Feb. 22, 2007 -- Long-time marine activist Rik Van Rensselaer died Feb. 17 in a Del Rio, Texas, hospital after a brief illness. He was 73.
Before his death, family members solicited donations to help Van Rensselaer get treatment at a clinic in Mexico. (See "Community Volunteer Needs Help for Alternative Cancer Treatment.")
Van Rensselaer made his mark on the Virgin Islands through a variety of organizations, including as president of the V.I. Charteryacht League and the V.I. Marine Industry organization. His latest endeavor was the V.I. Marine Action Group. He also served as president of the Antilles School Parent-Teacher Association.
In 1978, Van Rensselaer sailed into St. Thomas, where he ran charters aboard his 52-foot ketch, Flute, until 1991. He co-owned the commercial and residential contracting firm AVR Ltd.
"He immediately got involved," said St. Thomas resident Nick Bailey, who said he knew Van Rensselaer from the time he first arrived on St. Thomas. A bill to regulate mooring and anchoring soon came before the Legislature, and Van Rensselaer quickly became a leader in presenting the boaters' position, Bailey said.
"He had a tremendous ability to motivate people to a common cause," Bailey said. "He was a natural leader."
No matter what the issue, Van Rensselaer approached it with an uncommon sense of fairness and integrity, Bailey said. When an issue arose about the headmaster at Antilles School, he said, Van Rensselaer kept people focused throughout a long and hard battle.
Jeannie Kuich, who chartered in the same era as Van Rensselaer, called him a person who cared about getting children involved in sailing and the marine industry.
"And he was a real dynamo and an excellent speaker," she said.
His former wife, Corrine Van Rensselaer, served as his caregiver in his last months. She said Van Rensselaer was tremendously optimistic and compassionate.
"He was always helping people to help themselves," she said.
Several weeks ago she asked him what he loved about the Virgin Islands. He told her it was "the freedom, the water, the people and the opportunities for them," she said.
Over the years, Van Rensselaer served as founder and president of Columbus 500, formed to coordinate the 500th anniversary of Christopher Columbus' voyage to the New World in 1492. From 1991 to 1998, he founded and co-owned Dynamic Construction.
Additionally, Van Rensselaer was instrumental in the formation of the Hassel Island Preservation Trust, which served to preserve, protect and promote the historical significance of the island. He was also a founding member of Nazareth by The Sea.
Born in Glen Falls, N.Y, Van Rensselaer grew up in New Jersey. In 1958, he retired from the U.S. Army as a first lieutenant. He subsequently worked in the concrete, water and sewer industries at Interpace and Mancrete, both in New Jersey.
He is survived by six children. They are Skye and William Van Rensselaer and Stephen Carpenter of St. Thomas, Richard Carpenter of Atlanta, Katherine Carpenter of Los Angeles and Margaret Jones of Bloomington, Ind.
He is also survived by a sister, Stephanie V.R. Koven, of Mountainville, N.J., and a brother, Robert Van Rensselaer, of Mendham, N.J.
Three nieces survive him. They are Serena Koven OConnor of Oldwick, N.J., Stephanie Koven Katz of New York and Serena Van Rensselaer of West Shokan, N.Y. He also had two nephews: Theodore Koven of Springtown, Penn., and Miles Van Rensselaer of Lopatcong, N.J.
He is survived by 11 grandchildren. They are Ian Tracy, Chelsea Tracy, Penelope Van Rensselaer Carpenter, John Van Rensselaer Carpenter, Elizabeth Pride Carpenter, Molly Carpenter, Daniel Carpenter, Charlotte Jones, Miles Jones, Katherine Jones and Charlie Jones.
A memorial service will be held at 3:30 p.m. March 26 at Nazareth by the Sea Episcopal Mission at Cabrita Point. A short walk to the water's edge will follow the ceremony, where some of his ashes will be scattered. The service will conclude with a reception at the church.