Rolf’s Bench

Posted 5/31/23

BARRYVILLE, NY — For anyone who has rafted down its rapids, pulled a tenacious shad from its rocky bottom, or just gazed at its green-rimmed beauty from Barryville’s Bluff or the …

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Rolf’s Bench


BARRYVILLE, NY — For anyone who has rafted down its rapids, pulled a tenacious shad from its rocky bottom, or just gazed at its green-rimmed beauty from Barryville’s Bluff or the Hawk’s Nest, the Upper Delaware River exerts a powerful tug on the heart and mind.

For Rolf Beckhusen, one of the mid-20th century Boys of Barryville, even his eventual move to the far-left coast of the country never reduced his love for his hometown and his gray stucco riverfront house with its rickety shed and gorgeous acres just a few miles upriver from our hamlet.

He didn’t make the trek back from Bellingham, WA frequently but he was always checking in with his boyhood pals, seeking news of classmates, neighbors, and fellow Wiffleball enthusiasts. As he pursued his small city law practice, raised his children and perfected his softball and table tennis skills, his thoughts were never far from Barryville, Eldred Central School and his (mostly) idyllic young years in the best of Boomertimes. Rolf’s biggest joy? The Delaware River—his perfect backyard amenity.

Rolf left us in 2022—his big German-American heart couldn’t handle the challenges of several serious conditions—and he died in February at 77. His Barryville friends wanted to remember Rolf in a meaningful way and several of us decided to create a permanent memorial on the site of the Beckhusen family home. 

However, change is constant, and the home and land had been sold years ago after Rolf’s parents also trekked westward to live their last years near him in Washington. We quickly realized that the Kittatinny Campground now owned the site and that we’d have to reach out to the new owners, whose feet had barely touched the ground in Barryville, to see what they thought about our erecting a memorial bench on their property.

Brian Czarnecki, an executive with the parent company, was the first person we approached with our request. To our delight, Brian immediately was on board. By the second conversation, he had looked up Rolf’s obituary and commented on what a fine person he appeared to be. Brian and Rocco Baldassari, the local general manager, quickly determined where the site should be—precisely on the downriver edge of the footprint of the Beckhusen family home—and the wheels turned.

Rolf’s classmate, Bill Bosch, decided that Lackawaxen bluestone was the appropriate medium for the bench, and he and several friends gladly paid for it. The maintenance team at Kittatinny prepared the site and installed the bench and the memorial plaque for all to see and enjoy.

The celebration of Rolf’s life took place in Bellingham in June of 2022, and right after we gawked in amazement at the tables full of trophies his youth sports teams and adult softball teams had garnered over the years, we shared the first photos of the memorial bench with Rolf’s family and friends. On the weekend of May 19, Rolf’s daughter Lisa Aspessi and her husband James, both of whom are Bellingham police officers, made the pilgrimage to Barryville on behalf of her brothers Josh and Zac. They delighted in the bench, planted some perennials and rafted down Dad’s river past the former Beckhusen homestead.

Between a few tears, Lisa recounted, “James and I had a truly moving experience staying on the river. I can see now what led Dad to Deming, WA, where my brothers and I grew up on a river in a small town.” 

She expressed her thanks to the Kittatinny team for the gracious gift to the family. When a new business in town recognizes in a very personal way the history of the land and the people who came before, it’s a sign that the sense of community still endures.

Barryville is not the same place it was when Rolf and the Boys of Barryville sipped cherry Cokes in Eckhart’s Store, whistled at the movies on the Riviera Theater’s not-so-big screen, and read all the comics three times in Traver’s Barber Shop. It’s certainly been a long time since Rolf steered his Volkswagen bug around the local roads; many Barryvillagers probably don’t recognize the name.

For those who want to pay their respects to the boy who could only speak German when he entered Eldred’s elementary school, but who served in the U.S. Army, became a respected attorney in Washington and left behind three loving children and five grandchildren, his family invites you to send greetings and a few dollars to the Eldred Little League in memory of Rolf’s time as a volunteer coach.

He didn’t spend much time on the bench on any of his sports teams, but Rolf’s bluestone bench near his beloved Delaware beckons you to spend a few minutes and honor a fine Boy of Barryville.

Christopher Frey is a 1964 graduate of Eldred Central School, a 1968 graduate of St. John’s University, NY, a former Peace Corps volunteer and a retired real estate consultant living in Albany, NY and Longboat Key, FL.

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