October 11, 2008, Kingston Daily Freeman: Greene County mourns longtime historian

Greene County mourns longtime historian
Raymond Beecher stands outside Cedar Grove in Catskill, which he helped save.
Raymond Beecher stands outside Cedar Grove in Catskill, which he helped save.
COXSACKIE - Greene County Historian Raymond Beecher was remembered Friday as a great friend and philanthropist who was dedicated to preserving local history.

"He had an encyclopedic understanding of Greene County history," Ted Hilscher said of Beecher, who died Thursday in his Coxsackie home at age 91. Hilscher said Beecher was a giving man who shared the knowledge he collected and constantly researched primary source documents. Hilscher also said Beecher saved a lot of local history that could have been lost.

"He was an exceptional man, no doubt about it," Harvey Durham said of Beecher.

Durham, who co-authored a book with Beecher called "Around Greene County and the Catskills," said his friend was working on a seventh book at the time of his death. Durham also said Beecher received many honors and was a hard worker who never went back on his word and was generous with his money.

Beecher, who first was appointed Greene County historian in 1993, is credited with saving Cedar Grove, the Thomas Cole National Historic Site in Catskill, by putting up his own money to buy the property and begin its restoration.

"He was an inspiration to us all," Cedar Grove Executive Director Elizabeth Jacks said of Beecher. "We believe the Thomas Cole House probably wouldn't have been saved without his leadership."

Jacks said it was Beecher's dream to see Cedar Grove come to life, and one of his hopes was to see a building called the New Studio rebuilt on the property. The New Studio had been demolished in the 1970s, Jacks said, but money is in place to have plans drawn up for its reconstruction.

Debbie Allen, publisher of Black Dome Press in Hensonville, said Beecher was "one of those special, great men, and we were lucky he was here."

Allen said Black Dome Press published two of Beecher's books and was working with him on another. She said Greene County was lucky that Beecher chose to make the preservation of local history his life's work.

According to obituary information provided for Beecher, he graduated from Greenville Central School and earned a bachelor's degree from Hartwick College and a master's degree from Boston University. He also earned teaching and administrative certifications from the Sate University of New York at Albany. Beecher used those degrees while working at Oneonta High School and while serving as an assistant professor at Hartwick College. He later worked at the New York Vocational Institution as a guidance supervisor until his retirement.

During World War II, Beecher served in the U.S. Army, first in the Asiatic-Pacific theater, where he earned a special commendation, and then in the European theater.

Beecher was president of the Hartwick College Alumni Association, served twice as president of the Greene County Historical Society and was chairman of its Board of Trustees. He also was a trustee for Friends of Olana and served as its treasurer; was the librarian at the Vedder Research Library; served as historian for the town of Coxsackie; and served as chairman of the Greene County American Revolution Bicentennial Committee.

He also coordinated the celebration of the Diamond Jubilee of the Greene County Courthouse and, in 2000, chaired the county's 200th birthday celebration.

On Aug. 29, 1996, Beecher received the honorary degree doctor of humane letters from Hartwick College. Earlier that year, he was presented with a gold medal of honor from the National Society Daughters of the American Revolution, On-ti-Ora Chapter. Beecher also received the Alf Evers Award in 2007 and was given the first Greene County Treasures Award on April 6, 2002.

Greene County Legislature Chairman Wayne Speenburgh, R-Coxsackie, said Beecher was a "gentleman's gentleman" and that he did not know of a finer man who had such passion and caring for Greene County history.

Speenburgh said he ordered all the county flags to be flown at half-staff until after Beecher's burial.

Beecher was born March 8, 1917 in New York City, son of the late Valentine and Maude R. Baxter Beecher.

His wife, Catharine S. Shaffer Beecher, died in 1995.

Beecher is survived by a brother, Arthur of Coxsackie; and nieces and nephews. A sister, Gladys Lesson, died previously.

Beecher's funeral will be at 10 a.m. Monday at St. Luke's Episcopal Church, 50 Williams St., Catskill. He will be cremated at the Albany Rural Crematorium in Menands, and the interment of his ashes will take place at a later date in the family plot of the Riverside Cemetery in Coxsackie.

Arrangements are by the W.C. Brady's Sons Funeral Home, 97 Mansion St., Coxsackie.

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