John B. Geurtze

John B. Geurtze

SELKIRK — John Becker Geurtze, a man who worked hard and made a name for himself in the agricultural world, died on Friday, Dec. 1, 2017, at his home on Woodridge Farms. He was 88.

“Throughout his life, he did it his way,” said his daughter, Elisa Peters.

Mr. Geurtze was born in Albany on May 4, 1929, to the late Harold H. and Ruth Rose Geurtze. He grew up in Delmar when there were still farms there. His father owned Harold Geurtze and Co., now known as Geurtze Builders.

But John Geurtze didn’t want to join the family business; he wanted to be a farmer. He joined the Boy Scouts of America and the Future Farmers of America and, when he was 14, he grew vegetables and raised his own chickens, selling chickens and eggs at his farm stand, which he called Woodridge Farms.

Mr. Geurtze graduated from Bethlehem Central High School in 1947 and received an Empire Farmer Degree — the highest honor a member of the state’s FFA can receive. A 4-H member, he received its New York State Poultry Person of the Year award that year as well.

He went on the attend Cornell University’s School of Agriculture from 1948 to 1950. In 1951, he traveled to Germany as an International Farm Youth Exchange delegate, where he stayed on three different farms over the course of a year and exchanged ideas on agriculture.

He would later write of how he hoped peace could be obtained between two different groups of people, with one group living in a country recovering from World War II.

“The people should no longer be called ‘foreigners,’ but ‘neighbors,’” he wrote.

Mr. Geurtze returned home and married Joan Whiteley, of Albany, and started a new Woodridge Farm on Route 9W in Glenmont. They had four children: three daughters and one son, the eldest, all who helped on the farm.

He raised chickens, Yorkshire swine, and Angus beef cattle — which his son took to the Altamont Fair every year. His daughters would run the farmstand.

“It was actually a lovely life … ,” said Ms. Peters, though she admitted it could be rough. “We were excited to go back to school, because we worked all summer long.”

The family also tended land owned by others and kept it agricultural in areas now occupied by stores or shopping plazas in Glenmont. At one point, the Guertzes farmed 500 acres, said his son.

In 1954, he established Geurtze BBQ, a business now operated by his daughter, Gretchen Geurtze, and well-known in the Bethlehem area.

Mr. Geurtze was also a member of the United States Army Reserves for 20 years. His son, John B. Geurtze Jr., said that much of his family had been in the Army: Mr. Geurtze’s father was a World War I veteran, while his brothers served in World War II before they even finished high school. They returned to graduate alongside Mr. Geurtze.

In the early 1980s, Mr. Geurtze and his wife divorced. He then moved his farm further down Route 9W into Selkirk, and later married Kay Keel.

While raising Yorkshire swine, Mr. Geurtze also raised pigs used for heart research at the Albany Medical Center Pathology Department.

“They were called ‘mini-pigs,’” said Ms. Peters.

She said these pigs were the result of runts being crossbred so that they would be smaller. They were fed a high-cholesterol diet and kept in a small pen so they received little exercise. When they died, the hospital took them to study the effects of heart disease.

“Because a pig’s heart is similar to a man’s heart,” said Ms. Peters.

Mr. Geurtze not only worked hard on his farm, but also held many agricultural leadership positions. He served as New York Farm Bureau Director for six years, president of the Albany County Farm Bureau for three years, and director of New York State Pork Producers Council.

While on the New York Farm Bureau, Mr. Geurtze helped pass legislation to make it illegal to feed garbage to pigs, said Ms. Peters.

“Before, they would just give a pig anything to eat,” she said.

Because of the waste that pigs were consuming, people who ate pork risked getting infected with trichinosis, she said, but, when pigs were given feed, the risk was abated.

As director of the New York State Pork Producers Council, Mr. Geurtze helped coin the term “Pork: the other white meat,” said his son.

Mr. Geurtze continued his influence at the local level. He worked in 4-H, serving on the 4-H Extension Service Committee from 1952 to 1969. He also served three terms on Bethlehem’s town board, and represented Elsmere and Glenmont as a town committeeman.

He also worked as the director of field operations for the Town of Bethlehem Public Works, and as secretary of the Water District 1 Board of Commissioners. And, he was the chairman of the not-for-profit Adirondack Water Works.  He was a member of the Delmar Kiwanis Club for over 60 years, and served as its president in 1960 and 1991.

Mr. Geurtze was known for his strong work ethic and determination. Even a month ago, said his son, he was planning his crops for next year.

“He never stopped working,” said his son.


Mr. Geurtze is survived by his children, John B. Geurtze Jr. and his wife, Theresa Geurtze; Gretchen Geurtze; Elisa Peters and her husband, Joseph Peters; and Sara Geurtze; his stepsons, E. Daniel Wakeman and his wife, Micki Wakeman; and William S. Wakeman and his wife, Cindy Wakeman; his 10 grandchildren, 14 great-grandchildren; and several nieces and nephews.

His wife, Kay Keel Geurtze, died before him, as did his brother, Harold H. Geurtze Jr., and his sister, Jayne Geurtze Clarke.

“The family would like to thank the doctors and staff at Albany Medical Center D-5, John’s caregivers, Bruce, Joleen and Deb, and special friend, Barry Joslyn for all of their help,” wrote the family.

A memorial service will be held at 1 p.m. on Saturday, Dec. 9, at Woodridge Farms, 939 Route 9W, Selkirk.

Memorial contributions may be made to Delmar Kiwanis Foundation, Post Office Box 121, Delmar, NY 12054.

— H. Rose Schneider

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