Berndt Leifeld — who gets roasted and toasted, and possibly honored as well, for his 38 years as Olive town supervisor and councilman on Sunday, March 30 — laughs when he recalls how he started inching his way towards a political career about a half a century ago.
Then again, the man’s long been good with a laugh, both as a brittle jokester in public and someone open to laughing along with the town he moved to from neighboring Shandaken 56 years ago.
“There were a group of us guys who all lived in town and would get together at the Boiceville Inn back when it was located where the Landmark is now, before John built the new place,” Leifeld recalled recently in his gruff but well-spoken way. “The constable back then, George, was in his seventies; he used to handle dog complaints too. So the bunch of us decided raise some hell and see if it weren’t time for the town board to up and retire old George and what do you know but they hired six or seven of us to take his place.”
Back then, Leifeld explained, town constables in places like Olive drove their own cars; they didn’t have uniforms.
“We were young and frisky,” he remembers. “The town board kept us on call and we were given peace officer status and things kind of evolved from there…”
He recalls most of his fellow constables, like most of the Town of Olive at the time, being Republicans. Yet Leifeld was good at voicing complaints — such as the fact that dispatching for constabulary services was by the councilmen’s wives — and he decided he might as well run for the town board himself.
“I joined Pete Tosi on the board as the lone Democrats and it just kind of went on from there,” he said. “Why I won I still don’t know…It was a different world back then.”
Leifeld was the dean of town supervisors in the area, though he’s not quite sure exactly how many years he served in that position. But all agree it was around 26 years, 13 two year terms.
Leifeld was born and raised in the old furniture-making community of Chichester, where his parents ran an inn — the Silver Creek Lodge. He got a job working for a major cigarette company, Liggett & Myers, and before long started noticing how much he liked this one old farmhouse he’d pass while cutting through West Shokan on his way down towards Ellenville and the Delaware River Valley.
He talked about it with his wife, Ann, and then stopped in at the house, originally built in 1809 (and since listed on the historic registry) and asked its owner to get in touch with him should he ever want to sell. Which he did soon after.
“We raised our son B.J. and my foster son there since he was three,” Leifeld said. “It’s been a good home.”