Town Hosts Grand Opening of Desmond Center

NEWBURGH – On October 14th, the Town of Newburgh held the Grand Opening of the Desmond Center for Community Enrichment, located at 6 Albany Post Road, in the Town of Newburgh. Mr. William Kaplan and members of the Kaplan Family Foundation cut the Ceremonial Ribbon. Remarks were made by Town of Newburgh Town supervisor Gil Piaquadio, and other officials who attended, including: Mike Anagnostakis, Orange County Legislator, representing NYS Senator James Skoufis; and representatives from the Offices of Congressman Sean Patrick Maloney, and Jonathan G. Jacobsen, NYS Assemblyman. After the ribbon cutting, light refreshments and live piano music were enjoyed by guests; the event was open to the public.

To show appreciation to the Town of Newburgh Council Members and the Park Commissioner, Supervisor Piaquadio named a room in the Desmond House after each of them: Betty Greene, Paul Ruggiero, Scott Manley, Anthony LoBiondo, and James Presutti, thanking them for their guidance, support and hard work on the acceptance of this magnificent estate. A room is also named for our late Town Clerk, Andy Zarutskie.

The William and Elaine Kaplan Family Foundation provided the Town of Newburgh with grants totaling $1,000,000.00, consisting of $700,000.00 for the purchase of the 29-acre estate from Mount Saint Mary College; and $300,000 over three years for the maintenance of the property and programs, said Supervisor Piaquadio.

“The Town of Newburgh is eternally grateful to the Kaplan Family Foundation for their extraordinary generosity and vision,” said Town of Newburgh Supervisor Gil Piaquadio.

“Classes are now up and running, and we are in the process of restoring the historic outdoor Arboretum, which will be named the William and Elaine Kaplan Arboretum at the Desmond Campus.” Town officials plan to turn the Desmond grounds into a park with up to 2 miles of walking trails, which will be wheelchair-accessible; along with the Kaplan Family Arboretum. An arboretum is a botanical collection composed exclusively of trees; and the Desmond arboretum trees were flown in from all over the world.

Alice and Tom Desmond married in 1923 and bought their 14-room Mansion and surrounding grounds on Albany Post Road in 1930. Tom Desmond received his undergraduate degree from Harvard and an Engineering degree from M.I.T. He was a contractor and engineer, who made a substantial fortune building 129,000-ton cargo ships for the U.S. Government at the Newburgh Shipyards during World War I. As an engineer, he later supervised the building of skyscrapers in New York City. Tom Desmond went on to become a NYS senator, and served in the NYS Senate from 1931 to 1959. During the 1950’s, he was the wealthiest member of the NYS Senate, and gave generously to many causes, including large gifts to M.I.T. The Desmonds cultivated their beautiful property, including a large private arboretum, for which the Desmonds were well known.

Senator Desmond died in 1972 and Alice Desmond died in 1990. Mrs. Desmond left the “Desmond Estate” on Albany Post Road to Mount Saint Mary College with the express intent that the college should offer adult-enrichment classes, which the Mount did for decades.

Mount Saint Mary suspended classes at the Desmond during Covid, and announced in August 2020 that it would have to sell the estate for financial reasons and move its classes to the college’s main campus.

“There is no question,” said Piaquadio, “that Mr. Kaplan was the driving force behind what is now the Desmond Center for Community Enrichment. It was Mr. Kaplan who spearheaded the meetings, in Fall of 2020, amongst Mount Saint Mary leaders and town officials, and Mr. Kaplan who offered the grants to allow the purchase by the Town at no cost to the taxpayers.”

The Town has brought back many staff and instructors who were previously at the Desmond when it was part of the Mount. There was a “soft opening” of classes during Summer of 2021. Fall of 2021 has seen a full return to programming, with over 45 classes, many of which were sold out, from Conversational French, to Painting and Art history classes, literature, travel, History, poetry, journaling, Mah-Jongg and more.

“I am so happy to be back teaching Conversational French at the Desmond,” said French Instructor Pamela LaLonde. Ms. LaLonde has lived in the Town of Newburgh since 1975, along with her family. She retired from teaching in the Beacon School District after 35 years. “I consider it a privilege to be able to continue working by sharing my knowledge of French with enthusiastic adult students. I have loved being at the Desmond, as both a teacher and a student, and I thank the Kaplan Family and the Town of Newburgh for taking charge and making sure this wonderful program continues.”

Adult Enrichment Classes are open to those ages 18 and up, with discounts available to residents of the Town of Newburgh. To register for a class, visit the Town of Newburgh Recreation website.

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