Fred Wojcicki, a source of information for this column for 10 years, passed away last Dec. 20 in Hacienda Heights, California, at the age of 91. He lived his last 54 years in the Golden State but vividly remembered people and events of the first 37 years of his life in the Amsterdam area.
Fred was born in 1926, the son of John and Mary Wojcicki. His family lived in a flat on Hibbard Street in the Polish neighborhood of Reid Hill.
The Wojcickis moved to Mathias Avenue when Fred was 1 year old. Neighbors there included John Gomulka, who became mayor, and Andrew Celmer, who became police chief.
Wojcicki played baseball for St. Stanislaus Roman Catholic Church. When the team won, Rev. Francis Drzewiecki, their coach, treated the boys to sundaes at Krupczak’s Pharmacy, operated by the parents of Mary Anne Krupsak, who became New York lieutenant governor in the 1970s.
Only one of Wojcicki’s childhood chums had a bicycle but he let the other kids “ride around the block for five cents a trip.”
Wojcicki recalled, “In the winter months it was skating at Karp’s Park (off Church St.), Amsterdam High (on Brandt Place) or roller skating across from St. Mary’s Church (in a building on East Main St,) which later became Kemp Buick.
“There was the Strand Theater, Rialto, Orpheum and Regent — a big ten cents for a double feature, cartoon, short subject. After that, it was ice cream or hanging out at Schell’s Pharmacy, Community Pharmacy, Brownie’s Hot Dog Shop or at Miecz’s Pool Hall and Lou Allen’s Pool Hall.
“Feeding Harry Demsky’s horse with carrots was a treat, too,”
Ragman Demsky was the father of actor Kirk Douglas. Like Wojcicki, Douglas moved to California.
Pvt. First Class Joseph Wojcicki, Fred’s older brother, went ashore in France during the Normandy invasion and died July 18 1944 after being wounded in St. Lo. He was 31 and had been a weaver at Mohawk Carpet Mills.
Fred’s brother also worked at the Italian Gardens in Broadalbin, created by summer resident Katherine Husted but owned in the 1930s by Amsterdam button maker Arthur Chalmers. Fred sometimes visited his brother at work and saw Arthur Chalmers go by in his chauffeured limousine.
Fred served with the U.S. Navy Seabees in Guam and other locations in the Mariana Islands during World War II. “We grew up fast in a few years during that war,” he said.
He came back to Amsterdam after the war. His father died in 1949. Fred ran the Fort Johnson skating rink in the winters of 1949 and 1950.
When he worked for an insurance firm in Amsterdam, Fred got to know Sr. William Aloysius Fitzpatrick, the long-time maternity department administrator at St. Mary's Hospital who died last year. “She was always fair and honest, great to patients and parents alike,” Wojcicki said.
Fred moved to California in 1963. He married Phyllis Wood Gibbons in 1967. Fred’s mother died that year. He worked at Standard Brands Paint Company in California until he retired in 1989. Phyllis died in 2005.
He typed letters frequently to my friend Audrey Sears and me. His last letter in October acknowledged health problems and the Gazette column about him published last September. “I have received ten letters from friends, including clippings from the column,” he wrote.
His obituary ran in the Los Angeles Times, a newspaper he favored as he often sent us clippings of stories from that West Coast media giant,
Fred is survived by a daughter, son, stepdaughter, stepson and extended family. He was predeceased by a son, brother and two sisters. Bob Cudmore is a freelance columnist. Opinions expressed in his column are his own and not necessarily the newspaper’s. Anyone with a suggestion for a Focus on History topic may contact him at 346-6657 or [email protected]