By Susan Drew Thomas
One can be sure, having lived for 89 years, that Eleanor Drew of DeLancey, has many stories to tell. Eleanor Behrens was born in Manhattan on June 4, 1918 and she vividly remembers accompanying her father, a grocer, on deliveries out to the estates in Glen Cove, Long Island in the years before and during the Depression. One of those trips stands out – May 20, 1927, in fact: On a delivery they stopped at Roosevelt Field Airport to see what was happening. Later they learned that they had watched Charles Lindberg take off on the first solo transatlantic flight!
Eleanor’s life of service to others started at an early age. At 16 she became the Captain (what we now call a Troop Leader) of her Girl Scout troop when no adult stepped forward. She would go on to belong to and volunteer with the Girl Scouts for over 70 years.
She followed her sister Dorothy into a job with Canada Dry and later joined the war effort working for Sperry, assembling components that would be used in bombs.
Again her sister Dorothy played a pivotal role in Eleanor’s life when the brother of a man she was dating had a car accident and came to the Behrens house to recuperate. The job of “nurse” soon fell on her shoulders and a romance blossomed. Eleanor would not date any man with a car and since his car had been totaled this obstacle was removed. Eleanor married Richard (Bud) Drew on September 5, 1942 at Miraculous Medal Catholic Church in Ridgewood. She traveled to Army posts in Alabama to be with her new groom for several years and saw first hand the segregation in the south.
Being a nurse was Eleanor’s life-long dream, but the options she had open to her after her high school graduation did not permit her to follow that dream. After her marriage she set about raising three children close in age – Richard, Susan, and Michael. She broke new ground serving in the first corps of non-police school crossing guards in New York City at her children’s school in the 1950’s. She volunteered with the Girl Scouts, became a member of the Third Order of St. Francis at her church, and looked after many of the elderly neighbors on her street in Maspeth. During the day she supported Bud’s side carpentry business by nailing together bookcases and cabinets that he had made during the evenings.
In January 1960 life took a new twist when William (Bill) arrived, 13 years after the birth of their last child, and opened a whole new world for Eleanor and Bud.
In 1964 Bud had a heart attack. Eleanor traveled religiously every day on public transportation out to Flushing to visit him while a brand new car sat in the driveway. Eleanor quickly learned how to drive after that experience and she hasn’t stopped yet.
Bud took an early retirement from the New York City Department of Sanitation in 1972. With him now home to run the house, Eleanor announced that she was at long last going to fulfill her dream. In September 1973 she enrolled in the Licensed Practical Nurse program at Columbia-Presbyterian Medical Center when she was 55 years of age. Her son Richard, returned from Vietnam, would take her early each morning to upper Manhattan on his way to work, and then pick her up from class when he was done for the day. She and Bill did homework together and competed for A’s – sharing their report cards with good grades for both.
Eleanor continued her association with the Girl Scouts and by now was spending summers working in Girl Scout camps in a variety of jobs including nurse’s aide. Bill would tag along and to this day says he was raised by Girl Scouts in Girl Scout camps!
Visits to see a cousin of Bud’s who lived in Kingston, as well as Susan’s trips through the area soon found Eleanor and Bud looking for a weekend get-away.
In 1968 they purchased several acres of land in Andes and put a trailer on the property. Hot water came in jugs from the local Laundromat. You could be sure to be awakened at 5 am by Eleanor with sightings of deer grazing on the lawn. Soon they moved to Andes full-time. A modular home replaced the trailer, and Bill enrolled in Andes Central School. Eleanor worked as a private duty nurse in Delhi and at Margaretville. Bud settled into a routine that included many hours around the stove at Liddle Brothers store and the Andes Public Library. Eleanor found time to direct Girl Scout Camp Amahami in Deposit for two summers, march with her Brownie and Junior Girl Scout Troops in the Memorial Day parade, and otherwise make her mark in the community.
Sadly in April, 1981, while Eleanor was on duty at Margaretville Hospital, Bud had a massive heart attack and died the following day. Support from family and friends helped her over this great loss.
In 1988 her children surprised her with a 70th birthday party attended by over 50 of her local and New York City family and friends. She has traveled extensively overseas and in the United States. She saw Pope John Paul XXIII in Rome, donated a family engraving to the Dickens Museum in London, and traced her father’s roots in Germany.
Today Eleanor spends six months of the year with her daughter Susan and son-in-law in Washington, D.C. to escape the Catskill winters. During the spring and summer in DeLancey, she gardens, sews, crochets baby blankets to give to new babies around the world, volunteers at the Andes Thrift Shop and keeps busy “puttering”. Locally she is surrounded by family (Michael and Kathy Drew, Bill and Mary Drew) and a host of friends. Many of these friends gathered on June 2nd at Cassie’s Kitchen to celebrate Eleanor’s 89th birthday.~