Meet Sam Phelps Jr., as told through Deborah Phelps The Mighty Wallkill River is a circumstance of its own being. Living there and on those muddy banks is legend, episodic and memorable. And as lore, it is shared by few and savored by many. Geologically it is old; it meanders through villages and pastures while few bare to notice its direction. Understand from the get-go, this river flows north and perhaps in that fact lies a causal relationship to its peculiar influence on those who touch it, feel it, and know its allure. To that end, Deborah Phelps has brilliantly and fastidiously captured the legend of her father, Samuel Phelps, Jr. a noted dairy farmer, and his relationship with The Mighty River, the Village of Walden and Town of Montgomery. Her voice and style as a writer are compelling to the point of wonder. Words flow, pages turn and the events described are experienced naturally, with unwavering credibility. The Legacy of “Mad Sammie” is Debbie’s tribute to an unusual man, her father. Her subtitle for this endearing treasure is The Life & Stories of Sam Phelps, Jr. He’s a man with a nickname and a tale for generations.
Known to many, rivers and authors maintain a healthy and prolific relationship, and in that context, Deborah and her father, Samuel B. Phelps, are cast from the same mold. Deborah, formally trained as a music teacher, knew the melody she was hearing from her father, a tune inherent in his writing. Sam wrote prolifically beginning in 1962 a weekly column, Feathers and Fur, for the Citizen Herald, a local paper with offices in Walden. At its inception, the literary adventure was a letter to the editor with detailed instructions on how to construct a bird house for the Bluebird, designated as the official state bird of New York in 1970. As time passed Sam also wrote his nature and agriculture column for the Wallkill Valley Times, with lectures and additional copy promoting conservation, wildlife and, especially, controversial environmental issues. But contained in his writing were stories, stories about the simple goin’s on down at the farm. The humanistic appeal
was overwhelming and well received, as demonstrated by several awards and recognition through various media. In 1986 a documentary movie by Aaron Weisblatt on the life of Sam Phelps, Sam, was nominated for an Oscar. The influence of Sam Phelps extended far beyond the milkhouse and past that Mighty Wallkill. As a Cornell educated dairyman with forty-some registered Holsteins, he became a fierce advocate of conservation issues and fought at town and village board meetings to inform the public of the dangers inherent in overdevelopment and poor planning. An activist for recognizing and preserving swamp land as nature’s own water filtration system, his comments echoed through meeting halls as he referred to developers as “carpet baggers,” and with biting sarcasm the “omniscient” council members became “Great White Fathers.” His tenacity and willfulness brought middle of the night phone
calls to his peaceful little Riverside Farm on the banks of the Mighty Wallkill. Two enthusiastic schools of thought were behind the promotion of Sam Phelps the columnist: The “nature lovers” and the “conflict lovers” each had the weekly newspaper deep in the middle of a bubblin’ cauldron. Letters to the editor became, as this writer recalls, more sought after than page one news and even the sports page. However, when Sammie’s sight began to wane and his ability to drive was following the same fading path, he ended his crusades at the village and town board meetings and returned to his stories about nature, birds and goin’s on down on the farm. The legend of Sam Phelps is priceless and to have known this man first hand is to realize his determination and strong resolve, coupled with the ability to stand up for what he believed and to fight all adversaries. Mad Sammie Phelps will stand the test of time as a hero, truly a man for all seasons! Information regarding the purchase of this book and anthologies with additional writings and columns of Sam Phelps are available at www.madsammie.com
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