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Graduate Among ‘Women Who Make America’

 Graduate Among ‘Women Who Make America’

03/21/2014 

Mary Alice Bellardini M ’58 cast an impish smile while posing for her picture recently among the life-size, bronze statues of famous, early suffragists at the Women’s Rights National Historical Park in Seneca Falls, N.Y.

She created a most fitting snapshot in the midst of the monuments to America’s fearless trailblazers for women’s liberty. That is because Bellardini is herself a latter-day, tireless champion for community activism.

On March 7, during the second annual “Makers: Women Who Make America” ceremony, the former longtime mayor of Homer, N.Y., took her rightful place with eight other contemporary leaders who have advanced women’s influence in key areas.

The honorees, selected from within public television station WCNY’s 19-county broadcast area, were chosen based on how they impact their communities and shape today’s America in arts, business, community activism, education, medicine, sports and volunteerism. Names and biographies of all the awardees are posted at wcny.org/makers.

WCNY’s local public affairs show “Insight” featured the honorees in a special program March 14. The awards also represent a local collaboration with the AOL and PBS national documentary, “Makers: Women Who Make America,” to be broadcast at 10 p.m. March 24 and March 31 on WCNY.

“None has been a better example of leadership in her community than Mary Alice Bellardini of Homer, N.Y.,” wrote Jeremy Boylan, Cortland County historian and clerk of the Cortland County Legislature, in his letter nominating her for the recognition.

“She truly has followed in the footsteps of Matilda Joslyn Gage, not just in paving the way for women as leaders in Cortland County, but contributing to nearly every aspect of her community to improve our quality of life.”

Mary Alice Bellardini (right)
Elizabeth Cady Stanton, that is, an actor portraying the early suffragist, posed with Mary Alice Bellardini 'M58 when the alumna was honored among "Women Who Makes America." (photo credits to  Stephanie Urso Spina)

The first Cortland County honoree, chosen from among candidates in a region that extends well beyond Central New York, Bellardini has earned a statewide reputation for civic accomplishment. In 2000, Governor George Pataki appointed her to the state’s Quality Communities Interagency Task Force. She also has served as president of the New York State Conference of Mayors.

In 1987, Bellardini was elected the first female mayor of the Village of Homer, a position she held for 14 years. Her administration was responsible for new water and sewer lines and economic development efforts prospered. She initiated weekly summer concerts in the Village Green and fostered the reopening of the Water Street Bridge walkway and beautification of the business district.

“With her leadership and vision the Village of Homer has become the quintessential American village, offering services, entertainment and an excellent quality of life,” Boylan observed.

She also served seven years on the Cortland County Legislature.

Bellardini championed causes like sustainability and historic preservation long before they were popular. In 1974, she was a co-founder of the Landmark Society of Cortland County Inc., a non-profit organization that has facilitated much of the restoration efforts in Homer’s historic district of more than 200 structures, the largest such district in New York state.

“As a result, the Village of Homer … has become a tourism destination for those who wish to be transported back to a simpler time,” Boylan stated.

Having already contributed 50 years to the cause of historic preservation, Bellardini continues to play an active part in the Landmark Society. She has served on many boards, including the Cortland County Business Development Corporation/Industrial Development Agency.

Married to fellow SUNY Cortland graduate Harry Bellardini ’56, she currently is a volunteer with several organizations, including the Garden Club and the Center for the Arts of Homer.

 “As a college student in the 1950s, I began to live my life according to the teachings of The Christophers,” Bellardini said in an interview recently, referring to the Christian inspirational group that reaches out to all faiths with the message “It’s better to light one candle than curse the darkness.”

“You must take responsibility. Don’t think it’s somebody else’s job,” was the group’s motto, she said.

Bellardini applied it to turning around her local community, one problem or opportunity at a time.

“I found that on the village board you could discuss things and really get things done,” she said. “You can encourage people to do things you’d like to see done, like asking people to not park on the lawns. It’s not fun telling people but they get used to it. And if you do it long enough, word gets around that the village doesn’t like it and people stop doing it.

“People need to speak up about things they want changed, not in a mean way, but just to say that you don’t think things are going right. Find your own way to express yourself and stick to your guns.”

Homer now finds itself growing stronger and more vital than before.

“Other communities are beginning to copy us and cash in,” she said.

Boylan described Bellardini as the epitome of “Women Who Make America” in her efforts to shape the village of Homer and the County of Cortland.

“She has been an exceptional example of leadership and community involvement,” he said. “Our little corner of America would not be the same without Mary Alice Bellardini.”

Mary Alice Bellardini M'58
With a twinkle in her eye, Bellardini poses among the statues at the Women's Rights National Historical Park in Seneca Falls, N.Y.