Democrat Photo by Dan Hust
RECOGNIZING HIS EFFORTS: SC Historical Society President Suzanne Cecil, left, presents county native Francis Currey with the societys History Maker Award Sunday night at the Rockland House.
County Historical Society
Honors Two Natives
By Dan Hust
ROSCOE August 22, 2000 The largest crowd ever assembled for such a function around 130 in all gathered at the Rockland House Sunday evening in Roscoe to once more celebrate two people who have preserved and enhanced the history of the area.
This time, Delbert Van Etten and Francis Currey were the ones chosen by the Sullivan County Historical Society for its annual History Maker and History Preserver awards.
When our [awards] committee this spring had its meeting, explained dinner chair and historical society board member Allan Dampman, the choice of Delbert Van Etten for the History Preserver Award was an obvious one.
And since it was the end of the century, we wanted to make our History Maker Award special . . . so we decided wed welcome back Francis Currey.
And so they did Sunday. To the applause of family, friends, local officials and veterans, Van Etten longtime Town and Village of Liberty historian and Currey a former Hurleyville resident who won medals for bravery in World War II accepted their awards gratefully, regaling listeners with tales of local shopkeepers, family members, and those involved with the historical society.
Van Etten who Liberty architect Bob Dadras called a humble, quiet, but determined man that evening was brief in his remarks, yet he caused laughter to ripple throughout the room when telling of the competition between the historical society and the Catskill Art Society when both first moved into the county museum in Hurleyville.
We kept running from room to room, trying to get as much [space] as we could before the art society did, he recalled. That was interesting . . .
What Van Etten didnt share was his accomplishments (which Dadras also commented upon: You sort of have to drag it out of him, he said good-naturedly), from serving in the U.S. Armys occupational forces in Germany shortly after World War II, to being president of the Sullivan County Historical Society, to using his influence as a local historian to put much of Liberty on the National Register of Historic Places. More recently, Van Etten played a key role in the creation of the Liberty Museum and Arts Center.
Everyone also credited Van Ettens wife, Rita, with helping preserve local history.
In an interview prior to the awards ceremony, both explained that their love of history has sent them on deep quests regarding their family tree, and they discovered that, when his family emigrated several hundred years ago from Holland, immigration officials put down Van Etten, meaning from Etten [Holland] rather than the original family name.
Currey, now a South Carolina resident, also had interesting tales to tell, as he is the only surviving Congressional Medal of Honor (WWII) recipient in New York State. Assigned to an infantry division in Europe during the war, he ended up destroying four German tanks and saving several soldiers lives in the famous Battle of the Bulge in Belgium. In addition to receiving the Medal of Honor, Currey won the Purple Heart, the Silver Star, the Bronze Star and Belgiums highest award, the Belgian Military Award of Leopold, Avec Palm.
In light of those efforts, Hasbro created a G.I. Joe action figurine in his name and image.
But Sunday night, Currey instead focused on a passion of his: fighting those who would dismiss the Holocaust as mere fiction or those who would say it was an appropriate way of dealing with undesirable ethnic groups.
Let me tell you, there was a Holocaust, he said with fire in his eyes. And dont ever let anyone tell you there wasnt.
Involved in freeing concentration camps, Currey took a bloodied whip used on Jewish prisoners. Eventually, through his and a friends efforts, that whip found its way to the Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C., where it now sits behind glass and a plaque that bears Curreys name.
Currey, like Harold Gold (who introduced him), agreed that future generations must be told about such horrors, not only to keep the memories of the deceased alive, but to instill a sense of morals and decency in the young.
What impressed me most about the generation before me was their honesty, said Currey. The following generation my generation unfortunately didnt have that.
Local vets, attending in honor of Currey, emphasized his concerns by taking a moment to remember those still missing in action or taken as prisoners of war.
In addition to Gold, Ferndale resident Maurice Gerry honored Currey, whom he first saw in a red convertible near Gerrys old home. Gerry remembered in particular Curreys medal-bedecked uniform and impressive bearing.
And I will always believe it was Francis Currey who gave me the courage to face the enemy, said Gerry of his time serving in the Korean War. Thank you for such wonderful memories, and welcome home.