TOWN OF SARATOGA — Ellen Steinberger combined her love — and knack — for teaching and baking as a tour guide for the Saratoga Springs Preservation Foundation.
On her walking tour of The Gut, the Spa City’s predominantly Jewish neighborhood, the retired English teacher from Long Island would play songs by Sophie Tucker on her boombox as she passed the home where the Ukranian-born singer once lived and hand out homemade Rugelach, a Jewish pastry.
“She was a great baker — a fabulous baker,” said her friend, Georgia Horner. “She would make cakes and pies for a variety of charities and organizations.”
On Tuesday, Steinberger, 66, of Saratoga Springs, drove her car off a one-lane bridge and into Fish Creek in what state police believe was an accident. Troopers and fire personnel responded shortly before 5:40 p.m. to find Steinberger’s overturned 2007 Toyota Solara submerged in water. She was pronounced dead after her car was removed from the water and she was found inside, troopers said.
The bridge crosses the creek on Brown Point Lane, a private road where Steinberger lived with her husband, Robert. The bridge has railroad ties for barriers.
An autopsy was scheduled for Wednesday to determine a cause of death but the results have not been released.
“This was a road that she traveled on many times a day, so I’m sort of shocked to know that she had an accident like that,” said Horner, of Clifton Park. “I would think something must’ve happened to her.”
Horner got to know Steinberger about seven years ago when they both started giving walking tours as volunteers for the historical foundation. They also both went to Temple Sinai on Broadway, where Steinberger would help organize weekly senior gatherings attended by about 90 people.
Horner described her as a good organizer and a very good friend with a “fabulous sense of humor.”
“And she was very kind to all kinds of people,” she said. “She liked people, and people liked her, so it was sort of a win-win with her.”
She would often travel to Long Island to visit her son, Ben, Horner said.
“I always used to say, ‘How’s Ben doing?' She always thanked me for asking about him,” she said.
Steinberger started leading walking tours in 2011 after being on a tour and telling the guide, Gloria May, how much she liked it, said Samantha Bosshart, executive director of the Preservation Foundation. May’s response was to tell her the foundation needed someone to lead the tour of The Gut.
“Ellen was relatively new to Saratoga then and said, ‘I don’t even know what that means,’” Bosshart recalled. “According to Gloria, she said, ‘I told her to look it up.’ And she did — and she ran with putting together literally what many considered their favorite tour that we offered.”
Steinberger’s tour would start at Ben & Jerry’s on Phila Street. Bosshart said she emailed her last week about doing it again this summer; she was on board.
“She had the cutest accent from Long Island,” Bosshart said before getting emotional. “She and her husband would do the tour together, and he would sort of handle the money and check everybody in.”
Horner said her friend retired after teaching on Long Island “for forever.” After being reminded that Steinberger taught English, she said that made sense because she was such a good proofreader.
“When I sent her an email, I had to do my spellcheck.”
Steinberger, Horner and May were all close and would often get lunch at The Bread Basket Bakery on Spring Street, Horner said. She last spoke to Steinberger on Sunday, when they made plans to go there for lunch on Thursday.
“We liked the food,” she said, “and Ellen liked the parking.”
She added, “I miss her— she was a good friend to me and a good friend to a lot of people.”