Doris Koehler Wilson Dunn died peacefully at Bel-Air Nursing Home & Rehab Center in Goffstown, New Hampshire on December 22, 2020. She was 91. She is survived by her son Glenn Wilson and wife Linda, son Mark Wilson and wife Amy, stepdaughter Julie White (nee Dunn) and husband Pat, stepson William Dunn and wife Gail, and many grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
Doris Koehler was born October 1, 1929 in Paterson, NJ, the second & middle child of Emil and Gertrude Koehler. She and her older brother, Harry and younger brother, Robert were US citizens by birth; her parents were naturalized US citizens, having emigrated to the US from Germany as young adults with their parents, shortly after WWI.
Doris grew up and went to school like any other girl at the time, with the possible exception that hers was a two-language household. Doris’ first language, however, was English, and her parents expected this, since English was the official language of the United States and her parents embraced this. She went to public school, took music lessons, learned to play piano, was active with assorted extra-curricular activities and made friends, including her best and lifelong friend, Jean. They met at age 3 (or 4, or 6) - they had a lifelong friendly disagreement about this.
While Doris’ school year was typical, her summers were not. Doris’ parents had various summer “camps”, the most durable and memorable of which was on Greenwood Lake, NJ, on the NJ/NY border. There, her father, along with her grandfather and uncle, bought and converted a former ice house into a three-season bungalow. Doris spent many childhood summers on Greenwood Lake. As she told it, the bungalow was opened each year at the start of summer. Once opened, the men, all still working, re- turned to Paterson for the workweek. Doris usually stayed at the bungalow, along with her beloved Oma (her grandmother).
Weekend life at Greenwood Lake included fishing, rowing, eating, swimming, building, practical jokes and, always, raucous evening pinochle, though as Doris told it, this was mostly the mens’ life. The women tended to the cooking and all the many chores need- ed to keep the bungalow running (Doris always made the point that one chore that women did not attend to was fish cleaning; apparently, this was a line in the sand).
Greenwood Lake activities were conducted in a mixture of English and German, especially the evening pinochle games. Greenwood Lake neighbors, other family members and many friends enjoyed these evenings, and many of the friends were fellow immigrants. Doris’ life was quite full of diversity beginning at an early age. Doris spoke fondly of Greenwood Lake, especially the time between weekends when she and Oma had the place to themselves. Oma was a patient teacher and friend who took her on walks where they explored the surroundings together. Over the course of hours spent in each other’s company, Doris developed her lifelong love of nature, especially flowers, birds and other small animals - all of nature really - except snakes! Later in life, Doris expressed mixed feelings about this time, musing about what it would have been like to instead spend summers with her school friends. But, on balance, her Greenwood Lake memories were of laughter, family gatherings, late night card games, spirited German and English voices, childhood and her beloved Oma - all a source of comfort and happiness. The occasional visit to the lake by her friend Jean was always welcome to mix things up a bit.
Doris graduated East Side High School in 1946. Doris was an elite typist with ambition, and after graduation took a job in New York City as a secretary at the 50 Church Street offices of The Grand Union Company (a now-defunct grocery chain). She recalled how fun this was - train rides into the city, going out with “the gals” after work to see a Broadway show. She also met Charles “Chuck” Wilson in 1946. Chuck had grown up close by and their families knew each other. Jean says they may have even played together as young children. In any event, after WWII was over, Doris’ older brother Harry (a Navy veteran) “introduced” his sister to his friend and fellow Navy vet, Chuck. They were married in November, 1949 at St. Johns German Evangelical Lutheran Church, Passaic, NJ.
Newlyweds, they inhabited the third floor of the Koehler house, with Emil & Gertrude on the second floor and Oma & Opa (Doris’ grandfather) on the first floor. Their first child, Glenn Charles, arrived in September 1953. Deciding it was time to cut the multi-generational household cord, Doris, Chuck & Glenn moved to Pompton Plains, NJ, in 1954, to Doris’ lifelong most-talked-about home on Van Saun Place.
A second child, Mark Robert, arrived in 1957.
It was a good suburban life - safe, room to grow, many young families in the neighborhood. The new home site afforded ample opportunity for outdoor leisure, gardening, and family gatherings of Wilsons and Koehlers. Easter and Christmas holidays were particularly memorable, with family visiting and in some cases staying over for a few days, and with Doris cheerfully engrossed in all the details on these occasions. Many summer picnics were also hosted, as the tree-lined, lawn-filled yard provided a welcome and relaxing space for family gatherings.
During this time, 1955-1974, Doris divided her time as a homeowner, homemaker and income earner. She worked part-time at a local furniture store and then, as her children grew, she took a full time job as Secretary of the Guidance Counseling Department at Pequannock Township High School. Whether intentionally planned or good luck, this fit nicely into her general interest in keeping tabs on her kids, who were attending the school.
Doris and Chuck divorced in 1972. Her children remember the years afterward, 1972 -1979, as a time when Doris showed great strength of character. Divorce laws and “being divorced” were not so commonplace then. She lost some friends due to her status as “single woman” and “divorcee”. But, she made new friends, mostly through work. She had vision and purpose. As the sole breadwinner in the household, she was determined that her sons should continue to call 14 Van Saun Place their family home and, importantly, that her sons should go to college. Outside of full-time work, she kept up with the usual assortment of parent-teacher conferences, school performances and athletic events. She proudly attended Glenn’s 1975 college graduation from college and 1979 graduation from law school. She stood by Mark’s side on the high school football field during “Father/Son” celebrations, and saw him start college in 1975 and graduate in 1979. And, she also fell asleep on the couch too often during these years, exhausted from all her efforts.
Doris never lost the desire to improve herself and her life situation. She eventually combined her excellent secretarial skills with her working knowledge of German to achieve a better paying job as an Executive Secretary with BASF Wyandotte Corporation, a German corporation with US Headquarters in nearby Parsippany, NJ. Doris held several positions there, ending with the junior managerial position of Pension Benefits Administrator. The timing was right for her, as word processors were replacing typewriters, dictation and shorthand were dying administrative skills, and BASF’s accounting department was turning more towards computers. Doris returned to school to meet the demands of her new positions. She worked through a required math course via weekly phone calls with Mark on his college dorm’s payphone. Glenn helped her with business administration coursework. She persevered, passed her classes, and excelled at her job until her retirement in 1982. She was particularly proud of her role in developing BASF’s first computer spreadsheet for retiree benefits, which she presented to her department management team in a formal “view graph” slide presentation, to their surprise and delight, and with their high praise.
Among the BASF executive team was Mr. Robert “Bob” Dunn. Having noticed Doris for one reason or another, he had introduced himself in the spring of 1977 with the odd request of obtaining her help in deciding what to do with a property he owned in Vermont. Bob actually proposed that summer, but she decided it was too soon. Still, they were making plans to get married, which they did in December,1978. By that time, they had sold their respective homes and bought a new town home in Panther Valley - Allamuchy, NJ - where they lived after returning from their honeymoon in St. Maarten. They commuted together to BASF until their retirement in 1982.
Their marriage opened up new opportunities for Doris. They built a new home on Shelburne Bay on Lake Champlain (the Vermont property) and drove there for vacation and long weekends before moving there after retirement. The draw during nice weather was sailing. Their home was near Shelburne Shipyard, where Bob moored his aptly named sailboat, Second Wind.
While looking forward to retirement, Doris was also looking after her mom, still living in Pompton Plains. Doris had grown up in a multi-generational household and there was an unspoken expectation that Doris would take care of her mom much as her mom had taken care of Doris’ grandfather. The marriage to Bob, the move to northwest NJ, and weekend travels to the vacation house in Vermont stressed Doris; somehow, she managed. Whatever it cost her, she didn’t outwardly complain - that wasn’t in her nature - and photos from the time portray her with a beautiful, winsome smile.
Doris’ mom died in 1982. Within a year of her passing, Bob and Doris sold their NJ townhouse and moved full time to Vermont. There, Doris took great delight setting up a comfortable and functioning home. It was her domain - a place for everything and everything in its place. Living in Vermont meant that time spent sailing or doing “sailing things” took more of their time. Not one to be a passive observer, Doris learned about and became an accomplished sailor and First Mate to Captain Bob. With sailing neighbors, they sail-cruised and explored the bays and coves of Lake Champlain for many years.
In the spring of 1988, Bob and Doris drove to North Carolina for a visit with family members. Spontaneously, before the year was out, they bought a house and, happy to leave Vermont winters, moved to Pinehurst NC. Pinehurst was filled with beautiful gardens and many golf courses, with the scent of pine always in the air. In addition to again creating a beautiful home, Doris joined the Garden Club and Bible Club, worked as a volunteer at the local hospital, and went back to work part time at a jewelry store, Gemma Gallery. Her son’s joked with her that she paid in far more than she took home due to her love of the custom pieces offered at this store.
Bob was a golfer; Doris decided, in her 60’s, that she would be a golfer, too. Always interested in learning and doing things the right way, Doris took lessons, put in the practice time, and joined a ladies league, The Chippers, for whom she eventually served as league chairperson. Glenn and Mark recall that, while she never hit the golf ball far, she always hit it straight. Both Bob and Glenn lost many a nickel on the holes where Doris outplayed them. The league play took place on Pinehurst Country Club courses which afforded her many lovely hours outside and good food and friendship after league play.
Doris enjoyed many pleasant years in Pinehurst, and over the years many friends. In her neighborhood, she was well known for as the lady with two Bijon’s, Hannah and Busy. Glenn and Mark, with their growing families, visited as often as possible. Extended family members stopped in from time to time. And, weekly telephone calls with her lifelong friend Jean kept Doris abreast of activities “up north”. Doris built a meaningful life with Bob, and was quite justifiably proud to have done so. In 2009, a surprise 80th birthday was held in her honor, and some family members she had not seen in many years were able to attend. After the party, she spoke often of how gracious people were to recall how she had impacted their lives in some profound way. She was grateful to share all the wonderful memories.
Bob passed away in late 2010, and Doris began to struggle in her now-single life in Pinehurst. Many of her local aging friends had moved elsewhere to be with family, and some had passed. After several years of determined effort to stay in her comfortable Pinehurst home, she reluctantly moved to NH in 2016 to an assisted living apartment in NH, where Mark and his family reside. She enjoyed as many outings as could be arranged, including weekly lunch dates with Mark or Mark’s wife Amy, bi-weekly trips to the hairdresser, and the occasional summertime trip for a hot dog or lobster roll at a favorite roadside restaurant near Mark’s home. In 2016, her safety and well-being required more constant attention and Doris moved once more to the skilled nursing facility where she lived out her life.
A life well-lived, a long and challenging life with many little victories overcoming a few setbacks, a life shared with those she loved and also with those she came to know wherever she was. Now, with God’s Grace, a rest well earned.
Glenn and Mark are grateful for the loving care that Mom received from the staff at Bel- Air Nursing Home and Rehab Center, all the more so for the challenging circumstances of 2020.
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