Thomas Odak, Sr., a driving force behind the Dutchess County Fairgrounds and the town of Milan, is being remembered for his larger-than-life impact on all that he championed.
Odak passed away Dec. 12 on his family farm in Milan; he died in the same home he was born in 93 years earlier.
“Tom was truly a town father,” said Milan town supervisor William Gallagher. “He was devoted to any job he tackled.”
Odak was the Dutchess County Fairgrounds manager for 28 years and the Milan Town Supervisor for 26 years. He was also an original member of the Milan Volunteer Fire Department.
“He had a really long life, but he was involved in everything. A lot of people just stay home and don’t get involved in things, but he was. He was actually out there. Even just a couple weeks ago, he was still doing things,” recalled Milan councilwoman Bobbi Egan.
Odak was a major player in acquiring the property that Milan’s Wilcox Memorial Town Hall sits on. Irene Kilmer Wilcox, widow of Frederick Wilcox, donated the land and funds to build the site in 1966, and Odak negotiated with her. He was also instrumental in purchasing property to be used by the town for landfill and the storage of maintenance equipment.
“Tom was one of these guys who put his nose to the grindstone. Work was his life,” said Gallagher.
Andy Imperati, who succeeded Odak as fairgrounds manager in 2008, recalled that Odak began development projects at the fairgrounds in the mid-1980s, installing blacktop and underground electricity throughout the fairgrounds.
“He was ahead of his time,” Imperati said.
“He’s the reason why the fairgrounds looks the way it looks today,” Imperati added.
Imperati knew Odak personally since he was 14 years old when, he recalled, Tom and his father would go to auctions together to buy and sell calves. Odak’s farm was a thriving dairy-cattle farm that he purchased from his father in 1951. Later, he bought and raised harness-racing horses.
Odak was the past president of the New York State Agricultural Society and on the board of directors for the International Association of Fairs and Expositions. He was also a Certified Fair Director.
His political wisdom was a go-to resource for the current Milan town government.
“He was very knowledgeable and astute. I used him as a counsel, seeking his advice. He will surely be missed by his family and people around town. He was always smiling and joking. He also wasn’t afraid to speak his mind,” said Gallagher.
Odak is survived by his wife of 47 years, Louise; three sons and daughters-in law, Steve and Kathy Odak and Tom and Sharon Odak of Red Hook, and Perry and Stephanie Odak of Golden, Colo.; four grandchildren and a great grandson, nieces and nephews and countless friends.