Donna M. Ostrander

KNOX — A woman of brass and baked goods, Donna Ostrander fed grandchildren, neighbors, and friendly chipmunks.

She raised two daughters as a single mother after her husband, Donald, died; she worked as a clerk for the town and for the United States Postal Service.

After a brief illness, Donna M. Ostrander died on Sunday, Jan. 26, 2014, at Ellis Hospital with her family at her bedside. She was 71.

She will be buried with a bird identification book she browsed for the last 15 years, said her daughter, Kimberly Fortuin. Watching the spectacle of quarreling birds or squirrels on a tree was a ritual for Mrs. Ostrander, her private theater to recount on daily phone calls with her daughters.

“She would just tell me what kinds of birds would come around,” said Mrs. Fortuin. “She would tell me funny things that squirrels were doing, like, one would hang upside down on the feeder, and they would chase each other up and down the tree, trying to get the food.”

With carefully placed peanuts, Mrs. Ostrander was able to lure chipmunks onto her backsteps, eventually feeding one by hand, her daughter said. One, with a short tail, she named “Stubby.” She loved all animals, feeding baby possums that she found in her basement, worried they had been separated from their mother.

“She even showed my youngest son how to make suet for the birds,” said Mrs. Fortuin.

Mrs. Ostrander’s grandchildren were cherished as students in her kitchen, where she baked and cooked with them.

“Her freezer was packed with butter, chocolate chips, you name it; she always made sure she had stuff on hand,” said Mrs. Fortuin. “She always had sugar, flour, all of her spices. I used to call her up and say, ‘Mom, do you have this, because I don’t have any?’”

Rarely without a bag of cookies from her kitchen to give, Mrs. Ostrander made peanut-butter and maple fudges prized by her family.

The day she died, Mrs. Ostrander made blueberry muffins and brought them to Holly Busch and her family as they were headed out the door. Mrs. Ostrander kept a pair of reading glasses at the Busches’s home next door and spoke to their four cats.

“I guarantee she checked their water and food,” said Mrs. Busch of her last visit; she knew Mrs. Ostrander for 16 years and attended Berne-Knox-Westerlo with her daughters.

Mrs. Busch said her neighbor was trusted like family: with the Busches’ home, children, and pets.

“She did everything, she was a very strong woman,” said Mrs. Busch. “She looked very tough, but she had a heart of gold inside.”

Mrs. Ostrander was born on Dec. 19, 1942, to the late Harry Palombo and Leona Trotter in Schenectady. They moved to Knox, where her father ran the Township Tavern, still in operation on Township Road.

“My grandfather was very Italian,” said Mrs. Fortuin. “We used to have homemade macaroni, the works, for Thanksgiving.”

When her father and stepmother, Delia Palombo, left town for vacation, Mrs. Ostrander would help oversee the operation of the restaurant.

The daughter of Italian parents, Mrs. Ostrander’s meatballs and spaghetti sauce were made from scratch and from memory.

She and Mr. Ostrander bowled in a league together in Altamont, their daughter said. He died of lung cancer in 1975.

Mrs. Ostrander worked as registrar of vital statistics, town clerk, and, later, as deputy tax collector when her stepmother, Delia Palombo, was Knox’s receiver of taxes. 

She enjoyed the work, her daughter said, but had to resign when she started working full-time in Colonie for the postal service, because of employment restrictions placed on federal workers by the Hatch Act.

“She was a hard worker, and she, if somebody didn’t do their job, she spoke her mind about it,” said Mrs. Fortuin, adding that Mrs. Ostrander was just as quick to defend her grandchildren.

After retiring from the postal service in 2005, Mrs. Ostrander wanted a job to see people, as she had as a clerk before. She worked as a cashier at Hannaford.

“I’ve had quite a few calls from her customers at Hannaford since she’s passed away,” said Mrs. Fortuin. “They really miss her. One that I spoke to said they always used to go through her register when they saw her.”

Her daughter said Mrs. Ostrander would consistently ask how someone was doing. Some of the callers after her death admired her for raising her children so well and as a single mother.

“She was a great mom,” said Mrs. Fortuin. “She was strict at times, but she was always there and she always lived for her kids. And she was just the best.”

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Donna M. Ostrander is survived by her daughters, Kimberly Fortuin and her husband, Robert, and Rebecca Slingerland-Buonpastore (Antonio Sr.); her grandchildren, Tyler Fortuin, Jordan Slingerland, Jennifer Slingerland, Brandon Fortuin, Seanna Slingerland, Gianna Buonpastore, and Antonio Buonpastore Jr.; her sister, Carol Warner; her sister-in-law, Janet Palombo; her stepmother, Delia Palombo; as well as many nieces and nephews.

Her husband, Donald A. Ostrander, died before her, as did her father, Harry Palombo, and her siblings, Charles Palombo, John Palombo, and Bernice Hart.

At her request, a funeral service was private for the family. Arrangements were by Fredendall Funeral Home of Altamont. Mourners may leave condolences online at www.fredendallfuneralhome.com.

Memorial donations may be made to the Altamont Rescue Squad, Post Office Box 56, Altamont, NY 12009 or to the Mohawk and Hudson Humane Society, 3 Oakland Ave, Menands, NY 12204.

— Marcello Iaia

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