1942 – 2009
A CELEBRATION of Dietrich’s life was held on Saturday afternoon, January 23, 2010, at the Rosendale Community Center.
Dietrich Werner, of Rosendale, died suddenly on Tuesday, December 15, 2009. He is survived by his wife, Gayle Grunwald, a son, Anton, and a daughter, Althea.
Dietrich was born in 1942 in Germany and, as a child, immigrated with his family to the United States, growing up in Greenville, NY. He served in the U.S. Navy, then earned his Associate’s degree from Ulster County Community College in 1968, and a Bachelor’s degree in History from SUNY New Paltz in 1971.
A noted historian and community activist, Dietrich made his living as a plumber and electrician for many years. In the 1970s, he worked with sculptor Hans Van de Bovenkamp, designing plumbing systems for water sculptures. From 1980-1995, he was the owner of Huguenot Plumbing & Electric of Rosendale, after which he retired to devote himself full-time to the preservation of the Snyder Estate and development of The Century House Historical Society.
The Society was formed in 1992 when the Huguenot Historical Society decided to sell the Rosendale estate of A.J. Snyder II, which had been bequeathed to the Huguenots in the 1970s. As the last cement tycoon of Rosendale and Huguenot descendant, Snyder hoped that his home and estate would be open to the public, but the 19th-century industrial nature of the site did not fit with the colonial character of Huguenot Street, and the estate was rarely accessible. Learning that this vital piece of Rosendale history was to be sold into private hands (perhaps becoming a bed & breakfast), Dietrich and Gayle decided to acquire the property, organize an all-volunteer non-profit organization, and develop the estate as an historic site. They applied successfully for a grant of $150,000 through the N.Y.S. Empire Bond Act. For the required $150,000 match, Gayle and Dietrich conducted a fund-raising campaign and contributed their own money so that the Society was able to acquire the homestead and its furnishings, archives, carriage houses, Snyder’s antique carriage collection, the Widow Jane Mine, a canal slip, and about 20 acres of land. Dietrich and Gayle then collaborated with the N.Y.S. Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation to prepare the Snyder Estate National Cement Historic District, resulting in federal and state approval for that official designation.
As Site Director of the property, and officer of the Century House Historical Society, Dietrich eventually raised more than $70,000 in additional funds for operations, arts programming, archives, and renovation of the historic structures. He became the heart and soul of the Society, devoting himself tirelessly to preserving and promoting the history of Rosendale and its contributions to the building of the nation, and guiding groups around the estate. No visitors to the property, from school groups to industrial archeologists could forget his enthusiasm or depth of knowledge about history. With the assistance of members and friends of the Society, visits rose from less than 100 in 1989 to 6,000 per year. Dietrich also shared his unique knowledge of the cement industry in the Rosendale region in a series of publications, including articles in Natural News (the Society’s quarterly publication), and in specialized publications for masonry preservation and testing materials.
Though the Historical Society was Dietrich’s major project, he was involved in many more activities in Rosendale and throughout the area. He served on the Rosendale Street Festival Committee from 1978-80 and in 1995 joined the Festival as co-chair of the Non-Profit Organizations Committee. Over the years, he was active in preservation workshops sponsored by the N.Y.S. Office of Parks, Recreation, and Historic Preservation, as well as the Ulster County Environmental Management Council, the Rosendale Chamber of Commerce, the Boy Scouts of America Explorer Post 42, the Ulster County Railroad Advisory Committee, and the DEC Regional Open Space Advisory Committee. He also served as editor of numerous publications in addition to Natural News, including Seaposter (bi-monthly from the Maritime Postmark Society), the Town of Rosendale Sesquicentennial Celebration program, the program for the First American Natural Cement Conference, and the Hudson Valley Poets Fest 2007, reflecting his diverse interests. Dietrich was particularly proud of his contributions to the development of a tri-state tourism destination along the Delaware and Hudson Canal Corridor, and the creation of the Karst Aquifer Protection Region for Rosendale. He also served as the Chair of the Ulster County Independence Party.
Most of all, Dietrich Werner was a central figure in the life of Rosendale. With his trademark long white hair and beard, his colorful suspenders and his zest for life, he was familiar to almost everyone in town. As was written of Sir Christopher Wren, “If you seek his monument, look around you.”
In addition to his wife and children, Dietrich Werner is survived by his mother, Marianne Doorly; his sister, Barbara Ullstrom, and his nieces and nephews: Wendy, Chris, and Suzy, all of Greene County.
In lieu of flowers, donations may be sent to The Century House Historical Society, The Snyder Estate, PO Box 150, Rosendale, NY 12472-0150.
The Society is a 501(c)(3) charitable organization. Donations are tax-deductible, as provided by law.
Click here for N.Y.S. Assembyman Kevin Cahill’s memories of Dietrich.
Click here to contribute to the CHHS’s Capital campaign.