Letters: Remembering Jay Wenk

What Can I Say

He lived in his own world, did things in his own way and accomplished things others could not. Woodstock and I, more than you know, will miss him. Jay, Rest in Peace.

Howard Harris

Remembering Jay

I first met Jay Wenk back in the eighties working for the long defunct Adam Schwartz Construction Company. At the time, Mr. Schwartz had two interesting projects going. A unique house up on Webster Road belonging to a foot doctor and the palacious Hunter Estate on the Hudson River in Saugerties. He was a skilled wood craftsman and an exceedingly pleasant man with the most infectious laugh a human being could ever produce. He was the center of many highly debating lunchtimes at work, arguing with much knowledge and conviction, where one gained a wealth of informed opinion, both good and bad. 

As the years rolled by and we all went different directions, I saw less and less of him, occasionally running into him here and there. It was always with a laugh and a smile with a little politics thrown in. Then I saw him a lot when I was invited to join Leslie Gerber’s Bizarre Movie Night club where we watched insane films collected by Mr. Gerber or gathered to watch Pay-Per-View Boxing Matches. His presence there was always a plus as he added his vast insight to either subject about film or pugilism. Truly wonderful and intuitive times shared with a most discerning pundit. I even called upon him to repair three large kitchen drawers that I could never keep together for they held heavy objects. Even though they were way below the kind of excellent finish work of which he was most expert at, he repaired them for me in a fashion that will ensure their sturdiness for years to come. I think of him whenever I open them.


Even though in the most recent times, Jay and I wandered in the same political ideology, we were always on different sides of a somewhat broken fence as we kind of agreed, but challenged the M.O. either chose to express ideas. I called him “self aggrandizing,” he called me “dishonorable.” But they were thoughts and beliefs better said then not. In any event, I was happy to know him, such as it became ,and will always cherish the times we did share in less pugnacious times. I always respected him. Rest In Peace, Jay, wherever you are…

Robert Fusco

On The Passing Of A True Progressive

My heartfelt condolences to all of Jay Wenk’s family, friends and colleagues on his passing. I’m sure he is in a better place, but he will be sorely missed. Jay stood for so much that is good — the earth, peace and justice. Hopefully we will keep his progressive spirit alive. God bless you Jay

Jill Fisher

Rest in Peace, Jay Wenk

Everyone dies. Plato offered “No one knows whether death is really the greatest blessing a man can have, but they fear it is the greatest curse, as if they knew well.”

It wasn’t a good week for Woodstock as we were saddened to hear of the passing of Jay Wenk. He was a good friend and a good man. I did not always agree in all of Jay’s ideas and actions. In fact, we were at two different ends of the political spectrum but we respected our ability to agree to disagree peacefully.

Jay was a very passionate man and he loved Woodstock. I had the pleasure to work with him on the “ad hoc” comprehensive plan committee and to assist him in the removal of the unground fuel storage tanks in Woodstock. He was vocal, dedicated and maintained a vision.

We have a breakfast group that meets at Maria’s Bazar weekly called ROMEO (Really Old Men Eating Out) and Jay was welcome member of our group. Unlike the “Geezers” the members of ROMEO do nothing other than break bread and talk about solving the problems of the world. Recently, when Jay could no longer drive to meet us, I picked him up and had a chance to have some longer conversations with him. He shared that he was not going to fight cancer this time and was resolved to accept death with the help of hospice care. It upset me but soon after, I realized that Jay recognized he had a full and rewarding life that he wanted to end with peace and dignity.

Jay made a mark on Woodstock and will be remembered. He definitely was an important part of my life and I will cherish his memory.

May you rest in peace our friend.

Jim Dougherty

Jay Wenk 

Like so many in our community, we mourn the passing of Jay Wenk. Jay truly was a Woodstock original — a veteran who worked for peace, a wry and thoughtful observer, and an uncompromising advocate who never shrank from controversy. He was also, importantly for Woodstock and the mission of the Conservancy, a fierce protector and advocate for the common good and the Public Trust. Woodstocker Cambiz Khosravi summed it up this way, “It would be a mistake to separate Jay’s passion for social, political and economic fairness and justice from his passion for environmental justice, protection and land conservation. They were of all a piece for Jay — the same red thread and principles ran through and underlay all of them.” Jay epitomized the adage, “Think global, act local.”

For WLC accepting and implementing the Comeau Easement, approved by voter referendum protecting in perpetuity the diverse uses, natural resources and ecosystem of this Woodstock jewel, was greatly aided by Jay’s vocal and steadfast advocacy for the Easement over its multi-year process. Later as Town Board liaison to the Comeau Stewardship Advisory Committee, he performed these duties with his trademark vision and humor.

Jay also (sometimes single-handedly) led the long initiative to remove every aging fuel oil tank buried in the “Bearsville Flats” neigbhorhood — removing a significant threat to the town’s wellheads and protecting the Bearsville aquifer, the source of our municipal drinking water supply. In 2014, the community supported the Town Board’s united opposition to the Niagara Bottling Company’s attempt to purchase and privatize drinking water from City of Kingston’s water supply drawn from Woodstock’s Cooper Lake. At age 87, and in inimitable Wenk fashion, Jay stated matter of factly, “…and if all else fails, I’m no stranger to civil disobedience” — and every person at the Town Board meeting that evening knew he meant every word.

Jay was a superb cyclist. He wrote a tour guide to local cycling routes, and advocated for safe local roads for people riding bikes. Jay biked from coast to coast and was a Masters level champion in the NYS Empire Games in multiple years. In keeping with the French alpine tradition of ringing a cowbell to cheer on Tour de France cyclists, he always kept one in his car, and when passing cyclists making their way up Meads Mountain Road on his drive home, Jay would roll down the window and ring out the cowbell, calling out “Allez! Allez!” WLC Chairman Kevin Smith will attest that there was no better sound for a rider to hear in the midst of a challenging climb. Our entire board and staff join Woodstock in saluting the extraordinary Jay Wenk. May the cowbells ring for him: Allez, Jay! Allez!

Kevin Smith, Chairman
Patty Goodwin, President
Maxanne Resnick,
Executive Director
Woodstock Land Conservancy

There is one comment

  1. Peter Kricker

    It’s mid-summer, and towards the end of the day the shadows get sharp and the sunlight harsh, and it can be difficult to distinguish shapes. This evening, around seven, as I drove around town on Old Wagon Rd. and Tannery Brook to avoid the gravel gamut, I came up behind three pedestrians, walking abreast with their backs to traffic and their minds, no doubt, on their conversation. They didn’t see me (they had no fear of tigers and thus no eyes on the backs of their heads), and in the dappled sunshine and shadow I very nearly didn’t see them, but I’ve lived here a really long time and had much experience with the people of summer so there was not even quite a near thing. But still… Five minutes later, coming up the Bearsville Flats, on the way to a really lovely walk around Cooper Lake I came upon two cyclists. I noticed them a long way off and slowed to pull around them as I passed, which was fortunate because just as I got to them they stuck their arms out and veered across the road, having, as far as I could tell, not noticed that there was a car overtaking them. Again, they were in mixed light and shade, and the sun was shining directly into my windshield. But we were all lucky and they rode off up Yerry Hill Rd. with nary a thought for what might have become of their day had I been a little older and blinder, or texting, or otherwise distracted. Not all your Spandex nor your Snell approved helmets will do much for a direct hit from a car.
    I write this with little hope that the people who should read it will. They’re not from around here and probably don’t read the local paper or the Woodstock facebook page, but perhaps it will remind some of us who do to be a little more careful. Remember, if you hit someone you’re going to ruin your day as well as theirs.

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