Author: Gail Henyecz Fritsche
Sept. 7, 2012

September 7, 1962 was 50 years ago, yet I remember the details as if it were only last week. It was the second day of the new school year, my junior year at Weehawken High School . The day before I had tried to explain to my mother why I would be coming home later than I had in my sophomore year, she couldn’t understand that my scheduled had me on the last bus home. As I walked up the long gray side porch of our home and into the kitchen I was stunned, my next door neighbor was sitting at our kitchen table where my mom would normally be. Before I could say anything she stood, grabbed her belongings that had been scattered on the table, and with a very solemn sounding voice said, “Your mother has had a heart attack. The paramedics and doctor were here, and now she is sleeping on your bed. I called your father, but I didn’t want to alarm him so I told him that she was not feeling well. I told your Aunt Rita to come as well.” That said she walked out the door and went to her home next door.

My bedroom was just off the kitchen where I was standing, frozen in time. I stared into my bedroom and saw Mom laying on my bed shaking and mumbling, “I am hot”. I went to her . I touched her arm and it felt like ice.
I believe that was the moment that I was carried by God. I went immediately to the phone which hung on the kitchen wall just outside my bedroom and dialed the police department. My mother’s family had lived in the little town of Secaucus, New Jersey since the 1920’s. The police knew the family and immediately sent a team of policemen to our home. As I stood in the living room and looked down the expanse of railroad rooms I could see the police trying frantically to resuscitate Mom. At the same time they were shaking their heads indicating that she was not responding. Aunt Rita, my mother’s sister pulled up in her car. When she saw the police cars parked in front of the house and all the neighbors standing outside she realized the seriousness of what was happening. She burst from her car, stumbled up the porch stairs and rushed into the house past me and into the back bedroom where her sister lay. I went into Mom’s bedroom, knelt down, and prayed. I already knew that God had called Mom home.

What I knew at this tender age of 16 was that I had been so blessed to have had my mother for ALL THESE YEARS! Mom had been orphaned by the time she was 11. Yes, I had definitely been blessed. I had 16 years of memories that would last me a lifetime.

When I think about this woman that I carry in my heart, I think of how strong she was. After her parents died her older brother and sister were taken to live with a prominent family in Secaucus, but because Mom was so young, she was sent to the county orphanage. When she was old enough to leave the orphanage she started apprenticing as a beautician. By the time she was in her mid 20’s she owned her own beauty salon. Never did she harbor anger or resentment. She didn’t have time to be angry, life for her, Loretta Margaret Cormier, was too exciting. She learned to ride horses, go hunting, shoot skeets, compete in roller skating. You name it, my mom did it.

Mom met and married Sargent Joe S. Henyecz in Tampa, Florida on August 3, 1945. She sold her beautiy business to her sister and brother-in-law and became a stay-at-home mom. For the next 17 years Mom would cultivate her creative side. She read everything she could get her hands on. She always had a project! She taught herself to sew, refinish floors and furniture, she was very involved in the PTA, and she was devoted to her daughter and younger son, John. When I was in first grade Mom insisted that I be given piano lessons. She found a teacher and signed me up. There was one catch…WE DID NOT HAVE A PIANO. We also did not have money to buy a piano. My mother, using her amazing creative talents, constructed a piano key board out of cardboardfor me! I practiced and practiced every day, but it wasn’t until the actual lesson that I got to hear what the songs really sounded like!

In the early 50’s Dad re-enlisted in the air force . We moved and moved. From 1950 to 1957 our family moved 8 times. Mom had no help, no family to watch my brother or me as she packed and unpacked. No old friends to talk to and be supportive. Telephone costs were outrageously expensive and, of course, there was no SKYPE. But, she stayed upbeat and positive.

In 1952 she fell down a flight of stairs and broke her knee cap. The surgeons , upon examining her exposed bone, noticed fatty deposits similar to those they found in soldiers who had been severely wounded in battle. She was diagnosed with familial hyper- cholesterolemia and told she would have only a year or two to live.

In 1957 Dad was reassigned to the New York area and we moved, again, from San Antonio, Texas to East Meadow, NY. Mom’s new doctor suggested that she undergo an experimental study that was being done at Rockefeller Institute in New York City. She was accepted as a patient and for 9 months she lived at the hospital and was fed a diet of fish oil. My brother and I were sent to live in Secaucus with Mom’s sister, Rita. Dad was transferred to Connecticut. We would visit Mom in the hospital only on weekends when someone was able to take us. She tried hard to be upbeat for John and me, but I know now how difficult it had to have been for her. It was much worse than the orphanage or being uprooted and moved all over the country; she was now separated from her babies and told that she would not live very long. She didn’t smile as much but she was still full of life. She was my heroine.

When Mom was released from Rockefella Institute I was going into 6th grade. Mom convinced Dad that she had to live in Secaucus where her sister was; it was the right thing to do for the children she would insist . It took about a year but finally Mom got her energy back. She encouraged my brother and me to get involved in all sorts of activities. When I was in Junior High School I became interested in acting, Mom researched acting groups and WE joined one of the community acting groups and. we were cast in a local production of THE WOMEN . Mom played the part of the grandmother and I was the child. Having been a pretty decent swimmer most of my life ,Mom thought I should become a lifeguard and made certain I got the training needed at the Hoboken YMCA. I think if I had said I want to be an astronaut when I grow up, Mom would have found a way to get me all I need to succeed as the first woman in space!

As I look back over those last 50 years I can see just how blessed I was to have the woman , Loretta Margaret Cormier Henyecz, for my mother. All that I am today I attribute to her. Thank you, Mom, for sharing with me your love for life. Thank you for showing me that when life gets tough, that is when I need to get going. Thank you Mom for inspiring me to live my life with integrity and devotion . I loved you then. I love you now. I will love you always. Gail

What’s your story?



  1. Barbara D. Agerton, CPA

    We’d love to have a picture of you and your mother! Thank you so much for sharing.


  2. Deborah Bacarella

    Thank you Gail for sharing your beautiful Mom with us in this story. It is a reminder that life is short and we need to treasure every moment we have with our loved ones.

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