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Frank Bencze honored by Lions

Dan McClelland

Frank Bencze 1 copy.jpg

A man who has devoted six decades of community service through his active membership in the Tupper Lake Lions Club was honored by local members Thursday at the Burgundy Steakhouse.

Many of President Dan McClelland remarks that evening centered on Frank's prominent role in the local woods industry during that same time.

“We're here this evening to honor one of the early Lions of the Tupper Lake woods industry (pun intended).

“I sat with Frank Bencze in his new home on Underwood Ave. last week in an effort to pin together some of the highlights of his impressive life here, but like every time you chat with Frank our hour-long chat was dominated with “stories.” By the way, Frank's got a nice little garden down there, but not as nice as Betty's.

“To prepare my remarks this evening I turned to my old friend Louis Simmons' 1975 best seller, to the section on “The Men Who Made the Town.”

“Appropriately Lion Frank's bio was there. I know Louis wouldn't mind me plagiarizing a bit.

“Over the years the New York State College of Forestry at Syracuse has contributed a number of hard-working, civic-minded men who have left their mark for progress and improvement on this community. Frank Bencze has earned a place with that group.

“Born on a farm in Greenfield Center, near Saratoga Springs in 1927, he learned the value of hard work at an early age. Frank graduated from New York State Ranger School in 1946 and from Paul Smith's College in 1951. He also did a short stint in the in U.S. Army in the final days of World War II, working in the counter-intelligence corp. He also worked for International Paper Co. for a short time as a forester after his army discharge.

“In 1953 Frank completed his forestry training at Syracuse.

“That year he also came to Tupper Lake as a forester for the Oval Wood Dish Corp. which would be the start of a 65-year affiliation with the “wooden spoon and wooden bowl” corporation. He continues with the skeleton of that once grand company today as one of its vice-presidents.

“His first job was to cruise and map and estimate the company's 19,000-acre tract at Kildare. That took two summers and included a complete timber inventory.

“The company also had a 8,000-acre tract near Parishville, at Sylvan Falls, and the 6,000-acre Mt. Morris tract, which Frank also managed.

“Frank advanced rapidly at the Oval Wood Dish as a vice president and manager of its extensive woodlands in Franklin and St. Lawrence counties. He still oversees its remaining Mt. Morris tract, which may someday soon (hopefully) be the site of the two dozen great camps on huge tracts there.

“The Oval Wood Dish Corp. began winding down its operations on The Boulevard and in the woods, closing its plants in Potsdam and Quebec City in the early 1960s.

“In May 21, 1964 the huge plant on Demars Blvd. was sold to a newly formed entity in New York called the Adirondack Plywood Corporation, headed by Allie Salls and others. Heavily involved in that move was the Tupper Lake Chamber of Commerce Wawbeek Development Corp. led by a number of local leaders, including Lions Harold Nichols, Charles F. Bud Murray, Wilbur Chalmers and Ernie Wood.

“Within a few months of its start, the company was sold to one of the giants in the industry, the New York-city based U.S. Plywood Corp. which in 1966 undertook a major modernization there.

“Frank stayed on with the new company as a procurement manager, assisted by two buyers, one based in Peru and one based in Old Forge. They bought logs all over the region. The trees they purchased were mostly yellow birch, which was a good candidate for the company's production of wall paneling.

“U.S. Plywood occupied the entire plant during its time there and later sold a small corner of it to Rutland Plywood.

“Two years after the complete destruction of the warehouse in 1967 U.S. Plywood announced it would terminate all operations here and out of that development came the creation of two industries there- the Tupper Lake Veneer Corp. and Major Rod from Montreal which only lasted a year or so.

“For three years Frank worked at a mill on the Colton “plains” called the Northern Lumber Company, owned by C.C. Canada. After the main mill there burned, Frank converted a planing mill into a saw mill for them.

“Following his time there he returned to the Tupper Lake Veneer Corp. as its procurement manager.

“It wasn't long before Tupper Lake Veneer Corp. officials began grooming Frank to succeed the popular Reginald Sherman, who was quite a smoker and had pronounced emphysema.

“After Reggie's untimely death Frank was appointed manager for the Tupper Lake Veneer Plant, owned by Rutland Plywood, in addition to looking after log procurement for the firm. Under his direction the company purchased the rest of the industrial complex, formerly occupied by Major Rod, for inventory storage. The only part of the complex the company didn't own was Roger Sullivan's O.W.D. Inc. part. Frank continued to run the Veneer until its closure abut 1982. His time as manager lasted about 15 years.

“During his time there the mill employed as many as 105 employees, running three shifts a day for many years. The 11 to 7 shift was for just drying the veneer. Two big dryers- run from the steam generated in the plants boiler plant- ran 24 hours a day. Chipping the trimmings from the best sections of the veneered wood pieces also fed two tractor trailer runs to the IP mill in Ticonderoga every day.

“Buying logs took Frank all over the North Country, down every dirt and gravel road to meet farmers and wood producers- both big and small. Frank could write a book on some of those colorful folks he met along the way.

“The Veneer plant didn't need the quantity of wood that U.S. Plywood did. A lot of the wood came from local producers.

“Beech was the wood of choice for the mill then. It was the main species for making plywood for cable reels which Rutland Plywood sold worldwide through a parent company, Carris Reels, owned by Henry Carris.

“Frank knew Henry. “Henry was quite a guy...he started out in the garage.” General Motors was a major user of small Carris reels to house auto wire.

“There came a time when the company could buy pieces of the reels from Russia cheaper than they could manufacture it here, he explained last week. 'That was the beginning of the end for our mill!' Frank told us.

“Lion Frank has been very involved with many state and regional woods industry organizations over the years. During 1973-75 he served as chairman of the Adirondack chapter, Society of American Foresters and was one of a committee of only four people widely known in the field who were delegated to draw up a set of timber harvesting guidelines for New York State's loggers. Locally he served over the years as a member of the village zoning appeals board, the Town of Altamont Zoning committee, a commissioner on the Tupper Lake Housing Authority and as chairman of the New York State Tree Farm Committee. Thanks for all that, Louie!

“Since its inception in the 1950s Lion Frank was an integral part of the operation of the Woodsmen's Field Days, chairing it at least once. It was eventually lost to Boonville. After the event was revived in the late 1970s Frank served as a board member for over 35 years, overseeing various aspects of July's biggest event. He was treasurer of it for many years. Lion Hawkeye can testify to Frank's good work there.

“Lion Frank was inducted into our club on October 1, 1959 under the sponsorship of former town supervisor and county lawmaker the late Ernie Wood. Ernie, who is the uncle of Lions Stu and Paul, was at that time Betty Bencze's boss. Frank was one of the local men who pushed Ernie to seek elected office as town supervisor, which he did. Ernie was later chairman of the then Franklin County Board of Supervisors.

“Frank joined Lionism at a time when this club was a big deal in Tupper Lake, not that we aren't now. Thursday nights were Lions meeting nights and local officials learned quickly not to schedule their meetings or other community events on Thursdays.

“Our club in those days met every week, for a long time at very notable hot spots here like the Waukesha and the Riverside.

“Some weekly meetings would boast 50 members- including many of our old Lions friends like Sam Parmelee, Harold Nichols, Bud Murray, Lorne Tooley, Ray McGill, Vin Jay, Roy Colburn, John Maroun, who many of the older members of our club knew well. We've heard many stories over the years of those early morning trips home from the Moody meeting places before DWIs were a concern. Lion Frank Corneau seems to have always figured prominently in those drinking stories.

“Lion Frank is our oldest member. Frank served in a number of the club posts over the years including secretary and later club president in the 1960s. He was followed by Roy Colburn.

He has attended meetings regularly over the years and contributed to the many community service projects sponsored by our. He's an example for all our us. At age 91 he continues to be a regular at meetings of the club. He still comes even though it has proven hazardous to his health in the past year or so. Frank is tough! He heals well and then he returns.

“Frank did three important things in the 1950s, when many of us here weren't even born. He moved to Tupper Lake and our community and the North Country has greatly benefited from that.

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He hung around the Oval Wood Dish office a lot so he could win the attention of one of Duffy Bedore's four daughters, Betty who was a secretary there. Frank goes after what he wants and can be pretty persuasive. Betty's father Duffy worked in the log yard there, so Frank may have squeezed permission to date his daughter from the old man.

“-And of course the third important thing Frank did in the 1950s was to join the Tupper Lake Lions Club, and all of us here tonight are happy he did.”