Jane P. Bennett, a native of Poland who made East Hampton her home for over 70 years, died on Feb. 24 at Southampton Hospital. She was 98.
She was born Janina Pafnucka on Jan. 26, 1914, in Mlawa, Poland during a raging snowstorm, the daughter of Zygmunt Pafnucki and the former Josephine Zapalka. She spent her early years in Poland and was a top student at a girls school in Mlawa. In 1930, at the age of 15, she emigrated to the United States by herself. Her goal was higher education, but the Depression frustrated her dream.
Instead she found work as a cook for several wealthy families in Bronxville and White Plains, overcoming a lack of experience in the kitchen to become an excellent cook much in demand for her culinary skills.
Later in life, her children and grandchildren were especially fond of her all-American beef stew, apple and lemon meringue pies, and also her Polish specialties such as golumki and pierogies.
To help secure a foothold in this country, she attended English classes at night, changed her first name to Jane, and became a U.S. citizen in 1935.
Jane Pafnucka worked for the Garvey family of Cincinnati and Bronxville, N.Y., and accompanied them to their summer place in Amagansett. There she met Harvey N. Bennett Jr. whose forebears had helped settle the hamlet in the 1600s. The couple were married on June 1, 1941.
Mr. Bennett came from a long line of local farmers and fishermen. He and his wife established a vegetable and fruit farm and sold their produce at their Cedar Farm Roadside Market. The market was first located on Montauk Highway in Amagansett near where Brent’s Store is today. It was moved to Pantigo Road in East Hampton in the 1950s.
When Mr. Bennett died in 1959, Mrs. Bennett continued to manage both farm and market with the help of her four children. She moved to a house on Stratton Square in East Hampton Village after the farm was sold in 1971 and returned to cooking for various families until retiring in her 80s.
In 1972, she traveled to Europe with her daughter Alice. It was the first time she’d been to Poland since 1930 and she was devastated by the destruction that had occurred during the war. She returned to her home country again in 1993 with her daughter Josephine and was happy to see that the country was out from under the control of the former Soviet Union. She loved to travel and toured extensively in this country.
Mrs. Bennett’s family said she possessed an independent spirit and exemplified the virtues of hard work and frugality. She was a devout Catholic and attended Most Holy Trinity Church in East Hampton as well as St. Peter’s Catholic Church in Amagansett.
In her later years, Mrs. Bennett found friends in the East Hampton Senior Citizens Center on Springs Fireplace Road in East Hampton. She loved flowers and took pride in her garden that bloomed each spring and summer, and was a bird lover who kept the ones that visited her backyard well fed.
Mrs. Bennett was a regular guest on radio station WLNG’s shop and swap program.
She is survived by her children, Josephine B. Domingues of Springfield, Va., Jonathan Bennett of Moodus, Conn., and Montauk, Capt. Harvey L. Bennett of Amagansett, and Alice J. Hersh of Smithtown.
A graveside service was held at Most Holy Trinity Cemetery in East Hampton on Feb. 27. Memorial contributions were suggested for East End Hospice, 481 Westhampton Riverhead Road, Westhampton Beach 11978, and/or East Hampton Village Ambulance Association, 1 Cedar Street, East Hampton 11937, and/or Most Holy Trinity Church, 79 Buell Lane, East Hampton 11937.