(Editor's note: Eric Holmlund conducted an interview with Kate Bencze, a lifelong Tupper Lake
resident, Occupational therapy assistant, community volunteer
and Sunmount employee. Their hour-long conversation went back and forth in time and covered major life events and Kate's
(Photo — Eric Holmlund)
reflections on life, place, and
community. What follows is the condensed transcript, in Kate's own words.)
It's really quite simple. I was born and raised in Tupper Lake, left for a short time, but came back.
My mother Mary was my main influence. I always saw her as a very, very strong individual. She had four children, and she worked full time. Back in those days, everybodys mom was home, but my mom was working. She struggled, I'm sure, with raising a family and going to work.
My parents used to lease a state platform camp on Pollywog Pond where we'd stay for the weekends. It was a canvas tent, and I can remember the smell. We packed stuff and hiked in with four kids. I've raised two children and I wonder how she was even able to do half what she did because my brother was really little when we used to go to camp. My father had made him a homemade crib that we packed in. Our house wasn't always the cleanest, but it was more important for my mom to do the family thing.
My mother taught me my strength and always to remain positive. To this day, when I start to get down and negative, I always hear her in the back of my mind saying, "It could be worse. Get going. If you're not part of the solution, you're part of the problem."
As teenagers, we really had fun. There were always things to do. We did a lot of outdoor activities. My friends and I would rent canoes at McDonald's boat livery and go canoeing. Check out the lake. We probably trespassed a little on some of the places we shouldn't have, just innocently! Just discovering what was out there.
In my last year of high school, my father was sick with cancer, and he passed away in May of my senior year, which turned my life into a turmoil. I thought my mom needed me at home. It was a tough time. My younger brother was five years younger than me, and my older brother and sister were out on their own. My mother was working full time at Sunmount, so in a sense, we complemented each other for a while through our struggles.
After a year in Salt Lake City, I settled i to a job at Sunmount in a non-professional position, and worked there for 10 years. I didn't pursue a college education until my adult life, after I was married and had a daughter. It took me some really low-paying jobs to realize that I really needed to do something that I enjoyed and I went into occupational therapy. I ended up loving it.
Three years ago, my niece was killed in a tragic accident. This is a young girl who was maybe 24 when she left Tupper Lake. She decided to go into the military because there was nothing here for her.
Her death was life altering for me in that I've never felt so unable to control anything in my entire life. I have to say I grew quite a bit from that. Sometimes it's just about acceptance.
I was employed by the Saranac Lake school district for eight or nine years doing occupational therapy. Unfortunately, my position was cut two years ago. That was extremely devastating to me, because I loved my career.
It was a time of concern because my husband's contracting business was dying off as well. We were the perfect poster couple for the Adirondack economy. He's now working full time, and luckily I was only out of work for two months. I'm working for Sunmount, in a community house, and I'm pleasantly surprised with what I'm doing.
Losing my job in Saranac Lake was the last in a series of things that said to me, you can move forward, or you can sit back. I had this false sense of security. Sometimes there are no answers. And you have to accept. I think we live in a society where we think we can control our lives, our future, but things happen that sometimes you just have to accept. Learn from them. And change them only if you are able. There are some things that you'll never have an answer for. Move on.
After losing my job, I knew I had to do something positive with my time. I went to a meeting or two of ARISE (Adirondack Residents Intent on Saving our Economy), because I believe that our economy needs some attention. I know that there is a happy medium between our environment and our economy, and we can reach it. We're all intelligent people and should be working together.
I am a board member of ARISE, and I work on the fundraising committee as well. I feel like I'm accomplishing something. I started doing some volunteer coordination for the Big Tupper ski slope this past winter. Busy, busy, busy. You've got to get a lot of people together to run the place. The time and effort that everybody's putting forward is just incredible. It's beautiful. There's a great feeling among the volunteers.
So many times we get caught up in doing our own little life thing, and we just stay in our comfort zone. There are times when you have to step outside. In my life I was forced outside that comfort zone with my career change. I was displaced. And suddenly I gained community awareness as well as a political awareness that's always been there. I've always had my very strong opinions but never really acted on them or taken the responsibility to say, 'OK, what can I do to change this?'"
Life in the Adirondacks is about the sense of community, walking down the street, knowing people that I'm running into. Stopping to see their family, saying hello to them. Seeing people that I went to school with. It's about mutual connections. It's comfort. I have no doubt that I could live somewhere else, but I have it all, here in the Adirondacks.