Cheers to Our Founders!
As this year marks the 35th anniversary of the Wallkill Valley Land Trust (WVLT), we are gratefully recognizing the organization’s founding members. They are a group of dedicated community members who came together with a passionate desire to protect open space in Ulster County. Although they might not have known it at the time, their founding of the WVLT would lead to remarkable projects and extraordinary efforts to preserve open space, trails and farms — a legacy that will last for generations to come.
Preservation of open space, trails and farms are just as important to our community now as it was in 1987, which is why our current motto, “Protecting Nature for Life,” is so relevant. As we look ahead to the next 35 years, let’s thank our eleven founding members for their vision and immense contribution.
Wallkill Valley Land Trust Founding Members:
(Flora) Jean Bartlett founded D&J Bartlett Appraisers along with her husband, David, which was located in Bronxville New York. They provided fine art appraisal services to corporations such as ITT, IBM, Helmsley-Spear and PepsiCo, as well as insurance companies, galleries, auction houses and collectors such as The C. Vanderbilt Whitney, Mrs. Nelson Rockefeller, George Gould and others. During their 56-year marriage, Jean and David were also involved in historic societies and historic preservation. When they lived in New Paltz, they restored their 1778 Federal Farmhouse which is included in the National Registry of Historic Homes. They were both active in the Huguenot Historical Society, and other historical societies and museums. Jean passed away on December 14, 2002 in her hometown of Kingwood, Texas. She had three daughters, Jeanette Kelley, Alice Mahoney and Holly McCreary and five grandchildren, Jan Bartlett McCreary, Pierce James McCreary, Dylan Patrick Bartlett Kelly, Josephine Jordan Mahoney and Virginia Lockwood Mahoney.
Kitty Vermilye Brown
Kristin (Kitty) Brown co-founded the Wallkill Valley Land Trust with Jay LeFevre. Concerned by the rapid loss of farmland to subdivisions, she attended a conference at Bear Mountain to learn about a new (to her) system of land protection called “Land Trusts.” Inspired by the presentation, she asked Jay Lefevre to help recruit members to create a Board of Directors and the WVLT was founded in 1987. Soon after, Assemblyman Maurice Hinchey appointed her to the NYS Greenway Conservancy, where she continues to serve.
Kitty has worked on many environmental, cultural and social issues. She was Information Director of Child Find, testifying before the US Senate for passage of the Missing Children’s Act. Kitty worked at Unison Arts Center for 18 years, helping to bring local and international artists and musicians to New Paltz. She was elected to the New Paltz Town Board in 2001 and served for three terms. She voted to adopt the Climate Smart Community Pledge, to pass a Wetlands Law and to establish The Historic Preservation Commission, preserving historic sites such as the Arbuckle Farm on Libertyville Road. After inspiring the creation of the Land Trust, Kitty was its second president from 1992 – 1996.
Frances F. Dunwell is the Hudson River Estuary Coordinator at the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation, where she oversees the implementation of the Hudson River Estuary Action Agenda, a program to conserve the Hudson River Watershed. Her work, based at the DEC Regional Office in New Paltz, has been instrumental in strengthening the DEC’s management of tidal habitats and coastal fisheries, and expanding public access to conserved land along the Hudson River, such as the Denning Point State Park and Kowawese Preserve. Fran also serves as the DEC representative to Hudson Valley Greenway and the Hudson River Valley National Heritage Area.
Fran’s career in environmental conservation started in 1975, when she joined the staff of the Dutchess County Environmental Management Council and, soon after, became the Executive Director of the Center for the Hudson River Valley. After that, she served as Associate Director of Scenic Hudson, supervising a project to protect historic sites in the Hudson Highlands. She is the author of the award-winning book, The Hudson River Highlands, published in 1991, and expanded in April, 2008, and re-released as The Hudson: America’s River. Fran’s passion for environmental conservation led to her participation as a WVLT Founder. She is married to Wes Natzle and is the devoted mother of Davis and Lia.
Katherine (“Kate”) Hudson
Katherine (“Kate”) Hudson, a WVLT founder, has devoted her career to protecting the environment. In the mid-1980s after law school, Kate moved to New Paltz to raise a family, and to rock climb, hike and bike in the Shawangunk Ridge. Her concern for the environmental was stoked in Ulster County. She started her environmental career in the New Paltz Regional Attorney’s office of the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation.
In 1999, Kate left the DEC and was appointed Assistant Attorney General for the Environmental Protection Bureau. As a member of the Bureau’s Hudson River Team, she was responsible for preparing natural resource damage claims against General Electric, for its contamination of the Hudson River with PCBs. In 2007, Kate rejoined the NYS DEC.
Kate joined Riverkeeper in 2011 as NYC Watershed Program Director, where, among other projects, she headed Riverkeeper’s efforts to build a partnership with anti-fracking advocacy groups across New York State which resulted in the NYS Departments of Health and Environmental Conservation recommendation not to allow high volume hydraulic fracturing in New York.
In 2016, Kate moved to Colorado, where her children live. In Colorado, she has embarked on another chapter of her career, with Waterkeeper Alliance, where she serves as Western U.S. Advocacy Coordinator.
John K. Jacobs
John Jacobs was born in 1918 at on Huguenot Street in New Paltz. He was the youngest child of Ned Jacobs of Delhi and Bertha Deyo of Gardiner. Bertha’s father was Andrew Deyo, the “Apple King” and Ned’s father was Ferris Jacobs, a Civil War general and Congressman. They had a farm in Highland, and Bertha taught English at Highland High School.
John attended Antioch College. During WWII he was in the Army Air Corps, stationed on Guadalcanal. After the war he lived in Greenwich Village, writing for the Voice of America. He married Katia Altschuller and they moved to Washington when John became editor of AMERIKA, a State Department magazine. They had four children — John, Nell, Lucia, and Kate. From 1970-76 John was the State Department Cultural Affairs Officer in Vienna, Austria.
Retiring to the farm on South Street in Highland, John served on the Town of Lloyd Planning Board, was a founder of the Phillies Bridge Farm, protected the Pine Hole bog through the Nature Conservancy, wrote a column for The Huguenot Herald, and wrote a book about his brother Edward, titled The Stranger in the Attic. The book includes a vivid story of life on the Highland farm during the Depression. It’s available at Elting Library and Inquiring Minds bookshop.
John Jacobs died January 15, 2015, respected and loved as a good citizen and a good man. His wife Katia died April 21, 2017.
Robert Eltinge Lasher
Like many generations of Huguenot ancestors, Robert Lasher grew up in New Paltz. After working as a journalist for the Wall Street Journal, he was unable to serve in the military during World War II, so he joined the Office of War Information, where he met his future wife, Marjorie Howard.
In 1950, he joined the Voice of America as a war correspondent in Korea, which led to his career in the US Information Agency. Many years of service in South East Asia won him several awards, including a Special Commendation from President Johnson for his “integrity, prudence and ability.”
Bob retired from the Foreign Service in 1970 to his home in New Paltz, which had been in his Eltinge Family since it was built in 1742. A public-spirited citizen, known for his balanced judgment, Bob quickly volunteered for many good community causes. He became Chairman of the New Paltz Town Planning Board and co-authored its Master Plan; trustee and board member of the Ulster County Historical Society; Elting Library volunteer and Vice-President of the Bevier-Eltinge Family Assn.
However, it was Bob’s long involvement with the Wallkill Valley Land Trust, as a founding board member and director until he died in 2006, which was closest to his heart. Using his diplomatic skills, he persuaded those who opposed the Wallkill Valley Rail Trail project purchased by the land trust in 1991. Bob’s wisdom and long historical view, his deep roots in and love for New Paltz and the Wallkill Valley gave him a strong sense of responsibility to preserve its natural beauty and rural quality of life.
Jay LeFevre was charismatic, warm and witty. He was a successful, well-respected businessman, who ran the family business, A.P. LeFevre & Son Lumber and Hardware in New Paltz, after attending the University of Pennsylvania. He was a stalwart of the community.
Proud of his Huguenot heritage, Jay was involved as Trustee Emeritus of the Huguenot Historical Society, and was a member of the Holland Society. Jay grew up in a house that is now the SUNY New Paltz Admissions and Alumni Center, before moving to Gardiner. Jay was involved in the community, elected to the New Paltz School Board in 1962 and sat on Boards of Rondout Savings Bank and Kingston Hospital.
Jay served as the first President of the Wallkill Valley Land Trust. During Jay’s tenure, the organization took shape and secured the purchase of the Wallkill Valley Rail Trail from Conrail in New Paltz and Gardiner which was completed in 1991.
In his spare time, Jay was an avid fly fisherman. He loved to sing and witty poems that he sometimes read aloud at parties. He loved animals, including his llama. Jay was married to Barbara Miner, and devoted to his daughters and their husbands, Leslie LeFevre-Stratton (Richard “Pye” Stratton), Amy LeFevre (Bob Rockerman) and Nanette LeFevre-Clark (Jim Clark), his grandson Jasper LeFevre Clark and his friend Carol LeFevre. Jay passed away in 2014.
Jim Ottaway, Jr.
Jim was a founding director of the Wallkill Valley Land Trust and an active board member, treasurer and major donor for 32 years. Jim and his wife Mary, a painter and photographer, have given conservation easements to the land trust protecting 15 acres along the Plattekill Creek Gorge behind their home in New Paltz; and 65 acres of farmland at Phillies Bridge Farm in Gardiner. Jim was active in the purchase by the Land Trust of the Wallkill Valley Rail Trail in 1990.
Jim was born into a newspaper family in Endicott, NY, becoming a cub news reporter at 16, and eventually President of Ottaway Newspapers Inc. when Dow Jones & Company purchased the family company in 1970, and helped it grow to 21 daily newspapers across the United States.
A soft spoken modest man with a delightful sense of humor, one would not guess that Jim was a Director and Senior Vice President of Dow Jones, publisher of the Wall Street Journal for 17 years, retiring to New Paltz in 2003. In 2007, Jim was widely quoted as the leading public opponent of the purchase of Dow Jones by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp in late 2007. A journalist at the New York Times once said that “Jim breathes different air than you and me. He’s a very noble fellow.”
The Wallkill Valley Land Trust has been and remains Jim’s primary local non-profit activity. Now as an Board Member Emeritus, he says, “It has kept me close to this beautiful place in which we live and connected to good friends who really care about protecting our unique landscape.”
William B. Rhoads
Architectural historian William B. Rhoads is Professor Emeritus of Art History at SUNY New Paltz, where he taught from 1970 to 2005. Born in Harrisburg, PA, and educated at Princeton University, his interest in local architecture and the surrounding landscapes blossomed when he moved to New Paltz. He is the author of Kingston, New York: The Architectural History and Guide, commissioned by the Friends of Historic Kingston (Black Dome, 2003), and Ulster County, New York: The Architectural History and Guide, 1660-1950 (Black Dome, 2011). He has served on the boards of the Wallkill Valley Land Trust, Ulster County Historical Society, and Friends of Historic Kingston.
Inspired by the example of his parents who protected woodland in Lancaster County, PA, Bill Rhoads was drawn to land preservation by his love of nature and his desire to limit development of woods and fields around New Paltz. His wife late wife Sally, who passed in 2020 was equally enthusiastic about supporting land preservation, and have extended this passion to their daughters Anne and Sarah.
Johanna Hecht Sokolov
Johanna got involved in the founding of the Wallkill Valley Land Trust when Carol LeFevre asked her to a meeting at Mohonk Preserve to create a land trust in Ulster County. Kitty Vermilye Brown called the meeting and got help from Seward Weber, executive director of Mohonk Preserve. It was quickly decided that the Wallkill Valley, Rondout Esopus and Woodstock were such different land areas that they each needed their own land trust.
Johanna was asked by Kitty to help create the Wallkill Valley Land Trust based in New Paltz. She believed that land conservation was essential to preserve our rural landscape and open spaces to avoid the crowded suburbs of Brooklyn and Long Island of her youth. Johanna and her husband Ray Sokolov bought a second home in Gardiner in 1981, when she was Curator of European Sculpture and Decorative Arts at the Metropolitan Museum. She fully retired in 2010, saying, “I always wanted to live in the country, have my own garden and be part of a small community.”
Several projects of the Land Trust which Johanna helped to successful completion were acquisition of the 12-mile Rail Trail; the Two Farms Campaign to preserve 172 acres of the Jewett Farm and Huguenot Street Farm on the edge of New Paltz Village; and restoration of the Rosendale Trestle as part of extension of the Rail Trail another 12 miles to Kingston. Johanna is rightly proud of her creation of the popular WVLT House Tour in 2011 which she advocated “in the face of some internal opposition.” The House Tour ran for 9 years with in-person tours, and celebrated a tenth tour virtually hosted by Historic Huguenot Street in 2021.
Seward Weber’s time in New Paltz left a resounding impact as “a life well-lived.” A native of New Haven, Connecticut, he spent his personal and professional life improving our created and natural environments with a sparkle in his eye and a smile on his face.
Seward enlisted in the Army and returned to graduate from Dartmouth College. Soon after, he earned a Master’s Degree in city and regional planning from the University of North Carolina. His passion for the natural environment brought him to Vermont where he became the first director of the Vermont Natural Resources Council, and later, moved with his wife Susan to New Paltz to become Mohonk Preserve’s Executive Director in 1984.
Seward led the initial meeting at Mohonk, along with other founding members, on founding a local land trust. He was on the board not only of WVLT but also of our neighboring Rondout-Esopus Land Conservancy formed in 1989.
Seward retired from Mohonk Preserve in 1993 and, with his wife Susan, moved home to “Folly Farm,” their 225-acre Calais homestead in Vermont, which they later placed into permanent conservation. His retirement years were anything but relaxing, as he worked on the farm, traveled, and served on the boards of many organizations, including the Vermont Land Trust, Audubon Vermont, the Vermont Alliance of Conservation Voters, and the Vermont Natural Resources Council. Seward Weber died in 2007.