Watertown, New York
Bruce R. Laumeister, longtime Bennington VT business owner, and co-Founder of the Bennington Center for the Arts (BCA), passed away peacefully on Friday, May 26 at his winter home in Tucson, AZ. He was 88.
Bruce was an engineer, business entrepreneur, a key supporter of Southern Vermont College, and, with his wife and BCA co-Founder Elizabeth Small, a generous local philanthropist of the visual and performing arts. Bruce conceived and built the BCA’s familiar complex of white barns on the Bennington West Road at Gypsy Lane.
Bruce came to Bennington in 1980 when he purchased CTC Photographic, eventually expanding the Benmont Ave. photo-processing factory and its network of independent dealers, into a chain of 28 Vermont Color 1-Hour Photo Labs and mail-order film processing, serving VT, NH, MA, upstate NY, and Maine.
During that time, Bruce became a supporter of the Oldcastle Theater Company at Southern Vermont College, an avid patron of the summer NYC Ballet at SPAC, and a collector of Western art. He began plans for a fully-equipped, dedicated theater space for Oldcastle in Bennington, as well as a gallery space to host permanent and touring exhibitions of fine art painting and sculpture.
In 1983, when Southern Vermont College was facing a financial crisis, Bruce put together a financial rescue plan, creating a limited partnership to buy the property and lease it back to the College, eventually donating the property back to SVC in 1986 on a sound financial footing. For his service, he was awarded an honorary Doctor of Humanities degree by SVC in 1988.
The BCA’s 315-seat theater and original galleries, designed by architects Brett Laumeister and Timothy Smith, opened in 1995. The Center provided a permanent home for Oldcastle Theatre, as well as BCA’s annual concert series. The Center’s exhibition spaces were eventually expanded to 7 galleries over 3 floors, with extensions to the west and north, plus an art education and studio space, artists’ apartment, and the red-clad Covered Bridge Museum along Route 9. Bruce and Elizabeth worked tirelessly to bring internationally-renowned artists to the BCA’s galleries, and renowned musicians to the Edith Laumeister Theater. Elizabeth brought her professional gallery experience in Native American and Wildlife art to the role of Curator, including the annual Society of Animal Artists show, and the permanent Laumeister Collection.
Bruce was born March 16, 1935 in Watertown, NY to Frank H. Laumeister and Edith M. (Spieler) Laumeister, and grew up in Rochester, NY. As a teenager at Brighton High School, he worked in his father’s Clover Market grocery store and at a local garage, teaching himself auto mechanics. He attended RPI on a full academic scholarship. He was a Varsity athlete in Football and Track, playing offense, defense, and special teams, and throwing the shot-put and discus. He graduated in 1956 with a B.S. in Mechanical Engineering, with Highest Honors, elected to the Sigma Xi and Tau Beta Pi honor societies.
After RPI, Bruce began his business career as a national sales engineer for Union Carbide in NJ, while earning an MBA at night from Rutgers University. He met Virginia Marsh, of Tucson, AZ, a flight attendant for United, and they were married in San Francisco in 1957. Bruce and Virginia settled in Princeton, NJ, where their three sons were born, Brett, Glenn, and Cody. During the late 50s, Bruce was a winning amateur racing driver around NJ and PA in his beloved Porsche Speedster.
The family moved to the Schenectady, NY area in 1965, living in Rexford until 1974. Bruce led the early development of electric cars and garden tractors at the General Electric R & D Center in Niskayuna, for which he was awarded several patents. His Delta project car was the first practical battery-powered automobile of the modern era. He then built a new manufacturing business within GE, producing the Elec-Trak lawn tractor at a plant in Scotia, NY. GE Elec-Traks were sold thru American and European lawn equipment dealers, until bought by Wheel Horse in 1974. Ever since, the Elec-Trak has enjoyed a cult following of owners’ clubs and EV enthusiasts around the U.S.
While in Schenectady, Bruce was a founder and President of Better Neighborhoods, Inc. (BNI) from 1968-74, a non-profit organization to fund and rehabilitate inner-city housing for low-income residents. His work with BNI earned him an Outstanding Young Man of America Award from the National Jaycees in 1970. Bruce also served on the National Governing Board of Common Cause, the Citizens’ Lobby in Washington, D.C., working to make our election laws fairer to less-wealthy candidates.
The Laumeisters then moved to Hunterdon County, NJ, where Bruce was Executive VP of J.T. Baker Chemicals, and later the Group VP of American Optical Eyewear in MA and President of Primex Plastics in NJ. In 1980, he realized a long-held dream of living in Vermont, buying Cap-Tan Color (CTC) and moving into the 1844 A.B. Gardner house on Monument Ave. in Old Bennington.
Bruce and Virginia divorced in 1988, and Bruce met Elizabeth Small of Wyoming at her Blackhawk Gallery in Tucson, AZ, while prospecting for the Laumeister Collection. They were married in 1990, and continued selling and collecting fine art painting and sculpture through their galleries in Wyoming, Tucson, and Williamstown, MA, while designing and building the BCA. Through Elizabeth, Bruce acquired stepchildren Traute Lynn, Shirley, and John, and 13 grandchildren. Bruce had two daughters-in-law, Suzanne Miller, married to Brett in 2008, and Kelen Varella Barbosa of Rio De Janeiro, Brazil, who married Glenn in 2018. In 2022, Glenn and Kelen welcomed Bruce’s own twin grandchildren, Enzo and Ellie, in Miami, FL. Bruce recently met Enzo and Ellie, and was able to enjoy playing with them as a grandpa for the first time, on their recent family visit to his Tucson home.