By Melissa Hale-Spencer
ALTAMONT — Edward A. Breitenbach was a builder — not just of structures but of community.
An architect, he was active in church and civic groups, and was a founding member and the first president of the Guilderland Chamber of Commerce.
He died at the Albany County Nursing Home on the evening of Monday, Jan. 7, 2013. He was 85.
Mr. Breitenbach was born in 1927 in the New York City borough of Queens, in Glendale, the youngest son of William Breitenbach and Erna Beyreuther.
“He was kind of a tough New York City kid,” said his son, Thomas Breitenbach. “He told me stories about sneaking into a cemetery to play football.”
Mr. Breitenbach had a love affair that lasted a lifetime.
“My mother grew up across the street from him,” said Thomas Breitenbach. “He remembers pushing her carriage. Her mother was very strict and she would scold him.”
He went on about the devoted couple, “I always wanted to write a musical called From Both Sides of the Street.”
Mr. Breitenbach was a hard worker, his son said. “In high school, he had to leave early to work at a restaurant to help support his family,” he said.
After high school, he joined the United States Navy, near the end of World War II, when he competed in Golden Gloves boxing.
“He was in charge of a foundry in San Francisco,” his son said, “but he wanted to get on a boat. That’s why he joined the Navy. He got on a destroyer escort, and just threw up all the time.”
When Mr. Breitenbach had completed his service, he returned home to Queens and “started romancing my mother,” their son said. Mildred Dannhardt had been raised in a strict Catholic home and she told him she couldn’t marry him unless he, too, became a Catholic, their son said.
When he spoke to his parents about this, he learned that, although he had been raised a Lutheran, his family had Catholic roots. “My great-grandfather was a stone mason,” said Thomas Breitenbach, noting that he had worked on the Empire State Building. When the parish priest expected him to donate stones to the church, he was so outraged he took his family to the Lutheran Church instead.
Edward Breitebach became a devoted Catholic. He and Miss Dannhardt married in 1950 — a union that ended only with her death in 2004.
They were highly invested in spreading the message of Mary Our Lady of Fatima. Mr. Breitenbach also raised funds for Mill Hill Missions, and co-founded the St. Joseph Marian Center, later acting as president.
“We always went to church,” said his son.
He went on about his parents, “They were really well suited to each other…They hardly ever argued.”
The couple performed in community theater and started a family in Queens Village. They loved to ballroom dance together.
“As soon as the music started, they’d be out there, on the floor; they knew all the steps,” said their son.
Mr. Breitenbach was also a good figure skater and roller-skater. “He said, when they were kids, they would go out as a group. He learned all the stunts. He could skate backwards,” said his son.
Mr. Breitenbach couldn’t afford to be a full-time student so, as he studied architecture at Fordham, he worked his way through as a draftsman at several New York firms, including Harrison & Abramovitz where he worked on The Empire State Plaza towers and the United Nations.
“As a kid, he supported us. My mother was always home,” said Thomas Breitenbach. “They would sing duets together. Mrs. Breitenbach would play a slightly-out-of-tune piano as they sang, with Mr. Breitenbach supplying the harmony. “I can still hear it in my head,” said their son.
The family enjoyed visiting Schoharie. “My uncle had a farm there,” said Thomas Breitenbach. “We all loved it. Apparently, after one visit, I said, ‘Why don’t we move there?’”
His question had resonance.
Mr. Breitenbach, in 1960, sold the family’s home in Queens for $20,000 and bought 78 acres on the hill above Altamont where he designed a much larger house for the family — he and his wife and their two sons, Thomas and Joseph.
“We all helped build the house,” said Thomas Breitenbach, describing it as reminiscent of Frank Lloyd Wright, with a large overhang, and a massive fireplace in the living room reaching to the cathedral ceiling.
A pond on the property was stocked with fish and Mr. Breitenbach built a raft that became a center of summer fun for his boys.
Mr. Breitenbach liked to garden and to walk the property, often with the family’s dog. “We always had a big German shepherd,” said his son.
For special occasions, the family would host hayrides. “It was really out in the sticks then,” said Thomas Breitenbach.
Mr. Breitenbach earned his architectural license in 1962. He served as architect for the state’s Department of Social Welfare, reviewing the planning and construction of nursing homes and hospitals throughout New York.
In 1964, he opened his own architectural practice, specializing in nursing home and hospital design, dozens of which were built throughout the Northeast. He initiated the trend of nursing home design, where numerous wings projected from a central nurses’ station.
Some of the familiar local projects he designed are Altamont’s Key Bank, St. Lucy’s Parish Center, the Guilderland Center Nursing Home, and LaSalette’s gymnasium and offices, as well as many area homes and businesses.
“He opened a practice in the basement of our home, and had five employees,” said his son. “I learned architecture from him. Before I went to college, I was a full-time draftsman.”
Mr. Breitenbach became active in politics. He ran for the United States Congress in 1974 on the Republican and Conservative lines.
Concerned about rising taxes, he was also very active in twice founding grassroots citizens’ movements to vote down school budgets, and was successful in his campaigns. “Before the school budget votes, he’d go to every house in town and hand out the literature. It was a lot of legwork,” recalled his son.
After Mrs. Breitenbach died in 2004, Mr. Breitenbach volunteered for Community Hospice and taught religious education at St. Madeleine Sophie.
He kept his charm and outgoing ways until the end. “He liked to flirt with the ladies, in a nice way…He did that till the day he died. The nurses told us how, despite the pain, he would give a smile and say, ‘Good morning, Beautiful!’”
Thomas Breitenbach concluded, “I wish I was like him…so extroverted, so personable.”
Edward A. Breitenbach is survived by his brother, William; his sons Thomas and Joseph; his daughters-in-law Debra (Barnes) and Ruth (Moscinski); his grandchildren, Jessica Mubuyaeta (married to Elton), Travis, Danielle, and Tuesday; and his great-granddaughters Quincy and Whitney.
Calling hours will be held on Friday, Jan. 11, from 5 to 8 p.m. at the Fredendall Funeral Home in Altamont. A Mass will be held on Saturday at 10 a.m. at St. Madeleine Sophie Church followed by an interment at St. Cyril Cemetery in Rotterdam.