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Obituaries Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, January 28, 2010

Ernest J. Ecker 

By Melissa Hale Spencer

Both strict and caring, Ernest J. Ecker taught and coached generations of Hilltown kids.

“I always remember Mr. Ecker would say to us, ‘Stop talking or I’ll staple your tongue to the bulletin board,” reminisced one student. “He was one of my favorite teachers.”

“He was gruff but sincere, warm, and supportive,” said Helen Lounsbury, a retired Berne Elementary School teacher who now serves on the school board. “I knew him as a teacher, as an administrator, as a school-board member, and I knew him as a friend,” she said.

Mr. Ecker frequently called Mrs. Lounsbury to give her advice about serving on the school board. “It’s very difficult for an educator to be a school board member,” she said.

“He was legendary for what he called ‘the board of education’; it was a paddle with a handle. He kept it on his desk…He was a man’s man,” said Mrs. Lounsbury.

Mr. Ecker died on Sunday, Jan. 17, 2010, in Delray Beach, Fla., where he had lived in his later years. He was 87.

He was born in Knox into a farming family. It wasn’t an easy life, but he was a hard worker.

“He lost his father when he was 9,” said his wife of 59 years, Elena Ecker. “They worked the land.”

Immediately after graduating from Berne-Knox High School, Mr. Ecker joined the Army. He served during World War II in a tank battalion with the 7th Army. He didn’t talk much about his war years, his wife said; he was on the front lines in Europe for three years, repairing tanks as a mechanic.

Elena Martin, the future Mrs. Ecker, first laid eyes on him when Mr. Ecker was home on furlough. She was a high school student from Mechanicville who worked at General Electric over the summer as part of the wartime effort. Mr. Ecker’s sister worked at GE, too, and asked Elena Martin to visit the farm.

“Ernie met us when we got off the bus,” Mrs. Ecker recalled. “I thought he was drop-dead gorgeous — so handsome.”

Mr. Ecker came home from the war in the fall of 1945 and went to the State Teachers’ College at Brockport, majoring in physical education. He surprised Elena Martin by writing to her from college, she said. “He was looking for a pen pal,” she said. “I hated to write. He wrote to me, ‘Did you break your arm?’” she recalled with a laugh.

“Then, when he was home for the summer, he drove out to Mechanicville to see me…The rest is history,” said Mrs. Ecker.

Mr. Ecker graduated from Brockport in June of 1950 and the Eckers were married in October of that year.

It was a happy marriage, Mrs. Ecker said. “He was very loving.”

For the love of children

Mr. Ecker’s first job was teaching fifth grade at his alma mater. In a teaching career that would span nearly three decades, entirely at Berne-Knox-Westerlo, he went on to teach all of the common branch subjects in elementary, junior high, and high school. Mr. Ecker served wherever he was needed, teaching social studies, reading, English, math, consumer economics, and high-school equivalency.

“He would say, ‘I’ve taught everything except a foreign language,’” said his wife.

Mr. Ecker also coached several sports, including track, cross-country, and basketball. But his primary love was soccer, which he coached for 20 years, leading his team to several league championships.

“They won the sectionals one year,” said his wife.

Mr. Ecker enjoyed watching sports, too, but didn’t root for a particular team. “I’d say, ‘Who’s your team?’ and he’d say, ‘I don’t care. I like to see how they play,’” his wife recalled.

Mr. Ecker also filled in both as an elementary-school and high-school principal when he was needed. He earned a master’s degree in education from The College of Saint Rose in Albany, and also earned credits towards an administration certification.

“He liked the kids,” said his daughter, Gina Slater, summing up her father’s passion for teaching.

“He knew them all,” said his wife. “He could tell them who their mother and father was; he had gone to school with them,” she said.

Mr. Ecker and his wife raised four children of their own — two boys and two girls. The family enjoyed traveling and camping together. “You’re a lot closer in a tent than in a house,” said Mrs. Ecker. “You can’t run and hide upstairs in your room.”

Later, after their children had grown, Mr. and Mrs. Ecker enjoyed traveling together, both in the United States and abroad. They visited the Caribbean, Europe, Australia, and New Zealand.

Their last big trip was to Italy, where they visited a grandchild who lives there. “He loved our grandchildren,” said Mrs. Ecker.

Pride in his work

Throughout his teaching career and well after he retired from the school in 1984, Mr. Ecker worked as a groundskeeper at the Altamont Fair. From 1955 on, he was the superintendent of buildings and grounds at the fair, which involved months of work each year, not just the annual Fair Week.

Mr. Ecker said of his work at the fair, “You take pride into it. People from different parts of the country come, and they tell us it’s one of the cleanest fairs they’ve ever been to. And during weekend events in the summer, people remark how well the grounds are kept up.”

In the summer of 1990, when the late Dick Munroe was working with Mr. Ecker as a carpenter at the fairgrounds, he said that Mr. Ecker had taught his children and his grandchildren. “And he was one instructor they learned from,” said Mr. Munroe. “The kids knew what Ernie said was law. They respected him and all talked about him when they got out of school.”

“Anytime I had a new class,” Mr. Ecker said then, “I’d tell them, ‘I’m your father, your mother, and God.’”

He commanded the same respect from the ever-changing crew of kids who worked for him each summer at the fairgrounds.

“He had a rough exterior,” said his wife. “But he was actually a very mild man.”

His daughter agreed, “He’d scare the kids at first. People would say his bark was worse than his bite….He was a quiet man, but, when he spoke, you listened.”

Mrs. Slater had her father as a reading teacher when she was in junior high school. “He was fair,” she recalled. “He was hard on everyone because he wanted you to succeed.”

Mrs. Lounsbury described similar qualities in Mr. Ecker. She particularly enjoyed the year that he served as the elementary school principal. “Ernie always kept his word,” she said. “He was fair. He was not one for idle comment. If he said it, he meant it…He had integrity.”

Mrs. Lounsbury went on, “There was an energy around Ernie that said, ‘I mean business.’…He had a very tender heart.”

 He also had a rare gift for helping struggling students, she said.

As a youngster, she said, “Ernie was not much of a student. He really understood. He could really work with a child who was struggling. He helped them and didn’t think less of them…He was right there for people.”

She concluded, “He is a force to be reckoned with wherever he is.”


Ernest J. Ecker is survived by his wife of 59 years, Elena Ecker, née Martin; his four children, Michael Ecker and his wife, Patti; Vaughn Ecker and Rita; Gina Slater and her husband, Tom; and Mary-Chris O’Hearn and her husband, Ted; and nine grandchildren.

He is also survived by his sister, Shirley Ostermann, and his brother, G. Carl Cross.

An interment will be at 10 a.m. on Friday, Jan. 29, in Schenectady Memorial Park followed by a calling hour from 11 a.m. to noon at the First Reformed Church of Berne, then a memorial service at noon. Arrangements are by the Fredendall Funeral Home of Altamont.

Memorial contributions may be made to a charity of one’s choice. 

Mildred Motschmann

BERNE — Mildred Motschmann was a poet, a gardener, and a seamstress who knew local history and loved baseball.

She died at her home, surrounded by family, on Wednesday, Jan. 20, 2010, after a brief illness. She was 88.

Mrs. Motschmann was born on June 20, 1921 in Brooklyn, N.Y., the daughter of the late Lawrence and Elizabeth Taffner.

“She had very strong convictions, strong opinions, and love of country,” said her daughter, Millie Levy. “She had great moral values, great work ethic, and a great sense of humor.”

Mrs. Motschmann worked for some time as an accountant for Mason Candy in Long Island, and later worked as a historian at the Old Stone Fort in Schoharie.

“She could tell you all the history of Schoharie County,” her daughter said.

A passionate fan of professional baseball, Mrs. Motschmann’s favorite player was Alex Rodriguez, also known as A-Rod.

“She used to say Alex Rodriguez was the most beautiful and graceful baseball player she ever laid eyes on,” said her daughter. “She always said that, if she was a man, she’d be in the Baseball Hall of Fame.”

Mrs. Motschmann’s granddaughter, Janeanne Motschmann, recalls her affinity for Rodriguez, too.

“She didn’t like the stuff about the steroids and everything, but everyone makes mistakes,” her granddaughter said.

“She loved Joe Torre, but she was disappointed when he went to the Dodgers,” said her son, Robert Motschmann. Mrs. Motschmann was also a fan of hall-of-famer Stan “The Man” Musial, he said.

But baseball wasn’t her only hobby. Mrs. Motschmann made her own coats and hats, her daughter said, and she loved cooking and baking, too. Also among her favorite things was gardening.

“She loved flowers,” said her granddaughter, Janeanne. “She liked to sit out on the deck on her rocking chair, and watch the grandchildren play, watch her flowers, watch nature go by.” Her love of gardening followed her into the living room, where she watched Home and Garden Television.

“She had a wonderful flower garden that was just gorgeous,” her son said.

He describes her as an outgoing person, who loved to converse with people. She could have been a professional bowler, he said, but turned down the offer because she had children.

He also remembers helping her overcome her fear of flying.

“Wiley Post, a well known aviator, flew over my mother’s house when he came into New York one time,” said Mr. Motschmann. “When he and Will Rogers crashed in Point Barrel, Alaska, my mom was a teenager, and she was devastated by the death of both of them.”

But when Mr. Motschmann’s oldest daughter, Missy — Mrs. Motschmann’s granddaughter — went to Colorado to study business, he wanted to visit her. He invited his mother to come with him, and wouldn’t take “no” for an answer.

“She looked out the window of the plane as it was taking off, and she just thought it was so beautiful,” her son said. “On the plane, we told them my mom had never flown before, so they made an announcement over the loud speaker and gave her a set of wings. When we landed in Chicago for a connecting flight, she said, ‘Robert, I’m sitting in the window seat this time.’”

After visiting her granddaughter for a few days, Mrs. Motschmann and her son took a tour of the West. They went on to visit the Rocky Mountains, Yellowstone Park, Little Bighorn Battlefield, Pompeii’s Pillar, Mt. Rushmore, and the Crazy Horse Monument, to name a few — “All the places she had read about as a kid,” her son said.


Mrs. Motschmann is survived by her children: Mildred Levy and her husband, Russell, of Commack, N.Y.; and her son, Robert Motschmann and his wife, Ida, of Berne.

She is also survived by her brother, Larry Taffner and his wife, Betty, as well as seven grandchildren: Elizabeth Betty and her husband, Jack; Robert Motschmann and his wife, Lauri; Spencer Motschmann and his wife, Lynn; John Wright and his wife, Carla; Missy Jessee and her husband, Curtis; Matthew Motschmann and his wife, Kathleen; and Janeanne Motschmann.

She is survived, too, by 13 great-grandchildren: Blake; Megan and her husband, Keith; Michael; Brandon; Nikki; Evan; Loren and her husband, Zachary; Kaylee; Aaron; Hannah; Dalton; Ethan; and Sean.

Also surviving are four great-great-grandchildren: Aaliyah; Madison; Owen; and River. Several nieces and nephews are surviving as well.

Her husband, Robert Motschmann, died before her, as did her sisters: Elizabeth Waters, Gloria Welton, and Dolores Schliecher. Her brother, Raymond Taffner, died before her as well.

The family expresses its gratitude to the Community Hospice of Albany for its support during her final days, and gives a special thanks to hospice nurse Sheila McGee, R.N.

A funeral service was held Saturday, Jan. 23, at the Fredendall Funeral Home in Altamont.

A burial will take place this spring in Woodlawn Cemetery.

Memorial contributions may be made to Community Hospice of Albany, at 445 New Karner Road, Albany, N.Y. 12205, or to the First Reformed Church of Berne, at 1664 Helderberg Trail, Berne, N.Y. 12023. 

— Zach Simeone

Mary Norris

GUILDERLAND — Mary Norris was a caregiver for all of her long life.

Born in Niagara Falls, she was the daughter of the late John and Rose Ramolo Gabriele. She had two brothers and two sisters, whom she helped to raise after her father died when she was 12.

After she married Dr. Benjamin F. Norris, she was a homemaker, raising their five children in the Norrises’ Guilderland home.

She died on Thursday, Jan. 7, 2010 at Our Lady of Mercy Life Center in Guilderland. She was 91.

“Her life was centered around her beloved family, faith, friends, and volunteer work. She will be remembered for her lovely smile, and her kindness and compassion for others,” her family wrote in a tribute. “Mary loved to dance and to travel, never missing a family gathering, baptism, school event, or wedding. We loved her dearly.”

Mrs. Norris received a Lifetime Senior Achievement Award during a 2007 ceremony held by the Capital District Senior Issues Forum. She was nominated by Kathy Kavanaugh, the coordinator for pastoral care at the Church of Christ the King in Guilderland, where Mrs. Norris was an active member. Mrs. Norris was involved with several church committees and was a visitation minister, bringing communion to and visiting with parishioners at home and in nursing homes.

“She has tremendous integrity,” said Ms. Kavanaugh when she nominated her; Mrs. Norris never lied to anybody, she said.

Mrs. Norris attended the New York State College for Teachers in Albany, now the University at Albany. She was the president of the Newman Hall Catholic Dormitory and was part of the college’s newspaper staff in her junior and senior years. She graduated in 1941.

While her husband finished medical school, Mrs. Norris worked for Mobil Corp., but she raised her children as a stay-at-home mother.

Mrs. Norris’s community activities were wide-ranging. She was involved in the Albany County Medical Auxiliary and the St. Peter’s Hospital Auxiliary. She began volunteering at St. Peter’s Hospital in 1963, and also volunteered at Our Lady of Mercy Life Center. She helped with the Red Cross, the Blood Bank, Community Chest, and Holy Names Academy, as well as the Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts. She also volunteered at the Albany Symphony Show Houses and helped with lunch duty at Christ the King School in Guilderland.

“She loves to help people,” Ms. Kavanaugh said at the time Mrs. Norris received her award. “I don’t know anyone who knows her who doesn’t think she’s wonderful.”


Mary Norris’s husband of 46 years, Benjamin F. Norris, died before her.

She is survived by her five children and their spouses, Mary G. Wood and her husband, Andrew; Benjamin Norris and his wife, Mary; Judy Polley and her husband, David; John Norris and his wife, Jane; and Lisa Gaglioti and her husband, Joseph.

Mrs. Norris was the sister of Josephine Masceri; Eleanor Castiglione and her husband, Peter, and the late Fred Gabriele and John Gabriele.

She is survived, too, by 13 grandchildren and 13 great-grandchildren and many nieces and nephews.

Funeral services were held on Jan. 13 at the Church of Christ the King in Westmere with interment in the Albany Rural Cemetery in Menands.

Memorial contributions may be made to the Church of Christ the King, 20 Sumpter Ave., Albany, NY 12203 or to St. Peter’s Hospital Foundation, 315 South Manning Blvd., Albany, NY 12208.

Arrangements were by the McVeigh Funeral Home.

— Melissa Hale-Spencer 

Lena Mae Race

GUILDERLAND — Soft spoken and friendly, Lena Mae Race devoted herself to her family; she especially adored her grandchildren and, later, her great-grandchildren.

She died on Saturday, Jan. 23, 2010, at Our Lady of Mercy Life Center in Guilderland. She was 87.

“Her greatest joy in life was her family, especially her grandchildren,” her family wrote in a tribute.

Born in Rapid City, S.D., she was a long-time resident of Guilderland.

Mrs. Race and her husband, Richard, were inseparable in life.

“They were always together,” said daughter-in-law Shirley Race. They raised a family together — a son and a daughter — and they worked together, too.

Mrs. Race worked for over 30 years as a quality control inspector at the Cohoes Garment Corporation. She inspected ladies’ coats before they were shipped out to stores, said her daughter-in-law, and she loved her work.

“All of the women she worked with were her friends. They had a lot in common,” said Shirley Race. Lena Mae Race enjoyed sewing and sewed her own clothes, she said.

Her husband worked beside her at Cohoes Garment where he was a floor supervisor and sewing machine repairman.

Later, after Mrs. Race retired from her job as an inspector, she joined her husband in his work at Guilderland’s town hall, where he was the head custodian. For more than a decade, she worked part-time, cleaning Town Hall.

“She was very well liked by the staff at Town Hall,” said her daughter-in-law.

The couple was married for 57 years; the union ended only with Mr. Race’s death.

Mrs. Race’s life centered around her family. “She couldn’t do enough for us,” said Shirley Race. She was especially devoted to her grandchildren. “She would read to them for hours,” said Mrs. Race. “She would draw with them, and play ball with them.”

Shirley Race went on to describe her mother-in-law as “very friendly, always happy, always smiling.” At the end of her life, she lived at Our Lady of Mercy Life Center in Guilderland. “People at the nursing home said she was a sweetheart,” said Shirley Race.

In her later years, Mrs. Race particularly enjoyed her great-grandchildren; three of them — Cameron, Caitlyn, and Nolan Race — live in Georgia and one — Miya Race — lived on the west coast but recently moved to Altamont.

“She couldn’t get enough pictures of them,” said Shirley Race.

She concluded of her mother-in-law, “She just loved life. She had a very full and rewarding life.”


Lena Mae Race is survived by her son, James Race, and his wife, Shirley, of Voorheesville; her daughter, Linda Gipp and Tracy LaFountain of Westmere; her grandsons, Michael Race and his wife, Eleanor, of Alpharetta, Ga., and Joseph Race and his wife, Allison, of Altamont; her great-grandchildren, Cameron, Caitlyn, Nolan, and Miya Race.

She is also survived by her sister, Leona Carter, of Mooresville, N.C.; her niece, Donna Micael and her husband, Terry; her nephew, Kevin Carter, and his wife, Marianne; and her many great-nieces and great-nephews.

Her husband of 57 years, Richard Race, died before her.

Calling hours were held at the Reilly & Son Funeral Home in Voorheesville on Monday. All other services will be private at the convenience of the family.

Her family thanks the staff of Our Lady of Mercy Life Center for its kindness and loving care over the past 15 months. Memorial contributions may be made to Our Lady of Mercy Life Center, 2 Mercy Care Lane, Guilderland, NY 12084.

— Melissa Hale-Spencer

Marshall Vinehout

ALTAMONT — Marshall Vinehout, a decorated World War II veteran, died on Friday, Jan. 22, 2010, at St. Peter’s Hospice Inn. He was 90.

Born in Altamont, he was the son of the late Charles and Julia (Tabor) Vinehout.

He is survived by Kathy Vinehout, Betty Spadaro, and Joseph Spadaro; his cousin, Blanche Tubbs; his nieces, Gladys Short, Linda Schrom, Brenda Hewitt, Susie Arnold, and Terri McCoy; his nephews, Charles Vinehout, Richard Spadano, and Ronald Spadaro, and many cousins, great-nieces and great-nephews, and great-great-nieces and great-great-nephews.

His wife, Rose Spadaro, died before him, as did his siblings, Elizabeth Short, and her husband, James, Harry Vinehout, and Beatrice Hewitt, and her husband, Harold; brother-in-law, Patrick Spadaro, and sister-in-law, Helen McCoy, and her husband, William; his niece, Julie Vinehout; and, his nephews Robert Spadaro and Doug Schrom.

A memorial service will be held at 11 a.m. on Saturday, Jan. 30, at the Fredendall Funeral Home, in Altamont. A spring burial will be at the convenience of the family in the Saratoga National Cemetery.

The family would like to thank Dr. Goussous, Dr. Brazis, Dr. Migden, Dan Mead RPAC, Catherine Marsh NP, Susan Kolb RN, Susan Pesh RN, Barbara, Kate, and Betsy at the Hospice Inn, as well as the staff of the St. Peter’s Hospital emergency room, sixth floor, and intensive care unit.

Memorial contributions may be made to St. Peter’s Hospice Inn, 315 South Manning Boulevard, Albany, NY 12208.

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