It would be an understatement to say that my great-grandmother Agnes Van Put is a well-known individual in the fly-fishing world. As a 35-year employee of the Catskill Fly Fishing Center and Museum (CFFC&M) and active member of the Sullivan County community, she has rightfully earned her title as the “famous” Agnes Van Put.
Every year, the fly fishing center honors four esteemed individuals for their devotion and involvement within the fly-fishing community. In 2014, the CFFC&M implemented Catskill Legends to recognize those who have contributed their knowledge and skills to recognize, teach, and incite interest in the history of the Catskills. This award honors those who continue to protect and promote the Catskills as a desired fishing destination, with conservancy being of utmost importance. This year, at 102, Agnes will be honored as a Catskill Legend.
When asked how she felt about receiving the honor, and why she was chosen, her response was humble. “I feel very honored. I guess I was chosen because I’ve been there so long, and so many people know me… and,” she added with a chuckle, “also my personality.” However, those that know Agnes would all agree that she is receiving the Catskill Legend Award because of her hard work, dedication and passion for serving her community over the last three-and-a-half decades.
Agnes was born in Prospect Park, NJ on August 15, 1916. Her family struggled financially when her father fell ill. She started working when she was 15, earning eight cents an hour at Garfinkle & Ritter Inc., making women’s slips and other intimates. Her hours were 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. five days a week and a half-day on Saturdays. After a full-week’s work, she brought home about eight dollars.
Agnes met her husband three years later and, at 18 years old, she married and had two sons, Ed and Russell. They moved to Hoboken, NJ in 1937 where she continued to work, supporting her family. At this time, it wasn’t as common for women with a family to be working, but that did not stop Agnes. She has worked all throughout her life, and even if she’s almost 103, she doesn’t plan on stopping anytime soon. Her integrity and work ethic have never faltered, and because of this, she found the job that made her a legend in the Catskills.
In the 1970s, Agnes and Emil moved to the Catskills to be closer to their son, Ed Van Put, when he took a job as a DEC (Department of Environmental Conservation) officer. They fell in love with the area immediately and settled in the hamlet of Livingston Manor. They converted an old barn into a quaint, little home, which Agnes still lives in today. Emil was also attracted to the area because of its history with fly fishing, and although Agnes would join him, she preferred to read, knit or tie flies while he was out on the river.
The Catskill Fly Fishing Center first became a concept in the kitchen of Elsie and Harry Darbee, where fly fishermen came to chat about their sport. Elsie had a dream to open a museum that would honor and preserve the tradition of fly fishing and the men and women that dedicated their lives to the craft.
In 1979 a group of supporters, along with Elsie, met at the Sullivan County Bank in Roscoe to elect officers and a board of directors. She became the first president of The Catskill Museum of Fly Fishing, as it was originally named. Although it was incorporated in 1981, the present location was not established until a year later. The community pitched in, and with hard work and dedication, they were able to turn a 35-acre farm into the esteemed facility that sits along the Willowemoc Creek today.
Agnes began her career at the fly-fishing center in 1984. In that same year, then President Jimmy Carter, a serious fly-fisherman himself, came to visit the area and helped kick off the crucial capital campaign that ultimately helped to build the museum (www.bit.ly/TRRflyfish), which then inspired the local community to get involved. Agnes also remembers how in 1986 President Carter financially supported the construction of the steel bridge, connecting the property to the main road. Agnes recalls him as gregarious, an avid fly fisherman and a supporter of nurturing the growth of trout fishing in the Catskills.
Agnes’s domain in the fly-fishing center is in the gift shop, where she shines. Her commitment and hospitality have warmed the hearts of countless fly fishers and visitors alike. She makes a lasting connection with everyone she meets and provides them with a wealth of knowledge about anything and everything regarding trout fishing. She has one of the most important jobs on opening day of trout season: providing her classic homemade soups to all the avid fly fishers who stop in at the center before their first cast of the season. She is a member of the Livingston Manor Senior Citizens Club, an honorary member of the Women’s Fly Fishing Club and has been awarded several merits and certificates for her involvement through the years. She received the first ever T.O.A.S.T. award given by the Sullivan County Visitors Association to honor her contribution to the community and her ability to make visitors feel at home.
When asked how she will be celebrating this newest honor, she said, “I’m celebrating by inviting my entire family to the dinner on April 13. There is going to be 25 of us, so we will be taking up a lot of tables.”
Since moving to the Catskills, Agnes has continued to devote her life to fly-fishing and working within her community to educate and instill knowledge of the rich history of the Catskills as the birthplace of American fly fishing. She is, in every sense of the word, a legend.