July 30, 2023

By Arthur H. Gunther III

     Exceptional people have always been, but today’s busyness and the strains and demands of growth can hide these folk. Two such individuals from another time come to mind in my area of Rockland County, N.Y.

     One is Sterling Theis, who was the longtime superintendent for highways in Orangetown some decades ago as post-war housing development replaced truck crop farms and the site that was Camp Shanks, the huge Army embarkation site.

     Theis was a principled fellow who was close to residents, to taxpayers, to values he believed necessary to do his job. A sense of duty and neighborliness. 

     Every morning he would get up at 4 or so and drive certain roads under his jurisdiction. Theis would jot down the location of a pothole, a loose storm drain or before they were removed, a deteriorating drainage ditch, etc. He was especially diligent about noting flooding issues, a concern ever more important as flood plains were filled in for homes. 

     Returning to the highway garage off Erie Street, he would give the list to his foreman, and it was understood that as best as possible, repairs had to be made that day.

     The next morning Theis would drive another set of roads and note what had to be done on those.

     Over in Ramapo, Abe Stern, the first police chief in the township, was also a hands-on fellow, noting any sign or other road irregularities that needed fixing. 

     But his greatest gesture was each Christmas Day when he would give all his officers in a small rural township the day off to be with family while Chief Stern would answer the calls.

     He was held in high esteem for that gesture, so much so that when he was hurt in an accident one year, chiefs and officers from other jurisdictions and the state police offered to take the Christmas shift.

     Of course, there are Sterling Theis and Abe Stern fellows and gals with us today, largely unseen, and I guess the message here is to look for them and appreciate the effort in real time.

     The writer is a retired newspaperman reachable at