RENSSELAERVILLE — The devotion Mary Kuhar had to her Russian Orthodox Church burned as bright as the anthracite coal mined from the fields of her native Olyphant, Penn.
Mrs. Kuhar was raised by Dimitri “Mitro” and Efrona “Frances” Koropehak Swatkowski in the small town within Lackawanna County, through which the Northern Anthracite Field runs; it is one of the few places in the world where such a high grade of coal is found.
Mary Kuhar died on Saturday, Jan. 19, 2013, at the Guilderland Center Nursing Home after a long illness. She was 96.
Born on Oct. 26, 1916, Mrs. Kuhar carried throughout her life the frugality of the Great Depression that devastated the coal industry her father worked in just around the time she moved to Bridgeport, Conn.
As a young woman, Mrs. Kuhar worked first in domestic cleaning jobs, then at the Sikorsky Aircraft Corp. helicopter factory, sending money home to Olyphant. She met her husband, John Kuhar Jr., at the factory, where he was a machinist until his retirement. She later worked at the Remington Arms factory in Bridgeport.
Mrs. Kuhar’s niece, Rosemarie Kuhar, remembered how, at 11 years old, she attended their big Russian Orthodox wedding on Sept. 16, 1961, which was “like a three-day party.”
Mrs. Kuhar maintained contact with her hometown church, and was very close to her mother and Polish roots. Mr. Swatkowski, who died at a relatively young age, was originally from Poland and became a naturalized citizen in 1923. Mrs. Swatkowski went in the 1970s to live with her daughter, who cared for her before she died.
Mrs. Kuhar was dedicated to her husband, who had a vegetable garden and “lived for mealtime.” Her neice, Rosemarie, said that Mrs. Kuhar cooked traditional Polish food for a group of nephews and nieces before her husband took them out deep-sea fishing.
“She loved to make perogies, kielbasa, stuffed cabbage, and, even the few times I did visit her, she was always cooking, she always wanted to feed you,” said her niece.
The game of bingo was her personal pleasure. She was a private person, her niece said, but very proud, as well, and the game was possibly her main social outlet.
“She always wanted to pay you. She never wanted to be obligated,” said her niece.
When Mr. Kuhar retired from Sikorsky, they moved to Rensselaerville, and Mrs. Kuhar ate meals with other seniors at the Hiawatha Grange. She would go on trips, to Russia, Hawaii, and Florida, sometimes with her church.
With the nearest Russian Orthodox church in Cohoes, though, Mrs. Kuhar had difficulty adjusting to the rural hilltowns, said her niece. Her faith and past associations were compressed in her like the carbon-rich fields of her hometown, where Rosemarie Kuhar said it is very important she be buried.
“She kept every obituary from anybody who she ever knew…and they all kind of had those Polish last names,” said her niece, who visited her throughout the 11 years she was in the Guilderland nursing home, where her aunt often spoke of her mother.
Mrs. Kuhar loved a mink-collared coat her niece guessed was from the 1940s.
“I had to take that to the nursing home because she wanted to be sure where it was,” said her niece, who described Mrs. Kuhar as quiet and dignified.
“She’s the kind of lady that had that nice pocketbook that she always carried with her,” said her niece. “Just, a lady.”
She is survived by one brother, Nicholas Swatkowski and his wife, Myra, of Westerly, Penn.; her sisters-in-law, Anna Kuhar and Marie Bogue; her niece and caretaker, Rosemarie Kuhar; her nephew, Barry Kuhar; her niece, Nancy Dempster; her grandnephew, Micah Kuhar; and several other nieces and nephews.
Mary’s husband, John Kuhar Jr., died before her, on Sept. 8, 2012. Her parents died before her, too, as did her siblings, John and Michael Swatkowski, and Pearl Beckage.
Funeral services was conducted this morning, Jan. 24, at All Saints Orthodox Church, followed immediately by burial in the church cemetery. Arrangements are by the Michael Wargo, Jr. Funeral Home, 812 E. Scott St., Olyphant, Penn. 18447.
Local arrangements are by A.J. Cunningham Funeral Home, Greenville. Mourners may leave a message at ajcunninghamfh.com.
Memorial donations may be made to the Rensselaerville Library, Festival of Writers Fund, Post Office Box 188, Rensselaerville, NY 12147.
— Marcello Iaia