Press INKlings: In memory of Sylvia, truly a gentle heart

To say the late Sylvia Van Genderen of Sully loved life is an understatement. To say she loved music is an even bigger understatement. She loved music very, very much. Just before Christmas last year on Dec. 16, the world lost a truly gentle heart but heaven gained an angel choir member. Just a few days before, she had sung songs with my favorite, only granddaughter Abigail Brand, who was visiting her great-grandfather, Sylvia’s nearby neighbor at Park Centre in Newton. It doesn’t seem possible Sylvia is gone from this earth when just a few days before she was singing.

Sylvia was like a co-worker once the local newspaper, the Diamond Trail News, moved into the old brick house that once stood where our present office building with apartments is now located. Sylvia visited often because she worked for the telephone company next door. We were her dictionary when words and sentence structure escaped her. We were a store for her as she bought all needed office supplies from us; she believed in small town businesses and was also part owner of and worked at the Community Lockers at the time. I can’t tell you very many of the songs she sang, but often she walked into my office door singing. I do remember her singing the song from “Oklahoma,” “Oh, what a beautiful morning, oh, what a beautiful day….” when the song described the day. Her life wasn’t adventurous, but rather serene and content. Everything wasn’t always all perfection in her over 60 years of marriage to her husband Claris, but she impressed upon me that marriage takes work, lots of work by both the husband and the wife to keep it together.

Sylvia liked to keep up with her nieces and nephews, which I helped her do because one of her nieces is my sister-in-law. She always asked me about my sister-in-law’s family, especially about her kids and grandkids. And look out world when Sylvia’s grandkids started arriving on the scene. They were the best, the most talented, the most fun, the smartest, the brightest, the best musicians, the best athletes, and so on, according to Sylvia. And I’ve come to find out since then that we grandparents are all alike, but maybe don’t spread that kind of news exactly like Sylvia did, exuberantly and repeatedly anytime she got the chance! I wasn’t surprised to learn something more about Sylvia’s grandmotherly-habits. It seems, according to one granddaughter’s shared memories on the funeral home website, she was a “naughty grandma” because she hid Oreo cookies in a back cupboard and gave them to grandkids who might have needed a pre-lunch snack! Do you suppose they were still able to eat everything on their plate after the grandma-supplied cookie before-hand?

I was privileged to sing in a church choir directed by Sylvia. She made it look easy, but not too long ago I tried choir directing, and it’s not nearly as easy as it looks. She knew the words and music to hundreds of songs and often sang at weddings and funerals.

Sylvia was not a person who liked any glory or recognition, but in my mind I will always think there should be a parade in her honor, or a statue, or a street renamed. She enjoyed life and could have kept enjoying it as her mind was here but her body was worn out. No more arm pats will happen for encouragement or pieces of advice spoken. Some measure life by recognition. Others measure it by the amount of wealth accumulated or possessions held. Still others say life was the society of medicine, sports, politics, the arts, etc. By those measures, Sylvia would be counted unsuccessful. However, if the standard of a successful life is how that life positively touched others, then Sylvia’s life was a resounding success. God gives us many flowers and many rainbows, many stars and many sunsets, but only one Sylvia, and many will miss her. She lived her life with dignity, with a class all her own, and with courage.

As sad as death is, it teaches us how valuable time is, and we see how precious each day is. Memories, too, are one of God’s gifts, God’s way of keeping a treasure that can never be taken from us. For the past several days, I’ve been trying to think of song lyrics which would be a fitting tribute to Sylvia. None came to mind except to this day whenever I hear “O Holy Night,” I remember the numerous times hearing her sing it as a solo. And I did remember how she felt about the fact that no one is perfect. She always said something like this, “God finds a way to love and to use imperfect people, after all look at me.”

I have tried to write a memorial tribute from time to time lately, but this is the first one I’ve completed in a while. There are a few I have written in the past that their families truly appreciated, have not forgotten, and often mention to me on the rare occasion we meet up again. May you who never had the privilege of knowing Sylvia now know her a little bit better. I’m quite sure I’ll never forget Sylvia.


INKling of the Week:

The clock of life is wound but once,

And no man has the power

To tell just when the hands will stop,

At late or early hour.


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