BY VANESSA LANGDON
For Your Niskayuna
NISKAYUNA — Niskayuna residents are banding together to get a memorial for their beloved Lina Newstead. The longtime owner of Newstead’s passed away decades ago but her memory still lives on in those that patronized her store across from Van Antwerp Middle School.
“I’ve been trying to do it for a long long time but it finally dawned on me that I better start doing it,” said Janice Chlopecki, who is organizing the memorial.
Chlopecki had been thinking of how to honor Newstead’s memory for as long as she can remember but after seeing a photo posted on the “You Know You’re From Niskayuna When” Facebook page of the shop owner she knew it was time to act.
“I said we should put up a memorial to her, and within an hour I had 100 people talking to me,” Chlopecki said.
One member of that Facebook group who’d grown up in Niskayuna was Patra Madden. “We didn’t have Stewart’s — it was the corner store,” she said. “She was always there, always open.”
The steadfastness of Newstead and her store made her a helpful baby-sitter in a pinch for some neighborhood families like the Wielts. Dennis Wielt can remember getting dropped off at the store with his sister. Newstead would watch them whenever his parents found themselves without a sitter — this went on until they were old enough to watch each other.
Long after they were no longer needing her baby-sitting services, Wielt still found himself at Newstead’s — the supplier for his bad habit.
“As a nincompoop I started my cigarette smoking career with Lina,” recalled Wielt, now 66. “At the time, I worked for the farmer down the street and he was a tobacco chewer, I can hear in my mind’s ear him saying to me go up to old lady Newstead’s and get me some chewing tobacco and get you a soda pop.”
Madden remembers going into the store to buy one thing or another and seeing Newstead sitting in a recliner and feeling guilty about making her get up — but the penny licorice wouldn’t wait.
“I still remember the red licorice, it was a penny for each piece but if the bag was old you’d get one hard as a rock or nice and soft — it was a crapshoot,” Madden said with a laugh.
She moved to Boston in the mid-70s, and whenever she returned the missing Newstead’s store was palpable.
“When I came back and she wasn’t there it just seemed wrong,” Madden said.
A bench for Lina
After hearing from other Niskayuna natives, Chlopecki called Joe Landry, Niskayuna’s town supervisor. Landry spoke with Chlopecki and told her that an item had just been passed to allow for memorials in honor of town locals.
The proposed memorial would include a bench with Newstead’s name included on a plaque placed outside Town Hall.
Chlopecki is gathering a collection to pay for the bench, which will cost $450, according to Nicole Matlick, administrative assistant to the town supervisor.
Matlick started the program after losing her son; the bench she got in his memory is visible from her office window.
“It’s a nice idea, a way for people to commemorate a lost loved one,” said Matlick. “It’s a club that you don’t want to be a member of, but it’s a little bright spot.”
The benches can be put up at any town park and feature a plaque that can have up to four lines of text.
“We have a new program that we started last year — they come in and pay for the bench and then we order it and put it up,” Landry said. “We have some orders in and in the springtime we’ll put some more up.”
The memorial is the least that Chlopecki thinks she can do for a woman she called “an angel that walked among us.”
“She was such a wonderful woman, I can’t even say the adjectives. She was the most caring wonderful loving woman we knew,” said Chlopecki. “She was honest and hardworking; she always had her hand out to help us.”
That helping hand was felt by the boy who took that photo that Chlopecki saw on Facebook.
“I rode my bicycle there that night,” said Dave Feiden of when he took the photo. “She started posing with a 2-liter Pepsi bottle.”
Feiden often thought of using the photo he took to raise money for Newstead by making T-shirts to sell.
“She was an institution in herself. She was an icon and she was there for the longest time, so there’s many, many, many layers of people who have had experiences with her,” he said.
Chlopecki was inspired by Newstead when she opened her own shop — albeit a jewelry store in Pittsfield, Massachusetts.
“Mrs. Newstead had a small store she worked long hard hours at, but she ran into a lot of people and smiled,” Chlopecki said. “I always had people coming into my store, [too]. It wasn’t a normal jewelry store. It was just a fun place to hang out, we just had a good time.”
That hangout feel was something she experienced at Newstead’s when growing up. The store was the meeting place for all the neighborhood kids, according to Chlopecki.
“If we were going to go anywhere we all met there,” she said.
Chlopecki remembered Newstead as the most giving person she ever met, “never met somebody who loved so many people, never met somebody who was so well loved,” she said of Newstead.
Because of her constant care of the kids in the neighborhood, whether through allowing them to pay at the end of the week for their candy or letting them never pay at all, depending on their circumstance, Newstead is fondly remembered.
“I would put up a statue of her 100 feet tall if I could,” said Chlopecki. “That’s how much she was loved and still is.”