My Mother's 98th Birthday 2-16-06

My Mother’s 98th Birthday


Richard J. Garfunkel

February 16, 2006



On one of the most beautiful days (58 degrees) one could experience in the month of February, my mother celebrated her 98th Birthday. My mother, Ethel “Peggy” Kivo Garfunkel, was born in New York City in 1908. Her father John Kivo (1884-1972) was born in Yasi, Romania, a suburb of Galatz, the second largest city in that forlorn country. The family name was Kivovici and there were cousins there who called themselves Kivowitz. Alter and Deborah Kivovici had eight children, and one of the oldest escaped impressment (the draft) into the Russian-Turkish War of 1877, by striking a Russian officer. With a price on his head he immigrated to America and New York. The Kivovicis were an old family who could trace their lineage in Romania back 700 years. It was said that they had some genetic connection to the Rabbi Akiba. They lived on a large farm that specialized in grape vineyards.


My grandfather’s brother did well for himself in America and his heirs established a well-known company that specialized in alarm systems for businesses. My grandfather John Kivo came here at age five and was actually working by age nine. As a young man he eventually met and married Leah Alexander, who was born in Troy, NY in the mid 1880’s. Leah the daughter of Abe Alexander and Sara Gittleson was a beautiful young woman who looked very much like the late Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon, who later became Queen Elizabeth, the consort of King George VI, and the mother of the present Queen.


Leah was one of the youngest of the seven children. I knew only one sibling of my four grandparents, and it was Leah’s younger sister Rose who lived her life in great comfort in Albany with her husband Carl Myers.


My mother grew up in Washington Heights with her brother Aaron, and attended George Washington High School. Aaron attended Erasmus High School and went onto LIU and NYU’s Dental School. My mother played the piano and was an artist. She was a winner of the prestigious Saint Gauden’s Medal awarded to the best of the city’s art students. She wanted to go to college, but her parent’s were opposed. Throughout the years she always regretted that she didn’t go on to higher education. Her brother Aaron, who was trained as a dentist served with distinction in combat in the European Theater as a Captain in the United States Army Infantry.  Eventually she met my father, Milton, and they were married in 1935.When my father died in May of 2005 at almost 101 years old, they had been married within two weeks of their 70th anniversary. They lived at 707 Beverly Road in Brooklyn from 1936 until 1945. My father was too old for World War II and he commuted to his business in New York City from Brooklyn in the winter and fall and from their house in Long Beach during the summer. After the war they moved to Mount Vernon, NY where I was raised and educated with my sister Kaaren. My mother told me often that because of her concern with her brother in combat, she never could sleep through the night and took up reading mysteries. When I was a youngster one could always find old yellowing Bantam and Penguin editions of Rex Stout (Nero Wolfe), Agatha Christie (Hercule Poirot), Leslie Charteris (The Saint) and Earl Stanley Gardner (Perry Mason) spread around our house at 500 East Prospect Avenue. Years later, in 1966, they moved to Palmer Avenue in Yonkers, just up the road from Sarah Lawrence College.


My mother was involved with the American Jewish Congress as a local official and loved to play bridge. She loved to dance, and my parents were great dancers, but she never was an athlete, and had not even a passing interest in sports. But when I was quite young it was her slight interest in the Yankees that made and captured me as a fan. My father was a Giant fan but he never cared who I rooted for and didn’t try to influence me in any way. He did talk about Iron Man Joe McGinnity, John McGraw, the great All-American boy Christie Mathewson, Ross Youngs, Frankie “The Fordham Flash Frisch,” Bill Terry, Mel Ott and the great screwball pitcher Carl Hubbell. When I was a youngster, his interest in baseball was re-kindled by the Giant’s success in 1951 and 1954. The great Willie Mays became a household name in the 1950’s. He always accused the Yankees of buying the pennant and never liked Casey Stengel. He must have known him quite well from his clowning playing days with the Giants and Dodgers and his futile days managing the Dodgers and the Braves. My mother loved food and created an incredibly varied cuisine nightly. The only constant was on Friday night when we had a rib roast, chicken and flanken. I never got used to flanken. But my mother loved fruit, vegetables of all types (Brussel sprouts, lima beans, wax beans, cauliflower, etc.) and experimented often with Indian, Chinese and Italian dishes. She even made veal parmigian and lasagna. She loved olives, shrimps and lobster. In the summers, in our outdoor screened-in porch, she would boil live lobsters. She inherited this love of good food from her father John Kivo, who loved to cook. In fact today she had a great calves liver dish with mushrooms, onions, and bacon.


My mother, who was a bookkeeper by training, started to manage offices in her later years and was loved and respected by her bosses. She guarded their money like it was her own! She loved to work and keep busy. She belonged to many beach and golf clubs over the decades and spent most of her leisure time playing bridge. She was almost unequalled as a card player, and when she gave up duplicate bridge in her early 90’s she had acquired hundreds of thousands of Master Points. She spent many afternoons all over Westchester playing and leading her club teams and she usually walked away as the winner. Duplicate bridge is the great test, and unlike any other card game it really shows who plays their cards the best. She was a demanding partner and through my father was also a great card player, he never equaled her skills in Bridge. Many times their games tinged with electricity. It was always a marvel to watch my mother lay down a whole hand and show where all the tricks were held.


My mother was a liberal Democrat from her earliest days. She loved Al Smith and voted and supported President Roosevelt through out his unparalleled and incredible career. I am sure that she never voted Republican in her whole lifetime. But she had high personal standards and wasn’t thrilled about Joe Kennedy and his appeasement and pro-Nazi proclivities. When it came to John Kennedy in 1960 she, like many others of her class and age group, had to be convinced that “the old man” as he was referred to, was not “pulling the strings.” Later on she hated Johnson over Vietnam and his name became “mud” in our home. But, all in all, she was a social liberal and quite tolerant of others. She saw greater opportunities with Democrats in power and I have never disagreed with her about that. She loved art and music and enjoyed strolling around museums. The walls of her home are covered with her oil paintings.


So it was fun going out, we had a terrific lunch at PJ Fogarty’s Town Tavern in Bronxville and eating there always reminds me of my short summer employment there in 1960 when I was a busboy and I used to do the long walk there from Mount Vernon.

5 thoughts on “My Mother's 98th Birthday 2-16-06

  1. Richard: my daughter just sent me a link to your piece on your mother’s 98th birthday. Her interest and mine is your lineage going back to Galatz and the Kivovici family. My paternal grandfather was a Kivovici from Galatz. His name, in English, was Samuel. He died when my father was an infant so we did not know him. He married my grandmother, Eda, in England, then emigrated to US in the early 1900’s. The name Kivovici was Kivowitz initially. My grandmother, a widowed mother of three, had the named changed to King. My Dad, Norman, grew up in Brooklyn, graduated from Erasmus HS, attended LIU until WWII took him to the Pacific. He returned as a Captain in the Army Air Corps. He married my mother and settled in Rochester to work and raise three kids. I am the oldest, about to turn 68, and live in Louisville, KY. We are Yankee fans, have four kids, and are (hold your breath) Republicans. Would love to hear from you if you get this note. Bob

    • I sent my contact info you to at your email address. I met your father in 1964 at the home of his brother Adolph King in Katonah (I believe). Adolph was running for State Senator in a heavily GOP dominated district and lost despite the incredible LBJ landslide in NY and the country. Richard J. Garfunkel

  2. My father Adolph was an attorney in Somers, NY. I’m the youngest and only survivor of three children of Adolph and Eleanor King
    ( Kivowitz ) Sadie king was my grandmother. She had three sons Norman, Adolph, and Harold. I recall the Garfunkel family name but don’t recall much of extended family history.
    Nice to meet you all.

    • Your father was the lawyer for the estate of my grandfather and I saw him or your brother again at the reading of his will, around 1972 . Your brother took over his practice and I met him once. He lived in White Plains in a townhouse on the hillside leading up Dusenberry Hill to Church Street. He was never friendly to me, he was on my email list, and we never met. I called him a few times and eventually I learned he passed away. Maybe I read it in the newspaper. His wife, told me to take his name off my email list. C’est la vie. What were the names of you siblings and their ages. Just curious? Richard

    • Garfunkel, Ethel K.

      Ethel “Peggy” Garfunkel, of Yonkers and Mount Vernon, passed away peacefully on June 8, 2006. She was born on February 16, 1908 in Manhattan to the late John Kivo and the late Leah Alexander Kivo. Her brother was the late Dr. Aaron Kivo, of Hartsdale. She was the beloved wife of the late Milton Garfunkel for 70 years, who had passed away at the age of 100 in May of 2005. Her daughter Kaaren and her husband Charles Hale of London, England survive her along with their two daughters Melissa, her husband Jim Woodman of Boston, and Amanda Hale of London. Also, her son, Richard J. Garfunkel, his wife Linda of Tarrytown, survive her along with their children Dana Garfunkel and Jon F. Garfunkel both of Boston. Peggy was a vibrant person who loved to paint, loved dancing, and was an excellent bridge player. She was a lifelong New Yorker who remained interested in public affairs all her life. There will be a gravesite service at Mount Judah Cemetery in Ridgewood, Queens on Sunday at 10 am. The family will be sitting Shiva in Tarrytown on Sunday through Tuesday after 3 pm. Donations can be made to Hospice Care of Westchester.

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