In the 1950s, when Alice C. Dudzick was rearing her children in the apartment over Joe's Tavern at 770 Seneca St., she radiated a natural strength and good humor "that made growing up a joy," recalls her son, playwright Tom Dudzick.
Years later, she became the model for Ellen Pazinski, the mother in his plays, "Greetings!" and the "Over the Tavern" trilogy.
"I didn't change a thing about the mother character. I just wrote her as my mom, exactly the way I saw her," Dudzick said. Just as Alice Dudzick instilled in her children "the positivism that helped us achieve the lives we wanted for ourselves," so did Mrs. Pazinski in those humorous family dramas about growing up Catholic in working-class Buffalo that have been amazingly popular with theater audiences.
Thus did Mrs. Dudzick, who died Tuesday at age 91 in Orchard Heights assisted-living facility in Orchard Park, become part of Buffalo stage history.
Born Alice DeSeyn on a farm near Canandaigua, she attended a one-room schoolhouse and after high school moved to Buffalo, where she cleaned houses while attending Bryant & Stratton Business Institute.
During World War II, she worked at Buffalo Arms, helping to make guns for the war effort. In a bar on New Year's Eve, she met a 6-foot, 11-inch former basketball player, tavern owner and politician, "Big Joe" Dudzick.
After they wed, they moved to the apartment above Big Joe's, where their five children grew up -- Carol, Paul, Joan, Michael and Tom.
"She sent us to St. Patrick's School to be schooled by the Franciscan nuns, except for Mike, who had Down syndrome and went to the Cantalician Center, where he was taught by the Felician sisters," Tom recalled. "Mom kept him living at home, though, until only a few years ago. He now lives in a group home on Amherst Street."
Though failing health forced her to move to assisted-living facilities from her St. Marys Road home several years ago, the memory of her never dimmed, he said.
"Growing up, nothing gave me greater pleasure than to make Mom laugh. It was a habit that became my life's work, and it all started with that joyous feeling right there at the kitchen table," he said. "That's why, in 'Over the Tavern,' it was important for me to have Ellen Pazinski say to her son, 'Tell me a joke, Rudy!' "
Surviving, besides her son, who lives in Nyack, are two daughters, Carol Szymanski of Cheektowaga and Joan Syhlowy of West Seneca; two sons, Paul of Mount Sinai and Michael of Buffalo; and seven grandchildren.
A Mass of Christian Burial will be offered at 9 a.m. Saturday in Fourteen Holy Helpers Catholic Church, 1345 Indian Church Road, West Seneca. Prayers will be said at 8:15 in Paul A. Kloc Blossom Chapels, 4680 Clinton St., West Seneca. Burial will be in Mount Calvary Cemetery, Cheektowaga.