Physically, Bernadine Olbrych was thirty years older than me. As far as every other aging metric was concerned, mentally, emotionally, skin complexion etc. she was thirty years younger, at the very least. I first met her back in the early 1960’s when her daughter Melanie and I were classmates at Guy Park Avenue Elementary School. Melanie had what I believe was a birthday party at her house and I remember her Mom having as much fun at it as we all did. She actually let us play “Spin the Bottle,” a first for me at the time and my life has not been the same since!
Her genes for living long and feeling young probably came from her dad, the one and only Benny Pisano. The former Amsterdam mail carrier was a talented and popular local golfer and bowler. I knew him for perhaps the last 25 years of his life and he looked and acted like he was in his late fifties for almost all of them. That’s why when he passed away in 2001, I was shocked to find out from his obituary that he was 95 years old.
Bernadine was born in Amsterdam on September 4, 1924 and grew up on Garden Street. She graduated from St. Mary’s Institute in 1941 and then went to St. Rose College in Albany to get her teaching degree while the World was fighting WWII. She then got a job as a high school teacher in Laurens , NY, a small village just north of Oneonta.
She married her husband Ray Olbrych, of the Olbrych’s Dairy clan in June of 1947. Their wedding took place in the now demolished St. Joseph’s Church on Guy Park Avenue. Hugh Donlon played the organ, Bernadine’s cousin, Rose DiLorenzo was her Maid of Honor. There was a dinner at Isabel’s Restaurant before the ceremony and a reception following it at the Century Club. She and Ray honeymooned in the “northern country.” Their first home as a couple was on Amsterdam’s Willard Street.
They would raise four kids. Their oldest daughter MaryBeth, recently retired as the Estate Manager of the exclusive Parrot Cay property compound in the Turks and Caico’s, which was owned by famed New York City fashion designer Donna Karan. Mark was their oldest boy and a truly gifted athlete at Bishop Scully High School in the late sixties, Sadly, Mark passed away in 2004. My classmate Melanie was the third oldest and has grown up to become one of the entertainment industry’s most talented seamstresses, stitching the wardrobes and set components for many of Broadway’s biggest blockbusters. Than there was the baby Michael, who was more like Bernadine’s best friend than her youngest son. She adored Michael.
After leaving teaching to start a family, she went back to work for the SUNY system in 1960, retiring in 1981 as a budget analyst. She has always been one of Amsterdam’s strongest proponents of the arts and culture. In addition to English, this lady could speak four languages including classic Greek. She loved to sing, she loved to dance and was as big a patron of the arts as someone born and raised in this upstate New York mill town could possibly be. Thanks to the professional connections of her two daughters, she attended the finest shows, concerts, opera, and ballet the World had to offer.
But in her heart and soul she was one of us and a Carpet City Classic. There was no such thing as a short chat with Bernadine. The last time we talked was a phone conversation earlier this year. She called me from Sarasota, Florida to tell me how much she enjoyed reading my Amsterdam Birthday Book. We also talked about the Yankees (she was a huge fan,) all her kids and grandkids and then all of mine, Bert DeRose, President Obama, politics in general, the Amsterdam Library and on and on. She always loved the fact that we both had two sons and two daughters and we both gave them all first names that started with the letter “M.” If I hadn’t gotten another call we’d have kept right on talking. I wish we had.
Bernadine Olbrych passed away on Thursday, in Florida. She was 92 years old. She will be remembered fondly by the many many current and former residents of Amsterdam, NY including myself who enjoyed her friendship, her optimism, her conversation, her knowledge of Amsterdam’s history and her amazing spirit.