After Tropical Storm Irene ripped through the eastern Adirondacks on Aug. 28, 2011, leaving behind an enormous amount of damage, hundreds of volunteers came out to help repair the damage.
One of those was Ron Konowitz, a Keene Valley resident and retired fifth-grade teacher at Keene Central School. Seeing many friends and acquaintances left with tons of work to do on their homes and businesses, Konowitz decided to lend a hand. And not just for a weekend or two. Konowitz volunteered for nearly three months straight until winter set in, and then again went to work the following spring and summer.
On Monday, the 59-year-old Konowitz was honored for his efforts by Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Assemblyman Dan Stec, R-Queensbury, at New York's Conference for Emergency Preparedness in Albany. Konowitz was one of 10 people or organizations honored statewide. He was given the award as a Keene Valley firefighter and a volunteer coordinator for the town of Keene's Hurricane Irene Recovery Team. Konowitz, who is well known as an avid backcountry skier, is also the wilderness rescue coordinator for the Keene and Keene Valley fire departments.
Assemblyman Dan Stec, Keene Valley resident Ron Konowitz and Gov. Andrew Cuomo pose for a photo at New York’s Conference for Emergency Preparedness in Albany. Konowitz was honored at the conference for his volunteer work after Tropical Storm Irene in 2011.
(Photo courtesy of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s office)
"The award was given in recognition of Konowitz's extraordinary courage and dedication as a volunteer firefighter in service of our communities," according to a press release.
Konowitz said he had no idea he was going to be honored at the conference and was humbled by the experience.
"Certainly, there are many, many other people that deserve it," Konowitz said. "It's kind of what we do as firefighters. We try to help other people out. That's why we become firemen in the first place, (but) ... it's so nice when people say, 'Thanks, we appreciate what you do.' But to have it on that scale was just - it was pretty humbling to be in front of 400 people that were from all over the state, from all different agencies, including National Guard and state police, and the rangers and everyone else in the room, the firefighters throughout the state."
Konowitz said he appreciated the award and also the efforts of Cuomo after the storm. Konowitz pointed out that Cuomo had state Route 73 up and running again just weeks after sections were washed away during the storm.
Keene town Supervisor Bill Ferebee said Konowitz used to call his office on a daily basis after Irene, asking for volunteer work assignments.
"There were a ton of people that helped, but Ron, in my opinion, stood out in the crowd," Ferebee said. "He was there every day, day in, day out. ... Fortunately, he's retired. He had the effort and the time to work every day."
One of the those to present the award to Konowitz was Stec, who offered a prepared statement about Konowitz's efforts.
"When times were tough and things were at their worst, Ron Konowitz was at his best," Stec said. "Ron was on the frontline as a volunteer firefighter and his courage and dedication to helping others has proven crucial not only in helping our friends and neighbors recover in the wake of Hurricane Irene, but in saving the lives of others. It was an honor to present him with an award recognizing his service to our communities and on behalf of the entire 114th District, I thank him."
Much of the work that Konowitz did was basic manual labor, included picking up a lot of garbage, raking and shoveling. He also did some construction work. He joked that his efforts earned him a doctorate in "rakeology and shoveltology."
"I was in the right place and I had the time and it felt nice to be able to give back to all of these people," said Konowitz, who taught for about three decades. "It kind of made me realize how long I taught in the school because everyone I was working for either had their kids, or I had them (in class), or I had taught someone from there family or coached them. ... It was a nice feeling to be able to give back to people that were all pretty devastated from the storm."