Journalist, leader Elinor Mettler dies at 85

Started popular newspaper, led effort to build rail trail

COPAKE FALLS–The Roe Jan area lost a true friend last week with the death of Elinor Mettler.

She fought for what she believed in, and luckily for area residents, she believed in them and this place.

One would be hard pressed to find anyone in the Roe Jan area who had not encountered or heard of the spirited 85-year-old Mrs. Mettler, who lived on Maple Lane in Copake Falls for the past 64 years.

In 1973, she founded the Roe Jan Independent, a local newspaper she edited and published for 13 years in the Copake hamlet. She co-founded the Roeliff Jansen Historical Society and was the spark that ignited the movement to establish the Harlem Valley Rail Trail.

“There was nothing she could not accomplish. I’ll always think of her as a role model for women, many who knew her looked up to her,” said Roeliff Jansen Historical Society President Clara Van Tassel in remembering Mrs. Mettler, who was a founding member of the historical society in the 1970s. She was among the people in the community who thought history was very important, Mrs. Van Tassel said.

“She set a high standard, but she never demanded anything of us that she wasn’t willing to do herself,” said Diane Boice-Yorck, director of international sales at the American Bio Medica Corporation. She worked with Mrs. Mettler on-and-off between 1977 and 1986 at the Roe Jan Independent.

Ms. Boice-Yorck recalls having a love/hate relationship with Wednesdays, the usually harried day the staff “put the newspaper to bed” an expression for deadline day at the weekly newspaper, which appeared on the newsstands every Thursday.

“Elinor would put on classical music–loud. She loved it.” Sometimes she and Ernie Seligmann, another staffer, would waltz to the music in the midst of paste-up, said Ms. Boice-Yorck, wistfully recalling Wednesday nights in the summer with the windows open and the warm breeze blowing through the office.

When the work was finished at no-telling what time, there would be the “ceremonial tying of the string around the box” containing the physical newspaper pages with the type and photos glued to them. The pages would then be sent off to the printer, where the paper would go to press. It was delivered the next morning.

Ms. Boice-Yorck, who did everything from reporting to selling ads for the newspaper, said, “Elinor taught me to love what I do and do what I love. She was passionate about the things that were important to her.”

Another of those many things was the rail trail. It was around 1980, when Mrs. Mettler started promoting the creation of a walking trail on the old Harlem Valley railroad bed, said Dr. Kent Kay, chairman of the Harlem Valley Rail Trail Association, a friend of Dr. John Mettler, Jr., a fellow veterinarian, and his wife, Elinor.

The Mettlers had a vacation home on Cape Cod, where a walking path had been established on an old railroad line. She thought the same thing could be done here, he said.

“When she first brought it up I don’t think there was one person in Columbia County who was in favor of it,” said Dr. Kay.

But many people in Dutchess County liked the idea, including Harry Schroeder, a farmer, who brought it up to the county legislature, which bought the necessary land in Dutchess County. The trail currently runs from the Metro North Train Station in Wassaic, north to Copake Falls, and the aim is to extend it all the way to Chatham.

“Elinor was certainly the driving force behind it and singlehandedly got it started. When she got something in her mind, she became very determined about it,” said Dr. Kay, “I was proud to have been associated with her as a friend as well as a colleague. She lived a good life.”

“I knew Elinor in lots of different ways,” said Dick Barton of Copake Falls, who was Mrs. Mettler’s nephew. He subsequently went to work for her at The Independent for two different three-year periods in the 1970s, first as advertising manager and later as business manager.

It was during that time that he got to know her and they became great friends, “We always had fun in those days.”

He remembers his aunt never micromanaged. “She expected a lot so you wanted to do the best job you could. She’d ask you to do something, then she’d leave you alone and you got it done.”

Calling her “an amazing woman,” Mr. Barton said, “When she set out to accomplish something good for the community she just went for it, she’d keep up with it till she got it accomplished. She dedicated her life to her family and the community and I think she had a good time doing it.” Of their relationship, he said, “I always told everyone, she was a good friend who happened to be my aunt as well.”

A moment of silence for Mrs. Mettler was called for at the May Copake Town Board meeting the day after she died. Supervisor Reggie Crowley said he spent time in the Mettler house as a teenager, when his future wife was a friend of a Mettler daughter. He said he never felt nervous or out of place there, always felt welcome.

Copake Councilman Bob Sacks called her “an extraordinary woman.” A publisher himself, Mr. Sacks said, “She had the ability every newspaper publisher wishes they had, the ability to create a newspaper that people want to read.”

In her own words from her book “Down Maple Lane, A Place to Call Home in the Upper Hudson Valley,” Mrs. Mettler wrote about her favorite things about the Roe Jan area in a chapter called, A Hometown to be Thankful For.

“… as I drive up and down Route 22 or almost anywhere in the Roe Jan area, each day the people I pass in every few cars coming toward me wave at me, and I wave back. And when I go in and out of the store and the post office, for example, people know me and greet me. I find myself smiling happily, for I think this is positively wonderful.”

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