Bernard Kessler, a son of farmers, Saul and Esther Kessler, was born on December 9, 1922 and died on January 3, 2017. His parents were one of the first Jewish families to settle in Hyde Park in 1919. He and his brother, Sidney, and sisters, Sylvia and Frances, helped with the farm chores. They had dairy cattle, raised fruits, vegetables and animal fodder, such as corn, oats, alfalfa and hay. Milking was done by hand. He attended a one-room school for 8 years on Netherwood Road where all grades were taught by one teacher. He then attended Staatsburg High School, graduation in June of 1940. He was accepted and attended Saint John’s University, College of Arts and Sciences for his pre-law courses, then graduated from Saint John’s Law School in 1945. He completed pre-law and Law School in four and a half years, while also working on the farm. He was admitted to practice law in New York State when he was 22 years of age. He was then admitted to practice law in the US Supreme Court, US Court of Claims, US District Courts, US Court of Appeals, US Court of Military Appeals, the Department of Immigration and Naturalization, and the US Treasury Department. He was deferred from military service to perform farm work and producing food while traveling to New York City to attend law school every day.
For a time, he practiced law in New York City with a large firm while building his successful law practice in Hyde Park.
Bernard practiced various types of legal services for many people and organizations in Dutchess County and elsewhere.
Without political consideration and based on merit, he was appointed for many years as Attorney for the Towns of Amenia, Hyde Park, Rhinebeck, Wappingers Falls and Special Counsel to other towns in Dutchess County. He represented several Fire Districts and several Water and Sewer Districts for many years.
He served on a volunteer basis, as a Special Assistant Attorney General, investigating election frauds. He served as an impartial arbitrator for the American Arbitration Association for over 30 years. He was one of the 500 Arbitrators selected in the United States to distribute $2.5 billion dollars to policy holders when a large insurance company was sued.
He was adjunct lecturer at Dutchess Community College for 14 years where he taught business law, real estate, zoning and planning, and real estate brokerage. He was appointed by Governor Hugh Carey to serve as Dutchess County New York State Tax Attorney, where he served for seven years, while also attending to his law practice at 15 Kessler Drive, Hyde Park. He practiced law for over seventy years. He was recognized by the Dutchess County Bar as being the oldest practicing lawyer in Dutchess County.
In 1975, Bernard was nominated by the Dutchess County Democratic Committee to run for New York State Supreme Court seat, however, he opted not to run because the Counties of Westchester and Rockland dominated the Judicial committee with their own candidates.
Pres. Ronald Regan appointed him to serve on the Selective Service Board, where he served for over 20 years and a member and chairman. The president said he was doing so because of “my special trust and confidence in patriotism, fidelity, and abilities to Bernard Kessler.”
The Democratic Committee in Dutchess County nominated him to fill a Dutchess County Court seat. The Judiciary Committee of the Dutchess Bar Association said, “ Bernard Kessler is a highly experienced trial lawyer who has displayed the knowledge, temperament, and ability to be an outstanding judge. His name was placed before a Nominating Committee in the NYS Senate. Sen. Rolison stated, “I make the nomination of a good friend and a very distinguished lawyer – it’s the unanimous decision of the Dutchess County Bar that Bernie has been a tough, but fair adversary and is a man of integrity and honor.”
Gov. Carey appointed him as a Dutchess County Court Judge in 1982. He also sat as a Visiting Judge in the County Court of Rockland County. The administrative Just in the 9th Judicial District also assigned him to serve as an Acting Supreme Court Justice, Acting Surrogate Court Judge, and Acting Family Court Judge in Dutchess County. After his term expired, the Chief Administrator of the NYS Courts appointed him as a Judicial Hearing Officer. At the end of that term, he was re-appointed for an additional 2 year term as a Judicial Hearing Officer by the succeeding Chief Administrator of the NY Courts. He also served as Temporary Chairman of the 9th Judicial District Nominating Committee for Supreme Court Justice for the Democratic Party.
He had served as Hearing Officer for the NYS Comptroller’s office for 7 years presiding in counties.
He was a member of the Dutchess County Bar Association, NYS Magistrates Association, NYS Trial Lawyers Association, Hyde Park Chamber of Commerce, Hyde Park Historical Society, Masonic Lodge, and Exchange Club. He served as President of the FDR Home Club in Hyde Park, and also a member of the Crum Elbow Sportsman Association.
Bernard served on the Board of Directors of Dutchess County Committee of Economic Opportunity, as a Special Inquiry Officer with Congressman Hamilton Fish, Jr. and an Affiliate member of the Dutchess County Board of Realtors. He was a member of the Board of Directors of DCSPCA and Hyde Park FDR Centennial Committee. He was a member and one of the organizers of Eleanor Roosevelt Valkill, and assisted with the formation of Hyde Park Historical Society.
He served as Parliamentarian to the Hyde Park and Dutchess County Democratic Committees. He was Chairman of the Law Committee of the Dutchess County Democratic Committee.
Bernard served as Legislative Counsel in Albany for Assemblyman Victor Waryas. He addressed many local organizations and was an accomplished speaker, with humor and knowledge.
He handled appeals to the Appellate Division, the Court of Appeals, the US Supreme Court, and various types of jury and non-jury trials.
Bernard loved people and life, especially the outdoors. He became an expert bulldozer and backhoe operator. He owned several farms, planting over 500 trees, constructed 5 lakes, preserved natural streams, kept lands from eroding and protected woodlands. He loved examining rock and stone formations. He restored and constructed stone walls. He stocked the lakes with many varieties of fish which attracted beavers, otters, and other animals. He could identify many trees and types of soil. Bernard was a farmer at heart, and called upon is common sense in trial of cases. He also restored antique Packards and a Jaguar.
He was a well-known and well liked attorney. He was honored by the Dutchess County Bar Association, receiving the Gartland Award for community service. Many friends, attorneys and judges were present and spoke of their wonderful years of association with him.
Bernard was compassionate and sensitive. He performed “pro-bono” legal services for the poor. He loved his family and was a very dedicated father, grandfather, and great-grandfather. His sense of humor was well known. He mentored and gave hope to many people.
All of the above could not have occurred if it had not been for the courageous, heroic actions of two farmers. In February 1927, Fred DuBois and Charles Veith were driving by on a Crum Elbow Road when they saw the 4 year old Bernard, his brother, age 6 and sister, age 10 on a sled break through the ice and disappear into 8 feet of icy water. Fred and Charlie jumped out of their car with their winter clothes on into the icy water and rescued the 3 children. He is survived by daughters; Diane (James) and Barbara, 3 granddaughters, 2 great grandchildren, several nieces, nephews, and cousins.
He is survived by his long-time partner, RoseMarie Castano. There will be no funeral services. Burial will be private at the Hebrew Fraternal Benevolent Society Cemetery in Pleasant Valley.
Arrangements are entrusted to Joseph J. Darrow Sr. Funeral Home, Inc. 39 S. Hamilton St. Poughkeepsie, NY 12601. 845-452-1840. to send online condolences, please visit www.darrowfuneralhome.org
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