The Tanner/Poland/Norfleet Family: Law, medicine and Minetto

Doren and Dennis Norfleet

A palatial home along the banks of the Oswego River on Route 48 in Minetto, historically used by the Kingsford family as a summer retreat, is about as far away culturally, economically, and otherwise as you can get from the “Forks in the Road.”

That home has been occupied by members of the Tanner/Poland family since noted local developer/builder Nelson Tanner acquired it in 1947.   His daughter, Doris, married Eben Poland just prior to World War II. Eben’s law school career was interrupted by his service in the European theater but soon after graduating Cornell Law School, he and Doris made their home in Oswego and Eben opened a law practice.  He eventually formed a partnership with George M. Penney, who later became Oswego County Surrogate Judge.  Eben’ office was located in the Oswego City Savings Bank building, and his firm represented what has now become Pathfinder bank for many years.

 Eben and Doris Poland moved into their Minetto home in 1959, and since then their family has made its mark on the Oswego/Minetto community, in an indelible way.

Eben Poland could be alternatively charming and at other times curmudgeonly. He had a wry and signature sense of humor, which was constantly exhibited in the many stories he would tell.  He often regaled clients during the course of their mortgage closing with his pithy profundity.

His wife Doris was equally memorable. I can still envision her in my mind’s eye driving along Route 48 in her open black Thunderbird convertible, letting the breeze challenge her bandana as she headed to the Country Club for a brief liquid respite. On the way, she often delivered fresh strawberries to her grandkids and would leave biscuits for the dog as a telltale sign of her having dropped by.

The Polands had one child,  Doren, her name a combination of Doris and Eben. She was a brilliant beauty and stand out Oswego High School student who followed in her dad’s footsteps, graduating from Cornell, and then going on to attend Albany Law School.  It was at Cornell that she met Dennis Norfleet, who she married several months after graduation.  

He enrolled in Albany Medical School, and the couple moved to Oswego after both graduated from their respective graduate schools, with Doren joining her dad’s law firm and Dennis establishing a medical practice in the same building.

To say that the Poland name in Minetto is legendary is an understatement. Eben served many years as town supervisor and Doris many years on the Planning Board. Daughter Doren in later years became the Minetto County Legislator and then serving as Town Attorney, a capacity in which she continues to serve to this day. Their profound impact on community life is immeasurable.

Eben became a longtime member of the Oswego City School District Board of Education, serving during the time for planning and building the present Oswego High school campus.  His son-in-law Dr. Dennis Norfleet would follow in that tradition, serving for an extended period as a Board of Education member as well.  I worked with Dennis when I was School Board Attorney in the early 1990’s.

Doren also served the Oswego community as the first female city Attorney under Mayors Walt Lazarek and then Mayor Bill Cahill.  She also worked with me as a very helpful and productive member of the Oswego City Charter Revision Commission, which successfully enacted a new City Charter in 1979. A pillar of the Episcopalian Church of the Resurrection, Doren continues to volunteer for the church in a number of ways.  Her other involvements were as a member of the board of Operation Oswego County and sundry other community organization boards,  such as the Heritage Foundation.

Dennis not only practiced medicine here, but served as an Associate Professor of Medicine for over a dozen years at SUNY Upstate.  He later became the Director of Health for Oswego County, and after serving his profession and community for over thirty years, recently passed away this March.

The Norfleets had three children, Eben, who serves as Oswego County Support Magistrate and was in private practice with his mom’s firm for a number of years, Justin,  now Deputy Fire Chief for the Oswego Fire Department and Denen, who is the managing director for international tax matters at Ernst and Young in Washington DC. The name Denen is a combination of Doren and Dennis, in keeping with family naming traditions. The Norfleets also have two grandchildren, Preston and Addison.

 The Tanner/Poland/Norfleet family has had an enormous impact on the Oswego and Minetto community for the last three quarters of a century.  Their involvement has been long, legendary, and luminous.  They may not hail from the “Forks in the Road”, but they share the indomitable spirit of its denizens.  We, Oswegonians all, are very grateful for their continuing community service.

John T. Sullivan is a former Oswego Mayor and the author of three books, “Forks In The Road” parts I and II and an autobiography “Pee Not Your Pants — Memoirs of a small time mayor with big time ideas,” available locally in the river’s end bookstore and online.  His column appears exclusively in The Palladium-Times on the first Monday of each month.

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