Sally Van Schaick, a longtime city educator who ran for the state Assembly in 1990, died Thursday night at her home on Stratford Road in Schenectady. She was 90.
Van Schaick, who taught for more than 30 years in the Schenectady City School District at Linton High School and Zoller Elementary School, was a staunch member of the Schenectady County Democratic Party, and in 1990 lost a close race to current Republican Assemblyman Jim Tedisco of Glenville.
“She loved Schenectady, and she loved being a teacher,” Tedisco said Friday afternoon. “I think we came from the same mold in that way. Sally was very sincere, and she really cared about the community. During our campaign, she ran on an important issue, education, and it was important for us to have that kind of debate. Her heart was always in the right place, and she wanted to run for public office for all the right reasons.”
Van Schaick was twice named a Schenectady Patroon, the first time in 1958, when she became the first woman to graduate from Union College. Schenectady Mayor Samuel Stratton presented Van Schaick with her first patroon award, and in 2007, his son, Bryan, then mayor, named Van Schaick and her husband, John, as patroons for their overall contributions to the city.
John Van Schaick, also a longtime teacher in Schenectady, died in January 2011.
Sally Van Schaick had been dealing with health problems for the past few years, according to her daughter Nancy Fisher, and had recently been suffering from Lewy’s Body Dementia, a type of dementia closely associated with both Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases.
Van Schaick was born in New York City and grew up in Great Neck on Long Island. She originally attended Duke University in 1939, but transferred in 1941 to Stetson University in Florida, where she met her husband. After World War II, the couple moved to Schenectady and began raising a family that included six children and several foster children.
Van Schaick resumed pursuing her English degree by attending night classes at Union College in 1956, and a year and a half later had her undergraduate degree, the first ever received by a woman from what had been an all-male school.
“I was a bit sneaky,” Van Schaick told the Gazette with a smile in 2008, referring to her time at Union. “I started taking some night courses, and I don’t think they were paying that much attention to me.”
Along with her teaching duties and political interests, Van Schaick was a longtime volunteer at the Schenectady County Historical Society.
“There was no more generous and friendly person than Sally,” said Ed Reilly, former Niskayuna town supervisor and a past president of the Schenectady County Historical Society. “She was loved by everyone she came in contact with. She was our former newsletter editor, and contributed in so many ways.”
“She was always a kind and considerate person, and very upbeat and joyful,” said Frank Taormina, also a past president of the historical society and a retired teacher and principal at Niskayuna High School. “She and John were both very active in the historical society and a number of other things. She never complained about a thing, and she seemed to have a really wonderful relationship with all of her children.”
With the help of her family, particularly her eldest son, Peter, Van Schaick was able to remain in her home in the GE Realty Plot, where she and her husband had lived since 1976.
“She died at her home, which was her last wish,” said Fisher. “It was her dream house.”
Van Schaick donated her body to Albany Medical Center, and while there are no burial services planned, the family will schedule a memorial service sometime this summer at the First Unitarian Society of Schenectady.
Van Schaick never made a second run at political office, stressing her desire to spend more time with her family. There’s no doubt in Reilly’s mind, however, that she would have been a great member of the state Assembly.
“I remember her saying how she felt no one should be able to run unopposed, which would have been the case in 1990, and she knew it was a real longshot,” said Reilly. “So, she went ahead and ran and lost, but she would have been great, no question about it. She was brilliant.”