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Legislator Weitz adds 'college graduate' to illustrious resume

Saturday, May 31, 2014 - Updated: 4:09 AM

By NICOLE ANTONUCCI

nicole.antonucci@recordernews.com

FULTONVILLE -- Growing up, Ryan Weitz has always tried to "live in the moment" and take advantage of opportunities that crossed his path.

It is these opportunities that would propel the village native on a journey that would result in becoming the youngest historian in the state, and the youngest official in Montgomery County government.

The 22-year-old may have just graduated from Worcester Polytechnic Institute earlier this month, but he already has a resume that is filled with impressive job titles, including Fultonville historian, cemetery sexton and Montgomery County District 4 legislator, among others.

"I never planned this," Weitz said. "It started with my love for history, and it just expanded. I fell in love with Fultonville, fell in love with the community and I can't see myself leaving at this point."

Weitz has always had an innate love for history, dating back to when as a small boy of four-years old, he would cry whenever he would pass an old cattle barn that was falling down in the town of Glen. He would ask his parents why it wasn't being taken care of.

His passion only grew as his parents and teachers would feed it with trips to museums, traveling, et cetera.

At age 10, Weitz came across an old book in his house that turned out to be his mother's family genealogy, which had not been updated with newer generations. Determined to add himself and his brother to the list, Weitz began researching and updating the tree with help from his uncle.

"I really loved knowing what happened before us," he said.

Then, in tenth grade, at the age of 15, Weitz was offered the position of village historian.

"I was 15-years old, running cross country, and was in a class with Mayor Robert Headwell. They had a vacancy for village historian, and Headwell and my cross country coach at the time were talking about it. My coach recommended me," Weitz said. "It was around Thanksgiving in 2007 when Headwell offered me the position. I was like, 'village historian, what is that?'"

Weitz accepted the position, and his first major project was the restoration of the village cemetery; a project he had started a year before, and continues today.

Weitz said it was the best thing he could have done, because that was the moment when he truly began to learn about his community.

"Sitting down and reading these old books, talking with residents who lived their entire lives, you hear the stories of the people who lived here and how the town used to be. It helped me realize a sense of place, and really fall in love with Fultonville," Weitz said.

It was only natural that he would also become the cemetery sexton. Growing up, Weitz lived only a few yards from the cemetery, and remembered walking through it.

When he began updating his family genealogy, he found himself in the cemetery, and began transcribing the tombstones, spending countless hours and money from his own pocket.

He couldn't always read the headstones, and that led to clearing the brush, then to fixing and cleaning up the stones.

Weitz attended a conference of the Association of Gravestone Studies and got certification in gravestone preservation.

"You have got this sort of historical point of view, where these people are who made our communities. When you walk into a cemetery, every one of the stones, those individuals, have an interesting story to tell," he said.

He also established one of the first natural burial cemeteries in the state, which opened in 2013.

Weitz said one of the most ironic things that has happened is how quickly his life changed since then. In 2010, he walked in the village's Memorial Day parade in place of Headwell, who had a prior engagement. At the time, Weitz was 17, walking alongside other politicians, and thinking "these are important people."

Five years later, while walking in the same parade last week alongside the same politicians, Weitz realized that they were now his peers. He ran for the legislator post in last fall's general election in an uncontested race.

"I got involved in politics by listening, by being aware of what is going on. I worked on a few campaigns and got to know people," he said.

Weitz never planned to run for the county seat. Rather, he had expected to run for a seat on the village board once he graduated college.

However, in 2012, the county charter was passed, and it got Weitz thinking about the future of District 4, where his hometown lies.

Despite reservations about how to juggle college with legislative duties, Weitz said he couldn't help but jump at the opportunity.

"It is all about striking while the iron is hot," he said.

On Jan. 1, he was sworn in as the youngest official elected to Montgomery County government.

Since then, the legislator has been busy as chairman of the Education and Government Committee and working with the legislature on large ticket items such as adopting a new procurement policy and writing revisions to county charter.

From January through March, Weitz performed his duties on the legislature, while he was also a student at Worcester Polytechnic Institute, where he majored in civil engineering.

Weitz said many people were surprised by his major, automatically assuming it would be history. However, since middle school, he knew he wanted to be either an architect or an engineer, following in the footsteps of his grandfather, who was a draftsman and a machinist for General Electric.

"I would sit at his desk while he would draw up his plans for my neighbors for their decks. I would work in his workshop, and I would be out there helping him build the decks. I was exposed to this," Weitz said, adding that he hopes to get a job in land use development.

He is also juggling several options, including going to graduate school for either a master's degree in business, or pursuing a law degree.

While Weitz has yet to make a decision, he knows he has a lot more things to accomplish, and plans to leave a mark on the future.

Weitz said he has a dream of one day being 70-years-old, living on a small farm in Fultonville, and sitting on the front porch with his grandchildren, telling them the story of his own grandparents. But how he gets there remains to be written.

"Who knows what will happen tomorrow, but I want to do something to contribute. It doesn't matter what it is as long I live up to my potential," he said. "The biggest regrets are the things that we don't do, because the things that we do lead to where you are now. I am happy with where I am now."

     

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