To borrow (and alter) the opening lines from the bestselling novel, “Love Story,” written about Harvard College at the time Andy was there: “What can you say about a 75 year old man who died?” Many things.
You could say that Andy Van Benschoten, who passed away recently in Thailand, was a uniquely talented member of one of the many branches of the Van Benschoten clan which has inhabited the New Kingston Valley since the late 1700s, helping to make it one of the most productive and charming spots in all of the Catskill Mountains.
Born in July of 1944, a year when his father, Roland, was bringing in his crops using horses because of war-time gasoline rationing, Andy grew up in a special time and place. He and his younger sister, Mary Ann, were raised by a loving and hardworking multi-generational farm family in a home built in 1878.
You could say that, while no stranger to the challenging (and rewarding) demands of such a life, Andy soon found his true calling in pursuing a career of academic inquiry and public service. Graduating from Margaretville High School as Valedictorian in 1962, he went on to gain highest honors in History at Hamilton College. Next came a Masters in the History of Science at Harvard, awarded in June of 1967. Andy stayed at that prestigious university for several years, acting as a proctor of freshmen living in the Harvard Yard, and working towards a doctorate while gaining the respect and life-long friendship of fellow graduate students and professors including Billy Cody, Jet Thomas and the brilliant author Steven Jay Gould. From Harvard Andy went off to a Fulbright Fellowship at Freie University in Berlin where he continued to develop an astounding capacity for learning foreign languages, eventually becoming fairly fluent in both German and Czech while also acquiring a working knowledge of Polish and Russian.
You could say that Andy then “came home” to the family farm—something he would continue to do often during a life filled with international travel. Back in New Kingston in 1972 he threw himself into local politics, becoming Middletown Town Supervisor and then aid to U.S. congressman Matthew McHugh, serving as his Federal liaison to town and county officials for several years. Next came a stint as founder and executive director of OURS DELACO ASSOCIATION, a farm and community organization, followed in January of 1992 by a law degree from Rutgers University with honors and a scholarship for academic excellence. The list of this remarkable man’s accomplishments goes on, but you get the idea. At one point, he spent some years working at State University College Oneonta in several capacities, his favorite being as a mentor to foreign students. He also continued to work and study abroad, visiting friends, especially those in Czechoslovakia—a country and culture he greatly admired—as well as loved ones in Hawaii and south east Asia.
Andy’s memory will be cherished by all who knew him, however, not for all of these notable academic and professional achievements, but for his heartwarming personality. For many years following his father’s death he continued to live on the family farm caring for his beloved mother, Faye. To visit them there, as scores of people from all over the world will agree, was to experience a slice of what it meant to grow up in these mountains in “the old days.” Both Andy and his mom had a delightful ability (with the family twinkle in their eyes) to recreate humorous scenes and stories from past generations of people who have “farmed it” in the New Kingston Valley over many years.
Andrew Keith Van Benschoten died a long ways from this beautiful place while characteristically beginning a new adventure in a foreign land. You could also say he was truly happy to be doing so.
He is survived by his wonderful sister, Mary Ann, and loving cousins Susan, Claire, John, Barbara and Bryan.
Andy’s transition was honored in Thailand in beautiful formal rituals of Buddhist tradition. A gathering here to celebrate his life will be announced at a later date.