By Melanie Lekocevic
Capital Region Independent Media
DURHAM — Friends and family of the late Bob Beyfuss bid a fond farewell to the renowned columnist and ginseng expert during a public Celebration of Life at The Shamrock House on March 11.
Beyfuss, who penned the popular column “Weekly Gardening Tips” for the Greenville Pioneer and other local publications, died Jan. 12 from a massive heart attack while playing softball with his friends in Florida, where he spent winters.
The Shamrock House was packed for the teary celebration, with people coming from as far away as Wisconsin and Canada to share stories and memories.
“Bob was 72 on Jan. 12, when he passed away. He was born on March 15, 1950, in Jersey City,” said Beyfuss’ cousin Ken Kavanagh, fondly known as “Cousin Ken,” who led the celebration.
“Bob was a loving, devoted father, grandfather and friend to all of us who knew him,” Kavanagh said. “His grandchildren knew him as ‘Grandbob,’ a moniker he wore very proudly. All of his friends that had kids, he would be introduced as ‘Grandbob,’ so Grandbob was Grandbob to everybody, not just his real grandkids, but to any of his friends who had children.”
In addition to his weekly column, Beyfuss was retired from Cornell Cooperative Extension of Greene County and a globally recognized expert on ginseng.
“Until his retirement in 2009, Bob worked at Cornell Cooperative Extension here in Greene County,” Kavanagh said. “He was most widely known for his expertise in ginseng. He got into ginseng when he was going for his Master’s degree at Cornell University. At that time, he didn’t know anything about ginseng — he talked to his advisors and they recommended he do research on ginseng and they said it would be pretty cool. He said he didn’t really want to do that but said he would. It was probably the best thing he ever did.”
Beyfuss became an advocate of ginseng and farming in natural areas, including the woods. He traveled extensively, sharing his knowledge of ginseng with others.
“It’s hard to know how many people were influenced by Bob, but it’s easy to say there were at least 10,000 people that Bob influenced,” Kavanagh said. “He published a weekly gardener column here in upstate New York and he had a regular program on (radio station) RIP 97.9. He was never paid to do any of these things, he did it because he loved the people here and he enjoyed sharing his knowledge.”
Outside of his professional life, Beyfuss was known as a personable man who made friends easily, his cousin said.
“Many people have reached out to me to say how personable Bob was — after a short conversation with him you felt like you knew him all of your life and you were instantly lifelong friends,” Kavanagh said. “He had a spark to do that.”
Beyfuss’ friend Charlie Henderson traveled from Wisconsin to attend the Celebration of Life at The Shamrock House.
“Bob was a good man. He was a decent man and we had great times,” Henderson said.
He shared memories of going out on a fishing boat together to catch fish and watch the dolphins.
“Bob was a good guy — very smart, very knowledgeable,” Henderson said. “He will be well missed.”
Local resident Carl Kohrs said he first met Beyfuss in the early 1970s and for years, only knew him by the nickname, “Shorty.” They worked together on the Greene County Youth Fair where Kohrs sits on the board.
“I became involved with the Greene County Youth Fair. I don’t know when Bob started being the announcer of the horse show, but every year that I have been involved in the youth fair, Bob has been the announcer of the horse show,” Kohrs said.
Kavanagh said Beyfuss really enjoyed and valued his time working with the youth fair. It was an issue he shared in his column each year.