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Archives Ralph Bennett wins Bishop Wadhams award

Sept. 13, 2023

Bishop Terry R. LaValley presented the Bishop Edgar P. Wadhams Award for Distinguished Service to Ralph Bennett.

Bennett received the Award at Wadhams Hall on September 7, 2023.

In bestowing the award, Bishop LaValley noted both the quality and the length of his service to the Church. Bishop LaValley stated, “Ralph Bennett has been a positive and steady presence at Camp Guggenheim since 1982. He worked diligently to keep the camp in tip-top shape for the young people attending summer camp. More than his skills as a carpenter, plumber, electrician, painter, landscaper, and woodsman, his kindness, humor and good example helped our young people grow in their faith and experience the love of God. I cannot express how special Ralph’s service has been.”

Prior to serving as the director-caretaker of the Guggenheim Center, Ralph was a vocational shop teacher at Saranac Lake Middle School. Ralph is retiring after 41 years of joy-filled service.

“We wish Ralph the very best as he retires and begins a new chapter in his life,” said Bishop LaValley. “He will be missed.”

The Bishop Wadhams’ Award presented to Bennett reads as follows:
Ralph Bennett has served as Director - Caretaker of the Guggenheim Center on Lower Saranac Lake since June I, 1982. A man of many talents and skills, Ralph felt privileged to maintain the Guggenheim Center, which is primarily used as a summer camp for the young people of our diocese. Ralph’s generous service made it possible for thousands of young people of our diocese to come together and share the ideals and beauty of the Catholic faith. The impact of his service will be felt for decades to come.

In recognition of his outstanding service to the Diocese of Ogdensburg, this award is bestowed as a sign of our deep gratitude and respect. In witness whereof, I have signed this award and placed upon it the seal of the Diocese of Ogdensburg this 7th day of September, 2023.

The Bishop Wadhams’ Award was instituted by Bishop Paul Loverde, the eleventh Bishop of Ogdensburg, in 1996, to recognize exceptional service to the Diocese of Ogdensburg by people of the North Country. Recipients of the Award include Father Richard Siepka, Monsignor Lawrence M. Deno, Mrs. Mary Lou Kilian, Monsignor Robert Giroux, Dr. Gerald Irwin, Sister Kathryn Healy, Dr. A. B. DeGrandpre, Clyde A. Lewis, Sr., Mr. & Mrs. Thomas Sanders, Sr. Donna Franklin, D.C., Mr. & Mrs. Henry Doningos, Miss Sally Rusaw, Mrs. Elaine Cook, Mr. Irving Papineau, Mrs. Noreen Barcomb, Mr. Glenn Burdo, Ms. Starr Burke, Mr. & Mrs. David Cline, Mrs. Ruth Demarse, Mr. Joseph Denoncourt, Mrs. Patricia Fassett, Mr. Pat Fontana, Sr., Deacon and Mrs. Gary Frank, Mrs. Connie Hatch-Young, Mr. & Mrs. Jeremiah Hayes, Mr. & Mrs. Gerald LaValley, Dr. and Mrs. Victor Ludwig, Ms. Leslie Marvel, Mr. & Mrs. Angelo Pietropaoli, Mrs. Elsie Scruggs, Mrs. Mary Catherine Spillman, Mrs. Donna Steenberg, Mr. Daniel Sweeney, Sr. Mary Christine Taylor, SSJ, Mr. Michael Tooley, Ms. Michelle Watkins, Mrs. Linda Young, Mr. Michael Bresnahan, Jr., Mr. James Brady, Mrs. Jane Boyea, Mr. Bruce Bombard, and Celine Paquette.

A 41-year career at camp

By Darcy Fargo

It started as summer work around his full-time teaching job.

“There was a deacon in Saranac Lake who was also a schoolteacher, and he knew I did carpentry work in the summertime. He wanted to know if I wanted to take a look at Camp Guggenheim and maybe do some work there. We drove around. I interviewed with (diocesan staff), and they chose me.”

That’s how Ralph Bennett became director/caretaker at Camp Guggenheim. Forty-one years later, he’s retiring from the position.

“I did the job for a summer, and I assumed I’d have to figure out what to do next summer,” he said. “I assumed they were ready to let me go. They never did. I had a job every summer. It wasn’t like me to go back to the same job every year.”

Bennett continued working at the diocesan camp for another few decades after retiring from his full-time job teaching shop in Saranac Lake Central School District.

“I’ve basically been working since I was 13,” he said. “I didn’t like sitting around.”

Over the years, the position grew to include time outside the camp season, including processing bills in the off-season, and work both before and after the camp season.

“This time of year, it’s a lot of cutting dead trees for firewood, splitting it up and putting it in the woodshed so it’ll be nice and dry by summer,” Bennett said. “And we’ll winterize the place when we’re done for the year and then reverse that before the start of the season next year. It takes a month or longer to get everything ready and running to get it open.”

While he enjoys the life and laughter he experiences at camp, it’s the quiet moments he’s enjoyed most.

“There have been times in the spring when it’s been quiet enough that I could hear the partridges beating their wings,” he said. “Most people don’t get to hear them, but I hear them when I’m working.”

While he plans to continue spending a couple months every winter in Florida and a couple weeks visiting his son in Utah, said he looks forward to spending his retirement home with his wife, Liz.

“I’m a home body,” Bennett said.

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