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Fortune spent a lifetime in a business of bereavement

April 19, 2012
Adirondack Daily Enterprise

Andrew Fortune Sr., who was thoroughly known in the Saranac Lake community as the longtime director of the Fortune-Keough Funeral Home, has died at age 96.

His death notice appears today (follow link at right), and an obituary will follow.

Today the Enterprise reprints a profile of his life, based on an interview with him, that was first published in this paper a decade ago.

Article Photos

Andrew Fortune Sr.
(Enterprise file photo)


Originally published in the Enterprise on July 20, 2002

By PETE CONNOLLY, Staff Writer

SARANAC LAKE - Andy Fortune Sr. has brought life to a business that deals with death.

The 87-year-old Fortune is the longtime owner and operator of the Fortune-Keough Funeral Home on Church Street.

"I've been in the funeral business for 86 years," Fortune said. "My grandfather died and gave me some stock when I was 1 year old."

Years earlier, Fortune said his grandfather walked over Whiteface Mountain and wandered into Bloomingdale, at that time a stage depot, with a pack on his back. Somehow, Fortune said, he got involved in the funeral business, and the rest is history.

"He was a Ling, and he lived on what they called 'the back of the mountain'" he said. "They would farm, shot deer, do what they had to do. I guess he liked town life."

Fortune has been a "townie" his whole life. That's not to say he never left; far from it.


The bad ol' days

As a young boy, Fortune recalls a Saranac Lake where horses and carriages filled the streets.

"We did the usual kids stuff," Fortune said. "Football, baseball, basketball, fishing and fooling around."

After World War I, however, things changed.

Fortune's mother ran one of the many tuberculosis cure houses in the area. Fortune would help his mother care for up to 18 patients, mostly veterans.

According to Fortune, there were 52 drinking establishments from upper Broadway to Bloomingdale Avenue, and the vets were not shy when it came to visiting them.

"A lot of them drank all the time. Many knew they were going to die and just stayed drunk," he said. "I remember one guy, he didn't eat any food for six or seven years. He just drank."

Fortune would put the man to bed almost every night.


The cotton-candy machine

In almost 40 years Fortune has never missed a weekly meeting of the local Rotary Club. That fact alone could bring on stories of hundreds of projects and events. Let's stick to the one about the cotton-candy machine.

In the 1960s Fortune built a trailer, put in a cotton-candy machine and hit local events.

In the years to come the Rotary would add another machine to its arsenal and a snow-cone maker.

"I gave it to Rotary, and over the years we raised almost $100,000," Fortune said.



In 1942, Fortune enlisted in the Aviation Cadets just a few days before the 26-year-old cut off date.

"I just made it," he said.

Fortune eventually became an instructor, teaching young men the ins-and-outs of a B-17 bomber.

His most interesting moment in the Air Corps?

"We had a couple of wrecks," Fortune laughed.

While flying a trainer one night, Fortune's engine overheated and he was forced to spend a little time out on the wing while it was still in flight.

"They (the tower) told me to get on the wing and bail," he said. "I said the heck with it; I think I can save the plane."

He did, but what was he going to do on the wing?

"Jump," he said. "Listen, young man, back in those days airplanes only went-120 miles an hour. I could have done it if the plane was low enough to the ground."

Parachutes. We'll get to that.

His love of flying did not end with his honorable discharge in 1946. Almost 50 years later, in 1994, Fortune built and flew his own airplane called "Grandpa's Toy." The yellow and red ultralight is stored at the Lake Clear airport.

"I hope to take it up again," Fortune said.


My sweetheart

Home from leave in 1943, a young Andy married a beautiful Spanish-American girl named Alvera in Vermont.

Were did the two meet? Where else - a funeral.

"She was too beautiful to resist," he said.


Morbid? Not really

In all the years Fortune ran the Church Street funeral home, his two boys, Andy Jr. and Tim, never saw a corpse, except once.

"They came with their class from St. Bernard's School and I let them in," Fortune said. "The janitor had died, and the school kids came over to pay their respects."

Fortune said his sons never became hardened to the business, and that is why, he believes, Andy Jr. (the current director of the funeral home) is so compassionate to his customers.



Finally, at 80 years of age, Fortune got to use a parachute for the first time, but he didn't tell Alvera. She was in Vermont visiting family.

Fortune drove to an airfield in Malone, took a course and jumped twice. He said he loved it so much, he went back the next day.

Not good enough, Fortune said. He wants more.

"They only take you up to maybe 3,500 feet," Fortune complained. "I want to go up 8,000 or 9,000 feet. From that height you fly down. That would be wonderful."

Fortune only needs two more jumps to qualify to jump from those heights.

Alvera was unavailable for comment.


(Editor's note: Alvera Fortune died in March 2005 at the age of 88.)



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