When John Rumsey, one of the country's pre-eminent talent agents, built his 20-room "cottage" in Saranac Lake in 1928, Americans were approaching their 10th year of the great social experiment, Prohibition.
The Rumsey Cottage, described as "palatial" by The New York Times, became the site of lavish social events for many of the era's entertainment elite - Rumsey represented such personalities as Eugene Walters ("Trail of the Lonesome Pine") and William Anthony McGuire (creator of numerous Ziegfeld musicals) - while the property's proximity to Canada, a short drive for rum-runners, provided many an A-lister arriving from New York a memorable night's entertainment.
Some 40 years later in 1971, another group arrived on the grounds from New York, but with a far different purpose. The property, acquired by the Franciscan Friars of the Atonement, welcomed five alcoholic and homeless men who were to be the first of over 4,000 men and women suffering from addiction to be treated at the newly designated St. Joseph's Rehabilitation Center.
In attendance for St. Joseph’s Addiction Treatment & Recovery Centers 40th anniversary celebration, from left, are state Assemblywoman Janet Duprey; Fr. Emil Tomoskovic, SA; St. Joseph’s CEO Bob Ross; Fr. Carmen Giuliano, SA; Bishop Terry LaValley and Mary Ann DiChristopher, acting commissioner of the state Office of Alcohol and Substance Abuse Services.
(Photo courtesy of St. Joseph’s)
The center's founder and patriarch, Fr. Carmen Giuliano, SA (Society of the Atonement), established a philosophy for treating the disease of alcoholism based on the teachings of St. Francis, which included, "We are called to heal wounds, unite what has fallen apart, and to bring home those who have lost their way."
This ethos, enhanced by the strong belief in the worth and dignity of every individual, formed the foundation of recovery from addiction that St. Joseph's follows to this day. And while the principles guiding St. Joseph's treatment endure little changed, the agency, today operating as St. Joseph's Addiction Treatment & Recovery Centers, has expanded steadily over the years to best fulfill its mission of healing.
Highlights of this growth include the establishment, in 1971, of the Fellowship, St. Joseph's alumni organization. With chapters in Poughkeepsie and Schenectady, and individual members residing throughout the world, Fellowship men and women meet regularly to provide for each other, and return often to the centers to serve as inspiration to current residents.
Following in 1976, St. Joseph's became the first non-hospital-based addiction rehabilitation center in New York state to be accredited by the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Hospitals.
In 1981, the Family Program was begun and continues today in which family members participate in a multi-day treatment component with their loved one to better understand the disease of addiction. The program has became so successful that it serves as a model for replication throughout the country.
In 1984, the first female residents were admitted, and shortly thereafter, St. Joseph's established outpatient clinics in Malone, Saranac Lake, Elizabethtown, Lake Placid and Ticonderoga.
Realizing the need to expand its continuum of care, Joseph's House Supportive Living Facility opened in Poughkeepsie, while Guest Houses became established in Poughkeepsie and Schenectady.
To better meet the challenges of providing health care in the new millennia, St. Joseph's became an independently governed entity in 2009 while maintaining a robust and visionary partnership with the Friars of the Atonement.
And in recognition of the commitment to its employees, St. Joseph's was designated One of the Best Places to Work in New York for both 2009 and 2011, while the Saranac Lake Area Chamber of Commerce identified the agency as Best Business for 2011.
This year St. Joseph's will construct a long-term community residence for veterans suffering from addiction and post-traumatic stress disorder. The facility will accommodate up to 25 male veterans who will typically be in residence for a year or more. Bob Ross, St. Joseph's CEO, says of the expansion, "Our new facility for veterans fits very well with our commitment to serving those most in need, which is a tradition dating back to St. Joseph's founding."
Col. Eric Olsen, chaplain for the New York National Guard, spoke poignantly of the need for the residence, citing both the physical and emotional trauma of war and its toll on veterans and their families.
In addition, the agency will soon begin a multimillion-dollar renovation of its main campus with the concerted goal of best serving the men, women, and families who come for treatment.
Since its founding, the agency's staff has grown to 139, making St. Joseph's one of the larger employers in the area while generating an estimated $14 million of positive economic impact.
In celebration of St. Joseph's 40 years of healing individuals, reuniting families and strengthening communities, alumni, dignitaries including the Bishop of Ogdensburg Terry LaValley, and other guests gathered recently for the agency's 40th Anniversary Dinner to gain a further appreciation of the centers' history and to learn of St. Joseph's plans for the future.
Guest speaker Fr. Emil Tomoskovic, SA, a former CEO of St. Joseph's, noted, "For 40 years, St. Joseph's has served the people of the North Country. Countless individuals and families have been reunited and made whole. Always remember your foundation - the God-bestowed self-worth and dignity of all people. Keep it simple: I got a problem. I can't handle it. God can. Think I'll let him."
State Assemblywoman Janet Duprey, also in attendance, expressed, "I congratulate St. Joseph's on their 40 years of providing rehabilitation services to so many people. For each person who is addicted to drugs or alcohol, there is also a huge impact on their families and friends. St. Joseph's has proven over the years that through the compassionate staff and dedicated board, lives can be saved and addicts can once again become productive members of society. St. Joseph's is a jewel in the Adirondacks, and I'm pleased to be a part of their celebration."
Further, in a citation from the New York State Assembly recognizing St. Joseph's, Assemblywoman Teresa Sayward observed, "It is the sense of our unique society to recognize that the quality of life across this great State of New York is enriched by the concerned and dedicated efforts of those organizations of distinction whose singular purpose is the care and welfare of others."
Commissioner Arlene Gonzalez-Sanchez, of the Office of Alcohol and Substance Abuse Services, cited St. Joseph's for "making New York State a stronger and healthier place to live."
And state Sen. Betty Little provided, "St. Joseph's mission endures and is one of vision and progress, of expansion and strategic growth, continually moving forward with new programs and services."
And while these testimonials are well earned and deeply appreciated , it is the words of a St. Joseph's graduate, similar to those expressed throughout the agency's 40 years of healing, that are perhaps most meaningful: "My life started when I got sober, and it is truly part of who I am. The Fellowship has a special place in my heart, as does St. Joe's. I owe my life to both."