My Obit, by Jay Wenk

Jay Wenk passed away quietly at home on May 29, 2018, surrounded by his family, listening to Mozart. In his quest to die as he lived, on his own terms, he wrote his own obituary, which is presented here.

Well now, I face the entrance to the exit. Life began when I was around two, when I became unhappily aware, while in a playpen, of the high, dark furniture surrounding me. As a three year old in 1929, sitting on the back seat of the family car, I saw carpenters installing rafters on a house. A brief time later, that became our home, where I watched the milkman, with his horse and cart, deliver the clinking bottles as the horse proceeded to the next stop on his own. When it snowed, often in Boston, same horse, same milkman, but the cart was now a heavily built sleigh with runners.

Around age ten I became besotted with aviation and the Boy Scouts. My gang and I built model airplanes and flew them and the Boy Scouts gave me the opportunity go overnight camping, out of the city. Ahh, those were the days, feeling grownup while still adolescent.


WW2 came along, all the boys my age were eager to get in and eventually I did, but so many didn’t come back. I’ve written a book about the war, Study War No More. Being in the right place at the right time, I got to see the looks on the faces of the German generals of the 11th SS Panzer Division and their troops when they surrendered to us, in a large open field in Czechoslovakia. My squad and I went past them, but without grinning; there were hundreds of armed German SS there. That memory is a treasure. I’ve always wanted to be first with something, so I’m pleased that one of my poems about Veterans, “Thank You For Your Service,” was given first place in a National poetry contest last year.

I studied Musical Composition at Juilliard, lived in the Village, worked at Café Rienzi, met Irene and married. We had two beautiful daughters, Sarah and Emily, and Sarah brought forth Conor, who is a wonderful, creative person, as is his partner, Megan. Our young family eventually moved to San Francisco where, in 1962, Larry Ferlinghetti issued a call for Vets to form a new organization, Veterans For Peace, and I’m honored to have been a member ever since. We continue to work for peace, even though we have often been arrested for our work. 

I’d studied psychotherapy at the Adler Institute in New York and opened a free Emotional Health center in Woodstock called “the Place,” and I was constantly scrabbling for money to keep it open. It became an essential part of Family. During that same period, I was also working as a cabinet maker, built a studio up here on Mead Mountain, enjoying the opportunity to design and build all sort of useful stuff: furniture, kitchens, my own home, and life in general, parties, friends, and dirty jokes. 

Becoming a Councilman on the Woodstock Town Board, winning four elections, is a happy achievement. That insecure young boy transformed into a voice for our town. 

On my way out, I’m secure in knowing that nothing, literally, waits for me. Can you imagine being greeted someplace by uncountable family, all wanting to shake my hand at the same time? Can you imagine thinking, ”Do I have to live with them again?” I wish there were a Hell like the place described by Bernard Shaw in his ‘Don Juan in Hell’; It sounds lively and worthwhile.

There’s so much more, especially about wonderful friends, but Ars Longa, Pages Breva. Have good days, and be a Lefty.

There will be a pot luck celebration of Jay’s life at the Woodstock Community Center on Saturday June 16 from 12-6. Everyone is invited to come and say nice things about Jay – he would expect nothing less.

There are 2 comments

  1. Beki Brindle-Scala

    I didn’t know you well but saw you nearly everyday for years when I lived in Woodstock. I read your letters to the editor and knew you enough to say, “Hello!” and ask, “How are you?” You always had a nice smile for me and I for you. You were a big part of what made Woodstock a very cool place. Not a rock star, not a pop trend, you were the real deal. Thanks for all the Hellos and smiles through the years Jay, and for all you did without asking for thanks. May You Rest In Peace.

    Your Friend,
    Beki Brindle-Scala

  2. Denise Maltese

    I’m so sorry to read of Jay’s passing. Jay visited my eighth grade classroom at Onteora Middle School back in 2011, to share his experiences as a soldier in World War II. He was warm, funny, and approachable, and the students learned a lot from him. Below is a letter that I came across while looking through some files on my desktop here at Onteora.

    May 31, 2011

    Dear Jay,

    What a remarkable perspective you shared with our community. I wonder if the kindnesses that came your way- receiving the deed to the land, for example, shaped your understanding of war and helped you make better sense of it. It seems that we need both in life – unimaginable tragedy and extraordinary goodness- to create wholeness. Or perhaps even small amounts of these are what add up to decency and thoughtfulness when we grow up.

    My favorite part of your story was when you told us about your encounter with Therese Neumann. It wasn’t just the unusualness of the experience, but your attitude about it today. You said some folks might call it a miracle; others might say it was an act of God. Your response was, “It is.” To see it as a simple fact, to avoid explanation, is to accept. The same could be said about war, but you encouraged questions- not to accept the inevitable. So maybe it’s the good that doesn’t need to be questioned, but the harmful that is always to be challenged.

    How can we help others learn to act from a place of decency as you did?

    I hope you enjoy reading the letters from my students. You’ll see that you made a little ripple in their thinking, a small change. Thanks for bringing yourself here to them- there are so many other things you could probably have been doing, but you came here to touch their lives a bit. I really appreciate that, and I know that they did too.


    Denise Maltese

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