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Change Makers: Charles “Chuck” Pettus – Keeping his land ‘Wild Forever’

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pettus hill preserve

(WBNG) - February is Black History Month and each week 12 News will bring you a story about people from our community who have made and/or continue to make a difference. 

This week, we took a walk through the woods to learn about Charles or "Chuck" Pettus.

While Chuck passed away in 2013, his legacy will be here in the Southern Tier for years to come.

The Pettus Hill Preserve is perfect for any nature lover no matter the season with over 100 acres of beautiful woodland. But who is the man behind the name?

Charles or "Chuck" Pettus was one of the first African Americans hired by IBM as a physicist and engineer.

He is described in a number of ways by those who knew him from joyful, enthusiastic and friendly to a trail blazer, and renaissance man.

Alan Jones met Chuck in 1963 at IBM and described him as the unofficial welcoming committee.

"He had a lot of interests, he played the clarinet in the IBM band and just loved nature, anything to do with nature," said Jones, "A thing that the kids remember and I remember was him feeding chickadees out of his hand."

A fond memory Jones had is Pettus' insistence on running the Vestal 20 KM race, no matter the circumstances.

"Chuck ran quite a few of these races, he came in last most of the time, but one time he had broken his leg roller skating, he was a talented roller skater, and he was determined to finish that race to keep his record going because we kept an honor roll. He got half way, he didn't finish the whole race because he was on crutches, but we have his honor roll which I keep to this day and we keep his name on there because he really gave it everything." said Jones

Before he died in 2013, he wanted to make sure his beloved West Windsor Hilltop would be protected and maintained. A place for people to learn and enjoy the outdoors.

"Waterman came to own the Pettus hill preserve through his last will and testament," said Executive Director Christopher Audette, "It was just his dream that every acre of his land remained wild forever and perpetually open to the community."

There are a number of small gems along the trail. From a 100-year-old stone farmhouse foundation, to a massive mound called "Chuck's Pyramid" where Pettus tried to make his property the highest point in Broome County. While he did not succeed, it still provides a beautiful view.

"I think he would be very pleased with that." said Jones

And Audette said Waterman has a lot more to do with the land.

"I urge people to return to it periodically there's a lot of trails to be cut, there's a lot of interpretation and signage and things to be installed so I envision great things at the Pettus hill preserve." said Audette

"Chuck's legacy will live on forever."

The Pettus Hill Preserve is located on Abby Rd in Windsor.

Kaitlin Pearson

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