950s and was a star defensive lineman. During his junior and senior year he was named as a Western New York All-Star.
Following High School, Jim went on to the University of Pittsburgh to play on the offensive line. He started for the Panthers for three years, from 1955 to 1957 and was named an Associated Press All-Star 3 three times and a United International All-Star twice. During the three seasons Mcusker played for Pitt, the Panthers had an overall record of 18-13-and-1. He also played in the East-West Shrine Game, the Senior Bowl and played for the College All-Stars against the NFL Champion Detroit Lions. Today, more than 50 years after playing for the Panthers, he is still considered one of the Panthers’ greatest linemen.
In 1958, Jim was drafted by the Chicago Cardinals in the 2nd round (14th overall) of the 1958 NFL Draft. Although he was on the roster for only one season and didn’t start any games. In 1959 he was sent to the Philadelphia Eagles, where he stayed for five seasons. Among the highlights of his career was the 1960 season, where he started every game and the Eagles beat Green Bay 17 to 13 in the NFL Championship game. He also started every game for the Eagles in 1962. He played one season in 1963 with Cleveland and finished his career in the AFL, playing with the New York Jet.
Some of Jim’s teammates during his NFL career included such Hall of Famers as Chuck Bednarik, Sonny Jurgenson, Norm Van Brocklin and Tommy McDonald with the Eagles and Jim Brown during his season with the Cleveland Browns.
Following retirement, Jim returned to Jamestown where he still lives today. For many years he has owned a restaurant and bar on North Main St. in Jamestown called “The Pub” with his wife, Mary. In 1982 he was inducted into the Chautauqua Sports Hall of Fame.
No. 174 – Van Miller
Van Miller, for years known as “The voice of the Buffalo Bills,” was born in 1927 and raised in Dunkirk.
Van began his broadcasting career at Dunkirk radio station WFCB, calling play-by-play for high school football games. In the 1950s, he moved to Buffalo to work in radio and broadcast various sporting events. By 1960, he was a well known sports broadcaster in the Queen City.
In 1960, Van was selected to be the announcer of the city’s new AFL professional football team, the Buffalo Bills. On July 30, 1960, Van debuted on the air at War Memorial Stadium to call play-by-play for the Bills’ inaugural contest against the Boston Patriots. He continued to serve as the team’s radio play-by-play man though the 1970 season.
In 1971, the broadcast rights of the Bills were carried by a rival station, and so Van stepped away for the next six seasons, instead focusing his attention on the Buffalo Braves of the NBA. He resumed covering the Bills in 1977.
Some highlights for Miller during his year covering the Bills was the AFL championship game in 1964 and 1965, and the team’s unprecedented four-year Super Bowl run of the early 1990s. He also called the greatest comeback in NFL history when the Bills beat the Oilers in the 1992 AFC Wildcard game. The game was blacked-out on television and so it was Miller who delivered the dramatic comeback to most fans in Western New York. He retired after the 2003 season.
In his 55 years in the business, Miller has earned legend status in Buffalo by doing everything imaginable behind the microphone. Besides his status as the “Voice of the Bills,” Miller was the sports director for WBEN-TV/WIVB-TV for many years. During that time, he served as a sportscaster, weather reporter, and as host of several local television shows. He also hosted a popular afternoon program for many years on WBEN radio.
Miller is now largely retired and lives with his wife, Gloria, in the town of Tonawanda. The Pro Football Hall of Fame presented him with its Pete Rozelle Radio-Television Award in 2004. He is an inductee in the Greater Buffalo Sports Hall of Fame (1999) and the Chautauqua Sports Hall of Fame (2002).
No. 175 – 10,000 Maniacs
10,000 Maniacs formed in 1981 in Jamestown with several Chautauqua County natives serving as original members. They included Robert Buck and John Lombardo on guitar, Steven Gustafson on bass, Dennis Drew on keyboards and 17 year-old Natalie Merchant on lead vocals. The group went through several different drummers in its early years before finally settling on Jerry Augustyniak from Buffalo in early 1983.
In 1984 10,000 Maniacs recorded their first full length album and the song “My Mother the War” became a minor hit in the United Kingdom. In the spring of 1985, they recorded a second full-length album, The Wishing Chair, garnering them significant critical acclaim.
After Lombardo left the band in 1986, the remaining five members recorded In My Tribe, released in July 1987. The album peaked at no. 37 and eventually sold more than two million copies. The next album, 1989’s Blind Man’s Zoo, reached no. 13 on the chart and eventually sold over a million copies. In the early 90s, two more albums – Our Time in Eden and MTV Unplugged – were both multi-platinum hits.
By the end of 1993 Merchant had left the band to pursue a solo career. Lombardo returned and Mary Ramsey was added to the line up. In 1997 10,000 Maniacs released Love Among the Ruins and followed up in 1999 with The Earth Pressed Flat. On December 19, 2000, Buck died of liver failure at the age of 42.
During the past decade, 10,000 maniacs has undergone some changes in the line up, although Augustyniak, Drew and Gustafson have remained constant members. The current edition of the band remains active, recording new music and recently touring at several cities across the country. The band also played two 30th anniversary shows on October 1 and 2 at Jamestown Community College.
Bicentennial Biographies is a not-for-profit radio project designed to raise awareness and increase interest in local history. It is brought to you as a public service by the Chautauqua County Historical Society throughout 2011 to celebrate the county’s 200th birthday. To learn more, visit www.McClurgMuseum.org or contact your local historical society.