Ninety-nine-year old Ludmila Futyma sat in her wheelchair at the Glendale Home, clutching an old black-and-white photograph of an elegant duo on a dance floor.
The woman in the portrait is dressed in a long, sequined dress that sweeps out behind her. Her arms are raised gracefully overhead, her right hand entwined with the left hand of her tall, well-dressed partner. Her eyes are closed. She looks lost in the dance.
There’s no way to know the color of the lovely young dancer’s dress, but it can be said with certainty that her eyes are blue. They shine back from Futyma’s face, bright and lively.
The photo shows her in her younger days, when she and Zygmunt Rossiliano danced together all over the world, in a duo called Rossiliano.
Fascinating histories like Futyma’s fill the Glendale Home, a 200-bed assisted living facility on Hetcheltown Road in Glenville. Often, time has worn away at the details and ailing bodies hinder communication, but a patient listener can be rewarded with captivating views of both past and present.
On a recent visit, four residents shared glimpses of their lives.
The details of Ludmila Futyma’s life are nowhere near as clear as the well-preserved photograph she held during a visit on a recent Monday. Although she speaks three languages — English, Polish and German — it’s difficult for her to communicate these days, and she has no family in the area.
At times, her words wandered from English to Polish. They were translated by Krystyna Cyrulik, a native of Poland who works in the activities department at Glendale.
With help from Cyrulik and some online research, parts of Futyma’s past came into focus.
Born in Warsaw, Poland, as Ludmila Golubiev, Futyma began dancing professionally at age 17.
“I was very popular, very known,” she said with effort.
She can’t remember for sure, but it’s likely that her dance partner was also her first husband. Text from the photo archives of the San Francisco Examiner includes a reference to dancers Zygmunt and Mila Rossiliano. There is also mention of a show by Ludmila Rossiliano in a February 1944 edition of the Warren Times Mirror, a now defunct publication that was published in Pennsylvania.
Futyma learned to dance in Warsaw, and said her teacher, whom she called Tatiana, was “the best teacher of dancing.” She recalled practicing eight hours every day.
Futyma remembers dancing in Berlin, Paris, Vienna, India, Japan and New York City, always in front of large audiences.
By the 1950s, her dancing days were over and she had married Stephen Futyma, whom she met in New York City. The two operated a bed-and-breakfast in Vermont for a number of years. Futyma still has a black-and-white picture of the large, rustic-looking structure.
Later, the couple lived in Scotia.
Stephen Futyma died in 2013. According to a brief obituary published in The Daily Gazette, he was a pilot, an Air Force veteran and was once a prisoner of war in Germany. Cyrulik said he made a living as a periodontist.
According to Cyrulik, Futyma never had children.
Futyma wears a braided gold ring on the middle finger of her right hand.
“Somebody gave it to me in Mexico,” she recalled with a laugh.
But when asked about a framed photo of her posing in dancing attire, a flower in her hair, she didn’t remember the details.
“I was a very good dancer,” she recalled with a smile.
Tom and Betty Horne banter like two flirting teenagers, even though they’ve been married for 66 years. They share a room at Glendale and still seem very much in love.
“Look what he got me for Mother’s Day,” Betty said, proudly showing off a new purse.
The two met at General Electric, where they both worked. He was a toolmaker and she a secretary. “I spotted him, and to the girl who was with him, I said, ‘Who’s he? He’s a nice looking guy,’ ” Betty recounted.
The girl promised to let Tom know who Betty was and to find out if he was interested in her.
“Isn’t that terrible? In those olden days we did that, too,” Betty said with a laugh.
Not long after she set her sights on Tom, he asked her to a movie at the now closed State Theatre in Schenectady.
Tom recalled early encounters with his future bride: “I thought she was wonderful,” he said, adding that he still thinks that.
Both agreed that it was love at first sight.
The two were married at St. Paul’s Church in Schenectady.
“It was like a war,” Tom said of the big day, grinning.
“It was beautiful,” Betty exclaimed indignantly.
Tom said the two of them never fight.
“Of course we do,” Betty contradicted.
“Well, I run,” Tom quipped.
The couple made their home in Schenectady’s Woodlawn neighborhood for over 50 years.
“We loved it there,” Betty reminisced.
In the early days they had no car, so they either walked or took the trolley. Betty said she “took part in a lot of doings in Schenectady.”
The couple raised three children, Joe, Jim and Jack.
“It was my fault. I only knew how to make boys,” Tom joked.
When asked the secret to their long marriage, he replied, “Take a look. She’s a beauty. I know talent when I see it. I have no regrets, I’ll tell ya that. I consider myself very fortunate.”
“He’s been real good,” Betty replied, beaming.
When Charlie Williams was a kid, getting his picture taken was an event.
“A fellow used to bring a little pony around and he had all the equipment. He would come around the neighborhood,” the 84-year-old recalled.
He remembered a lot about the camera — a wooden studio model with a bellows.
“The cover of the lens, they’d take it off and wait a few seconds and then put it back, and that’s the way the picture would form,” he explained.
Williams knows plenty about how cameras work. He spent his career working for Ansco, a Binghamton-based company that later became General Aniline and Film.
“We made our own film and cameras, projectors, and I repaired them for 36 years,” he said.
With access to free film and developing through his job, he said he took hundreds of photos over the years.
“I have, I think, over 1,000 slides,” he mused.
Williams shared verbal snapshots of his life — an image of himself playing kick-the-can as a kid, and one of him playing school with his friends.
He said he didn’t really like playing school, or going to school, for that matter.
“I went to high school until 11th grade. Then, the teachers were about the same age as me so I quit,” he said with a chuckle.
He recalled his first car, a 1930 Plymouth that cost him $100.
“That’s when they made cars,” he reminisced. “It had little curtains in the back.”
He spoke of serving in the Army Reserves during the Korean War and of the 48 years he spent with his wife, Mary, who died in 2001. He spoke fondly of his daughter, who lives in Schenectady.
He said he’s intrigued with how today’s cameras capture images.
“My son-in-law will take Christmas pictures and he’ll turn around and look at them on the TV,” he said, amazement in his voice.
Williams doesn’t take pictures anymore. Instead, he paints them.
His original artwork graces the back of bingo cards and pieces of cardboard boxes.
He paints everything from backgammon boards to cartoon characters, and his creations are hung in several spots in the nursing home.
He’s also tried his hand at ceramics.
Williams still has a mind for mechanics, and has a stock of electric razors that he cleans and repairs for the nursing home aides to use.
He also enjoys using the computer.
“It keeps me busy,” he said. “One of the ladies that works for activities, her dad is in Poland and him and I email back and forth and we’re great buddies.”
Reach Gazette Reporter Kelly de la Rocha at 395-3040 or firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @KellydelaRocha.