Cool transplants

Manhattan couple brings touch of flair to Highland

by Erin Quinn
February 10, 2011 02:55 PM | 0 0 comments | 21 21 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Donna Deeprose and Rafael Diaz. Photos by Lauren Thomas.
Donna Deeprose and Rafael Diaz. Photos by Lauren Thomas.
Manhattan’s loss has been Highland’s gain. After spending their lives writing and working in New York City since they met at Columbia Graduate School in 1961, Rafael Diaz and his wife Donna Deeprose sold their co-op in 2003 and decided to move to upstate, right on the border of New Paltz and Highland.

“The border is in our backyard, right in the Swartekill Swamp,” said Deeprose, author of many books on management and a born-and-bred Canadian from a small town in Alberta.

The two said that they had talked for years about moving out of Manhattan when they retired, but that as the time approached, Deeprose said it dawned on her that “Rafael was talking about moving to another borough and not out of New York City. I said if that’s the plan, I’ll just stay where we are.”

Diaz, born to Cuban parents, was raised in Manhattan and the idea of the country was foreign to him. That said, he had developed a love of kayaking and when he took his sweetheart “upstate” in 2002 to a bed and breakfast in Highland, he fell in love with the region, the access to the Hudson River, the Shawangunk Mountains and two rail trails in both Highland and New Paltz.

They decided to sell their co-op, which they purchased in 1978, and began looking for a place in the Hudson Valley. “He was adamant that he be close to a river and close to the city,” said Deeprose. “Well, we were a stone’s throw from the Hudson River and only five minutes from Metro North, so he was sold.”

Once they relocated to North Elting Corners Road, Deeprose and Diaz, coming from the hustle and bustle of Manhattan, were anxious to meet people and learn more about the town they had decided to settle in.

“We knew that no welcome wagons would be coming out to greet us,” said Deeprose, so they visited Town Hall, asked how they could learn more about Lloyd and the region. Rosalie Peplow, the town clerk, is also the treasurer of the Lloyd Historical Society and encouraged them to attend. That was a perfect fit for Diaz, who relished in learning about the history of the town, and within a year became president of the organization.

They attended Town Board meetings and Environmental Commission meetings, “we wanted to become involved in those things that interested us and for Rafael, it was really the Historical Society and the Rail Trail Association at first, and for me it was the EnCC.”

Within a short amount of time, the couple joined the Walkway Over the Hudson Committee, as Diaz was a huge kayaker and both he and his wife, fans and advisors to the Hudson River Walk in New York City.

Diaz was approached by a friend to consider joining the Rotary Club. He wasn’t that familiar with Rotary, although he spent the greater portion of his career working for Business International, but eventually decided to attend one of their meetings.

“It really hit home with me, as I greatly enjoyed the community service aspect of it as well as its international service and outreach.” Within two years, he became president of the local Rotary Club and was sent by his club to Guatemala, where Rotary International’s program “Rotaplast” brought in a crew of surgeons, specialists and nurses to do plastic surgery on children who were born with cleft lips and cleft palates.

“That was one of the most rewarding things I’ve ever done,” said Diaz, who was sent to help translate between the patients, parents, doctors and nurses. “I translated in the pre-op, post-op with families and doctors and was able to help in such a hands-on way and see the results of such an incredible volunteer mission. It changed these young people’s lives. I’m very fortunate to have been a small part of that.”

As if the couple wasn’t busy enough, they initiated a local, “Learn to Run” program on the Hudson Valley Rail Trail, where they’ve graduated more than 75 people from their free, running program.

Diaz explained that he had been a lifelong runner, but once he became passionate about kayaking, he let his running go by the wayside for ten years or so. When he tried to get back into shape by running around Central Park, he said that he “kept falling and tripping and” just couldn’t find his rhythm.

It was then that he saw a running class being advertised and he decided to give it a try. “It worked, and I saw it work for so many people whether they had never run, wanted to lose weight, challenge themselves, or were like me and wanted to get back into the sport safely and with some encouragement and camaraderie.”

Being president of the HVRT and enjoying running, Diaz along with his wife offered two, ten-week “Learn to Run” programs in Highland -- one in the fall and the other in spring. The first year they had five people join and two graduate, the second year they had eight join and six graduate, and from there it has grown leaps and bounds with graduates coming back to help encourage and stretch the new crew coming in.

“We have teenagers, people in their 20s, 30s all the way up to their 80s and it makes me so happy to see how proud they are, how accomplished and empowered they feel,” said Diaz. “For so many of them, they tell us that it changed their life. That is invaluable.”

Deeprose has thrown herself into the continued fundraising and development of a riverside park -- the Bob Shepard Highland Landing Park, which was purchased by the town in 2006. It has 800 feet of riverfront access, a kayak and canoe launch and lockers, picnic tables, a fabulous view of the Walkway and the river, tai chi classes in the summer and all sorts of events throughout the year to help bring people down to the river and to raise money for the continued development of the park.

“We’re just thrilled to be a part of this community and to be working towards developing and enhancing its natural and cultural resources, which are a critical part of residents’ quality of life and of the entire Hudson Valley,” Deeprose said.

Highland is lucky to have such a dedicated couple, willing to put their time and energy into causes that benefit everyone and help bring the community together.

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