An Amsterdam funeral director was called to serve in World War II. His wife took charge of the family business until he safely returned.
Edward A. Gustas had Lithuanian roots but was born in Liverpool, England. He came to Amsterdam with his family when he was 5. His parents were George and Magdalene Dubickas Gustas. He had four brothers and two sisters. Gustas married Genevieve Michalski. They had no children.
Gustas attended local schools then went to the Renouard Training School for Embalmers in New York City. He is listed in the 1929 Amsterdam city directory as operating an undertaking business at 256 East Main St. Edward and his wife Genevieve lived nearby on the east side of Eagle Street.
Amsterdam native Ben Kroup’s aunt, Angie Planch, lived on the other side of Eagle Street from Edward and Genevieve. Kroup, his aunt and his cousins would cross the street to the Gustas residence from time to time where Kroup’s Aunt Angie played gin rummy or other card games with Genevieve.
Kroup wrote, “In the course of an afternoon, the two women would also knock off a pint of sweet red wine, as my Planch cousins and I played at our own games of cards.”
Gustas relocated the funeral business to 226 East Main which also became their residence. Most of the families who used their services were Lithuanian-American parishioners of the former St. Casimir’s Church on East Main Street, now a Buddhist temple.
Edward belonged to St. Casimir’s, the local American Lithuanian Club, the municipal golf course and a bowling league. Genevieve was active in the St. Casimir’s Ladies Auxiliary.
In 1943 Edward Gustas was drafted into the U.S. Army. The funeral home placed ads in The Recorder stating that the undertaking business was being operated under the supervision of Gustas’ wife and a licensed undertaker while Edward was in the Army.
He served some time as an orderly at a Veterans Administration hospital in Fort Custer, Michigan. He was honorably discharged in August 1945.
That year Peter Sargalis, Jr. was listed as an undertaker in the Sargalis Block at 158 East Main.
Kroup wrote, “There was an intense rivalry between the Gustas and Sargalis businesses for the Lithuanian trade. Many immigrants were loyal to the established and familiar Gustas; and families argued about sticking with him or switching to Sargalis when one of the old timers died.
“I remember attending wakes at the Gustas Funeral Parlor when I was a child that were a throwback to Old Country ways, with traditional chants keened eerily by the immigrant women. I have a sense that Sargalis may have been more Americanized.”
The Gustas Funeral Home moved to Guy Park Avenue around 1954. The Sargalis undertaking business years later was purchased by Vincent Rossi and renamed the Rossi Funeral Home.
Edward Gustas died Sept. 25, 1971 after a 13-day hospitalization at St. Mary’s Hospital. He was 66. A private service was held at the funeral home and a Mass was celebrated at St. Casimir’s.
With the bridge dams on the Mohawk River not in place because of the pandemic, it’s hard to remember how the canalized river used to look.
Tony Pacelli, in his 1980s book “Past and Present,” recalled an island in the Mohawk River near Elk Street in Amsterdam’s East End, “A few local people had their rowboats anchored there. Every evening, they rowed to their gardens and worked until dusk. This island had many fruit trees and a shelter shack on it. Every Sunday, you could hear the strains of music up and down the river.”