The Record-Review – The official newspaper of Bedford and Pound Ridge, New York

 

Bedford Hills historian Jaap Ketting dies

SCOTT MULLIN PHOTO

Jaap Ketting signs a copy of his book, “A Brief History of Bedford Hills,” Mr. Ketting died on Monday at 95.

 
By JOHN ROCHE & R.J. MARX

A man who chronicled the history of his community, the hamlet of Bedford Hills, died on Monday. Mr. Ketting, a resident of Bedford since 1947, was the president emeritus of the Bedford Hills Historical Museum, which he conceived of and helped found in November 2004. He was the author of “A Brief History of Bedford Hills” and “Roosevelt Drive,” loving historical tributes to the community. He was 95, nine days short of his 96th birthday.

“Jaap Ketting was Mr. Bedford Hills,” said Stanley Telega, the museum’s current president. “His gentle determination created the Bedford Hills Historical Museum.”

Supervisor Lee Roberts praised Mr. Ketting’s vast contributions to the hamlet of Bedford Hills and to the town, particularly for his leadership in the formation of the Bedford Hills Historical Museum.

“Jaap Ketting’s death is a great loss for Bedford,” Ms. Roberts said. “Jaap was a pillar of the Bedford Hills community and a driving force behind the creation of the Bedford Hills Historical Museum. His long history of service to this community will always be remembered and appreciated. Our hearts go out to the Ketting family at this sad time.”

Elin Sullivan, past president of the Bedford Hills Historical Museum, said Mr. Ketting’s knowledge and appreciation of the hamlet were unmatched. “Jaap Ketting was a quiet and gentle hero of the Bedford Hills community,” Ms. Sullivan said. “A defining member of ‘the greatest generation,’ he contributed so much to both his native and adopted countries throughout his 96 years. His life experiences led him to understand the importance of documenting our past, and he is to be forever appreciated for his recognition of the unique personality and history of Bedford Hills.”

A decorated hero

Jaap Ketting was born in the Netherlands in 1916. He completed his studies in 1937; then, after a year of conscripted military service, he went to the Netherlands East Indies in 1938, where he was employed by a large pharmaceutical concern in Batavia and Semarang. As a sport flier, he was drafted by the Netherlands East Indies Air Force when the war against Japan began. He was stationed at a secret airbase on Borneo one week before Pearl Harbor. He flew many missions in a Glen Martin B-13 bomber trying to stop the Japanese fleet. Mr. Ketting was wounded by a Japanese fighter plane during the first phase of World War II.

He managed to escape from Java the night before the Japanese occupation, taking off from a street that served as a secret emergency airstrip. He was sent to the Royal Military Flying School in Jackson, Miss., where he was trained as a B-25 pilot. He was one of the first group of graduates who returned to Australia in 1943 and stationed at an airbase near Darwin, joining the 18th Dutch Squadron. He earned several decorations, including the Bronze Cross with clusters, the distinguished Flying Cross, as well as the Dutch equivalent of the Purple Heart.

In December 1946 he arrived in New York as a purchasing agent, with offices in Katonah supervising the resupply of medical equipment and medicines for Indonesia.

Later, he cofounded the Consolidated Midland Corporation in Katonah with Dr. Jan Maas, which later moved to Brewster. He became owner of the company in 1964, retiring in 1984. He was a former member of the Chemist Club and the Netherlands Club, and past president of the Bedford Hills Lions Club.

Chronicler of local history

Jaap Ketting’s son, also named Jaap, said his father developed a natural interest in history at a young age, which increased with age. In the Netherlands, he and his brother, who ended up dying young, started tracing their family’s roots back to the 1500s. “My father was fascinated with learning, and that just sort of clicked with history,” the younger Mr. Ketting said from his home in Princeton, N.J. “He appreciated European and Dutch history, but when he came to America, his interest turned to this country’s past. When he retired, he traveled throughout the United States, often to places with historical significance, like Gettysburg.”

Mr. Ketting moved to an apartment above the Bedford Playhouse 65 years ago, and eventually moved to Bedford Hills three years later when he purchased a home with his wife on Roosevelt Drive.

“My father really loved Bedford and Bedford Hills in particular,” his son said this week. “One of the things that was so special about his love of history was his desire to instill a passion for the past in others. Seeing the museum for Bedford Hills created and then getting a permanent home for it was a dream come true for my father. He never missed a chance to remind people that the old things they had stored away up in their attic could be bits of history and should never be just thrown out.”

In an interview in 1999, Mr. Ketting said the ideas for the books came from a discussion he had had several years back at a dinner party. The conversation revolved around the Katonah book, “Katonah: The History of a New York Village and Its People,” by Frances Duncombe. During the course of the evening Mr. Ketting began to think a Bedford Hills history book would be a good idea.

Soon after that night he put the idea in motion by visiting the Bedford Historical Society.

“I tiptoed into the historical department,” Mr. Ketting said. “I was a little shy. I was afraid they were going to tell me to go back to the field to pick tulips. But then they started helping me out. That fed my interest.”

“It became an obsession,” he said at the time of the book’s release. Mr. Ketting found enough material to fill 192 pages. He also uncovered 200 color photos and maps to accompany the many anecdotes.

“A Brief History of Bedford Hills” was published in 1999 after two years of work, and inspired his dream of a museum. “I found there were all kinds of items in people’s garages that would be of historical interest,” Mr. Ketting said at the time. And there was no place open to the public.”

Mr. Ketting said he was disappointed to learn during his research for his book that so much data was missing, destroyed and/or forgotten, particularly material from the turn of the century. During this labor of love he realized the need for a central location for historical data to be housed and made accessible for future generations.

“We needed to properly preserve the old photos in special archival framing, and that was very time consuming,” said Mr. Ketting at the time. “We wanted to save the photos for the next generation and the generation after, so I wanted to have it all professionally framed.”

The search for the new museum location started out with Mr. Ketting’s hope that an entire building could exhibit and properly store artifacts found around town. “I had the very high vision of something like the Katonah Art Museum,” he said. “But that would take a million dollars. What we have now is modest, but it’s something that Bedford Hills needs.”

The museum received a boost when it received an anonymous donation of $25,000 in 2000.

The museum’s opening was attended by residents, dignitaries and volunteers. “Jaap Ketting has been the driving force behind this museum,” said Thomas Dietz, a trustee of the museum, at the time. “He’s put together a small army of volunteers to make it all happen.”

Gracing the walls in the well-lit ground floor of the Bedford Town House on Route 117 were more than 100 framed images, including old photographs, paintings and yellowed newspaper clippings.

“I wanted to have something in Bedford Hills,” Mr. Ketting said in 1999. “Katonah has Caramoor and they have the John Jay Homestead. Bedford Village has their historical district and old school. And Bedford Hills is always running behind. And if we are going to have a museum, we should have it in Bedford Hills.”

For his 93rd birthday, Mr. Ketting was honored by the historical museum and a slew of elected officials who recognized his efforts to promote a love of history. In fact, June 3, 2010, was proclaimed “Jaap Ketting Day” in the state of New York, his son pointed out.

“He appreciated the fact that we’re all products of the past, and he tried to foster an interest in history, whether it was in someone’s family, on their street, in their town, their country or where their ancestors came from,” his son said. 

Mr. Ketting is survived by his wife, Connie van Rossen, whom he married in 1950; his son, Jaap, and his wife, Regina; two grandchildren, Juliana and Conrad; and a sister, Cornelia, in Rotterdam, the Netherlands.

On Saturday, April 28, at 10 a.m., a memorial service will be held at Clarke Associates Funeral Home.

There will be a reception following Mr. Ketting’s service at the Bedford Hills Historical Museum, located on the first floor of the Town House, 325 Bedford Road, that will be open to the public.


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APRIL 20, 2012