Celestine Kreitzer was known as a “lovely lady.”
Kreitzer, 94, of Forked River was one of four Ocean County residents who died due to the impact of Hurricane Sandy. She was pronounced dead on Tuesday, Oct. 30 at 2:35 p.m. due to hypothermia, according to the Ocean County Prosecutor’s Office.
“She was courteous and outreaching. She was a real lady," neighbor Margaret Mukherjee said. "She sounded like a very gracious woman. In this day and age, that’s a wonderful value.”
Kreitzer was found that Tuesday afternoon by her caretaker, who had reportedly tried to convince Kreitzer to evacuate on Monday afternoon but failed as she refused.
“She died in a house she loved,” Mukherjee said.
Kreitzer’s home is currently uninhabitable after Sandy’s storm surge ripped through the structure. Neighbors said water had reached more than one-foot-and-a-half. Items from the home were placed along the curb.
Not long after Mukherjee moved into the Oakwood Drive neighborhood six years ago, she invited Kreitzer to a an open house. Kreitzer couldn’t make it because she had a conflict with a church event. She was a member of St. Pius.
“I think that typified her life. She was devoted to her church,” Mukherjee said. “I regret I didn’t get to know her more.”
As an Army wife, Kreitzer had experience traveling.
"She lived a wonderful life as an Army wife," Mukherjee said.
She was married to Leo, a colonel in the military, until his death in the late 1970s. She then relocated to her Forked River home and married Clem Kreitzer in the late 1980s.
Leo and Kreitzer were “very good people,” said Barbara Chanti, who knew Kreitzer since 1976. Chanti helped Kreitzer take care of Leo before he died.
“We were good neighbors. We traveled together,” Chanti said. The duo had traveled to London, Ontario, Washington, Atlantic City and more. “We’ve been all over. I have very good memories.”
Chanti described Kreitzer as a “private person.” Many neighbors have said she had become isolated over the years as she aged, saying she was “frail.” Chanti said Kreitzer was sick and had dementia to a degree.
“She was a lovely lady. All lady,” she said.
On the Sunday before Hurricane Sandy, police came around with a bull horn, telling residents to evacuate.
“I was leaving. As long as we had storms, she would never leave. She was stubborn that way,” Chanti said.
“Water was all throughout the house,” said Chanti, who is currently displaced due to the storm. Her and Kreitzer’s homes were the only two on the block to receive severe water damage.
“I don’t think anything was salvageable. They threw a lot of stuff out. It was a complete loss,” neighbor Pat Mahoney said of Kreitzer’s home.
Mahoney evacuated to Middletown on Sunday afternoon and returned to his Oakwood Drive home on Tuesday. When he did, there were police cars and Ocean County sheriff vehicles in front of Kreitzer’s home.
“I would’ve picked her up, put her over my shoulder and carried her out,” he said had he known that Kreitzer refused to evacuate.
Mahoney has lived in the neighborhood for eight years.
“She pretty much kept to herself. She seemed like a sweet little old lady,” he said. “It’s really sad. It’s a shame. It’s not my place to say, I’m not God, but that’s a hard way to go.”
April Rucki also knew Kreitzer for eight years. Before having children, Rucki would visit Kreitzer often and talk with her.
“She used to tell me stories about when she was younger,” she said.
Kreitzer also enjoyed cooking and would feed the children in the neighborhood, she said. She described Kreitzer as “very sweet, caring and generous.”
A van had come on Monday to transport evacuees, Rucki said.
“I was told she didn’t want to leave,” Rucki said. “If we knew, we would have gone over and gotten her to leave. We thought the van took her.”
As a customer of the Forked River Florist, Debbie Desmond knew Kreitzer for about 20 years, Desmond said.
“She was a sweetheart of a lady,” she said.
When Desmond would deliver flowers to Kreitzer’s home, she knew she had to set aside extra time to sit with her.
Kreitzer enjoyed entertaining and cooking, Desmond said. For her dinner parties, she wanted floral centerpieces. Around Christmas time, she wanted a fresh wreath.
Kreitzer prearranged her funeral, Desmond said, describing her as a “very independent woman and a lovely lady.
“She was 94 and she wasn’t leaving. She had a beautiful home. Every room had a view,” Desmond said. “If she had to go back to see her home now, I think that would have killed her.”
Kreitzer did not have children of her own but did have family that lived in Pennsylvania. Her brother did not return calls for comment.
A memorial was held for Kreitzer at St. Pius on Tuesday, Nov. 6. She will be buried at Arlington National Cemetery next to her late husband Leo.