“I’ve done a lot with my life,” said 96-year-old Edna Hoyt, sitting in the sunlit living room of her daughter Jan’s Mount Pleasant house. “I haven’t held back on using my knowledge to help people.”
After many years of service to the community in the Town of Shandaken, Edna has a right to rest on her laurels. She sat on the town council, performed with the Shandaken Theatrical Society (STS), helped organize the Onteora Central School District, and supported the life of the town in myriads of other ways, with her abundant energy and verve.
Shandaken resident and activist Kathy Nolan met Edna and Jan when Catskill Corners was being proposed as a development across from their home and across from the Zen Environmental Studies Center, where Nolan was volunteering. “I was impressed with their knowledge of the community and their engagement,” she said. “Seeing Edna be elected to the town board and going to Rotary and other events with her, I could see her life was built around giving. That kind of spirit is what inspires me.”
Born in 1918, Edna grew up in Woodbridge Township, New Jersey. She majored in English and commercial art at New Jersey Women’s College, which later merged with its affiliate, Rutgers University. In the past few months, Edna’s memory has grown hazy, but Nolan recalled hearing that she had attended a lecture at Rutgers by Alfred Einstein, who was then teaching at Princeton. When he arrived onstage, he had to step up on a stool to deliver his talk. “I asked Edna how the lecture was,” recalled Nolan. “She said, ‘I think everybody was just glad to be there.’”
Edna moved to the Catskills because, she explained, “I met up with the right man.” At the end of World War II, as soldiers were returning from Europe, a young man from Mount Pleasant, New York, passed through Point Pleasant, New Jersey. Lindsay Riseley Hoyt was out with his army buddies and stopped by a club where Edna was having fun with her friends. “She was looking for the juke box,” Jan recounted. “He was six-foot-four, and she’s five-foot-two, so he was in the way. She used to say she had to have a ladder in order to kiss him.”
Lindsay brought his sweetheart upstate to meet his parents. As Nolan has heard, “On the way, he said, ‘I want to show you Tremper Mountain, and they went up, and she made the cut — she got to the top,” despite being dressed up to meet the family. Hopefully, she was not wearing her usual footwear in those days, stiletto heels that later pitted the kitchen floor with tiny gouges.
Edna and Lindsay took over six acres of the family lot and moved into his parents’ house, where Jan now lives. Edna has a house next door. The couple had five children, including Jon, now well-known as a Kingston realtor and attorney. Their property became a magnet for local kids when the family laid out a baseball diamond and a football field. “We had the space and the accommodations,” said Jan. “At dinner, my mom would come out and say, ‘Okay, who’s staying for dinner?’”
A pole vaulting pit was set up for the youngest son, Vlad, who held the Onteora pole vaulting record for 17 years. “He broke his leg skiing one year,” Jan remembered, “so he took up golf. He turned the horse pasture into a golf course, with two putting greens and a driving range. He became a professional golfer and is now teaching golf in Germany.”
Edna worked in the Mount Tremper post office for several years and then became postmistress of the Pine Hill post office, a job well-suited to her effusive personality. Nolan sees evidence of Edna’s social skills when they go out for a meal. “She’ll meet people, and they’ll tell her all sorts of things about themselves. As long as they leave smiling, she’s happy.”
Edna was president of the Phoenicia Rotary, helped arrange loans to low-income homebuyers through the SHARP Committee, and served on the board of the local theater in its early years. At STS, she also performed in the chorus for My Fair Lady and played a munchkin in The Wizard of Oz, among other shows.
When Edna first moved to Shandaken, the area’s education system consisted of scattered schoolhouses in each of the towns and hamlets. After the Mount Tremper schoolhouse was destroyed in a flood, Edna and Lindsay conducted a survey in the region to see how many children would attend if a centralized system were established. The Onteora district was set up, and Edna served on the school board and in the PTA. She also worked for Headstart and had shipments of food delivered to her home for distribution to families in need. “People would drop off clothing,” said Jan. “She would launder and repair the clothes, which took up a lot of time. But she wouldn’t think of giving people clothing that was tattered.”
Amidst all these activities, Edna found time for creative outlets. “When we were growing up,” Jan said, “she always made our clothes. She did the curtains, and she could reupholster chairs.” She also made porcelain dolls, shaping and firing the porcelain herself, then sewing elaborate costumes to fit and raffling off the dolls at benefits. Nolan bought one at a silent auction. “She once told me each doll has its own personality,” said Nolan. “They’re like little people.”
It’s hard to picture how Edna managed to get much sleep with this energetic schedule. According to Jan, in fact, sleep was elusive. Edna kept the accounts for Lindsay’s lumber trucking business, which required him to get up at 2:30 a.m. so he could be at a lumberyard by 7 a.m. Edna would get up with him to fix his breakfast, then sit down to do some creative writing or work on a PTA newsletter. Lindsay also worked in the town government, becoming Shandaken’s first Democratic councilman to be elected in 50 years. He later held the post of town supervisor. Lindsay died young, and Nolan says sadness at his death is the only regret she has heard the upbeat Edna express about her life.
Five years after retiring from the post office at the age of 74, Edna won a seat on the town council. She was reelected at 83, serving for eight years. “I don’t think she let anyone know her age,” Jan said.
Edna, smiling in her armchair, remarked, “It’s been a wonderful life. I’ve been very happy. I can always see where I can improve and help, and I do it.” She looked up at a skylight and added, “Isn’t the sky beautiful?”