By Anika Lanser
As I sat down with Jason Bendicksen to learn about his time as an Ocean Beach trustee, I quickly realized it might be difficult to hear about his accomplishments straight from the source. This is not because Trustee Bendicksen does not have a lot of stories to tell, or a compelling and productive term to reflect on, but rather because Trustee Bendicksen is exceptionally humble.
At the end of his first four-year term as a trustee and having been on the island since 2000, Bendicksen reflected on his path to the board. “I’m not very politically-minded or business-minded. But I saw a shift in the kind of people who were attracted here. I wasn’t a homeowner or a business owner, so I had no stake in the game except that I lived here. I thought I could help with quality of life issues.”
Bendicksen came to Fire Island first as someone working with the telephone company, bartending, and living the nightlife scene. Later, he found his way to the Ocean Beach Fire Department beginning in 2011 and the Woodhull School for the past five years. Bendicksen worked as the bus driver for the school, but also volunteered each week to read to students. He added, “You can’t recapture the essence of this school anywhere else.”
After Superstorm Sandy he ran for Ocean Beach village office, being elected to the position of trustee in 2014.
He described his role on the board and his contribution to Ocean Beach as helping the board to listen. “Prior boards could be very isolated from the community. I think I’ve helped to give the community a stronger voice,” he said.
On the topic of the projects he accomplished with the board, Bendicksen commented, “It’s a full-time job keeping the Village running. The Village is never done. If it’s done that means it’s not growing.”
In terms of the most recent Ocean Beach election, Bendicksen thinks the board’s future will be just fine. He expressed regret that the election devolved into quite the dramatic event. “Tara [Schoen Fishman] could’ve added something nobody else had the skills to add, but the Village and the board will be just fine. There are more people involved in the process now than before. There are always better ideas if there are more voices,” he stated.
Bendicksen is leaving Ocean Beach and the board to move to Stewart, Florida, where his parents live. He commented, “I had offered a while ago to move to Florida to help my parents and my dad called me recently and asked me to come down … my goal is just to make their lives as comfortable as possible.”
He added, “I’m a little scared and apprehensive about moving. It’s a little like moving to a foreign country. I’m leaving behind phenomenal friendships.” Stewart is, however, still on the Atlantic coast. Bendicksen commented, “It’ll be the same ocean, the same sunset. I got really spoiled by the ocean here.”
When asked what he’ll miss most, he responded, “The sense of community I’ve found with the fire department, the school, and the board. It’s an interesting group of neighbors and an interesting group of friends. I’ll miss the beach and drinking my coffee while I watch the sun rise. And hearing the waves all the time.”
In Florida, Bendicksen will be working with a company that works to improve handicap accessibility. He also plans to volunteer at a soup kitchen a few days a week, but maintains that his priority is to support his parents. Although Bendicksen thinks he will eventually visit, he likely will not live north of Florida again. “I could never see snow again and be fine with that,” he said. He may end up eventually with his son in the Virgin Islands and will visit his daughter as well as he prepares to become a grandfather in October.
Despite Bendicksen’s best efforts to overlook his own accomplishments and his impact on the Ocean Beach community, the moving tributes to his work at his last Board of Trustees meeting suggest Ocean Beach is not as willing to do the same. He mused, “I think I’ve taken way more from this place than I’ve given.” However, it seems that the Village and the Board would disagree profoundly with that statement.