Honoring Bianca Nielsen Armitstead
Honoring Bianca Nielsen Armitstead: the Brooklyn UMC Home Foundation
The 20th Annual Dinner Dance and Awards Night of the Brooklyn United Methodist Church Home Foundation (talk about ink cartridge draining titles!) was held Wednesday evening, November 7th, at Russo's on the Bay in Howard Beach, a mile or so down toward the water from the Home on the other side of Linden Blvd. Three angels were honored: Ed (Edolphus) Towns, U. S. Congressman; Claudette Kearns, a food service employee at BUMCH for more than forty years, many of them as First Cook; and Bianca Nielsen Armitstead, a member of the Board of Directors.
The Honorable Mr. Towns and the admirable Claudette Kearns were duly celebrated for their service to community and Home. Vin Dowling had the honor of presenting Claudette with the very first Anne M. Dowling Award for outstanding service to the Home by a staff member. Mr. Towns' wife Gwendolyn spoke on her husband's behalf; he was in Washington doing the government's business, which, his wife noted, has significantly increased since 2006 the time Ed has had to spend in the nation's capital.
With no disrespect to either of these honorees, the purpose of this posting is to highlight the third, Bianca Armitstead, friend of Barbara and Bob Howard since their days together in Brooklyn and Vermont. So when Chris Stack, on behalf of the Dinner Dance Committee asked Bob if he would be the "presenter" for Bianca, he, Bob, the third best pinochle player in the world, readily agreed. And here is what he said:
Here’s the real scoop on Bianca. [Looking in husband Austin's direction] May I tell it, Scoop, intrepid former reporter for the Western Queens Gazette? You have the details of Bianca’s professional bio in front of you in the booklet for this Awards Night Dinner. What it does not tell you is the living reality. In truth Bianca is an Amazon, as in Amazin’ woman. Last April at the annual meeting of the BUMCH Foundation Board I watched in wonder as Bianca maneuvered Austin from a seat at the table into his mobile wheelchair. I had started to help but was stymied by the big bear of a Methodist preacher named Austin. He once took the trophy for high bowling average in the Catholic League in Jackson Heights with a 188. Which number is less than his current weight. But this slip of a woman grabbed her beloved by his arms and shoulders and leveraged him into the wheelchair as if he were a toddler. Amazing. Amazonian.
But that’s just strength of muscle. Bianca is also Amazonian in strength of will and wisdom. She is the one to whom brothers and sisters turned in crises through the years. She is the one who helped keep a couple of overly energetic (a euphemism for “wild”) teenage boys in line. She is the one who has guided a daughter through a potentially debilitating illness to a productive life. She is the one who has added years to her beloved husband’s life by the tough love and compassion which she provided him over this last decade. Amazing. Amazonian.
But the Amazon is also an Angel. Not your harp-playing on a cloud variety, the Guardian kind. Oh, yes, she does sing like a celestial chorister. Let her friends is the Grace Church Chancel Choir harmonize an “Amen.” [Which was, harmonizing, precisely what an octet or more of choir friends did at this point]. Fitting, isn’t it, that she should receive the William Kirkwood Award. Bill himself was a tenor in a church choir for more than fifty years. Bianca’s Angel status is Amazonian in that she is the one who stays around and sticks to it, in the home or Home or hospital or church, to see to it that things come out right. Without worrying about herself. I remember and marvel at her description and explanation of her work in the ER at Elmhurst Hospital when someone in need of CPR arrived. She said you just had to do what you had to do, worrying about germs be put aside; rely on your own good health to get you through. And so she would literally breathe life into the lifeless patient, however repulsive his appearance. Just as she has in these latter years breathed her life’s energy into a resurgent Brooklyn Home.
Bianca, Amazon and Angel, we love you. [And the octet sang another "Amen."]
A far more detailed and objective evaluation of Bianca's career of service was printed in the Dinner Journal. Here is what it said:
In her turn at the podium Bianca demurred, repeating what she either had taught her dear husband or she had learned from him, that it is in the ordinary deeds of the day done in cooperation with many, many other likeminded souls that good and sometimes great things are accomplished. Like Austin could have said: "Humility is her best sermon."
Bianca and Austin were surrounded this night by family and friends, many of those friends from Grace Church:
Among the friends not of Grace Church or once of Grace Church, behold the Stacks, Ed and Chris, and the Whytes, Carol and Bob. Chris Stack is a member of the BUMCH Board. Bob Whyte preceded Bianca by a few years in being honored with the William C. Kirkwood Award. Carol and Bob sang in the Grace Church Chancel Choir with Bi.
It was a glorious evening, good food, deserving honorees, a brief program, dance music, a silent auction, and lots of friends of the Home and the honorees. The icing on the cake was a generous helping of funds for the Foundation's benevolent work.