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Longtime Riverhead leader Irene J. Pendzick dies at 89

Irene J. Pendzick was elected tax receiver in

Irene J. Pendzick was elected tax receiver in 1963 and spent the next 28 years at Riverhead Town Hall, including as town clerk, before retiring in 1991. Credit: The Pendzick family

Irene J. Pendzick, who worked at Riverhead Town Hall for decades and helped start the popular annual Polish Town Festival, died June 12 at Peconic Bay Medical Center following a stroke suffered in April. She was 89.

Pendzick was born on Sept. 27, 1931 in New Jersey to Anthony and Mary Damulewicz. The family moved to Northport during her childhood. In August 1949 at age 17, she married Isadore Pendzick and the couple settled on a farm in Calverton.

The couple would go on to have four children,

In the 1950s, Irene Pendzick joined a march in Washington D.C. to protest low potato prices impacting Long Island farmers. Soon after, she became involved in local politics through Riverhead’s Democratic Party, in which she remained active until her final days.

An underdog in Riverhead’s 1963 election for tax receiver, Pendzick won after conducting a door-to-door campaign. She spent the next 28 years working at Town Hall, serving as tax receiver and later, town clerk, before retiring in 1991. Pendzick also founded and served as first presiding officer for both the Suffolk County Tax Receiver’s Association and the Nassau/Suffolk Town Clerk’s Association.

Marge Acevedo, former chairwoman of Riverhead Democrats, said Pendzick was a mentor and like a mother to her when they both worked at Town Hall. Pendzick was well-respected by both Democrats and Republicans for her ability to reach across the aisle, Acevedo said.

"You work with everybody, you didn’t let your politics enter it, you were there to do a job, and that’s what Irene did," she said. "I think that was [Pendzick's] best quality,"

One of Pendzick’s daughters, Cindy Phelan, 66, of Riverhead, said that despite her mother's busy schedule, she always balanced conducting her town duties with attending scholastic and sports events for her children and eight grandchildren.

"She was amazing. The woman had endless energy. She just never seemed to stop," Phelan said. "She always balanced work and home very well. When she was home, she was mom. And when she was at work, she was Irene."

Pendzick also started and organized the Polish Town Civic Association, serving as its first president, and helped organize the first Polish Town Street Fair and Festival in 1975. Several civic association members told Newsday Pendzick was proud of her heritage and felt strongly that the Polish community be represented in Riverhead.

"Everybody adored her. She was our maven and she always will be our maven," said Karen Fleischman, the civic association’s former president, now living in Fort Myers, Florida.

Along with Phelan, Pendzick is survived by three other children: Gary Pendzick, 69; Ricky Pendzick, 68; and Lori Romanowski, 63, as well as eight grandchildren and 11 great-grandchildren. She was predeceased by her husband.

Visitation will be held from 2 to 4 p.m. and 7 to 9 p.m. Friday at the McLaughlin Heppner Funeral Home on Marcy Avenue in Riverhead. Funeral mass will be held at 10:45 a.m. Saturday at St. Isidore Roman Catholic Church in Riverhead, with interment to follow at St. Isidore Cemetery.

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