By Breanna E. Coolidge
My grandfather, Charles R. Coolidge, previous Mayor of Ellicottville, NY and friend to many, was a man of tremendous accomplishment and an incredible inspiration to all. Some knew him as Neighbor, some as Mr. Coolidge, some as Husband, and some as Dad. No matter how it was that you knew him, you were just grateful that you did.
Whether he was sitting in his driveway on a beautiful day listening to Conway Twitty or leading a board meeting working to improve some aspect of village life, he always did everything full on, never took anything for granted and truly made the absolute most of his life. Before he became the man who transformed a little one horse town into an East Coast skiing destination, he was just a small town boy on Rockwell Avenue in Ellicottville, NY, his lifelong home.
As a child, he grew up here, only it was not full of ski shops and attractions, but rather dirt roads and old barns. Hunting in the mountains and fishing in the creeks with his father, Michael, sparked his enduring love for wildlife and the breathtaking nature that surrounded him. From a young age, he was an avid outdoorsman, but was taught by his mother, Madeline, to always respect and take care of Mother Nature and all of her creatures. He and his brothers and sisters would play down by the creek from dawn until dusk and run home when supper was ready.
Jesus was his savior and he passionately carried his faith with him throughout his 70 years on earth. You could say that life back then was simple and some may even refer to it as “the good old days” but it was also rugged and down right hard. You know the old saying, “pulling yourself up by your bootstraps?” Well, my grandfather was a direct byproduct of that mentality.
Come eighth grade, he sacrificed his education as a youth to start working to help support his family. He took college courses later on in life, but he gave up a lot at a very young age for the wellbeing of his family. At only 13 years old, he was enlightened by the true value of back breaking work by digging ditches and graves, working as a farm hand, volunteering for the Ellicottville Fire Department and working hard at the local saw mill for pocket change.
He became a laborer for the county in the mid-1960s, where he plowed the snow from our roads in the winter and shoveled black top to fix them in the summer. Just when he thought that his life was going to be an endless loop of drudgery, sweat and blisters, he saw a beam of light when he found his soulmate, his sweetheart, my Nana, Sharon.
He proposed to her after only a few short months of knowing each other and said “I do” at only 18 years old on Dec. 4, 1965. About a year or so later, my grandmother gave birth to their first born son, Chuck, followed by my father, Bill, and eventually their youngest son, Rob.
My grandfather hustled through grueling 80-hour work weeks while dedicating himself as a loving father, husband, member and usher of Holy Name of Mary RC Church in Ellicottville and continuing his service as a lifelong member of the Ellicottville Volunteer Fire Department. As if this was not enough for one man to handle, my grandfather was then promoted to Road Section Supervisor for Cattaraugus County DPW. It was after this promotion that his career took flight and the legacy that he left behind had begun.
As he worked to improve, rebuild and keep his community safe, he embarked on a journey dedicating many hours of his time to learning about and listening to the people of Ellicottville. In no time at all, he discovered his niche for leadership and started to take action not only in his hometown, but in the firematics world as well. My grandfather was a zealous supporter of firefighting and dedicated most of his life to firematic services. The FASNY Firemen’s Home on the Hudson became a frequent travel destination for him and my grandmother as he attended meetings and conferences for 10 years as a FASNY board member.
In addition, he was a past President of the Southwestern Firemen’s Association all while maintaining dedicated service to his hometown volunteer fire department. It was by this time that he had started to serve as a Trustee on the Village Board of Ellicottville and about a year later, what we would consider to be his greatest accomplishment took place when he won the mayoral election.
Charles R. Coolidge, my grandfather, was the longest sitting mayor of Ellicottville, NY and devoted 18 years of his life to shaping and nurturing our village into a tourist destination, but most importantly, always striving to maintain a small town, homey feeling for its locals.
His Wastewater Treatment Plant project is the reason why we have clean drinking water today and he rebuilt our infrastructure all while keeping his promise to never raise taxes throughout his years in office. Chock full of accomplishments, leadership and responsibilities, he never put anything above what was most important to him: his family and the Lord.
His wife of exactly 52 years and one month, his three sons, and his 11 grandchildren were the apple of his eye. He was absolutely a good, wholesome, honest, loyal, salt of the earth, made in America man’s man with a heart of pure gold. You always knew where you stood with him in a world full of phonies and fakes and for this, he will always be respected.
My grandfather, Charles R. Coolidge, left a legacy for us to uphold. He always put others before himself and dedicated his life to community service and family. Of all the memories, laughter, and priceless times that I had with my grandpa, one thing resonates with me most. From the day I was born up until the day he went to be with God, he always said, “Breanna, you make my heart sing, do you know that?”
I do not know if he knows it, but I am almost certain that he made everyone’s heart sing, especially mine, my family’s and the heart of Ellicottville, NY. He will always be remembered as the mayor who created a melody in our hearts and that song will play on forever. I love you old man, go rest high on your mountain, until we meet again.