Fred Wojcicki’s remarkable memory

Amsterdam native now lives in California

Fred Wojcicki, an Amsterdam native now living in Hacienda Heights, California, has been a source of information for this column for 10 years.

Wojcicki was born in 1926 and lived in a rented flat on Hibbard Street in the Polish neighborhood of Reid Hill.

The family moved to 20 Mathias Ave. when Fred was 1 year old. Neighbors there included John Gomulka, who became mayor, and Andrew Celmer, who became police chief. Harry and Victoria VanDerbeck operated a popular coffee shop, Jacob Bush was a police detective and Gene Dylong was a football star at Amsterdam High who eventually bought the Wojcicki family home.

Wojcicki played baseball for St. Stanislaus Roman Catholic Church. When the team won, the Rev. Francis Drzewiecki, their coach, treated the boys to sundaes at Krupczak’s Pharmacy.

Wojcicki said, “Summer days were great days — tennis in the early morning then hardball in the church league, coming home and doing chores. Then off to the Vrooman Avenue or Brookside Avenue pool. In the evening, it was softball.”

Only one of Wojcicki’s childhood chums had a bicycle and he let the other kids “ride around the block for five cents a trip.”

Wojcicki said, “In the winter months it was skating at Karp’s Park [off Church St.], Amsterdam High [on Brandt Place] or roller skating across from St. Mary’s Church [in a building on East Main Street] which later became Kemp Buick.

“There was the Strand Theater, Rialto, Orpheum and Regent — a big ten cents for a double feature, cartoon, short subject. After that, it was ice cream or hanging out at Schell’s Pharmacy, Community Pharmacy, Brownie’s Hot Dog Shop or at Miecz Pool Hall and Lou Allen’s Pool Hall.

“To top things off there were always the Amsterdam High football and basketball games or St. Mary’s basketball. Then it was on to Doyle’s Ice Cream Shop. We were too young to get into Bigler’s Tavern.

“Feeding Harry Demsky’s horse with carrots was a treat, too, when he visited Mathias Avenue.”

Ragman Demsky was the father of actor Kirk Douglas. Like Wojcicki, Douglas pursued a career that took him to California.

According to Robert Going’s book, “Honor Roll,” Pvt. 1st Class Joseph Wojcicki, Fred’s older brother, arrived in France during the Normandy invasion in June 1944 and died July 18 after being wounded in battle in St. Lo. He was 31 and had been a weaver at Mohawk Carpet Mills.

Fred’s brother also worked at the elaborate Italian Gardens in Broadalbin, created by summer resident Katherine Husted but owned in the 1930s by Amsterdam button maker Arthur Chalmers. Fred sometimes visited his brother at work and saw Arthur Chalmers go by in his chauffeured limousine.

Fred served with the Navy Seabees in Guam and other locations in the Mariana Islands in World War II. “We grew up fast in a few years during that war,” he said.

Wojcicki came back to Amsterdam after the war. He and LaVerne Colts ran the Fort Johnson skating rink in the winters of 1949 and 1950. For a time he was president of the Northeastern Skating Association.

When he worked for an insurance firm in Amsterdam, Wojcicki got to know Sister William Aloysius Fitzpatrick, the long-time maternity department administrator at St. Mary’s Hospital who died earlier this year. Through the years she and Wojcicki exchanged letters and phone calls. “She was always fair and honest, great to patients and parents alike,” Wojcicki said.

Wojcicki moved to California in 1963. He married Phyllis Wood Gibbons in 1967 and worked at Standard Brands Paint Company until he retired in 1989. Phyllis died in 2005.

Bob Cudmore is a freelance columnist. Opinions expressed in his column are his own and not necessarily the newspaper’s.

Categories: Life and Arts, News, Schenectady County

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