YOUNGSTOWN – Dotty Riordan hangs up her home phone, pleased that a band with a steady Clarence gig is interested in playing the summer concert series she coordinates for the Village of Youngstown.
It’s only early March, but Riordan is already working on her lineup – and fundraising for the series. These are tasks she’s helped with since her husband, the late Mayor Neil C. Riordan, began the project in 2002.
“Neil really wanted this – he felt we needed music here,” she recalled. “And it’s been fantastic. The response has been delightful. It’s been a nice tradition and the Village Board asked me to help carry it on after Neil passed away (in 2011).”
A lot of people ask her to volunteer her time, energy and talents and she rarely says, “No.”
That’s why Riordan is involved in numerous volunteer endeavors, many aimed at boosting her hometown of Youngstown, because for Riordan, the idea of civic responsibility is a simple and necessary one.
“Neil always said, ‘We live here, that’s why we care,’ ” she said. “Youngstown is a special place.”
Riordan’s husband served the village government for 32 years – and traveled extensively for his private-sector job while doing so. So, she served as his Gal Friday, while raising their three children.
In fact, Riordan said she retired in 2004 after 20 years as a volunteer with the Niagara Pioneer Soccer League to help him more with his mayoral obligations.
“We worked together on the sesquicentennial – we co-chaired it,” she said of her husband of 45 years. “We always worked as a team, we were partners. He traveled for work, internationally, and I’d have to know what was going on so that when residents called the house and Neil wasn’t here, I’d be able to send them in the right direction.”
“Dotty is a class act,” said her friend, Cheryl Irish-Butera, who also serves as president of the Youngstown Business and Professional Association. “She would do anything in her power for Youngstown, just like Neil did. … She makes sure that the things that need to get done, get done. She’s a wealth of knowledge and she knows everybody and knows them well.
“And, Dotty’s like the Eveready bunny,” she added. “She’s fun, funny and smart. She wears so many different hats, but she likes to be behind-the-scenes and give gentle nudges. … She’s one of a kind and we adore and respect her.”
Riordan recently took time from her busy schedule – which also includes co-chairing the St. Patrick’s Day Parade on Saturday, held in honor of her late husband, to chat about her voluntarism and her hometown.
Are you a Youngstown native?
Yes, born and raised. Neil and I were high school sweethearts at Lew-Port and our three children went to Lew-Port. We were local yokels. After graduation, I went to business school, then became a dental assistant to Dr. Arthur Wright. Then Neil and I got married and had our kids.
When did your voluntarism kick in – when you started getting busy with your kids’ activities?
My dad was one of the organizers of the Youngstown Lions Club, and in 1954 they had the centennial celebration here and that was my first taste of being a volunteer. When my kids were young, they were in the Niagara Pioneer Soccer League and I started as a coach. Then I was on the board of directors and ran the house league.
What other community groups have you been involved with?
I’ve been on the board for the Youngstown Business and Professional Association for three years and I was appointed its liaison to the Niagara River Region Chamber of Commerce.
I’ve been with the Town of Porter Historical Society for about five years and its president since February 2013.
I’m also on the Youngstown Tourist and Tourism Committee, which is a spinoff of the group that was formed for the 1812 celebration.
What’s new with the historical society?
I don’t think many people have been there since it was all refurbished a year and a half ago. We’re upstairs in the Red Brick, at the north end. We have four classroom-sized rooms and a storeroom and we hold our programs in the Cora Gushee room, which are free to the public. We have a lot of new displays. We need to let more people know we exist. We just had a field trip to the Ontario House and we already have people signed up for the next trip there. We’ll probably do two field trips a year.
You’ve mentioned a number of community groups – am I forgetting anything?
I helped spearhead the Veterans Memorial refurbishing last year. It was so heartbreaking when someone vandalized it.
This was one of Neil’s projects for the sesquicentennial. We’re hoping to have it fixed for Memorial Day or maybe the Fourth of July – we don’t know how long it will take.
I think the donations will cover it and my son, Michael, will reprint all of the names again for it.
And, Neil always wanted flowers on Main Street. So, every year, I choose the plants and I maintain the three big planters on Second and Lockport streets. We have hanging baskets and about 15 planters. The village splits the price with the business association.
We have a lot of volunteers here. It’s amazing. We help each other out.
This is your hometown. What changes have you seen in your lifetime?
We received a nice note from someone when Neil was sick, that he could see Neil’s fingerprints on everything here. That was nice.
When I was growing up, we had four grocery stores in town, a men’s clothing store and a ladies’ clothing store, two hardware stores, a dry-goods store – this was before malls. We had lots of bars because the base was active at Fort Niagara. It’s amazing the changes we’ve seen. We’re hoping Niagara Jet Adventures brings in more tourists. But we need to stay quaint. We don’t want to become Niagara-on-the-Lake.
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