Obituary of Mary Ellen Slezak
Mary Ellen “Polly” Slezak (1942-2023)
Mary Ellen “Polly” Slezak, 80, of Amsterdam, died February 1, 2023. She was born on December 31, 1942 in Schaghticoke, New York to Warren P. and Mary Lord Smith. She was the sixth of seven children. The most influential parent she had was her stepmother, Adelaide Russom Smith. Addie gave Mary Ellen the name “Polly” an old English nickname for Mary. Under Addie’s guidance and nurturing, Polly’s strength, love and character blossomed. In addition, Addie taught her the basics of being a lady and a human being.
Polly was the first in her family to earn her high school diploma, graduating from Hoosick Valley High School in 1960. She was a member of the Hoosick Valley High School Band, where she played the flute and was a member of their Fife and Drum Corps where she played the piccolo.
After high school, when she was just seventeen, she started working for the New York State Department of Transportation. A few years later, by chance she was introduced to Tony Slezak, another employee at NYS DOT. Tony was a widower with four children, and after a whirlwind romance they married on February 13, 1965. Polly and Tony had four more children. Together they forged one family out of two, and to their credit all eight Slezak siblings still get together to make pierogi, and celebrate holidays and events together. Polly’s own family history made her a role model for what a stepmother should be, patient and caring, and a guiding force. She was fortunate to become a close friend and mentor to her eight children, and we were lucky to have her guidance, wisdom, and support in everything we did. Her legacy as a parent and mentor is the strong interpersonal relationships each of her children have achieved.
Education was very important to Polly, and she made sure that each of her children obtained a college degree--an achievement that could not be taken away and would allow them to be self-reliant. That laser focus on higher education has continued with her grandchildren and great grandchildren. Polly also served as a mentor and role model for countless family members, friends, and colleagues--her advice always formed on a foundation of empathy, ethics and pragmatism. Her love for the people in her life was palpable, and the outpouring of love that came back to her in her final days was truly amazing.
Polly always wanted to be a mother. She stayed home to raise her four children until Michael was school age. She worked part-time during those years as a waitress and deli clerk. Once Michael started Kindergarten, she began working part-time at Schenectady Savings Bank. This led to a long career as a mortgage officer. Polly became one of the most influential loan originators in the Capital District, the person who real estate agents, underwriters and attorneys called for advice and guidance. She was ethical in her dealings, and it has been said that if every mortgage officer had her ethics there would not have been the housing crisis in 2008.
Polly loved to be in her gardens. Her yard (which she asked to be called a garden) with its magnificent flowers and walkways was inviting and beautiful. She grew herbs and allowed anyone to cut fresh parsley, basil or rosemary. When we were young, Polly made jam, canned tomatoes and froze unbelievable amounts of vegetables. She and Tony grew all nature of vegetables and fruit trees. They worked together to preserve the food, and the family was able to have potatoes, onions, preserved vegetables, jams and jellies throughout the winter. Polly was happiest in her gardens, or entertaining in her backyard on warm summer days.
Many relatives and friends remember the parties and reunions in Tony and Polly’s backyard at Truax Road. Tony and Polly opened their doors and hearts to anyone who needed a place to stay, a safe refuge, a warm meal or just some comfort. Our family had honorary Slezaks, friends who became family and shared holidays with us. Polly and Tony were a resource for anyone and many cousins and family friends came to stay or live with us over the years. Polly, like the character in her beloved The Velveteen Rabbit, was Real, which “doesn’t happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, . . . generally by the time you are Real most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.”
Polly had incredible strength when it came to her physical ailments. She dealt with her illness and constant pain from rheumatoid arthritis with such grace, never complaining or asking for pity. There are too many to name who provided care and comfort to Polly over the years, but the family wants to say a thank you to Emily T. Etzkorn, M.D. who provided care for Polly with kindness and compassion; and Julie Thomas who was a true friend over the years. A special thank you must also be said to her son Andrew, who was the constant caretaker throughout the past several years--cooking, cleaning and caring for mom, without any complaints. Andrew was a blessing to all of us in his devotion to mom and his kindness to her. Finally, her daughter, Nancy S. Knudsen, M.D. provided love and care to mom, in addition to being instrumental in helping mom understand her illness and the medical processes involved in her treatment.
Polly is survived by her sister Lois Carson (Ed Vidnansky); sisters-in-law, Helen Smith, Patricia Smith, Florence Smith; her children Barbara Burnett (Stephen), Anthony Slezak, Jr. (Linda), Andrew Slezak, Nancy Knudsen (Bruce), Katherine Hans (Paul), Deborah Slezak (Brent Phetteplace), Rebecca Slezak, Michael Slezak (Iyassu Sebhat); her grandchildren, Mary Susan Miller (Jon), Sarah Begg (Matt), David Madej (Cindy), Douglas Madej (Diane), Amy-Lin Slezak-Nelson (Dan), Carolyn Slezak, Justin Knudsen, Emily Katz (Mike), Emma Hans, Philip Hans, Peter Hans, Samuel Phetteplace, Katherine Phetteplace, Lucas Phetteplace, Anthony Odendahl, Warren Odendahl, Luis Worsley and Elijah Worsley; great-grandchildren, Sydney Grace (Wills), Annelise, Elizabeth, Heather, Theresa, Wyatt, Aaron, Daniel, Ava Rae, Cedar and Josephine; and many nieces and nephews. Polly was preceded in death by her parents; her husband Tony Slezak; siblings, Leon Smith, Doris Russom, Warren Smith, Edward Smith, Richard Smith; in-laws Barbara Smith, Alex Russom, Raymond & Margaret Slezak, Chester & Apolonia Slezak, Winifred & Zygmund Petroski, Norbert & Delores Slezak, Virginia Slezak; and son-in-law Matthew Odendahl. Polly was strong and beautiful to the very end, and the love she gave was repaid to her with interest.
Calling hours will be held on Friday, February 10, 2023 from 4:00 PM to 7:00 PM at Betz, Rossi & Bellinger Family Funeral Home, 171 Guy Park Avenue, Amsterdam, New York. A Prayer service will be held at the Funeral Home on Saturday, February 11, 2023 at 9:30 AM, followed by a mass of Christian Burial to be celebrated at St. Stephen’s Church, 51 N. Pawling Street, Hagaman, New York at 11:00 AM. (It is the family's request that properly worn face masks be mandatory at both the funeral home and church. Face masks will be available at the funeral home and church). Interment to follow immediately after the mass in St. Stephen’s Cemetery. In lieu of flowers memorial donations may be made in Polly’s memory to the Arthritis Foundation, PO Box 96280, Washington, D.C. 20077., The American Cancer Society, PO Box 1357, New York, NY, 10018 or the Landis Arboretum, PO Box 186, Esperance, NY 12068.
Mass of Christian Burial