By Allison Collins
AFTON – Charles James Decker, lifetime Afton resident and curator of the community’s collective history for more than 40 years, passed away at the age of 92 last Wednesday, Nov. 7.
Though a Cornell graduate with an early background in animal husbandry, consistent contributor to Tri-Town News and traveling librarian, those who knew him said Decker will be remembered most for his huge heart and devotion to history.
Decker began serving as Afton’s town historian, a post for which he received several local and regional accolades, in 1973. His tenure concluded in October 2016, at which time he was awarded the Franklin D. Roosevelt Lifetime Achievement Award by the Association of Public Historians for New York State.
“Charles was so many different things to so many different people,” Nancy Roberts, Decker’s friend and recent caretaker, said. “If Charles knew you, you were his friend. He was so nonjudgmental and he just liked to help people. He believed in the good of people and was very trusting and open.”
Roberts met Decker in 1994 after joining the Afton Presbyterian Church, of which he was a member since 1938. His kindness shone especially, she said, through his jailhouse ministry and volunteerism with area shut-ins.
“If you were a shut-in and had to go get groceries or had a doctor’s appointment … he’d help you,” she said. “He did the little things and had such a giving heart. Trying to help people on a personal level – that’s what I’ll remember him for.”
On the curatorial side, fellow historian Gerry Smith said, Decker distinguished himself in the field with his tenacity and unerring commitment to the cause of preservation.