HARTLAND -- William A. Annable fondly recalls his early beginnings as town supervisor more than 30 years ago, when he had to clear the dining room table to make room for Jeanne, his wife and town bookkeeper, to analyze the town ledgers in their home.
"We didn't have a Town Hall -- I had no office, and we met in the highway garage," recalled Annable, now 78, with a chuckle. "It was an old cinder block building, and we added on through the years -- the clerk's office, the board room . . . ."
Annable defeated incumbent Supervisor Emmett Sullivan to take over the reins in 1978, which makes him one of the longest-serving supervisors in Niagara County history. Local town clerks recall only one other supervisor in recent memory having served longer: Floyd Snyder of Lockport, who served from 1962 to 1995.
Snyder's son, F. David, is a Hartland town councilman.
Friends and family gathered this summer for a small picnic and tree-planting to mark Annable's lengthy tenure. The gathering took place behind the "new" Town Hall, built in 1983 on Ridge Road.
Annable counts the construction of the facility as one of his proudest accomplishments in office. But, true to his character, he's quick to share the credit with those around him.
"Back then, the assessor had all of the town records in his home -- and he heated with a stove -- and I thought, 'What would happen to all of those records if there was a fire?' " "With the help of everyone, we built this building -- and paid cash," Annable said.
Everyone has known Annable as town supervisor for more than three decades, but he also has long been known as a star basketball player, teacher and basketball coach in the Hartland and Barker areas.
The 6-foot, 4-inch Hartland native met his wife at Royalton-Hartland High School and earned a basketball scholarship to the University of Buffalo. He graduated in 1956, following a stint in the U.S. Coast Guard, where he served as a hospital corpsman on a Great Lakes ship -- and played basketball. He retired as a lieutenant in the Coast Guard Reserve.
Annable started his teaching career in physical education at Roy-Hart but was recruited to coach basketball in Barker, where he became a biology and health teacher, retiring in 1987.
"We had some pretty good success at Barker," he said. "I remember one season we were 20-2 and won the Sectionals. We were in the playoffs often, but to win the Sectionals was something else.
"I've been blessed with a lot of good stuff," he added with a smile.
>A loving couple
Annable and his wife, Jeanne, married in 1953 and celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary shortly before she passed away in 2003. Aside from her bookkeeping duties, she was a dental hygienist.
"Bill's wife was a good friend of mine, and she used to take the books home to work on them," recalled Town Clerk Beverley Snell, who has worked for Annable for 22 years. "It was so much fun watching Bill and Jeanne come into work together, because he carried her books for her just like they were back in school. He was so in love with her."
"Bill is a gentleman, a great father, was a great husband, and he's a super supervisor and a great friend -- probably my best friend -- and he's just a good, good Christian man," Snell added. "He's just a doll, and anybody who knows him loves him."
Highway Superintendent Keith Hurtgam has known Annable for more than 40 years -- first as a student and later as a fellow town worker.
"I've been highway superintendent for 26 years, and in all of the time I've known him, there's only been three times he's called me into his office and shut the door for a serious discussion, and I deserved it," Hurtgam said with a laugh. "We always come to an agreement, and he always backs up my decisions. I make quick decisions, and Bill is cautious, so we blend well together.
"Bill is a gentleman, no matter what, and nobody stays in office that long if he's not serving the people."
The Annables had three children and seven grandchildren. One of his sons, W. Ross Annable, currently serves on the Town Board with his father -- another unusual occurrence in town government.
"Ross," as he is known, is police chief in Barker and is retired from the Niagara County Sheriff's Office; Jeff is a teacher in Medina; and Maureen earned her degree in speech pathology and is a stay-at-home mother.
Ross' son, W. Brandon -- a recent graduate of the Niagara County Law Enforcement Academy -- is the third generation in law enforcement and the fifth-generation "William" Annable.
Supervisor Annable worked part time for the Sheriff's Department while he was a teacher.
Ross was encouraged to join the Town Board after the death of Councilman Gary Nichols last year, the timing of which forced an election rather than an appointment, due to state law.
"I wasn't planning on this, but [the town Republican Committee] tried to find someone on short notice and couldn't and asked me," the 52-year-old said. "I talked to a lot of people about it [the fact that he'd serve alongside his father] and no one raised any questions."
Ross won the special election to a one-year term and is currently running unopposed for a full, four-year term.
The senior Annable recalled his own reservations but said they were quickly dispelled.
"I talk to Ross a bit [about town matters], but he's got to learn for himself, too," he said. "It was a tough decision."
"This has been a good experience," Ross said of serving with his father. "My father knows an awful lot about town government. We're a small community, a rural/agricultural community, and it's all about providing basic services. There aren't a lot of big issues out here, other than having enough money for a town budget. I grew up here and call it 'God's country.' "
Hurtgam also serves on the town's Republican Committee, and he said, "Ross is a good thinker and a good councilman, and he's running unopposed now, which shows the people in this town respect him. 'Annable' is a well-thought-of name in this town."
>'A gentle giant'
Ross said his father was always considered "a gentle giant" in school.
"He played all sports," he said. "He rarely gets cross or loses his temper, and he's a real pleasure to be with. He's always been committed to public service and looking out for other people, and I've always hoped I could emulate that to some degree. He's been a good role model, and I couldn't have asked for a nicer parent."
The senior Annable recalled how he first got involved in local government in the early 1960s -- with the purchase of a home in Hartland.
"I bought a house from a man who told me that if I was going to live here, I ought to get involved in the community," he said.
Elected to the Town Council in 1962, he served for four years before moving to Barker and serving on the Barker Village Board from 1972 to 1977. Returning to Hartland, he defeated Sullivan to take the reins at Town Hall in 1978. He only ran in one other contested race for the town's top job in his 31 years in office -- when he was challenged more than two decades ago by longtime Councilman Nichols, recalled Town Clerk Snell.
Hartland is a quiet, rural town of close to 4,000 people.
"General Motors [Delphi] was always our biggest employer," the supervisor said. "We used to have many small farms, but now we just have a few humongous farms.
"We have hard-working people here at Town Hall," Annable said. "When someone retired from our Highway Department, our superintendent didn't replace him, and he sometimes fills in, himself. We have a one-man Water Department, and when a water main breaks, everyone helps. We're kind of like a family. We're a small town, and usually you're friends with these people. Families have disputes but work pretty well together. I've been blessed with excellent people here.
"I'm halfway through this term, and this will be my last term," he added, counting future challenges as taxes, the price of homes and unemployment.
"It's been tough on agriculture. We don't have that many individual farms anymore, and we don't have a big tax base here, unfortunately," he said.
Annable's been slowed in recent years by health problems but still tries to get into his office at Town Hall once a day.
He had extensive back surgery last year in Buffalo General Hospital, followed by lengthy rehabilitation, but he said he can stand with no pain and has regained three inches in height.
"I have a walker now," he said. "I get by. The Lord's been good to me."