During the winter of 1941, Wagner College senior Frank Betancourt was in charge of a campus revue show that raised money for the Red Cross. One of the numbers was a new song written by Betancourt himself, called “Beautiful Upon a Hill.” The song was so popular among Wagner students that it became the College’s alma mater in 1949. (Hear a 1949 recording of it by the Wagner College Choir.)
We don’t have many details on Frank Betancourt’s life, though we do know that he favored Manhattan’s West Village. In the late 1950s, he lived on MacDougal Alley, just off Washington Square. Jackson Pollock, the famous abstract expressionist artist, lived in that same home in 1949–50.
During the late 1980s, Betancourt became friends with Jacqueline Besignano; they met while each was visiting a family member at the same Manhattan nursing home, and perhaps they bonded over their shared Wagner College connections. Jacqueline was the mother of John Besignano, who had married into a Wagner legacy family. John’s wife was Lauren Malone ’72, the daughter of Francis Edward Malone ’49 and niece of George Schaffer ’50.
Whatever the nature of Jacqueline Besignano and Frank Betancourt’s friendship was, it was close enough that she ended up owning a piece of his artistic legacy. When Jacqueline died in 2004, she left to John and Lauren four pictures, executed in colored marker, by none other than Frank Betancourt. This year, when the Besignanos were downsizing their home, they reached out to see if Wagner would be interested in Betancourt’s pictures — and, of course, we said yes!
We plan to hang the pictures in Reynolds House, alongside a reproduction of the signed, handwritten score of his “Beautiful Upon a Hill.”
— Lee Manchester