Lifelong Tupper Laker Bill Frenette embodied the word “active.” Here are some highlights (you might want to go get a sandwich or something; this may take a while):
He was a founder and leader of the ski patrol at the Big Tupper Ski Area, whose trails he helped design.
He served as president of the Adirondack Forty-Sixers.
He once guided Robert F. Kennedy and his family through the Hudson Gorge.
He climbed in South Africa and Bavaria, surfed in Hawaii, bicycled in Newfoundland, rafted the Grand Canyon, skied in the Italian Alps, and swam the fjords of Norway. Since all that didn’t keep him satisfactorily occupied, he was also a snowshoer, dogsledder, and hunter.
He led a successful campaign to name a summit overlooking Tupper Lake after civil-rights worker Andrew Goodman, whose murder was dramatized in the film Mississippi Burning and whose family were summer residents of Tupper.
He was a founding trustee of the Wild Center in Tupper Lake.
He was a self-taught raptor rehabilitator.
Along the way, this St. Lawrence University graduate and Marine veteran raised eight children with his wife Ginny.
Had enough? He hadn’t. In addition to filling more volunteer roles in service to the community he loved than we have time or space for here, Frenette was also for many years the town and village historian. In that capacity, he added “writer” to his resume, somehow finding the time to compose a column every other week for the Tupper Lake Free Press, beginning in December 1996 and continuing until January 2007, less than a year before his death at age eighty.
And this is how we get to Frenette’s book. Compiled by his daughter Pamela, it brings that decade of columns under one cover. Some 166 of them fill almost seven hundred pages. I mean, this is no scrawny thing; the volume is as thick as some Complete Works of Shakespeare I’ve come across, and it has serious heft.
The book’s title is the same as that of his column: Transitions: Notes on a Proud Past with Attention to Future Annals. In the column, Frenette did often address the changes that were going on in Tupper Lake, but his topics covered the waterfront, from history to nature to the politics of the day, mirroring his eclectic interests and wide knowledge. He was, as the author Christine Jerome said in a 2004 Adirondack Life article, “a listener and talker” who routinely engaged everyone he came in contact with. And with a sales route for the family beer-and-soda-distribution business that encompassed “every watering hole in three counties,” that was a lot of people, a lot of sources.
And so we learn “Bill’s version of the truth,” as his family puts it, about the rise and fall of the railroads and sawmills, about how French names got Anglicized, about how a Tupper Laker was related to Sacajewea, about how to keep a bear out of your camp (or tent), about bald-eagle recovery, about the history of snowmobiling, and about the Whitney estate and its transfer to New York State.
And that’s just scratching the surface.
Frenette had a “deep sensibility of the need for balance between productive economic development and conservation,” according to his newspaper obituary. This comes through in his writing. ‘“Human history’ and ‘natural history’ do not need to be in conflict as stewardship of [the Lows Lake tract] goes under scrutiny before receiving its bureaucratic (designations): Wilderness, Primitive or Wild Forest,” he wrote in 1999. In a later column, he wrote that Tupper Lake Flow, “more than a swamp … is a rich and diverse ecosystem [that supports] a marvelous, complex web of life.”
A few small technical complaints are but slight blemishes on what is otherwise an enjoyable read and an important addition to Adirondack literature. The “Attention to Future Annals” part of the subtitle is mystifying, but that’s what Bill called his column, so there it is. But why add “Profound Adirondack Chronicles” above the title? These stories are entertaining and illuminating, but profound they are not, nor do they need to be. And why does the cover display a picture of Richard Gile and not Bill Frenette?
Inside, as in many a self-published book, this volume needed a mild edit and attentive proofread. And many of the numerous illustrations are so poorly reproduced that they add only frustration. But so what? The main thing is the marvelous stories of a man who knew and loved the central Adirondacks better than anyone, a man his obituary called “the quintessential Adirondacker, [one whose] enthusiasm for the Adirondacks was unquenchable.”