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Kinderhook's Ruth Piwonka, local historian, dead at 81

Aug 11, 2021 5:30 am

Columbia-Greene Media is reporting distinguished local historian Ruth Piwonka died August 2, at the age of 81. The Kinderhook resident was born Edith Ruth Johnson in Chicago. Piwonka received her undergraduate degree from DePauw University, where she was a DJ and jazz enthusiast, and her MA from Indiana University. She moved to Kinderhook in 1969, where she became an expert in local and regional history, specifically around the Dutch colonization of New York. Piwonka served as Executive Director of the Columbia County Historical Society, a consulting curator for “Dutch Colonial Arts and Material Culture,’’ and was the first Executive Director of the Columbia County Land Conservancy. She was the recipient of numerous awards and honors, most recently the 2020 Martha Washington Woman of History. At the time of her death, she was Trustee Emeritus of the Board of the Jacob Leisler Institute, a Hudson-based research and study center focused on the English colonial period in New York and New Jersey. Piwonka served as the unofficial and official historian of the town of Kinderhook for more than a generation. In that role, she led a group of residents to restore the Persons of Color Cemetery in Kinderhook's Rothermel Park in 2017. Piwonka spoke with WGXC's Rob Gelles about the project in 2020, and that interview can be found in the WGXC archives. Piwonka is survived by her two daughters and two grandchildren. Read more at HudsonValley360 [dot] com.