Gretchen Manzo had a passion for the outdoors. She mountain...

Gretchen Manzo had a passion for the outdoors. She mountain biked, hiked, canoed, sailed and rode motorcycles. Credit: Manzo family

Gretchen Manzo had many passions, many of them related to outdoor physical activity . She was a champion bicyclist; she and her husband hiked around the country; they canoed on waterways in the Adirondacks and elsewhere; they sailed; and for a time rode motorcycles until, her husband said, the couple gave it up in the interest of safety.

She was also passionate about teaching. A colleague called her a "gifted" earth science teacher at Northport High School, where she taught from 2007 until 2022, following a decadeslong career in the corporate world.

She was also a multi-instrumentalist and singer who, with her husband, Paul, held jam sessions in their Greenlawn home.

Paul Manzo, a retired science teacher himself, said of his wife of 33 years: "I know it's a common phrase, but everyone knew when Gretchen was in the room. She stood out. … She loved deep discussion, but she also loved to party."

When illness took center stage in her life — Gretchen Manzo had ALS, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also known as Lou Gehrig's disease — Paul Manzo said his wife said, " 'I don't feel like I missed out on anything.' "

Gretchen Manzo died March 19 in hospice care in an East Northport facility, after a nine-day stay. She was 59.

"We lost a great one," Janet Byler said of her friend. She called ALS "the cruelest robbery of what her life was. And yet, I have to tell you, I knew her when she was healthy and visited her as she struggled with this illness. … She had grace and love and kindness and interest. She got to a point where she could not speak and was communicating through technology. She was typing asking me how was my family. Here she was struggling with this cursed illness and asking me about my health. … When she couldn't speak, she'd smile and grin."

Byler said the Manzos weathered Gretchen's illness "with grace, courage and continuing interest in other people and how other people were."

Byler, of Huntington, who retired from her teaching position at Northport High School in 2020 — she taught biology in a classroom adjacent to Manzo's — said Manzo's students "loved her. She taught with enthusiasm. She loved her subject area. …I think that's what students picked up on. Teaching about rock formation and weather, and you're someone who knows how to climb rock faces and survive out in any of kind of weather, kids respect that."

Paul Manzo said his wife loved competition and was passionate about bicycle riding. He added, "At one point, she was, if not the fastest, one of the fastest mountain bikers on Long Island."

He said the couple also did a lot of backpacking including in the Grand Canyon, the Adirondacks and Maine. "Then we got into canoe trips," and Manzo said his wife "would always pick the most difficult one she could find."

"Gretchen always wanted to ride motorcycles. One summer we did 900 miles trail riding on motorcycles. But we sold them when we realized we wanted to live," he said, chuckling.

Her trail nickname, he added, was "Backtrack because often we'd get to a spot and she would say, 'Uh-oh, we've got to turn around and backtrack.' "

Gretchen Manzo was born in Centerport, the youngest of seven children. She was the daughter of the late William Bromley Hall, a former New York State Supreme Court judge, and the late Patricia Hall. She graduated from Harborfields High School, and attended Fordham University, where in 1987 she earned a bachelor of arts degree in media studies and political science. She went on to earn a master's of science degree in environmental and occupational safety and health from Hunter College in 1991. She later earned a master's of arts teaching degree from Stony Brook University in 2007.

Before her teaching career, Gretchen Manzo worked at Estee Lauder in Melville as a safety and hygiene engineer; Photocircuits Corp. in Glen Cove, as manager of the health and safety department; and at Honeywell in Syosset, as the business integration leader, according to her LinkedIn profile.

In addition to her husband, her survivors include a son, Shane; sisters Melissa Holober, of upstate, Ginny Peterson, of Winston Salem, North Carolina, and Patricia Zvokel, of Northport; and brothers Christopher Hall, of Mobile, Alabama, Bromley Hall, of East Northport, and Timothy Hall, of Northport; and several nieces and nephews.

A memorial service was held March 23 at Centerport United Methodist Church. Her body was cremated.

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