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Bedford Hills, NY historian Jaap Ketting succumbs at age 95

Sport flier conscripted as NEI bomber pilot

Tags: Excerpts from the Windmill

BEDFORD HILLS, NY - A Dutch American who escaped the Japanese for Australia as they occupied Java, received further training in Jackson, MS before joining the the 18th Dutch Squadron in Australia to earn several decorations in the battle against the Japanese. In his retirement he became the driving force in chronicling the history of his adopted New York State hometown.

Rotterdam-born Jaap Ketting died on April 16, 2012, nine days short of his 96 th birthday. A resident of Bedford since 1947, Ketting was the president emeritus of the Bedford Hills Historical Museum, which he conceived of and helped found in November 2004. He was the author of “A Brief History of Bedford Hills” and “Roosevelt Drive,” loving historical tributes to the community.

Jaap Ketting’s death has been described as a great loss for Bedford, where he was viewed as a pillar of the Bedford Hills community.

Elin Sullivan, past president of the Bedford Hills Historical Museum, said Ketting’s knowledge and appreciation of the hamlet were unmatched, who called him a quiet and gentle hero and a defining member of ‘the greatest generation.’

A decorated hero

Jaap Ketting completed his studies in 1937; then, after a year of conscripted military service, he went to the Netherlands East Indies in 1938, where he was employed by a large pharmaceutical concern in Batavia and Semarang. As a sport flier, he was drafted by the Netherlands East Indies Air Force when the war against Japan began. He was stationed at a secret airbase on Borneo one week before Pearl Harbor and flew many missions in a Glen Martin B-13 bomber trying to stop the Japanese fleet. He was wounded by a Japanese fighter plane during the first phase of World War II.

Ketting escaped from Java the night before the Japanese occupation, taking off from a street that doubled as an emergency airstrip. In Australia he was sent to the Royal Military Flying School in Jackson, MS where he was trained as a B-25 pilot. He was one of the first group of graduates who returned to Australia in 1943 and stationed at an airbase near Darwin, joining the 18th Dutch Squadron. He earned several decorations, including the Bronze Cross with clusters, the distinguished Flying Cross, as well as the Dutch equivalent of the Purple Heart.

In December 1946 he arrived in New York as a purchasing agent, with offices in Katonah supervising the resupply of medical equipment and medicines for Indonesia.

Later, he cofounded the Consolidated Midland Corporation in Katonah with Dr. Jan Maas, which later moved to Brewster. He became owner of the company in 1964, retiring in 1984. He was a former member of the Chemist Club and the Netherlands Club, and past president of the Bedford Hills Lions Club.

Chronicler of local history

Jaap Ketting developed a natural interest in history at a young age, which increased with age. In the Netherlands, he and his brother, who ended up dying young, started tracing their family’s roots back to the 1500s. According to son Jaap Ketting Jr, his father appreciated European and Dutch history, but when he came to America, his interest turned to this country’s past. “When he retired, he traveled throughout the United States, often to places with historical significance, like Gettysburg.”

In an interview in 1999, Mr. Ketting said the ideas for his two local history books came from a discussion he had had several years earlier at a dinner party. The conversation had revolved around a book detailing the history of a New York village and its people. During the course of the evening Ketting began to think a Bedford Hills history book would be a good idea. Soon after, he put the idea in motion by visiting the Bedford Historical Society, where he received much help in researching the subject.

“It became an obsession,” Ketting said at the time of the book’s release. He found enough material to fill 192 pages. He also uncovered 200 color photos and maps to accompany the many anecdotes.

“A Brief History of Bedford Hills” was published in 1999 after two years of work, and inspired his dream of a museum. “I found there were all kinds of items in people’s garages that would be of historical interest,” Ketting said at the time. And there was no place open to the public.”

As an author, Ketting was disappointed to learn during his research that so much data was missing, destroyed and/or forgotten, particularly material from the turn of the century. During this labor of love he realized the need for a central location for historical data to be housed and made accessible for future generations, an observation that could equally apply to Dutch immigrant communities across Canada and the U.S.A.


The subsequent search for the new museum location started out with Ketting’s hope that an entire building could exhibit and properly store artifacts found around town. He had the very high vision of something like the Katonah Art Museum, a museum in the area, realizing that it would take a million dollars. What Bedford Hills received is modest by comparison but fills its needs.

The museum’s opening, its crowning moment, was attended by residents, dignitaries and volunteers. Jaap Ketting as the driving force behind this museum is credited with putting together a small army of volunteers to make it all happen.

For his 93rd birthday, Ketting was honored by the historical museum and a slew of elected officials who recognized his efforts to promote a love of history. In fact, June 3, 2010, was proclaimed “Jaap Ketting Day” in the state of New York, his son pointed out.

The Dutch American entrepreneur is survived by his wife, Connie van Rossen, whom he married in 1950; his son, Jaap, and his wife, Regina; two grandchildren, Juliana and Conrad; and a sister, Cornelia, in Rotterdam, the Netherlands.

Following Ketting’s service appropriately a reception was held at the Bedford Hills Historical Museum, itself a very worthy memorial of a visionary who kept on being an asset to his community.