Obituary of Barbara Viertel
Barbara Buffum Viertel, 97, passed away peacefully on April 23, 2017 in Oak Harbor, Whidbey Island, WA after a long illness. She was born the oldest of ten children November 4, 1919 in Attleboro, MA to Walter Robinson Buffum & Mildred Sherman Buffum. She lived most of her life in Syracuse, NY until moving to Washington State in 2006 to be near her son. In 1936, while at Nottingham High School, she was a city champion speed skater, practicing at Thornden Park. She graduated from Syracuse University in Physical Education in 1942, whereupon she taught physical education and modern dance. On June 26, 1943, she married Arthur T. Viertel, a graduate of the Forestry College at Syracuse. They had met after a Syracuse University football game, which at that time segregated the boys on one side of the stadium and the girls on the other. She helped him get his PhD in Botany by typing all the drafts to his thesis in the days before computers and word processing. Their son Bill was born in November 1945. She participated as a volunteer in many organizations, including Faculty Wives, since Arthur became an Associate Professor of Landscape Architecture at the Forestry College. She later worked for the Syracuse University Medical School as a laboratory technician, cutting ultra-thin slices of tissue with a microtome for examination under an electron microscope.
Barbara loved music of all kinds, including the big bands of the swing era (to which she loved to dance), classical, and Dave Brubeck jazz. As her dementia increasingly robbed her of memories, she could still join in singing , “Show Me the Way to Go Home” word for word with correct pitch until her last year or so. She loved working in the yard and walled terraced garden that Arthur designed and built, their urban sanctuary, removing weeds and clover from the lawn by hand without herbicides. She enjoyed her bridge club for many years. She loved feeding the birds in a small feeder attached to her kitchen window in Syracuse and the seagulls outside her memory care facility in Oak Harbor, WA. Barbara had no fear of tall ladders, periodically staining the steep-roofed little red house in Syracuse and chopping large icicles off the eves. She plunged into family genealogy with great zeal, doing all her research at various libraries in NY and New England before the existence of the Internet, tracing her side of the family back to the 1200s in England and to a founder of the Congregational Church, John Robinson, in the late 1500s and early 1600s, one of the original Separatists of church and state and the pastor in Leyden, Holland of those who became the 1620 Pilgrims. She loved family picnics at Clark’s Reservation and Green Lake outside Syracuse. Barbara and Arthur loved to take summer car trips, including to Cape Hatteras, Florida, and the West. And by no means least of all, Barbara loved chocolate.
Barbara was a 5’2” dynamo, full of energy, feistiness, humor, kindness, and love of family, love that was wonderfully reciprocated. Throughout the dozen plus years of her dementia’s advance, she maintained her essential nature of good humor and warm kidding such that the staff of her memory care facility loved her dearly.
She was preceded in death by her husband Arthur (February 2001); her brothers, Dick, Don, and Walt; and her sisters, Eloise, Millie, and Lilian. She is survived by her brothers, Bill and Bob (Joanne); her sister, Beverly; her son, William (Carol); and many cherished nieces and nephews.
Graveside services will be Saturday at 11 AM at White Chapel Memory Gardens, Kinne Road, DeWitt. Calling hours are Friday from 4-7 PM at the Fairchild & Meech DeWitt Chapel, 3690 Erie Blvd East, DeWitt.
Donations as a Tribute Gift in her name may be made to the Cornell Ornithology Lab in Ithaca, NY.