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Martha Reben Day

June 19, 2010
By HOWARD RILEY, hjriley@adelphia.net

Historic Saranac Lake will be honoring and commemorating the life and work of Adirondack author Martha Reben on July 10.

A tent will be erected that day next to the state historic marker honoring Ms. Reben in Prescott Park (now often referred to as Riverside Park). That evening at 7 p.m. at the Saranac Laboratory, headquarters of Historic Saranac Lake there will be a slide show presentation of student work based on her life.

Many people know her story; she authored three novels, The Healing Woods, The Way of the Wilderness and a Sharing of Joy all based on the 10 summers she spent living in a tent on Weller Pond.

Article Photos

Martha Reben and Dooley
(Photo provided)

Here is a nice piece about her by John Vinton, known as the Adirondack Storyteller:

"Martha Reben was a victim of tuberculosis who did not respond to medical treatment. By the time she met Fred Rice in the spring of 1931 she had been bedridden for three years. Mr. Rice was a boat builder, handyman and guide who held firm opinions on the subject of tuberculosis. He believed that a summer lived totally out of doors and away from doctors and radios was the best therapy. Miss Reben, in a last effort to save her life, went to his campsite wrapped in blankets and lying on a cot across the seats of his boat.

"Under his guidance she abandoned doctors, regained her strength, acquired self-confidence and developed an enduring love for the world of nature. She lived another 33 years and wrote three books based on her observations of wildlife. Mr. Rice helped type her manuscripts."

Mr. Vinton concluded his story with this: "Mr. Rice died in a nursing home in Malone in 1966. Miss Reben, who died two years before, provided in her will for his care. Thus was closed a bond of friendship remarkable even in the Adirondacks."

(Mr. Rice was age 90, Ms. Reben was 53.)

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"Driving Miss Reben"

I met Martha Reben in late 1948 or early 1949 when I was driving taxi in Saranac Lake. The taxi service received a call to Algonquin Avenue and when I arrived at the address Ms. Reben (I knew her by sight) came out to the car carrying a burlap bag. I opened the door to the back seat, she got in with the bag, and instructed me to drive her to Dr. Bouton's (the veterinary) office on Dorsey Street.

Now there was no LaPan Highway at that time; Lake Street was the main road into the village coming from the direction of Tupper Lake. While heading down Lake Street hill that burlap bag let out a loud "honk" that startled me so, that I almost drove into Lake Flower I didn't know if it was a car honking to pass me or if the sound came from Ms. Reben; of course, I had no idea she had her pet goose, Dooley, in the burlap bag, because he had not made a peep before that moment.

She was a soft spoken woman with a beautiful smile. She called later for me to pick her up at the vets (with Dooley) and that is the only time I met Martha Reben.

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Fast-forward to 1999

Susan Jensen of Tupper Lake was attending a meeting of the Saranac Lake Village Board to make a presentation and a request that we erect a state historical marker in the village honoring Ms. Reben. I was Village Manager at the time, and there was quite a crowd at the meeting but it was obvious that not many there knew that name and now it was my turn to do the startling I kind of blurted out, "I knew Martha Reben." From the reaction, one would think I said that I knew Carry Nation (who died in 1911). Trustee Paul Herrmann was laughing so hard he almost fell off his chair.

The plaque was presented by a Commission Honoring the Achievements of Women which was formed by Gov. George E. Pataki in 1998. A woman of historical significance was selected from each county in the state.

Ms. Jensen's efforts to honor Ms. Reben paid off and the plaque was unveiled on 9-9-99. This is an excerpt from what Ms. Jensen had to say that day:

"Her determination to make the best of her life and not just lie in the hospital, but to do the best that she could with what she had, I think that's a good lesson even today. I like that about Martha."

Amy Catania, executive director of Historic Saranac Lake sent me a message asking me to repeat the story she had heard about my connection with Martha Reben so, Amy, this is it.

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(Information for the above came from the files of the Adirondack Room of the Saranac Lake Free Library)

 
 

 

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