An appreciation

| 15 Feb 2012 | 10:39

Farewell to Warwick Town Councilman Leonard DeBuck The Dec. 29 meeting of the Warwick Town Board will be Leonard DeBuck’s last. The full-time Pine Island farmer and some-time entrepreneur and philosopher is stepping down as a councilman after 14 years. DeBuck served Warwick as liaison to the Zoning and Planning Department, the Police Department and finally as liaison to Parks, where he felt he was a natural. “As a sod farmer, making the natural world more beautiful is my motivating ethic,” he said. Many park improvements and the outstanding signage throughout the Town are a part of DeBuck’s legacy. Leaving the Warwick Town Board DeBuck feels he has fulfilled an injunction from his father that he serve the community. “I was too late to serve in Vietnam,” said DeBuck, who is now 53. “But I knew I could serve in public office if I was asked to.” He first became a councilman in 1997, finishing the last two years of the term of the late Wally Lust. He then ran for and won office for three consecutive four-year terms. DeBuck admits the early years were tough. “When you run your own farm, you call the shots. When you are one of a board of five in a town the size of Warwick, things move much more slowly. It takes time for ideas to spread and grow after they are planted. Often it takes even more time to convince people your idea is a good one.” Preserving the land Warwick was going through a major zoning overhaul during his first years in office. There were 250 meetings over ten years dealing with issues including farmland use. One problem was the possibility that most of Warwick’s farmland might be sold for development. “Some farmers were led to believe that what we were planning would destroy the equity in their land. I was vilified. It was really ugly.” However, the eventual zoning changes preserved farmland and helped farmers retain land value. Many farmers who initially opposed the changes took advantage of the new zoning. The Warwick program won statewide awards and has been duplicated in other regions. DeBuck is a relative newcomer to the Black Dirt region. He moved east from Michigan in 1980, straight out of Michigan State University, where he had just graduated with a degree in agronomy. The youngest of eight children, he and his four brothers all went into sod farming, following in their father Leo’s footsteps. DeBuck had done a summer internship in the Black Dirt and so when a farm became available he moved east. Young DeBuck was accompanied by his new wife Valorie, his high school sweetheart. She had just earned a degree in accounting and has done the books for the DeBuck farm enterprises since day one. They moved into a two-bedroom trailer home on the farm in Pine Island. After seven years and two children, Gregory and Amy, they built a house on the property, and had two more children, Steven and Emily. 'When a farmer plants ...’ In 1990 DeBuck diversified, building a golf practice range on his sod farm. Four year’s later he upgraded it to the 9-hole Scenic Farms Golf Course. DeBuck has also diversified his crops to include corn and soybeans. Like many farmers, DeBuck is frequently philosophical. “When a farmer plants, he always hopes his next crop will be better than his last one.” Likewise, he said, “the parks are in the best condition they have ever been, and I am happy things are in place for them to continue improving.” Fellow Pine Island farmer and Republican Russ Kowall won a seat on the Town Board in the November elections with DeBuck’s support. “He has similar ideals, so I feel I can step away with confidence.” Those ideals include small government and not spending beyond your means. As for his future, DeBuck plans a variety of farming innovations that he’s delayed for years. Now that most major decisions related to the DeBuck sod farm are taken by his eldest son Greg, 29, he will spend more time visiting the Sunshine State, and being a grandfather. (Greg and his wife Kat have a 13-month-old son, John Gregory.) He also remains an active and influential member of the board of the Pine Island Chamber of Commerce, where he has served for more than 25 years. “Some people think I’m moving away. But I’m staying right here. I’m simply stepping aside - I never intended to be a life-long politician. But I am planning to volunteer in other ways.” Cheetah Haysom is a writer living in Pine Island. She also is the immediate past president of the Pine Island Chamber of Commerce, editor of the chamber’s newsletter, the Pine Island Quarterly, and a founding trustee of the Drowned Lands Historical Society.