Obituary of Helen Gustafson
Helen L. Gustafson, 85, of East Greenbush NY died peacefully on June 15, 2018 at Riverside Nursing Home in Castleton-on-Hudson after a long illness. A small family gathering accompanied Helen as she was reunited with her beloved Woodward and Wiedeman family members at Greenridge Cemetery in her treasured city of Saratoga Springs. Born on April 23, 1933, Helen was the cherished daughter of Saratogians, Lena and Lloyd Wiedeman. Raised by loving parents, grandparents, and her special Aunt Helen, she spoke of her childhood in Saratoga Springs with fondness and gratitude. She embarked on her love affair with music at an early age, studying both piano and pipe organ under Alfred Pratt. While attending Saratoga High School, Helen accompanied the drama productions and was the recipient of the 1951 Grace Wagman Memorial Award in Music. Helen earned a bachelor's degree in Music Education in 1955 from the Crane School of Music at Potsdam, having majored in piano and minored in voice. During her college term, Helen accompanied the Potsdam College Orchestra and was one of three students chosen to sing with the 250 voice Crane Chorus at Carnegie Hall in NYC. Helen was on the Dean's list and became the first in her family to earn a college degree. While in college, Helen met her husband-to-be, Richard H. Burke of White Plains N.Y., an Engineering student at Clarkson College. Together they shared thirty-four years of marriage and their three children. With Richard, she fostered in her children a deep sense of family commitment, faith in God, compassion for others, and, of course, the appreciation for music. While raising her children, Helen was a substitute organist at many different churches in the Capital District and a substitute music teacher for the East Greenbush Central School District. She accompanied the Goff School Chorus and Drama Club for their annual musical production for several years. Helen went on to teach music in the Niskayuna Central School District and began giving private piano instruction that would continue for forty-five years. She was a musical inspiration to her children and grandchildren as well, with several of them playing a musical instrument and some going on to musical careers as adults. With their young family, Helen and Richard began attending the First United Methodist Church in East Greenbush where Helen became the Youth Choir Director and Assistant Organist in 1963. In 1978, Helen became the Organist and Choir Director until retiring from that position in 2012. An accomplished organist and pianist, Helen chose to share her talent with her church, primarily. Helen was very proud of her Sanctuary Choir, accompanying and directing them with an exceptional level of excellence through over three decades of church services. Among her keepsakes was a note that read, "Her work with the church was as constant as the sunrise." Her legacy continues every Sunday morning when the music fills the sanctuary. She was a soloist for the church throughout her adult life and was well known for her elegant candlelight rendition of 'O Holy Night' each year during their Christmas Eve Service. She graciously acknowledged many accolades for the beauty and quality of her solos. Many Capital Region couples had the privilege of Helen's masterful organ style as she played at their weddings. After playing at an out-of-town family wedding, it was said, "We didn't know the organ could ever sound that good." Helen was a member of the Eastern Chapter of the American Guild of Organists and held the position of Sub-Dean for two years and Dean for two years. In that capacity, she had the pleasure of touring and playing organs at several of the most famous cathedrals in Europe. For three consecutive summers Helen sang with the prestigious Saratoga-Potsdam Choral Institute at SPAC with the Philadelphia Symphony Orchestra. This was an experience she spoke of often with reverence and pride. Finding love again in later years, Helen and Leo Gustafson were married in 1994. "He's my Prince Charming", she would say of him. Helen had deep respect for Leo's service in the United States Marine Corps where he was awarded a Purple Heart. Together, Helen and Leo traveled and enjoyed their friends and family, including nine grandchildren together, Colleen and Joseph Burns, Helena, Abigail and Michael Peters, Eric, Kristen, Joshua and Alexandra Gustafson. Helen took such joy in her grandchildren, and said she loved them "with all my heart." Known as Aunt Helen to her three nieces and three nephews, she cherished the summers spent on Martha's Vineyard, living nearby her sister-in-law, Patti, brother-in-law, Rene Blanc, and their six children. Her fun-loving spirit gave rise to a mosaic of precious memories of the summers spent together. Helen often talked about 'the cousins' with much love and devotion. A loyal friend, Helen valued friendships, some of which spanned over seven decades. She enjoyed sending cards, going out for lunches and visiting friends who moved away. She loved a harmless practical joke and had the rare ability to see the humor in herself. Helen was also an experienced fisherwoman, spending many hours fishing on Saratoga Lake or in trout streams with her dad. In later years, she spent many days fishing Kinderhook Creek for trout. Another of Helen's many talents was writing poetry. She wrote about her college years, the Vineyard, Saratoga and more. Some of her poetry will be shared at the service mentioned below. An avid animal lover, Helen adored her pets throughout her life, including several cats and one big-hearted Newfoundland. Her great appreciation and love for all God's creatures is woven into the fabric of her family.
Helen is predeceased by her beloved husband, Leo. She leaves behind her children, Paul Burke, Susan Burns, Elizabeth Peters and their spouses. She also leaves behind her cherished kitty cat, Chloe, who has been adopted by her grandson, Michael. Memorial donations may be made to First United Methodist Church of East Greenbush or the Hudson Mohawk Humane Society, both of which Helen generously donated to for many years. A Celebration of Life Service will be held at her church on Saturday, August 18. At 1:00 there will be a collection of Helen's favorite Adagio pieces playing in the sanctuary for anyone who would like to enjoy. The service will begin at 1:30. Following the service, there will be a gathering in the fellowship hall with light refreshments and tributes to Helen's many remarkable accomplishments and experiences. All those attending are invited to share a story or a memory.