Gladys O’Brien

Gladys O’Brien

GUILDERLAND — Gladys Kniskern O’Brien, a quiet and steadfast woman, was a student in a one-room rural schoolhouse who went on to be valedictorian of her high school and won a scholarship to Syracuse University, leading to her career as a teacher of Spanish and Latin.

She died on Tuesday, June 16, 2020. She was 90.

Born on March 15, 1930 in the family farmhouse in Carlisle, New York, she was the daughter of George and Florence Kniskern. Her father was a dairy farmer and her mother was a homemaker who knit beautifully and played the piano at church — both  accomplishments that her daughter would one day emulate.

The family, of Palatine heritage, lived on a road named for them — Kniskern. When Mr. Kniskern sold the family farm, he built a house across the street from the entrance to Kniskern Road where he raised chickens.

As a child, Mrs. O’Brien went to a one-room schoolhouse on Route 20. “She mentored other kids because she was bright,” said her husband, Gillen O’Brien. “She attended the church across the street from the school.”

Mrs. O’Brien went on to Cobleskill High School from which she graduated as valedictorian. “She did very well and won a scholarship to Syracuse University,” said Mr. O’Brien. After graduating from Syracuse, she earned a master’s degree from Middlebury College in Vermont.

Mrs. O’Brien taught for a year in Little Falls before becoming a teacher of Spanish and Latin at Altamont High School. When the high school was torn down and the new centralized school system built the Guilderland junior-senior high school complex, Mrs. O’Brien was one of the few Altamont teachers to teach at the new school.

She lived in a boarding house called The Hawthorne in Guilderland Center. Among the teachers boarding there was Gillen O’Brien who hailed from Middletown and taught industrial arts at Guilderland Junior High School.

The couple were engaged to be married and looked forward to their wedding and honeymoon during the Easter break. “In 1958, there was a very bad snowstorm and they closed school for a whole week. They had to tunnel into the high school,” recalled Mr. O’Brien. “The Easter vacation was eliminated.”

Nevertheless, the couple married and lived happily ever after.

The O’Briens first lived in a mobile home at the corner of routes 20 and 146 and then moved into a house on Hite Court in Guilderland.

“We were unable to have children. We adopted a boy at a year-and-a-half,” said Mr. O’Brien.

After that, Mrs. O’Brien gave up full-time teaching to stay home and raise their son. However, she kept her hand in as a substitute teacher at many area high schools along with teaching English as a second language for the State Education Regents Department.

Mrs. O’Brien was one of the founders of Lynnwood Reformed Church on Carman Road. “That was very much her thing,” her husband said.

“She was more her mother’s gal than her father’s daughter,” said Mr. O’Brien. After Mrs. O’Brien’s father died, her mother, Mrs. Kniskern, lived with the O’Briens for 40 years.

Mrs. O’Brien played piano before the organ was installed at the Lynnwood Reformed Church. Every Election Day, Mrs. O’Brien and her mother baked pies that the church sold.

“They made pumpkin, mince, and apple crumb. These pies were a major draw,” said Mr. O’Brien. “She was a good cook and a good baker,” he said of his wife.

In the summer, Mrs. O’Brien liked to camp in the Adirondacks. She was also involved in many organizations, which included coordinating blood drives for the Red Cross, Orchid Society, past president of the Guilderland Lioness club, Schoharie Historical Society, and the Guilderland Historical Society.

The O’Briens’ son, Timothy, as he grew older, became interested in antique cars. “He put together a Model T,” said Mr. O’Brien.

Mrs. O’Brien would find ads in old magazines for antique cars and would cut them out and mount them to sell at car shows.

“My mother-in-law was an expert knitter,” said Mr. O’Brien. “My wife could knit almost exactly the same way.” If the mother-daughter pair shared in knitting the same sweater, no one could tell where one knitter left off and the other began.

“We have many sweaters,” said Mr. O’Brien.

After retiring, he took up woodworking as a hobby and together the three of them would go to craft shows, selling their wares.

“She was very, very quiet,” Mr. O’Brien said. “And loving.”


Gladys Kniskern O’Brien is survived by her husband, Gillen O’Brien. She also leaves behind a son, Timothy O’Brien, and his wife, Tina, of Wynantskill along with her three grandchildren, Noah, Sarah, and Ryan.

Funeral services will be private with burial in Carlisle Rural Cemetery.

Memorial messages may be left at

Memorial contributions may be made to the Lynnwood Reformed Church, 3714 Carman Rd, Schenectady, NY 12303.

— Melissa Hale-Spencer


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