Suye Narita

  • Jeannine Woutersz - Town Historian

Picture: Suye Narita (Gambino) is shown with her dog on Mount McGregor. She came to the mountain at age 13 to receive treatment for her illness and stayed for the rest of her life.

The old saying “Truth is stranger than fiction” is the reason that I choose to read only biographies. My personal choice of a fascinating life story has yet to be written.

Suye (C A) Narita came to America from Japan at the age of six with her father, three sisters and one brother. Her mother had died in Japan. Dr. Adeline Kelsey, a physician in charge of a Japanese rescue home, assisted them. They stayed at Dr. Kelsey’s farm in West Camden, New York and worked for their keep. Suye became ill with tuberculosis in 1914. Dr. Kelsey sent her to live at Mount McGregor with Adeline’s sister, Martha and her husband Oliver Clark who were the first caretakers of Grant Cottage. Suye had excellent care for her illness by Dr. Howk, the physician in charge of the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company Sanatorium and recovered completely. She stayed on to help Mr. and Mrs. Clark as Mr. Clark was quite ill as a result of his time as a prisoner of the Confederate Andersonville stockade during the Civil War.

Oliver Clark died in 1917 and Mrs. Clark continued as caretaker. Suye enjoyed her life on the mountain and worked as the librarian at the Sanatorium. She was the co-editor of the newspaper “The Metropolitan Optimist” for several years.

Mrs. Clark died in 1941 and Suye was allowed to stay on as caretaker, even though during World War II Japan was our enemy and Suye was still a Japanese citizen. She was restricted to the mountain and her radio was confiscated for one year. She was comparatively lucky, as her sister’s family went to a concentration camp in Arizona for the duration of the war.

After World War II Suye became the first Japanese Naturalized Citizen of New York under the new immigration law of December 1952.

The Metropolitan Life Sanatorium closed in 1945 but the New York State Veteran’s Administration opened a Rehabilitation Camp soon after and Suye became the Chapel organist and all around volunteer. In 1950 she married Anthony “Tony” Gambino, who came to the Rest camp for “Rehab” after the war. Suye was very involved with her church during this time, The New England Presbyterian church on Broadway in Saratoga Springs. She was a member of the group that planned there placement church on Park Place, after the disastrous fire downtown. She was elder, organist and she taught Sunday school at the church. She later joined the Methodist Gurn Spring Church, where her music accompanied many wedding ceremonies. She continued on with volunteer work after the transition in 1960 from N.Y. State Veteran’s Camp to the Rome State School Annex for the Developmentally Disabled. Then again in 1976 she continued with the Mt. McGregor Correctional Facility. She was an active member of the Community Advisory Board for Corrections and did volunteer Bible Studies.

Suye retired at age 70, but continued on as a volunteer caretaker with the help of her husband, Tony, until her death of throat cancer in 1984. It is to be noted that: U.S. Grant died at the Cottage almost a hundred years before of throat cancer, in 1885.

Suye revealed her true Christian spirit when she presented a program at the Wilton Heritage Society about her life on the “Mountain”. She was a long time member, and she concluded, “I have always said that TB (or the Bugs-I always say- “My Bugs) was a Blessing God gave me – I have always loved it on the mountain, - Every stick, stone, animals, birds and every person”.

I’m sure I still feel her spirit at the cottage.