By Elizabeth Kopcienski Schwartz
Honor Gracey Kopcienski bestowed grace and kindness on every person she met throughout her 84 years. She left this world Sept. 17 at her Mount Sinai home with lifelong partner, Johnny (Alfred) Kopcienski by her side.
Honor was born July 2, 1932, to Ruth Jaynes Gracey, a much-loved Port Jefferson high school teacher, and Stuart Gracey, an internationally acclaimed singer and conductor. Honor and her sisters, Louise Hawley and Anne Hedstrom, attended the one-room schoolhouse on North Country Road in Mount Sinai. She and her childhood friend, Jane Carter, often reminisced about their wonderful early years freely roaming the woods and beaches of Miller Place.
“Honor and Johnny’s greatest gifts, and source of greatest pride, are their children, grandchildren and great-grandchild.”
— Elizabeth Kopcienski Schwartz
Later, at Port Jefferson High School, Honor met Johnny. Their courting included a contest where they kissed all the way from Patchogue to Port Jefferson in the rumble seat of a Ford Model A. One particular Friday, after high school graduation and a semester at Mannes School of Music in New York, Honor went to Tinker National Bank and withdrew $89 from Johnny’s bank account. She had him drive her to Rose Jewelers in Patchogue where she informed him that he was buying her an engagement ring. They were wed May 25, 1952, and their love produced eight children, 24 grandchildren and one great-grandchild. The values that defined Honor as a person are seen in her family: compassion, integrity and a love of music.
Honor’s devotion to music began early. At 12, she accompanied her father and his choruses. Early on she studied piano at a studio in the Old Field lighthouse. Later she participated in the Juilliard preparatory program. She was an accomplished pianist, organist and accompanist. Her passion led her to Infant Jesus R.C. Church in Port Jefferson where she and Johnny were wed, and where she served as parish organist for more than 50 years. Parishioners would often stand in the pews, marveling at her playing until the final note. Honor’s gift was an integral part of hundreds of weddings, funerals and masses. She and her musical partner and dear friend, Dolores Butera, were honored by The Port Times on behalf of Infant Jesus Choir as People of the Year for the Arts in 1991.
Honor taught and accompanied numerous children and performers, her own children and grandchildren included. She played for Manhasset Glee Club, Port Jefferson Choral Society, Southold Town Choral Society, Choral Society of Moriches, SUNY Stony Brook, and at master classes given by opera singer Eleanor Steber in her Belle Terre home. Later she was accompanist and mentor for the New Century Singers. Honor always maintained her own musical studies and in 2000 studied and passed the rigorous test to attain the prestigious Associateship of the American Guild of Organists.
Instead of retiring, Honor continued to play the organ at many local churches including Mount Sinai Congregational, Setauket’s Presbyterian with director Mark Orton, Port Jefferson’s First United Methodist and, most recently, St. Louis de Montfort R.C. Church in Sound Beach.
While busy raising children along with her musical career, Honor was also active in community service. She was instrumental in organizing Polish Fest at Infant Jesus Church, cooking kielbasa sausage side by side with Johnny; was active in supporting Port Jefferson Rotary charitable efforts including the Gift of Life; and was a contributing member of the Miller Place-Mount Sinai Historical Society.
When the new Infant Jesus Parish Center was built, Honor and Johnny donated a piano so that there would be music for all events there. They supported funding for a new piano for Earl L. Vandermeulen High School.
Honor and Johnny’s years of giving to the people and spirit of Infant Jesus Parish were recognized by the Diocese of Rockville Centre with the St. Agnes Medal of Service award. The couple were early advocates and strong supporters of Father Frank Pizzarelli in his efforts to minister to troubled youth in the community. The mission of Hope House Ministries matched Honor’s passion for personal, ongoing and daily commitment to the spirit of giving.
Honor and Johnny’s greatest gifts, and source of greatest pride, are their children, grandchildren and great-grandchild: Charlaine and Ira, Emma (Sean) and Abbie; Beth and Joseph, Kate (Dan), Caralyn (Johnny) and David; Mark and Rebecca, Andrew, Julia, Christian and Lauren; Therese and Clark, John (Shannon and baby Clark), Christen (Ryan), Mary Liz (Adam) and Luke; Ann Marie and Chip, Sergei and Daniel; John Paul and Martha, Jake and Mary Claire; Jennie and Peter, Gracey (Jamie), Peter and Annie; Matthew and Becky, Gregory, Benjamin, Margaret and Sam.
Their 24 grandchildren include five addressed as doctor, an Olympian, teachers, musicians, business people and enthusiastic students. Honor was proud of the legacy of hard work, service and compassion she instilled in her family. She will always be remembered by both her name and key trait: Honor.
Honor’s final days were blessed to end in peace, comfort and love through the assistance of the staff at Good Shepherd Hospice. Her family prefers that memorial donations be sent to Good Shepherd Hospice or the giver’s local hospice organization.
Arrangements were entrusted to Bryant Funeral Home of East Setauket. Please visit www.bryantfh.com to sign the online guestbook.
Elizabeth Kopcienski Schwartz is the daughter of Honor Gracey Kopcienski.