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Prof "van B": Photojournalist, artist and speed-track coach

By Rachel Lutz, Features Editor

After spending the semester in Professor van Benthuysen's Journalism 41 class, photojournalism, we've learned a lot about his Photoshop and photography skills. We've developed our skills in those areas, but learned a lot about our professor, too. Through his subtle, but self-deprecating humor, we learned that he couldn't spell his last name as a kindergartener, thus dubbing him "van B."
And because "he's an expert in layout, design and artwork...a strong writer/reporter/copy editor," said Professor Papper, Chair of the Department of Journalism, Media Studies, and Public Relations, we here at The Chronicle value his expertise. His nearly 30-year career as an Art Director and later Director of Design at Newsday brings inspiration and direction to our weekly center spreads, as well as general layout throughout our pages.
It was toward the end of the semester I realized there's a ton about all of our professors that we, as students, don't know. For example, Professor van B. didn't originate as a journalist, but rather as an art student (you can check out his work at He continues painting to this day, but he says that his training in art helped shape his perspective and helped mold him into a successful photographer and judge of photos for news value.
As far as journalism skills go, students have a lot to learn from van B. His experience at Newsday combined with his freelancing for the New York Times and Wall Street Journal are all invaluable. But on a personal level, he has some fascinating stories to tell. He recently spent a week in Spain and naturally photographed everything. We got to see a slideshow of the oldest restaurant in the world, Botin, where Hemingway was a permanent fixture in the upstairs seating area.
He was a speed skater growing up in the Midwest, as well as a short track speed skating coach on Long Island. He said in the 1960s, it was the macho thing to do because the NHL hadn't expanded throughout the United States. He coached a woman all the way to the World team, which is the Olympic team in a non-Olympic year. She went on to compete in Beijing, Switzerland and Japan.
The first time rollerblader turned speed skater tried out on the ice, "she put blades on where she had had wheels, and it was like watching one of those flowers bloom in time-lapse photography. Quite literally, every lap she took was better, and my jaw dropped." So they worked together for about two years, and he realized that she had learned all she could from him without picking up all of his bad habits. She had about six months of additional training and then she made the world team.
In 1997, he organized and co-directed the short-track national championship at West Point. Nine national records were shattered and there were zero injuries, which is an unusual correlation. Speed skating is the fastest you can go on a flat surface with the least amount of equipment. You can go about as fast as a thoroughbred racehorse if you're really good.
When he's not at Hofstra, he spends his time painting, cycling in the warm weather (about forty miles in a weekend!), and traveling. He'd still love to visit Prague, Budapest or Vienna.


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