Eleanor Shabica, a beloved member of the Martha’s Vineyard Camp Meeting Association community, died peacefully on Sept. 11 at Franke at Seaside in Mount Pleasant, S.C. She was 99.
Born in Pawtucket, R.I., to Arthur Wright and Gertrude Vale Wright on April 5, 1914, Eleanor Vale Wright was the oldest of three children, including her sister Marion and brother Kenneth. In her youth she excelled in her classes and as a student athlete. As a high school sophomore in 1930 she beat the Olympic breast stroke champion, Albina Osipowich, in the breast stroke at a meet between Pawtucket High School and Pembroke College of Brown University. Her competition continued and as a senior at Pawtucket High School in 1932 she won the New England Junior Championship in the 100 yard breast stroke. Eleanor was a longtime member of the New England Association of the Amateur Athletic Union. She was a golfer and, with her sister Marion, spent many hours on the links of the Martha’s Vineyard Country Club in Oak Bluffs. Active throughout her life, Eleanor was an avid skier in the U.S. and Europe past the age of 80.
After graduation from Pawtucket High School, Eleanor took classes at Brown University where she met her future husband on a blind date. Eleanor was married to Anthony (Tony) Charles Shabica at Trinity Episcopal Church in Oak Bluffs on August 31, 1940. Following the completion of his Ph.D. in Chemistry at Pennsylvania State College, Eleanor and Tony lived in Rahway, N.J., where Tony worked for Merck Chemical Co. In 1950 the family moved to Livingston, N.J. where Tony embarked on a career with Ciba Pharmaceutical Co. and Eleanor focused on raising their three sons. Eleanor was also active in civic organizations, including the Red Cross, Livingston Presbyterian Church, the Roseland Women’s Club, the Boy Scouts of America and the PTA of Livingston High School among others. Tony retired from Ciba-Geigy Pharmaceutical Co. as vice-president of research and development in 1980, and Eleanor and Tony then divided their time between Destin, Fla., and Oak Bluffs. Eleanor was passionate about travel and, in the company of her husband until Tony’s death in 2003, visited over 100 countries.
Eleanor’s connection with Martha’s Vineyard began in 1916. Her father, Arthur Wright, purchased the Allen Wood Cottage in Trinity Park in 1920 after renting it for three summers. Eleanor cherished Island summers and missed only a couple during her 99 years. Tony and Eleanor were active Camp Ground residents, and both were summer choir members at the Tabernacle and at Trinity United Methodist Church. Eleanor and Tony participated in many Chilmark Road Races where she won in her age class at least once and finished her last race in 2012, aided by her sons. Eleanor enthusiastically maintained Camp Ground traditions, including offering a table of “grabs” at the children’s fair as her father had done, and insisting that only traditional candle lanterns (no electric lights!) adorn the family cottage on Illumination Night. In her later years, she became a familiar “front porch historian,” offering welcome and stories of the Camp Ground to neighbors and tourists alike. Eleanor was proud of her heritage, including the story related by her great uncle, Sam Pidge, that the family’s farm (previously the Sayles Tavern, later the Pidge Farm) had been the last stop in Rhode Island on the Underground Railroad. At 10 years old, Sam was responsible for feeding the cattle in the barn, so no one suspected him of carrying food and water to the escaped slaves who were hidden and resting in the barn during the day. At night older members of the family led the runaways to their next stop in Massachusetts on their way to Canada.
Eleanor was also a member of the National Society, Daughters of the American Revolution for over 77 years, and she traced her lineage to Captain Thomas Swan of the Rhode Island Militia who wrote the “Swan Song” about the burning of the British revenue Cutter HMS Gaspee in 1772. She is also the eighth great granddaughter of Roger Williams, the founder of Providence Plantations in 1636.
Eleanor is survived by her sons, Dr. Charles Wright Shabica of Winnetka, Ill., Dr, Stephen Vale Cofer-Shabica of Mt Pleasant, S.C., Carl Sayles Shabica of Charlotte, N.C., and their families, including nine grandchildren and 10 great grandchildren. A memorial service to honor her long and full life will be held in Oak Bluffs during the summer of 2014. Donations to the Tabernacle Restoration Fund in her memory are being received by the Martha’s Vineyard Camp Meeting Association, Oak Bluffs, MA 02557.