Actively involved: Outdoor sports and volunteering keep 72-year-old on the go
"If you want to make God laugh, tell him your plan," Donald Patneaude said, laughing, as he sat on the couch in his home in Rotterdam Junction, where he's lived since his family moved from Winooski, Vt., in 1950.
"Winooski is to Burlington as Scotia is to Schenectady. It was a low city, but you cross the river and you're there."
Patneaude's photographic memory makes him a go-to for names, places and faces, which is why he's nothing new to The Gazette. He's written opinion pieces, most recently about the death of a friend on a biking trail, and has been consulted as a source for dozens of stories.
"I get calls from you guys 5 times a month; where's my check?" Patneaude joked, but at 72 he does much more than read and write.
Patneaude's love of life is present in his voice as he lists off upcoming events and obligations. He balances community involvement and decades of volunteer work with a passion for outdoor sports like canoeing and snowshoeing. He remains actively involved with his four brothers and sisters as well as high school friends and colleagues.
But before his retirement, Patneaude didn't have as much time on his hands.
Patneaude started school in Schenectady when his father secured a job at General Electric in 1950. His father later opened a service shop and gas station in Burnt Hills, where Patneaude worked as a teenager.
He graduated from St. Joseph's in Schenectady and was drafted into the U.S. Navy, where he served as radarman on a number of destroyers based in Newport, R.I.
When he finished his tour, Patneaude went back to working for his father.
"I was right back to pumping gas the day I got out of the Navy, and I was like 'What the hell am I doing here,' " he said.
So, after talking to a high school friend who encouraged him to get a degree, Patneaude began taking night classes at Russell Sage College in Albany, where he received a bachelor's degree in history.
But after doing his best to follow his own path, Patneaude was needed to take over the family business.
"Life is ironic. I hated cars and I still wound up there. But I was making a buck and needed to take care of my mother," he said.
Twenty-two years ago, Patneaude was approached to lease out the station. He retired at 50 but still owns the property.
"I get a check every month, but it's hard -- I gotta go ALL the way to my mailbox to get it."
Upon his retirement, Patneaude, a lifelong bachelor, began volunteering at the Salvation Army soup kitchen in Schenectady and the Schenectady Inner City Ministry food pantry.
This is also Patneaude's 45th year of canoe racing with the Schenectady Wintersports Club-Northern New York Paddlers, where he acts as a starter and timer for the club. He also goes on weekly rides with their biking club and makes regular trips to the West Rotterdam Senior Center, usually by bike.
His home in lower Rotterdam Junction allows for an accessible hike to Plotter Kill Nature Preserve or a quick drag of his canoe to the Kiwanis Park and Boat Launch.
But his favorite pasttime is cross country skiing, an activity he picked up as a way to stay in shape during the canoeing off-season.
He skied 73 days last winter, which is easy given his home's wood-centric location.
"It's great. I go right out my front door and out past my car," he said.
Even though life has thrown Patneaude a number of curveballs, he still looks at life with a sense of humor.
He swears by the book "Don't Sweat the Small Stuff -- and it's all the small stuff," a book that "offers 100 meditations designed to make you appreciate being alive, keep your emotions (especially anger and dissatisfaction) in proper perspective, and cherish other people as the unique miracles they are," according to a description on Amazon.com.
Patneaude said that the book made him a better person and he re-reads it every two or three years.
"A lot of times you worry and worry about something and when it's all over you're like 'what the hell was I worrying about.' The book helps you stop doing that," he said.