WATERTOWN — Well, thank God that’s (almost) over.
At a time when office parties and handshakes are no longer a thing, the Times looks back on a year unlike any other in recent memory.
This year was dominated by a virus on the other side of the world we first heard about in February, but that came to impact just about every facet of life in the north country and beyond.
Here’s a look back at some of the events that affected our lives in 2020:
17-year-old Lexie M. Morgan and 16-year-old Gabriel M. Otero, both students at Indian River Central High School, were pronounced dead at the scene, according to state police.
Two days after the Indian River community was rocked by the devastating news, family members, students, staff and more gather together on Jan. 9, to remember the young lives that ended far too soon.
Jan. 7: By the time the siren rang at the Boonville Fire Department summoning volunteers on Jan. 7, a fire that wafted smoke through downtown was already on its way to claiming two buildings. It was 9:50 p.m. Two historic buildings at the center of the village are engulfed in flames, but the fire goes largely unnoticed at first.
Despite the best efforts of firefighters from 13 departments from two counties, the fire ultimately spread, destroying five buildings.
Jan. 24: Watertown City Manager Richard F. Finn abruptly submits his resignation, leaving Mayor Jeffrey M. Smith and council members to start the process of looking for a replacement upon their first meeting in February.
The council met in executive session for about four hours on Jan. 24, with Mayor Smith emerging to inform the media that Mr. Finn had resigned.
Mr. Finn had been the subject of a workplace harassment complaint filed by city Parks and Recreation Superintendent Erin Gardner. A report on an investigation into the complaint was completed earlier this week and then reviewed by City Council members.
Melissa Davey, Hailey’s mother, lost four of her daughters and their father, Aaron Bodah, her best friend of 13 years.
On Feb. 14, 2019, the mother and daughter remembers Hailey’s four sisters and father who perished in a tragic fire last Valentine’s Day. Aaron, 38, sisters Merissa, then 14; Alexa, 8; Erin, 6; and Skylar, 4, died from injuries suffered in the house fire.
The patient is a woman in her late thirties and contracted the virus while traveling abroad in Iran.
Parents and school children in Jefferson, St. Lawrence and Lewis counties learn that all public schools in the area will be closed beginning March 16, until at least the middle of April.
March 19: With approval from the state Department of Health, Samaritan Medical Center opens an appointment-only, drive-up testing site for COVID-19. The testing site is one of the first in the three-county region, as well as the north country.
March 20: Gov. Cuomo tells New Yorkers, “We are all in quarantine now,” as he announces that 100% of the nonessential workforce must stay home to halt the spread of COVID-19, dubbed New York State on PAUSE.
March 22: Nonessential businesses statewide close upon the PAUSE executive order going into effect.
March 23: The Times launches the first edition of the Times Extra.
March 26: Following Gov. Cuomo’s mandate that all visitation at nursing homes in the state must stop to curb the spread of COVID-19, Thomas M. Flavin, of Watertown, became popular after a photograph of him began circulating online.
It shows him outside the lobby of Samaritan Keep Home, pointed toward the glass window and sitting in a rollator walker wearing a rain jacket with his hood up. His wife is on the other side and they’re talking on the phone.
He wants to see his wife when he speaks with her. He wants to take her for a walk around the hospital campus like he used to, but can’t. As a result, he told staff at the nursing home of his plan to sit at the window. He wants to sit outside in rain, snow or sunshine — he will do all three — and speak with his wife on the phone through the lobby glass window. He asks the staff if they would bring her down, and they said yes.
April 12: Friends remember longtime Jefferson County Legislator Carolyn D. Fitzpatrick as a beacon of light who truly cared about other people she came to know.
Mrs. Fitzpatrick, the only woman ever to serve as county chair, died unexpectedly at her home. She was found April 12, by a small group of members of the county Board of Legislators after they had not heard from her in a couple of days. She was 70.
April 19: Michael B. Powers recalls that he was two days into a fever unlike any he’s ever experienced in his life — sweating, cutting weight rapidly, hallucinating and seeing his temperature surpass 105 degrees. He stopped to wonder if his affairs were in order as this strange and terrible virus was taking hold.
Mr. Powers, 54, is a sergeant correctional officer and former athlete who weighed around 238 pounds in the middle of March. But one morning a dry cough came on, which marked the beginning of his physical and emotionally mind-numbing battle with COVID-19 that led to his hospitalization.
Considered an essential worker, Mr. DeVito dutifully reported to work as businesses shut down statewide in March. As the deli and food manager of Price Chopper in Alexandria Bay, he worked until he started to feel unwell on the first night of the month. His symptoms worsened the next day.
Three days later he became one of the first Jefferson County residents diagnosed with the virus that is plaguing the world.
May 13: Gov. Cuomo visits Jefferson Community College in Watertown to announce that the north country region has met all seven metrics required to begin Phase I of the state’s regional phased reopening plan upon the expiration of New York State on PAUSE on May 15.
Unlike riots and looting in Minneapolis, Detroit and other cities, the north country residents kept their pledge of peace as they shed light on police brutality.
May 30: The SpaceX rocket triumphs over an iffy weather forecast to launch as planned on a historic mission to the International Space Station.
June 2: Five people are pronounced dead at the scene of an early morning crash.
The victims were later identified as Eugene N. Coleman, 28, who also goes by Bobby Johnson; Julian L. White, 29; and Da’Mon J. Scott, 21; Karime Y. Carr; and Vincent G. Barrientos, both of El Paso, Texas.
June 5: Canton-Potsdam Hospital Associate Chief Medical Officer Dr. Andrew F. Williams informs the St. Lawrence County Board of Legislators that St. Lawrence Health System and Claxton-Hepburn Medical Center have the capability to perform rapid COVID-19 testing.
June 22: Gouverneur teen Treyanna Summerville is found dead inside her Rowley Street home, resulting in vigils and demonstrations in the weeks to follow, all calling for justice on behalf of the 18-year-old.
Law enforcement and the St. Lawrence County District Attorney’s Office later took one person into custody in connection with the case. The unidentified suspect, a 13-year-old girl later identified as Treyanna’s younger sister, was arraigned in the youth part of St. Lawrence County Family Court on a second-degree murder charge.
June 24: Gov. Cuomo, D-N.Y., Gov. Phil Murphy, D-N.J., and Gov. Ned Lamont, D-Conn., implement a tri-state order mandating a two-week self-quarantine for travelers who fly or arrive in New York, New Jersey or Connecticut from states with more than a 10% positive coronavirus test rate over a seven-day average.
The 18-day fair, which draws more than 1 million visitors to the Syracuse area each year, was scheduled for Aug. 21 through Sept. 7 at the state fairgrounds in the town of Geddes, Onondaga County.
A little more than 24 hours after she entered the jail facility in Canton, bond is posted and she is released at 4:42 p.m.
July 26: Due to COVID-19 concerns, the annual Bassmaster Elite Series tournament held in Waddington every year moves to Clayton.
The four-day competition ends July 26, with Chris Johnston making Bassmaster history. With 97 pounds, 8 ounces of total bass caught during the week, he becomes the first Canadian to win a Bassmaster Elite Series tournament at the St. Lawrence River.
Aug. 9: “Father Soldier Son,” which premiered July 17 on Netflix, follows Brian Eisch, a former Fort Drum platoon sergeant and his two sons, Isaac and Joey, over almost a decade, chronicling Brian’s return home after a serious combat injury in Afghanistan.
A large segment of the film was shot in the north country.
Aug. 20: The “outrageous” re-enactment of a slave auction at a Watertown school, which garnered nationally attention last year, goes a step further: a lawsuit has been filed in federal court seeking damages and an apology from the Watertown City School District.
Nicole Dayes, the mother of a then-10-year-old Black child identified as Z.D. in court documents, filed suit in U.S. District Court’s Northern District of New York against the city school district, as well as former fourth-grade teacher Patricia A. Bailey for alleged civil rights violations and negligence.
Aug. 21: Frederick “Hank” Robar files suit against the village of Potsdam, among others, requesting no less than $7 million in damages from the village as the infamous 15-year dispute over his “toilet gardens” enters its likely most contentious chapter to date.
U.S. Sen. Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., announces the YMCA project received a $9 million federal Department of Defense grant to convert the former Convergys call center into the community center.
Sept. 27: Moira Highway Superintendent James A. Helm, Sr., 76, and his 70-year-old wife, Sandra, go missing, resulting in a two-day search, coming to a head on Sept. 29, when the couple is found safe.
Oct. 2: Federal court documents filed following the arrest of a Plattsburgh man for his alleged role in the armed kidnapping of the Helms reveal the couple were held hostage in exchange for either 50 kilograms of cocaine or $3.5 million.
The victim, later identified as Alec R. Williamson, 38, a veteran who served two tours in Afghanistan before he was hurt, then medically separated from the Army, is remembered fondly by friends and loved ones in the days after his death.
Oct. 17: The controversial “Finn Report” is released following a legal battle with WWNY-TV, also known as 7 News, who sued in order to get the report released.
A third-party investigation into multiple complaints that former City Manager Mr. Finn created a hostile work environment determined that just one instance was founded. But it further found Mr. Finn lied about the incident, leading investigators to conclude the “falsification also calls into question the credibility of Mr. Finn’s responses throughout the interview.”
Oct. 31: Gov. Cuomo eliminates the state’s COVID-19 travel advisory and requires all travelers, regardless of what state they’re coming from, to test negative for the novel coronavirus — not once, but twice.
Nov. 3: Rep. Elise M. Stefanik, R-Schuylerville, secures another term in Congress, winning the election and defeating Democratic challenger Tedra L. Cobb for a second time.
Dec. 1: Massena Mayor Timmy J. Currier and former village police chief is arrested at gunpoint on cocaine possession and evidence tampering charges following an undercover investigation and vehicle pursuit in St. Lawrence County.
Vaccines for north country hospitals and health care workers begin arriving in the following days.
Dec. 15: Gov. Cuomo signs home rule legislation — hours before the midnight deadline — that will reduce the number of Watertown City Court judges from two full-time to one full-time and avoid a costly court project for the city.
Dec. 19: The body of Cpl. Hayden A. Harris, 20, of Fort Drum, is found in a wooded area in Byram Township, Sussex County, N.J., and a fellow soldier Pvt. Jamaal Mellish, 23, is taken into custody in connection with his death.