100-year-old built friendships along her walks
STAMFORD, Conn. (AP) — Imagine 100 years filled with little adventures.
And that you set about them mostly on foot.
And that you dropped kind words as you went.
You might end up like Agnes Ostrowski, celebrating your first three-digit birthday with lots of family and others who, but for their DNA, would be family too.
“My mother is not famous,” said Agnes’ daughter, Elaine Law. “She did not make a big mark on Stamford.”
She made thousands of little marks.
“She’s known by a lot of people because she has just been consistently there for them,” Law said. “She has walked this city all her life, getting to know those she met.”
Agnes’s story reveals a bit of Stamford.
She was born Agnes Platko on April 26, 1919, and graduated Stamford High School in 1937. In the 1940s she took a job at Pitney-Bowes, at the time a postage meter company and a landmark Stamford employer.
Agnes was secretary to Frederick Bowes Jr., which may be how she came to appear in a national newspaper advertisement that read, “For talking, tasting, or sticking out, tongues are all right. But for stamp licking - not so good . Tongues and sponges were never intended for mailing letters - but a postage meter is!”
Agnes remembers she had to stand in front of a big mirror.
“They told me to make a scowl when I licked the stamp,” she said.
In 1946 she married Edward Ostrowski. They had two girls and two boys. They lived in Waterside, a diverse, close-knit neighborhood. Agnes was at the heart of it.
“My mother has always been one to experience life. Not having money to do it, she just did it simply,” said daughter Marie Dooley. “She would take us on the train to New York City to sit in Grand Central Station and watch the people. Then we would go to Horn & Hardart.”
It was an “automat restaurant,” popular in the 1950s. It served prepared foods behind small glass doors, Dooley said. You put in your nickels, turned a knob and opened the door.
Agnes took neighborhood kids on jaunts to New York, too.
“She liked to do things for the kids,” Dooley said.
Over the years Agnes worked for Stamford’s other large employers — Remington Shaver, Acme Electro-Plating and Machlett Laboratories. Such industry was good for jobs, but not always for neighborhoods, including Waterside, where a chemical plant, Polycast, operated side by side with homes.
“We lived a block away, and I remember the distinct smell of plastic in the air,” Law said. “My mother would tell everybody, ‘They need to stop polluting the air.’”
John Ostrowski was a teenager at the time.
“I remember my mother sending me to the sewer to smell for gas,” Ostrowski said. “She’d say, ‘Find out where it’s coming from.’ Later we heard there were these buried tanks full of chemicals. They had to evacuate the neighborhood a few times. It was scary.”
In the 1980s there was a series of explosions and fires at Polycast. Fire marshals found a buildup of highly flammable chemical vapors in a rooftop incinerator.
Dooley said her mother “got a lot of the neighbors talking . a petition went around.”
It was discovered that the plant was operating without a state pollution-control permit, and environmental officials ordered the company to comply.
“Now that we know what living near factories can do to people, I think my mother and our neighbors may have saved us from something bad,” Law said.
Agnes remembers the fires and evacuations.
“I wanted to warn the people,” she said. “Everything was too unpredictable.”
The 1980s brought change. Agnes’s husband died and her children began to marry and move away. She started going by herself to her favorite restaurant, Pellicci’s on the West Side, where she once brought her children. Agnes is counted among Pellicci’s original customers from its opening in 1947.
But she did not eat alone. She would be joined by the restaurant’s matriarch, the late Frances Pellicci.
“She became part of our family,” said Toni Pellicci Lupinacci, Frances’ daughter. “In 2014, when my brother Anthony was dying and in a coma, Agnes was 96. She marched into the hospital room and called his name. He started moving his feet. She is such a loving woman with an incredible soul. We felt he could hear her.”
When Agnes was in her 80s, she would take the train to Norwalk Hospital to “check on the older women,” Dooley said.
One day, when Agnes was 85, Law picked her up for their weekly grocery shopping.
“I said, ‘What did you do today?’ She said, ‘I went to New Haven,’” Law said. “She got on the train to see what she could see.”
Things changed last year, when Agnes battled cancer and broke her hip.
Agnes tells the hip story with a big laugh. It happened after a family gathering near her 99th birthday.
“I danced the polka,” Agnes said. “The next day I fell and there went my hip. But I love to polka. I think when I die, I’ll still be dancing the polka.”
From her downtown apartment, Agnes walks within her block to Mass at the Basilica of St. John the Evangelist, or to Bobby Valentine’s Restaurant & Sports Bar. Valentine, a hometown sports hero who played Major League Baseball and managed the N.Y. Mets, has roots in Waterside, where his late parents were Agnes’ friends.
Valentine has been known to walk her mother home, Law said.
At Grade A supermarket, the butcher “comes out from around the back” to greet Agnes, Dooley said.
It’s the result of years of venturing out, heart open.
“Everywhere she walks, she talks to people,” Dooley said. “She always says hello.”
Information from: The Advocate, http://www.stamfordadvocate.com