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Obituaries Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, September 16, 2010

Ann Lynn Lauterbach Ecker

KNOX — Ann Lynn Lauterbach Ecker, a skilled baker who nourished her family and friends, made the most of her life right up until her death.

She battled leukemia with bravery and good cheer, her family said, for six-and-a-half years. She died on Tuesday, Sept. 14, 2010 at age 55.

“She was going to live life as long as she was alive,” said her aunt, Penny Lane.

Her sister, Amy Lauterbach Pokorny, described the scene the night before she died. Ms. Pokorny’s son, Jonathan, had put together her favorite songs so she could listen to them on an iPod as she lay in pain, on morphine.

“She started dancing in her bed, singing, ‘We gotta get out of this place, if it’s the last thing we ever do,’” said Ms. Pokorny.

“We were singing with her,” said Ms. Lane as the two broke into song, belting out the old Animals’ number.

Ms. Ecker was born in Binghamton on March 30, 1955 and raised in Windsor and Heuvelton, N.Y. She was the daughter of Esther Lane of Albany and the late Rev. John Richard Lauterbach.

“Our father was a minister,” said Ms. Pokorny. “We lived in the manse.”

Ms. Ecker was religious “in the sense of community and fellowship,” said Ms. Lane.

Growing up, said Ms. Pokorny, her sister was “very involved socially with the kids.”

“She was a good athlete and did gymnastics and tumbling,” said her aunt. She was also a cheerleader, and she played both the violin and the piano, said her sister.

“She was a natural musician,” said her aunt. “She’d hear a popular tune and be able to play it.”

After attending college at Potsdam, she pursued a career as a baker. Her specialty was baking apple pies. She met the man who would become her husband, Matthew Ecker, when she worked a late shift at the Price Chopper bakery. He was an Albany City policeman.

They have two children — Ada, 20, and Lucas, 14.

“She was very close to her children and very proud of both of them,” said Ms. Pokorny. Despite her illness, said Ms. Pokorny, “She was very attentive to the work they were doing. When Matt came home from work, she would ask how the roll call went, and she’d pack his lunches as long as she could.”

The family’s home is on Thompson’s Lake, across from the state campground. Ms. Ecker loved to cross-country ski and walk in the woods and fields near her home, often with her Irish setter, Rusty. She also liked gardening, playing the piano, and learning to speak German.

When her hip and knee joints went, she would ride a golf cart into the woods. When it broke down, her husband would retrieve her in his truck.

Later, she used a three-wheel scooter, designed for shopping.

“She took it off-road,” said Ms. Lane.

“She didn’t want to live like she had a sickness,” said her sister.

“Matt was a wonderful husband,” said Ms. Lane. “After she got sick, he built ramps for her and changed the house around. He partitioned off the living room to make their bedroom downstairs.”

“It was a gruesome disease that caused her terrible pain,” said her sister. After a bone-marrow transplant, Ms. Ecker suffered from graft-versus-host disease as her immune system attacked her.

“She was so brave,” said her aunt, and, despite the disease, she continued to be a giving person.

Two weeks before she died, Ms. Ecker traveled to New York City to see her aunt’s new apartment.

“She was like a sister to me,” said Ms. Lane. “She was in terrible shape but she wanted to see my new place, and she wanted to say good-bye to New York City.”

She visited Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty and made a trip, which could have been somber, fun “because of her good spirit,” said her aunt.

Ms. Lane also described a visit last Sunday where she and other relatives had come to say good-bye: “She was always loving, cheerful, and funny. She told us the funniest story.”

The story involved her daughter, Ava, a college runner. When they got wet jeans, they went in the trunk of the car, sorting through goodwill clothes, meant for donation, to find something dry to wear. There were no slacks or skirts, so they turned men’s T-shirts upside-down and put their legs through the armholes.

“She was literally on her death bed and making us laugh,” said Ms. Lane.

The pair also described a Martha Stewart cookbook they gave her with 179 cookie recipes. Unable to sleep at night, Ms. Ecker would prop herself up in her tiny kitchen, as early as three or four in the morning, and begin baking cookies to give to the friends and family members who were helping her.

“She just launched into that,” said her sister. “She went through the whole cookbook, and gave exquisite cookies to the people like Amy Anderson and Tina Tambasco who helped her.”

“She was a completely giving person…always looking out for other people,” said her aunt. “You could describe her as angelic.”


Ann Lynn Lauterback Ecker is survived by her husband, Matthew Ecker; her children, Ada Lauterbach and Lucas Ecker; her sister, Amy Lauterbach Pokorny, and her husband, Russ — all of Knox. She is also survived by her devoted aunt, Penny Lane, of New York City, and nephew John Lauterbach, of Knox; her dear friend, Barbara Stumpe, of Germany; and many nieces, nephews, aunts, and cousins.

A funeral service will be conducted at 1 p.m. on Friday, Sept. 17, at Hamilton Union Presbyterian Church a 2291 Western Ave. in Guilderland. Friends may call today, Sept. 16, from 4 until 8 p.m. at the Fredendall Funeral Home in Altamont.

Memorial contributions may be made to Camp Bravehearts, Inc. at 19 Cambridge Road, Albany, NY 12203.

— Melissa Hale-Spencer

Judith Preston Heald

Judith Preston Heald, a sweet and giving woman, died at her home in Ballston Spa on Sept. 8, 2010, of lung cancer. Her children were by her side.

She was born on Dec. 8, 1936, in Kingston, N.Y., to Julian and Flora Earl. Mrs. Heald was adopted at age 4 by Otis S. and Margaret Ballard Preston, Julian Earl’s cousin.

Mrs. Heald lived at the Severson House on Brandle Road for most of her childhood. She graduated from Voorheesville’s high school in 1954. Her mother, Margaret Preston, was a teacher in the Voorheesville district and taught Mrs. Heald as a fourth-grader. Mrs. Heald was active in school events and made the honor roll quite a few times, her daughter said.

She married H. Douglas Heald in 1955, and moved to Connecticut, where he found work. In 1969, after Otis S. Preston died, the couple bought the Severson House. She resided there with her children until 1979.

All of the kids in the neighborhood called Mrs. Heald “Ma,” said her daughter Margaret Heald Smith.

“She was always there to be a mother. She was the most patient person I have ever met; she never yelled a day in her life,” Mrs. Smith said.

Mrs. Heald moved to Florida for a short time, after separating from Mr. Heald in 1976, and then to Syracuse. After she retired from working for the city of Syracuse in 1988, she moved to the Malta area to be closer to her children.

“She just loved Altamont. Even after she moved, she would come back up and we would take rides into Altamont to check out the old homestead,” said Mrs. Smith.

As a young woman, Mrs. Heald was very active in St. John’s Lutheran Church, where she often played the piano for the parishioners. Throughout her life, she was musically and artistically inclined, her daughter said. She enjoyed painting and various other crafts.

“She would do anything she could to help other people, and she would do anything for the village,” said Mrs. Smith of her mother. She had many friends and was proud to live in a close-knit community, her daughter said.

Mrs. Heald and her sister banded together to donate the last $800 Altamont needed to build the gazebo in the village park. The donation was made in memory of their mother, Margaret Preston.

“She was very proud of that,” said Mrs. Smith.

Even at the end of her life, Mrs. Heald was thinking of others. She donated her body to science; her daughter said she suffered from several ailments, including osteoporosis and chronic pulmonary obstruction disorder, and hoped that scientists would be able to study her to work toward cures.

“That was just her nature. Anything she could do to help others, she would do,” Mrs. Smith said.


Judith Preston Heald is survived by her sister, Marijean Preston Corcuera, of Syracuse; her children, David B. Heald and his wife, Tracey, of North Berwick, Maine, Margaret “Peggy” G. Smith and her husband, Dennis, of Ballston Spa, Dean P. Heald and his wife, Kimberly, of Summerville, S.C., and Patricia J. Butner and her husband, Don, of Porters Corners, N.Y.

She is also survived by seven grandchildren, Shannon, Ian, Justin, Christopher, Steven, Shayne, and Zakery; four great-grandchildren, Tallula, Carmen, Krystian, and Myrah; and many nieces, nephews, and dear friends.

A memorial service will be held at the St. Peter’s Lutheran Church in Ballston Spa, at 2776 Route 9, on Saturday, Sept. 18, at 11 a.m. Interment will be at the Walton Cemetery, in Walton, N.Y. at a later date.

Memorial contributions may be made to the American Cancer Society, Post Office Box 22718, Oklahoma City, OK 73123 – 1718.

 Anne Hayden  

Robert J. Hilt

GUILDERLAND — A gentle teacher who wrote poetry, Robert John Hilt had a way of bringing out the best in those he knew.

He died unexpectedly on Thursday, Sept. 9, 2010. He was 65.

“He was known to those who loved him as a man of wisdom and character,” his family wrote in a tribute. “Bob will be especially remembered for his kind, gentle, and generous spirit.”

His wife, Gloria Towle-Hilt, tells a story that shows how they each inspired the other to fulfill their dreams. Very soon after they were married, both new schoolteachers, living in a little stone house they rented in New Salem, they were musing on how they should spend their summer vacation.

“He had his back to me, doing the dishes,” she recalled. “I was wiping the table. He said, ‘What are we doing this summer?’

“I said, ‘Let’s bicycle across the country.’”

Although she was kidding, Mr. Hilt took her statement seriously. “He didn’t have the nerve to say no. I didn’t have the nerve to tell him I was joking,” she recalled with a laugh.

The couple flew to Seattle and bicycled home.

It would be the first of many shared adventures. Mr. Hilt loved hiking the Appalachian Trail and bicycling in Ireland, where he and his wife traced his Irish roots. They visited the town of Listowel, where his great-grandfather had lived. When they toured the castle there, they discovered that the town’s name meant “Fort of the Towels,” leading Ms. Towle-Hilt to surmise that her own birth name may be Gaelic.

Mr. Hilt was born and raised in Troy, N.Y., the son of the late Madeleine O’Connor, a homemaker, and Robert T. Hilt, who worked at Troy Belting. Robert John Hilt was the second oldest of four children. He lived his entire young life in the same Troy apartment, even through his college years, as part of a close-knit community.

A graduate of Siena College and the University at Albany, he served in the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps, and was an Army captain in Saigon during the Vietnam War.

He met Gloria Towle after returning home from the war when they were both new teachers at Guilderland’s Farnsworth Middle School. “He had a degree in public policy. We met at the first social studies department meeting,” said his wife, a social studies teacher who liked to remind her husband she was hired a month before he was. They were part of a social set of dedicated new teachers.

The couple dated in February of their first year of teaching, were engaged in April, and married in September. “He was the gentlest, kindest individual I’d ever met,” said Ms. Towle-Hilt.

Mr. Hilt was five years older than she, having served in the Army in Germany and Vietnam before beginning his teaching career. “He would always say he was fortunate not to be in the infantry,” she said. Mr. Hilt was an officer, having come through the ROTC program. He was stationed in Saigon during the war, planning covert operations, said his wife. “He didn’t talk a lot about it,” she said. “He’d talk about how wonderful the people were and the country was.”

Ms. Towle-Hilt longed to teach in Africa. After the couple hosted a Fulbright Scholar from Zambia, he arranged for them to teach there. While Mr. Hilt had done his traveling, he understood his wife’s desire. “He said, ‘We can’t have kids and settle down until this is out of your system,’” recalled Ms. Towle-Hilt.

So, after five years of teaching at Farnsworth Middle School, the couple took a two-year leave of absence to teach at a mission school in Zambia, in central Africa.

“It had been a British colony,” said Ms. Towle-Hilt. “There were school buildings everywhere, but there were no supplies, no teachers. Our teaching friends would send us supplies. We taught English and history, even African history.”

Mr. Hilt became head of the dormitory where the boys at the school slept. “He went out and got food to feed hundreds of boys,” she said. “He kept the boys fed with whatever he could get.”

The couple’s first child, Laura, was born in Zambia. And they made life-long friends during their two-year stay. “Yesterday, I talked to a Belgian priest who had baptized Laura in Africa,” said Ms. Towle-Hilt. “We learned so much about priorities there. They changed us.”

After returning home from Africa, Ms. Towle-Hilt, pregnant with their son, David, took a maternity leave. When she returned to teaching, she and her husband were on the same team of four at Farnsworth Middle School. Mr. Hilt had switched to teaching English; the team was made up of one instructor from each of the four core subjects — English, social studies, math, and science.

“Those were fun years,” said Ms. Towle-Hilt. “We had the greatest time teaching together. Bob was a natural teacher. Farnsworth is like our home.”

The teachers they worked with, she said, were like family. (After Ms. Towle-Hilt retired from teaching, she was elected to the school board and is still a member.) “I can’t think of a day we were unhappy,” she said.

As a father, Mr. Hilt was “calm, gentle, and very laid back,” said Ms. Towel-Hilt. “He let me do the parenting. He made dinner every night. He was the cook while I was with the kids, going over homework….I hated to cook. He was a great cook and loved to experiment.”

The family gathered together to eat Mr. Hilt’s meals. “We always had lively conversation,” said Ms. Towle-Hilt. “The kids and I were sarcastic, bantering. He was always gentle.”

The only blight on their shared home life and teaching career was Mr. Hilt’s health. He had developed a lung condition that couldn’t be cleared up. Finally, he traveled to National Jewish Health, a research institute and hospital in Denver, where he was diagnosed with a fungal condition, his wife said. He had multiple sclerosis, which compromised his immune system, she said.

Mr. Hilt retired in 2001, after three decades of teaching at Farnsworth. Although medication helped control his lung condition, she said, he didn’t want to leave the school “up in the air” about his ability to work.

Mrs. Towle-Hilt treasures a book his last students made for him. Mr. Hilt preferred that they write with pens. He, himself, wore a pen around his neck, suspended from a string — a gift from his wife — which kept it always handy.

Mr. Hilt particularly admired the poetry of Robert Frost and Emily Dickinson. He wrote poetry himself, some of it on memories of Vietnam and much of it on nature.

“He wrote love poetry to me,” said his wife. “His poems were very reflective…connecting the cycles of nature to the cycles of life.”

After retiring, Mr. Hilt served the community as a volunteer for the Capital District Habitat for Humanity, St. John’s Outreach Center, and the Honest Weight Food Cooperative. He was a communicant of St. Madeleine Sophie Church and helped in many parish ministries.

“He was very soft spoken, very calm,” said his wife. “We’re opposites. I’m high flying… Every time I left Bob for even a few seconds in his wheelchair, he’d know everybody’s story. He could talk to anybody about anything.”


Robert John Hilt is survived by his wife, Gloria Towle-Hilt; his daughter, Laura Bresnahan, of Rotterdam; and his son, David Towle-Hilt, and his wife, Mary, of Burlington, Vt.

He is also survived by his sisters, Grace Hilt Mack and her husband, Thomas, of Niskayuna, and Nancy Hilt of Penfield, N.Y. His brother, Stephen Hilt, died before him.

Mr. Hilt is survived by his two nieces, Elizabeth and Emily Marcil; his sister- and brother-in-law, Deborah Marcil and Roger Levinthal; and by his father-in-law, Howard Towle.

A Mass of Christian Burial was held on Tuesday evening, Sept. 14, at St. Madeleine Sophie Church in Guilderland. Arrangements are by DeMarco-Stone Funeral Home in Guilderland.

Memorial contributions may be made to the Capital District Habitat for Humanity, 454 North Pearl Street, Albany, NY 12204.

— Melissa Hale-Spencer

Irene Zimmerman

ALTAMONT — Irene Zimmerman, a homemaker and Altamont native, died unexpectedly on Sunday, September 12, at Ellis Hospital. She was 76.

She was the daughter of Wallace and Ethel VanAuken.

“Mom enjoyed flower gardening, knitting, crafting, baking, reading, and retail therapy,” her family wrote in a tribute. “She lived her life for home and family.”

She is survived by her loving husband of 59 years, William W. Zimmerman; daughter Cynthia J. Tirotta and her husband, Joseph, of Prescott, Ariz.; daughter Deborah A. DeVito and her husband, Michael, of Mountaintop, Pa.; son William Kerby Zimmerman and his wife, Andrea, of Altamont; daughter Stephanie S. Macgilfrey of Altamont; and grandchildren Gregory M. DeVito, Ryan J. DeVito, Samantha A. Macgilfrey, Cole T. Macgilfrey, and Logan J. Macgilfrey.

Private services were held at the Fredendall Funeral Home in Altamont.

Memorial contributions may be made to the Altamont Volunteer Ambulance Service, 767 Route 146, Altamont, NY 12009.

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