Feb. 12, 1925 — Aug. 24, 2018
First Helen Grabowski-Osuch taught herself to sew and tailor clothing.
Then, over 40 years, she taught the rest of Western New York.
She was only 9 when her father, a Polish immigrant and molder in a foundry, died, and she had to cut short her high school education to go to work to help support her mother and younger sister. But she not only opened her own sewing school, she appeared on local television for 14 years, providing creative sewing tips and hints to viewers.
Mrs. Grabowski-Osuch died Aug. 24, 2018, in the Rosa Coplon Living Center in Getzville. She was 93.
Mrs. Grabowski-Osuch was born Helen Maciaszek, the middle daughter of Polish immigrants Francis and Veronica (Ziolo) Maciaszek of Black Rock and sister of Janina and Natalie. After her father died, her mother went to work in a factory, and Mrs. Grabowski-Osuch began to take part-time housecleaning jobs after school that were arranged by the nuns at Assumption Parish, said her daughter, Sandra Starks.
She attended Riverside High School, but had to leave before graduation to work full time in the office of Western Electric. She and a group of co-workers who called themselves the "WE Girls" met annually for lunch for more than 60 years.
Mrs. Grabowski-Osuch married Matthew Grabowski in 1947, and left Western Electric after the birth of her daughter. During her time at home, she perfected her sewing techniques and began educating herself through correspondence courses on sewing, tailoring and millinery. "She loved beautiful clothes, and she couldn't afford them, so she said, 'Well, I'm going to make them,' " her daughter said.
When her daughter went off to school, Mrs. Grabowski-Osuch got a job in the fabric department at Hengerer’s department store. When customers bought fabric, she gave them tips on sewing, and soon her talent came to the attention of staff at the Buffalo Public Schools Adult Education Department. She was asked to teach sewing in schools in the district; she later taught in other school districts and in the downtown YMCA. At home in the evenings, she made custom draperies for Hengerer’s Shop at Home Department.
In 1963, tired of driving from place to place to teach, Mrs. Grabowski-Osuch and her husband purchased a commercial building on Main and Custer streets in University Heights and she opened the Helen Grabowski Sewing School.
"Whatever she wanted to do, my father would support her," said Starks. "When they bought the building on Main Street, he said, 'Columbus took a chance, why don't we?' "
For 40 years, thousands of people — mostly women, although she taught children, too, and, once, memorably, a man — came to her school to learn how to sew.
"She made everything," said her daughter. "She made my wedding gown, she made my prom dresses, my daughter's prom dresses, she made suits for my dad. When she would make an outfit for a special occasion she would cover shoes and make a handbag of the same fabric to coordinate it. She was very stylish, and she always had the best jewelry."
In 1977, Mrs. Grabowski-Osuch was asked to give sewing hints on WKBW’s "Dialing for Dollars." That show turned into "AM Buffalo" and for 14 years, she appeared every Thursday to provide creative ideas and hints to viewers.
In 1993, when home sewing was growing in popularity, Mrs. Grabowski-Osuch told Susan Martin of The Buffalo News: "I teach all ages. People who have retired and always wanted to sew are getting into it and finding it very, very fruitful. And the satisfaction you get out of it is wonderful, too. To take a piece of fabric and start building something is really terrific."
Mrs. Grabowski-Osuch said she also taught children, including her then-6-year-old granddaughter, Devon. "I'm thrilled that young people are getting into it. They're developing a skill they will have the rest of their lives, which is great."
After retiring in June 2003, she volunteered at various nonprofit groups, including the Lancaster Opera House and Gliding Stars, and enjoyed sharing area attractions and cultural experiences with her granddaughter.
Mr. Grabowski died in 1977, and years later she reconnected with an old Black Rock boyfriend, Edward Osuch. The two married in 1995; he died in 2008.
Mrs. Grabowski-Osuch moved to an apartment in Forest Creek Independent Living on the Weinberg Campus and volunteered to do sewing alterations for staff and residents. For many years she clocked in the most volunteer hours at Weinberg and was volunteer of the year there in 2010, when she was also named volunteer of the year by the Western New York Association of Homes and Services for the Aging.
She also received a lifetime achievement award from the American Sewing Guild.
"She was the sweetest person you'd ever want to meet," said her daughter. "Everybody loved her; she had a heart of gold. She lit up a room when she walked in, because not only was she a physical beauty, she just radiated warmth and she was very loving, and had genuine care for whoever she met. I can probably name five families that call her 'Grandma.' "
Mrs. Grabowski-Osuch was a parishioner of St. Joseph's University Church in Buffalo and then Christ the King Church in Snyder, where she belonged to its knitting circle and adoration chapel.
Through the years, she belonged to the Kiwanis Club, the Polish National Alliance and the Polish Arts Club.
A Mass of Christian Burial will be celebrated at 9:30 a.m. Wednesday in Christ the King Church, 30 Lamarck Dr., Amherst on Wednesday at 9:30 a.m. Memorial contributions may be made to St. Luke's Mission Of Mercy, P.O. Box 448, Buffalo, N.Y., 14215.