Brigitte Erika Horstmann was known by many names — Brigitte, mom, grandma, Grammy — but to many people she was known as the Frog Lady for her affinity for frog figurines.
The Riverhead resident adored all things fashion and could always be found sketching and shopping, but it was time spent with her grandchildren that mattered the most.
"Surrounded by her family made her happiest, and put a big smile on her face," said daughter Nancy Koehler of Bayport. "Everything revolved around her children and her grandchildren."
Horstmann 80, died on April 29 from COVID-19-related complications and cancer.
Born in what is now Germany, Horstmann and her then-husband emigrated to the United States as newlyweds. She was extremely talented and began her career in fashion by knitting and crocheting sweaters before working with designers and high-end retailers. Horstmann then began traveling as a flea market vendor, selling small ceramic frogs, which earned her the nickname "Frog Lady." She decided to set up shop more permanently, growing her love of fashion and business into the Frog Lady Boutique in Wading River, a clothing and accessories shop beloved by locals.
"She was always sketching designs for new sweaters that she was looking to work on," said Koehler, who managed the store with her mother. "I didn’t know how far everything extended until she had passed. So many people I’ve never met or talked to reached out to let me know what a great person she was. I’m still getting messages from people."
Horstmann was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in November of 2019 and had undergone a few rounds of chemotherapy but continued to do what she loved: work in her shop. When she wasn’t busy, Horstmann enjoyed shopping, going to the casino, and being a loving grandmother. According to her family, "nothing stopped her until the end."
"My mom was such a vivacious and fun person," said daughter, Katherine Paolillo of Lindenhurst. "She touched a lot of people’s lives and she will be greatly missed and never forgotten. It’s a loss for the world."
"She was 80 but had all the energy than somebody much younger than her," added Koehler. "My mom was such a big part of our lives She was just an overall great person and a very dedicated grandma to her grandchildren."
Speaking of grandchildren, Horstmann could always be seen at her granddaughters’ and grandsons’ concerts, plays, and extracurricular activities as their biggest fan. She even tried to instill her creativity and love of fashion into Koehler’s daughters by teaching them how to knit and crochet, a hobby they have now learned and enjoy in memory of her.
"My mom would always tell me, ‘Do not throw my yarn away! Don’t throw my things away!’" Koehler said, laughing. "She lived by the mantra ‘God is good all the time and all the time God is good.’ She said that up until the end."
In addition to her two daughters, Horstmann is survived by her son, Robert; and grandchildren Allyson, Elizabeth, Henry, Eric, and Andrew. A celebration of Horstmann’s life will be held at a later date.