Martha Stewart and “Big Martha.” File photoMartha Kostyra, the mother of Martha Stewart who lived in her daughter’s Westport home for a time and frequently visited the Westport Weston Family Y for aquatic exercise classes, died Friday in Norwalk Hospital. She was 93.
Kostyra, a Weston resident since 1986, was often credited by her daughter with teaching her everything she knew about cooking and housekeeping.
The Polish family recipes of “Big Martha,” as she was affectionately called, despite her diminutive stature, were the earliest inspiration for the woman who would turn a small Westport catering operation into an international business empire.
Stewart broke the news of her mother’s death on her Web site blog, asking fans to post memories.
“Please feel free to reflect on her amazing life,” wrote Stewart, who said she was “very sad.”
Kostyra’s death came eight days after a visibly shaken Stewart announced on her live TV show that her mother, a former schoolteacher who raised six children in Nutley, N.J., had suffered a small stroke and was hospitalized.
An obituary sent to local media noted that “when not spending time with her family, she enjoyed helping friends with little errands around town.” Stewart said on her TV show that her mother drove her Volvo as the “designated driver” for friends unable to drive.
The obituary said Kostyra was active in the Weston Senior’#8217;s Book Club and the Westport Y, “where she was a regular swimmer in the aquatic exercise class.”
Martha Stewart and her mom in the TV studio. Martha Stewart Living Television file photo
Kostyra stoically stood by Stewart during her six-week insider-trading trial in 2004, even traveling to West Virginia to visit her in prison.
While Stewart was in prison, Kostyra lived in Stewart’s Westport home on Turkey Hill Road South. Stewart sold the home in June after earlier moving to Bedford, N.Y. (See WestportNow June 15, 2007)
Martha Ruszkowski was born Sept. 16, 1914, in Buffalo, N.Y. She married Edward Kostyra, and together they raised six children in a middle-class Catholic household in suburban Nutley, N.J.
Both were teachers, although Kostyra’s husband later became a pharmaceuticals salesman.
Stewart acknowledged her mother’s influence throughout her lavish books and magazine articles and featured Kostyra on her television program dozens of times.
She would often knead dough side by side with her at a kitchen counter or have her demonstrate a sewing technique.
In addition to Stewart, Kostyra is survived by five other children: Laura Plimpton of Weston; Dr. Eric Scott of Williamsville, N.Y., Frank Kostyra of Fairhope, Ala., Kathryn Evans of Old Greenwich, and George Christiansen of Fairfield; 13 grandchildren; a great-grandchild; a brother, Alexander Russ; and a sister, Clementine Carriere.
A Mass of Christian Burial will be celebrated Tuesday at 10 a.m. in St. Francis of Assisi Church, 35 Norfield Road, Weston. Internment will follow in New Jersey.
Memorial contributions may be sent to either The Norwalk Hospital Foundation, Maple Street, Norwalk, CT 06856, or Vistas Innovative Hospice Care-Charitable Fund, 777 Commerce Drive, Fairfield, CT 06825