When Francine Kritchek got behind a cause, it was with the grit of a crusader, her family said — from the early civil rights movement; to protesting the Vietnam War; to advocating for breast cancer research, given the disease’s high rates on Long Island.
She was “a shining example to me . . . that, if you want to get what you think is right, you better get out in the streets and tell people,” said Suzi Schultz, her daughter, now living in Buffalo.
Kritchek, 94, was a co-founder of 1 in 9, The Long Island Breast Cancer Action Coalition. The longtime resident of Hicksville died April 18 at Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital in New Brunswick, New Jersey, of sepsis and respiratory failure, said her other daughter, Robin Onufrock of Ocala, Florida.
Her mother was “a powerhouse, a fireball,” Onufrock said, always “fighting . . . always asking questions.” On hospital stays, Kritchek would ask doctors, nurses and aides for whom they would vote, Onufrock said. “Let’s talk,” she would say. “I need a good political debate here.”
Diagnosed with breast cancer in 1987, Kritchek hopped to it with the same determined approach, as in, “I have breast cancer — now what are we going to do about this,” Onufrock said.
Treated in Manhattan, where she participated in a mastectomy support group, Kritchek saw the need for such help closer to home. Upon learning that a co-worker and friend, as well as other local women, also had breast cancer, she started asking, “What’s going on,” Onufrock said.
In the early 1990s, Kritchek co-founded 1 in 9, an early grass-roots advocacy group now part of Hewlett House, a community center offering resources and programs for those with all types of cancer.
Kritchek, who also served as 1 in 9’s president, ran support groups, participated in research projects and met with scientists, politicians and government officials to advocate research, her daughters said. The efforts helped spotlight the issue, with other groups forming, and led to increased research funding, Onufrock said.
In the early days, “no one was talking about it,” said Geri Barish, a founding member of 1 in 9 and now its president. She recalls the organizers’ first public meeting, discussing research, with close to 60 people showing up. In 1992 Newsday reported that a Mineola rally drew more than 200, chanting, “We want a cure,” and carrying posters saying, “Long Island numbers so high — why?”
Kritchek “had so much spunk,” said Barish, also the executive director of Hewlett House. “She was dynamic and believed in this cause so deeply. . . . We just made it happen.” Still, she said, Kritchek always reminded people that the job won’t be done until there is a cure.
Born Aug. 8, 1923, in Brooklyn to Emily Gross Rosen and Louis Rosen, Kritchek was a graduate of Abraham Lincoln High School and Brooklyn College, where she studied to be a teacher.
At her first job at a progressive nursery school in Queens, Schultz said, her mother told of teaching the young Arlo Guthrie “how to tie his shoes.”
At a dance, Kritchek met her future husband, Irwin Kritchek, with whom she corresponded after he enlisted in the Army, serving mostly in Italy during World War II. Upon his return, the couple married in 1948, moving to Hicksville in 1960, Onufrock said.
Kritchek also taught nursery school in Merrick and taught remedial reading in Amityville and Wantagh public schools. She also earned a master’s degree from Hofstra University.
Her daughters recall accompanying their parents on trips to New York City. They saw speeches, marches and performances, such as folk singer Pete Seeger and the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. speaking in front of the United Nations. “Any time there was a march against the Vietnam War, we went,” Schultz said.
Kritchek retired from teaching at age 70, continuing some of her breast cancer-related volunteering and finding more time for travel with her husband, who died in 2002, Onufrock said.
In 2006, Kritchek married Hyman Zimmerberg, who survives her, and moved to Highland Park, New Jersey.
She is also survived by four grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.
A private service was held in April in New Jersey, and Kritchek’s ashes were buried next to her first husband in Calverton National Cemetery.