Whenever I see the title for this publication, Main Street Magazine, I think not just of the small businesses on “Main Street,” but of the sidewalks that connect the businesses and are a wonderful place to see familiar faces, be recognized by friends, and meet new acquaintances.
There are many people walking among us that, as “ordinary, regular” people, have made significant contributions to making the Hudson Valley such a great place to live. Regular people, just doing their job, positively affecting our lives in the Hudson Valley. I’ve come across a number of those people at the New York State Bridge Authority (NYSBA) in my role as director of Historic Bridges of the Hudson Valley (HBHV), a not-for-profit created to educate on the bridges of the NYSBA. Some people were there years ago and have passed on, others are retired, and some are actually still there.
Richy Vacek and his ode to the Bear Mountain Bridge
Richy Vacek was that kind of person. Richy started working at the Bridge Authority at the age of 19, in 1974. The Bear Mountain Bridge soon became Richy’s bridge. He climbed and maintained its amazing, historic structure. Richy had great respect for the bridge and its history. He wanted to share his appreciation with others and as foreman, he organized a museum in the garage of the original administration building. Richy collected artifacts, newspaper articles, and a multitude of construction photos and photos of the Bear Mountain Bridge through the years, that he displayed in cases and in inviting ways to encourage interest. Engineering students from West Point, Manhattan College, and SUNY Orange came regularly to the bridge and to visit Richy’s museum.
When I was writing my first book Images of America: Hudson River Bridges, Richy invited me to visit his museum. The first available time to visit was during a snowstorm. I could tell how excited Richy was to share the information on the Bear Mountain Bridge, so I took that trip over Storm King in the storm and it was definitely worth it. Through Richy my appreciation for the Bear Mountain and the other bridges of the Bridge Authority grew. He knew the history of the bridges, but more important, Richy knew the Bear Mountain Bridge. He knew every inch of the structure from the top of the towers to the bottom of the piers. Richy knew the bridge because he had spent a great deal of his life on the bridge performing regular maintenance and, because he was on the bridge most days, Richy noticed the small issues before they became big problems. Richy, and that practice of regular, informal inspection exemplifies the Bridge Authority mantra of Maintenance Deferred is Maintenance Denied.
When Richy retired from the Bridge Authority as Historic Bridges of the Hudson Valley was being formed, it was a given that Richy would become a Board member. Richy’s museum seeded the HBHV museum and classroom space at the Bear Mountain Bridge. He continued to give his time, then retired, to help HBHV educate on the Bridge Authority bridges, joining class visits to tour the bridge and the museum, humbly answering questions of students, although we all knew Richy’s knowledge of the Bear Mountain Bridge was more extensive than an engineer’s.
One of the good guys
When Richy was diagnosed with an aggressive cancer, he resigned from the HBHV Board to fight it. Although he fought hard, we lost Richy in October 2021. He is dearly missed by all. Richy was one of the good guys. He was such a really nice, generous, down-to-earth guy. He had a wealth of knowledge about the Bear Mountain Bridge and the Hudson Highlands, and he loved to share it. We were all better off for knowing Richy.
In December 2021, the HBHV Board voted unanimously to rename the Bear Mountain Bridge Museum and classroom space, the Richy Vacek Bear Mountain Bridge Museum. We will make that a reality this summer. The New York State Bridge Authority Commissioners have authorized the naming of the space in honor of Richy. Our hope is to share Richy with all of you; to recognize how one person can have a profound effect on our lives.
As you read this and go about your day, be sure to recognize and thank the Richys that are in your life. We all have them; hopefully some of us can be that kind of person, if we truly make the effort to be kind, generous, caring, and fun.