Personally speaking with Brian Van Kleeck

Brian Van Kleeck. (Photo by Lauren Thomas)

If you’re sick, healthy, happy, in need of a smile, a laugh, a shoulder to cry on, there is no one more approachable and welcoming than Dedrick’s Pharmacy’s Brian Van Kleeck. Van Kleeck, who grew up in both New Paltz and Highland, is a 15th-generation Huguenot on his father’s side and a descendent of Irish immigrants on his mother’s side, whose family fled during the potato famine. “My great-grandmother from Ireland worked as a housemaid for the Rockefeller family and my great-grandfather [Padraig] was a New York City cop,” said Van Kleeck.

He still remembers being a young child and attending the funeral of his great-grandfather “Paj,” who was seated at the end of the table. “It was a real ‘Irish’ funeral, with my great-grandpa at the end of the table. He looked like my Grandpa, only he wasn’t really moving!”

Van Kleeck’s wit and appreciation of the human condition are two of those invaluable traits that make him such a popular figure at Dedrick’s and throughout the community. He began working at Dedrick’s at the age of 18 while attending SUNY-New Paltz. “Growing up [in New Paltz and then Highland] I was asthmatic and had allergies, so I was very familiar with Dedrick’s and felt safe there,” he said. “I did everything a kid hired to work in a store would do: empty the trash, answer the phone, fill in the vials, run errands, do whatever I was asked to.”

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He said that he still remembers a comment to him as a young employee from Bill Sheeley, co-owner of the pharmacy in New Paltz with his brother Jack. “He would say, ‘Brian, when you’re vacuuming just remember to get the big stuff!’”

While he continued to work at Dedrick’s family-owned-and-run pharmacy throughout his college years, after graduation Van Kleeck had the opportunity to partner with some friends and purchase 58 Main Street, which became Cabaloosa, the popular night club/bar that still exists today. He owned and operated Cabaloosa and Oasis for ten years with his partners, but after a while the hours got tiring and he said that it was “just time to move in a different direction.”

He certainly moved in a different direction, but not too far away. “I became the assistant pro at the Mohonk Mountain House Golf Course and helped run the Golf Shop” with the then-pro Rob Gutkin. For Van Kleeck, it was a nice change of pace, “being outside, in the mountains, at such a beautiful location and being involved with a game that I enjoy.”

It wasn’t a hole-in-one that was his most treasured memory from his assistant pro days at the mountain resort golf course, but running into one of his most revered singer/songwriters, Tom Waits. “A golf course is not the place you’d think of running into Tom Waits,” he said with a grin. “But he has family in the area and had a nephew that loved golf. So he came to the shop one time to pick him up.” Stunned, Van Kleeck did a double-take and then said, “Hello, Mr. Waits.”

“Call me Tom,” he said, with that deep scratchy voice of his. Then he asked around the shop to see if someone had a cigarette he could have. “Ah, Marlboro Reds: the good stuff.”

Van Kleeck, a major music fan and concertgoer, has seen hundreds of live performances, but none could top some of the Waits shows that he was fortunate enough to catch in small venues. “He is one of the greatest songwriters ever; and when he plays, he will go for hours, because he’s the real deal.”

Another visitor to the golf course was Bill Sheeley. “I decided to ask him if there were any vacancies at the pharmacy and if he might want me back, and he said, ‘Yes, we’d love to have you. Give me a call.’”

And that’s when Van Kleeck made the move back to Dedrick’s in 2002. Asked what his position at the store is, he said “missionary,” and laughed. “No! You can’t write that.” When he talks about what makes Dedrick’s special, he’s almost as animated as when he talks about his Top Ten favorite live music shows. “It’s a small-town Mom-and-Pop shop where everyone knows your name and you know everyone else’s name. We have a very devout clientele, and as we get more and more new customers who are tired of the chains, they’re so surprised and appreciative when we remember their names, ask how they’re doing.”

The Sheeleys have operated Dedrick’s for more than 40 years, opening up their business in the Village of New Paltz in 1970. “The Sheeleys and all of our staff will go to great lengths to satisfy our customers, answer their questions, wrangle with the insurance companies, get in touch with their doctors. Everyone who works here does their job and then some; but at the same time we enjoy each other, we enjoy our customers and we have a good time doing it.”

If he’s not at work, Van Kleeck is home with his two young kids: Jude, 3, and Layla, 4 ½. “Outside of work, I’m busy enjoying my kids, playing with them, working around the house to make it our own little oasis.”

Asked what he loved about New Paltz so much that has kept him here through childhood, college and now as a father of two, he said, “the mountains, the beauty, the people, the small-town feel and all of the incredible activities for kids and families — both in- and certainly outdoors!”

Van Kleeck, like Dedrick’s is a one-of-a-kind person with a big heart and a head full of both useful and arcane trivia — particularly if it relates to music! ++

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