Democrat Photo by Dan Hust
SULLIVAN COUNTYS NEWEST winners of the county Historical Societys History Preserver Award are, front row from the left, Winnie Barner, Grace Bowers, Judy Magie, Bernice Masten and John Masten; and back row from the left, Barbara Viele, Charlotte Osterhout, Sharon Thorpe, June Koester and Bill Burns all known as the Archives Gang.
Society Bestows Awards
By Dan Hust
MONTICELLO September 14, 2004 In the beginning, hosting the Woodstock Music Festival was just a business decision for struggling Bethel farmer Max Yasgur.
It was so rainy that summer, we couldnt get the crops in, recalled Maxs son, Sam.
And so the rain, and the resulting mud, that made the August 1969 rock concerts immortal also ensured that Bethel not Wallkill or the hamlet of Woodstock in Ulster County would forever be linked to peace, love and music.
Max welcomed rental fees for the event, seeing this purportedly small festival as a way of supporting his wife and two children not to mention a large farm with other workers.
But by the end of the following week, thats not what it was to him anymore, said the younger Yasgur.
Indeed, Max son of Sam and Bella Yasgur of Maplewood ended up fighting for the rights of people with whom he shared little in common, including matters of opinion. Yet he championed the hippies right to assemble, speak and perform on any topic pertinent to them.
He was a conservative Republican farmer who fought like hell for these kids to have the right to express what they felt and believed, said Sam. He fought for them, and they knew it.
In so doing, the name of Max Yasgur became synonymous with Woodstock, with peace, with tolerance even appearing only semi-tongue-in-cheek on bumper stickers nationwide: Max Yasgur for President.
The man with a heart of gold, however, had a heart full of problems, and in 1973 at the age of 53, Max succumbed to a heart attack more than 20 years after his first.
But 30 more years down the road, Max Yasgurs name is still inextricably tied to Woodstock, and in honor of such a man, the Sullivan County Historical Society posthumously awarded him its History Maker Award during the societys annual dinner Sunday at Mr. Willys in Monticello.
Maxs son Sam and Sams wife Eve were on hand to receive the award and to convey the gratitude of Maxs wife, Miriam, who now resides in Florida.
Sams presence also proved to be a chance to gain unprecedented insight into his fathers life, as the junior Yasgur now Sullivan Countys attorney admitted he declines interview requests, preferring to let stand peoples memories and myths about Max.
Even if the Internet does call Max a pig farmer instead of a hugely successful dairy farmer, Sam doesnt mind. About the only thing that gets to him is people who try to recreate and profit from Woodstock using Maxs name.
Thats not what he was about, explained Sam to a crowd of about 100.
By way of explanation, Sam recalled that Max was offered money to use his name in promoting the 1970 film Woodstock but chose instead to take a percentage of the profits and donate them to drug rehabilitation programs.
And in perhaps his most impactful role, Max became an emissary between members of the hippie subculture and their parents, shuttling letters back and forth and in many cases, helping reunite families.
Thats a side of Woodstock most of you dont know, Sam acknowledged.
But Sam remembered, as well, a man whose influence extended far beyond Woodstock, a man who treated his hundreds of head of cattle and eventual 1,500 acres as a precious gift, a man who loved family, friends and life itself.
He may have had one of the finest intellects and IQs I ever ran into, said Sam.
Yasgurs farm once boasted one of the smallest and most efficient milk plants in the state, he explained, and locals countywide looked forward to milk bottled on a farm where the cows ate feed grown on that same farm.
It was a farm so well-kept that the workmen wore white coveralls (which immediately indicted them and their work habits should a stain show up), and never would you find a stray bale of hay left in a field.
Max was fond of supporting the Boy Scouts and 4-H, among other organizations in the county.
However, he also had no tolerance for pomposity, said Sam, recalling a black-tie event where the haughtiness of the crowd was bothersome enough that he amusedly stage-whispered to a compatriot, Only the two farmers own their own tuxedos everyone else is renting.
Concluding on an emotional note, Sam remembered the 1963 fire that claimed Maxs main barn. After saving the 127 cows inside, Sam visited his father in a Monticello hospital, the day before he was supposed to start law school in Chicago.
Sam had postponed his plans, but Max insisted he go right away, threatening to sell the farm if Sam did not.
I built it [the farm] for you, Sam recalled his father saying, but that wasnt your dream, that was mine.
I had the opportunity to live out my dream, now youre going to have the opportunity to live out yours.
He meant it . . . that a parent shouldnt be a burden on a child, said a tearful Sam. I kind of cried halfway to Chicago, but I knew Id really been blessed.
Meet the Archives Gang
Max Yasgur, however, wasnt the only one Sunday evening to be honored by the historical society.
In fact, this group is so integral to the operation of the society and its museum in Hurleyville that theyve got a name: the Archives Gang.
The success of our archives is dependent on a group of people Im very proud to be associated with, remarked Bill Burns, himself a member of the so-monikered group. The achievements and progress weve made in the archives is due to their help.
Our society is blessed with a core of unpaid volunteers who have served for many, many years, agreed Society President Bernie Cohen. They are professional in every sense of the word when it comes to the operation of our museum. . . . Tonight, their work will be acknowledged.
Indeed, that work was acknowledged via the prestigious History Preserver Award.
So who are these incredible people?
John and Bernice Masten John vastly improved record-keeping and the societys use of electronics through creating a Web site and email addresses, while his wife Bernice aids researchers, especially in her role as the local expert on Native Americans.
Judy Magie Judy is Burns righthand man and is responsible for maintaining the records database, in addition to collecting old postcards and local resort info.
Grace Bowers With a background in education and computers, shes often paired with Judy in keeping the database on track and up to date.
Winnie Barner A longtime supporter of the society, Winnie maintains and updates the file-card and cross-reference indexes.
June Koester She sews, she repairs textiles, she sorts papers, she does anything and everything needed by the society to maintain its commitment to local history preservation.
Sharon Thorpe What June sews, Sharon stores, or displays, or catalogues, taking great care of the societys large period clothing collection.
Barbara Viele With a memory that encompasses all of northern Sullivan County and beyond, Barbara is a dedicated genealogist, focusing especially on death records and their proper recording.
Charlotte Osterhout Another dedicated genealogist, Charlotte knows much of the countys family histories and applies that knowledge to the societys efforts.
Bill Burns Hes the curator and archivist for the society, thus fulfilling a critical role in the Archives Gang, but he also has helped create a reading room and overseen the computerization of much of the societys records.