Sunday, May 10, 2015

A bio I wrote about my mom back in 2005

I didn't put this up on the Internet before, because I don't think my uncle would like it, so please don't show it to him.

Eleanor (“Hephy”) F. Barschall was born September 2, 1921, the third of four children in the home of  her great grandmother, Phoebe Folsom.  Phoebe’s home was located in Llewellyn Park, in West Orange, NJ. Llewellyn Park was a gated community that was also home to Thomas Alva Edison.

Hephy’s grandmother, Carolyn Saltus Folsom, was a descendant of Amasa Wright, who originally subdivided the Chicago loop, paving the way for it to be developed.  This grandmother died at age 28, so Hephy’s father, Henry Lloyd Folsom, was raised by his maiden aunt, Eleanor, who became Hephy’s namesake.

Eventually the junior Folsom family moved into their own home. Hephy’s childhood was notable because she very nearly died of celiac disease.  She was one of a handful of children who first profited from the discovery of the cure, which involved a diet of bananas, thus eliminating gluten, which the sufferer is sensitive to.  During Hephy’s illness, the fearsome Phoebe declared “I don’t want that dying baby in my house.”  While Hephy recovered from the celiac, she did suffer from a sensitive stomach all of her life.

Hephy attended Miss Beard’s School, now called Morristown-Beard.  It was then a small, tightly knit girls’ k-12 school, which her sisters also attended.  When Hephy was 77, and attending her sister’s memorial service, her nephew, Thomas Saunders, showed her a photo of her sister Charlotte’s Beard graduating class.  Hephy was still able to recite every member of her sister’s class by first, middle, and last name.

Hephy went to Mt. Holyoke College and graduated Phi Beta Kappa, majoring in economics.  She was also selected May Queen in her senior year because of her startling beauty.  Hephy also got a master’s degree in education from NYU, her first co-ed educational experience.

For a time, she worked in the family business, a sporting goods company, Folsom Arms. [I later learned that the gun that killed JFK originated in the successor to this company]  

Hephy had the inspiration to broaden the hunting focus of the business to skiing equipment.  Sadly, her father refused to allow the change, because he had tried that during the Depression and failed.  This decision may have prevented the business from becoming another L.L. Bean.  After a while, Hephy was replaced by her younger brother, the male heir.  Ultimately, the business failed, possibly doomed by sexism.  While she did not keep up her hunting, in her home, she proudly displayed the grizzly bear rug that was her best hunting trophy from her high school hunting days, until it began to fall apart.

During WWII, Hephy worked in coding at General Electric.  That job ended after the war, because, naturally, the jobs had to be given back to men.  Hephy retained a lifelong love of word puzzles, such as crosswords, scrambles and the decoding games in the newspaper.

Hephy became a teacher.  Hephy was proud that one of her first teaching assignments was in a racially integrated school in Montclair, NJ.  Hephy later told the anecdote that her African American pupils had been instructed by their parents not to sing songs by the celebrated, racist songwriter, Stephen Foster.  Hephy apparently still had the class sing “Old Black Joe,” one of his songs, and the African American pupils very much enjoyed the naughtiness of singing a song that their parents did not want them to sing along with their white teacher and fellow students.

In 1949, Hephy decided to go on an adventure in what was then still the Wild West.  She took a teaching position in Los Alamos, NM, where she taught the children of the brilliant physicists who had worked developing the world’s first nuclear weapons.  There, at a square dance, she met her future husband, Henry “Heinz” Barschall, one of those physicists.  In Los Alamos, she developed a lifelong passion for craft items made by the native peoples of the Southwest.

She eventually married Heinz in 1955.  By that time she had officially become an old maid, her father having declared that any woman who was not married by age 30 was either ugly or stupid.  Hephy was neither, but marrying Heinz was a bold move.  Heinz’s ancestry was Jewish -- though he had been raised Lutheran -- and he had come to this country as a refugee from the Holocaust.  Hephy’s father was deeply anti-Semitic.  The premature death of Hephy’s father – a heavy smoker – in 1954 at age 66 made the decision to marry Heinz easier.

Hephy moved to Madison, WI in 1955 to live with her new husband, who was now a professor at the University of Wisconsin.  Heinz did not like the name “Hephy,” which came from the Hephalumpf in Winnie the Pooh, so Hephy became Eleanor in Madison.

Eleanor had two children, Anne in 1956 and Peter in 1958.  Eleanor found the move from Los Alamos, the loss of her career, and caring for toddlers traumatic.  She suffered from severe depression for years.  In her family, children under age 4 had been given to Irish nannies to be raised. Cooking and cleaning were done by servants.  Her mother never learned to boil an egg until age 45.  Eleanor wanted to do these things herself, with her own hands, but she found tasks that might have seemed simple to other women very stressful.

Eleanor took comfort in her music.  She was a gifted classical pianist, delighting in playing all the most complex 18th and 19th century pieces on her baby grand piano.  Eleanor also had a fabulous lyric soprano voice.  She was a devoted participant in the church choir at St. Andrew’s church and in the Madison Symphony Chorus for at least 30 years.  Heinz was interested in music too, even though he could not carry a tune.  They used to take a bus into Chicago to hear the opera.  They did this even in advanced age, despite not getting home until 3 a.m.

Once her children were in school, Eleanor devoted herself to volunteer work. She felt it would be wrong for her to take a paying job away from someone who needed the money, when Heinz was making enough as a professor to support the family.   She knew how to live frugally.  She used the same Christmas decorations for 40 years.  She saved and reused wrapping paper and plastic bags.  

She loved the League of Women voters, which built on the feminist traditions she had learned at Mt. Holyoke.  Eventually she became vice president of the League for Dane County.

She also enjoyed lobbying government on issues that concerned her.  One of these was nuclear power.  Unlike so many other activists in this area, she believed fervently in this technology, because the fuel was plentiful and renewable, and because there was no smoke to pollute the air.  She was convinced that the nuclear waste issues were manageable.  She may have been influenced in her passion for this issue, because Heinz was a physicist.  She may also have been influenced by another of her lifelong passions.

From the earliest age, she loved hiking in the White Mountains of New Hampshire.  Her family was very outdoorsy, with her father being a hunter and her mother being a hiker.  The areas above tree line in New Hampshire were always chilly, even in summer, and were therefore a popular destination before the days of air conditioning.  The tallest mountain, Mt. Washington, has an old, coal fired locomotive that still carries tourists up and down.  Eleanor could not understand why so many people wanted to use that old thing, belching black smoke into the air, when one could get to the top on foot.  Also, the eastern mountains continue to suffer miserably from acid rain and other pollution caused by smoke from Midwestern power plants burning fossil fuels, which might have been replaced by nuclear power.

Her interest in the outdoors and the environment also made her an avid bicyclist in Madison.  She took a volunteer position on the ped/bike committee for the city of Madison.  She was elected chair of that committee, which put her on the Transportation Commission of the city, still as a volunteer.  She loved participating in the planning of the pedestrian and bicycle paths that now grace the city.

After Anne and Peter moved out, Heinz and Eleanor launched on an impressive travel program.  They visited a tropical beach location every winter, between academic semesters.  Every summer, they chose some other destination including Peru (their favorite), the Middle East, the rainforest of Venezuela, New Zealand, the Jasper National Park in Canada, Africa, Switzerland, France, Italy, Alaska, and so forth.  Eleanor also visited New Hampshire to go hiking every summer.

In old age, after Heinz’s death, she suffered from Alzheimer’s Disease, stenosis of the spine, and deteriorating vision.  She was cared for in her home by a staff that gave her the best care that has ever been seen on this planet.  Her caregivers included Pat _____, Jennifer Scott, Connie Golden, Chris Ruppelt, Sharon Flanagan, Sherry Schoer, Chris Stuesser, Wendy Hutton, Sharon Huggins, Janet Bauer, Cindy McCallum, Barb Carrick, Ginny Wickman, Jackie Luyet, Barb Lanser, Kelly Leatherbury, Elena Ehlert, Amy Magnussen, Jane Wright, and Roxane Dachman along with a number of others.  For nine years, these dedicated women turned what might have been a depressing situation into a happy and fulfilling home life, where Eleanor continued to go to the opera, the symphony, the Arboretum, Olbricht Gardens, Eldercare, restaurants, the Dances of Peace, the farmer’s market, and innumerable other outings.  Her family would like to extend a special thanks to this staff for their outstanding and creative service, always punctuated by love, empathy, and good humor.  Eleanor developed the endearing habit of patting everyone on the butt.  Remarkably no one took offense at this gesture.

Eleanor died December 12, 2005 of congestive heart failure and pneumonia.  She was survived by her brother, Hank Folsom; her children Anne and Peter Barschall; three grandchildren: David and Joseph McKenney-Barschall and Mai Ly Cohen Barschall [another grandchild, Tariku Cohen Barschall, joined the family postumously]; and eight [sic, nine] nieces and nephews.  In lieu of flowers, donations in her memory can be given to the Randolph Public Library, 101 US Rte 2, Randolph NH 03593; or the League of Women Voters of Dane County. [this originally referred to the building fund of the Randolph Public Library, but the new library has been built, so that's not the right place any more]

Pictures of Eleanor:

In the 1990's



In the 1970's with my father




In the 1950's (probably pregnant with me)




1943 (college photo)

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