AN ARCHITECTURAL rendition of the Kauneonga Lake triangle.
Name of Kauneonga Lake Park Starts an Argument in Bethel
By Dan Hust
KAUNEONGA LAKE Bethel’s proposed 2.4 percent tax increase merited a tiny amount of questions at Thursday’s town board meeting, and the unanimous denial of White Lake Estates’ bid to be exempted from the townwide moratorium couldn’t move the crowd to cheer or boo.
But when Bethel resident and Sullivan County VFW Council Commander Keith Rumsey broached the idea of adding a plaque to the triangle in Kauneonga Lake, angry words began to fly mostly by Rumsey himself.
Rumsey, speaking as a Bethel resident and Gulf War veteran rather than as VFW commander, explained to the audience that a number of veterans in the Town of Bethel wanted to name the triangle the Town of Bethel Veterans Park.
The area used to be known as the Bethel Veterans Memorial Park and had contained a list of many residents who served their country.
Indeed, this past Veterans Day, it was the focus of ceremonies in the township.
However, a decade ago, the triangle was named Arthur Vassmer Park in honor of the Kauneonga Lake resident and storekeeper who became famous as “Mr. Woodstock” during the 1969 rock festival of the same name.
“This is no disrespect to the plaque that’s there for Mr. Vassmer,” said Supervisor Harold Russell, adding that it would remain and simply be joined by another plaque reading “Town of Bethel Veterans Park.”
But Councilman and new Supervisor-elect Dan Sturm voiced a concern that the letter Rumsey wrote about the issue was only signed by himself, misperceiving Rumsey not to be a veteran.
As it became evident that Sturm had apparently not fully read the letter, Rumsey angrily criticized Sturm, muttering to his seatmates that the councilman was a “schmuck.”
However, Vassmer’s daughter, Councilwoman-elect Vicky Vassmer-Simpson, added that she felt her family had not been properly informed.
“My mother was not notified, and she’s his wife,” Vassmer-Simpson explained with a tinge of bitterness in her voice.
“You were notified,” replied Rumsey, charging that Vassmer-Simpson was told so that she could inform her mother.
In response to her assertion that the local VFW post’s commander had not been informed (who happens to be Vassmer-Simpson’s uncle), Rumsey angrily stated that veterans including but beyond the VFW post were aware and in favor of the naming.
“This request is on behalf of all the veterans in the Town of Bethel,” he said.
Evidently, bitterness has been brewing beneath the surface ever since the Vassmer Park designation 10 years ago, which Rumsey characterized in an online blog as “stealing” from the veterans.
While Vassmer-Simpson did not register at the meeting any opposition to the plaque itself, some in the audience took her comments as a sign of no support.
“That should have always remained the Bethel Veterans Memorial Park,” commented veteran Jay Meddaugh to the board. “For some reason, someone decided to name it after Arthur Vassmer, but he was never a veteran.”
Rumsey told the board that if they wouldn’t allow the naming, veterans would request another park space in the township to be named such.
That turned out not to be necessary. The entire board, including Sturm, voted to allow the plaque, which will be donated and installed by Ramsay’s.
“Thank you very much, gentlemen,” said Rumsey.