TRR photos by Jonathan Charles Fox

Cornell Co-Operative Extension’s 2017 TOAST award winner Melinda Meddaugh, left, pictured here with Roberta Byron-Lockwood, carries on the SCVA tradition initiated by Agnes Van Put 20 years ago.

Welcome to the Catskills!

Mother Nature is at it again. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a big fan—but every once in a while, her plans get in the way of mine. Such was the case over the last few days, and my schedule changed accordingly when the first real snowfall of the season prevented me from getting to some of my appointed rounds. The initial blanket of white stuff is always the most beautiful (IMHO) and provides an opportunity to photograph the picture-postcard views that abound here in the Upper Delaware River region. But before any of that occurred, I was, as usual, out and about.

Last Thursday marked the 20th anniversary of the Sullivan County Visitors Association (SCVA), but before I joined fellow River Reporter staffers Laurie Stuart, Eileen Hennessy and Fritz Mayer at the party being held at the (beautiful) Sullivan in Rock Hill, NY (, the dog admonished me for being out of touch. “It’s 2017!” she reminded me, pawing at the Travel Guide. “It’s called the ‘Sullivan Catskills’ now,” her look expressed. And so it is. As I perused the association’s year-in-review report, I noted that SCVA CEO Roberta Byron-Lockwood had remarked on the change as well. “2017 was very special for the Sullivan Catskills Visitors Association,” her note in the program expressed. “We enjoyed an incredible year as we collectively raised the bar and rebranded Sullivan County as the Sullivan Catskills.”

Making a mental note (www.sullivan to get with the program, I schmoozed with folks decked out in holiday style. As the sumptuous cocktail hour drew to a close, I scanned the dining room for a seat close to the podium. Before I could sit, I heard someone calling Dharma’s name. Turning around, I spotted Agnes Van Put waving from across the room. Agnes, who celebrated her 101st birthday last August, is an institution in these parts, recognized not only for her years of service at the Catskill Fly Fishing Center ( and world-famous soup, but is also the very first recipient of the TOAST (Tribute To Outstanding Associate Serving Tourism) Award presented by the visitors association two decades ago. “Yes, it was an award recognizing her welcoming hostess skills at the Fly Fishing Center,” daughter-in-law Judy shared with me. “She was so excited when they called out her name, she jumped right out of her chair!” Judy recalled. Agnes still attends opening day of trout-fishing season and could be sighted last spring handing out cups of her homemade soup and cookies.

“Can I get a picture with the Wonder Dog?” Agnes asked. “I’m a big fan.” Understanding that she meant of the dog, and not me, I agreed to a photo, but asked if was okay that I be in the picture, too. “I suppose,” Agnes shrugged. “I’m 101 years  old, you know.” Suggesting that I was “no spring chicken,” I suggested that she looks better than I, while handing the camera to Judy. Nodding in agreement, Agnes smiled for the camera. “I just love this puppy,” she whispered. I told Agnes that I’d get a copy of the photo to her and would see her soon. “I’ll be at the center on April first,” she said, waving. “Make sure you bring the dog!”

During the awards ceremony, I thought about Agnes and the many friends that I’ve made here in the #sullivancatskills and how meaningful those relationships have become. This year’s TOAST Award winner, Melinda Meddaugh of the Cornell Cooperative Extension (, was clearly thrilled to be following in Van Put’s footsteps. Kirsten and Sims Foster, owners of four local hotel/restaurants—Arnold House, North Branch Inn, Nine River Road and The Debruce—delivered some thoughtful words in response to being the recipients of the 2017 STAR award for excellence in business.

“We care deeply about our home, and that’s why we do this,” Sims said, addressing the room. Their website (www.foster wraps visitors in comfort even before one crosses the threshold of a Fosters-owned establishment. “We believe in genuinely warm greetings,” it declares, “In handwritten notes and freshly baked cookies delivered to you in front of a real fireplace; tractor parades, farm tours and fun local activities.” I snapped a photo of the Fosters while listening to Roberta’s closing remarks. “Truly, these are exciting times” she said smiling. “And we’ve only just begun. Thanks to you all,” she concluded, “for making our home a great place to visit, and live.” Welcome to the Catskills!


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