Harvey Ornstein, a lifelong teacher, did math in his free time. Lugging around a calculus textbook most places he went, he solved problems for fun.
As a teacher in Queens, and then Suffolk County, he helped generations of students learn math.
Ornstein, of Melville, died of natural causes April 3 at Plainview Hospital. He was 89.
Those who knew him said he was a gifted teacher and a natural with children, always ready with a clever line or a deft magic trick.
“Anyone will tell you that he had jokes … He was warm and loving and people loved him back,” said his daughter, Aileen Kirshoff, of Melville. “If you knew him, you liked him and he liked you.”
A devout Jew, Ornstein celebrated a second bar mitzvah at age 83, where he told a long rambling joke about a poorly tailored suit. Coupled with his “old Jewish accent,” he had everyone in stitches, Kirshoff said.
Born in East New York, Brooklyn, on Feb. 23, 1927, he was the first in his family to attend college. After graduating from what later became Aviation High School, he enlisted in the Army Air Forces in 1944, where he worked on airplane technical systems.
Upon returning from the war, he met his future wife, Gertrude, a childhood friend of his younger sister. After a six-month engagement, they were married in 1952.
He enrolled at New York University, graduating in 1952 after studying merchandising, business, and education. He bankrolled his education by working as a part-time usher at the Paramount Theatre, a former movie palace in Times Square where such famous musicians as Frank Sinatra once performed.
In 1956, Ornstein began teaching math and business at Andrew Jackson High School in Queens, where he taught for 30 years. He was a man devoted to his studies, also attending night classes at NYU and receiving a master’s degree in education in 1959.
At Andrew Jackson High School, he was adored by his students, and loved by his fellow teachers, said Robert Yurasits, a former colleague and longtime friend. He was the kind of teacher who never forgot a student’s name, and performed magic tricks such, as pretending to pull quarters from behind kids’ ears.
“As a person he was top notch, top shelf, as they say,” Levittown resident Yurasits, 78, said. “He was one of the rare people that could make you laugh, cry, and you walk away with a good feeling from the conversation. That was just Harvey.”
Though he left Andrew Jackson in 1986, he continued teaching math courses at Queensborough Community College in Bayside and Suffolk Community College, until a decade ago.
“Wherever we went, we were running into students, that would grab him and loved him,” Kirshoff said. “He touched thousands of lives.”
Music was one of his greatest hobbies, said his daughter Karen Ornstein, of Little Neck. As a student at NYU, he was a member of the barbershop quartet and loved music from the ’40s. Later in life, he took up guitar and trombone.
He also is survived by his wife Gertrude, daughter Laurie Avona of Kings Park ; and two grandchildren.
A service was held April 5 at I.J. Morris in Dix Hills. He was buried in Mt. Golda Cemetery in Huntington.