Longtime Schenectadian Alma Hurwitz dies at 96: Raised scientists and pursued creative and athletic interests
The Daily Gazette- December 6, 2020- Zachary Matson
Alma Hurwitz, who lived in Schenectady for 75 years, took up skiing in her 40s and ski racing in her 60s, according to her daughter, Robin Inwald. She is shown in these photos. (photos provided)
Earlier in her life, Alma Rosenbaum Hurwitz had a career plan: “I wanted to be vice president at GE,” her daughter, Robin Inwald, recalled her mother telling her.
Hurwitz, who died on Thanksgiving at age 96, might have been a generation too early to fulfill her career plan, but she lived a full life, Inwald said, raising four children — who would go on to successful scientific careers of their own — while pursuing countless academic, creative and recreational passions of her own.
Hurwitz was born July 7, 1924, and grew up in Richmond, Virginia, earning a bachelor’s degree in physics in 1945 from the University of Richmond. She moved to Schenectady for a job as a lab assistant at General Electric. After a short stint in that position, she earned her master’s degree in physics from Mount Holyoke College in Massachusetts, before returning to work at the GE Research Lab and Knolls Atomic Power Laboratory.
In 1950, a paper she wrote on phosphors won first place in a company contest. But she also watched as less qualified men scored better positions and promotions and she was shunted to support roles.
“She found to her dismay… she was basically put on the job of making calculations,” Inwald said. “GE had its women do things that were more of the background work. She was disappointed in watching the men come back from war not as qualified or credentialed, getting more money and promotions.”
While at GE she met her husband, Henry Hurwitz Jr., a renowned theoretical physicist with a long career at GE. After the couple had their first child, Inwald said, Alma Hurwitz stopped working and threw herself into raising her children and pursuing her interests.
“She was accepting it was not her fate to be vice president of General Electric. She realized it wasn’t in the cards for women those days, so she embraced being a housewife,” Inwald said of her mother. “She was not going to be able to break the glass ceiling let alone touch it in those days, but she was still able to achieve a lot and put her energy into making sure her children could have those careers.”
Inwald remembered her mom constantly taking her and her siblings to different activities, and cooking the best Betty Crocker meals. She called her a “super mom.”
“She really fully immersed herself in Schenectady life,” Inwald said. “She made sure we had every opportunity. Almost every day was filled with another activity that allowed us to explore our own talents.”
In addition to her scientific acumen, Hurwitz also pursued many creative pursuits. She wrote poetry that was shared in the community; she tap-danced, performing for WWII soldiers and later in life in local performances at Proctors. She was also an athlete: she was a swimmer, refereeing local matches, and scuba diver and sailed with her husband on Lake George, racing as often as twice a week on their 25-foot C&C sailboat.
“She was a Renaissance woman,” Inwald said.
Henry taught the older kids to ski, while Alma stayed home with the youngest. When it was the youngest’s turn to learn, Alma couldn’t abide waiting alone at home.
“She said, ‘No, that’s not going to work,’ ” Inwald said. “So she got in the car with us.”
Hurwitz, then age 40, learned to ski and took up yet another passion, picking up ski racing in her 60s. She placed third among women over age 70 in a 1998 race at Gore Mountain and continued skiing into her 80s. While on a cruise in Alaska, Hurwitz joined Inwald on a side trip to dogsled on a glacier. Hurwitz was 85.
In some ways, Hurwitz’s children, particularly her daughters, who both earned doctorates, lived out her ambitions: Inwald, the oldest, works as a police psychologist and lives in Lake George; Julia Hurwitz Coleclough, the second daughter, works as a research scientist in immunology and lives in Memphis; Wayne Hurwitz, the youngest, works as an aeronautical engineer and lives in Los Angles, and; Barry Hurwitz Dayton, Hurwitz’s stepson, was a mathematician and lives in Connecticut.
Her children reached the pinnacles of their chosen careers, and she helped them get there.
“At the same time that she was proud of it, I think she was a little wistful,” Inwald said. “She was all prepped and primed to have a full career as a mother and as a scientist…. She could have if she was born a generation later, she was too early for her time.”
Inwald said Thanksgiving was a favorite of her mom’s, and the menu was always the same. Potato and marshmallow casserole, Turkey stuffing, mushrooms with butter, beans with almonds.
“She died on her day,” Inwald said.
Her family, spread across the country like so many others, already had prepared Hurwitz’s specialties and had a chance to say goodbye remotely. Alma’s name translates to soul. Inwald said her signature poem was titled “Defining Soul.” The poem, penned under her initials, ARH, is dated to the “Early 21st Century”:
“With each soul comes celebration
And the quest for explanation
Mystery of life’s sensation
Miracle of inspiration.”
IN MEMORIAM ALMA R. HURWITZ
Alma R. Hurwitz (Age 96)
July 7, 1924 - November 26, 2020
Alma Rosenbaum Hurwitz died on November 26, 2020 of complications from bronchiectasis.
Known as “Bitsy” to the older generation and “Ma Bits” or “Grandma” to her 10 grandchildren and 12 great-grandchildren, Alma was a Schenectady resident for 75 years. After growing up in Richmond, Virginia, she graduated in 1945 from the University of Richmond with a BA in physics and a Phi Beta Kappa key for academic excellence. She then moved north for a job as a General Electric (GE) Lab Assistant at the Campbell Avenue plant in the Transmitter Division. From the fall of 1946 till June 1948, she earned her MA in Physics from Mt. Holyoke College in Massachusetts. She returned to work in GE’s Research Lab and its Atomic Power Lab, where she won first place for her 1950 paper on phosphors in GE’s Effective Presentation Course Contest.
Alma met Dr. Henry Hurwitz, Jr., a theoretical physicist who came to GE in 1946 after working for Edward Teller in Los Alamos during World War II. After marrying in 1951, Alma and Henry raised their children and enjoyed family life together until Henry’s death in 1992.
Alma was adventurous, participating in both athletic and academic endeavors. The founder of the Linton High School Swim Team, she was an avid swimmer and certified scuba diver. She officiated at age group swimming competitions throughout the region in the 1970s as a certified official for the American Athletics Union (AAU). Alma also enjoyed swimming and sailing on Lake George for decades.
Having learned to tap dance as a child, Alma performed for soldiers during World War II, and danced in local recitals at Proctors Theatre from the 1990s to 2007, through age 83. She learned to ski at age 40, and began ski racing in her 60s. In 1998, at age 74, she placed third among women in a 70+ Ski Club race at Gore Mountain. On February 5, 2003, at age 79, she won first place in the women’s 75-79 age group at Butternut Basin in Great Barrington, MA. She also continued skiing into her 80s and went dogsledding on an Alaskan glacier at age 85.
Alma was known for her poetry and often was asked to write and recite her original poems at special occasions.
Alma is survived by her brother, Robert Sol Rosenbaum (Claire Millhiser Rosenbaum), daughters, Robin Elaine Inwald (Martin Jay Levy) and Julia Lea Hurwitz Coleclough (Chris Coleclough), son Wayne Mark Hurwitz (Vikki Zane Hurwitz), and step-son Barry Hurwitz Dayton (Barbara E. Dayton).
She cherished her grandchildren: Michael Benjamin Inwald (Tanya Bogina Inwald), Danielle Leah Sarno (Asaf Jacob Sarno), Stephanie Lynn Schneider (Benjamin Martin Schneider), Elliot Goodenough (Laura Sorensen), Elizabeth Claire Coleclough (Leah Sardone), Amy Hurwitz MacDougall (Benjamin MacDougall), James Mark Hurwitz, Tammy Dayton York (Michael York), Tanya Dayton Anderson (Brian Anderson), and Bryan Hurwitz Dayton.
Alma was grateful for her time with her great-grandchildren including Emma Sophia Inwald, Maya Anna Inwald, Everest Henry Sarno, Liv Isabella Sarno, Trevor Moreno Sarno, Ayla Zola Schneider, Anna Elizabeth Sardone, Connor Horn, Cole Horn, Caiden Horn, Max Anderson, and Alex Anderson.
Alma also is survived by her loving nieces and nephews, Dee Dee Halpin (Robert Halpin), Alice Morewitz, Robin Rosenbaum Brockenbrough (Benjamin Willard Brockenbrough, III), Charles Ivan Rosenbaum (Carmella M. Picone), and Amy Lynn Roberts (Lucien W. Roberts, III).
Memorial donations may be made to Congregation Gates of Heaven (www.cgoh.org/give.html), Schenectady County Meals-on-Wheels (www.ccseniorservices.org/meals-on-wheels-program), or the charity of your choice.
To send flowers to the family or plant a tree in memory of Alma (Rosenbaum) Hurwitz, please visit our floral store.