ATHENS — Columbia-Greene residents affectionately remember and pass on stories about Emily Brunner of Athens, who was one of the few remnants of a bygone era surrounding the Hudson-Athens Lighthouse.
Brunner died Monday at Greene Meadows, leaving behind a legacy of community service and a priceless store of historic knowledge.
“She was a pretty amazing individual and was a wealth of information about the lighthouse,” said Greene County Historian Dave Dorpfeld, who interviewed Brunner for a column he wrote in 2013. “She used to give tours and tell people about her time living in the lighthouse.”
Brunner, who was born on Nov. 24, 1924 in Perth Amboy, New Jersey, was one of the last residents of the Hudson River beacon where her father was lighthouse keeper from 1930 to 1949.
Everyone who knew Brunner said she had a personalty that filled a room; direct, humorous and brimming with a conviction of belief. She was a raconteur who could mesmerize an audience with tales of life on the river.
“We loved her. She was quite a character with a tough personality. She would say what needed to be said,” said Joe Kenneally, who knew Brunner well from his time working for the Hudson-Athens Lighthouse Preservation Society. “She told me she used to walk on the ice on the river to get to school with her younger brothers. She said her father used to make her bring the rowboat with her in case the ice cracked.”
Kenneally recalled Brunner telling him an amusing story about how her father shot a hole in the ceiling in the kitchen through the floor of the upstairs bedroom while cleaning his shotgun.
“She said that was the only way they got heat into the upstairs bedroom, because the only heat was in the kitchen,” he recalled.
Kenneally said Brunner told all her stories with a tongue-in-cheek ending.
“She helped deliver her youngest brother in the lighthouse. Her father told her to look after her mother while he went to get a doctor,” Kenneally retold. “She said her father told her to make sure her brothers did not look in the windows.”
“I asked her what the toughest part of delivering her brother was, and she said, ‘Keeping those boys from looking in the windows,’” Kenneally said. “I’m really going to miss her. I was very sad when I read she died in the paper.”
Kenneally’s wife Louise, former president of the Lighthouse Preservation Society, said Brunner was extraordinarily dedicated to her beliefs.
“She was the best supporter of the lighthouse,” Louise said. “She was just an exceptional person with a strong personality.”
Brunner tirelessly served the Athens community and was recognized in 2010 by the Village of Athens and the U.S. House of Representatives for her work.
In 1998 she was voted the award for Outstanding Contribution by a Senior in Greene County. She was also a member of the American Legion Ladies Auxiliary in Athens and the Hudson-Athens Lighthouse Preservation Society for which she conducted tours of what it was like to live in a lighthouse. She was a frequent guest speaker at Coxsackie-Athens Rotary Club meetings.
Friends and supporters may honor her memory by donating to the lighthouse where she created memories she shared with all who would listen, according to her obituary.