Carol Hrbek was “always a presence” in the Elmont community, Sewanhaka High School Parent Teacher Association President Judy Staiano said, serving as the organization’s vice president and as a member of the Interschool Council of Parent Teacher Associations. Hrbek was a former president of the Covert Avenue School PTA, and was a teacher’s aide for special-needs students at Elmont Memorial High School until she was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in January.
After six months of battling the disease, Carol died in her sleep on June 30, at age 55.
“Her life was cut too short,” neighbor Diane Schenidmuller said, adding that her loss “is a void we won’t be able to fill.”
Carol Ann Lester was born in Manhattan on Christmas Eve 1964, and met Frank Hrbek Jr. at Woodmere Lanes’ Back Stage Restaurant in December 1988, when she went bowling with her friends and one of her sisters. Hrbek asked her to marry him on her 25th birthday, and they were married on Sept. 7, 1991.
For the first 10 years of their marriage, Frank said, they had no children of their own, so they would take Carol’s nieces and nephew to water parks and her niece Nikkole Atille to nail salons.
“She was an amazing woman,” Atille said, recalling that she would beg her parents to let her stay with the Hrbeks on weekends. “I just loved spending as much time with her as possible.”
Carol and Frank had their first child, Samantha, 18 years ago, and their son, Nick, three years later. The children grew up in Elmont, and the Hrbeks and the Schenidmullers would go on road trips and spend the children’s February breaks at the Hrbeks’ second home in Pennsylvania, where Diane Schenidmuller taught them how to ski.
Carol would also “spend time sitting in her backyard talking about anything from A to Z,” another neighbor, Brenda Ordonaz, said, describing Carol as very easy to talk to.
“She was a gem to the community,” Ordonaz said, “and a gem to her friends.”
The Hrbeks were always there when their friends needed them, they said. Staiano recounted how the couple took care of her children when she was dealing with the loss of her sister, and another friend, Maria Testaverde-Mellen, previously told the Herald how Frank — who serves in the Elmont Fire Department — was the first person she called when her mother accidentally left her car in neutral and it ran over her ankles.
“They’ll take their shirts off their backs,” Testaverde-Mellen said of the Hrbeks. “You want to help good people.”
She set up an online fundraiser to help the family pay for Carol’s medical and funeral expenses on June 18, noting that if she raised enough money, the Hrbeks two teenagers wouldn’t have to face “any more turmoil in their lives.”
As of July 2, the GoFundMe page had raised over $35,000.
“It’s outrageous how people and good friends can come together,” Frank said of fundraiser, describing his wife as a caring person who would “do anything for anybody.”
As a longtime member of the PTAs, Carol ensured that every student was able to participate in school activities, Testaverde-Mellen said, and Staiano added that she treated the children in the Elmont and Sewanhaka districts as if they were her own. One year when both their children were students at Covert Avenue, she said, the students didn’t have T-shirts for Field Day, but somehow Carol managed to procure some.
“I don’t know how she did it,” Staiano said, emphasizing that Carol always “had the energy and the drive” to help out.
She would just go up to people to ask for donations, Staiano said, and persuaded local business owners to participate in Covert’s holiday boutique. As her vice president on the Sewanhaka PTSA, Staiano said, “I didn’t have to worry that [a project] wouldn’t get done. I knew if she was on it, it was always going to be done correctly.”
When Staiano brought her chicken nuggets a few hours before she died, the last thing Carol said to her was, “I love you.”
Visitation was held at the Elmont Funeral Home on July 5 and 6, and the funeral was held on July 7 at St. Charles cemetery in Farmingdale.
To contribute to Testaverde-Mellen’s fundraiser for the family, go to www.gofundme.com/f/hrbeck-family.