Gaye Ann (Lenker) Voskamp, 75

Sat, 03/02/2013 - 3:19pm

Gaye Voskamp, a longtime resident of Block Island, died early Tuesday morning, February 19, 2013, in South County Hospital after a brief illness.

She was born in Queens, N.Y., in August 1937 to John and Marjorie Lenker. Her father’s career with Gulf Oil took the family to many cities, including Pittsburgh, Penn., Glen Ridge, N.J., and Toronto, Canada.

Following in family tradition, Gaye attended Pennsylvania State University and took a degree in Journalism. While at Penn State, she met fellow student Peter S. Voskamp, and the two were married in Hershey, Penn., in 1962. The newlyweds settled in Houston, Texas, where Gaye’s parents had relocated once again for her father’s work.

Her two sons, Peter and John, were both born in Houston. Divorcing after 13 years of marriage, Gaye and her sons moved from Houston to Block Island to live in the house she had inherited from her mother (the current Nature Conservancy offices on High Street). She went on to spend 23 years on Block Island, joined by her companion of nearly four decades, Steve Mitchell.

Gaye’s history with Block Island began in the 1920s when Islander Lester Dodge rented a room from her grandmother Mabel Voss in Brooklyn, N.Y. Lester eventually became Gaye’s godfather, and Gaye’s family — including her younger brother John Lenker — would stay at Lester’s house on Dodge Street (site of the library today) for part of nearly every subsequent summer. She dearly loved the beach, and as a young girl especially enjoyed the stretch in front of the Sanchez house (now the Avonlea). She and her friend Rainey Sanchez would swim out to the big rock and chew seaweed. Gaye weathered Hurricane Carol at Lester’s house in 1954, and also spent her honeymoon there.

She was a voracious reader, primarily of non-fiction, and particularly enjoyed biographies. She inculcated in her two sons an affinity for both music and the written word, not to mention an interest that was equal parts fascination and healthy skepticism regarding politics and politicians.

Perhaps her favorite piece of music was George Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue,” and she often mused that she might have been his reincarnation as he passed away just a month before she was born.

It’s probably safe to say she was one of the world’s leading political junkies, consuming all manner of printed and electronic news on a daily basis, and always prepared with a considered opinion.

In her lifetime she traveled the length and breadth of the political spectrum. She recounted how her parents woke her up on election night in 1948 to play piano for an impromptu victory party for Republican presidential candidate Thomas Dewey (though he had actually lost to Harry Truman). In later years Gaye’s Democratic friends were scandalized to see the picture of her holding her newborn son next to a Goldwater for president sign in their Houston front yard in 1964; she went on to work on George H.W. Bush’s early Congressional campaigns in Texas in the late 1960s.

Her politics took an about face in the 1970s, and she became an outspoken Democrat, and a frequent caller to Congressional offices in Washington D.C. She was probably one of the few people on Block Island with a “Run, Jesse, Run” bumper sticker in support of Jesse Jackson’s 1984 presidential bid. In her eyes, Bill Clinton could do no wrong, and she grumbled that when Clinton visited Block Island in 1997, all her Republican friends flocked to see him, while she never got close.

While on the island, she was active with the writer’s group during the winter months. She also worked at the Ragged Sailor art gallery, the Book Nook, and Essentials in the National Hotel. Apart from breathing, her other constant activity was solving crossword puzzles. This most recent Christmas, when offered the gift of a New York Times subscription, she insisted it only be for the weekend editions, since the weekday puzzles were too easy to solve.

She and Steve left the island in 1999, and moved to nearby Narragansett. Still she remained at the epicenter of island news and gossip, staying in frequent touch with longtime friends Marceline Mazzur, Mitzi Berlin, Edie Littlefield Blane and Jean Napier. Gaye was renowned for being a collector and conveyor of local news and information. One of her most frequently uttered lines was, “don’t quote me, but…”

And, indeed, perhaps one of the hardest aspects of her passing was not to be able to call her to give her the news.

Gaye struggled in her final years, never quite recovering from a broken hip and a series of osteoporosis-related ailments. Steve, however, doted on her and made sure she had her papers and daily poached egg; he was her loving husband until the end. Also, the arrival of her granddaughter Annie in 2009 brought great joy to her life.

She is survived by Steve Mitchell of Narragansett, R.I.; sons Peter Voskamp of Takoma Park, Md; John Voskamp of Austin, Texas, and their wives Rachel Healy and Apryl Sullivan; her granddaughter Annie Voskamp, and her brother John Lenker, and his wife Carol, of New Braunfels, Texas.

She didn’t want any kind of service, but the family may accidentally have a party in her honor on Block Island later this spring or summer. Stay tuned.