Friday, March 09, 2007

The Nonogenarian

On the occasion of his 90th birthday, Raymond Beecher took some time off yesterday from his research and history writing, reluctantly, to accept tributes. One of them came from the governors of GreeneLand. Speaking for his fellow legislators, flanked by a score of local notables, chairman Wayne Speenburgh delivered a resolution expressing “appreciation and recognition” of Mr Beecher’s “many years of exceptional public service and outstanding contributions to the residents of Greene County.”*

The proclamation was delivered, appropriately, at Cedar Grove. Among Mr Beecher’s gifts to posterity is the rescue of that Catskill estate, that historically momentous site, that precious GreeneLand asset, from obliteration. Eight years ago, the home and the studio of America’s foremost 19th century landscape artist were derelict and ripe for demolition. Acting as patriarch of the Greene County Historical Society, Mr Beecher instigated, and bankrolled, a salvage expedition. The restored Cedar Grove, now sustained by a small professional staff and a squadron of local volunteers, with permanent and special exhibits and with internationally respected speakers, attracts a surging volume of visitors. Were it not for Mr Beecher’s “hard work, determination, timely action, irresistible charm and, yes, beer money (and then some),” according to Cedar Grove booster David Barnes, “there would be no Cedar Grove now, to celebrate Thomas Cole and the birthplace of the Hudson River School of landscape painting.”*

Among other Beecherian feats are the books—four so far---and the journal articles, and the “Greene Gleanings” columns. And courthouse renovation advice, based on poring expertly over old records. Thirteen years as County Historian. Decades as Coxsackie historian. Chairmanship of the American Revolution Bicentennial celebrations in 1976, and of the Greene County Bicentennial celebrations in 2000. Early, vital contributions to the restoration of Olana, home of Frederick Church, Thomas Cole’s foremost follower. Sustained participation in activities of the Veterans of Foreign Wars. And 50 years of commitment to the Historical Society, with stints not only as chairman but also as president, museum curator, fund-raiser, Historic Register instigator, and librarian.

In recognition of manifold efforts that have “ensured that future generations will have their heritage preserved,” the Historical Society’s trustees adopted a resolution on Wednesday night, establishing in Mr Beecher’s name a scholarship fund for local high school graduates who intend to study history or a related field.

On an earlier occasion, when the honoree was a lad of 86, Greene County’s legislators took cognizance of the “wisdom, hard work and generosity” that have emanated from this “soldier, educator, historian, churchman, writer, philanthropist and public servant.” They hailed Mr Beecher as a “Greene County Treasure.”

These days, when not shopping and cooking and cleaning for himself, or mowing his grass, or chasing away invading geese, or dispensing advice, or quietly funding a good cause, or studying historic records, the widower and new nonogenarian composes a fresh chapter.

By the way: at yesterday’s ceremonies, he announced a pledge of support for Cedar Grove’s new endowment fund. One million dollars.

*P.S. The first two paragraphs above are inaccurate. When Mr Beecher was lured to Cedar Grove on Friday, he did not expect to be greeted there by tribute-bearing GreeneLand legislators; he was ambushed. The event was not publicized in advance to Cedar Grove's members or to the public.

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