The Life of Frances (Fran) Theresa Eastman
1/30/1928 – 4/11/2019
Frances Theresa Cembalski entered this world with grit, and left this world with grit. She was born prematurely on January 30, 1928 in Florence, Vermont to Polish immigrant parents, Wesley and Mary (Godrick) Cembalski. Two months premature, Frances weighed 3.5 pounds, and was fighting for her life. Frances’ maternal grandmother took charge of Frances’ care by placing Frances in a shoebox on the open oven door of an old-fashioned cook stove in order to keep Frances warm. This makeshift incubator saved Frances’ life.
The Cembalski family moved twenty-three miles from Florence, Vermont to Hampton, New York, and then to the Adirondack village of Witherbee, New York where Wesley worked in the iron ore mines to support his family. During Frances’ early childhood years, Frances played with children of Spanish and French descent. The children all spoke their native languages, yet managed to understand each other and play in harmony. Frances’ mother taught her English one year before Frances entered first grade so Frances would be able to understand her teachers. Frances learned how to read in first grade, which thrilled her; subsequently, she often read aloud to her class.
Frances had an early penchant for math and science, and she excelled in both subject matters. Frances attended elementary and high school in Mineville, New York, and graduated in 1946 as salutatorian of her class. Frances missed graduating as valedictorian of her class by only a tiny fraction of a point; a non-technical studies senior transferee was valedictorian, which many considered unfair at the time, but those were the rules in force. Frances’ impressive high school transcript gained her acceptance to Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) in Troy, New York, where she was one of the first women to be awarded the RPI Medal, an award for incoming freshmen with outstanding high school achievement in math and science.
Not one to shirk opportunity, Frances chose Aerospace Engineering as her major with the goal of working in the U.S. Space Program. During her second year at RPI, Frances changed her major to Metallurgical Engineering due to her growing interest in materials science. However, after her second year at RPI, Frances discovered through a female RPI graduate that it was going to be almost impossible to secure a job as a woman engineer due to male bias of the times. Therefore, Frances decided to transfer to the New York State College for Teachers (now SUNY Albany) to complete her Bachelor’s degree in math and science so she could teach the next generation of engineers, including women. Frances graduated in 1949 with a Bachelor of Arts degree in education; specifically, high school math and science instruction. She then completed her 5th year Master’s Equivalent Teachers’ Certification at SUNY Oswego in the late 1960s/early 1970s, and became permanently certified as a high school math teacher on September 1, 1972.
Immediately after graduating, Frances secured a teaching position in Henderson, New York, a small town located on Lake Ontario near Watertown, New York. She taught geometry, trigonometry, chemistry and physics for grades 7 through 12. She was also selected to coach the cheerleading squad due to her experience as an outstanding high school cheerleader. Frances quickly learned to take advantage of the social scene of the area; she enjoyed dancing with the local, eligible young men until the wee hours of the morning. One man in particular caught her eye. His name was Paul Wesley Eastman, a local contractor. Paul was bulldozing a property next to the Henderson School one day while Frances was eating her lunch. Paul made his bulldozer stand on end to impress Frances. Within short order, they were properly introduced and dating; although, Paul was just one of many suitors. While Frances and Paul were dating, Frances had appendicitis requiring surgery. Paul was the only one of Frances’ boyfriends to chase down the details of her malady. He located her by contacting her parents, and subsequently visited her in the hospital to ensure that she was recovering. Based upon Paul’s concern, Frances decided that Paul was “the One”.
Frances and Paul were married on March 26, 1951 in a double ceremony with Frances’ sister, Anna, and Anna’s fiancé, William Myers, in Witherbee, New York .Thereafter, Paul encouraged Frances to start a family, so she left her teaching position at Henderson School to concentrate on being a homemaker. Frances gave birth to Mark Elliot Eastman (b. 1953), Kurt Wesley Eastman (b. 1955), Kevin Eastman (b. 1957), Lisa Jane Eastman (b. 1959), and Alma Jean Eastman (b. 1961) much to the delight of Paul. Frances stayed home with their five children while Paul and his brother, Carl, built their construction business, Eastman Corporation, in Ellisburg, New York. Paul and Carl developed a summer cottage tract, Jefferson Park, along Lake Ontario where Frances and Paul had a summer cottage or “camp”. Frances enjoyed spending time at camp with her five children where she taught them to swim, build beach fires, and roast marshmallows. Frances enjoyed having morning coffee with the neighbors, taking walks on the beach, and swimming in the lake, all of which she did well into her later years.
Unfortunately, Paul fell ill in the autumn of 1965, and passed away from cancer ten months later on July 31, 1966. Frances cared for Paul throughout his entire illness. Paul was buried in the Eastman Family Plot in Ellisburg, New York, which is also the final resting place for Frances. After Paul’s death, Frances never re-married. Instead, she raised their five children by herself while working full-time. In fact, Frances decided that her children needed the competitive environment of an urban setting to help them navigate an increasingly complex world, and to round out their journey to adulthood. Therefore, she relocated the family from Ellisburg, New York to Schenectady, New York to be near her brother, Frank. The move to Schenectady provided many educational opportunities for her children, and Frank was able to provide fatherly guidance to Mark, Kurt and Kevin.
After relocating to Schenectady, Frances continued her teaching career at Draper High School located in Rotterdam, New York in the autumn of 1968. She taught math to 8th, 9th and 10th grade students. Frances was known for being strict and having a stern demeanor as a teacher. As a result, students often referred to her as Mrs. “Beastman”(sometimes affectionately and sometimes not so affectionately). Frances completed twenty years of teaching for the State of New York in the spring of 1986, which made her eligible for her New York State Teachers’ Pension. Therefore, she decided to retire in 1986 so she could devote more time to her friends, family and personal life.
Frances did a wonderful job raising her five children. She instilled strong moral, ethical and Christian values upon them, and those same values have carried her children through their lives. Mark moved to Seattle, Washington and Slidell, Louisiana for his engineering career before finally settling in Vermont with his wife and two children. Kurt moved to Connecticut to establish his consulting business and raise his two children. Kevin moved to Liverpool, New York to practice veterinary medicine, and eventually settled in Saint Augustine, Florida after his daughter was born, and then he chose to be his daughter’s primary caregiver. Lisa moved to Burlington, Vermont where she started her family, and then moved to Austin, Texas, but eventually made her way back to Schenectady, New York after raising her two sons. Alma eventually settled in Chicago, Illinois where she and her and her husband owned a couple of restaurants and raised three children, but she returned to Schenectady, New York later in life and now lives in Tallahassee, Florida.
Frances often traveled the country by plane or automobile to visit her children and grandchildren, and sometimes her good friend and sister-in-law, Doris, would come along for the fun! Frances was extremely proud of all of her children and grandchildren, and their respective accomplishments. She never missed the opportunity to spend a birthday or holiday with her family, and to attend her grandchildren’s high school, college and graduate school graduations. Of course, Frances’ true joy was spending time with all of her children and grandchildren at camp during the summer. Frances made sure that all of her grandchildren spent time together at camp, which is why her grandchildren have remained close in their adulthood. Frances also enjoyed when her two very good friends, Barb and Terry, joined her at camp. They were the Three Musketeers!
Frances passed on to her heavenly reward for a life well lived on the evening of April 11, 2019 while being held and kissed by her sons, Mark and Kurt; and her daughter, Lisa. Frances is survived by her five children and their spouses and significant others, including Mark (Debra) of Winooski, Vermont; Kurt (JoAnne) of Brookfield, Connecticut; Kevin of Saint Augustine, Florida; Lisa (Rick) of Schenectady, New York; and Alma (Matt) of Tallahassee, Florida. Frances is also survived by her ten grandchildren, including Justin Eastman and Angela Eastman (Mark’s children); Brett Eastman and Rachel Eastman (Kurt’s children); Olivia Eastman (Kevin’s child); Adam Williams and Kyle Williams (Lisa’s children); and Molly Mueller, Jake Mueller and Blake Mueller (Alma’s children). Frances has five great grandchildren as well, including Mya Laclair, Oliver Eastman and Oscar Eastman (from grandson, Justin, and spouse, Krista), and Ryler Williams and Roane Williams (from grandson, Kyle, and spouse, Leslie). Her four siblings, including Anna Myers, Thomas Cembalski, Frank Cembalski and Mary Ann Opalski, also survive Frances. Frances was pre-deceased by her parents, Wesley and Mary Cembalski. We would be remiss if we did not mention Frances’ Godsons, David Myers of Schenectady, New York and Mitch Opalski of Arlington, Virginia, as well.
Frances Eastman was the matriarch of our family. It is difficult to imagine life without her, but in her 91 years of living she certainly prepared all of us to take flight by being just as fearless, generous and entertaining as she was. Frances loved her children and grandchildren so deeply, and we will always carry her in our hearts. We smile each time we think of our memories with her. It is an understatement to say that Frances Eastman was a special woman. She left an indelible mark upon this world.
Please celebrate Frances’ life with us on Saturday, April 27, 2019 at 11:00 a.m. at St. Paul the Apostle Church located at 2733 Albany Street, Schenectady, New York, 12304. A luncheon reception shall immediately follow at St. Paul the Apostle Church reception hall. Frances wished to rest eternally with her husband, Paul, in Ellisburg, New York, so the family is planning a burial in Ellisburg during the summer months. Friends and family members in the Ellisburg area are welcomed to attend. Details will be released at a future date. Flowers are welcome at Frances’ services or, as an alternative, please consider making a donation in Frances’ name to the American Cancer Society or Covenant House.
It is only fitting that we end The Life of Frances Theresa Eastman with a couple of phrases that Frances often used: Okie Dokie. See you later alligator.