Obituary: Ken Libertoff, 1945-2024 | Obituaries | Seven Days | Vermont's Independent Voice

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Obituary: Ken Libertoff, 1945-2024 

Former director of the Vermont Association for Mental Health was a fierce advocate for consumer empowerment and innovative children’s services

Published March 12, 2024 at 6:00 a.m. | Updated March 12, 2024 at 9:52 a.m.

click to enlarge Ken Libertoff - COURTESY
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  • Ken Libertoff

This was written by Ken Libertoff: After living a full life, Ken Libertoff is at rest after 79 years of adventures, achievements, some disappointments, but uplifted with the belief that he made a difference.

Ken was born in Brooklyn, N.Y., on January 16, 1945. His mother, Lillian Libertoff, lived in New York City until age 92, when she moved to Westview Meadows in Montpelier. She passed away in 2016, age 95. Ken’s father, Wilford Libertoff, also a native of Brooklyn, died when Ken was 12 years old.

Ken is survived by Sarah Hofmann, Ken’s wife and best friend, whom he married later in life. Together they forged a full and happy union. Besides sharing loving children and grandchildren, they took pride in both having rewarding but different careers, and along the way, shared many friends and acquaintances. They were avid bike travelers with frequent visits to rail trails in Vermont and elsewhere, finding bikes in such diverse places as Maine, Florida, New Mexico, Wyoming and California. Combining a love for adventure with life on the road, they also managed to travel to and bike in Canada, France, Italy, Spain, South Africa and Scandinavia.

Ken is survived by his son Jamie Libertoff of Albuquerque, N.M., who always made his father very proud. Jamie has been a social worker for many years, helping people with behavioral health disorders. Jamie’s two children, Fiorella Gamio of Queens, N.Y., and Rodrigo Sarmiento of Albuquerque, N.M., were shining stars in Ken’s constellation, as were Sarah’s children John Mullett of Vermont and Layne Mullett of Pennsylvania, along with their loving partners. Mireya Ortiz, Jamie’s kind and caring partner, also lives in Albuquerque, N.M., with Mireya’s son, Zahir.

Ken greatly valued his younger sister, Karen Harrington, and his brother-in-law, Leo Harrrington, of West Hartford, Conn. He also leaves behind his nephews and Sarah’s brother and sisters.

Ken is also survived by Jamie’s Mother and former wife, Janet Ryan, of Florida. He also was fortunate to have wives and partners with women who were “way above average,” including Gabrielle Dietzel and Trish O’Regan of Montpelier, Vt.

Ken was a proud graduate of Public School 114 and Junior High School 198 in Queens. His boyhood memories included countless games of stoop and stickball and hours of basketball on the streets of Rockaway and Brooklyn. His first job, at age 14, was at the popular Bogianno’s Bar and Grill, where he manned the nighttime outdoor hamburger and hotdog stand for a dollar an hour.

Ken graduated from Far Rockaway High School in 1962. While his academic record was modest, he made his mark on the basketball court and served as team captain during his junior and senior years. He was named to the All-Queens basketball team in his senior year.

Ken enrolled at the University of Connecticut. Given his less-than-stellar academic high school record, he was accepted “on academic probation” at UConn. This status, it was reported, caused his mother great stress. He was a proud member of several outstanding UConn Husky basketball teams, including the 1964 squad which made it to the Elite 8 NCAA tournament. Ken was an English major in college and slowly but steadily matured as a student. In an effort to pad his grade point average, Ken was told about an easy course, so he signed up for an introductory plant science class. Arriving for the class, Ken discovered that it was devoted to the art of flower arranging, and that he was the only male student in a group of nearly twenty students.

After college, Ken stayed at UConn and served as the freshman basketball coach in 1967. However, after reflection, Ken shifted his priorities and committed himself to social activism. Thus, he moved to New Haven, Conn., and served as an assistant to a young radical Yale University psychology professor, Ira Goldenberg. Over the course of several years, Ken worked with troubled teenagers, while also crafting services and programs as part of the War on Poverty. He also was asked to provide workshops within the Yale Department of Psychology.

With added maturity and life experience, Ken applied to graduate school at Harvard University, and in a startling development, he was accepted. He received his PhD in 1978 in clinical psychology and public practice, and it was reported that his mother was most pleased. During his graduate career, Ken was awarded numerous National Institute of Mental Health scholarships while writing his dissertation on the subject of runaway children.

Ken moved to Vermont in 1976, and, while still writing his dissertation, he served as the director with the relatively new Washington County Youth Services Bureau. In 1981, Ken was named the director of the Vermont Association for Mental Health, a post he maintained for 30 years. While working as a citizen advocate in this position, he was engaged in many facets of legislative advocacy on many health and human service issues. Among his achievements was his leadership in the passing of the Mental Health and Substance Abuse Parity Bill in 1997. This landmark legislation was viewed as the new national model and standard and included a mandate for all insurance policies sold within the state to cover both mental health and substance abuse conditions at parity with physical conditions. Another piece of legislation that had considerable national attention was a bill passed in Vermont in 2009, which banned gifts from the pharmaceutical industry to Vermont’s medical community, including hospitals. This legislation also set a national standard that was replicated in many other states. During his tenure, he was known as a fierce advocate for consumer empowerment, innovative children’s services and leadership in building recovery centers throughout the state. Ken lectured or consulted in more than 30 states, as well as at the Sorbonne in Paris. He also served as an advisor in South Africa, where he worked with indigenous community groups, business leaders, government officials and other advocacy organizations throughout the country.

Ken received considerable recognition, including the Lifetime Legendary Leadership Award from Mental Health America, but he was most proud of his award at Public School 114, when, in sixth grade, he was recognized with the highly valued Good Eater Award.

Those who worked with Ken and those who had occasion to oppose his efforts might all agree that he was a vigorous and spirited advocate, one who could be both sharp in opinion but quick with wit and humor.

After retiring in 2010, Ken continued to serve as a consultant, traveled to New Mexico frequently on family visits, traveled abroad and refined his tennis game with a cadre of tennis buddies. He was a loyal member of the Vermont Tree Committee and an avid gardener. It might be said that at age 74, Ken stumbled into a new endeavor and adventure when he signed up for a couple of free writing classes on a whim. He had no design, plan or thought about becoming a writer. Several local writers urged Ken to sign up for a more formalized writing group at the Montpelier activity senior center, specifically mentioning one of the group leaders named Maggie Thompson. Under her guidance and support, Ken wrote his memoir in short story and essay form and was thrilled when a few appeared in the Montpelier Bridge and the Barre-Montpelier Times Argus. Last year, Rootstock Publishing of Montpelier agreed to publish a collection of his work under the title Snapshots of a Life. Ken launched his book on January 20, 2024, just days after his 79th birthday.

A celebration of life will be held in the spring. As much as Ken loved flowers, if you wish to honor Ken’s memory, please contribute to the Central Vermont Refugee Action Network or the Montpelier Tree Board through the Montpelier Foundation to purchase trees for the city.

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