NISKAYUNA – It was only a little over a year ago that 104-year-old Niskayuna resident Genevieve Freer began using a walker. As she nears her 105th birthday, she’s still getting used to it.
The Schenectady native’s personality is larger than her petite frame. She’s gregarious and quick to crack jokes.
“She makes friends with everybody wherever she goes, she just loves to mingle with people and everybody just loves her for her great sense of humor and for being positive,” said friend and caregiver Donna Turowska.
Freer’s memory stretches far back to her childhood in the Electric City and to the early days of her career, working at General Electric during World War II.
Born on Oct. 3, 1917, amid the Spanish flu pandemic and World War I, she was one of seven children. Her father, Joseph Ruminiecki, worked part-time at GE, taught dance and sang at St. John the Evangelist Church. Freer remembers he always saved the cake that her mother, Victoria Ruminiecki, packed for him and brought it back home to her and her siblings after work.
Her parents died a year apart before she reached the age of 18. Her father died of lobar pneumonia, while her mother was paralyzed from the waist down by a stroke. For about a year before her passing, Freer and her siblings took care of their mother.
After her parents’ death, her older siblings took jobs locally and cared for their younger siblings. Freer, who had just graduated from Mont Pleasant High School, went on to attend Mildred Elley, a local college where she took short-hand and typing classes among others.
“After that, the war came around and I was hired down at GE,” Freer said. For the first few years, she worked in sales and at the bond office, among other departments. Some of the positions she took had previously been filled by men who were drafted during the war.
No matter the weather or the job she was assigned to, Freer said she’d dress up each day, with either a pleated skirt or dress and stockings, which became precious during the war. She remembers getting upset after she fell on the bus home from GE and ripped one of her last pair of stockings.
“[The bus driver said] ‘She’s yelling about stockings and her knees are bleeding.’ But I said, Sir, don’t you know you can’t buy stockings anymore?” Freer said, with a laugh.
Her brothers were drafted into the service and served in Japan. Freer and her sisters were constantly scared for them and would bake and send packages whenever they could.
After World War II, Freer, at the age of 30, married Clayton Wellington Freer. He always wore a suit and he treated her with great respect, Freer said. The two loved dancing and were invited to join at least two dance groups, Freer remembers. They were married 19 years before he died. Freer never remarried and still carries his picture with her.
She continued to work at GE until the age of 70 and in retirement remained active in the community, volunteering at the Salvation Army, the Niskayuna Senior Center and others. She was also active at Saint Kateri Tekakwitha Church, where she’s still a member.
Freer lived independently until fairly recently. Turowska stays with her and the two have built a close friendship over the last year.
“She is a wonderful, positive and young soul who never gets angry or complains. She just loves her life,” Turowska said.
They play cards and read the newspaper together, though Freer needs a bit of assistance from a magnifying machine. They also go to local casinos, not so much to gamble but to walk around and meet others. When they go, Freer always dons makeup, which she calls her “war paint.”
For her birthday celebration on Monday, she doesn’t want anything too elaborate. Instead, she’ll have a small get-together with a few close friends and her niece.
Freer has remained in good health and she takes minimal medications. When asked what the secret to her longevity is, she says she eats seafood just about every day but adds “The good Lord gave me something. That’s all I can say.”