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Posted on Friday, September 16, 2006

PEEKSKILL PROJECT'S 93-YEAR-OLD STAR

By Linda Lombroso

llombros@lohud.com

For 93 years, Kathryn Dziadik Lapolla has lived a quiet life in Peekskill.

Not anymore.

This weekend, a giant banner with Lapolla's face will hang from the side of her Main Street apartment building.

It marks her film debut in a documentary by conceptual artist Magda Fernandez. Part oral history, part reality show, the film takes a sentimental peek inside Lapolla's living room — and follows her throughout Peekskill — as she talks about her love affair with the city of her birth.

The 23-minute video and its companion booklet, written by Fernandez, are part of the Peekskill Project, an exhibition presented by the Hudson Valley Center for Contemporary Art. The event, curated this year by a staff of 16, will feature works by more than 100 painters, sculptors, photographers, videographers and performance artists, displayed at sites throughout the city.

For Lapolla — who will do a meet-and-greet outside Peekskill's Bruised Apple Books & Music — the abrupt shove into the spotlight is nothing short of electrifying. But Fernandez says she never could have made the film without Lapolla's careful record-keeping and eye for detail.

"In a way, she was ready for me years ago,'' says Fernandez, a Boston-based artist who learned of the Peekskill Project through curator Camilo Alvarez.

"She's been collecting her own family history so she had very organized files. She has a very sharp memory, so she can recall dates and names very readily, which is a real lifesaver in a project like this. So she made it easy for me to a certain extent. And she was very energetic. She's always raring to go.''

A conversation with Lapolla reveals a crackling energy. She talks passionately about the past — her graduation as valedictorian in Peekskill High School's class of 1930, her afternoons eating apple pie at Gov. George Pataki's mother's house — and matter-of-factly dismisses the burdens of advancing age.

She laughs off the climb to her second-story apartment, and spends every day having lunch at the senior citizens center, reading newspapers at the library or taking a walk to the hairdresser or the bank. When she's home, she sometimes doesn't get to bed until 2 a.m.

Much of her daily correspondence is produced at her "pride and joy": an IBM Selectric typewriter that she pats with affection in the film.

"I stay active,'' she says. "If all I had to do was sit in the apartment, even with the TV, I think I'd go mad.''

Lapolla looks at each day as a gift and has no patience for people who complain. A heart attack in February only set her back a few days.

"I do my own laundry now, I take my own shower and I can sure push a vacuum cleaner,'' says Lapolla, who was married for 41 years to longtime Peekskill Evening Star sports editor Ray Lapolla.

"I don't need any help and I refuse to be an invalid. I've got the reputation for being on the go all the time, and I've made a lot of nice friends here.''

Here is the Peeskill Plaza Apartments, where Lapolla moved after her house on North Division Street caught fire in 2003. But even then, as she sat in the fire chief's car watching her home being destroyed, she kept her mind on people who were less fortunate.

"Think of the people who have the earthquakes and tsunamis and wars and whatnot,'' she says. "Things could be a lot worse. We have it so good here that we should be thankful God is so good to us.''

One of the highlights of Lapolla's summer was shooting the documentary with Fernandez.

"She asked me questions, I answered them, and then it was, 'Oh, that reminds me, I've got another story,' '' she says. "We went on like that and she laughed all the time, and I can still hear her laughing.''

With so much material, Fernandez also created a two-hour video that will be available in the archives at the city's Field Library.

"I certainly learned a lot about what it meant for a woman to grow up during the Depression, what her choices were and how to survive,'' she says. "I also learned not to fear growing to 93 years old. Looking at Kathryn, she is really inspiring.''

Indeed it is Lapolla's closing words in the film that best capture her cheerful outlook.

"No matter how bad things are, it could always be worse,'' she says, staring straight at the camera.

"I'm thankful for every day I have. No complaints.''


If you go …
The Peekskill Project: Events begin at noon Sept.16 and 17; art work will be on display through Oct. 7. The exhibition will feature works at the Hudson Valley Center for Contemporary Art, the riverfront, the train station and various parks and lots. Free shuttle buses will run throughout the weekend.
“Kathyrn Dziadik Lapolla, Peekskill, NY”: The 23-minute video will be screening Saturday and Sunday at Bruised Apple Books & Music, 923 Central Ave., Peekskill. Lapolla and Fernandez will be outside the store for a meet-and-greet.
Admission: Free.
Information: Pick up free maps and programs at the HVCCA, 1701 Main St. 914-788-7166 or www.hvcca.com.

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