ONEONTA – Philip Wade Bresee, our cherished father, grandfather, great-grandfather, and friend, passed peacefully Tuesday, July 24, 2018, from the life he loved here to join his beloved wife, Ruthie, his parents, and his friends in eternal life.
During decades as an executive at Oneonta’s landmark Bresee Department Store, he was a leader in the city’s business community.
Phil’s long and happy life was filled with fun, adventure, friendship, and love. He was born at home in Oneonta, New York, on Oct. 29, 1924 to his loving parents Cora Wade and Clyde F. Bresee. Phil happily reaped the benefits of being the only child of indulgent parents but was never, as Ruthie sometimes fondly suggested, spoiled. He did, however, have a wonderful life from start to finish.
Smart, friendly, and kind, Phil had many lifelong friends. He loved to entertain and was the best of hosts. Even in his last days, he often asked us if we were thirsty, or needed a cookie (eating cookies — particularly ones with chocolate — was one of his favorite hobbies).
Phil attended Bugbee School, where he first laid eyes on a little girl named Ruth Walsh. Their romance didn’t blossom, however, until they both attended Oneonta High School, where they became inseparable.
Phil graduated in 1942 and entered Cornell University where he intended to major in electrical engineering. World War II interrupted that pursuit, and in March 1943, Phil enlisted in the Air Force. He was selected to be trained as a meteorologist, specifically in the newest technology: radar.
Over the next year, he attended training classes at Harvard and MIT, and eventually served as a weather officer with the 20th Air Force Division on Guam and Saipan. Phil was on duty in the 20th Air Force Flight Control Center when the Enola Gay returned to the Marianas after dropping the first atomic bomb.
Phil and Ruth were married on June 6, 1944. They were together during his weather and radar training in Boston. By all accounts, despite their knowledge that Phil would soon be overseas (or perhaps because of it), Phil and Ruth had a blast during this time, visiting jazz and night clubs and making lifelong friends.
Phil returned from the war in August 1946. Reunited with his Ruthie, they moved to Clinton, where Phil attended Hamilton College, and received a bachelors degree in math. While at Hamilton, Phil was elected to Phi Beta Kappa. Phil went on to obtain a masters degree from NYU School of Retailing in 1949. At NYU, Phil was elected to membership of Eta Mu Pi, an honorary retail fraternity.
In 1949, Phil entered the family business, Bresee’s Oneonta Department Store, where he worked until his retirement. Phil worked hard — he was at the store six days a week and on Thursday nights for decades. He served as president of the store for many years.
Phil was generous with his time and devoted to his community. He served as president of the Oneonta Chamber of Commerce, longtime president of the Chamber’s Merchants Division, director of the Oneonta Savings and Loan Association, and for many years, chairman of the United Way Major Gifts Division. Phil was named Citizen of the Year by the Chamber of Commerce in 1990. He was a member of the BPOE and the American Legion for nearly 70 years.
He was also active in the Independent Store Division of the National Retail Merchants Association, serving as its chairman in 1981-1982. In 1983, Phil was named Independent Retailer of the Year by the National Retail Merchants Association.
Phil was an avid golfer and a member of the Oneonta Country Club for over 60 years. Wednesdays in the summer were reserved for a round of golf with a longstanding foursome of good friends. He also loved boating on Otsego Lake and in Florida (where he and Ruthie spent their winters in their later years), downhill skiing, tennis, and travel. Phil and Ruth were fortunate to be able to travel the world in style, sometimes with family or friends and sometimes just the two of them.
He also had a lifelong romance with jazz. Fats Waller was his favorite musician. When Phil was only 12, he took the subway, alone, from mid-town Manhattan to the Apollo Theater in Harlem to hear him play.
Phil and Ruth raised their children Marc, Nancy, and Dianne in a home they built on College Terrace in Oneonta. In 1980, they did the exact opposite of what most empty nesters do and bought a big farmhouse in Fly Creek. They spent the next 25 years enjoying their country home, and loved to host parties for friends and family.
Ultimately, in 2004, they downsized to a smaller home in Milford that overlooked Goodyear Lake, where Phil had courted Ruthie when they were young teens. After Ruth died in 2006, Phil continued to live there until he moved to the Clara Welch Thanksgiving Home in 2013. Phil spent many happy years at Clara Welch, and his family would like to extend their sincere thanks to the entire staff, especially Laurie Blatt and John Santello.
Phil is survived by his children Marc Bresee (Elaine), Nancy Mitchell (George), and Dianne Bresee; grandchildren John Bresee (Becky), Kim Knipe (Tim), Todd Anderson (Kelly), Colin Anderson, Corinne Smith (Chad), Alie Morgen (Dave), Cary Rice (Ned), Lisa Page (Scott), Matt Mitchell (Cristine), Sarah Nickoson (C.J.), and Nicole Poole (Jim); and 23 great-grandchildren (with one more on the way).
A private burial service will be held at Glenwood Cemetery. The family is planning a private celebration of Phil’s extraordinary life in the Fall.
During his time at Clara Welch, Phil was an enthusiastic participant in all of the wonderful activities that the Clara Welch staff so thoughtfully arranged for the enjoyment of its residents. We think Phil would want any contributions made in his memory to be made to the Clara Welch Thanksgiving Home’s Activities Fund.
Arrangements are with Lewis, Hurley & Pietrobono Funeral Home, 51 Dietz St., Oneonta