Charles Raebeck, 95

Jan. 5, 1922 - May 24, 2017
Charles Raebeck, Jan. 5, 1922 - May 24, 2017

Charles Raebeck, an educator and a founder of the Group for the South Fork, died on May 24 at the Peconic Landing retirement community in Greenport with his family by his side. He was 95.

Dr. Raebeck was born on Jan. 5, 1922, in Buffalo, the only son of Joseph and Bertha Raebeck. He grew up in the Flatbush neighborhood of Brooklyn. Joining the Coast Guard as a young man, he piloted rescue planes for two years during World War II. After the war, he enrolled at Duke University, where he obtained bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral degrees in education.

He and his first wife, the former Charlotte Heider, were married on Aug. 9, 1945. Together, they built a house by hand on three acres in the woods near Durham, N.C., where he became principal of a small rural grade school, which pupils often attended barefoot. They also started their family of six children.

Dr. Raebeck subsequently was a professor of educational psychology, first at Memphis State University for a few years in the mid-1950s, then at Wittenberg University in Springfield, Ohio, and eventually at Dowling College in Oakdale, from 1961 to 1976, where he headed the teacher education program and helped expand attendance from 35 to 650 students. He also initiated the first student-teacher program in New York State, his family said.

He and his first wife began summering in Amagansett in 1957 and moved there full time in 1960. After her death, in 1969, Dr. Raebeck and the former Audrey Kelley, who survives, were married on July 4, 1970.

In 1972, the couple, nature lovers, conservationists, and organic farmers, founded the Group for the South Fork, now the Group for the East End. His family said they joined the movement that defeated a proposed nuclear power plant at Shoreham, helped establish the protection of groundwater, fought the extension of a major highway through East Hampton’s Northwest Woods, promoted upzoning of real estate parcels, secured protections for South Fork farmers, and helped preserve the Amagansett dunes.

Dr. Raebeck “had a strength of spirit rarely seen . . . remained upbeat through his greatest trials, and was in love with life,”  his family said. They called him a good listener, and said he “gave wise counsel to many people.” They added that “he cherished the written word and studied the classics and spiritual teachings throughout his life . . . most of all, he knew how to make you laugh.” His daughter Wendy said he never talked about old age and “he never got old.”

In addition to his wife, all his children survive: Leslie Raebeck of Ukiah, Calif., Wendy Raebeck of Kauai, Hawaii, Barry Raebeck of Wainscott, Terry Patterson of Southampton, Heidi Raebeck of Snow Hill, Md., and Shelby (Skip) Raebeck of Springs. Thirteen grandchildren survive as well as do two stepsons, Chris Kelley of Springs and David Kelley of Brooklyn and North Haven.

On Monday, the family will receive visitors from 3 to 5 p.m. at a celebration of Dr. Raebeck’s life at the Peconic Landing auditorium, 1600 Brecknock Road, Greenport. Those who knew him have been invited to attend.