Jessie Malecki, born to Mr. and Mrs. Ignatius Kotarski on Feb. 17, 1924, has never seriously considered the idea of moving out of her North Street home in the Stockade neighborhood of Schenectady.
“Some people ask me, ‘do you want to move?’ but no I don’t,” said Malecki, who celebrated her 94th birthday with family and friends Saturday night at the Turf Tavern in Scotia. “There’s nowhere else I’d like to live. Where would I go? I wouldn’t know where else to go.”
Malecki thinks she’s the oldest person in the Stockade, and she knows for a fact she’s the oldest person on North Street, beating her neighbor Ray Tibbetts by three years. She’s also certain that there’s not another Stockade resident who has lived there longer.
“I was born upstairs, but I grew up downstairs before my parents moved back upstairs, maybe because of the flooding,” said Malecki. “They came here from Poland in the late 1880s, but they didn’t know each other until they were in Schenectady. It’s been a great place to live, and for the longest time our street was about 90 percent Polish.”
Malecki was the second youngest of nine children. Her parents moved in right around the turn of the century, and her father worked for the American Locomotive Company until he was injured while working in the factory, losing the use of one leg.
“My father became an American citizen, but then he had an accident at ALCO and lost part of his leg,” said Malecki. “They wouldn’t amputate it because it would have cost more money. There was no OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) at the time, so it became what was a dead leg and he couldn’t work.”
Malecki’s mother had worked at the Vendome Hotel in downtown Schenectady when she first arrived in the U.S., and it was there she learned to speak English. By the time Malecki was born in 1924, her mom had changed jobs and was working at Woolworth’s Department Store. Malecki was five when the Depression hit.
“I was very young, but I can remember my mother not wanting to go stand in line to get the milk and food,” said Malecki. “She was too ashamed. But eventually she did it, just like everybody else.”
Malecki began babysitting at the age of 13 and had a steady job with a Stockade neighbor on Union Street. She made, the way she remembers it, $3 a week.
“I spent all those hours there after school, including Saturday morning and Sunday after church,” she said. “I must have made 10 cents an hour.”
Malecki remembers that she had little trouble finding a job when she graduated from high school.
“The GE, the telephone company, the federal government; they all came looking for us,” she said. “You could really take your pick so I chose to work for the federal government at the Army Depot in Rotterdam. I was living at home, and then my father died in 1945, when I was 21, so I stayed with my mother. When I got married, my mother was alone in the house and she didn’t want to move so we just moved in with her. By the time she died in 1975, my husband really liked the street so we just stayed there.”
World War II, with four of her brothers in the Armed Services, was an anxious time for Malecki and her family.
“I had a brother in Italy, a brother in the Pacific, another one the China-Burma Theater, and my youngest brother was in France near the tail end of the war,” said Malecki. “They all made it back, but one of our neighbors lost a son. We were all one big family back then on North Street. We all went to that house and helped them through it. Everybody seemed to know each other and take care of each other.”
Malecki met her husband, Joseph, in 1947 and they were married on Jan. 3, 1948. The couple had two sons and a daughter. Joe passed away in 1999 at the age of 76. Three years before she met Joe, Jessie had voted for Franklin Delano Roosevelt in 1944, and she hasn’t missed a presidential election since. She is an independent politically, and was unhappy with both candidates in the 2016 election. She’s remained active and continues to keep a close eye on the City Council and the mayoral office.
“Jessie is a wonderful person who will always have a kind greeting for you,” said Fred Heitkamp, a North Street neighbor. “But yes, she’s still writing those letters to the editor so she’s not afraid to tell you how she feels. Put her in a room with [Mayor] Gary McCarthy and [city councilman] Vince Riggi and see what happens.”
Darlene Duggan, a long-time North Street neighbor of Malecki’s before moving to Glenville three years ago, lived across the street for 49 years.
“She’s a very kind person, and very unique,” said Duggan. “She’s maintained a lot of long friendships with people over the years. We loved living across the street from her, but she also wasn’t afraid to tell you what she was thinking.”
Malecki said her house dates back to at least 1843, and says just living in an area like the Stockade has fostered her love of history. And then, of course, there is the flooding. For her, 2011 and 1955 stand out most in her memory.
“I had to evacuate on Aug. 28, 2011, for two days, so Hurricane Irene was the worst one,” said Malecki, who had fortunately purchased flood insurance back in March of 2011. “I also remember 1955. My son was 10 days old and we were having a christening dinner. The doorbell rang and the policeman said we had to get out. I can remember my husband saying, ‘like hell, I got steaks on and we’re having our dinner.’ But after dinner we did evacuate. We were upstairs and my mother was downstairs. She wouldn’t go with us, but we got her to move upstairs for a few days.”