By REBECCA WEBSTER
Recorder News Staff
She was an advocate for her students.
And she never was without a smile.
People have described her as "a sweetheart," "a friendly person," "a gem."
Many in the city of Amsterdam are mourning the loss of Karen Houlihan Golden this week, a long-time Greater Amsterdam School District teacher, a talented parent and an outgoing friend.
Golden passed away Saturday afternoon after a long battle with cancer.
"I remember when I first met her," recalled Greater Amsterdam School District Superintendent Thomas Perillo. "We were both doing the special education summer school many years ago."
Golden gave off the vibe of a flexible, versatile teacher, Perillo said, and after getting to know her there and the years following, he found that that's exactly what she was.
"She was an excellent teacher," he said. "Her students absolutely loved her at every single level that she was at and she cared very much for all of her students, as well."
Golden taught in the district for 31 years as a special education teacher, retiring earlier this year.
She was honored by Amsterdam High School students, faculty, and staff by being named the Grand Marshal of the Homecoming Parade.
Students dedicated this year's yearbook to her as well.
They remarked during pep rallies about her spirit in the school.
Amsterdam High School principal David Ziskin said he was not only lucky enough to have been colleagues with Golden, but was lucky enough to call her a friend.
"I've known her for 30 years," he said Thursday.
At school, Golden was the "ultimate champion" for her students, Ziskin recalled.
"She was their advocate, always fighting for whatever accommodations or programs she thought were the right ones for her kids ... and ensuring that the appropriate opportunities were there," he said.
She was an important part of the Amsterdam Teacher's Association, as well as the district's comprehensive education team, Ziskin added.
"She cared about her students; she cared about Amsterdam, New York, and she really loved it here and loved the people," he said.
She was the glue, Ziskin said, that held the school together around the holidays.
Many people from across the community attended Golden's wake on Thursday to pay their respects and give condolences to her family, but they were also there to remember her spirit, and a smile, that many said you just couldn't forget.
Family friend Cheryl Iannotti said her niece grew up with Golden, and the two went to Florida earlier this month for a week-long trip together.
"She was just such a sweetheart," Iannotti said. "Everybody loved her and everybody's going to miss her. She was so courageous."
Others remarked on her dedication to her kids and their friends.
"Our kids have been friends since they were little," said Lori Myers. "Karen was a very upbeat person, a lot of fun."
Filled with stories of Golden's demeanor and fervor for life were Janet and Paul Greco, who's son, Sean, grew up with Golden's son, Daniel Noonan.
"She was very giving, full of life, and had a really good heart," Janet Greco said. "She was willing to do anything for anybody. That's just the way she was, always giving 100 percent."
And that mentality followed her throughout her life, she added.
"She would try anything," Janet Greco said.
"She beat me in golf really good, I can tell you that," Paul Greco said laughing.
He recalled meeting her out on the greens and her "hammering" him at the sport.
"She was just the best."
Golden loved to travel, too, Janet Greco said, and she always came back with stories of the things she did while she was gone, like her trip to Belize where she stayed in a hotel in the heart of the jungle.
Even the community and neighborhood get-togethers that Golden held stuck out for the Grecos.
"I remember one time she had this huge lobster-fest at her house," Janet Greco said. "She got all these lobsters and all the kids were invited and we all went to her house on the back deck and she just had this huge lobster dinner for all of us.
"She did it all and she loved doing stuff like that."
Perillo said she did a lot for the community, specifically the children, but more so, she supported the community and the district in all of their endeavors.
"She's going to be someone that's going to be very, very well-missed," Perillo said.
Greco put it simply: "She was a gem, she really was."