George Usdansky, 96, died on Wednesday, October 14, 2020 at the Masonicare Hospice in Wallingford, Connecticut after a short illness.
George was born in the Bronx, New York, on July 16, 1924. He was the son of Mildred Kazin Usdansky and Abraham Usdansky of Springfield, Massachusetts and the younger brother of Morris Usdansky (deceased), who later shortened his last name to "Dane." George grew up helping sell newspapers, produce, and candy in his father's store; playing and skating in nearby Forest Park; and honing his swimming and paddling strokes in a local Boy Scout troop, courtesy of his brother "Morrie," years before he was old enough to officially join scouting.
George graduated from Classical High School in 1942 and attended Harvard University before entering the Army in May 1943. Following basic training, George served eight months as a rifleman in Europe where he was wounded, returned to battle, and captured during combat in Germany, and held for one month in a German prisoner-of-war camp. After the war, George completed his undergraduate studies at St. John's College in Annapolis, Maryland where he loved the seminar-style classes and rigorous curriculum, ranging from formal logic to physics, and from Greek to mechanical drawing.
After graduating in 1950, George attended law school at Columbia University for four long semesters before reconciling himself to his utter lack of interest in the study of law and dropping out. Back home in Massachusetts, he spent the fall of 1952 studying psychology – his true calling – at Springfield College before enrolling in the interdisciplinary Ph.D. program in Human Development at the University of Chicago in spring 1953. George completed his coursework in psychology, education, sociology, anthropology and human development in 1956 and moved to Washington, D.C. to undertake training in clinical psychology at the National Institute of Mental Health. It was there that George met and fell in love with Blanche S. Sweet, Ph.D., a fellow child psychologist.
After completing clinical training, George began work as a school counselor with the Montgomery County Public Schools in 1960. George married Blanche in May 1961, and the couple spent several weeks the following summer at the beach in the small town of Fenwick Island, Maryland, a favorite oceanside retreat for years to come. Their daughter, Margaret Lillian Usdansky, was born in February 1964. Blanche died in June 1976 after a long battle with depression. By then, George had transitioned from school-based psychological testing to the school district's administrative headquarters in Rockville where he coordinated new curriculum development until his retirement in 1984. That same year, George received a two-year grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities to design and lead two three-week humanities summer institutes to support high school English and social studies teachers. George believed that meaningful learning occurred when teachers taught subject matter they cared about deeply and invited students to do likewise, delving into topics that captured their own interests and studying those topics in depth.
George loved the outdoors and spent many hours gardening and landscaping around the family home in Bethesda, Maryland as well as canoeing, swimming and sailing during annual summer family visits to Lower Saranac Lake in the Adirondacks. Following retirement, George moved to Connecticut to join Natalie S. Lurie, a friend from his youth. George filled the subsequent decades with reading, travel with Natalie, visits and long walks with his daughter and son-in-law, and joyous hours with his beloved grandsons – from helping build elaborate toy truck highways, to cheering on baseball games and brass musical performances, and leading countless kitchen-table discussions of politics, sports, history, school, music, food and more. George also enjoyed sailing, kayaking, gardening, and home maintenance, including, well into his eighties, work that required climbing onto the roof.
Over the last decade and a half, as physical activity grew gradually harder, George continued to swim and kayak in Long Island Sound; attend the Metropolitan Opera in HD with Natalie; and engage in lively conversation with friends and family, often while sunbathing on the deck in Bloomfield or on the patio overlooking the Sound in Branford.
George is survived by his daughter Margaret Lillian Usdansky, her husband, R. Gustav Niebuhr, their sons, Christopher George Niebuhr and Jonathan Richard Niebuhr, his sister-in-law Muriel Dane, nephew and niece Steven Dane and Susan Dane Barron and their families, Natalie S. Lurie, his partner of over 40 years, her children, Nicole, Keith and Kevin Lurie, and dear friends and neighbors in and beyond Branford and Bloomfield Connecticut.
Donations in George's memory may be made to St. John's College in Annapolis, Maryland (sjc.edu) or to the Connecticut Shoreline Greenway Trail (shorelinegreenwaytrail.org).
Published in Hartford Courant on Nov. 3, 2020.
To send flowers to the family or plant a tree in memory of George Usdansky, please visit our floral store.