Irene Klementowicz

January 8, 1929January 20, 2023
Obituary of Irene Klementowicz
Irene Klementowicz was born on January 8th, 1929, in the Bronx, NY. She was the youngest child of Józef and Faustyna Nieminski (neé Baranowksa). She joined an older sister, Jean, and an older brother, Jules (Julek). Her parents were both immigrants from Poland and her first language was Polish, a language she used for the rest of her life. She graduated from Cathedral High School in 1947 and worked as a receptionist until she married Leon P. Klementowicz in 1950. She loved to share that she was called “Miss Sunshine” at her receptionist job, to which Leon would dryly remark, “You only worked there for 18 months.” Leon and Irene made their home in the Bronx, close enough to the Bronx Zoo that they could hear the lions roar at night in the summertime. They welcomed their daughters Joanne in 1951, Claudia Marie in 1955, and Monica in 1957. In 1958, they purchased an established Funeral Business in Greenpoint Brooklyn, the John Smolenski Funeral Home, and moved their little family to live over the funeral home. In 1959, they welcomed the baby of the family, and the only boy, Paul Leon. Leon always said “It was the Brooklyn air” that broke the streak of daughters. Leon and Irene immersed themselves in the life of the Greenpoint Community and the Parish life of SS. Cyril & Methodius RC Church. All four of their children attended Parochial School there. Leon was a Trustee of the Church, as well as an usher at Sunday Mass., Irene became active in the St. Anne’s Society, a group that revolved around mothers, since St. Anne was the mother of Mary, The Blessed Mother, to Whom Irene had a special devotion. It was while living in Greenpoint that Irene began what would become her life’s passion: actively fighting for a clean environment for the community. She began her activism while doing the mundane task of a young mother in the 1960’s: hanging clothes on the line. She noticed the clothes were sprinkled with a black soot as finely grained as sugar. She also began noticing the amount of soot that was being deposited on her windows every day, a result of the Greenpoint incinerator that opened the same year she and her family moved to Greenpoint. She also could not help but notice the odors emanating from a chemical company across the street from her children's school, SS. Cyril & Methodius. She realized that these odors could contain chemicals that could harm all the children who attended the parochial school as well as P.S. 31 right next door. She sprang into action and the chemical company was forced to place anti-pollution controls on the exhaust stacks located on its roof. She started on the Greenpoint Incinerator next. It was here that her steadfast commitment and relentless determination and perseverance were really tested, since the battle was waged 35 long years until the Incinerator was finally closed in 1994. The City Club of New York honored Irene and her group, The Concerned Citizens of Greenpoint, for this feat. While raising her family and helping Leon with the Funeral Home, Irene, along with a small, hard core group of like-minded individuals, continued to pursue the interests of the Community, despite roadblocks in their way by big business and City, State and Federal bureaucracies. Zoning was changed to limit the types of heavy industries that were planned for development right alongside residential neighborhoods. Mobil Oil was forced to accept responsibility for an estimated 17 million gallon oil spill that happened in the 1940s and began the long, arduous and expensive process of cleaning it up. Time and time again, the Newtown Creek Pollution Control Plant was forced to re-examine plans to change the plant that may have a negative impact on the Community. They've been forced to change designs, and among the many benefits to the Greenpoint Community was that these changes in design brought, was the eventual removal of a local sludge tank. Her activism has not gone unnoticed: • In 1983 she was named “Citizen of the Year” by the Newspaper “Polish American World” • In 1998, the Pulaski Association of Business and Professional Men, Inc. named her their “Woman of the Year” • On April 18, 1998, she was featured in New York Times article in the Metro Section (with her photo) titled, “Garbage In ... and In … and In” subtitled “Greenpoint Residents Unite to Fight Influx of Trash”. The article chronicled the fight to prevent more garbage transfer stations being located in Greenpoint after the then planned closing of the Staten Island Fresh Kills Landfill in 2001. Greenpoint already contained the highest number of garbage transfer stations in the entire city. There were so many of these garbage transfer stations that a familiar cry from Leon and Irene’s children when crossing a bridge into Greenpoint after a visit to family in the Bronx, was “I smell Greenpoint!”. • In 2001, the then Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Christie Whitman presented 12 awards to New Yorkers for their contributions to a better environment and the protection of human health in the year 2000. One of those awards went to Irene. The Winners of the 2000 Environmental Quality Award in New York State are: INDIVIDUAL CITIZEN Irene Klementowicz Brooklyn, New York In her role as President of the Concerned Citizens of Greenpoint, Irene Klementowicz has worked tirelessly to improve the environment of her Greenpoint community. Among the projects to which she has dedicated herself and her organization are shutting down the Greenpoint incinerator, advocating the upgrade to secondary treatment of the Newtown Water Pollution Control Plant, monitoring the consent order requiring Mobil Oil Company to pump out millions of gallons of petroleum contaminating the aquifer under Newtown Creek, increasing local access to the community’s waterfront and the pursuit of environmental justice for residents in the Greenpoint neighborhood. Her life personifies the commitment of dedicated environmentalists to "Think globally, act locally." • She was also lauded as being an active member of the Newtown Creek Monitoring Committee (NCMC). NCMC is a committee of volunteers from the Greenpoint community of Brooklyn established in 1996 pursuant to a City Council resolution allowing the City to acquire property required for the upgrade of Newtown Creek WWTP. NCMC members are appointed by the local City Council member, the Brooklyn Borough President and Brooklyn Community Board #1. NCMC is one of the longest standing citizen oversight committees in New York City. In 2005 she received an award from Riverkeeper (Robert F. Kennedy's Environmental Organization): "In Honor of Her Pioneering Grassroots Leadership in Greenpoint, Brooklyn" A quote from a 2013 article about her related to her activity on NCMC read: Irene Klementowicz is a citizen activist hero in Greenpoint, a legend in the environmental community who has been fighting the “powers that be” since before I was born. I’ve seen her disassemble representatives of City Hall with just an icy stare, and you never ever want to find yourself on the opposite side of her in an argument or attempt to get something past her. The Nature Walk happened, in no small part, because of Irene. • One of her greatest honors was being acknowledged and entered into the Congressional record by representative Carolyn B. Maloney: “Mr. Speaker, I rise today to pay tribute to Irene Klementowicz, a resident of my district who has fought hard to protect the environmental health of her community. Ms. Klementowicz has actively worked to improve her community since she first arrived in Greenpoint. Among her many activities, she helped ensure that a local factory started implementing pollution controls. This was especially important since it was situated directly across from two schools. This early activism led to an appointment to Community Board 1, where she continues to champion the health and safety of her district. Among her accomplishments, she can be credited with a hard-fought and successful campaign to shut down the Greenpoint incinerator, long a source of pollution and nuisance.” In addition to her environmental activism, she was an active parishioner of SS. Cyril & Methodius Parish. She was also extremely proud of her Polish heritage and instilled that pride in each of her four children. Every year she either marched or observed the annual Pulaski Day Parade. The first Sunday in October, proud Poles march UP 5th Avenue. In the year 2000, Irene was honored to be selected as the Marshal from Greenpoint. She was also always very active in the Marie Sklodowska Curie Professional Women's Association. Its President, Maria Bielski, noted how helpful and supportive Irene had always been of this group. Another project dear to her heart was an establishment of the Monitor Museum. The Monitor was the first ironclad ship commissioned by the US Navy and was used in the Civil War. It and was built in Greenpoint, hence the connection to Greenpoint. Irene Klementowicz was a force of nature, who liked to tell one and all that she was “a colorful women”, exhibited by her love for clothes, shoes, pocket books, and jewelry. She made her weekly visits to the local “beauty-parlor”, and was known to use the secret tried-and-true method of maintaining that fresh beauty-parlor hairdo by wrapping her hair in toilet paper before retiring for the night. It was a sight to behold One of her favorite sayings after emerging from a shower was that she was “clean, like a lily.” We still don’t know what that means. Sadly, the last several years of her life were taken over by the dementia of Alzheimer’s. It was difficult seeing the effect of the disease on that feisty woman. She will be greatly missed by her loving children: Joanne Laszczych and her husband Raymond, of Greenpoint Brooklyn Claudia McGuinness and her husband Patrick, of Brewster, NY Monica Klementowicz Tillot and her husband Lamont of North Salem, NY And especially by her son Paul, of Greenpoint, Brooklyn, who devoted many years of his life to her care as her Alzheimer’s progressed. She was the proud grandmother known as Babci, or “The Big Bopper” to: Amanda Gonzalez and her husband Joseph, of Aberdeen, NJ Jeffrey Laszczych and his wife, MandaLeigh, of Fountain Hills, AZ Benjamin Laszczych, of Greenpoint Brooklyn and Molly McGuinness, of Brewster, NY She was blessed to be Great-Grandmother to: Liam and Grady Steiner of Aberdeen, NJ And brand-new baby, Henry Wade Laszczych of Fountain Hills, AZ She is also survived by her nieces and nephews who called her “Cioci ‘Rene”: Elizabeth Murawski Robert Witkowski and his wife Joan Christine Delaney Stephen Klementowicz and his wife Vickie Steven Nieminski Susan Nieminski Many of these nieces and nephew also made her a great-aunt and a great-GREAT-Aunt. May the Angels lead her into Paradise.

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