FOCUS ON HISTORY: Pastries added to popularity and a family of myopes

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John Vidulich, who became one of Amsterdam’s favorite bakers, was a native of Austria who came to America in 1898 at age 14. Born into a family of seven, he and his wife Josephine Guiffre, from Genoa, Italy, also had seven children.

Their youngest daughter was Virginia Vidulich, known as Vidge, who attended high school at St. Mary’s Institute during the Great Depression.

By then, her father operated Vidulich’s Bakery at 63 Guy Park Ave., and would give his youngest daughter the key to the shop when St. Mary’s played basketball at home.

After each game, Vidge led a parade of ballplayers and friends to the bakeshop where they enjoyed the many treats inside.

“It helped with my popularity,” said Vidge. 

Izzy Demsky, who became the actor Kirk Douglas, came often to the bakery for his favorite doughnuts. Doughnuts were cream filled, jelly filled or plain.

Vidge became Virginia Vidulich O’Brien after marrying Richard O’Brien of Glens Falls in 1946.

The O’Briens lived in Saratoga Springs. Vidge worked in press relations for the Saratoga Harness Track. She conducted tours for school children. She received kudos from sports columnist Art Hoefs for her role in Howard Tupper’s television coverage of harness racing on WRGB.

She was director of the Saratoga Harness Hall of Fame for 20 years. She was the first female member of the National Harness Racing Hall of Fame’s Communicators Corner in Goshen.

Later in life, she added another nickname, Gertie. Childhood friend and later Malta resident John Bennison explained how Virginia became Vidge in the first place.

John’s father, Harold Bennison, was a native of Frankfort, an optometrist who moved to Amsterdam in 1932 with his wife Hazel.

The Bennisons and their seven children rented a home on McElwain Avenue. Next door was the Vidulich family, well known because of their bakery.

Bennison’s sister Anne was the same age as Virginia Vidulich and the girls became lifelong friends.

Bennison added, “Virginia was in and out of our house a lot, and we all loved her. A problem for the younger children was trying to pronounce Virginia Vidulich. What came out was Vidge, which she happily accepted, as it was based on love and respect. Everyone in my family called her Vidge and it was used all day at St, Mary’s school, and she was Vidge for life.”

Bennison moved back to the area after retirement and attended St. Mary’s Church in Ballston Spa.

Bennison wrote, “One Sunday, I saw Vidge across the church and after Mass, I followed her across the parking lot. I called out, ‘Hi, Vidge!’ She stopped and without turning around, she said, ‘Oh, you must be a Bennison.’ We remained friends until her death in 2010.” She was 91.

Optometrist Harold Bennison died in 1944. His widow put her husband’s optometric equipment in storage. By then the family was living at 252 Guy Park Ave. in Amsterdam.

Their son Robert became an optometrist after returning from service in the U.S. Navy in World War II. Robert used his father’s equipment and established his office on Church Street and later moved his practice to a large store in the Albany area called GEX.

He was the first eye doctor I ever saw. My parents, sister and I all wore glasses and I recall Dr. Bennison used to joke that we were a family of myopes, a scientific word for nearsighted people. Young Dr. Bennison eventually moved to Arizona where he died in the 1980s. 

John Bennison, who worked many years for the Boy Scouts, died in 2021 at the age of 92.

Categories: Fulton Montgomery Schoharie, Opinion

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