Toy Fund donations remember artist Alexander Tomkievicz
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NORTHAMPTON — Shirley Tomkievicz said that when her late husband, Alexander Tomkievicz, died in Haydenville on Feb. 9, she knew just how he would have wanted to be remembered.
Because of his love of children, he donated every year to the Sidney F. Smith Toy Fund, which helps families in need buy holiday gifts for their children.
“He loved the Toy Fund because he loved children,” she explained. “It made him sad that some of them lived in poverty. He knew giving them toys for Christmas wouldn’t solve the problem, but I think he loved the idea that they could get whatever present they wanted.”
Since Tomkievicz died at age 85 of heart failure, $1,250 has been donated in his memory to the Sidney F. Smith Toy Fund. Eligible families receive $40 gift certificates redeemable at participating local retailers.
One $50 donation in his memory came from faculty at Battery Park City School in New York City, where Tomkievicz’s daughter Elizabeth Tollis is an elementary science teacher.
Tollis echoed that her late father was a “softie” when it came to children.
“My dad really valued the childhood experience, I think because his own childhood was a little on the rough side,” she said. His family struggled with money and with his artistic nature, which was not seen as a gift, she said.
She said that a tough upbringing can sometimes make for a tough man, but not in his case. “He was as soft as a warm grape,” she said. “I think he really suffered over the idea that some kids got toys for Christmas and some didn’t.”
Shirley Tomkievicz said that her husband’s heart belonged to his granddaughters Velma Tollis, 20 months, and Alexandra “Sasha” Rubick, 7, who was named after him by his other daughter, Katherine Rubick.
“He wanted all children to be cared for as his granddaughters were,” said Shirley Tomkievicz, 78, who moved to New York City after her husband’s death.
Alexander Tomkiewicz worked as a commercial artist in New York until he and his wife retired to Haydenville in 1995. He spent his free time painting, drawing and — his favorite pastime — making his own greeting cards. “He’d make them for Christmas, Thanksgiving, even April Fool’s Day,” his wife recalled. “If there was a holiday, he made a card for it.”
Tollis said that as an artist, her father also admired the free-spirited nature of children. “They’re so uninhibited, and I think as an artist he struggled with his own inhibitions and being free in his art,” she said.
Though she no longer lives in the area, Shirley Tomkievicz said she plans to continue the annual family tradition of giving $100 to the Toy Fund.
Her husband would have been “delighted” to know how many children would have a better holiday because of donations in his memory, she said.
“I think he imagined all the children around the area opening toys on Christmas morning,” she said. “I think he could almost see their faces.”
The Daily Hampshire Gazette’s Sidney F. Smith Toy Fund, named after a former business manager at the Gazette, was started in 1933 to help families in need during the Depression. Today, the fund distributes certificates worth $40 to families for each child from age 1 to 14.
Eligible families must live in any Hampshire County community except Ware, or in the southern Franklin County towns of Deerfield, Sunderland, Whately, Shutesbury and Leverett.
Berkshire Children and Families, 220 Russell St., Hadley, verifies the income eligibility of families. Most families who receive assistance are referred by social service agencies. The Gazette covers all costs of the Toy Fund.
The following stores are participating this year: A2Z Science and Learning Store, Northampton; Deals & Steals, Northampton; Faces, Northampton; F.J. Rogers, Florence; JCPenney, Hadley; Mountain Goat, Northampton; The Toy Box, Amherst; Wilson’s Department Store, Greenfield and Target, Hadley.
Donations to the Toy Fund may be dropped off at or mailed to the Daily Hampshire Gazette, 115 Conz St., Northampton, 01060 or Gazette offices at 67 Main St., Easthampton, or 9 East Pleasant Street, Amherst.
Checks should be made payable to the Sidney F. Smith Toy Fund. To donate to the Toy Fund online, visit toyfund.gazettenet.com.
Rebecca Everett can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.