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Friday, July 10, 2020

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Farewell Jackie Horner

Feb 10, 2020

By Joseph Abraham - co-editor

Jackie Horner speaking to a packed house at the Sullivan County Historical Society Dinner in October 2018.
LIBERTY -- If you ever met Jackie Horner, you won't ever forget it. Maybe you took one of her dance classes, listened to her captivating stories about the Borscht Belt era or were welcomed by her kind soul at one of her favorite hangouts. Those hearts are now heavy with the loss of the well-known Liberty resident, dancer and “Dirty Dancing” inspiration, who passed away Saturday morning at Orange Regional Medical Center, age 87.
Horner, whose real name was Elizabeth Goldstein, graduated high school at 16. Soon after, she earned a spot with the June Taylor Dancers, made famous by their appearances with Jackie Gleason.
She then broke into television, rubbing shoulders with the likes of Milton Berle, Elizabeth Taylor, Debbie Reynolds, Errol Flynn, Judy Garland, Dinah Shore, and of course, Jackie Gleason (who told her about his first act at Grossinger's when he was just 21).

In the early months of 1954, Horner headed to Grossinger's herself for a short series of performances. She was so popular that the Grossinger family asked her to stay, first for the summer and then for the winter. Luckily for them, she never left, remaining there until the popular resort closed in 1986.
In that span, she performed at other Borscht Belt resorts and trained a vast number of dancers. She also went on to marry fellow Grossinger's employee Lou Goldstein.
In the succeeding years, Jackie taught a mother, father and their daughter how to dance, with that little girl becoming the basis for the key character of “Baby” in “Dirty Dancing,” a movie Horner only watched once.
She also helped capture the region's history. When honored by the Sullivan County Legislature this past August, Horner said, “Honey, I've got 200 scrapbooks, 500 pictures on the walls, 300 pairs of shoes, 185 pairs of earrings and four closets. I live in a museum!"
Horner continued to dance as long as she could. Just last year, she said she could still do splits and was still teaching. “...I'm still here - just not kicking quite as high,” she said. “It's wonderful exercise!”

While her fame is undeniable, it was her presence in the local community which will be missed the most.
One of her favorite destinations was the Liberty Diner, where you'd often find her eating with friends.
“We are truly saddened by her passing,” said the Tsicalos family, who owns the Diner. “She was an icon of the Catskills and a true inspiration and amazing spirit she had. We are lucky to have known such a wonderful lady.”
Another Liberty Diner regular, Sullivan County Legislator Luis Alvarez, was once one of Horner's dance students.
“She would tell me stories about Sullivan County, Grossingers,'Dirty Dancing,'” Alvarez said. “She was someone that put Sullivan County on the map. She was someone I respected a lot and she accomplished a lot in life. She was a true friend and I'm going to miss seeing her at the diner.”
Horner also spent a lot of time at Floyd and Bobo's Bakery and Snack Palace in the Village of Liberty, and became good friends with owners Louie and Ellen Petraglia.
The two noted how Horner was an advocate for them, often telling visitors to try one of everything. They added that “Jackie had a selfless generosity about making people feel comfortable and welcome. There was never a time people felt uncomfortable around her. She had this warmth about her.”
Horner's favorite dessert was their Red Velvet cupcake. The two plan to honor her with an event involving that favorite dessert when the weather is nicer, as Jackie loved being outdoors.
Often accompanying Horner was Pam Bossert, who first met her through dance. Bossert, a line dance instructor, began teaching a class during one of Horner's dance weeks in the late ‘90s. She soon found herself taking Horner's classes, and a close friendship formed.
“She was like my second mom,” Bossert said. After Horner suffered a stroke in 2016, Bossert began to help take care of her.
What made Horner such a special dancer? “Her enthusiasm for dance and how much she loved it,” said Bossert. “And her determination to teach us to dance the right way.”
She added that if you didn't do it Horner's way, she'd persistently let you know it. “She wanted us to look professional as if we were in front of Len Goodman from ‘Dancing with the Stars.' I was honored to learn ballroom and Latin dances from her.”
As for Jackie Horner the person, Bossert said, “She would do anything for anybody that she felt she could help. It didn't matter what shape she was in, she wanted to make sure you were taken care of. She was very warm, very friendly and outgoing.”
Services will be held this Thursday, February 13 from noon to 2 p.m. at Harris Funeral Home in Liberty. A Celebration of Life will be held at 2 p.m. with a burial to follow at Laurel Hill Cemetery.

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