Levine, Banta families took root in Port City

Al and Trish Levine

Is 50 years of selling auto parts out of the same location in Oswego, a qualifier for “Oswegonian” status? Probably. It helps quite a bit to be married to a local girl from a long tailed family as well.

I speak about Alan Levine, originally a Rochesterian, but about as Oswego-ized a guy as one can get without being baptized in Lake Ontario.

I met Al years ago when he was an avid bicyclist, and an original sponsor of the “Tour de Loop”, a 10 mile bike race, around the Lakeshore Loop. Al was also a runner, active in the Y for many years, and the sponsor of Stoney’s 5K run/walk as part of Harborfest. That still persists, 31 years later.

Al comes from a family marked by political activism. His parents, the late Henrietta and Max Levine were anti-Vietnam War activists who marched many times for various causes in their native Rochester. They eventually relocated to Oswego during their golden years to be near their son and his family.

Al came to Oswego in his early 20’s to run an auto parts store. He married Patricia the youngest of the five Banta siblings and the Levine’s have made their home in the historic Montcalm Park neighborhood of Oswego for dozens of years.

The Bantas themselves were Oswego imports from Geneva, NY. They too lived in a big brick sprawling house near Montcalm Park. Trish and Al have been part of the Montcalm park beautification committee for many years.

Trish’s father, Ben, moved to Oswego when he acquired the local Ford dealership in the late 1950’s. His nickname became Big Ben and he sold many a Ford, long before the advent of Japanese and European car competition. If you haven’t driven a Ford lately, it’s probably because Big Ben is no longer selling them. Ben and his wife Connie, were avid golfers and life long members of the Oswego Country Club. Their oldest son Ben, a contemporary of mine, became a very successful political consultant, an aide to a Wisconsin Senator, and an aide to Secretary of Education Bill Bennett.  He currently is semi-retired and lives in North Carolina.

His sister Missy, married Bill Mercier, who became a long-standing Oswego City Councilor, and Missy had an outstanding career as a social studies teacher at Oswego High School.  The next oldest sibling Peter became an accomplished musician, and worked in the power generation industry until just recently retiring, and relocating to Florida. Liz, next in line, married Robert McGrath, the proprietor of the Clubhouse Tavern, and longtime Oswego City Zoning And Planning official.

The Bantas have had a wide and very diverse impact on their adopted community of Oswego. It was Geneva’s loss..

Al and Trish (who as the youngest Banta sibling was actually born in Oswego) are the parents of one son, Cooper, and as a family they met and overcame a serious health challenge to Cooper  when he was diagnosed with a particularly tough strain of leukemia when he first went off to attend Ithaca college. They fought it as a family, and today, Cooper is a happy, healthy and successful young man, Ithaca graduate, and working in the Albany area in the health services field. His recovery is due in no small part to the Levine’s determination not to let Cooper’s illness conquer them.

Al,  Trish and Cooper were an inspiration to many others as they struggled and refused to be defeated. As the old saying goes, “What doesn’t kill you only makes you stronger!” They also received a great deal of love, strength and many, many prayers from the entire Oswego community.

Both Al and Trish are still avid cyclists and fitness focused and are enjoying Al’s retirement years while Trish continues to conduct fitness classes for the Oswego YMCA. Together, the Levines and the entire Banta bunch have all contributed to making Oswego a better place, and their success has been ours. Here’s wishing them many more happy and healthy years.

Addendum by the author

I endeavor to get all my facts straight for my Forks of the Road articles, but occasionally I make a mistake. Usually it is a mistake of omission. I regret that I did not add that there were six, not five Banta children,. Emilie Banta Cleveland , the second daughter, passed away in 2017, after a long and valiant battle with Ovarian cancer. She was an honor graduate of St. Lawrence University and lived with her husband Christopher and two children in Virginia where she had a career in wellness advocacy. In addition, Trish Levine has been associated with the Oswego YMCA for over 30 years, starting as a volunteer, a board member for 10 years, , and the director of health and wellness since 2013. It has been a big part of her life and her contribution to community health and wellness has been enormous.

John T. Sullivan Jr. was mayor of the City of Oswego from 1988-1991 and has held several other state and local positions. He is semi-retired as an attorney. He is the author of the book “Forks in the road,” which is available at river’s end bookstore in Oswego and online. His memoir/autobiography, “Pee not your pants! Memoirs of a small town mayor with big time ideas,” is available online through Amazon.com and Barnes and Noble and in local bookstores.

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