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Michael E. Griest, Longtime Peekskill Teacher, Lincoln Portrayer, 77

Former mayor and history buff John Testa, left, shakes hands with former teacher, Michael E. Griest, at the Lincoln Depot Museum in Peekskill. Griest, who frequently portrayed Abe Lincoln during city events, died Tuesday at the age of 77.
Former mayor and history buff John Testa, left, shakes hands with former teacher, Michael E. Griest, at the Lincoln Depot Museum in Peekskill. Griest, who frequently portrayed Abe Lincoln during city events, died Tuesday at the age of 77. Photo Credit: Facebook

PEEKSKILL, N.Y. -- Michael E. Griest, an unforgettable Social Studies teacher famed for his portrayals of Uncle Sam and Abe Lincoln, died Tuesday at his Peekskill home. He was 77.

A native of Charlotte, Mich., he was a member of the Peekskill Presbyterian Church.

Griest was a chaplain at the Hudson Valley Hospital Center and also served with the Cortlandt Hook & Ladder Co. 1 for 45 years.

Besides teaching for 32 years at Peekskill High School, he enjoyed playing the role of Uncle Sam during the city’s Fourth of July parades and bore an uncanny resemblance to Lincoln, whom he portrayed during numerous local historical events.

The real 16th president passed through the Hudson River community twice – the first time to make a speech in 1861 when his inaugural train stopped at its railroad depot; the other when his funeral train retraced the route and paused briefly there before carrying the assassinated leader’s body on to Springfield, Ill.

Griest also was principal of the school district’s night school program.

Westchester County Legislator and former Peekskill Mayor John Testa remembered Griest in a Facebook post as a teacher who became “a colleague and friend.”

“He loved playing his role as Abraham Lincoln, and everyone, especially children, looked forward to seeing him,” Testa wrote.

“I am saddened to say that we lost him yesterday. RIP Mike. We will miss you,” Testa added.

Testa’s post drew dozens of messages of sympathy from friends and former students, including Peekskill Mayor Frank Catalina.

Catalina recalled the way Griest liked to “introduce” himself to new students.

He would hide in a closet while the class nervously waited for the teacher to arrive, Catalina wrote.

At just the right moment, Griest would pop out of the closet and make his grand entrance.

“Good personal friend and supporter of mine,” Catalina wrote, adding: “Great friend of everything Peekskill. Will be greatly missed!”

Griest is survived by his wife of 34 years, Frances (Kalata); son, Shawn; daughter, Kimberly (Mitchell) Benjamin; granddaughters Sabrina and Jennifer Benjamin and Cayenne Griest; and sisters Christine Haley, Patricia Lavengood and Peggy Aupuck.

Visiting hours will be from 4-8 p.m. Friday at the E.O. Curry Funeral Home, 313 N. James St., Peekskill. Funeral services will be at 10 a.m. Saturday at the Peekskill Presbyterian Church, 705 South St. Burial will follow in Hillside Cemetery, Oregon Road, Cortlandt Manor.

In lieu of flowers, the family is asking donations be made to the Peekskill Presbyterian Church, 705 South St., Peekskill, NY 10566.

To offer condolences or donations, please visit www.eocurryfuneralhome.com .

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