Democrat File Photo
SHIRLEY AND FRED Stabbert celebrate Christmas at their Callicoon home in December 2007.
Fred Stabbert Jr. passes away at 81
By Dan Hust
CALLICOON The Sullivan County community lost a titan of journalism and politics yesterday, while his family bid a tearful farewell to a beloved husband, father, grandfather and great-grandfather.
Catskill-Delaware Publications co-owner Fred Stabbert Jr. passed away Monday morning at the age of 81.
He was literally born into the newspaper business, arriving on May 9, 1928 in his parents Fred and Nellie Stabbert’s bedroom now the newsroom on the second floor of the Sullivan County Democrat’s office in Callicoon.
Growing up watching his family churn out what was a weekly newspaper at the time, Fred Jr. as he was commonly known ultimately became a printer himself, even running an Army printing press in Virginia while serving during the Korean War.
He honed the art of handling hot lead while operating the Washington Post’s linotypes in the 1950s, then rejoined the family business when his father passed away in 1963.
As owner and publisher, Fred Jr. grabbed a front row seat to local history, even taking his entire family to witness the Woodstock Festival when it arrived in Bethel 40 years ago.
During the next 30 years, he became known for his volunteerism as much as his journalism, joining the local Masonic and Kiwanis chapters, volunteering with the Callicoon Fire Department, and serving as chairman of the board of United National Bank.
But perhaps he was best known for his political service, spending more than a dozen years in the 1970s and ’80s as chair of the Sullivan County Democratic Committee. His proudest moment came when he served as one of 43 electors in New York State during the 1976 presidential election, which the Democratic candidate, Jimmy Carter, won.
Meanwhile, Fred Jr. parlayed the family business into a thriving enterprise, overseeing three dramatic changes: the switch from onsite printing to offset presses, the increase in publication from weekly to twice-weekly, and the transition from hot lead to computer-set type.
He also raised a family with his wife Shirley, which included four daughters and one son.
After three decades at the helm of the Democrat, Fred Jr. retired as publisher emeritus in January 1994, naming his son, Fred Stabbert III, to succeed him.
But he didn’t disappear by any means. He could still be caught opening the mail most every morning and stopping by each department to say hello.
“He was a very, very good businessman,” Fred III recalled. “His ability to embrace change always held him in good stead.”
But most who knew him agree that it was Fred Jr.’s unyielding fairness that set him apart.
“Even with all of his political activity, he always remained firm in his belief that both sides of the aisle had merit,” Fred III said. “To him, the person was much more important than the political party.”
No one understood that better than Rodney Gaebel, the Republican commissioner of the Sullivan County Board of Elections and a lifelong GOPer.
“He was a standup guy,” Gaebel recalled yesterday. “He always told you what he was thinking, and I always appreciated that.”
The Youngsville native had known Fred Jr. for about 20 years when he was asked to join him on a big-game hunt out west. It was the start of a close friendship that would last for two decades (and result in an amazing variety of elk, deer and antelope heads mounted on the Democrat’s walls).
“Except for my wife and kids,” said Gaebel with a laugh, “he was probably the best travelling partner there was!”
Ironically, the two rarely discussed politics, and when they did, they often found themselves on the same side of the fence.
“He always seemed to have things in perspective,” Gaebel said. “The closest we ever came to a disagreement would be a couple of days before a presidential election.”
But Fred Jr. was a passionate Democrat, and he would work hard to identify and involve the best people for the party.
“Whatever the reason, he plucked me out of the pack and gave me some stature,” recalled a grateful Bob Krutman, who served 15 years as vice chairman of the county Democratic Committee, most of that time under Fred Jr. “He told me he wanted somebody he could trust.”
Krutman became a key figure in the party, ultimately rising to the chairmanship himself for 14 years. But he never forgot his mentor.
“He had an unusually good intuition.… And Fred had a presence,” he said. “He was the leader of the party.”
Fred Jr.’s devoted service to the party held him in good stead far beyond Sullivan County, as well.
“He was quite well-respected throughout the State of New York by all the county [party] chairmen,” said George Cooke, whose father, the Honorable Lawrence H. Cooke, was greatly aided in his state office aspirations by Fred Jr.
“He was also very fair,” Cooke remarked, remembering several times when the lifelong Democrat would not put up a Democratic candidate if he thought the Republican one was best for the job.
“He was a fair man, and he was a friend,” Cooke reiterated. “He will be sorely missed.”
“Fred was a friend, a father figure, a business advisor and a golfing partner,” said Bill Sipos of Mr. Willy’s in Monticello. “We had such a relationship that I always felt I was an extended member of the Stabbert family and I always told them that. Fred left his mark on this county and will be dearly missed.
“My heart and prayers go out to [wife] Shirley and [son] Fred and the entire family. There will be a big void in our lives.”