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Montgomery County loses one of its champions

Wednesday, August 27, 2014 - Updated: 10:47 AM

By JOSHUA THOMAS

For The Recorder

CANAJOHARIE -- Barbara V. Spraker -- a household name in Canajoharie thanks to her tireless, lifelong efforts to promote and preserve the village and town that she loved and called home -- passed away Monday. She was 89.

"She was so interested in the history of the valley," said Anita Smith, a close friend, local historian, and fellow graduate of the Canajoharie School class of 1942. While the two were acquaintances in high school, a shared love of local history brought them together in the years following graduation.

"What influenced both of us was our biology professor, Douglas Ayres. We got so interested in the history of the area," said Smith, adding that Spraker constantly worked to protect and promote Canajoharie and the Mohawk Valley.

Spraker actively campaigned to retain the village's downtown dummy light, advocating for it decades ago when conversations took place in the village regarding potential plans to rebuild Wagner Square without it.

She was also instrumental in the creation of Canajoharie's tourist information booth, which, open on a daily basis, is still a heavily utilized seasonal attraction.

Spraker's successful mission to bring the bike path to the local area went hand in hand with her initiative to make Canajoharie an overnight destination on the Cycling the Erie Canal tour, which brings more than 500 cyclists through the village annually.

Fulton Montgomery Regional Chamber of Commerce tourism director Gina DaBiere-Gibbs got to know Spraker after the tourism award was created in her honor. First issued by the Montgomery County Chamber of Commerce, the honor was subsequently awarded by the joined chamber as the merged Barbara Spraker Tourism Partner Award.

The award is given out at the organization's annual dinner, held in January, which DaBiere-Gibbs said Spraker would frequently attend in support of the award recipient, acknowledged for their work in bringing tourism to the region.

She commented of the award, which was created about a decade ago, "The Montgomery County Chamber started it in her honor because she was very active in the county and an advocate for the bike path, the history of Montgomery County and bringing people to Canajoharie and showing off our beautiful community."

She continued, "She was always supportive of Montgomery County, especially Canajoharie, and her passion for the bike path was incomparable. She really was full of knowledge and history of the region."

Canajoharie Mayor Francis Avery said that without Spraker's efforts to bring the Cycling the Erie Canal participants to the area, "they probably would've went right on through."

Avery called Spraker "a tireless promoter for Canajoharie."

He also said Spraker was deeply involved in numerous attempts to preserve the West Hill School, first in 2004-05, and also during the most recent effort, which led to the creation of Historic West Hill School.

"Her intentions were always good for Canajoharie," said Avery, explaining that Spraker's drive to preserve history was well served by her no-nonsense, assertive personality -- a quality he said was necessary "to get things done."

Though many considered Spraker's sharp edge and lack of interest in mincing words an attribute, her personality contained numerous facets, including a warmth and grace toward those she considered friends and family.

"She was always extremely gracious with me," Avery said.

Avery said he originally became familiar with Spraker as the proprietor of the store she ran in downtown Canajoharie, in the storefront that currently houses MacKenzie and Tallent. Her store, he said, operating in a two-story space where Bush and Gage previously existed, sold a variety of items, including cloth, clothing and dry goods.

Smith continued of Spraker, "She was a lifelong collector" of various things, comparing a trip to her home to "waking into a museum."

"She has a wonderful St. Nicholas collection, and at Christmas time, she always got the little dolls and things out and would invite people to come and see them," Smith said, adding that her collection also included a vast amount of Spraker memorabilia.

Smith said her friend was also a wonderful cook. A few years ago when they got together at her Moyer Street home, Smith said Spraker made an old Palatine Dutch recipe, which involved covering bread dough with heavy cream, cinnamon and sugar, and baking it in the oven.

"I said, 'I have to have that recipe,'" stated Smith, noting that she'll often prepare it for herself when she gets the urge.

The dish, she said, was not only a sweet treat, but also a way for Spraker to share her Dutch heritage.

"She was very proud of her Dutch heritage through the VanValkenburgs," Smith said, noting that their shared love of history and time spent as classmates weren't the only things tying them together.

"We're cousins from way back," Smith said, explaining that the two women share heritage, which began when "the first John Radley came over with the Dutch West India Co. and married a VanValkenburg girl."

Like Spraker's ancestors, who made an indelible imprint on the valley and the county, her legacy will not soon be forgotten, spanning an area far greater than just her hometown of Canajoharie.

For instance, Fort Plain Mayor Guy Barton said that it's because of Spraker's campaign to save the historic bridge in Fort Plain -- the last of its kind in the Mohawk Valley -- about 12 to 14 years ago, that the structure was refurbished instead of demolished.

"She was very instrumental in saving the bridge and having it redone instead of replaced," he said.

Smith said of her classmate, that while Spraker was a "good student" and a focused, strong individual, she also enjoyed a good laugh. Spraker's classmates, Smith said, would always tease her because they never knew her as Barbara in school.

"She was Carolyn to us," Smith said, noting that Spraker derived great joy from reminiscing with her classmates.

At reunions, "She always had a lot of memorabilia," to show off, Smith said.

Another thing that Smith said she'd joke about with Spraker is the fact that "she was famous for having two birthdays." She'd annually hold one in January coinciding with her actual birth date, and would throw another birthday party months later, around March -- a means of bringing friends together.

Smith jokingly summed up her good friend Barbara Spraker's steadfast, determined personality with the statement, "she's just always been Barbara -- except for when she was Carolyn."

A funeral service will be held Friday at 10 a.m. in the Chapel of Houghtaling & Smith Funeral Home Inc., 20 Otsego St., Canajoharie. The family will receive relatives and friends Thursday from 4 to 6 p.m. at the funeral home. Burial will follow in Prospect Hill Cemetery, Canajoharie. Contributions in memory of Mrs. Barbara V. Spraker may be made to the Canajoharie Volunteer Fire Department, PO Box 28, Canajoharie 13317; or Ayres Memorial Animal Shelter,Inc., 133 Hilltop Road, Sprakers 12166.

     

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