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Making the most of life: Dorothy Gardner

January 21, 2010
By CAPERTON?TISSOT, Special to the Enterprise

Dorothy Gardner, a Saranac Lake resident, was born to Swedish parents in Jersey City, N.J.

She carries her Scandinavian heritage with pride and has even brought one of its joyous traditions to the community to generously share it with others.

That is not all she has contributed. Outgoing and cheerful, she always greets friends and neighbors with goodwill and warm smiles. "I say hello to everybody," she confessed.

Article Photos

Dorothy Gardner
(Photo — Caperton Tissot)

She and her husband became seasonal residents in 1951 and permanent dwellers in 1992. This personable and well-liked couple quickly acquired a large circle of appreciative friends. She seems to know everyone.

Their life together began in 1945 when Dorothy "Dottie" was working at the Metropolitan Life Company in New York City. She had spotted a deserted roller rink. Always up for fun, she suggested to three of her office mates that they go roller skating there together.

The day they arrived, however, it was anything but quiet. In fact, it was overflowing with sailors just off the battleship New York. It didn't take long for one sailor, Hezekiah "Hez," to zero in on Dottie.

While skating along, Dottie lost her balance and threw up one arm to catch her balance. Instead, she caught Hez, who grabbed her arm to keep her from falling. It was the beginning of an intense courtship. Five months later, in 1946 with the war over, they were married.

The couple's first move was to the family farm in North Dakota on which Hez had grown up. However, it didn't work out as planned, and so just four years later, they returned to Jersey City, finding jobs at Westinghouse Electric, Dorothy as a secretary and Hez as an elevator wireman.

Dottie and Hez moved to Kearny, a suburb of Jersey City, where they had a home for 48 years.

It was their joint love of the outdoors that first brought them to visit Saranac Lake. Hez, as avid hunter and fisherman, often came to Adirondacks. Taken by the beauty of the area, he brought Dottie to the area to both see the place and to help find a vacation camp. She, too, fell in love with the area. In 1951, the two of them rented a cabin from Harry Duso at the Crescent Bay Marina, continuing to come up here every other summer for years, alternating their visits with trips to North Dakota to see Hez's parents. Finally, in 1964, Harry Duso sold them a lot on Crossfield Avenue, where they eventually put up a home.

The lot included enough land for a good sized garden. They enjoyed getting back to this taste of the farming they had done in earlier years but were not a little surprised to discover that despite their village location, both deer and bears found their way to this free smorgasbord, leaving telltale footprints in their wakes.

In the summers, Hez and Dottie would drive north every couple of weeks. Their visits were frequent enough to allow them to care for a garden and harvest a substantial vegetable crop, which was duly transported back to New Jersey and shared with grateful city neighbors.

No sooner had they bought a place in the village than neighbors told them of a camp for sale on Oseetah Lake. Anxious to have a more remote location as well, they purchased the island camp, which has received a lot of use over the years.

Every summer, though now widowed, Dorothy still fires up the pontoon boat and motors across the water to stay at this woodsy retreat. From the comfort of her screen porch, she particularly enjoys the view of a boat-dotted lake, framed by trees, with Ampersand Mountain rising dusky blue in the background.

Dottie and Hez still had their New Jersey home when they both, in their 50s, managed to retire, buy a motor home, tour the country and visit almost every state, including Alaska. She particularly loved Alaska, where one day a friendly moose came right up to their motor home to say good morning. It was a bit too close, so rather than try to pat its nose, she wisely retreated inside.

Finally, in 1992, they made their permanent move to Saranac Lake. Both joined the Lutheran Church and the village community. Dorothy and Hez volunteered at the lunchbox, Dottie at Hospice and the hospital.

She has always enjoyed keeping busy but, unlike many of her friends, would rather do anything than go shopping. However, when necessity forces her to actually go out and make a purchase, she makes sure she shops locally.

Her social life included, and still does, meetings with the Red Hatters and entertaining in her home. She likes to cook, especially Swedish dishes, and for Hez's birthday, entertained as many as 35 people. Her easy transition to Saranac Lake can be attributed to a healthy philosophy. "Wherever I went, I appreciated whatever I had," she said.

Though she enjoys watching the snow fall and finds it quite beautiful, she is not wild about winter sports. Her one skiing experience took place while in North Dakota. It discouraged her from ever trying that sport again. Hez had fastened her to a pair of skis, given her a gentle push and sent her flying down the slope in front of their farm house.

Unfortunately, there was a pen full of pigs at the bottom. Dorothy, not knowing how to stop, opted to fall with a crash in preference to smashing through the fence into the middle of what might have been some very disgruntled hogs.

Her one skating adventure landed her on her backside. Wisdom dictated she find something different to do. She did.

Well over 20 years ago, Dorothy decided that the completion of the Saranac Lake Winter Carnival Ice Palace called for a special celebration.

She reached back into her Swedish past and came up with a delicious recipe for home-brewed glgg, a powerful herb seasoned punch consisting of sugar, a mix of wines, brandy, rye whiskey and raisins.

For many years, Hez volunteered with the Ice Palace and Dottie made the glgg. It was accompanied by her homemade Swedish spritz cookies, something she remembered her mother making.

"We ask her to wait until the last day to bring (the glgg) to the Palace builders, otherwise no work would get done. It is really good stuff," says Dean Baker.

Hez died in 2001. Dorothy often thinks back to the good times they had together and misses him greatly. However, she believes in making the most of life and continues volunteering, looks forward to the frequent visits of her many nieces and nephews, and each year still remembers to mix up the glgg and bake the spritz cookies, which she brings to Pontiac Bay in honor of the Ice Palace builders.

Her Swedish traditions make a great addition to local customs. Especially as they are always delivered with a smile.

The above account is based on an interview with Dorothy Gardner. Caperton Tissot can be reached at



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