Distinguished professor Dr. Gerald Benjamin was honored with a ceremony commemorating his remarkable career at SUNY New Paltz.
On Wednesday, Sept. 30, the Center for Research, Regional Education and Outreach (CRREO) was officially renamed the Benjamin Center. The event was promoted to celebrate Benjamin’s numerous political and academic achievements.
Founded in 2007, the Benjamin Center’s website states that its mission is to “bring key regional concerns to the attention of citizens and policymakers to support their informed discussion of the public policy problems facing the Hudson Valley.” The Benjamin Center is a virtual center, meaning it has no physical building, but has been at the focal point of Hudson Valley research in recent years.
In addition to being the director of the Benjamin Center, Benjamin has been a professor at New Paltz since 1968, earning the designation of a distinguished professor from SUNY in 2002. Benjamin also served as a member of the Ulster County Legislature from 1982 to 1993, serving as chairman during his final two years.
Several prominent leaders from the Hudson Valley and around the state were in attendance for the ceremony. Such leaders included SUNY New Paltz President Donald Christian, Assemblymember Kevin A. Cahill, SUNY Chancellor Nancy L. Zimpher along with assemblymen Frank Skartudos and Andrew Raia.
“Jerry is among the foremost scholars on New York State politics and government,” Christian said. “He has made great contributions to New Paltz and I’m honored to rename CRREO after him.”
Zimpher said that when she first heard the announcement about the renaming, she wrote herself a note to make sure she wouldn’t miss it.
“When I was hired in 2009, I made it my goal to learn as much as I could about New York,” Zimpher said. “I was quickly put in touch with Jerry, who gave me great insights to SUNY and state government. He has been a tireless servant to good public policy.”
Cahill recalled being a student at SUNY New Paltz in the 1970s, while Benjamin was teaching political science. Though he never had him for class, the two soon became friends while working alongside each other in the Ulster County Legislature. Benjamin was a Republican and Cahill was a Democrat, but their cooperative emphasis on good government allowed the two of them to both grow as politicians and people.
“Jerry is far more than a highly respected colleague, he’s also a dear friend,” Cahill said. “It is truly a privilege to have the opportunity to celebrate this day honoring his incredible achievements.”
When he spoke to the packed audience in the Multipurpose Room, Benjamin’s remarks were both light and retrospective. He thanked his friends and family for attending and supporting him. He also drew on past successes and his experiences being a staple in the New Paltz community.
“This college has been around for 187 years, and I’ve been here for about one-quarter of that time,” Benjamin said. “I’m bolder than I look.”
Benjamin said that his inspiration to create CRREO was to ensure a connection between the college and the region. He spoke highly of former Governor Nelson Rockefeller, his admiration for federalism and on his continuing civic goals to make both New Paltz and New York state better.
“I didn’t join politics to write journals,” Benjamin said. “I joined because I love politics.”
Benjamin said many had asked if this ceremony would be his opportunity to announce his retirement. Benjamin responded by quoting a Yankee legend.
“In the words of Yogi Berra, ‘it ain’t over ‘til it’s over,’” Benjamin said. “This isn’t the end of a career, it’s the pinnacle. It’s not the conclusion, it’s more of a transition.”
In remarks to the media, Benjamin was succinct. He again thanked all of those who showed up and detailed future plans for his namesake center, all while deflecting attention and promising not to boast about himself.
“Walking around in midair is not a way to live your life,” Benjamin said with a smile. “But now I’ve said entirely too much.”