Gladys Kelly Hirten might have traveled to the famous beaches of Australia and the Philippines -- but to her they never compared to the white sands of Jones Beach.
Hirten, a lifelong Long Islander and an Irish dance teacher who organized her children into a dance troupe, died of natural causes on July 28. She was 88.
Hirten was born in Brooklyn on Oct. 24, 1926, but spent her childhood in Valley Stream, where she played field hockey, softball and basketball for Valley Stream Central High School, said her daughter, Maureen Agostinacchio of Bellmore.PhotosRecent notable deaths See alsoSee more LI, U.S. obits
Hirten married Bert Hirten in 1946. The couple spent several decades in Valley Stream before moving to a home on the water in Bellmore.
There, Hirten swam every day she could in the bay behind her house, donning her swimming cap until she was 85, Agostinacchio said.
Hirten embraced her Irish heritage, learning to Irish stepdance and opening her own Irish dance studio before "Riverdance" became popular, Agostinacchio said.
She arranged for her six children to take lessons, and the kids began performing as the Hirten Family Irish Stepdancers, her daughter said.
Hirten also encouraged her children to play music, and the family often would gather to play the piano, accordion and fiddle after dinners, Agostinacchio said.
"We always had music and dancing -- that was a big thing," she said.
Hirten and her husband, an international banker, traveled the world, but Hirten felt most comfortable close to home, Agostinacchio said.
"She always loved to be home. She loved Long Island," she said. "There was something about it -- she felt she had everything at her disposal."
In addition to sports, travel and music, Hirten loved writing, her daughter said. Hirten wrote poetry before trying out songwriting, penning an ode to Long Island that was recorded in the 1990s by Long Island-based Irish singer Andy Cooney.
Cooney, of Massepequa, called Gladys Hirten "the perfect example of everything a parent should be."
"It was so important that she kept the Irish traditions alive in her household," Cooney said. "She really was a wonderful person."
In addition to Agostinacchio, Hirten is survived by five other children: Mickey Hirten of Michigan, Bob Hirten of Seaford, the Rev. Tim Hirten of Bellmore, Terry Hirten of Lindenhurst and Nancy McAtasney of Bellmore; 15 grandchildren; and seven great-grandchildren.
Her husband died in 2004.
Services were held this month at St. Barnabas the Apostle Roman Catholic Church in Bellmore, and she was buried at the Long Island National Cemetery in Farmingdale.