By Dan Hust
ROCK HILL September 19, 2006 Authors spanning three different centuries were honored Sunday evening by the Sullivan County Historical Society.
Bernie’s in Rock Hill hosted the society’s annual meeting and achievement awards presentation, and they needed every inch of the large banquet hall.
More than 150 people made it a point to be there, and while “History of Sullivan County” author James Eldridge Quinlan received due attention, it was Fallsburg native Andrew Neiderman who drew the crowd.
Quinlan, after all, was never known by anyone alive today, having died in 1874 a year after publishing what is still considered Sullivan County’s most thorough history book.
Neiderman, on the other hand, cannot lay claim to writing county history, but his books have been read by millions throughout America and 94 other countries, both under his name and that of V.C. Andrews.
And with some made into films like 1997’s “The Devil’s Advocate” with Al Pacino and Keanu Reeves Neiderman’s name has become associated worldwide with well-written (albeit often shocking and disturbing) thrillers.
Sunday, he also related non-fiction tales of meeting celebrities, taking over the late V.C. Andrews’ franchise in 1987 and his latest works producing a film version of his novel “Rain” (starring Faye Dunaway and Robert Loggia) and his newest book, “Finding Satan” (concerning scientists’ attempts to investigate a literal cloud of evil growing over Maine).
But it was evident he never forgot his former home.
“The Catskills is always with me,” he shared with a smile, adding that he’s kept his Fallsburg Comets sweatshirt, some 35 years old by now.
And he remains in the hearts and minds of many a county resident.
“Andy was a fun-loving, mischievous kid,” recalled Jack Leshner of Monticello, who taught Neiderman when he was a student at Fallsburg Central School. “The kids just loved him!”
Perhaps that’s because he was always the jokester, but Leshner said he soon saw a more literary, sensitive side to Neiderman.
“That really amazed me, because I thought he was just the class clown,” Leshner said.
Neiderman went on to become a leader in school, heading to SUNY Albany afterwards, earning a master’s degree in English and even publishing an underground newspaper that took on Albany’s corrupt mayor.
That passion, said Leshner, only intensified when Neiderman returned to his high school alma mater to become an English teacher now under Leshner’s watch.
“As a colleague, Andy was not only respected, he was a leader,” he said, referencing Neiderman’s stints as president of both the Fallsburg and the county’s teachers’ associations.
And the students continued to love him, he added.
“They called him ‘Captain English.’”
Not that he just taught English. During his quarter-century at Fallsburg High, he also taught drama and coached the wrestling team, among other pursuits.
The students, said Leshner, “knew he was not just interested in their schoolwork he was interested in them.
“And that’s what makes a great teacher.”
Neiderman, though, felt the call to write full-time, and one day he and his family packed their things and headed to California. Eighty-six novels and twenty-some years later, he still resides with wife Diane (nee Wilson, formerly of Fallsburg herself) in Temecula, California and is the proud father of two and grandfather of three.
And all of the above is why the Historical Society was proud to name him its 2006 History Maker.
Neiderman accepted with a nod to history as well, leading the crowd in Fallsburg CS’ cheer, heard at many a sports game and pep rally:
“We’re from Fallsburg, and we couldn’t be prouder. If you didn’t hear us, we’ll say it a little louder!”
Less well-known internationally but certainly as high-profile on a local level, James Eldridge Quinlan was posthumously given the 2006 History Preserver Award for his 1873 county history and for his service as county historian and chronicler of an era long since gone.
“It has . . . become the virtual Bible of our past, the most indispensable of all books dealing with the history of Sullivan County, and to date the only comprehensive history of the county,” remarked Sullivan County Historian John Conway. “Many others over the years have attempted to duplicate or improve on his writing; none have succeeded.”
Born in 1818 (possibly to an itinerant Methodist minister, but no records remain to confirm such), Quinlan grew up to become the editor of the Republican Watchman newspaper in Monticello, which for many years was considered the top local paper of note.
Quinlan was also a charter Monticello Mason and a farmer of 103 acres. He had a son, Edward (a physician), and served as the clerk of the county’s Board of Supervisors from 1849-1851.
He also authored an 1851 account of the adventures of Tom Quick, a controversially famous slayer of Native Americans who still has relatives in Sullivan County.
Conway used another author, Philip H. Smith, to conclude his description of Quinlan, using Smith’s preface to “Legends of the Shawangunks”:
“Mr. Quinlan possessed within himself the rare combination of indefatigable research and a pure and forceful diction that claimed the attention of the reader, and his efforts are justly regarded as a standard authority on the subjects of which he has treated,” wrote Smith.
In the absence of the man himself, Sullivan County Historical Society Treasurer Allan Dampman accepted the History Preserver Award on Quinlan’s behalf.
Also recognized that evening were two recently deceased members and dedicated supporters of the society: Bernice Masten, who contributed many exhibits and much time to the museum in Hurleyville, and Harold Lindsay, a board member and 30-year Town of Mamakating historian.
Residents of the Wurtsboro area, both of them passed away this year and were fondly and gratefully recalled by the members.
For more information or to conduct research or tour the museum, contact the Historical Society at 434-8044 or visit www.sullivancounty history.org.