Retired Sussex County Community College Dean Of Student Services Explores Life’s ‘Doves And Demons’ In His Newly Released Book
Saturday, October 20, 2012 • 9:25am
HARDYSTON, NJ – “Demons are always tempting and attractive, and they surround me always,” wrote Dr. Andrew McKenzie, in his recently published book, “Doves And Demons An Irish American’s Legacy.”
“But being Catholic means having the faith to recognize the doves – in me and in my life – and having faith that they will lift me and take me away from demons toward the true light,” McKenzie continued.
McKenzie’s colorful account of growing up Irish and Catholic around the mid-20th century touches on those doves and demons within his own lifetime, with the anecdotes providing life lessons for all readers.
“’Doves’ were all the good people and thoughts in our lives,” McKenzie explained. “The ‘Demons’’ are our weaknesses, the ‘Doves’ are our strength. We try to keep the ‘Demons’ down when we recognize them in ourselves.”
Over his lifetime, McKenzie, who completed the book at age 75, has accrued a wealth of unique, and varied, experiences. He said he wrote the book to chronicle those events, and, to leave something behind for his four children, and ten grandchildren.
“I wanted to leave them a legacy, and let them know where my faith was,” said McKenzie, who has been married to his wife, Eleanor, for over 50 years.
Part of their family time together, which is documented in the book, is the couple’s love of helping children, and taking in several foster children, specifically babies who had H.I.V., and other illnesses. One of their own children is a child they fostered, and later adopted.
Throughout the book, is woven in McKenzie’s perspective, as well as the perspective of his family members, of their Catholic Faith. Additionally, he touches on his Irish Ancestry, and visits back to his family’s country of ancestry (McKenzie was born in Paterson, N.J.).
The youngest of seven children, guided by his single mother (his father left the family when he was young), who worked part-time, and nurtured by four of his older sisters, McKenzie had a strong work ethic, and iron resolve, from the start.
“I worked three jobs, because I wanted my mother to stay home,” he said. I made rent since I was age seven.”
McKenzie said at that time, rent was $26 per month, and then later $28.
“I always worked some odd jobs, I always found ways to make money,” he added.
His path took him in different directions. At one point, McKenzie headed to the seminary, and in the middle of his second year, he questioned if it was his calling, and departed afterwards.
From there, he spent some time in the U.S. Army Medical Corps.
Another interesting venture that McKenzie chronicles in his book is his work in the Library of Congress, where he handled a collection of “Presidential Papers,” and specifically maintained the Andrew Johnson collection.
“I loved the job, I’d read and read anything about the Civil War,” said McKenzie. “I became the Andrew Johnson expert.”
In his work and through the Johnson papers, McKenzie discovered a young writer named Benjamin Truman, who often wrote to Abraham Lincoln. McKenzie was fascinated by Truman’s correspondence, and how Abraham Lincoln responded, by writing back to Truman on his letters sideways.
“Lincoln was an absolute genius, he learned what was going on in this country from this young person [Benjamin Truman],” said McKenzie.
Learning more about Benjamin Truman, who was around McKenzie’s age at the time he wrote the letters, gave McKenzie insight into the life of a successful young man, who could have been his own peer if they lived in the same era.
Additionally, McKenzie organized the Benjamin Truman papers separately, because of their uniqueness.
President Harry S. Truman was the one who initiated the creation of the Presidential Papers.
“It was a fascinating thing, I lived and breathed it for three years,” McKenzie said.
And once during those three years, President Harry S. Truman visited the Presidential Papers Sections. It was Truman himself during his presidency, who asked for the funding to be earmarked for this section of the Library of Congress. He mentioned an ancestor of his, Benjamin Truman, who he said had written some papers. McKenzie’s supervisor told the President that McKenzie studied the Andrew Johnson papers, and, was familiar with the Benjamin Truman papers.
That day, McKenzie spent a considerable amount of time with Harry S. Truman, discussing what he knew about Truman’s ancestor, and the two formed a bond.
One of McKenzie’s other unique experiences took him to the docks in Port Newark, where he worked while raising his family, and earning his B.A. degree from Seton Hall.
“There was a lot going on that I didn’t understand,” said McKenzie.
While there, McKenzie recalled a man named Nick, a “simpleton” who could not read or write, and asked McKenzie to help him pen a love letter for his girlfriend.
Nick felt comfortable enough to confide in McKenzie, and one day, showed him an item in a case.
“This [the item] helps me get rid of the bad man, I get a call and got rid of a bad man in New York at the telephone booth,” Nick told McKenzie.
Nick’s silencer, as well as his confession that he was paid to do these deeds, shocked McKenzie.
Another story which emerged from his time on the docks, was how McKenzie said a truck driver told him that the CEO of their company accused him of stealing $6,000 worth of coffee, which he told him he was required to pay back, and threatened him.
In his job as a checker, McKenzie found flats of coffee, and excitedly went to tell the CEO they were accounted for, and, the employee was in the clear.
He received a reaction he did not expect.
“Berated, he called me a punk, and asked why I was talking with the guy,” McKenzie said.
After a conflict in which McKenzie intimidated the CEO when he summoned some men rough McKenzie up, he walked off of the job, and, started receiving threatening phone calls, but felt secure about his decision, for the safety of his family.
McKenzie went on to earn his Master’s Degree from William Paterson University, and, eventually his PhD from Ohio University.
He was the Dean of St. Francis Seminary in Lafayette, N.J; taught at Baruch College in New York City, as well as William Paterson University; and, eventually served as the Dean of Student Services at Sussex County Community College, before his retirement in 2001.
“Doves And Demons An Irish American’s Legacy,” is published by AuthorHouse, is available for purchase on Amazon.com, and a portion of the proceeds benefit Immaculate Conception Church in Franklin, N.J., where McKenzie served as a parish trustee, and, has been a longtime member.
Click here to order the book, available in paperback, hardback, and Kindle editions. “Doves And Demons An Irish American’s Legacy.” “Doves And Demons An Irish American’s Legacy.”
“I’ve had a different life than a lot of people, I’ve enjoyed a lot of things,” McKenzie concluded.