Some of Jodi Pachman’s fondest memories are of her time at Riverdale Presbyterian Church Nursery School. Singing songs first thing in the morning, feeding the school guinea pigs, and finding her first bright green caterpillar.
She and siblings Jen Gartner-Soto and Keith Gartner attended the Henry Hudson Parkway nursery school when they were just toddlers back in the 1970s. When it came time for Jodi and husband Jason to find a nursery school for their own children, they didn’t have to look further than Riverdale Presbyterian Church Nursery School as the kids’ home away from home.
Last year, Jodi brought home twin brothers for Freddie, their first child. People at the nursery school were thrilled to meet Charlie and Aiden, director Lauren Mactas said. But then tragedy struck — and the sense of belonging and love that Jodi remembered from her days at the school were the one of the few things comforting the Pachman family in their darkest times of mourning.
“So we were all so thrilled, not just for our own sake, but for the family’s sake, that Jodi and Jason were expecting twins back in 2017,” Mactas said. “In early 2018, Jodi gave birth to Charlie and Aiden, and we were all thrilled. It was like we all had babies.”
The excitement was short lived. A few months later, Charlie died unexpectedly. It was a loss that afflicted not just the immediate family, but just about everyone at the nursery school, from its staff members to families. Teachers and other parents tried to help the Pachmans in any way they could.
They were small gestures, but they meant a lot to the mourning family. So much so that Jodi and Jason wanted to give something back so other children have a chance to learn and play behind the stately stone church on Henry Hudson Parkway.
On a sunny June afternoon, the Pachmans, Mactas, and members of the Riverdale Presbyterian Church Nursery School family gathered in the school’s playground to unveil a plaque dedicated to that gift: the Charlie Pachman Memorial Scholarship Fund.
The school is always excited to welcome families with multiple children because it means more kids in the program, Mactas said. Freddie, the Pachman’s first child, was already enrolled at the school, as well as Freddie’s cousin — and Jen Gartner-Soto’s son — Alex.
“The true love of the teachers, staff and families here was demonstrated to us when the worst thing that could happen, happened,” Jodi said to the gathered crowd that day.
After Charlie died, the family’s “world ended,” but the school community never let them feel alone in their grief.
“You made us meals, made lunches for us and Freddie, gave him extra attention and treats, and made his life normal when Jason and I struggled to even get out of bed,” Jodi said.
Riverdale has been Jodi’s life-long home. Commuters may see it as a pass-through to the suburbs, but for her, there is a small-town atmosphere here that’s rarely found in the city that never sleeps.
“I don’t think this feeling of community exists in many neighborhoods in New York, or many places these days,” Jodi said. “Here, I think there’s an opportunity to create the kind of relationships we’re so lucky to have. For us, Riverdale isn’t just a place that’s cheaper to live than Manhattan. We are happy and lucky to live here.”
A few months after burying their child, the Pachmans approached Mactas about starting a scholarship fund in Charlie’s memory with the money they had set aside for Charlie’s education.
The fund would provide tuition assistance to a student in need. The Pachmans hope it helps many children while enriching the nursery school’s program for years to come.
“We want Charlie to be here in some way to help give a child the opportunity to experience the happiness and growth that my child, nephew, siblings and I have had here,” Jodi said.
The gesture was one that not only surprised the nursery school, Mactas said, but honored them as well.
“We could not believe that family could be so thoughtful and so selfless in their time of mourning,” Mactas said. “We were touched.”
So how does a nursery school repay such a grand gesture? Mactas decided to dedicate the existing playground on the nursery campus in their name.
“It seemed like the most fitting place because this is where Jen, Jodi and Keith played,” Mactas said. “This is where Freddie has played. This is where Aiden will play. And this is where Charlie would have played if he was still with us.”
Before the whole crowd, Mactas revealed the plaque dedicating the Gartner Pachman Family Playground.
Although Charlie isn’t physically here anymore, Jodi believes he is “everywhere and in everything.”
“He is in the trees, clouds, the rain, the birds and the butterflies,” she said. “I feel closest to Charlie in nature, so it’s extra special that the playground where I played, of all parts of the school, has been dedicated to our family.”