‘She worked so hard for Saranac Lake’
Natalie Leduc, feisty booster of skiing and her hometown, dies at age 90
SARANAC LAKE — Under her high school yearbook picture it said, “Atomic energy will never replace our ‘Nat.'”
Natalie Leduc died Tuesday night at the age of 90. She taught generations of people how to ski over four decades at Mount Pisgah. She was a treasure trove of history — both about skiing and about Saranac Lake. In her youth she was a state champion skier and an early Winter Carnival queen, and as an adult she was a feisty community booster and a fighter for those who needed support.
And she was always full of stories.
She is greatly missed. That’s clear from dozens of comments under social media posts by Historic Saranac Lake and then the Enterprise Wednesday.
“A pillar of Saranac Lake,” wrote Eileen Devine Gerrish. “Her presence on this earth was a force of good for the community.”
“Everybody knew Natalie,” said Amy Catania, who got to know Leduc well as executive director of Historic Saranac Lake. “She’s just somebody who is so iconic around town.
“She just knew everything,” Catania added. “Any kind of question or story we had, we always said, ‘We’ve got to call Natalie,’ and she always had something to add. She just gathered the people of Saranac Lake as part of her life.”
She was born Natalie Bombard, a third-generation Saranac Laker, daughter of Doug and Charlotte (Littlejohn) Bombard, and grew up on Maple Lane and then Riverside Drive. She was babysat by Connie Keane, who later went on to Hollywood movie stardom under the name Veronica Lake, and she played in the woods with author Martha Reben. She attended St. Bernard’s School and then Saranac Lake High School, graduating in 1948.
Howard Riley was in that class, too.
“We were buddies,” the Enterprise local history columnist and former village mayor said Wednesday. “We had this really great marching band when we were in high school, and she was the drum major, and I was head of the drum section.
“She was involved in everything in high school.”
To prove that, he shared a page from their yearbook. Below her photo and the aforementioned quote, it lists 15 school groups she was part of, from newspaper and yearbook staff to student council to glee club — and, of course, sports.
“She water skied before anyone even heard of it,” Riley said.
But it was snow skiing in which she made her name. She competed both as an Alpine and Nordic skier and won various races around the region, as well as the New York Women’s Slalom Championship in 1948, according to Historic Saranac Lake.
In 1951 she became the third Saranac Lake Winter Carnival queen in 1951. Nowadays the crowns are given for good citizenship, but back then they were for athletic accomplishment, she told the Enterprise in 2006.
“She was tough”
Most of the memories people on Facebook shared were of Leduc teaching them to ski at Mount Pisgah, which she did from the 1950s to the 1990s, starting out teaching along with her mother Charlotte.
After high school, Leduc was a student at — and skier for — St. Lawrence University and later became one of the first female students (and ski racers) at Paul Smith’s College. She later became one of Paul Smith’s College’s first female faculty members. Some Facebook commenters remembered her teaching physical education there, while others remembered her as a PE teacher at Pius X Catholic high school in Saranac Lake.
Marty Shubert of Lake Placid became friends with her at that time, when he was Pius X’s guidance counselor.
“She was loved by all who had the pleasure of her professionalism and friendship,” he wrote in an email Wednesday. “As I was the Saranac Lake High School Ski Coach at the same time, we had an even closer bond, as Natalie lived to Ski!”
She was the only woman racer in the first Willard Hanmer Guideboat Race in 1963 in Saranac Lake, according to HSL, which said her father was also a guideboat racer.
Doug Bombard died in 1949 when a car he was riding in fell through the ice on Lower Saranac Lake.
“People really remember her as being a pioneer as a woman,” Catania said. “She was tough. She was this hard-working, never-took-no-for-an answer kind of woman. She worked so hard for Saranac Lake.”
She was a founding member of the International Skiing History Association and kept her own personal archive of ski literature at her house on Mount Pisgah Lane, at the foot of her beloved ski hill. When she moved to Saranac Village at Will Rogers independent living center a few years ago, she donated more than 500 ski history books to the Saranac Lake Free Library’s Adirondack Research Room in 2016.
Working and helping
Leduc raised four children with her first husband, Glenn Corl, and later married former priest Lucien Leduc. Together the Leducs owned and ran Tandel Office Supplies from 1983 to 1986, and she later sold real estate through Rob Grant and Associates.
“I love showing Saranac Lake to prospective buyers,” she told the Enterprise in 2006. “There’s a lot to be proud of.”
At the same time, she got choked up in a 2002 interview over real estate prices rising quickly, after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks drove city dwellers to seek second homes.
“I’m afraid that with these rapidly escalating prices, the locals will never be able to compete in the market,” she said. “I’m very concerned locals will never own waterfront again — never. They’ve worked all their lives.
“It’s nice to have this injection of money in the community,” she added, wiping her cheek, “but there is a tradeoff.”
She was always on the lookout for other people who shared her zeal to help her community.
“She had an eye out for anyone who was a doer,” Catania said. “It didn’t matter who they were. … If that person wanted to do something positive for Saranac Lake, she would support that person.”
She expected people to step up, and in a 2018 letter to the editor of the Enterprise she bemoaned that local residents don’t volunteer as much as they used to. She, by the way, was the Enterprise Volunteer of the Year in 2006.
Leduc is especially well remembered for her work at Pine Ridge Cemetery, which is owned by an association of plot owners. As one of those, she got involved after she buried her husband Lucien there in 1989 and started raking leaves to help process her grief. For more than three decades she planted flowers, raked, cleaned headstones and organized volunteer groups — and pestered whomever she had to for help.
One of her regular calls was to Roby Politi, then supervisor of the town of North Elba. By state law, if the association was to fail, the town would have to take over the cemetery, and Leduc would remind Politi that it would be a lot cheaper to send a crew over for a small job than to take over the cemetery in perpetuity.
“I’ve known Natalie for 60 years from skiing with her son, and she was always the same,” he said. “You’ve gotta love her.
“She was the angel, the guardian, the sentinel of the Pine Ridge Cemetery, and thank God we had her. Thank God the town had her. Thank God the community of Saranac Lake had her. … I loved dealing with her, and whenever she asked for something, she got it.
“If she said, ‘Roby, I want $5,000,’ she got it,” he added. “It takes special people to do those things. The town of North Elba cannot do all those things.
“She was so important to, I know, the Saranac Lake community, and really she was important to the town of North Elba and Lake Placid in our Hall of Fame [inducted in 2008], and she was important to American skiing and especially eastern skiing.”
The cemetery on Pine Street contains the 19th-century graves of Saranac Lake’s earliest white settlers, including the first, the Moody family, whose farm property included that land. Many people who came to Saranac Lake to cure from tuberculosis are also buried here, including more than a dozen Norwegian sailors who were unable to return to their country due to the outbreak of World War II. Their graves, marked with Norwegian flags and lettering, were one of Leduc’s special concerns.
In 2017, the cemetery’s board dedicated a bench in honor of Leduc and Kathryn “Kitty” Peightal for their many years of service, and in 2018, the Norwegian government gave her a medal for her care of their countrymen’s resting place.
Catania recalled one story that she thought summed up Leduc’s character. It took place a year ago when the two of them visited Ursula Trudeau — a friend whom Leduc later described as her “soul mate” — at Adirondack Medical Center during Trudeau’s last days.
“It was hard for Natalie,” Catania said, “and we were walking out, and there was a person standing outside the door, waiting for a taxi or something, a person looking like they’d had a hard day and maybe didn’t have a lot … of resources.
“Walking through the hospital with Natalie is like walking through the hospital with Elvis. Everybody is just saying hi.” That was helping Leduc get back to her cheerful self, and as she passed the woman at the door, she went out of her way to greet her warmly and kindly. The woman’s face lit up with gladness.
“Natalie didn’t know who that woman was, but Natalie was just being the ambassador,” Catania said, “even when she herself was having a hard time.”
(Corrections: An earlier version of this article incorrectly described Saranac Village at Will Rogers as an assisted living facility; it is an independent living facility. Also, an earlier version of this article incorrectly said Leduc attended Paul Smith’s College first and then St. Lawrence University; she attended St. Lawrence first, then Paul Smith’s. The Enterprise regrets the errors.)