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Obituaries Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, September 4, 2008

Richard G. Johnston 

ALTAMONT — Richard G. Johnston, known to his friends and family as “Dick,” was a devoted father, a hobby farmer, a sports fan, a National Guardsman, and a contributor to his community.

He died on Saturday, Aug. 30, 2008, at his home on the Altamont-Knox Road, surrounded by his loving family after a short battle with cancer. He was 73.

He met his wife in a romantic way when he came to her rescue. “We met ice-skating,” recalled Bernadine Johnston. “I did not know how to skate. Someone pulled me out into the middle of the ice. He rescued me.”

Mr. Johnston grew up in Voorheesville and had deep roots in the area. “He was very proud that his grandfather, James Johnston, was the justice of the peace in Guilderland for 45 years,“ said Mr. Johnston’s daughter, Paula. The road in Guilderland was named after the Johnston family.

Mr. Johnston was a charter member of the Guilderland Lions club, said his wife. “It took a lot of work to get it going,” she said.

“Dick was the eldest of 10 children,” said his wife. “His mother was busy raising children.” His father worked for the power company, did farming, and worked at the Saratoga racetrack, grooming horses.

Richard Johnston worked for Niagara Mohawk for 37-and-a-half years; he was chief of the collections department, said his wife.

“He was a great father,” said his wife. “He loved the kids.”

The couple raised five children. The family first lived on Prospect Terrace in Altamont, for 15 years, and then “moved three miles up on the Hill,” said Mrs. Johnston.

“We built a house up here, across from the reservoir,” she said. “We had a hobby farm with horses, a couple of cows, chickens, turkeys, bunny rabbits, and a huge garden.”

Their children, she recalled, “were getting into the teenage years. They didn’t have time nor energy to go roaming. They worked. They had the animals to take care of and the garden to tend.”

“He taught us a lot of things,” said his daughter. “He was a wonderful father,” she said, choked with tears.

She recalled an annual family picnic with the family of her father’s best friend, Eddie Krause.  “My father was in the National Guard for seven years in the 1950s,” said Paula Johnston. He would march in the color guard for the Altamont Veterans of Foreign Wars. His friend, Mr. Krause, was also a guardsman.

“He had a tradition with Uncle Eddie that they would celebrate Memorial Day together with their families. It lasted for 52 consecutive years,” said his daughter. “He never missed a year...We would take turns having a picnic at each other’s houses.”

Mr. Johnston was also a sports enthusiast. He loved horse racing, said his daughter, and he rooted for the New York Giants. He also liked to play golf and to bowl. He was a charter member of the Altamont Classic Bowling League, based at the Altamont Lanes, she said.

”He loved baseball,” said his wife. “He was the founder of the Helderberg Night Softball League...It was a big deal. You could see those lights all the way to Schenectady. He built the field. He set the poles and put up the lights. That’s now our front yard. In later years, we bought the land.”

His wife went on, “He was always busy. With 70-some acres, there was always something that he had to do. He’d take his tractor and do whatever on the whim of the day. He had a bulldozer, too — all kinds of man toys.”

She chuckled a bit at the description and said, “To raise five kids, you’ve got to have a sense of humor.”

Mrs. Johnston also revealed a bit about the secret of making a marriage last for 52 years. “He gave me everything I wanted,” she said. “It wasn’t always overtly. I knew how to get what I wanted. I don’t think I fooled him for a minute.“


In addition to his wife, Bernadine “Deane” Johnston, née Garramone, Richard G. Johnston is survived by his children, Judee Ann Miller and her husband, Albert; Laura Lawton; Kerry R. Johnston, and his wife, Lee Ann; Michele Debye-Saxinger and her husband, Norwig; and Paula Johnston, and her husband, Neil; and by his grandchildren, Albert, Randy, Dana, Thomas, David, Maria, Tristan, Zachary, Alex, and Ian.

He is also survived by two brothers, Seymore “Buddy” Johnston and Robert Johnston and his wife, Sandra; and by two sisters, Linda Booley and Darlene Patterson and her husband, Glenn; his lifelong friend, Eddie Krause; and several nieces and nephews.

His sister Vicky Carusone died before him as did three brothers — Barry Michael, Garry, and Christopher.

A mass of Christian burial was celebrated on Tuesday, Sept. 2, at St. Lucy’s Church in Altamont with interment at Prospect Hill Cemetery in Guilderland. Arrangements were by the Fredendall Funeral Home in Altamont.

Memorial contributions may be made to the American Cancer Society, Eastern Division Inc., Albany County Unit, Post Office Box 1480, Syracuse, NY  13201-1480.

— Melissa Hale-Spencer

Jean O. Smith

BERNE — Jean O. Smith was a loving wife and mother, and a postmaster like her mother before her. She loved to cook, loved to do puzzles, and made arts and crafts with her husband.

She died on Tuesday, Sept. 2, 2008 at St. Peter’s Hospital in Albany. She was 74.

“She was always happy,” said her grandson, Sean Smith. “She never would complain. She liked to help my grandfather make arts and crafts, and sell them at arts and crafts festivals, and go new places and do things like that.” But, Mr. Smith said, “She wasn’t the kind of person that would brag about anything that she did. She’d rather hear about what they did.”

Mrs. Smith spent much of her time working in the post office. “Our house used to be the post office in the late ’50s,” her grandson said. “She was the postmaster, like her mom was. She ended up working in Albany as timekeeper for the United States Postal Service.”

Mrs. Smith always wanted to keep in touch, said her grandson. “My part of the family moved away for a little while, but she always kept in touch, and she always wanted to make sure the family was OK.”

Mrs. Smith was a bit of a sports fan, too. “She always watched the Mets and the Giants,” her grandson said. “She loved to go to church, too.”


She is survived by her son James L. Smith; daughter, Jessica E. Smith; grandchildren, Sean, Jimi, and Evan Smith; great-grandchildren, Kyuss and Aiden; and her brother, John O’Brien.

Her husband James A. Smith, died on April 23, 1994. Her brother, Leo O’Brien, also died before her.

Funeral services will be held on Friday, Sept. 5, at 8 p.m. at Fredendall Funeral Home in Altamont. Friends may call at the funeral home on Friday, from 5 to 8 p.m.

— Zach Simeone

Helen Boyd Willey

GUILDERLAND — Helen Boyd Willey, a patient and magnetic woman who was her family’s center, died on Saturday, Aug. 30, 2008.  She was 96.

“In the traditional sense, she was a homemaker,” said Doug Rosenberry, Mrs. Willey’s grandson.  Her house was the gathering place and she kept her family warm with woolen slippers — stitched by her own hand.

The oldest of eight, Mrs. Willey was born in Albany to David and Ruth Simons Boyd — a painter and a seamstress.  Across from their Eagle Street apartment was the governor’s mansion, which housed two of her childhood playmates and a zoo.

“What she always talked about was the animals,” Mr. Rosenberry said.  Governor Alfred E. Smith kept exotic animals — monkeys and llamas among them — he said, and Mrs. Willey would play hopscotch and “the typical games kids would play” with Walter and Arthur Smith.

With book in hand since those carefree days, Mrs. Willey was usually seen reading or working on a crossword puzzle, her family wrote in a tribute.

“Her favorite movie was always Gone with the Wind,” said Mr. Rosenberry.  “She read the book probably 50 times in her life.”

Her own romance began when she met Charles Willey, who “played what was known then, of course, as fiddle,” their grandson said.  He played in a band and “he used to help call out the songs,” he said. 

Mrs. Willey went to a dance one night and fell in love with the fiddle player — “He was kind of a country boy and she was a city girl,” Mr. Rosenberry said.

The couple moved to a piece of land given to them by his family, who ran Willey’s General Store near the corner of Western Avenue and Gipp Road.  To clear the land, the Willeys opened a saw mill, which provided much of the lumber for the houses that Charles Willey helped to build in the area.

“In 1952,” the family wrote, “they built the house which they would live in for the remainder of their years on the site of the saw mill and on the street that now bears the family name — Willey Street.”

When they had young children, the Willeys would often take them north — to the Adirondacks before the Northway was built — to tent and fish, Mr. Rosenberry said.  On one such trip, they discovered Floodwood Pond, and “they just fell in love with this pond,” he said.  Before there were any houses, camps, or cabins, Mr. Willey bought land from the railroad that faced the water and built a cabin.

Mr. Willey, who held a state record, taught his bride to fish and the pair would catch trout by the dozens to share with friends.  They “had a large freezer and they’d freeze all the fish they weren’t able to eat,” he said, and they’d have trout all year round.

“She taught us to fish, row a boat, and play cards,” Mr. Rosenberry recalled of his time at the pond with his grandmother.  Mrs. Willey was “a fiercely competitive card player and could beat her opponents at nearly any game, ranging from canasta to pinochle to poker,” her family wrote.

“She always said it was something she picked up from her mother,” Mr. Rosenberry said of her affection for cards.  “It’s a tradition we’re passing on to our kids,” he said of the card games, but that goes for the fishing as well.

“She was pretty much the focal point of the family,” he concluded.  “Her house was always the place that everyone returned to… The place we all call home.”


Mrs. Willey was the loving mother of Charles R. Willey of Largo, Fla., the late Irene R. Macaulay and James R. Willey.  She is survived by her grandsons, Richard Rosenberry of Bedford, Mass., Douglas and Elise Rosenberry, of Guilderland, Jeffery Willey and Leah Johnson, of Chuluota, Fla., Melanie Hiris of Manchester, Mass., C.R. and Kelly Willey, of Largo, Fla., and Lori Hiris and Ninia Baehr, of Manhattan, Mont.  She is also survived by seven great-grandchildren: Drew, Eliza, Devon and Tessa Rosenberry; and Jenna, Kyle and Erica Willey.

Her husband, Charles Willey, died before her, 13 years ago.

A memorial service was held yesterday, Wednesday, at the Fredendall Funeral Home in Altamont with interment in Prospect Hill Cemetery in Guilderland.  Memorial contributions may be made to Community Hospice of Albany County, 445 New Karner Rd., Albany, NY  12205.

— Saranac Hale Spencer

Manfred G. Wuntsch

VOORHEESVILLE — Manfred G. Wuntsch of Hill Drive died Sunday, Aug. 31, 2008, at the Community Hospice of Albany Inn at St. Peter’s Hospital after a long illness. He was 79.

Born in Berlin, Germany, Mr. Wuntsch moved to the United States in 1952 to build a new life for his family.

He had served continuously as an elder in the Colonie Congregation of Jehovah's Witnesses for over 35 years.

He worked as a self-employed tailor for most of his adult life.

He is survived by his wife, Roswitha Steinke Wuntsch; his children, Deborah Fuller and her husband, Mark, Edward Wuntsch and his wife, Doreen, and Irene Allen and her husband, Douglas, all of Voorheesville; his grandchildren, Jessica DeLong and her husband, Dennis, Jared Wuntsch and his wife, Jennifer, Michael Allen, David Allen, and Jordan Fuller; and his sister, Ingrid Thornton of Granada Hills, Calif.

A memorial service will be held at 3 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 6, at the Colonie Congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses, 6167 Depot Road in Guilderland Center. All other services will be private at the convenience of the family. Arrangements are by the Reilly & Son Funeral Home of Voorheesville.

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