Saying goodbye to Manhasset’s ‘Mr. V’, Mark van Schenkhof

Saying goodbye to Manhasset’s ‘Mr. V’, Mark van Schenkhof
Mark van Schenkhof, of Port Washington. (Photo courtesy of Julie Lavin)

“The roots of education are bitter, but the fruit is sweet.” 

Those are the words of the ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle, some of which were shared many times by Mark van Schenkhof with his students throughout his 20-year career in Manhasset. 

However, the fruit for van Schenkhof was more than just sweet, it gave him a lifetime’s worth of love from those he taught and those who knew him.  

The Manhasset High School choir director and teacher died earlier this month on New Year’s Day. He was 68.

Van Schenkhof had a six-year battle with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS, a nervous system disease also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease that weakens muscles and impairs physical function.

He died at his Port Washington home comforted by his wife of 29 years, Carol, while in hospice care. 

Van Schenkhof, otherwise known as “Mr. V” to his students, leaves behind a lasting legacy to the hundreds of students he taught throughout his career, many of whom have shared personal memories of the beloved teacher online.

Born in Patterson, N.J., on March 10, 1955, Mark van Schoenkhof attended both Ridgefield and West Milford High Schools, according to his obituary. His journey into formal training began when he was offered a full-voice scholarship to Julliard in New York City, changing his intended plan to become a math major, which in his words was the only subject he was good at.

During his time at Manhasset, van Schenkof and his choirs traveled across the country and the world to share their talents, including performances at the United Nations, the White House, Trinity Church in Manhattan and the Vatican.

But the most revered location he and his teachings went to can’t be found on a map: the hearts of all those he loved. 

“He imparted valuable life lessons to each of his students that we will use for our entire life,” said Gabriella Stein, a former student in the symphonic choir and select ensemble and a close friend of van Schenkhof.  She told Blank Slate Media, “whether it was a personalized birthday message with a recording of him singing ‘Happy Birthday’ or a college recommendation letter uniquely tailored for the student and school, Mr. V always displayed extra effort to make every student feel special and important.”

Aside from his musical expertise, one that was forged from attending the Manhattan School of Music after Julliard and the many parishes he worked at, students remember the lessons they say transcended the classroom. 

It comes as no surprise that so many of van Schenkhof’s students and friends shared the generosity he showed them and raised $79,000 last fall to help him and his family with the costs of his illness. 

Julie Lavin, another former student and Manhasset graduate in 2005, said van Schenkhof and his wife Carol were both forever grateful for the care they were shown these past months. 

“As former students of Manhasset High School, we were all so lucky to have him as a mentor in our lives and his memory and many lessons will live on,” Lavin said at the news of his death. 

In a previous interview with Blank Slate Media, Lavin described her late teacher as somewhat of a philosopher due to his often sharing Aristotle’s quotes. 

“That was his thing. It wasn’t just music, it was life lessons he would give you,” Lavin said. 

Van Schenkhof first started working in the district at Manhasset Middle School in 1999, moving to the high school two years later. He was the commencement speaker in 2005, the only class that were students of his for six years, two years at the middle school and four at the high school.

Aside from his work in the district, van Schenkhof was also the organist and choir director for Saint Stephen’s Episcopal Church on Carlton Avenue in Port Washington in 2001. The church held a concert to celebrate van Schenkhof’s music ministry in 2021. 

Upon hearing that van Schenkhof’s battle with ALS was worsening, Lavin, classmate Kate Aitken and Sandra Baskin, a retired Manhasset teacher who was van Schenkhof’s pianist, started the GoFundMe in late August last year. The page includes a 25-minute tribute from former students to their teacher, many of whom have gone into the music field themselves due to van Schenkhof. 

Aitken said she came into middle school knowing she loved to sing but was convinced it was something she wasn’t very good at. However, under van Schenkhof’s tutelage, she learned from him if you have a voice and are willing to use it, you can sing. 

And if you keep working at it, you can be great. 

“That growth mindset and the importance of trusting in passion and perseverance to conquer obstacles are lessons I still turn to today every time I’m facing a new challenge or feel out of my depth,” Aitken said in a statement to Blank Slate Media. 

Aitken went on to say her former teacher cared more about his students being good people as opposed to just being good singers. 

“He emphasized that basic human values of respect, generosity, and collaboration were foundational to everything else, including artistic achievement,” Aitken said. 

Baskin said the most outstanding memory she has of her former colleague was walking into Manhasset High School’s cafeteria in 2019 ahead of a rehearsal.

Except to van Schenkhof’s surprise, it was filled with over 100 Manhasset alumni who returned to the high school to put on a reunion concert. The July 2019 event featured solo acts and choral performances, each conducted by van Schenkhof himself. 

Baskin said the night’s final performance of “Hallelujah” vibrated through out the auditorium with the love they had for van Schenkhof.

“This is the power of music, and that along with his life lessons will forever stay in all of our hearts,” Baskin said in a statement to Blank Slate Media. 

Another former colleague of van Schenkhof, Joseph D’Angelo, shared a story about meeting van Schenkhof when he was new to the district.  He was curious why D’Angelo—who worked in the district from 1978 to 2010—was frequently mentioned by students and so respected by them.

Van Schenkhof asked D’Angelo, who both taught and served in other positions in the district, what his “secret” was, to which D’Angelo said he already knew the answer.

“All you have to do is love the kids, and if you love and respect them, they’re going to love and respect you,” D’Angelo said. “And he laughed and said, ‘I knew that.’”

D’Angelo also described the impact his former colleague had on his students, speaking about his wanting to increase the number of athletes in the choir program during a time when it wasn’t common. 

D’Angelo said that over time, due in part to van Schenkhof’s “magnetic and strong” personality, the choir started to include students who played lacrosse and football. 

“I have never known a man with more courage than Mark van Schenkhof,” D’Angelo said. “The way he faced this disease, the way he encountered it is remarkable to me. It’s still remarkable when I think about it.”

in addition to his wife Carol, van Schenkhof is survived by his brother Ronald van Schenkhof and sister Jessica Price as well as nieces and nephews. 

 A memorial Celebration of Life will occur on Sunday, March 3, at 1 p.m. at St. Stephen’s Church on 9 Carlton Ave, in Port Washington,

Friends can visit his wife Carol on Friday, Jan. 12,  between 2 p.m. and 5 p.m. at the St. Cecilia Room in the lower level of the church.

In lieu of flowers, donations can be sent to the scholarship fund at Manhasset High School as “Funds for the Mark van Schenkhof Scholarship Fund,” St. Stephen’s Church, Hospice Care Network at 99 Sunnyside Blvd. in Woodbury or the ALS Foundation of Greater New York.

As Aristotle once  said, “See if you can stretch your heart and expand your love so that it touches not only those to whom you can give it easily, but also to those who need it so much.”

For Mark Athanasius van Schenkhof, consider your heart stretched. 

No posts to display


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here