While your family history may not match that of the Kennedys or the Vanderbilts, it is definitely worth looking into, according to retired General Electric engineer Seena Drapala. You might even want to write a book.
That’s the advice the Guilderland native and former Charlton resident will offer at 2 p.m. Saturday at the Schenectady County Historical Society during a program called “Publishing Your Family’s History.”
“My message is that people can write their own family history,” said Drapala, whose full name is Seena Karen Rasmussen Drapala. “Everyone has some memories and maybe some memorabilia that you can focus your book around. It’s important to capture that kind of history and to take it on. My goal is to inspire people to do that.”
Drapala, who moved to Minden, Nevada for GE in 2003 and retired in 2009, will appear at the historical society via Skype. The book she wrote about her Danish grandmother is “The Poems and Life of Karen Valborg Sofie Rasmussen,” while also presenting will be Schenectady’s Phyllis Zych Budka, who published her own family history last year, “The Maska Dramatic Circle: Polish American Theater in Schenectady, New York (1933-42).” SCHS librarian/archivist Mike Maloney will lead the program.
Drapala’s book details the life of her grandmother, who emigrated from Denmark to Schenectady in 1906 and worked as a seamstress and was a founding member of the Danish Sisterhood Society Lodge #142.
“She had over 50 poems in her hand-written diaries,” Drapala said of her grandmother, who passed away in 1971. “This is something I’ve wanted to do for years, and she always talked about getting her poems published. I have the poems, I have some of her old scrapbooks, I have my memories of her. When I started reading her poetry again it really was the impetus to get this book project going again.”
Drapala’s own story is an interesting one. After graduating from Guilderland she attended Schenectady County Community College for two years before transferring to Union College, where she got a degree in mechanical engineering.
“Right out of high school I worked for GE and then I went back to school at nights at SCCC,” she said. “I had a supervisor who told me, ‘you could be an engineer, too,’ and he told me to talk to Union about taking classes there. That’s what I did. I graduated from Union in 1984 and went back to work at GE.”
When Drapala started working at GE, the only other female engineers she knew of were Jean Place and Betty Lou Bailey.
“They were the only two I encountered,” she said. “It was kind of slim. Now there are probably hundreds if not thousands.”
Drapala says her story isn’t nearly as inspiring as her grandmother’s.
“English wasn’t her first language so I’m really impressed that she was able to learn it fluently,” said Drapala, who is president of the Sierra Nevada Chapter of the Society of Woman Engineers.
“Putting together the pieces of my grandmother’s life has been inspiring. All four of my grandparents emigrated here around 1906 and they all assimilated into this country. About the only regret I have is that I didn’t learn the Danish language.”
‘Publishing Your Family’s History’
WHERE: Schenectady County Historical Society, 32 Washington Ave., Schenectady
WHEN: 2-4 p.m. Saturday
HOW MUCH: $5 for non-members, free for SCHS members
MORE INFO: 374-0263
Reach Gazette reporter Bill Buell at 395-3190 or firstname.lastname@example.org.