Barbara Bennett at the pond at Fair Haven Fields natural area to be named in memory of her late husband, Dery Bennett. (Photo by Dustin Racioppi)
By DUSTIN RACIOPPI
It must have seemed right to someone, because the idea was floated: call the pond in the preserve area of Fair Haven Fields “Derickson Waples Bennett Pond.”
But to Barbara Bennett, the suggestion was a misguided attempt to pay tribute to her late husband, who passed away December 15 at 79 years old. Not only would it bother her, but it would likely leave visitors wondering, “Who the heck is Derickson Waples Bennett?”
“I said, ‘Oh no, that’s not it at all,'” Bennett said. Because nobody besides perhaps his mother and the tax man knew who Derickson Waples Bennett was. “Dery,” on the other hand, rings a bell with the locals and many tuned into the environmental scene, and often elicits a smile or a fond memory.
That’s why Barbara Bennett is happy with the simplicity of “Dery’s Pond,” which will be the new name of that spot in the woods she and her late husband spent decades visiting at least once, and often three times, each day. The borough council plans to introduce an ordinance making the name change official on Monday.
Before he died in December, Dery Bennett, as most anybody who knew him will tell you, was a force in New Jersey’s environmental scene. He was the executive director of the American Littoral Society from 1968 to 2003. He clued the borough in, about 40 years ago, his wife said, to the state’s open space program. He worked tirelessly for environmental rights and had a profound love for nature and children, she said.
A longtime friend, Dick Fuller, fondly remembered as he looked out onto Dery’s Pond some of the fun Bennett had there with children. He recounted a time when Bennett put orange peels in a few of the borough’s storm drains and showed a group of kids, when the peels later showed up in the pond, how nature is connected to things people do.
“They would see how the natural world is affected by them,” Fuller said. “Dery was very effective in working with the kids. Dery, I don’t think, got more pleasure in life than seeing a kid squirm with nature.”
That’s because, as both Fuller and Barbara Bennett said, he really was a kid at heart.
“He never made it past age 8,” Bennett joked.
His imprint on the local area, and the state, is large, Bennett said. But rather than pay homage to him in formalistic fashion, she’s pleased with a simple sign that she’ll see on her daily treks with her dog, Jersey Girl.
“I guess more than any other accolade he’s gotten over the years, this is the most appropriate,” she said. “It’s not glitzy, it’s not his name in bronze. It’s the best tribute to him because that’s who he was.”