Leota (Lee) Zyniecki
GUILDERLAND — Leota Mae Zyniecki, known to her friends as Lee, was a pioneer.
She got her driver’s license at age 14 — the last person in Michigan to do so — and got her pilot’s license when she was in her forties.
“She drove with a lead foot,” said her son, Edward Zyniecki III, one of seven siblings.
Mrs. Zyniecki was active in town politics and all sorts of community causes. “The entire family was drafted into her service,” said her son. “Us kids were the foot soldiers.”
The first mother in her neighborhood to go to work, Mrs. Zyniecki was a self-taught bookkeeper and was known, in more recent years, for running the tobacco store in Stuyvesant Plaza.
Her death on Tuesday, Feb. 4, 2014, came just 11 days after her husband’s. They had been married for 65 years. She died in the comfort of their McKownville home with her family by her side. She was 85.
“The whole family is very sad losing both in such a short period,” said Mr. Zyniecki, adding, “We’ve had good neighbors helping out.”
The daughter of Alberta and George Gouckenour, Mrs. Zyniecki was born on April 12, 1928 in Detroit, Mich., and was raised there in the midst of the Great Depression. “They were tough times with people bouncing from job to job,” said her son.
She was fond of her family’s camp in northern Michigan where she spent much time as a child and learned to know the woodland trees and birds, and also enjoyed fishing.
“She loved to eat pan fish,” said her son. “I would catch them for her.”
Mrs. Zyniecki kept her skill of tree and bird identification her whole life. Her favorite bird was the cardinal.
She met the man who would become her husband when he came to Michigan on a business trip. They were married in 1948. “They actually eloped,” said her son. “We didn’t know that until recently.” The couple honeymooned in Florida.
“There was a lot of passion there,” said Mr. Zyniecki of his parents’ marriage.
The couple settled in Guilderland in 1953, when the suburbs were new and people were moving to McKownville from the city. As a young mother, Mrs. Zyniecki was active in 4-H, the Westmere Elementary School Parent-Teacher Association, the Western Turnpike Rescue Squad, the American Heart Association, and spearheading neighborhood fund-raising efforts for the American Red Cross and the March of Dimes. She was also active in the Red Cross Learn to Swim program.
“We’d deliver pamphlets, or collect March of Dimes cards, or sort out the swim cards,” said her son, noting that Mrs. Zyniecki organized the bus routes for the swim program.
“Her claim to fame was an ambulance hit her broadside at the intersection of Route 20 and Schoolhouse Road,” said her son. She got a ticket, but was proud of beating the charge, he said. Did that deter her from raising funds for the squad? “Not at all,” he answered.
“I don’t know where she got the energy,” he said of her pursuing so many causes while raising her children, cooking wholesome meals — “all of them, every day” — and sewing clothes for herself as well as for 4-H projects. “Four-H was her pride and joy,” her son said.
While Mr. Zyniecki was often away on business trips, Mrs. Zyniecki ran the household and took her seven children hither and yon to everything from Scout meetings to Little League games.
“My mother was opinionated and stern,” said Mr. Zyniecki, describing her personality. “You knew exactly where she stood.”
He also said, “She was extremely fair. She was the one you went to when you wanted a fair shake when you were in trouble. She would be stern about the punishment.”
A conservative Republican, Mrs. Zyniecki was active in local politics as a member of the Guilderland Republican committee and was also an election poll watcher in McKownville.
“She worked closely with Carl Walters when he was the supervisor,” said her son. And, she was also involved in state elections, working for Governor Nelson Rockefeller.
“She had us kids stuffing mailboxes,” said her son, “and we got Christmas cards from the Rockefellers.” But, the cards weren’t signed, he said, which bothered his mother.
When Mr. Zyniecki was a student at the University of Montana, in the early 1970s, Governor Rockefeller came to the campus to speak. Mr. Zyniecki shouldered his way through the crowd of students protesting how Governor Rockefeller had handled the Attica Prison riot and walked up to the governor, his mother’s Christmas card in hand.
“I handed him the card,” he recalled, “and said, ‘My mother would like this actually signed.’” The governor did so.
“I gave it back to my mother,” he concluded, “and she was happy to have it, signed.”
Besides her political and community work, Mrs. Zyniecki was also employed as a bookkeeper. “She was the first to break the mold in the neighborhood and go to work — with seven kids,” said her son. She kept the books for Wendal Cadillacs, Vermeer Sales and Service, and the Albany Jewish Community Center.
In her middle years, Mrs. Zyniecki earned her pilot’s license and traveled extensively with her husband in their plane. “She was very thankful for these years and the time they shared traveling together,” her family wrote in a tribute. “In recent years, Lee devoted much of her time, unselfishly, to the care of her husband.”
In 1981, she and her husband had opened Edleez Tobacco (named for the two of them — Ed and Lee) in Stuyvesant Plaza where she managed the family business until her death. “During this time,” her family wrote, “she remained community spirited with her support for the Make A Wish Foundation and Guilderhaven Animal Shelter.”
Her children decided that memorial contributions for Mrs. Zyniecki should be made to Guilderhaven because she liked the people who run the not-for-profit group. “She liked their honesty and what they were doing. They spoke their mind,” said her son.
“My mother worked seven days a week,” said Mr. Zyniecki, adding, “She enjoyed doing it. She liked doing the books and keeping salespeople at bay...She was good at it.” Her son, John, and her daughter, Pamela, will continue to run the shop, he said.
What her children learned from her, Mr. Zyniecki said, was: “Stay the course. Be true to yourself. Persevere.”
Leota Mae Zyniecki is survived by her seven children: Thomas Zyniecki and his wife, Joyce, of Inwood W.V.; Ann Mackey of Hingham, Mass.; Edward Zyniecki III and his wife, Judy, of Bigfork, Mont.; Pamela Kuczenski and her husband, Thomas, of Guilderland; James Zyniecki and his wife, Dawn, of Altamont; John Zyniecki and his wife, Jill, of Guilderland; and Janet Ruprecht of Guilderland.
She is also survived by 12 grandchildren; 10 great-grandchildren; a sister-in-law, Doris Zyniecki; and nieces and nephews in Milwaukee, Wis.
Her husband, Edward C. Zienecki Jr., died before her, as did her sons-in-law, Daniel Kaltenbach and John Ruprecht.
The family wishes to thank the very caring neighbors, especially Paul and Patty Halderman, who have helped out in recent times with the care and well being of our parents.
The Hans Funeral Home of Albany is handling arrangements; a memorial service will be held at a later date at the convenience of the family.
Memorial contributions may be made to Guilderhaven Inc., 6655 Route 158, Altamont, NY 12009.
— Melissa Hale-Spencer