This Thursday, June 16 marks the 100th birthday of longtime neighbor, Edith Schkrutz.
In addition to this birthday celebration, the neighborhood also celebrates Edith’s staunch commitment to the community and the leadership she’s so generously offered over the decades. As her daughter Maureen explained, “[Edith] is a [life] member of the Greenpoint Lions, the 94th Precinct Council, the Green Oaks, the [past president of the] American Legion and countless other organizations. She’s also a member of the Church of the Ascension on Kent Street and is a member of the Episcopal Church Women.”
Nowadays, when she’s not offering her guidance to our community organizations, Edith enjoys reading, playing solitaire, doing crossword puzzles, feeding the birds, talking with family, and spending time with her neighbor Kevin. When I arrived at her home for the interview, she greeted me with an ice-cold glass of lemonade and offered an array of snacks. We sat down and without skipping a beat, Schkrutz recalled much of her early life in Greenpoint. If you see her walking around with her cart, be sure to wish her a happy birthday.
Born in Queens in 1922, Schkrutz lost her mother to cancer at the age of four at which point she and her six-year-old brother were left by their father. By the age of nine, Schkrutz was adopted by her uncle and cared for by her grandfather while her brother was sent to a home upstate where he spent the remainder of his youth. At the age of eighteen, Schkrutz’s brother, Walter O’Brien, joined the military while Edith stayed in New York. During World War II Schkrutz worked for the war effort at Sperry Rand, located past the Brooklyn Navy Yard, and through her early adulthood, Schkrutz worked as a paraprofessional at PS 34 for over 20 years.
One thing that kept her in Greenpoint all these years (aside from her love for the area)? A charming townhome apartment on Newel Street. Her apartment, which was built in 1907, has been owned by the women in her family since it was built. First owned by her great aunt, then her aunt, Schkrutz inherited the property in 1950 and has lived there ever since.
Before living in the building, Schkrutz would still frequent the neighborhood to spend time with her great aunt, which is what she was doing when she happened to meet her husband.
Picture this: McCarren Park, 1942. Schkrutz was lounging by the pool when a “tall, tan man in uniform” stopped her. “Pardon me miss, what’s the name of this place? Is this Coney Island?” the soldier asked. Amused, Schkrutz replied “What are you, crazy? This is Greenpoint, Brooklyn!” They got to talking and the soldier asked to walk her home, at which point Schkrutz insisted he leave her at the corner of Newel and Nassau in order to avoid her grandfather and great aunt peering through the bay window of their apartment. He complied, and asked if he could see her the following Saturday and asked for her phone number and address before they parted ways. “But I have no paper or pencil,” Schkrutz said. “Well, I’ll take care of that,” the soldier replied, whipping out a pencil hidden behind his ear.
True to his word, the soldier arrived at her apartment the following Saturday, at which point she had already forgotten his name. “Who is it?” Schkrutz asked. “It’s Alex!” the soldier replied. It wasn’t until she saw his face that she realized who had come to call on her. His semi-surprise arrival hit another roadblock when he said he had already eaten. “Well I won’t go to dinner with you if you’ve already eaten!” Schkrutz insisted. The soldier explained that his family comes first and he must eat dinner with his family, but he still wanted to take her out. Taken by his unwavering commitment to family tradition, Schkrutz agreed.
Every Saturday, they carried on in this way: Edith would have dinner, Alex would have a beer and a cigarette, and they’d chat. After five months of Saturday night dinners, Alex was sent back to war for the next three and a half years as a soldier in General Patton’s army. He was sent to Austria, Ireland, England, and France, among other places. Though they wrote to each other while Alex was away, Schkrutz got engaged to another man in those three and a half years. In that time, she also realized that she was not happy in that engagement. She broke it off and told Alex she’d wait for him.
November 12th of 1945, Schkrutz arrived home with her groceries and there was Alex sitting in her apartment. Shocked, she dropped all her groceries on the floor. They were reunited once again.
Five years passed before they were able to marry because Alex’s mother had five boys in the service and wanted them home for a little while longer once they got back. On October 29th, 1950, Edith and Alex were finally married.
In 1952 they had their first child, Alex, named after his father, and in 1955 they had their second child, Maureen. Alex Sr. worked nights at the telephone company while Edith cared for the kids and continued her work at PS 34 and as a volunteer for various organizations. Edith and Alex were married for 55 years. Alex was 85 years old when he passed away in 2006. Schkrutz and her brother Walter also remained very close until his passing about 9 years ago.
Edith is excited to welcome her extended family to Greenpoint this weekend to celebrate her 100th birthday. In addition to her two children, Edith has four grandsons.
Her advice to the next generation of Greenpointers? Be nice:
“Try and be kind to everybody. Say hello whether you know them or not, see if you can do anything to help them. Help them whatever way you can.”Edith Schkrutz
Thank you for your dedication to the community, and happy birthday, Edith!