Let’s sit and think awhile about benches, wooden benches, metal benches, benches with messages, too.
Sometimes taken for granted, benches invite us to rest, to look out and to look in, to pause and reflect about what we’re up to, where we’re going, what we’ve done.
If they have just the right message on a plaque or carved into their slats, benches can inspire.
And they can make us wonder, as well. We see a name we don’t recognize on a bench. We know this person must have been loved, but we don’t know who the person is.
A case in point: The other day, my wife, Cindy, and I, needing to get some air, drive to Letchworth State Park. The park is drained of fall color since we were last there, but it is stunning in a black-and-white way, the mist from the Middle and Upper falls icing on the banks, on the bare trees.
On a walk toward the Upper Falls, Cindy stops to read the back of a wooden bench. “In Memory of Brent D. Arcangel,” it says, followed by “Life’s Path is Short – Let Love Be Your Guide.”
There is something so sweet and haunting about the advice that I later do an internet search to find out about Brent D. Arcangel.
A native of Hamburg, Erie County, he held two degrees from the University of Buffalo, where he worked as a student employment coordinator. “He was a dream employee,” his boss said. “(He) was always willing to go the extra mile.” He also had begun working as an aide to then Rep. Thomas Reynolds.
I learn that Brent Arcangel died in 2003 in an automobile accident when the driver of the car he was riding in fell asleep at the wheel. He was 23 years old. His life’s path was indeed short.
But why the bench in the park?
I reach Corrine and Wayne Arcangel of Hamburg, Brent’s mother and father, by phone.
Corrine tells me that family used to vacation in the park during the summer. “Brent loved the park and loved hiking in the park,” she says. Because of this, one of Brent’s cousins suggested putting benches in the park in his memory.
Intrigued and a little surprised – there weren’t a lot of dedicated benches in the park, Corrine says – the park officials endorsed the idea. Four benches were installed in Brent’s memory, one put there by Marilyn and David Berkebile, the Arcangel’s friends from Honeoye Falls.
After the benches in Brent’s memory were placed in the park, other benches honoring other people have been installed, Corrine tells me. “If you go to the park, it’s been an explosion of benches,” she says. “To me it’s heart-warming that we started something.”
Wayne adds that because of how Brent died, he’s been on a campaign to make people more aware of the dangers of drowsy driving.
We talk some more of the benches. The ones in Brent’s memory could use some touching up, Corrine says; the weather hasn’t been kind.
Regardless, the benches seem just right. Out of grief something good came, gracious gifts that invite people to sit, to take in the wonders of the park, to watch the river flow, to realize that life’s path is short, but there’s always love.
As suggested by his daughter, Harriet Schafer Seigel of Brighton, let’s add the name of this courageous and resilient man to the list of Remarkable Rochesterians.
Sam Schafer (1900-1992): After a 1972 attack in his grocery store in which he was robbed of $21.50 and his eyes were gouged out, rendering him blind, he was recognized in Rochester and beyond as a person of bravery and resilience, someone who did not give into incredible misfortune, even making a planned trip to Israel five weeks after he lost his sight. A native of Poland, he fled that country at age 16 and would settle in Rochester where he had a grocery store on Joseph Avenue for 42 years. His daughter, Rush Schafer Lempert, told the story of her father’s life in the biography, Fish, Faith, and Family.
From his home in Geneseo, Livingston County, retired senior editor Jim Memmott, writes Remarkable Rochester, who we were, who we are. He can be reached at email@example.com or write Box 274, Geneseo, NY 14454
This article originally appeared on Rochester Democrat and Chronicle: Letchworth Park bench: Brent Arcangel plaque has heart-warming message