Blanche Kreymborg, gracious and kind, could teach us much about making the most of whatever fate comes our way.
How did she acquire her wisdom? Through experience, not only as a public health nurse but as a widow raising two children. No doubt a keen eye and sharp mind helped.
Born in 1916 at Donnelly's Corners, she lived there until age 8. Her father, James C. Brown, was a tenant farmer for the LaBountys and later for J.Q. King in Gabriels. In 1924, James moved his family to a small two-story tenant house in Ray Brook on the large Pendergast dairy farm which provided milk for the Ray Brook Sanatorium. Her mother was responsible for cooking for all the workers. Her parents' salary was $150 a month.
(Photo — Caperton Tissot)
How Blanche's eyes light up when recalling her carefree, happy life on that farm. Though an only child at the time, she rarely suffered loneliness, finding plenty of fun running through tall, sweet-smelling hay fields or, later, climbing about on that same hay when it was baled and stacked in the horse barn. She spent hours roller skating on the cow barn's concrete floor, keeping company with the Herefords and Holsteins.
The simple pleasures of open sky, fields, the farm, doctoring her doll babies and being read to enriched her childhood. She remembered all this later, when raising her own children, and made a point of stimulating their minds by fostering creativity rather than dependence on ready-made toys and entertainment.
Blanche studied in a one-room school in Ray Brook until the sixth grade, which she attended in Saranac Lake.
When she was 11, the family moved to Bloomingdale. Thanks to years of frugality, they had saved $2,500 and were able to buy a house mortgage-free. It was to remain her family's home for the next 52 years. Her father worked most of those years as caretaker for the Hoffmans' camp on Lower St Regis Lake.
In 1932, Blanche, after graduating from the Bloomingdale High School where she acquired her love of reading, continued her education at Van Houten's Commercial School in Malone. She earned a diploma there, then returned home again to help with the care of a real baby, her newborn brother Dick.
Blanche moved to New York City in 1934, where she earned a nursing diploma from St. Luke's Hospital as well as aBachelor of Science degree from Columbia University. It is particularly noteworthy that her courses included the study of preventive medicine - yes, preventive medicine is not a new idea - in addition to classes on analyzing media information so as not to be "sucked into believing everything you hear."
"I was fascinated," she says of it all.
Blanche became a public health nurse, practicing preventive care, and felt "privileged" to serve a variety of populations living different lifestyles in an array of city neighborhoods: the Orthodox Jewish section of the Bronx, Hell's Kitchen, Harlem, Greenwich Village and more.
Of her nursing career, she says, "It was a God-driven drive from the time I was very young. I was very fortunate." Exposed to an array of people and lifestyles, she seems to have acquired a greater understanding of differing cultures than many who travel the world over.
Howard Kreymborg was her longtime sweetheart who, as soon as he returned from the war in 1945, married her and took work as a carpenter for General Electric in Schenectady. There, while living in one of the first manufactured trailers, their first child, Claire, was born on May 6, 1948. Fortune did not smile on this couple. Howard developed what we now call post-traumatic stress disorder. On July 11, 1949, he died from related causes. It was but a few months prior to the Dec. 2 birth of their son Jim.
Blanche described the following years of widowhood as "dark ones." Thanks to a generous brother-in-law who gave her property in Southampton, Long Island, she moved to that still-rural community.
There she lived frugally (as her parents had also done) on Howard's veteran stipend. She stayed home, raised her children and, with the payout from Howard's life insurance, had a small house built, saving money by laying floors and painting rooms herself. The physical work as well as caring for the children helped her cope with serious depression which plagued her for several years.
"Howard's death brought me up short," Blanche said, "and I began to pursue an active spiritual life, studying the ministry at St. Luke's church and involving myself in hospice."
For Blanche, a good education was of primary importance. When it was time for her children to attend college, she moved back up north, lived with her father, now a widower, and worked as the public nurse supervisor in St Lawrence County and later Franklin County. She earned a good salary and paid for both children's colleges.
Her efforts clearly paid off. Claire became a special-education teacher in Maryland; she is married, has two children and one grandchild. Jim also with two children and is a computer and CT scan specialist living in Chicago.
In 1978, Blanche retired from paid, but not volunteer, work. She helped at a Vermontville food co-op, performed a variety of tasks at the Saranac Lake Adult Center and participated in a mental health group at St. Joseph's Rehabilitation Center. There she shared with patients the ups and downs of her own struggles to break addiction; hers had been with nicotine.
After selling the family home in 1986, she moved into the DeChantel apartment building, where she still lives today.
To this writer, Blanche, age 94, seems a fountain of modest wisdom. She speaks openly about her own life, neither dwelling on nor glossing over the hard times. Looking back, she says, "It has all worked out so beautifully."
On Sundays, when the weather is fair, she reaches for her walker and oxygen tank, and strolls down the block to services at St. Luke's church. When at home, she can be found, crochet hook in hand, making bright-colored blankets for children of mothers living in abused women's shelters.
Ever eager to learn, she is still a voracious reader and meets with a group every two weeks to study the Rule of St. Benedict, a still-applicable book of precepts written in the seventh century.
When asked what Blanche thought people would remember her for, she replied. "For the good doughnuts I made." That kind of humorous modesty seems most typical of her character.
Based on an interview with Blanche Kreymborg. Caperton Tissot can be reached at her website, www.SnowyOwlPress.com.