by Diane Serratore
Stella Blasenheim, a teacher to generations of Nyack High School students, passed away on June 15. She changed the lives of students through the courses she taught in English, journalism, theater, vocabulary, literature, creative writing and poetry and more, guiding her students on the path to enrich their lives in American culture.
Her mission was to change the world one person at a time by helping them learn the tools to express themselves, to appreciate classic and modern literature; and of the importance of journalism. For more than 50 years, Stella was an active member of Nyack’s Elmwood Theater in Nyack, directing and acting in dozens plays, and serving twice as its president.
Stella means star. Stella Blasenheim was a shining star in so many ways but she also had a special gift in helping others shine.
I met Stella Blasenheim when I was a student at Nyack High School. Until I read her obituary, I didn’t realize that Mrs. Blasenheim had only been a teacher at Nyack for a couple of years before I was in her class. She was so good at it, I thought she’d been teaching forever.
Yes, Stella was a star. As a teacher, she used her dynamic personality, her sense of humor and her belief in our abilities – both hers and her students – to bring out the “star” in everyone.
I took Creative Writing and Journalism with Mrs. Blasenheim. After my coursework was turned in for the journalism class, Stella suggested that I consider pursuing this subject in college. She said that she saw great promise in my work and, if I put my mind to it and some effort behind it, I could “probably get very good” at this.
Because Mrs. Blasenheim thought I could “probably get very good,” I attended the University of Missouri where I earned a Bachelor of Journalism. All because of Stella, who saw something in me that helped me feel like a star.
After college, I went to work in the non-profit arena where I had the opportunity to see Mrs. Blasenheim again. I started working at People to People in 2008 and I attended many community events as part of my job responsibilities which Stella also attend. We often sat together at the Nyack Center “Women of Distinction” Brunch.
In the past week, many of Stella’s friends have fondly remembered that she enjoyed good food. However, I remember one particular brunch where something was served and that she was not very impressed. Stella stirred something that looked like very fine granola or whey. She lifted a small spoonful to her mouth and tasted it. She looked at me and said, “Why are they serving us sand?” I cracked up. Of course, it wasn’t sand! After that, any time I’d see her at an event that featured hors d’oeuvres or food of any kind, she’d look at me and mouth, “At least it isn’t sand.”
When Mrs. Blasenheim became too ill to live on her own, she moved into an assisted living residence. Her youngest son, Noah, called me to ask me if People to People took donations of clothing because “my mother has a lot of clothes that she’s just not going to wear anymore.” So, the People to People van was sent to Mrs. Blasenheim’s Nyack condo to pick up A LOT of clean, gently-used clothing that were then distributed to our neighbors in need.
Starting in high school and through the rest of my life, Mrs. Blasenheim touched my life and the lives of so many in so many ways.
Stella means star. And, though she always told me to call her Stella, she will always be Mrs. Blasenheim to me. Mrs. Blasenheim used her light to guide so many of us to brighter futures. I am so very grateful to her for so very much. Stella liberally sprinkled her stardust on so many of us. Hey, at least it’s not sand.
Diane Serratore is the Executive Director of People to People, a community non profit whose mission is to make sure no one in Rockland County goes to bed hungry.
In Memory of Stella Blasenheim
Stella Blasenheim, long-time resident of the Nyack area, passed away last Monday morning peacefully at Raso House in New City. She was 87.
As a teacher, she was charismatic—sometimes dramatic—and known as tough and challenging, but compassionate. Stella loved her students, they knew it; and they loved her back. Stella stood in the spotlight, and the classroom was her stage. Her method was not to pontificate, but to draw her students into the spotlight with her, including them in the culture of expression and appreciation she cherished. It was not merely her profession, but her passion. Well into her 80s, she was teaching a class for senior citizens on how to write about their lives.
Stella was a popular figure in Nyack who ran into friends and appreciative former students where ever she went. She could often be seen walking up North Broadway toward Hook Mountain in what was a daily early morning ritual for some years.
Born in the Bronx on September 25, 1927, Stella grew up in New York City, attended City College of New York; and was working at the New York Herald Tribune in the early 1950s when she met her first husband, the late Jack Levine. When the two separated in 1965, and later divorced, Stella lived in Valley Cottage and raised three children as a single mother while working at temporary jobs and finishing her undergraduate degree before becoming a teacher. She went on to earn two masters degrees.
She began teaching at Nyack High School in 1970 and continued her work in the school district well into the 21st century, ultimately working with new teachers to help them create and structure curricula for their students.
At home, she could often be found surrounded by books, newspapers and magazines while doing the New York Times crossword puzzle. Stella loved Manhattan, and attended the theater as often as she could. Her hobby was playing bridge, which she played weekly and in tournaments around the east coast.
Stella is survived by her three sons, Solomon Levine of Washington DC, Aaron Levine and his wife, Ilona Levine of Easton Connecticut and Noah Levine of Nyack, New York. Also, three grandchildren, Jake Levine of New York, Molly Levine of New York and Emily Levine of Davis, California.
Her second husband, Irving Blasenheim, died in 2011.
In lieu of flowers, the family asked that friends make contributions in Stella’s name to The Stella Blasenheim Fund, the Rockland Community Foundation, PO Box 323 New City, NY 10956.