Annette Kay Stephenson

Annette Kay Stephenson

RENSSELAERVILLE — For Annette Kay Stephenson, treasured memories of childhood centered on the idyllic small town where her grandparents lived — Rensselaerville —  and where she considered herself  lucky to spend summers, holidays, and two whole school years when fate and family moves made her a happy little resident for what must have seemed forever, child-time.

Ms. Stephenson died on Wednesday, Sept. 14, 2016, at the Sundance Skilled Nursing and Rehabilitation Home in Colorado Springs, Colorado. She was 61.

Ms. Stephenson had not been back to Rensselaerville since 1996 when she returned for the funeral of her grandmother, says her sister Laura Carter. But for the rest of her life she stayed in touch with friends there — and with news of the place she loved. After the digital revolution, she was happy to keep in touch through  a Facebook group called “You know you live in Rensselaerville when….”

She was born on Nov 12, 1954, in Islip, on Long Island, the daughter of  Kennard F. Stephenson and Ann (née Elmore) Stephenson.  Her Rensselaerville connection came through her maternal grandparents Katharine (née Huyck) and Lee Elmore.

Ms. Stephenson’s father was a chemical engineer whose work took him and his family — Ms. Stephenson was one of six children — to a succession of new towns in New York, Connecticut, and New Jersey. “We moved so often as children,” says Ms. Carter, “that Rensselaerville was the only constant in our lives. And of course our grandparents were there, too.”

One of Ms. Carter’s favorite childhood memories of her sister goes all the way back to the year 1960 when the Stephenson family home in Croton-on-Hudson had burned down and the family sought shelter in their grandparents Rensselaerville home.

That year, Annette and her siblings attended the two-classroom school that occupied the building where the United State Post Office is now located. Though she and her sisters were different ages, all three found themselves in the same classroom where Henrietta Rice, a beloved teacher of the day, presided. “Annette delighted in being in the same classroom with her two older sisters,” Ms. Carter recalls.

For a scheduled show-and-to-tell, the three sisters decided to sing an old standard called “O Dem Golden Slippers,” but they were cut short by their teacher who deemed the song not appropriate for her classroom.  Years later, they figured that perhaps their decorous teacher had thought it to be a “saloon song.”

But maybe Ms. Stephenson had a precocious sense of daring. “She was the wild  child in the family,” her sister says. “I was the straight one.”

“Annette was always a bit of a bohemian, “ Ms. Carter recalls, “even in her later years.”

While Ms. Carter stayed near home for college, Annette took off for Albuquerque, New Mexico where she studied at the University of New Mexico and met the man she married — and later divorced — and gave birth to her son, Richard.

Though she always sought to be near family, Ms. Stephenson moved several times as an adult to Aurora, Colorado; Piscataway, New Jersey, and Chester, Easton, and Bethlehem, Pennsylvania.  Mobility didn’t end with childhood.

But in 1993 she moved to Crestwood, Kentucky — where she was to live for 20 years —to be near her father and two brothers. All three men died within a two-year span. For their father, Ms. Carter says, “Annette provided loving care in his final years as he struggled against cancer.”  Ms. Stephenson  herself was diagnosed with cancer not long after her father died, but she “outwitted her doctors,” says Ms. Carter, and lived far longer than they expected.

In 2013, she returned to Colorado, to Woodland Park where her sister Elizabeth had a small accounting firm and where  Ms. Stephenson worked part-time.

Ms. Carter describes Ms. Stephenson’s life in Woodland Park this way: “When she wasn’t working,  Annette could be seen tooling around town in her little blue Volkswagen Beetle. She wasn’t crazy about the cold winters in Colorado but she sure loved the sunny days.”

Peacocks, Halloween – “after she died we discovered a big collection of Halloween socks she had,” says Ms. Carter — pretty head scarves, crossword puzzles, sewing, and embroidery were among her loves.  Along  with her undying memories of a place called Rensselaerville.

“My sister,” Ms. Carter said, “always took a positive attitude, even at the end. People at the nursing home grew to love her. Such a bright light.”

****

Annette Kay Stephenson is survived by her son, Richard Whitley, and his wife, Nikki, of Louisville, Kentucky; by two sisters: Laura Carter and her husband, Geoff, of Montgomery Village, Maryland, and Elizabeth Zuercher and her husband, Fred, of Florissant, Colorado; by her brother James Stephenson and his wife, Marilyn, of Bound Brook, New Jersey; by her nieces Caitlin and Annie Stephenson, and Sarah and Emily Carter; by her nephews Kennard Stephenson, and Fred and Andy Zuercher, and by several cousins.

Her parents, Kennard and Ann Stephenson, died before her, as did her brothers, Lee Stephenson and Kennard Stephenson.

A memorial service is planned for the spring in Rensselaerville. Memorial contribution may be made to the E.N. Huyck Preserve, Post Office Box 189, Rensselaerville 12147.

— Tim Tulloch

 

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