Barbara Warsyk, 84, Was Strong and Loving Person
Longtime Vineyard Haven resident Barbara Warsyk died on May 6 at the Windemere long term care facility in Oak Bluffs. She was 84 years old. She was tenacious of life and she was courageous in her struggle with kidney disease for the last three years; she battled poor health more often than she chose, but lived a resilient life.
Barbara was born at home on April 22, 1919, on Newkirk avenue in Brooklyn, N.Y., at a time when that part of Brooklyn still had trees. An only child, she was named after her mother, Barbara Conradia Huseman. Her father, William John Nelson, soon moved the family to Flatbush, just around the corner from Ebbets Field. Thus begun a life-long love affair with the Brooklyn Dodgers and baseball in general, complete with autographed photos and endless reels of movie footage collected from the many games she so enthusiastically attended.
Babs Nelson, as she was known, was only 16 when she was graduated from James Madison High School in 1935, skipping four semesters. She went on to Heffley's Business School and when she was 18 got a job in New York city in what is now Tribeca, for the Wilbur and Hastings printing company.
She met her future husband, Edward Warsyk, on August 3, 1941, just one month before America would enter World War II. They were to meet at a mutual friend's house, a blind date, and the men showed up dramatically after putting out a small fire in the dashboard of the car they were driving. During their courtship they frequented nightclubs with Barbara's girlfriend, Nancy, to laugh and dance the night away while listening to the crooning of Nancy's fiancé, Frank Sinatra. And could they ever dance - it was a sight to behold when Barbara and Ed did the Lindy together. It was just one of the things Barbara and Ed shared in those early war years. They were married 18 months later, on Feb. 21, 1943. Ed, a respectful husband, often cast a long shadow. Barbara was known to refer to herself, tongue firmly in cheek, as "Ed's wife." Barbara's husband died on her birthday last year. "But, on my birthday?" she quipped. It was a long way from their first date, driving out to Massapequa, L.I., from Brooklyn, for ice cream on that summer day in August so long ago, but which seemed to her like only yesterday, that they took the long way home. It was a long life, in a marriage that had lasted 59 years.
For most of that married life, Barbara and her husband lived on Long Island in the town of Syosset, raising three daughters there. Weekdays she was a dedicated volunteer, working with the Huntington Hospital Auxiliary, logging in more than 5,000 hours as the chairman of the television service, starting in 1961. But weekends belonged to boating. They owned a series of powerboats, growing in size throughout the years, as often happens. But it was their boat, the Solitaire, named in honor of the many hours that Barbara spent below deck engaged in the game if the weather was too rough, that first brought them to the Vineyard. Barbara could handle a boat as well as anyone, up on the flying bridge in the pitch black or scudding through a rolling fog bank, the foghorns of passing boats eerie in the dark, steering clear of that oil tanker bearing down on them, watchful for reef and rock. Long before the Black Dog Tavern was built the Vineyard was a fairly frequent destination, tying up at the Coastwise dock.
After one such visit, on a blustery day in late August as Solitaire sprung off her moorings headed out into Vineyard Sound, Christine, their youngest child, called out to them from the pier, "Don't you want to live here?" and Barbara yelled back, "Over my dead body!" That body was much alive, and kicking, when in 1971 her husband sold his precision machining business and moved them to the Island, permanently. Barbara hated it at first, but the incredible resiliency that buoyed her up throughout her long life prevailed, and she learned to love the low-key lifestyle and faultless beauty of the Vineyard. Barbara continued her volunteer work at Martha's Vineyard Hospital and at the Thrift Shop and, when the hoped-for retirement did not materialize, eventually, she went back to work.
The undisputed highlight of her working career was as general manager for Mark Lender's goldsmith shop. Beginning in 1976 and until the shop was sold in 1985 Barbara kept the books, sold jewelry, swept, Windexed the cases and when, as often happened, a loose diamond dropped from the bench to the floor, it was invariably Barbara, with her by then failing eyesight, who found it. She also cared for the store's several cats, which she loved. The shop belonged to Mark Lender in name only.
In her life there was the love of sports; she enjoyed almost every sport with the single exception of basketball, from bowling to racecars and yet, she never learned how to ride a bike herself. Not to interrupt a ritual, she watched this year's Kentucky Derby together with her daughter, but when her favored horse did not win, finishing in fourth place, she replied to that, "Close enough."
In her lifetime there was friendship; she had good friends who always lent a helping hand, two of whom were Rhoda West and Claire Anderson. Throughout her life she was a good friend as well, always right-on with her first impressions, and she considerately shared her "white-witch" suppositions. During her life she had the pleasure of raising five dogs that she called, in order, Frenchy, Corky, Chamois, Salty and lastly Snafu. Toward the end of her life she took the pleasure of mallards, which she called, all of them, "pretty girls" and fed from her hand on the beach at her boathouse home on Beach Road that she and Ed moved into for just a summer season, 28 years ago, and never left. From the upstairs window she watched countless spectacular sunrises. From that house she monitored the comings and goings on the Vineyard Haven waterfront and kept abreast of things with her scanner. In that boathouse she raised her seven grandchildren, all of whom learned to swim in the shallows of the Lagoon under her watchful eye. Many a threatening hurricane blew through over the years but her home stood strong, as she did during her often-challenging life.
Barbara spent the last three years at Windemere, there she made a home away from home for herself. Her room was joyously decorated, celebrating life and using every square inch of space. With a never-ending supply of chocolate, a myriad of Beanie Babies, a plethora of feathers, Marti Gras beads and Christmas lights all year long, the kind and caring staff of Windemere who nurtured her found her room to be most welcoming, a haven in which she embraced them, her newest of friends, her lifesavers.
Barbara was fortunate in being sentient to the end. She and her family and friends who visited at her bedside were able to say "good-bye" and "I love you" to each other as the time grew closer to see her off to a more peaceful place.
Her husband, Edward Warsyk, predeceased her. Her children and grandchildren survive her: They include daughter, Jacqueline Parnell, and her children, Karen, Brad, David, Sarah and Megan of Long Island, N.Y.; daughter Jeraldine Upson and her children, Caitlin and Brooke of Rehoboth, and daughter Christine Scott and her son, Benjamin of Vineyard Haven.
Commitment was at the Oak Grove Cemetery in Vineyard Haven after a service at Grace Episcopal Church that was officiated by the Rev. Alden Besse on May 10. Donations in Barbara's memory can be made to the Windemere Nursing and Rehabilitation Facility in Oak Bluffs.