Friday, September 2, 2022

Robert Allen Deitcher: Scotia’s Composer

 This post was written by library volunteer Gail Denisoff

Probably few people are aware of the historical marker on Charles Street in Scotia honoring Robert Allen Deitcher or recognize his name, but most would be familiar with his work. Known professionally as Robert Allen, Newsweek Magazine called him “America’s most popular songwriter” in the 1950’s. Writing the music for many popular songs of the 1950’s and 1960’s, he worked with well-known musicians such as Johnny Mathis, Perry Como, Mitch Miller, Andy Williams and The Four Lads. His songs, including “Chances Are”, “Moments to Remember”, “It’s Not for Me to Say” and (There’s no place like) ”Home for the Holidays” are still being performed and recorded more than 20 years after his death.

NYS historical marker on Charles Street for Robert Allen Deitcher. Photo by Howard Ohlhous on the Historical Marker Database

Born in Troy NY on February 5, 1927 to parents of Russian-Jewish descent, Charles and Ruth Gold Deitcher, Robert spent his early years in Troy before his parents divorced. Moving to Schenectady and then Scotia with his mother when she remarried, Robert attended Scotia Glenville schools for middle and high school as well as Nott Terrace Hebrew School. Growing up he was active in many local activities including the 1937 Schenectady Soap Box Derby, was a member of Boy Scout Troop 63, played basketball and was crowned 9th grade and school ping-pong champion at Scotia Junior High. He was a member of the high school band, participated in the Dramatic Club and was salutatorian of his class, graduating in January of 1945.

Robert was awarded an engineering scholarship to RPI but after a summer job playing piano in Schroon Lake he declined to try his luck at being a professional musician. After waiting tables in New York City he got some music gigs in Canada, earned his union card and returned to play jazz piano on the New York Club circuit for several years.

His first big break came in 1952 when he became a composer and arranger for NBC’s popular TV series “The Colgate Comedy Hour” with Jimmy Durante. Allen wrote a duet for Durante and Margaret Truman, earning praise from Truman’s father, former President Harry S Truman. He also wrote songs for another of “Colgate’s” headliners, Eddie Cantor. Other television work included arrangements for Perry Como’s “Kraft Music Hall” for which he wrote the song “You are Never Far from Me” which closed the show and “Sing Along” for Mitch Miller’s “Sing Along with Mitch”.

Robert soon formed a collaboration with lyricist Al Stillman (1906-1979) that would last for decades. Together they wrote some of the most popular songs of the 1950’s and 1960’s. Songwriting between 1920 and 1965, the era in which most American Standards were written, was largely an on-demand business and most of their songs were commissions.

Robert Allen in the 1960s.

Early in his career, in November of 1954, music producer Mitch Ayres told Robert that Perry Como wanted a new holiday song for release that Christmas, and he and Al Stillman had one day to write it. Robert went to Rockefeller Center, was inspired by the skaters, and wrote the music in one afternoon. Stillman wrote the lyrics that same night. Como recorded “Home for the Holidays” the next day and it was pressed and in stores within about 10 days. Since then, it’s been covered by 122 different artists.

Another of Robert's favorite commissions was also in 1954. The Auburn University football team was having a very successful season and one of their most loyal supporters and generous donors, Roy Sewall, thought the team needed a new fight song. With the blessing of the University he commissioned Robert Allen and Al Stillman to write the new song which was something unheard of at the time for a college to do. The finished product was declared “a peach of a song” by Sewell but not necessarily embraced at first by the athletic department. It became a hit on campus though, is the song for which Auburn is known and “War Eagle” not only became the new fight song but the Auburn battle cry. It can still be heard on campus every day at noon when the Stanford Carillon rings the song in the Stanford Hall clock tower. It is played before and after games, when Auburn scores and has also been recorded several times. The Auburn alumni association gifted Robert a music box in the shape of a football that played the songl, something he always treasured. His wife said that he would watch Auburn football games on TV just to hear the band play the tune and it was one of the songs he was most proud of. Roy Sewall gifted the rights to the song to the Auburn Alumni Association as soon as it was written but because no one at Auburn renewed the copyright, it reverted to Robert and Al Stillman’s estate in 1983 and is now controlled by Charlie Dietcher Productions managed by Robert’s widow, Patty.

Robert and Patty Allen. Photo from Carnegie Hall Legacy of Giving, "And the Music Keeps Playing On and On."

During his early years in New York City, Robert led a glamorous life as seen through the eyes of his sister, Judy, who was 14 years his junior and still living in Scotia. “I got to spend a lot of weekends with him and got to do a lot of things young people around here didn’t get to do. I went to all the Broadway shows and went to good restaurants.” The obituary of Dorothy Morrison Allen, Robert’s second wife, notes she enjoyed her early married life in NYC “in 1956 (she) married composer Robert Allen… with whom, along with friends, gaily soaked up the City’s vibrancy and nightlife - Sinatra, the Copa, Judy Garland, Ethel Merman’s Gypsy and more.”

Throughout the 1950s and 1960’s, Robert was busy and in high demand. He wrote or arranged music for the most popular singers of the day including the aforementioned, Johnny Mathis and Perry Como, Tony Bennett, Billie Holiday, Kate Smith, Carol Burnett and Doris Day. Almost all of his compositions were in collaboration with Al Stillman as lyricist. One notable exception was the Doris Day hit “Everybody Loves a Lover” with lyrics by Richard Adler, which was also a hit for The Shirelles.

According to the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers, Robert’s compositions have sold more than 500 million recordings. Songs including “It’s Not For Me to Say”, “To Know You (is to Love You)”, “No, No Not Much”, “Chances Are”, “Home for the Holidays”, “My One and Only Heart” and “Moments to Remember” have become American standards.

Later in his career Robert wrote the music for several movies and wrote and produced the album “Bob McGrath from Sesame Street”. He retired from writing music in the 1970’s and kept busy at the home he designed and built in Quogue, in the Southampton area of Long Island. He was interested in carpentry, gardening and cooking and made annual trips to Scotland to play golf.

Robert and his third wife, Patty, were very involved in philanthropy. His album “Three Billion Millionaires” featuring Bing Crosby, Jack Benny, Sammy Davis Jr, Judy Garland, Carol Burnett and Danny Kaye raised funds for UNICEF. They donated the royalties for his songs to Carnegie Hall to establish the Robert Allen Memorial Fund. Robert made it a point to help young musicians throughout his life. After his death, Patty made a sizeable donation to the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers to establish the Robert Allen Award, “given in the spirit of Allen's work, a cash award is presented annually to an ASCAP songwriter in the pop and/or jazz musical genres”.

A humble man, his wife Patty recalled, “He didn’t want to be famous. He could walk around New York and no one would know him. He would hear people humming his music on the sidewalks and subways and loved that”.

Robert Allen Deitcher passed away on October 1, 2000 at the age of 73 in his Quogue home after a battle with colon cancer. He was survived by his wife, Patty, and four children from two previous marriages. Robert’s mother lived in her Scotia home until her death a year later and his sister, Judy lives in Clifton Park.

In 2007, a New York State Historical Marker was erected in front of his childhood home at 528 Charles Street in Scotia. Former Scotia Mayor William Seyse led the effort, along with town historian Michelle Norris, to get the composer this recognition and raised funds through donations. At the unveiling on June 1, 2007, his widow Patty said her husband would have been flattered by the sign but also self-conscious. “He would have died of embarrassment but I think it’s wonderful." 

REFERENCES:

Allen, Robert, Songs Written by Robert Allen. Second-Hand Songs.com

“And the Music Keeps Playing On and On”, Legacy Giving, Robert and Patty Allen – Carnegie Hall.

Dorothy Allen,Obituary, Legacy.com.

Johnson, Carl. “Scotia’s Most Famous Composer”, Hoxsie! 10/5/2018.

Kazek, Kelly. Hidden History of Auburn. History Press, 2011.

TrueTiger, “Auburn Fight Song”. All Things Considered, 7/24/2004.

Robert Allen, 73, Prolific Hit Songwriter for Top Artists. Obituary, Chicago Tribune, Oct. 8, 2000.

Volke, Matt.” Area musician had big city talent”, Daily Gazette, 6/7/2007.

 

Saturday, July 30, 2022

History of Collins Park

 This blog post was written by library volunteer Diane Leone.

Any resident of Scotia or the surrounding area is familiar with Collins Park, a recreational gem visible to anyone approaching the village of Scotia from the Western Gateway Bridge. Having served the community for approximately one hundred years, the park’s origins are inextricably linked to the founding of Scotia itself. 

One of the founding fathers of the village of Scotia was Alexander Lindsay Glen (called by the Dutch Sander Leendertse Glen), from the Scottish noble house of Lindsay. According to his descendants, in 1655 he purchased 100 acres of land from the Mohawks, members of the Iroquois confederacy. Lindsay was also one of the original fifteen men who held land from the Schenectady patent of 1664. The house he built, which he called Nova Scotia in honor of his homeland, was unfortunately too close to the river’s edge, with erosion weakening the foundation.  As a result his son, Johannes, built what is now called the Glen Sanders Mansion in 1713. Upon his death, his son Jacob inherited the home with the proviso that he construct a house for his brother Abraham. That structure, the Abraham Glen House, currently houses the Scotia branch of the Schenectady Public Library. 

In 1842 Theodore Sanders, a descendant of Jacob’s daughter Deborah and husband John Sanders (who consolidated all of the family’s holdings in the Sanders name), sold the Abraham Glen property, including the home and 78 acres, for $11,925 to two brothers from Ireland, James and Charles Collins. The land included what was first called Glen Lake, then Sanders Lake, and later named Collins Lake, where the brothers ran an ice business, cutting ice from the lake and distributing it in a wagon advertising “Collins Ice.” 

In 1895 the brothers created a private park that sported trees for shade, as well as seating, a baseball diamond with bleachers, tennis courts, and a pavilion for dancing. The park offered recreational activities in summer, as well as winter. The J. C. baseball team, named for James Collins, played at the park. 


Visitors also enjoyed the lake, where they could rent flat-bottomed boats from the lake house for 10 cents an hour, and also pick pond lilies for 2 cents per lily.  The winter offered tobogganing, a wildly popular sport in the latter part of the 1800s. The photo below, from the 1870s, shows the toboggan slide, which ran north from Dyke Road, now Schonowee Avenue. 

The background to the creation of Collins Park is not entirely clear. The private park closed in 1905 after James Collins’s death. In 1922, with the death of his daughter Anne, the Abraham Glen home was bequeathed to the Daughters of Wisdom nuns, who ran a children’s home. Since the house did not meet their needs, Anne Collins’s executors offered the land to the village, which acquired the Abraham Glen house—it became the Scotia Free Library in 1929— and the attached land, including the western rim of the lake, for $30,000, with the proviso that the land be designated a public park named after the Collins family. Fund-raising activities helped defray the cost, $5,000 of which was donated by General Electric. In 1924, Collins Memorial Park consisted of 26 acres maintained by the Collins Park board. That board handed the park over to the village in April of 1928, with Scotia now responsible for completing the payment for the property. The deed was executed that July. 

The rest of what came to be Collins Park was acquired separately. A man named Neil Ryan owned property to the east of the park, including the remainder to the lake. His proposal to sell the land to the village for $65,000 came before the village board in November of 1928. Unfortunately, no further documentation is available on the actual vote, or how that section of land was incorporated into the park. Interestingly, the deed for that section of the park is dated 1937, with a different seller. 

Thus was born Collins Memorial Park. It provided a variety of activities, including tennis, baseball, horseshoes, swings, toboggan slides, and skating equipment for children, as well as individuals to oversee the playground. 

In Scotia 100 Years...Memories of a Village, lifetime resident Marion Gilgore recalls the warning system for ice-skaters on Collins Lake. 

“There was a building right behind the library with a flagpole. If the flag was blue—the ice was safe and if the flag was red—the ice was too thin to skate on. Of course there was always someone who would try to skate when the flag was red and fall through the ice. Then they would call the fire department."

After World War II, the state undertook a project to deepen the Erie Canal network and needed a site to deposit the excess dredging material. Scotia mayor, Bill Turnbull, made an arrangement with the State Waterways Maintenance Department to have this material fill in the lower part of Collins Park, thus expanding it. In 1946 more than 1 million cubic yards of fill was added to a marsh area currently inside the park and on the side of Schonowee Avenue abutting the Mohawk River. The community—both individuals and groups—assisted with donations of trees, as well as the creation of a Little League park and beach area and the construction of additional tennis courts. 

Around the same time, the now famous Jumpin’ Jacks had its start. Jack Brennan purchased land along Schonowee Avenue from the Sanders family to build what was initially called Twin Freeze, and then Jumpin’ Jacks, where he would sell soft ice-cream, a newly popular treat. 

Over the years, facilities have been added or improved, thanks to service organizations such as the Kiwanis Club (which funded the Kiddies Park) and the Rotary Club. In the 1960s, the swimming area and beach were moved to the current area. The park was a popular venue for baseball, basketball and even Scotia-Glenville High School football games. As Alan Hart so fondly reminisces about the Tartans in Dear Old Scotia: 

Before the new field behind the school was laid out, however, I remember going to home football games on the old field at Collins Park in the 1950s. It was a blast! The field was laid out east to west in the bowl behind the library, and if you were a kid like I was, it was pretty easy to sneak in and watch the game without paying. The entrance was sectioned off with ropes, but if you waited for an opportune moment once the game had begun, you could duck under the ropes when the man tending the entrance was watching the action on the field. Then you could use that money your mother gave you for your ticket on an extra hotdog or two! (2) 

A wonderful recreational area on the river side of Schonowee Avenue next to Jumpin’ Jacks is Freedom Park, which was created in 1976 as part of the state’s Bicentennial celebration. It has picnic tables, an amphitheater/stage area where free summer concerts draw large crowds, and a small dock called Scotia Landing. Quinlan Park is a popular fishing area located on Washington Avenue on the eastern edge of Collins Lake. 

The lake is a 55 acre oval-shaped body of water located in the park’s center. Residents use it for fishing, ice-fishing and boating. Unfortunately, the lake is filled with invasive aquatic species, such as water chestnuts, milfoil and pondweed. To remedy this situation, dredging was performed in 1977-78 and again between 1988 and 1992, when the unearthing of Native American artifacts forced the town to stop. To make matters worse, the 2011 tropical storms Irene and Lee deposited river sediment into the lake, closing this popular spot for swimming. In June of 2021, the town of Glenville put into effect a plan to eliminate milfoil. It is hoped a water herbicide treatment in the spring of 2022 and 2023 will help rid the lake of water chestnuts. 

Some interesting stories are associated with Collins Lake. On November 20, 1857 a local newspaper reported the strange tale of a sea serpent spotted by broom corn workers as well as two other men. This frightening beast was described as “a most hideous monster; it was variously reported to be from seven yards to a half mile long and was said, when in an angry mood, to lash the waves with a gigantic tail until the lake was one sheet of foam.” Its actual appearance, when caught, did not quite live up to expectations. It was said to be on display at Schenectady’s Anthony Hall. The creature apparently put in another appearance on March 28, 1934, as reported by Scotia resident Dr.Wilber D. Rose in a rather sardonic tale printed in Scotia, 100 years 1904-2004: Memories of a Village. The “monster” was said to be displayed in the State Education Building. The reader will have to decide on the veracity of these stories. 

Another incident in the lake’s history occurred in 1948, when four boys borrowed a rowboat without permission and proceeded to the island in Collins Lake. The quite irritated owner swam to the island to recover his craft, leaving the culprits stranded. In the afternoon, the father of one of the boys saw the quartet on the island, gesturing and shouting. Recognizing his son, he went to the police station, where the boat owner was persuaded, rather reluctantly, to rescue the group.

Today, Collins Park continues to draw the community throughout the year. In winter, families enjoy sledding down the hill behind the library (the former Abraham Glen House), and hardy souls can be seen ice fishing on the frozen lake. During the warmer months the park comes alive with a variety of activities. The tennis courts are popular, and there is always at least one baseball game going on, with friends and families rooting for their teams and players. Walkers and joggers fill the park paths, and picnickers at Freedom Park enjoy the waterfront view. People flow between the park and Jumpin’ Jacks, where they can grab a quick bite or maybe a refreshing ice cream. On certain summer evenings, people bring lawn chairs to enjoy the musical entertainment in Freedom Park’s amphitheater. In July and August the US Water Ski team holds daily practices and weekly performances along the Mohawk shore, where large, enthusiastic onlookers crowd the shoreline behind the restaurant and in Freedom Park. 

The Collins family left the village of Scotia a wonderful legacy.

 

Special thanks to Village of Scotia historian Beverly Clark for her help in locating and gathering information for this blog.

 

Bibliography:

Armstrong, Shirley. "Boys 'Marooned' 4 Hours on Collins Lake Island." Schenectady Gazette,  June 26, 1948, 6.  

Briere, Shenandoah. "Village of Scotia Weeding out Collins Lake." Daily Gazette (Schenectady,  NY), August 8, 2021, 15.

Campbell, Ned. "Familiar Summer Story: Collins Lake Beach Closed." Daily Gazette (Schenectady, NY), June 5, 2014, A1.

Hart, Alan. Dear Old Scotia. Scotia, NY: Old Dorp Books, 2004.

Hart, Larry. "'Deal Struck 51 Years Ago Influenced Park's Growth." The Gazette (Schenectady,  NY), September 7, 1997, B07.

Schenectady County Historical Society. Glenville. Charleston, SC: Arcadia, 2005. Scotia, 100 years 1904-2004 : Memories of a Village. N.p., 2004.

"Settlers at Schenectady, 1661-4." In History of the Mohawk Valley: Gateway to the West 1614- 1925, edited by Nelson Greene. Chicago: S. J. Clarke, 1925. 

Sloan, Frances Anderson. "History Walks with Scotians" columns in the Scotia-Glenville Journal.

Weatherwax, Bonnie, Heritage Coordinator. Scotia-Glenville American Revolution Bicentennial  Book of Remembrances, June 18-26. 1976. N.p., 1976. 

Collins Park clippings files at the Schenectady County Historical Society 

 

Wednesday, July 13, 2022

William Van Bergen Van Dyck

William Van Bergen Van Dyck, age 100. Photo from the Van Dyck Personal Papers, Grems Doolittle Library.

 

This post was written by library volunteer Gail Denisoff.

Growing up in New Jersey, Billy attended a private school affiliated with Rutgers College. His father, Francis, was an analytical chemistry and physics professor at Rutgers, and was frequently asked to consult on projects by his friend and neighbor, Thomas Edison. As a boy, Billy often accompanied his father to Edison’s laboratory and later remembered being present at an early demonstration of the phonograph. An autographed photo that Edison presented to Billy as a birthday gift was one of his lifelong prized possessions.

Billy circa 1880. Photo from the Van Dyck Personal Papers, Grems Doolittle Library.
 

After high school, Billy went on to Rutgers, graduating in 1896 with BS in prismatic glass and light reflection. In 1897 he graduated from Columbia with a degree in electrical engineering and then received an MS from Rutgers in 1898. While in college, he was captain of the varsity football team, played second base on the varsity baseball team, was a standout in the 100 yard dash, sang with the glee club, and was a member of Delta Phi, Phi Beta Kappa and Tau Beta Pi.

His first job out of college was with the American Luxfer Prism Company in Chicago where he was in charge of the research laboratory for a year. He then became a sales engineer for the company in Pittsburgh and New York. By 1899 he was back at Rutgers teaching math and electrical engineering. Two years later, he married Frances “Fanny” Johnson, a stage actress, and decided that two couldn’t live on what he made as an instructor so took an engineering and manufacturing position in North Carolina. 

In 1906, his international career began with a new position as an engineer in Santiago, Chile with the W. R. Grace Company, agents of General Electric. His next move was to Brazil in 1911 as a representative of General Electric of New York. He stayed in that position until 1914 when he was appointed Managing Director of Cia General Electric do Brazil. In 1918, he was named President of General Electric South America, a Brazilian corporation. 

Portrait of Billy taken while he was employed by GE in Brazil. Photo from the Van Dyck Personal Papers, Grems Doolittle Library.
  

During the time he lived and worked in South America, he took on several interesting projects. One of the first was in 1908 when he was still living in Chile. He purchased four electric automobiles, intending to sell them for a profit. He kept one for his own use and sold one to the Ambassador of England, but quickly found that there was no market for the other two. Realizing the cars would depreciate the longer he held on to them, he decided to trade them for a warehouse full of wine. He reasoned the wine might increase in value – and if he couldn’t sell it, he could always drink it.

Billy was proud of his attempt to light the Straits of Magellan. Located in Chile, near the tip of South America, it was a treacherous but essential waterway before the Panama Canal was built. One stretch close to the Pacific was particularly dangerous with high cliffs, a 40 knot current and 40 foot tides. His workers installed a light on a long flexible chain anchored to the bottom. Although successful for a time, the current and tides tangled the chain and the light eventually sank to the bottom. That was the first and only attempt to light the Straights.

Another interesting project was to provide light for the 1923 Brazilian Exposition. Billy was instrumental in achieving locally produced light bulbs. Prior to 1923, parts were made elsewhere and assembled in Brazil. Under his leadership, glass bulbs began to be manufactured in Brazil and other components soon followed. Because of this, he was able to obtain the contract for the design and installation of lighting for the exposition using crystal prisms and electric lights that reflected the light in a spectacular manner. The setup was a huge success.

Billy liked to tell the story of a Brazilian cowboy who rode a horse to his office and dropped $60,000 in cash on his desk for an electrical installation at his remote ranch. When Billy questioned whether he felt uneasy leaving that amount of cash with him the cowboy replied, “Not at all, SeƱor, after all, I can trust the General Electric Company!”      

While in Brazil, Billy was a founder and director of the American Chamber of Commerce of Brazil, President of the Rio de Janeiro chapter of the American Red Cross, a founder of the Rio de Janeiro Country Club, was the catcher for the American Rio baseball team well into his 40’s, and a director and president of the American Society of Rio de Janeiro. Sadly, Billy’s wife Frances died in 1922. She lived with Billy in Brazil but returned to the United States before her death. Billy also returned to the U.S. on several occasions. One was to attend the 75th birthday party of his old friend and neighbor, Thomas Edison. 

Billy traveled on the SS Western World in 1923 from New York to Buenos Aires. Image from

Pacific Marine Review, v. 19, August 1922, p. 469, archive.org.

Billy was on board the steamship SS Western World out of New York bound for Buenos Aires in May of 1923 when a telegraphed chess challenge was received from the SS American Legion that had just left Argentina. Three players from each ship participated in what would be the first chess game by wireless. Billy was captain of his team and fifteen moves were made the first night until communications were lost. The match continued the following night as reception was almost non-existent during the day. After four nights and thirty-five moves, each team declared victory when radio reception did not allow them to continue. Not minding that no winner was determined, Billy considered the match great fun and a unique experience.  

 Billy held the position of President of General Electric South America until 1926 when he returned to the United States and in June 1927 became the Manager of the Schenectady office of the International General Electric Company, a title he held until March of 1937 when he became Assistant to the President of IGE. On Valentine’s Day of 1931 Billy married his second wife, Schenectady native Elvira Haight, who had a daughter from a previous marriage.

One of the highlights of his tenure in Schenectady was bringing the King of Siam to meet with General Electric scientists as a guest of IGE. King Prajadhipok, who at that time was one of only two absolute monarchs in the world, was traveling incognito using the alias Prince Sukhodaya. On July 9, 1931, Billy traveled to New York City and joined the King’s party on a private railroad car. When they arrived in Rensselaer the car was disconnected from the train and a special locomotive was attached which brought the group directly to the General Electric plant. A telegraph sent to Billy the next day from the King’s secretary thanked him for the enjoyable day and asked if he could locate and return a vest the King left on the train.

International General Electric hosted many other guests from around the world including the Counsel General of Ecuador and Count Folke Bernadotte, the nephew of King Gustuv of Sweden. The Count sent Billy a letter thanking him for the day he spent in Schenectady meeting with a group of scientist that included Dr. Ernst F. Alexanderson. 

Billy traveled to South America on several occasions while he worked for IGE. On June 10, 1939 he was awarded the “National Order of the Southern Cross,” the highest decoration given by the Brazilian government to a private foreign citizen. The citation noted the award was given for his “distinguished service in the promotion of international good will between the United States and Brazil.”

Billy was very active in community affairs in Schenectady. He was a member of the Schenectady Chamber of Commerce, Rotary Club, YMCA of Schenectady, Chairman of the Schenectady Community and War Chest during World War II, and President of the Capital District branch of the Holland Club of America. He was also active in the Mohawk Club and the Mohawk Golf Club.

When Billy retired at age of 70 on December 31, 1945, after 34 years with GE, he didn’t slow down. He and Elvira traveled the world collecting art objects that they displayed in their home at 21 Washington Avenue. He was a founding member and Trustee of the Community State Bank for over 35 years, and was never late or missed a meeting, even when he was over 100 years old. At 104 he attended his 85th Rutgers reunion where he was honored as the oldest alumni and last living member of the class of 1895.

Billy at his 85th Rutgers reunion, the last surviving member of his class. Photo from the Van Dyck Personal Papers, Grems Doolittle Library.

Billy never had children but after his wife, Elvira, died in 1974 his niece, Florence Bucher came to live with him as his companion. He walked his dogs, first Firecracker and later Cracker Jack, around the Stockade neighborhood daily, often stopping by Arthur’s Market. He went to the Mohawk Club every day to visit with friends and play backgammon, chess, and cards. At 103, Billy’s started receiving nursing care in his home, but his mind stayed sharp. He said he had a cousin who lived to be 108 and wanted to beat that family record. Unfortunately, Billy passed away on March 18, 1981, at the age of 105, three years short of his goal. After local services at St. George’s Church, he was buried with his Dutch ancestors at Riverside Cemetery in Coxsackie.

During his long life, Billy lived through the administrations of 24 presidents from Ulysses S. Grant to Ronald Reagan. On his 100th birthday, Mayor Frank Duci awarded him the distinction of Patroon, Schenectady’s highest honor. A modest man, he said, at the age of 104, that he never did anything special -- “The only thing I ever did was get old!”

 

References:

Bishop, John Keith, “Stockade Spy Honors a Favorite Citizen”, The Stockade Spy, May 1974.

“GE’s Third Oldest Pensioner Holds His Own at Milestone Age of 100”, Schenectady GE News, March 12, 1976.

Hart, Larry, “Chess Foes Vie Across Ocean”, Daily Gazette, 1973.

Hayden, Barbara, “100 years young”, Knickerbocker News, Sept. 8, 1975.

Ryan, Buttons, “Former Coxsackian, at 102, Remembers Village History”, Greene County News, January 26, 1978.

Shapiro, Ricki, “104 Year Old Tells Tale of Travel, Achievement”, Daily Gazette, 1980.

“van Dyck: a little Dutch college”, Rutgers Alumni Association News, Winter 1979.

“W.V.B. Van Dyck: GE Brazil’s ‘Grand Old Man’”, General Electric News Worldwide, September 1974.

Van Dyck Personal Papers, Grems-Doolittle Library (2006.009)