BRATTLEBORO—A glance around Ben Underhill’s office at Putnam Insurance on Western Avenue tells you, without a doubt, the two things that he is most passionate about: baseball and young people.
Adorning his office walls are countless scenes of baseball games along with numerous plaques acknowledging his service to the town’s youth. Several record Ben’s many contributions to Youth Services and its programs over more than three decades.
He’s going to need more space on his wall, according to Youth Services Executive Director Russell Bradbury-Carlin, regarding Underhill’s latest accolade from his organization.
On June 12, Underhill, who recently left the nonprofit social-service organization’s board of directors, was voted board emeritus by his former colleagues. He “served with distinction” on the board for 34 years.
Two other former board members have received the board emeritus status in the organization’s 46-year history: the late Jesse Corum IV and Larry Cassidy, who continues to be a key advisor.
The organization also recognized Underhill in 2010 as its first “Most Valuable Player,” inducted into the agency’s “Hall of Fame” for community members who make outstanding and sustained contributions to youth development.
Working with and for young people, particularly through coaching and organizing baseball teams, has been Underhill’s lifelong passion. He helped lead the Brattleboro Small Fry Baseball League since he moved to the area in the 1980s.
“Ben’s great love for the sport showed in the way he translated the game for the kids he coached,” recalled local dentist Tom Heydinger, who was coaching the teams when Underhill signed on.
“I enjoyed teaching them the fundamentals of the game, working with individual kids, and meeting their families,” Underhill noted. “You could see the difference between kids from stable home environments and those that needed more attention,” he recalled.
Unattached at the time, Underhill was soon to realize that parenting was “a lot harder than it looked” when he became a stepfather to Chris, Megan, and Jeff, at the time 3, 6, and 7 years old, respectively.
Underhill’s affiliation with Youth Services began soon after he moved to Brattleboro in 1984, when he was invited by his employer, the radio station WKVT, to participate in the agency’s bowl-a-thon, Bowl for Kids’ Sake, a benefit for the agency’s former Big Brothers Big Sisters program.
The following year, Underhill joined the bowl-a-thon event committee and before he knew it, he was chairing the event, Youth Services’ largest fundraiser. By 1987, he had been asked to become president of the Big Brothers Big Sisters’ Advisory Committee and its representative on the Youth Services’ board.
He increased his involvement in Youth Services’ governance and became board chair in 1994, the year after he moved in with his new family.
In 2002, a rare blood cancer, multiple myeloma, sidelined Underhill from his work as a Youth Services’ board member and his beloved coaching. It started with back problems and subsequently immobilized him for months on end.
“When I became ill, I got a lot of what I gave to others back,” he said of the outpouring of support he received, which included everything from rides to the hospital to work on his house.
Responding well to treatment, Underhill regained some of his energy and mobility, though damage to his bones and nerves meant that he had to let go of his goal of coaching the offspring of former players from his Small Fry teams.
Underhill noted that his mother, a school teacher in Long Island, N.Y., set an example through her constant volunteer work in their hometown.
“Getting involved — that’s just what you do in a community,” he said. “It’s a requirement, as far as I’m concerned!”