A Tribute to John Achzet (5/24/1927–9/19/10)
(By Bev Biziewski and Mary Moroney)
John was a special man who was liked by so very many, as was evident at his memorial service in Penn Yan, NY, when 300 people filled the pews. Known for his kindness, John was unable to say no to anyone… he forever had a helping hand out. He started in the Historical Society in the 1970s, and was right beside Steve Edwards blazing hiking trails all over the island of St John. John helped clearing bush around so many historical sites including the large scale restoration of the Par Force site in Reef Bay.
John and Barbara traveled the world starting in the 1950s, before there was a Global economy. Travel was decidedly different sixty years ago. English was not readily spoken in foreign countries and goods were not heavily traded. The Achzets brought back bits of culture from these distant countries in their suitcases, items never seen at the five and dime or as John called them, “Mom and Pop stores” in northern New York. They visited Bermuda, Europe, the Middle East, the Far East, Spain, Portugal, Morocco and the Scandinavian countries. They also visited many of the Caribbean Islands and Hawaii. In 1956 together with Barb’s parents, they crossed the United States and back in four weeks. One of John’s most memorable trips was in the mid 1960s to Washington, D.C. with Barb and his mother. They visited the Smithsonian and all of the monuments including J.F.K.’s grave site.
John’s travels instilled in him a love of different cultures. They bought land in Chocolate Hole in 1979 and broke ground on their “Achzet South” home in 1980. John embraced the West Indian culture and had a natural penchant to learning more. He fell in with Mr. Prince and learned to make baskets and brooms with him. They fashioned a ten foot long “special sky-light broom” together which still graces the wall, ready for use. Mr. Prince was known to say about John, “He’s a good fellow but he talks too much!” John was, to Barb’s chagrin, comfortable enough with Mr. Prince to critique his basket making giving him a grade on each finished basket. “Mr. Prince, that looks like a B- to me!” John was fondly known as the older student in Mrs. Hill’s Beacon Program on Plaiting. He would come to class prepared with all the reeds and tools necessary, he was a great role model for the students 30+ years younger than he. Chair caning was another skill John picked up that helped him with the unique Virgin Island “dumpster culture”. He was able to make a “purse out of a sow’s ear” by caning a dumpster chair, which he proudly called “Early Dumpster”. Another dumpster project was created using dumpster wood and plexiglas, a hanging frame with a lobster moult glued inside. If you received one of these creations you felt honored. He also made hummingbird feeders out of Cruzan Rum bottles, using a drill bit that allowed the right flow from the cover.
He was proud of his work with the Virgin Islands Audubon Society where he was an active board member for many years. He made numerous Bananaquit feeders from coconut shells and wild Tamarind limbs for the annual Audubon plant sale, which he actively participated in, the last being in March 2009. John and Barb were also members of the Friends of the National Park and volunteered at the kiosk on Trunk Bay for many years. Tourists must have reveled in John’s storytelling and his vast knowledge of sea life.
John loved to scuba dive and in his latest years enjoyed his daily snorkels in either Chocolate Hole or Hawksnest Bay, reporting to those who would listen of his latest fish sightings.
He will be remembered for all this, his humor and his friendship was known to many. John always said how Blessed he was in his life. He had a home on a lake in N.Y. and a home on beautiful St John. He was blessed with wonderful friends, family and a wife of 62 years. “Living the Dream” is what John did and made an art form of. He will be missed, a nice guy that we are glad we knew.