One woman’s retirement has become over 15 years of dedication to Indian Lake
By Izania Gonzalez
Christine Pouch tells a story that sums up the outsized role Brenda Valentine plays in the town of Indian Lake. She chuckles as she recounts the time Gov. Kathy Hochul was set to visit the town.
“It was a super secret, nobody knew about it until like 15 minutes before the governor’s helicopter landed in town,” she says, adding, “and Brenda was the person they contacted to give her a tour. She might as well be the mayor.”
As Indian Lake’s economic development, marketing and events manager, Pouch has been working alongside Valentine since they met as members of the chamber of commerce over 15 years ago. They’ve been friends ever since.
Originally from Rockland County, Brenda Valentine and her husband, Jack, purchased property in Indian Lake in the early ’80s. She retired from ConEdison in 2004 and the couple moved up to the Adirondacks full time. Almost immediately upon arriving Valentine began volunteering. She is currently the president of the Indian Lake Community Development Corporation, a nonprofit she helped create that’s dedicated to the revitalization and overall growth of the town and its hamlets – Indian Lake, Blue Mountain Lake, and Sabael.
Valentine says her first project was ACTION, a state program focused on revitalizing the main street of Indian Lake. Part of this project found her involved with the community garden club that waters the town’s flowers and plants. It’s a group of volunteers who every summer plant seeds in the town barrels and ensure they stay watered to keep the town in full bloom.
“You know, she’s retired,” Pouch says before launching into the numerous projects Valentine has completed and currently has underway.
“There’s not one thing that she probably hasn’t touched in Indian Lake and typically everything that she does touch, she makes it a reality.”-Christine Pouch, speaking of Brenda Valentine’s service to Indian Lake
The Great Adirondack Moose Festival is one of Valentine’s ideas that came to life. She attended a conversation on the return of moose to the Adirondacks hosted by the Department of Environmental Conservation and was astounded at the number of people interested in the topic. After doing research and learning there were no activities in the state targeted toward the discussion of moose her “ears perked up” so she brought the idea to the town board. That was 2010 and it has expanded so much that every September, Indian Lake gears up for nearly 5,000 attendees, some coming from overseas to celebrate.
The Indian Lake Farmers Market, started in 2013, was another project of Valentine’s. “We are considered a food desert because we don’t really have a grocery store in Indian Lake, the closest one is in North Creek which is about 20 minutes away”, says Pouch. The market allows for fresh food options to be available once a week at the local school.
Valentine’s work has not gone unrecognized. In 2018 she was awarded the Town of Indian Lake Citizen of the Year which included the honor of being the town’s Grand Marshall at that summer’s Independence Day Parade. In February 2022 she was once again honored for her dedication to the betterment of her town with the Small-Town America Civic Volunteer Award. The award is designated to public service volunteers in towns with populations less than 25,000, Valentine was one of five chosen in New York state.
As president of the Indian Lake Chamber of Commerce, Sue Montgomery-Corey has been working alongside Valentine since Montgomery-Corey began working at the Indian Lake theater seven years ago. “When I got here I soon learned about her and she was somebody I wanted to work with because she has an extraordinary energy and vision,” they went on to serve on the town’s equality and justice committee together. The committee was created in 2020 by the town to “support the idea that all are welcome here.”
Valentine is currently serving as a member on the North Country Regional Economic Development Council, ensuring she is keeping her eye on progress. “She’s always thinking about the town,” Pouch adds. This includes the current program she is trying to bring to Indian Lake, Main Street America.
The National Main Street Center was created in 1980, focusing on preserving and bringing life back to old and historic downtowns. Part of the process includes a consultant from Main Street America visiting the town and meeting with businesses and nonprofits. The hope for this program’s introduction is to identify needs and create a vision for what the next steps should be for Indian Lake.
Valentine has been advocating for this program’s involvement in the town since 2013. They told her to come up with the money, so she did. They were recently awarded a grant for $7,500 from the Adirondack Foundation, as well as a surprise anonymous donation of $3,000, which will fund their process of reworking their main streets.
“It’s been hard,” Valentine says of getting the program going. Despite her achievements she constantly feels as though she has to prove herself. Her work on the equality and justice committee is to help make people feel welcome in the North Country and in her town. “Most people born and raised here don’t understand that most people like me don’t feel welcome,” she says.
Regardless, Valentine will continue to move projects forward. Her success, she says, is thanks to the community realizing that “the projects we’re doing are for the betterment of the community.”