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Chatham’s Grunberg Remembered For Contributions To Art, Culture, Community

JBG Studio

WAMC board member Judy Grunberg — a popular businesswoman, arts leader and longtime Chatham resident — is being mourned following her death on August 30th.

Grunberg, 86, died from cancer at St. Peter’s Hospital in Albany. A Chatham resident since 1965, Grunberg co-owned the Blue Plate restaurant and founded the nonprofit arts center PS21 in the Columbia County town of around 4,000 in 1999.

“Judy was the most generous person I think I’ve ever met," said Debbie Lanz, the interim treasurer and a board member of PS21. “She was also the most positive and noncritical. I actually don’t know that I ever heard an unkind word from her. And she just had energy for any number of causes all at once. It was really almost impossible to keep up with her – walking, talking or acting. She was a really humble person in her way, so if a performer at PS21 needed mending of their costume, Judy was the one who grabbed the needle and thread and did it. She was very special.”

Lanz says Grunberg’s idiosyncratic approach shaped PS21 in her image.

“Judy loved dance, and August is always a month in which just dance has been presented at PS21, but it’s a range of modern dance and things that could be humorous, things you certainly wouldn’t see at other venues," she told WAMC. "And the rest of the season included music ranging from classical – every year there’s a Bach concert in memory of her late husband Paul – but there’s also a fantastic sort of Appalachian style slash modern fiddler who’s come in the last couple of years.”

An artist, Grunberg’s life was filled with music, drawing, photography, fabrics, and graphic design. An active participant in her community, she is remembered as the “first lady of Chatham” by one neighbor.

“Judy was the original benefactor, community member, friend. She showed up at events, she showed up at rallies. She brought art to the town, she brought food to the town, she just looked out for people’s welfare on so many levels and in so many ways. She’s really irreplaceable," Joanne Trapanese told WAMC. She works at the Chatham Bookstore.

“We had a rally in support of DACA about a year ago in Kinderhook, and I remember Judy standing there holding her letter because we had an aerial photo to show that we stand with Dreamers, and there was Judy, standing there with her letter as part of the saying," said Trapanese. "She was just one of the gang.”

Grunberg was also a supporter of public radio.

“I can say with some confidence that the reason we’re here is because Judy was always there for us," said Alan Chartock, president and CEO of WAMC. “And I mean always there for us. She was there for us monetarily, but much more importantly she was there in terms of being the spirt of the station. She was a wonderful, wonderful woman, and I don’t know how we’re going to do without her, to be honest with you.”

Grunberg is survived by four sons and seven grandchildren. The family offered WAMC the following statement:

"The family is still grieving.  The outpouring of support and remembrances is very touching and provides much comfort.  To us, she was just Mom, but sometimes it is good to be reminded that she was so much to so many."

While a memorial service for Grunberg is yet to be announced, PS21 says a series of performances in her honor are in the works for 2020. In lieu of flowers, the family requests that donations be made to the nonprofit in Grunberg’s honor.

Josh Landes has been WAMC's Berkshire Bureau Chief since February 2018, following stints at WBGO Newark and WFMU East Orange. A passionate advocate for Western Massachusetts, Landes was raised in Pittsfield and attended Hampshire College in Amherst, receiving his bachelor's in Ethnomusicology and Radio Production. His free time is spent with his cat Harry, experimental electronic music, and exploring the woods.
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