Paul Frank Giebitz

Paul Frank Giebitz

BERNE — This community lost a man important to its economy, its communal life, and its history when Paul Frank Giebitz died on Sunday, Sept. 25, 2016 as the result of a tractor accident. He was 89. Though frail as the result of illness and hospitalizations, he was determined to mow another hayfield on the beautiful early autumn day.

The determination, his daughter Cathy Higgins said, was characteristic of the man. “We really don’t know how he managed to get up on the tractor,” she said, “but somehow he did.”

Mr. Giebitz was born in Passaic, New Jersey, on July 11, 1927, the son of Paul and Margaret (née Schuler) Giebitz and the second of four children. His mother was born in Budapest, his father was born in this country to an Hungarian family.

When Mr. Giebitz and his wife, Eleanor,  traveled back to Hungary  to visit her  family there in the late 1960s the country was still  behind the Iron Curtain.

Mr. Giebitz’s  early schooling was in New York City, but after his family moved to Berne he completed high school at Berne-Knox, after which he served in the United States Navy.

Mr. Giebitz was perhaps best known in Berne as the patriarch of the family that owns Heldeberg Bluestone and Marble, the last remaining bluestone quarry and stone-cutting business in the Hilltowns. He and his father — who had both been working at General Electric in Schenectady — purchased a bluestone quarry adjoining their farmland in 1954. Together they built a successful business.  The company’s bluestone may be admired at Arlington National Cemetery and at other prestigious locations in this country and abroad, as well as on the front of the  Giebitz  home adjoining the stone yard. The stone is trucked to the stone yard from the quarry a few miles away.

Mr. Giebitz’s son, Paul Giebitz Jr., now manages the business.

His sister, Cathy Giebitz, remembers going to play at the stoneyard daily with her brother and their sister, Susan. “Our father just told us to stay out of the way of the forklifts. We used to do things like pretend the bluestone slabs were pews in a church.’

She says she thinks he had no interest in stone, not until the purchase of the bluestone business, and then  “he became fascinated by it.” For a while, she says, the company  quarried for fossils in Knox as well.

From all accounts, Mr. Giebitz was a man of considerable energy who loved to keep busy. Even the business of running a business did not keep him busy enough.

He was active in the life of the  community, and liked to make things happen. He was also a founder of the East Berne Businessmen’s Association (now defunct), as well as a charter and life member of the East Berne Volunteer Fire Company. He was a member of the Berne Masonic Lodge for 65 years and served as an officer  of the Helderberg Kiwanis.

Mr. Giebitz  was a member of two national industry associations, the Building Stone Institute and Allied Stone Industries.

He farmed his fields; collected Army trucks  and tractors — his wife estimates there may be as many as 30 of them —  and worked on them himself; and he not infrequently took to the air from his airstrip in his single-engine, four-seat Cessna 172. Sometimes he flew on business, to visit a quarry in Sidney. New York — a former second source of stone for the company. But many times he flew for the sheer pleasure of seeing the Hilltowns from the air,  much to the delight of his children who often went along for the ride.  

With his wife, he flew twice  all the way to Florida and back, in stages. He liked to boat and hunt and swap hunting stories.

He was a gregarious man who “definitely was the face of the business in his younger years,” says his daughter.  “He was a good salesman.”

He and his wife, Eleanor, met at the Hungarian Hall in Schenectady and were married on June 30, 1951.

They worked side by side for many years in their company’s office.  Mrs. Giebitz continues to work there.  She says her husband remained active in the business until he fell ill in 2013. But even after that he would, almost daily,  make his way on the family road that leads from the house to the stone yard and invariably call out his usual greeting, “What’s going on?”

Like everyone who knew her husband, Mtd. Giebitz describes him, as “very energetic.” But she also knew from their  family life together that he was “ very generous and very loving.”

Their daughter Cathy says her favorite memory of her father may be her last one. “The day before he died, he invited me to walk to the pond to see some blue wildflowers that were blooming there. They were lovely.”

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Paul Frank Giebitz is survived by his wife, Eleanor, of East Berne.

He is also survived  by his three children: Susan Shafer and her husband, Howard, in Selkirk; Cathy Higgins and her husband, Rick, in New Hampshire; and Paul and his wife, Kathy, in East Berne.

He is also survived  by his brothers, Robert in Illinois, and Richard and his wife, Jeannie, in Nevada; and by his grandchildren: Adam, Aaron and Alex Giebitz, and Kelsey Estes and her husband, Gabriel;  as well as by three great-grandchildren, Brynnlee, Brayden, and Brooklyn Giebitz; and by several nephews and nieces.

Calling hours will be held on Saturday Oct. 1, from 4 to 7 p.m. at the Fredendall Funeral Home in Altamont. A celebration of life service will be held on Sunday, Oct. 2, at 1 p.m. at the funeral home.

Memorial contributions may be made to the East Berne Volunteer Fire Company, Post Office Box 32, East Berne 12059, or to the Helderberg Ambulance Squad, Post Office Box 54, East Berne 12059.

— Tim Tulloch

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