Mac Jewett lives with her husband Dave in Arizona these days. Two of their three daughters and a much-loved grandson live nearby. The only Jewett family members remaining in the Hudson Valley are daughter Heidi and her spouse, Pat, who are taking care of the Jewett farmhouse and land while they seek a buyer for the property.
Originally Hasbrouck land traceable to the original Huguenot patentees, the farm has been in the Jewett family since 1919, and is the subject of Mac Jewett’s recent self-published book, The Jewett Family Farm.
In a recent telephone interview from Arizona, Mac, 94, was charming. A self-described “people person,” it’s easy to understand how she has been able to develop quite a network of friends and acquaintances since moving West.
She thinks of her life as having been divided into thirds, she says. The first third was growing up as Mary Jane McCall in Milford, Michigan, a small town outside of Detroit that she still remembers fondly. To this day, she notes, if she sees a car with Michigan plates, “I’m right over there asking them what part they’re from.”
As a little girl, Mary Jane loved to play “librarian” with her friends. Advocating for herself at age seven to get her own library card was a natural progression of that passion for books. She grew up to earn degrees in education, doing her undergraduate studies at Michigan State University and getting a master’s degree from the University of Michigan.
The state university was where Mary Jane became “Mac,” as she’s been known now for nearly 75 years. “If anybody called me Mary Jane today,” she says, “I’d have to look around and see who they were talking to!” One of six kids, she grew up with sisters named Fran, Jan and Ann, and always wished that she, too, had a one-syllable name. But having named her for a much-loved aunt, her mother was always insistent that Mary Jane be called by the full two-name moniker.
When her sorority sisters at Michigan State christened her “Mac” because of her Scottish surname — adamant that since they all had nicknames, she needed one, too — she was delighted. “I said ‘fine,’ and I thought, ‘How wonderful! I finally have a one-syllable name!’”
Mac’s 25-year career in education began by teaching at elementary schools in Birmingham, East Lansing and Ann Arbor, Michigan. When a colleague who had taken a position at SUNY-New Paltz invited her to join the staff there, she was pleased to do so after finding New Paltz to be a congenial town while on a visit there. Those were the days that the campus included a facility known as the Campus School (or the van den Berg Learning Center) for educating local children, and Mac worked with kids as well as graduate students. Her last five years on campus were as director of the Child Study Center for children with learning disabilities. Mac also took part in a number of educational workshops around the country and in Ireland.
That second third of her life, lived in New Paltz, brought her marriage to Dave Jewett, a young man with long ties to the local community. His parents had purchased their family farm in New Paltz in 1919, where they established the Meadow Valley Stock Farm and Creamery, a wholesale and retail dairy business.
Dave’s eye as a young man was caught not only by the young schoolteacher newly moved to town from Michigan, but by the snappy ’49 Ford convertible that her boyfriend drove. Dave would say hello to her when he came to the campus to deliver milk from the family farm, but that was pretty much the extent of it until one day he called her for a date. “We hit it off right away,” she says.
Getting involved with Dave meant choosing to either stick to her original plan and accept a job she’d been offered elsewhere in educational publishing, or take back her resignation to SUNY-New Paltz. With strong encouragement from her mother, who’d been very impressed with Dave, the latter choice won out.
Marriage to Dave brought a move to the Jewett family farm. After their daughters were born — first Jennifer and then twins Cindy and Heidi — Mac left teaching for a time and gave up tenure to be at home with the girls until they went to school. She then returned to the college until surgery in the cervical area of her spine paralyzed her right vocal cord in 1981. Unable to lecture or even speak above a whisper — she eventually regained her voice with help from a speech therapist — Mac retired as an associate professor.
Mac’s book, The Jewett Family Farm, came about in recent years after Dave’s brother Warren passed away in 2007. Living the third portion of her life in retirement in Arizona, Mac thought about the Elting Memorial Library’s storehouse of historical information, the Haviland-Heidgerd Historical Collection. She and Dave, on visits back to New Paltz, did a lot of research at the library and came up with material that along with the family photographs and recollections now forms the basis of her book.
Mac touches upon the original Huguenot ownership of the Jewett land and traces the histories of the family she married into. The photos and her stories will bring back memories for many longtime New Paltz residents, like those about the Jewett family’s JD’s Dairy Stand on North Chestnut Street, where soft-serve ice cream was such a draw that residents came out after a blizzard just to enjoy some (and later started a “public outcry” when they temporarily stopped producing it).
Dave’s brother, Warren Jewett, who worked as a custodian for Duzine Elementary School from 1966 to 1993, is profiled as “a highly valued friend to both staff and children,” something reinforced by one local resident who says she remembers him from her years as a student there as “a lovely, soft-spoken man.” Mac writes of how Warren took the job with the school district because it was close enough to home that he could check on the farm’s herd of cattle when he had free time. The book includes a moving memorial to Warren written at his passing by close friend Larry Godfried, who quoted another friend who summed up Warren as “a gentleman Yankee farmer.”
It was also Warren, writes Mac, who arranged at the end of his life to deed the rights to the 100-acre Jewett farm to the Wallkill Valley Land Trust and the Open Space Institute. Mac’s daughter, Heidi, cared for her uncle and was instrumental, Mac says, “in working out the many details in this wish of Warren’s to preserve the open land in perpetuity.”
With the easement on the Jewett land (and the adjoining 80 acres), the property is permanently protected from development, allowing the last two remaining farms in the historic district to remain intact, along with the scenic view from Huguenot Street out toward the Shawangunk Ridge.
While the Jewett property is currently on the market, any buyer will have to respect the non-development requirement, which is proving to be a difficult hurdle for the various buyers who have expressed interest, says Mac. Until such time as a suitable buyer arrives on the scene, Heidi and Pat will continue to take care of the land. Dave and Mac live happily retired in Sun Lakes, Arizona.
The Jewett Family Farm is available on Amazon.com and will soon be on the shelves at Inquiring Mind Bookstore in downtown New Paltz.