Kingston is a mine which bears a thousand diamonds. One such gem was Gerard “Jerry” Soldner, who recently passed away on March 30, survived by his wife of 56 years, Dr. Doris Bridges Soldner, three daughters and five grandchildren.
The couple moved into the circa-1740s Cornelius VanBuren house on the corner of Green Street less than a decade ago. They were enthusiastic about restoration of vintage homes and spaces, having already accomplished several. According to Doris, in the last days of his life, Soldner looked around the couple’s meticulously restored home and said, “I love this home. It embraces me.”
Soldner, who could most typically be spotted wearing his decorative Southwestern bolo ties, vests and stunning sterling silver and turquoise belt buckles with his warm smile, was deeply involved in civic life. He was president and founder of the Kingston Uptown Residents Alliance and was a member of the Kingston Strategic Plan Committee.
“Jerry had charts upon charts and reams of papers proving how our city was not appropriately assessed,” explained friend and fellow KURA member Victoria Hoyt, who said Soldner had spent months crunching numbers and working with Albany-based attorneys on behalf of reducing the city’s assessments. “And anyone reviewing these documents could not prove Jerry wrong. This was Jerry, when he believed in something, he grabbed steadfast, took the lead, did his unrelenting research and tried to make changes that would benefit everyone in the end.”
Soldner brought a unique and vital palette of talents to town. Born in the Bronx, he graduated from FordhamCollege in 1956 as salutatorian with a degree in economics. He served in the military as a first lieutenant in the Army’s Quartermaster’s Corps, and then as a manager of marketing planning. Later, he became a large-systems consultant for RCA, then manager of strategic integration for General Electric’s international sector, traveling regularly all over the world. In 1975, he became vice-president of Rockwell International’s business development and electronic operations. His last career stint was as vice-president of planning systems and analysis for GTE Corp. (now part of Verizon), from which he retired in 1997.
Doris said that Soldner always had a love and passion for computer technology, and owned some of the earliest computer systems. After retiring, he accepted a position of president and CEO of the strategic leadership forum — an international society of over 4,000 business leaders — and conferred the Drucker Award for leadership to Bill Bradley, Dick Cheney and Colin Powell.
Integrity was true success
“Every time that Jerry moved onto another job, it was not because they were dissatisfied with his work or vice-versa — it was always because an even better opportunity presented itself to him or a recruiter pulled him in,” said Doris. “Jerry loved being in the computer business. He never changed jobs because he was unhappy.” Doris added she believed that he would have gone even further if he had an Ivy League degree. She also said the integrity of his character was his true success. “Jerry got where he was by working hard and being so intelligent. He never was the type to curry favor or climb over somebody. In fact, he always pushed people ahead.”
Soldner’s warm, gentle, pastoral personality coupled well with his commitment to service to his community. His vision, a strong techno-savvy and understanding of the international markets was ideal for his advisement and consulting work with business leaders and non-profit organizations, such as the Council of Planning Executives of the Conference Board, the Metropolitan Area of the Planning Forum and the Strategic Leadership Forum. He served as a strategy consultant for the state of Connecticut and chairman of the Fairfield County Economic Plan Task Force, among other pursuits. Soldner also taught CCD confirmation class at St. John’sChurch in Woodstock for many years as well.
“Jerry was polite, mannerly and pleasant,” said Doris. “What you saw with Jerry, was what you got. It can be said of some men that they are ‘street angels and house devils.’ Not Jerry. He was genuinely a ‘good man,’ a Christian gentleman in the finest sense of the word.”
Doris said Jerry always conducted himself with couth, and never badmouthed people. “He never used words against gays or minorities. Never used pejoratives.”
Deep love for history
The career path lead the couple to move 13 times, during which the Soldners honed their knack for restoring and furnishing vintage homes with an eye for historical and vernacular accuracy and detail. Their current home on Green Street acquainted them with fellow Kingston history lovers, some of whom became their closest friends. The couple collected everything from period textiles, clothing, glass, antique furnishings, dolls, trains, music boxes, phonographs, kitchenware, sconces, chandeliers, ethnic jewelry and more — an enviable and meaningful lifetime collection which all started with an old apple peeler and cherry bitters, said Doris.
Soldner was a self-taught tinsmith, crafting New Mexican-style Retablos — devotional paintings of saints and Christ on finely embellished tin. He was also an accomplished figure-skater and ice-dancer.