Porter E. Bidleman

Porter E. Bidleman

Porter E. Bidleman

ALTAMONT — Porter E. Bidleman died “on the top shelf,” on Tuesday, Nov. 24, 2020 at his village home with his loving daughters by his side. He was 94.

Although he was never elected, he was like a mayor to Altamont, said his daughter, Barbara Bidleman. “He had a flock of people wherever he went,” she said. “Whether you were a stranger or family, he treated people in a kind, compassionate way. He just loved people.”

A World War II veteran, Mr. Bidleman moved to Altamont with his wife and three daughters in the 1950s to run its funeral home.

“He served his community and the Hilltowns for over 40 years with compassion, dedication, and respect,” his family wrote in a tribute. “A true gentleman and friend, when asked how he was doing, he always replied, ‘I’m right on the top shelf!’”

Another favorite phrase of his was a response to the familiar greeting, “Good to see you.” Mr. Bidleman would respond, “It’s good to be seen.”

Born in Lyndonville in western New York on May 1, 1926, he was the son of the late Donald and Paulina Porter Bidleman. He spent his childhood on the Bidleman family orchard, and raised chickens alongside his father, uncle, and three brothers.

“It was a simple life,” said Ms. Bidleman, and instilled her father with love and values that lasted a lifetime.

“Port played basketball in high school where he first laid eyes on a cheerleader from Barker,” a neighboring town, his family wrote. That cheerleader, Sally Borresen, would one day become his wife.

“On his 18th birthday, he signed up and joined the Navy,” said Ms. Bidleman. “He served his country proudly during World War II on an LCI(R) 1077 as a gunner’s mate,” his family wrote. “He was assigned to the Asiatic-Pacific Theater and was present during the assault and occupation of Iwo Jima and Okinawa.”

For most of his life, Mr. Bidleman didn’t talk about his war years, his daughter said. “He really kept a lot of it to himself,” she said. “He shared more, closer to the end of his life.”

Ms. Bidleman said, “He was at Iwo Jima and saw the flag raised there.” Mr. Bidleman would share some things with her son, Mike, who is also a military veteran, and with her sister Beth Burlingame’s son, Jason, who is a history teacher.

During the last few weeks of his life, her father was very lucid, said Ms. Bidleman. “He told so many stories about his life as he was dying.” One of the stories he shared was how a Japanese prisoner of war helped save his life, and everyone on his ship, keeping their boat from getting blown up.

“When Dad got back from the war, he asked Mom out on a date and the rest is history,” said their daughter — it was a love story that lasted for over 68 years, ending only with her death. The couple was never able to find a picture of themselves on their wedding day although they had a picture of their wedding cake, Ms. Bidleman said. 

Mr. Bidleman had wanted to be a farmer, his daughter said, but, growing up, he had helped the funeral director in Lyndonville and that stuck with him.

So he went to the Simmons School of Mortuary Science in Syracuse and then worked for Corwin Funeral Home in western New York before moving his wife and his three daughters to Altamont where he became the owner of the Fredendall Funeral Home in 1957.

Although he was known for the compassionate comfort he provided to grieving families, “He always had a positive outlook on life,” said his daughter. “He was grateful for a good childhood and grateful he made it through World War II,” she said.

One of the things that sustained him was his faith, she said. Mr. Bidleman was a devoted member of the Altamont Reformed Church. Her family attended services every Sunday, Ms. Bidleman said.

Running Fredendall Funeral Home was a calling for her father, she said. “He gave his heart and soul to that funeral home,” she said.

As a businessman, Mr. Bidleman was also active in community affairs, serving one term as a village trustee; he decided it was too political to run again and wanted to maintain neutrality, his daughter said.

He served, too, as a member of the Urban Renewal Agency when Carl Walters was Guilderland’s supervisor. That committee oversaw the transformation of the old Army depot into the Northeastern Industrial park, said Ms. Bidleman.

Mr. Bidleman was a devoted volunteer for the Altamont Fire Department, available to be on call during daytime hours since his business was in the village. “That was back when the fire department was the hub of activity,” said Ms. Bidleman.

He was also a member of Noah Lodge 75, American Legion Post 0977, and the Veterans of Foreign Wars Boyd Hilton Post 7062.

For years, Mr. Bidleman volunteered at the Guilderland Food Pantry and with Community Caregivers. At one time, he drove a school bus for the Guilderland Central School District and Hertz Rental.

While he was dedicated to his work as a funeral director, his daughter said, “He could also enjoy living life …. Anything he did, he jumped in with both feet.”

Mr. Bidleman loved to hunt, fish, camp, hike, golf, and bowl. He started skiing in his forties, after his daughters had taken up the sport, and continued until age 79, when he suffered a bad fall on the ski slopes.

“He was able to not carry the sadness of his work with him,” said Ms. Bidleman. “He could enjoy life.”

One of the things she learned from her father is: “The more you give out to people, the more you get back.

“My dad was always so open and honest,” said Ms. Bidleman. He got emotional easily and used to quip that his tear ducts were connected to his bladder, she said.

When his grown-up daughter, Mary Lou, died, it “had a profound impact on him, on all of us,” said Ms. Bidleman.

Mr. Bidleman would take regular walks to High Point, the Helderberg prominence above the village, and wrap himself around a tree there that he came to call “the hugging tree.” He carved his name on the hugging tree.

When terrible things happen, Ms. Bidleman said, “We can choose to draw inward or be a gift to another person.” Mr. Bidleman chose to help other people, “to be a support for someone else,” said his daughter.

In the same way, Mr. Bidleman was “a loving, devoted father — very committed to all of us,” his daughter said. “He taught us about truth and honesty and commitment.”

She also said, “Dad was a humble man.” She went on, “He had high standards and wanted his daughters to succeed.”

Mr. Bidleman was also a forgiving father. “When we crossed the line, as kids will do, he held us accountable in a compassionate way,” Ms. Bidleman said. “He taught us how to love and forgive.”

She also recalled, “When we were older, as we walked out the door, he’d say, ‘Make your old man proud.’”

The family took annual vacations to Ogunquit, Maine for over 26 years. In retirement, Mr. Bidleman spent many years being a trolley driver in Ogunquit. He and his wife had some wonderful trips with LCI reunions across the United States, and were able to take a Caribbean Cruise, a trip to Switzerland and to Norway. 

“When he retired, he became very committed to his grandkids and spent a lot of time with them,” said Ms. Bidleman.

She went on, “My dad was always a doer. All his life, he kept busy with projects around the house and funeral home and helping others with their projects.”

In 1980, after he sold the funeral home to James Yohey, who had worked with him for nearly a decade, Mr. Bidleman worked there part-time, well into his seventies. “Mark Burlingame and his wife — my sister Beth — moved to Altamont in 1983 to work alongside Jim and our dad,” said Ms. Bidleman.

Into his eighties, Mr. Bidleman continued to help with landscaping at the funeral home. “He loved planting flowers,” said his daughter, and he’d also plow snow and mow the lawn.

When Sally and Porter Bidleman moved into Creekside condominiums in Altamont, he was busy with planting there, too, and tending to three bird feeders.

“When they moved into the condo, he became Mr. Fix-it … He always wanted a sense of purpose in his life,” said Ms. Bidleman.

When he could no longer climb the hillside to High Point, Mr. Bidleman began taking regular walks at the Altamont fairgrounds.

“There is no doubt this contributed to his 94 years of life,” his family wrote. “Many mornings he started his day having coffee with the locals at the Home Front Café, the Penguin, and Stewart’s. He was so grateful for his wonderful family, friends, and the blessings that he received over the years; he was humble, and loved people.”

“As long as he had breath, he was very independent,” said his daughter.

On Thursday, Ms. Bidleman and her sister, Beth Burlingame, walked the fairgrounds in honor of their father. It was a gray day but they saw patches of blue sky.

 “He even walked in the rain … In his walker, he had a container of dog treats,” said his daughter. “He loved to run into people, to tell stories of old Altamont … He loved the village with all his heart and soul.”

****   

Porter E. Bidleman is survived by his devoted daughters, Barbara Bidleman of Guilderland and Beth Burlingame of Altamont; his seven cherished grandchildren, Erin Quillinan and her husband, Sean, Staci Clark and her husband, Andrew, Eric Kisby and his wife, Heather, Alissa Yohey, Mike Yohey and his wife, Sarah, Jason Burlingame and his wife, Katie, and Kara Banks; his 15 loving great-grandchildren; and his many adored nieces and nephews.

His parents, Donald and Paulina Porter Bidleman, died before him, as did his wife, Alice “Sally” Bidleman; his daughter, Mary Lou Kisby; three brothers, George, Roger, and Lewis Bidleman; and his sons-in-law, Mark Burlingame and Alan Kisby. Alan Kisby’s wife, Sharon, survives him.

Memorial messages may be left at www.altamontenterprise.com/milestones.

Memorial contributions may be made to The ARC Good Samaritan Fund, Post Office Box 671, Altamont, NY 12009, The Mary Lou Kisby-Elizabeth Severson Scholarship Fund, Post Office Box 1398, Guilderland, NY 120084, or The Guilderland Food Pantry or Community Hospice.

Due to COVID restrictions, there will be a private family service. At a later date, a memorial service will be held.

Burial will take place in the spring at the Hartland Cemetery in Gasport, New York.

— Melissa Hale-Spencer

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