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Cudmore: How Virginia Vidulich O’Brien got her nickname

Cudmore: How Virginia Vidulich O’Brien got her nickname

 A recent column chronicled the life of late Amsterdam native Virginia Vidulich O’Brien, who became prominent for her public relations work on behalf of harness racing in Saratoga Springs.  She was director of the Saratoga Harness Hall of Fame for 20 years.

Her nickname was Vidge.  Amsterdam native and Malta resident John Bennison sent an email to explain the origin of that word.

John’s father, Harold Bennison, was a native of Frankfort, N.Y., an optometrist who moved to Amsterdam in 1932 with his wife Hazel.  Bennison took over the practice of the late Dr. Lewis Allen at 63 West Main St. 

The Bennisons, at first with six then ultimately seven children, rented a home on McElwain Avenue.  Next door was the Vidulich family, well known because of the bakery they owned.

Bennison said his sister Anne was the same age as Virginia Vidulich and the girls became lifelong friends.

Bennison added, “Virginia was in and out of our house a lot, and we all loved her.  A problem for the younger children was trying to pronounce Virginia Vidulich.  What came out was Vidge, which she happily accepted, as it was based on love and respect.  Everyone in my family called her Vidge and it was used all day long at (St. Mary’s Institute), and eventually everybody there used it too, and she was Vidge for life.”

Bennison moved back to the area after retirement and attended St. Mary’s Church in Ballston Spa. 

Bennison wrote, “One Sunday, I saw (Vidge) across the church and after Mass, I followed her across the parking lot.  I called out, ‘Hi, Vidge!’ She stopped and without turning around, she said, ‘Oh, you must be a Bennison.’ We remained friends until her death.”

Optometrist Harold Bennison died in 1944 at age 52.  His widow put Dr. Bennison’s optometric equipment in storage.  By then the family was living in a home they bought at 252 Guy Park Ave. in Amsterdam. 

Their son Robert became an optometrist after returning from service in the U.S. Navy in World War II.  Robert used his father’s equipment and established his office on Church Street and later moved his practice to a large store in the Albany area called GEX.

He was the first eye doctor I ever saw.  My parents, my sister and I all wore glasses and I recall Dr. Bennison used to joke with us that we were a family of myopes, a scientific word for nearsighted people.  Young Dr. Bennison eventually moved to Arizona where he died in the 1980s.

John Bennison, who is 90, said his mother Hazel lived into the 1990s and died at the age of 98.  Both parents were buried at St. Mary’s Cemetery in Fort Johnson. 

The seven Bennison children graduated from St. Mary’s Institute.  John’s four brothers are all deceased and buried in national cemeteries. 

His brother Bill had practiced law for a time in Amsterdam.  His brother Dick was a St. Mary’s Institute basketball star and worked as a physical education teacher in Wappingers Falls. N.Y.  His brother Chuck was awarded the Bronze Star in the U.S. Army in France during World War II.  Chuck spent most of his working life as an insurance claims manager in Albany and Syracuse.  He died in Saratoga Springs in 2015.

Their sister Anne Bennison is 99.  Sister Jane, the youngest in the family, married Don Staber, who founded the Cock’n Bull restaurant in Galway.

John Bennison enlisted in the Marines in 1946.  He worked for Niagara University, the insurance industry and then the Boy Scouts of America.  He returned to this area in 1995. 

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