Sign or not, Nissen’s mark is on the Windmill

Gwen Chamberlain
The Nissen Building at The Windmill

The passage of time has a way of chewing away at memories and changing history. When a person dies, the legacy that’s left behind can sometimes be shifted by changes in attitudes, the use of technology, social mores and other incidents.

That’s why Ron Nissen’s family and friends want to ensure that his contributions to the community at large, and especially, his efforts to establish The Windmill Farm and Craft Market, do not fade in anyone’s memory following his Jan. 25 death.

Of course, it’s a coincidence that Nissen’s death comes 25 years from the time he and others met with the Industrial Development Agency  to describe his idea for an extension of a farmer’s market. Re-reading the articles from that era paint a clear picture that Yates County probably would not be reaping the benefits from the popular Saturday attraction without his efforts.

In the mid-1980s, Nissen, with Patricia, his wife at the time, and others laid the groundwork for the farm and craft market. Over time, because of some painful personal differences, Nissen’s name became less prominent in the organization.

That hasn’t set well with some.

Nissen’s brother, Jerry, wrote in an email message last week, “Ron Nissen was truly the “Driving Force” that had the idea, (after visiting a Pennsylvania market), hammered the message, brought people together and made it happen.”

At last year’s fall board of directors meeting, Jim Carey, who also had been involved in the market’s development and organization told the current board members, “The Windmill would not exist without Ron Nissen who was the true driving force that made this happen. No other person at that time could pull together the various components and call in the favors needed to make this a reality.”

Carey asked the board “To review the history of the founding of  The Windmill and to record for postarity the true history of The Windmill founding.”

At Saturday evening’s Yates County Chamber of Commerce Annual Dinner, CEO Mike Linehan recognized Nissen as a former honoree at the annual event and said, “Ron helped bring people together for a common cause. The Windmill has been a great economic engine for the county.”

In a letter to Jerry Nissen, Steve Marchionda wrote, “Ron was, truly, one of the good guys.”

Noting the economic challenges that faced the area in the early 1980s (Penn Yan Boats, Penn Yan Express, Walkerbuilt and other businesses were leaving or had left the community), Marchionda wrote, “Unemployment was high and the outlook was bleak...  In developing the Windmill, whether people know it, or want to admit it, Ron literally made one of the first steps into the development of a meaningful mechanism to draw large numbers of tourists into Yates County.  And, he did it despite, again literally, no assistance (or even any meaningful encouragement) from the governmental agencies in place at the time, be it local, county, state, or federal.”

Opening the market and keeping it vital and popular has been at times difficult work that has benefitted from the contributions of hundreds over the years.

But the efforts of all who followed would be moot without the strong foundation that was built by Nissen and those he cajoled into joining his team.

“Ron is responsible for the Windmill; of that there is no doubt.  Anyone with any history in Penn Yan knows that.  However, in passing, I think it’s imperative for those of us who knew, loved and respected him, to be sure that message gets out for all to know as time goes by,” concludes Marchionda.

Nissen is survived by his wife, Donna, five sons, Aaron, Ronald Jr., Ryan, Craig and Paul and a daughter, Mary Lou Nealis, a large extended family and a grateful community.