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Obituaries Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, February 11, 2010

Ernest J. Ecker

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

 “He was gruff but sincere, warm, and supportive,” said Helen Lounsbury, a retired Berne Elementary School teacher who now serves on the school board.

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, the son of George Ecker and Alice Bellinger Ecker Cross. 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.”

“After his father’s death, he lived mostly with his grandparents, Sidney and Isetta Bellinger, until graduating from high school,” said his sister, Shirley Ostermann.

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. He later served in the Korean conflict, said Mrs. Ostermann.

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.”

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 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.

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.”

“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 her husband, Robert, and by his brother, G. Carl Cross and his wife, Linda, and by many nieces and nephews and many grand-nieces and grand-nephews.

His brother, Kenneth, died in World War II. Two sisters, Eleanor and Lorraine, also died before him.

An interment was on Friday, Jan. 29, in Schenectady Memorial Park followed by a memorial service at the First Reformed Church of Berne. Arrangements were by the Fredendall Funeral Home of Altamont.

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

— Melissa Hale-Spencer 

Frances M. Mueller

GUILDERLAND — Frances A. Mueller, a selfless, family-oriented woman, died on Feb. 5, 2010, at the Hospice Inn at St. Peter’s Hospital. She was 91.

Mrs. Mueller, a resident of Western Turnpike, was born in West New York, N.J., on April 18, 1918. She was the daughter of the late John and Julia Barrett Ryan. She and her late husband, Paul Mueller, lived in Emerson, NJ, for over 50 years. Mrs. Mueller worked as a bookkeeper for her husband’s business, Arped Precision, for over half a century. She retired in 1985.

Mrs. Mueller’s daughter-in-law, MaryAnn Mueller, said her mother-in-law loved working with her husband. Paul Mueller died on June 26, 2008.

“She was so warm and giving. She was the matriarch of the family,” said MaryAnn Mueller. “Everybody would come to see her for advice,” she said.

Mrs. Mueller was a communicant at St. Madeleine Sophie Church. She loved sewing, reading, cooking, and baking. “Pies were her specialty. She baked her pies for every family occasion,” MaryAnn Mueller said. Mrs. Mueller’s daughter-in-law described her as family-oriented and completely giving of herself.

“She was really loved,” said her daughter-in-law.

Mrs. Mueller is survived by her son, Paul Mueller, and his wife, MaryAnn, of Guilderland; four grandchildren, Christa Farrell, and her husband, Gerard, of Emerson, N.J., Derek Mueller, of Colonie, Dustin Mueller, of Guilderland, and Colin Mueller, of Emerson, N.J.; two great-grandchildren, Allison Morgan Farrell and Riley Megan Farrell, of Emerson, NJ; and, three sisters, Loretta Garrey of Clifton Park, Veronica Boccher, of Parkridge, N.J., and her husband, Aldo, and Evelyn Ryan of Wake Forest, N.C.

Interment will be in the Saratoga National Cemetery in Schuylerville, N.Y., on Friday, Feb. 12, at 1 p.m.

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

— Anne Hayden

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