Muriel Stone: She enjoyed a 75 year love affair with the Catskills
On the 30th day of September Muriel Stone of Highmount passed away. She was 92 years old.
Born in the Bensonhust section of Brooklyn on July 5th, 1928, Muriel Stone was the very unexpected fifth child of Abraham and Ester Kaplan, the former being an emigrant from Russia, or thereabouts, depending on when the Eastern European map was printed. The age difference between Muriel, who wasn’t gifted with a middle name, and her older sisters was similar to that of a mother and daughter of the early 20th Century. Her brothers were age appropriate uncles, and treated her as such.
At the age of 17, having already graduated from high school, Muriel, pretending that she was older than the required 18 years, spent her first summer (1945) in the Catskills, joining many of her young adult Brooklynite neighbors. Indeed, “Muri” was one of the storied urban working class Jews who waited tables in the “Jewish” Catskills during its heyday, resorts which catered to wealthy families who demanded great service and a fine dining Kosher kitchen. Her tenure as a waitress occurred during the sweet spot of the region’s glory period, when The Big Band Era reigned supreme, before the the denouement of Catskill family summer vacationing, which was so seductively captured in the iconic film, Dirty Dancing.
Though romancing among the help at these Catskill resorts was taboo, Muriel, who’d already proven herself to be an underaged rule breaker, fell in love with another waiter, a WII veteran who also taught tennis lessons at their resort, Edgewood Inn, in Livingston Manor. Though culturally separated by the Hudson River and a few bridges, Raymond L. Stone, hailing from the (then) Jewish Weequahic section of Newark, New Jersey, found that he and Muriel Kaplan spoke the same language.
Rules are rules, and Muriel was banned from Edgewood Inn once her romance to Raymond became public knowledge. She would then work summers at the nearby Swan Lake Resort, in Sullivan Country, while Raymond continued to work summers at Edgewood Inn, until it was time for his two year family practice residency at Beth Israel Hospital in Newark (NJ).
Muriel and Raymond were married in 1950, and the girl from Brooklyn would permanently leave the New York boroughs, becoming a resident of New Jersey.
By 1951, after meeting the requirements of his residency, Raymond opened up shop as a family physician in Elizabeth, meaning that Muriel could stop her daily commute from Jersey to Brooklyn, to work at Greenpoint Hospital as a licensed dietitian. Muriel had earlier received a B.S. degree at Brooklyn College.
Between 1953 and 1961, Muriel, with military precision, would deliver forth a child at two year intervals: boy, girl, boy, girl, boy...5 children in all.
Throughout the 1950’s and 60’s, the Stone family vacationed, winter and summer in the Catskills, at Sacks Lodge, in Saugerties. From this location they were able to scout out all of the Catskill ski resorts that catered to novice alpine skiers, donned in mismatched winter wear, lace leather boots, and wooden skis with bear trap bindings. By the late 60’s, after testing the terrain at Hunter Mt., Windham Mt., and Plattekille Mt., the Stone’s had discovered family friendly, Belleaye Mountain, and the now defunct Highmount Ski Area...which would became their schussing favorites.
In 1973, after having purchased a lot in the grandly planned but poorly timed Belleayre Village, the Stone’s built a vacation home, which was only two miles away from the ski lifts that beckoned to them from across the Route 28 valley. After two decades, they were able to trade up, by purchasing the large house across the road, on Algonquin Lane, with unimpeded views of the slopes.
Those who knew Muriel were aware of her voracious reading habits...or some might say addiction. She’d recklessly drive through a blizzard, downhill to Fleischmanns, in order to secure her copy of The New York Times, which Sam, the proprietor of the gas station and general store, would courteously hide behind his counter for his nonagenarian customer. A thorough ingestion of the NYT, including the completion of the crossword puzzle, were a daily regiment. As an aside, Muriel grow up in “Joey” Joseph Heller’s neighborhood, before he experienced WWII, which inspired his authorship of Catch-22, while Raymond was an older kid in Philip Roth’s neighborhood, which would generate the motherlode of ideas for many of his future novels. Raymond would later become the personal physician to Roth’s mother.
From the early 90’s up until her death, Muriel, after first reading them, donated close to 2,000 novels to the Skene Memorial Library in Fleischmanns.
Muriel belonged to an ad hoc local bookclub which was composed of a handful of women ranging from their forties to their nineties, all transplants to the Catskills. They didn’t emphasize the discussion of assigned books, but rather enjoyed each other’scompany, despite their disparity of age and background.
At the age of 40, after having birthed five children, and fulfilling all of the requirements of motherhood, almost, Muriel decided that it was time to become a middle aged athlete of formable prowess. She chose tennis as her sport, needing little more than a decade of practice before she won her first tournament. Muriel had a reputation for being a ruthless competitor, which was preferable to being a toothless one. She would bolster her tennis conditioning with 5:30 AM runs, unconcerned that a middle-aged woman shouldn’t be running on urban streets before the sun rises. She religiously participated in the Fleischmann’s tennis tournament, which was organized by her friend, Sindy Becker.
A patron of the arts, Muriel had season tickets to the New York City Ballet for over 30 years, and the Metropolitan Opera for over 20 years, which she attended with her daughter Audrey, and friend Rosina Montana of Roxbury, respectively. She alsoheld a position on the Belleayre Conservancy board of directors during their tenure of service to the community, when summer concerts could be heard reverberating across the valley from its mountainside setting.
Volunteering for community services had always been important to Muriel, spending years organizing art shows for the YMHA near her New Jersey residence, and acting as President at the now defunct Temple Beth El (Hillside, NJ), where her children would celebrate their Bar and Bat Mitzvahs.
Once she moved to Highmount, Muriel wrested away control of the local Fleischmann’s Rotary from the old guard (you know who you are), and helped breath new life into the organization by supporting the efforts of the local HeadStart program, and organizing fund raisers that provided scholarships to high school students in Margaretville and Andes.
At the age of 88, Muriel reluctantly gave up skiing, though her children were overjoyed by her decision. But, not to be deterred by all that deters the aged, she decided that 89 would be the perfect time to begin swimming in Arkville’s recreational center pool. Despite having to be rescued by TWO lifeguards, this obstinate ancient athlete continued to visit the pool in the early morning hours, having first agreed to take a few swimming lessons.
Muriel, an excellent, if not heavy footed driver, continued to cruise in the fast lane after reaching 90, unless she’d spotted a New York State trooper. Her children didn’t try to pry the car keys from her arthritis gnarled fingers, knowing that she’d never experienced more than a parking lot fender bender during her 75 years behind the wheel. Always the conversationalist, she talked herself out of two speeding tickets that we know of.
Muriel has been a full-time resident of Highmount since, 2003. In death, she hoped to enjoy the privilege of being remembered as a local, a fully recognized Catskillian. She certainly deserves it.
Muriel Stone is the mother of Andy, Eileen, David, Audrey and Gary, and the grandmother of Josh, Liz, Samuel, Alex, Benjamin, Jake, Harry and Lilly. She will be buried beside her husband, Raymond, at the B’nai Israel Cemetery in Fleischmann’s.
A Graveside service will be held on Friday October 2, 2020. Friends and family will form a procession on Wagner Avenue at the B'Nai Israel Synagogue and process to the B'Nai Israel Cemetery for the interment.
Funeral arrangements are under the direction of the E. B. Gormley Funeral Home 87 Main St. Phoenicia. Memorial contributions may be made to the Arkville Chapter of Headstart, Margaretville Memorial Hospital Foundation, or the American Ballet Theatre. You may share a condolence or special memory on Muriel's Tribute Wall at www.gormleyfuneralhome.com
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