The passing of George E. Staley

Melissa Stagnaro

Being the first one in the office this morning meant I was the one who discovered George E. Staley’s obituary on the fax machine. Although I didn’t know him well, learning of his death still caused me great sadness.

I had been on the job here at The Evening Sun for less than two weeks, when Jeff handed me a last minute assignment which prompted my first visit Northeast Classic Car Museum.

I’d heard about the place, which opened during the years I spent living far from Chenango County, but never had the opportunity or really the desire to  walk through its doors. I’m not really a car person, you see, so I figured it wasn’t for me. But, like the good little cub reporter I aspired to be, I feigned enthusiasm and trotted out the door, camera and notepad firmly in hand.

The event I was sent to cover was the H.H. Franklin Club’s 55th annual Franklin Trek, an annual get-together of enthusiasts of the classic automobiles which were manufactured in Syracuse from 1903 to 1934.

I knew the NECCM was said to be home to the world’s largest collection of Franklin’s, but I didn’t really have a concept of what that meant – or the passion Franklin aficionados had – until I turned the corner onto Rexford Street that day.

For a second, I thought I’d literally stepped back in time. Rows of gorgeous antique cars, reminiscent of a bygone era, filled the museum’s parking lots. And it only got better when I stepped inside.

Much to my own surprise, I was instantly enamoured. Each of the museum’s exhibits are truly works of art – marvels of American ingenuity and creativity with beautiful lines and an aesthetic appeal which today’s cars are sadly lacking. They have both beauty and grace, as well as a hint of romance and mystique.

Doreen Bates, NECCM’s executive director, took me around that day. (As she has on a couple of occasions since.) From her, I learned the provenance of many of the vehicles on display. I was floored by how many were part of the Staley Collection, meaning they were either on loan from or donated by the museum’s benefactor, George Staley.

Doreen spoke of Mr. Staley with such reverence, that I was nervous to meet the man himself. But I found him to be, as those who I interviewed this morning all affirmed, incredibly kind. His obvious enthusiasm and love for his cars was evident immediately, and I could instantly understand why so many held him in such high regard.

We didn’t have him to ourselves for very long, for there were a number of Franklin enthusiasts clamoring (very respectfully, of course) for his attention as well. Brief as our conversation was, I treasured the time none the less. Both because he truly lived the history you and I can only read about in books, and because his passion for his collection shone through. After meeting him, walking through the museum took on even more significance.

His willingness to share not only his collection, but his love for classic automobiles, is truly a gift to this community. Through it, we can experience an aspect of history we could never have experienced without his generosity.

Thank you, Mr. Staley, for the legacy you have left behind. And to the Staley family, my heartfelt condolences. May you find some small comfort in knowing how many lives this great man touched in his lifetime, and will continue to touch in years to come. While he may no longer walk this earth, he will live on forever in the hearts of many.

Rest in Peace, Mr. Staley.

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