Frederica Warner Honored for Centennial Year and A Life of Service to the Newburgh Community
By Michael Lebron
It was a cold, gray and blustery Sunday afternoon. Yet this weather did not keep some 150 people from bundling up in their coats and stepping out of their warm homes to the Powelton Country Club on Balmville Road for the Greater Newburgh’s Meals on Wheels celebration luncheon.
The occasion marked 45 years of dedicated service by the organization to the Newburgh area. What made so many people brave the elements for this year’s event is that it also marked the centennial birthday of MOW’s local founder and Newburgh hero Frederica Warner.
The event kicked off at 1:00PM with an invocation by Father Wayne Schmidt. As everyone took their seats, Carole McDermott, the current president, welcomed them and made her introduction to the first of many friends and colleagues who got up to pour out their accolades upon the afternoon’s star.
A descendant of freed slaves who helped organize the Underground Railroad and the early Republican Party, Frederica was born in 1917.This was the year that women attained the right to vote in NY State, and for feisty Frederica, this was no accident: “That’s right: I was thinkin’ about votin’ while I was still in the womb!”
However, Frederica drew as much or more inspiration from her religious faith as from the women’s movement. During a half hour interview, she told me about the time when a friend and colleague, Irena Barnes, invited her to join her in Buffalo and help “Church Women United” with community work that included soup kitchens, helping the disabled and other volunteer work. After several weeks of working with Church Women United, Frederica said “This is what Newburgh needs!” She returned and immediately set about organizing Newburgh women out of her own home on Roe Street, because “When you organize from your home, people see that you mean it, that you are dedicated”.
The early 70s was not the easiest time to be taking on such challenging work. The civil rights movement was still being met with suppression, its leaders having been assassinated a few short years earlier during the 60s; men were slow to accept the challenges to gender roles that the2nd Wave of the women’s movement brought on, and most importantly for the City of Newburgh, the War on Poverty ushered in poorly conceived urban renewal programs that led to the devastation of the downtown part of the city that she loved: “Don’t get me started on that so-called Urban Renewal!”
But none of this daunted Federica. If Fanny Lou Hammer famously said “You can pray until you faint, but unless you get up and try to do something, God is not going to put it in your lap”, Frederica’s response was “If you go out there and do unto others as you would want done unto you, God is going to find you the help that you need”. God must have found her that help, for out of her singular efforts, at this very difficult time and place, Federica was able to bring the Hudson Valley’s first Meals On Wheels into being.
Since then, Frederica’s numerous contributions to so many organizations in the region have helped her to touch the lives of thousands, both young and old, making her a living legend. She has served on the boards of many of these organizations, all this while still holding down her day job as a self-made businesswoman and raising her daughter Maxine with her husband of 65 years, the late Loren Warner. She has been a true role model for the women of NY State.
The evening closed with inspired gospel singing by the Bishop JB Thompson Anthem Choir. As people headed back out into what was still gray, cold and blustery weather, their hearts were warmed not by coats but by being in the company of a very special daughter of Newburgh during a special afternoon.