By Matthew Jones
For 16 years, the Chautauqua Region Community Foundation has presented the Axel W. Carlson Award to unsung heroes in our community. Each one of the recipients earned the award by demonstrating a dedication toward doing whatever they could to help make their community a better place – and always without a thought towards personal recognition or reward.
Several weeks ago, the foundation presented the 2001 Axel W. Carlson Award to Albert M. Olmstead of Cassadaga. The ceremony took place at Cassadaga’s Camp Gross, where Olmstead has been continuously involved for approximately 40 years.
While Olmstead has been actively involved with the American Legion and his church, his name is most often associated with Camp Gross – jokingly named as his second home. In the 1980s, he was an important part of the group responsible for taking over the management of the camp from the Boy Scouts and preserving it for public use.
Since then, he has yet to miss a meeting of the Camp’s board of directors.
Even more remarkable than his attendance record, however, is his dedication to the many physical projects required to maintain the camp as an attractive recreational destination. Those projects include wiring the office-garage addition to the camp ranger home; redoing power feeds to each of the 11 powered structures at camp, including rewiring each building and running a quarter mile of waterline with six frost-free hydrants; helping in the rebuilding of the camps waterfront and construction of the 60-foot Lew Mead memorial fishing dock.
According to Edwin Hamlet, a member of the group that took over Camp Gross and the person who nominated Olmsted for the award, there simply isn’t much at the Camp that Olmstead hasn’t worked on. “When he sees something that needs to be done, he just does it,” said Hamlet.
One story told at the award ceremony perfectly captures Albert’s dedication. Once, when accidentally locked out of Camp Gross, Albert returned to his home, loaded his boat and traveled across Cassadaga Lake to the camp shoreline to get back to work.
Albert’s dedication extends to his wife, Esther, as well, to whom he’s been married for 51 years. Together they have four children – two in Pennsylvania and two in Florida – and eight grandchildren.
A retired Niagara Mohawk lineman, Olmstead is also a U.S. Army veteran of World War II, a member of the American Legion Post 1280, a member of the Northern Chautauqua Woodcarvers Association and the Cassadaga Community Baptist Church. He has also been active as a leader in Boy Scouts.
This year’s ceremony was quite impressive with over 100 friends, neighbors and guests coming to Camp Gross to congratulate Olmstead on his award. Such a turnout from the Cassadaga community is yet another testament to the reputation that Albert M. Olmstead is an individual who loves to lend a helping hand to whatever project needs him at the time.
Congratulations, Albert, on being one or our community’s unsung heroes.