Robert Yerick, the saugerties mayor who, with a combination of old-fashioned managerial prowess and an engaging and feisty personality, saw the village through the hard post-IBM times to the current renaissance during his 12 years in office, died Wednesday, Oct. 3. He was 82.
Robert “Bob” Yerick was born Dec. 7, 1929. He was a graduate of Philmont High School (1948) after which he was accepted in the S.S. Kresge Retail Management Program. Interrupting his formal education, he served four years in the United States Navy, from which he was honorably discharged. He returned to the retail management field under sponsorship of the G.I. Bill.
He married his wife, Jan, in 1949. She predeceased him. He is survived by six daughters and numerous grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
Yerick was a resident of the village since 1953, and was always an active member of the community, first through the Jaycees, Kiwanis and other organizations, before running for public office. He retired from IBM in 1988, where he’d worked as a manager.
Ten years later, he ran for mayor and won. In 2010, on the occasion of his retirment, friends and colleagues organized Bob Yerick Day in the village. The Saugerties Times was there, and we spoke with Yerick about what he brought to the job.
Coming into office, Yerick said the village was practically falling apart. The mood was fatalistic, as if dissolution was inevitable. Yerick said the trustees at the time had, “circled the wagons, and were awaiting the end of the village.” Once elected, Yerick said he spent the first year determining where the village’s problems lay. One problem, in Yerick’s eyes, was the decentralization of power. The Village Board had ceded control over its resources to advisory boards comprised of appointed individuals not accountable to the public. He disbanded the water and wastewater advisory board and the police advisory board, restoring power to the Village Board. He ended the practice of appointing permanent village attorneys and engineers, allowing the board to hire individuals best suited for a particular job. A professional grant writer was hired, and Yerick says that this resulted in approximately $13 million in improvements to the village infrastructure, beautification, upgrades, and new equipment.
Under Yerick’s reign, grants and zero-interest loans were utilized to bury utility lines within the business district, upgrade street signs and lighting, replace aging and failing water and sewer lines, and separate stormwater and wastewater to increase capacity at the village wastewater plant. Major upgrades to village hall, the DPW garage, and the village water and wastewater plants were also been made.
“I think the biggest thing Mayor Yerick did is he put the village of Saugerties back on the map,” said county Legislator Dean Fabiano back in 2010.
“He has a great sense of humor, which is probably why we meshed so well,” said former trustee Richard Moore.
Yerick had some advice then for now-current mayor William Murphy: always remember that family comes first. He said that he hoped Murphy wouldn’t lose sight of that, and not let the job of mayor get in the way of caring for his family. He also advised leaning heavily on the department commissioners and superintendents.
“If you have the right people in the right jobs, and you depend on them to do the work, everything will go smoothly,” said Yerick.
With Yerick’s passing happening the day the Saugerties Times went to press, we weren’t able to talk with friends, family and colleagues in time for this issue. See next week’s paper for a more proper farewell, packed with more details about his life and memories from those who knew him.