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Niagara Q&A / Marjorie McCollum Retired assessor to be honored for years of service

YOUNGSTOWN – Marjorie “Marge” McCollum retired as assessor for the Town of Porter 17 years ago after two decades in the post, but “retirement” doesn’t seem to be a word in her vocabulary.

She chairs the Village of Youngstown’s Zoning Board of Appeals, a board she joined about 15 years ago, and continues to support the Youngstown Free Library, where she has served on the library’s board of trustees as well as the board of its Friends’ group.

During these warm spring days, McCollum can be spotted around the village with her hands in the soil, tending to her beloved plants in a number of municipal gardens as a member of the Youngstown Garden Club.

And Friday, McCollum will be honored for her years of service as Youngstown’s Citizen of the Year during the Niagara River Region Chamber of Commerce’s annual awards gala at the Niagara Falls Country Club in Lewiston.

Margaret Ann “Peggy” Hanson has known McCollum for more than three decades. A long-time village trustee, Hanson now chairs Youngstown’s Planning Board.

“Marge takes walks to Fort Niagara and checks the gardens (along the way) and sees if anything needs to be done, and even stops to pull the weeds on her walks,” said Hanson, who also retired from Porter town government as court clerk.

“She is always involved, but in a quiet and unassuming way,” said Hanson. “That’s Marge. She’s very smart and when she was assessor, she had a very calm way of explaining things.”

In fact, McCollum was the very first female town assessor in Niagara County.

“That was 1980,” McCollum recalled. “I guess it was a time when things were changing.”

McCollum credits her teaching background – her degree is in education and she taught first-grade for a number of years early in her career – for giving her patience and the ability to explain complex things in a simpler way.

She recently took some time to talk about her career, her volunteerism, and her twice-a-year trips to visit her family, which includes two sons and a granddaughter, on the West Coast.

I hear you’ll be visiting the West Coast soon. Tell us about it.

My sons, Kevin and Craig, both live in the Seattle area and I visit twice a year. I’ve been to see the mountains and the ocean with them and this time we’re going to an area in the middle of the Cascade Mountains. It will take us on a four-hour ferry boat ride with mountains on either side and there will be no television, no cellphone or Internet and lots of places to hike there. Then we’ll return to civilization by seaplane. It’s something one of my sons has always wanted to do. We’ll be doing some hiking and use bicycles, I’m hoping, and maybe I can do some walking.

There’s so much to do out there (in the Seattle area). It’s very interesting. And when I get back home, I miss the mountains, because everything is so flat here. It’s a huge change, but I look forward to it.

We hear you’re quite the walker around the Village of Youngstown.

I’ve always done my walking in the mornings, but once the weather got nice, I got into gardening this year.

I don’t even allow myself to look at the newspaper in the morning, I just stick it in the house to read later and head out on my walks. I walk to Fort Niagara State Park and walking there and back is a little over two miles. I think it’s made a difference in my physical abilities.

I plan my day as I walk and listen to the birds and watch the squirrels and deer. And, I look at who’s building something or any changes – I always did that when I was town assessor, too.

How did you become Town of Porter assessor?

I had taught first grade for six years in Kenmore and wanted to get back to teaching after my sons got a little older. I did quite a bit of subbing, but teachers were a dime a dozen back then.

My mother-in-law had been the tax collector and she called me to help her one year. When she died, I took the office – it was an elected job. I was tax collector for 11 years. When the assessor, Howard Gibson, was ready to retire, he suggested me and I guess I got in at the right time, because Niagara County was going through an entire re-evaluation of every parcel, so it was a learning process for all of us assessors.

It was a very interesting job. I met a lot of people and made some enemies – some disagreed with my assessments and wouldn’t talk to me for years. A lot of it is misunderstanding. But my teaching came in handy when people came in with questions. My teacher training and patience paid off. I retired in 1998.

How did you join the Youngstown Zoning Board of Appeals?

An opening came up on the board after I had retired as assessor and I thought, “I could do that.” I’ve been on the Zoning Board about 15 years and the chairman for about four years. We’ve been busy. Sometimes things can be controversial, with big audiences opposed to projects. You have to be level-headed and not allow people to get into arguments.

What other organizations do you belong to?

My grandfather had greenhouses, Randall Road Greenhouses, and my dad had gone to Cornell University for horticulture and went into business with my grandfather, but then went to work at the Carborundum Co. When my grandfather retired, my dad took over the greenhouses.

As a teenager, we all worked there, whether it was flower-cutting or the watering schedule, or bunching flowers for the wholesale markets. I always enjoyed working with flowers. So I joined the Youngstown Garden Club. We take care of the plantings around the gazebo and the gardens across the street in Falkner Park and the area around the Red Brick (building). We also decorate the French Castle at Old Fort Niagara for the Castle by Candlelight Tours each December. That seems to be bigger and better each year.

And Garden Club members will be dividing plants from their gardens for our plant sale, from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. June 6 in the parking lot at the Bistro at the Old Fort Inn, 110 Main St. It’s our only fundraiser of the year.

I was on the board of the Youngstown Free Library for a few years and the board of its Friends of the Library. I’ve always enjoyed working on their book sales and I still volunteer at the library two times a month.

So, how does it feel to be named Youngstown’s Citizen of the Year?

Well, now you’ve gone and done it. I’ve got goosebumps…

The first month it became public, people would come up and congratulate me. I’d just stop because I’d get goosebumps. Then someone said to me, “Marge, you’re everywhere.” But I’m glad I’m busy.

Know a Niagara County resident who would make an interesting question-and-answer column? Write to: Niagara Weekend Q&A, The Buffalo News, P.O. Box 100, Buffalo, NY 14240, or email niagaranews@buffnews.com.