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Obituraries Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, August 31, 2006

George Walter Scherer

ALTAMONT — George Walter Scherer, a decorated Vietnam veteran and cubmaster who loved outdoor activities, died on Aug. 22, 2006 at the Community Hospice Inn at St. Peter’s Hospital in Albany. He was 57.

"He was a great husband, father, brother, and friend"He was just a great guy," said his wife, Barbara Scherer. "He was hilarious, he had a great sense of humor. He would always make us laugh."

Born in Staten Island to the late Marion and Walter Scherer, Mr. Scherer was in the United States Army as a Specialist 4 and received the Purple Heart during his service.

Serving many years as the cubmaster for Troop 16 in Elmhurst, N.Y., Mr. Scherer enjoyed woodworking, computers, cross-country skiing, kayaking, traveling, and spending time with his family.

He worked as a manager for Keyspan Corp. for many years.

Mr. Scherer loved his new community in Altamont according to his wife.

"He worked at Keyspan for 30 years and a lot of that was pretty stressful," said Mrs. Scherer. "You can actually see the change in him from the pictures we have. He absolutely loved it here."

Mrs. Scherer said the couple moved upstate to get away from city life.

"It took a little convincing of me; I was afraid of driving in the snow at first, but now I love it. He really got everything in his heart that he ever wanted once we moved up here," Mrs. Scherer said. "Our neighbors here are all so wonderful.

"George loved nature and loved woodworking. He was just amazing with his hands," she continued. "He built the library bookcase in the living room, and he would also build beautiful Celtic crosses.

"He actually took me to a computer fair one day. It was a place where they sell all of these different computer parts"He built computers for each of our three children. He was self-taught really; he would take these huge books and read through them to learn how to do things," said Mrs. Scherer.

After living in the New York City area during Sept. 11, 2001, Mrs. Scherer said she had a fear of traveling, but that her husband helped her overcome those fears.

"He really loved to travel, and thank God he made me travel, too, because we both had such good times. We loved it," Mrs. Scherer said. "He was just great."

He is survived by his wife, Barbara Hall Scherer, formerly of Staten Island; his two sons, Stephen and Philip Scherer; a daughter, Elizabeth Scherer-King; a sister, Arlene Scherer-Siemietkowski; a son-in-law, Joseph King, and daughter-in-law Amanda Best-Scherer; a step-brother, Walter Crawford; and a step-sister, Adelaide Scheblien.

A Mass of Christian burial was held on Monday at St. Madeleine Sophie’s Church in Guilderland. Arrangements were provided by Fredendall Funeral Home in Altamont, and burial was in the Saratoga National Cemetery.

Memorial contributions may be made to the Community Hospice of Albany, 445 New Karner Rd., Albany, NY 12205.

— Jarrett Carroll

Catherine U. Wilkinson

EAST BERNE — Catherine U. Wilkinson, an animal caretaker, died Thursday, Aug. 24, 2006, at St. Peter’s Hospital in Albany. She was 62.

She was born in Ogdensburg, N.Y., the daughter of the late James and Dorothy Hall. She worked for the New York State Department of Health as an animal caretaker, retiring in 1999. She as devoted to her cat, Tom.

Survivors include her son, John R. Wilkinson, and his devoted friend, Sherry LaPlante, of East Berne; two grandchildren, Cassandra and Christopher Wilkinson; two brothers, Michael C. Hall of Knox and James L Hall and his wife, Janet, of Wright, N.Y.; one sister, Carol A. Hall, of Albany; one aunt, Connie Allen, of Vero Beach, Fla.; and many nieces and nephews.

A graveside service was held today (Thursday) at the Knox Cemetery in Knox. Arrangements were by Fredendall Funeral Home of Altamont.

Kenneth J. Rapsard

GUILDERLAND — Kenneth J. Rapsard was a man who made deep and long-lasting commitments — to his work, to his family, to his community.

He died at his Highland Drive home in Guilderland on Friday, Aug. 18, 2006 after a long illness. He was 78.

"His children and grandchildren were able to see him at home before he died," said his daughter, Carol Phillips.

"He really wanted to come home," said his daughter, Patty Busa.

Mr. Rapsard’s loving and jovial personality never wavered, even through a difficult illness, his daugh-ters said.

"Towards the end, his sense of humor was amazing," said Ms. Phillips. "He even joked the day before he passed away. He was optimistic and didn’t complain."

"His last words to me were, ‘Cluck, cluck’," said his daughter, Sharon Waldbillig. She explained, "It was because I was like the mother hen, always tucking the blankets around him. I’d call him my snuggle bunny."

His final advice to his children, recalled Ms. Busa was, "Take care of your mother."

"They were just intertwined," said Ms. Waldbillig of her parents.

Stellar career

Mr. Rapsard was born in Buffalo, the middle of three brothers. His father had come from France when he was 16 and spent his whole working life with the railroad; his mother, from Germany, was a home-maker who sewed her own clothes.

Mr. Rapsard got his first job, when he was 17 and still in high school, working for the New York Tele-phone Company.

Except for a hitch as a corporal in the United States Army Air Force, where he worked in radar at Eglin Field Proving Grounds in Florida, Mr. Rapsard spent his entire working life at New York Telephone. He worked his way up to be office supervisor and plant manager, and then, in 1964, transferred to Albany and served as staff supervisor until his retirement in 1985.

"Ken’s career with New York Telephone was a stellar one," his friend Robert Wolfgang, said in a trib-ute. "I found, however, that when speaking about his career, his discussion would usually center on the friendships that developed and it was apparent that those friendships were more important to him than corporate accomplishment or recognition."

Family man

His family was also important to him. He met his wife, Cora Jean, at a wedding. She was living in Texas at the time and he was living in Buffalo.

"They only saw each other three times before they got married," said Ms. Busa.

"They wrote letters," chimed in Ms. Phillips.

The devoted couple eventually settled in Guilderland, on Highland Drive, where they raised their three daughters and two sons.

Always a family man, Mr. Rapsard took special joy in being with his 11 grandchildren, his daughters said.

Mr. Rapsard loved gardening. He grew all sorts of vegetables in his yard and canned them in his kitchen.

"We grew up with spaghetti dinners every Saturday night," said Ms. Busa. "He made the sauce from the tomatoes he canned every fall. We can’t make it like Dad did."

"He gave us the recipe but it doesn’t taste the same," said Ms. Phillips.

"I definitely have his love of gardening," said Ms. Waldbillig. "When he’d transplant seedlings"they are so little, so fragile. He had big hands, but he was so gentle, handling the seedlings."

Mr. Rapsard’s care for children extended beyond his own. He and his wife were foster parents to 53 children through Community Maternity Services.

"They kept a diary for each baby with pictures," said Ms. Phillips.

"So the adoptive mom wouldn’t miss anything," added Ms. Busa.

"He was always there for you," said Ms. Waldbillig. "Whatever you needed, he was there. His kids came first."

She recalled watching her father’s face during her sister’s graduation from nursing school. "One tear rolled down his cheek"He was very supportive and very proud of his kids," said Ms. Waldbillig.

Helping others

Mr. Rapsard also moonlighted as Santa Claus.

He was a life member of the Telephone Pioneers of America, a volunteer organization of telephone company workers. He was also on the board of directors of the Albany Police Athletic League. Mr. Rap-sard and Mr. Wolfgang, a former Albany Police chief, started the PAL/Pioneer Toy Program in the 1980’s.

Volunteers recover, repair, and restore once-defective toys provided by a national retailer. "The proc-ess began with volunteers picking up the toys from an out-of-state warehouse and transporting them first by U-Haul truck and later by semi-trailers to Albany’s version of the North Pole (a good number of them also found their way to Highland Drive) where Ken and his elves worked 12 months a year, putting their skills to use as they examined the toys, repaired those that could be salvaged, and repackaged the toys," said Mr. Wolfgang.

The first year, 500 toys were distributed; the total has now reached 158,000. "The grandchildren grew up with Grandpa working on toys in the basement," said Ms. Busa.

Mr. Rapsard received several prestigious awards towards the end of his life, including the Mayor’s Award in 2000, the Third Age Achievement Award in 2001, and the Jefferson Award for Albany County in April of 2006.

Mr. Rapsard’s 11-year-old granddaughter wrote his biography this year. For the title of the book about her grandfather, she used something he had told her: "I have lived a very good life; I am pretty lucky."

Simple gifts

Mr. Rapsard’s daughters described their father as quietly religious. He was a communicant of Saint Madeleine Sophie Church, and a former usher and member of the men’s club.

"At the table, we always said grace," recalled Ms. Busa. "Later in life, I realized how spiritual he was."

His daughters recalled how he never missed writing a weekly check to Saint Madeleine Sophie Church.

He enjoyed simple things in life, his daughters said, like fishing, growing tomatoes — or watching but-terflies.

They recounted how, when he was in the nursing home, one of his grandsons, active in a butterfly pro-ject at Farnsworth Middle School, brought him some Monarch butterfly eggs.

"We had the eggs and the caterpillars at the nursing home," said Ms. Phillips.

"He also had a tomato plant there that went all the way up to the ceiling," said Ms. Busa. Watching television just didn’t interest him, they said.

Nurses and patients alike became interested in Mr. Rapsard’s caterpillars, his daughters said. He watched them daily as the caterpillars turned to chrysalises.

When he returned home, the Monarchs came with him. As they emerged from their chrysalises, they were released.

"They flew away," said Ms. Phillips. "And so did he — the next day."


Mr. Rapsard is survived by his wife of 55 years, C.J. (Cora Jean) Rapsard; his five children, Sharon Waldbillig and her husband, Neil, of Ballston Lake; Steve Rapsard and his wife, Nancy, of Latham, Patty Busa of Rotterdam, Carol Phillips and her husband, David, of Guilderland, and Larry Rapsard and his wife, Pamela, of Wisconsin; and 11 grandchildren, Hayley, Lauren, Ashley, Peter, Kayla, Kristin, Brittany, Brendon, Brianna, Elizabeth, and Kevin.

A mass of Christian burial was celebrated on Monday at St. Madeleine Sophie Church in Guilderland. Burial was private in St. Agnes Cemetery in Menands. Arrangements were by DeMarco-Stone Funeral Home.

Memorial contributions may be made to the Police Athletic League Pioneer Toy Program, 165 Henry Johnson Blvd, Albany, NY 12210 or to the Community Hospice of Albany, 445 New Karner Road, Albany, NY 12205.

— Melissa Hale-Spencer

Charlotte Wilcoxen

ALTAMONT — Charlotte Wilcoxen, a historian — persistent in the pursuit of knowledge but tempered by Southern manners — and mother of seven, died on Aug. 27, 2006. She was 101.

"Charming without pretense, honest without rancor, Charlotte grew up in an era when children learned kindness without discrimination, politeness for all," wrote long-time friend and colleague, Roderic Blackburn, of Mrs. Wilcoxen in a book on her historical writing.

Born in Cadiz, Ky., Mrs. Wilcoxen’s interest in history began at home as a child. "I opened a drawer in my mother’s room. I looked in there and there were all these papers. Among them was this funny looking thing, and I unfolded it," she once told Mr. Blackburn. "It was all dried up. I tried to figure it out" It was a genealogical chart."

She went on to contribute further to her family’s genealogy by tracing it back, past Myles Standish who arrived on the Mayflower, to their ancestors in England.

The newspaper in Paducah Ky., run by her mother, Edith Lawrence, is where Mrs. Wilcoxen got her start as a writer. She only worked there for a year or so, said her daughter, Faith Fogarty. "They thought women should be doing the society pages – Mother wanted something a little bit more," said her daughter.

While there, Mrs. Wilcoxen interviewed John T. Scopes after the "monkey trial" in Tennessee. Scopes was on trial for teaching the theory of evolution in a public school, he was found guilty. Mrs.Wilcoxen met her first husband, Henry Abbett Pulliam, while working on the paper. He showed her the sewer map of Paducah for a story she was working on. The couple married in 1929 and then, said Ms. Fogarty, "they left the South."

After five of their seven children were born, the family moved to an 18th-Century Dutch farmhouse, now known as Bozenbrow, on Bozenkill Road in the Helderbergs.

"That old Dutch house had an effect on Charlotte," wrote Mr. Blackburn. "It asked to be furnished in its own era."

Her children remember her seeking out furniture to restore at auction houses. She had a big pot of lye in the backyard that she would remove old paint with, recalled Ms. Fogarty. "Her hands were always a mess," she said.

"Many of the pieces were more impressive in style than perfect in condition," wrote Mr. Blackburn. "But as she said, they were always ‘interesting enough to be worth restoring.’"

Ms. Wilcoxen became an authority on Dutch colonial history and 17th-Century ceramics. She worked with the Albany Institute for years and served as an expert for the archaeological community. Invited to lecture in Holland several times, her mastery of her subjects were recognized far and wide.

"I asked her once," Mr. Blackburn told The Enterprise, "How have you managed to raise seven children""

"After a while the older ones take care of the younger ones," he recalled that she answered.

In 1952, her husband died, leaving her to raise their three youngest children. She married Lewis C. Wilcoxen in 1957 and moved to his native Michigan.

"A testament to her motherhood," said Ms. Fogarty, "is that we all really like each other. There’s no black sheep."

Ms. Wilcoxen eventually moved back to the Albany area and continued her historical work, publishing numerous articles and books.

"Her favorite drink is a bourbon Manhattan southern style which goes down as sweet and slowly as you please but can bring you up short to stare reality in the face," wrote Mr. Blackburn. "Charlotte is like that."

— Saranac Hale Spencer

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