In Memoriam: Valerie Jean Gates Wintsch

IMG_0596-768x1024Valerie J. Wintsch, 75, died peacefully on January 2, 2015, at Arden Courts in Hamden, CT, from complications of Alzheimer’s. A vivacious, well read, and intellectually curious lady, Valerie loved good books, music, friendship, and laughter. Most of all, she loved her family. She was a devoted daughter, wife, mother, and grandmother.

Born in Naugatuck, CT, in 1939, Valerie was the daughter of teacher Dorothy Moses and chemical engineer Charles Gates. She grew up in Elmira, Ontario, a tight-knit community that nurtured her lifelong loyalty to family and friends—as well as to the Queen of England. An only child until her brother David arrived when she was 15, she remained very close to her parents throughout her life. Her friend Jean Kirkham was an honorary sister (and fellow prankster), Isabel Huggan, a “pretend” little sister, and cousin Chris Woodman, a “borrowed” brother.

Valerie earned a BA in history with a minor in music from the University of Connecticut. She married Fred Wintsch, whom she’d known since childhood, on June 23, 1962, making their home in Naugatuck for the next 18 years. She taught history, English, and music at Hillside Middle School for 3 years before resigning to embark on a career as a full-time mom.

In Naugatuck, Valerie joined the Women’s Study Club, twice serving as President, sang in the choir and directed children’s musicals at the Congregational church, and performed in amateur musical theater. Valerie and Fred moved with their children to Durham, CT, in 1980, where she joined the Garden Club, volunteered at the library, led a book club, performed in Connecticut Gilbert and Sullivan Society productions, sang in the United Churches choir, and supported the Crackerbox Players.

In their 52-year marriage, Valerie and Fred enjoyed many travels and adventures, with especially fond memories of their trips to Switzerland and their summer cottage in Maine, where family and friends would gather to swim, kayak, listen to loons, and tour the lake on Fred’s steamboat.

P1020415-1024x768Valerie is survived by her husband, Fred Wintsch, of Wallingford, CT; brother, David Gates and his wife Gert, of Waterloo, IA; daughter Elizabeth and son-in-law Peter Shoudy, of Durham, CT; daughter Suzanne and son-in-law Matthew Churchill, of Davidson, NC; son Jonathan and daughter-in-law Suzanne Wintsch, of Haddam, CT; and eight grandchildren: Ben, Alex, and Noah Shoudy; Thomas, Luke, and Zachary Churchill; and Isabelle and William Wintsch.

Valerie possessed a keen intellect and read voraciously. Her extensive vocabulary and impeccable grammar made her an excellent conversationalist and a formidable Scrabble player. She was an avid social and family historian, meticulously recording every facet of her children’s lives in baby books, delighting her Elmira school chums with her detailed recollections of their exploits, and writing a memoir for her children and grandchildren. For her, personal stories were rich sources of heritage, humanity, and humor.

An inveterate perfectionist, Valerie never stopped trying to be good and to please others. At the same time, she had a forgiving heart when people around her didn’t match the high standards she held for herself. She would dimple up in laughter at the slightest provocation, drawing great pleasure from pranks, practical jokes, zingers, and her husband’s dry wit. She was continually astonished by the marvels of her good fortune – Fred’s constant love, her close relationships with her children, and the ongoing delight of her many wonderful grandchildren.

A celebration of her life will be held at the United Churches of Durham (corner of routes 17 and 68) at 11 a.m. on January 17, 2015.  In lieu of flowers, memorial gifts may be made to the Alzheimer’s Association or Hospice of Connecticut.

Mom carried on until we all gathered together this Christmas to say goodbye, and Ben was able to snap this one photo before the camera battery died.

Mom carried on until we all gathered together this Christmas to say goodbye,
and Ben was able to snap this one photo before the camera battery died.


11 Responses to “In Memoriam: Valerie Jean Gates Wintsch”

  1. Sandra Wiseman says:

    Beautifully written.

  2. KM says:

    Lovely, Suzanne, just lovely.

  3. Kelly and Andy Baker says:

    We are thinking about you and your family. Your mother is an angel watching over you all now.

  4. Carolyn Racki says:

    What a beautiful tribute to your mother. She was a wonderful lady and she will be missed. Our family was lucky enough to know your family for many years. Henry & Priscilla (Carlson) Racki were both born in Naugatuck in the 1940s. They moved their family to Durham in 1977. Heather attended Coginchaug with Suzanne and Tray went to school with Jon. They have many fond memories of times with the Wintch family.
    Tray’s Aunt Fernn and Uncle Norm always recalled childhood times with Valerie and Charlie Gates in Naugatuck, as they lived at the end of the street. What a small world! Our thoughts and prayers are with you and your family.
    The Racki Family

  5. Jennifer Doebler says:

    What a beautiful person and beautiful life, and a beautiful daughter to record it. You are your mother’s daughter! Thinking of you and your family. xo

  6. Annie Merrill says:

    What a lovely tribute to an amazing woman. She clearly passed on to you her love of words and impeccable grammar! Sending lots of love to you & all your family.

  7. Kathy Barton says:

    Sending prayers and love to you and all of your family, Suzanne. My deepest sympathy, Kathy.

  8. jean kirkham says:

    Dearest Suzie–Now writing my memories and eulolgy—–feels like a sacred task–love jean

  9. This is a marvelous statement of Valerie’s caring personality and life of achievement. Her enthusiasm for learning, music, and just plain fun made time spent with her a most enjoyable experience. We will miss her warm welcomes and entertaining hospitality. Thanks for capturing her spirit so we can carry her memory with us forever. With love and sympathy, Bill & Maggie

  10. Joyce Shantz says:

    My condolences to you and your family. I knew your mother since we were five years old and started kindergarten. We were friends until she moved back to the USA at the end of Grade 12. Through the years we kept in touch occasionally. Your Mother brought you and Elizabeth to visit my family when you were in Elmira visiting your grandparents. You did not want to leave and go back to your grandparents’ home because you were having such a great time. I had six children to play with and many toys.

    Jean and Brian Kirkham had kept me informed over time as to Valerie’s illness.

    Joyce (Drexler) Shantz

  11. Isobel M Baker says:

    Dear Suzie, As I read your Memoriam to your Mom, and look at her picture, I feel she is sitting right here beside me. You have captured who she is brilliantly. I say this in the present tense because Valerie will always be with me. I loved and respected her friendship so very much. We had so many beautiful tea chats, and a lot of them included your Grandma Dorothy. I will miss those times very much, but I will cherish the memories of them. Valerie has left her Family a tremendous legacy because a little bit of her is carried on in her children, grandchildren, and future great grandchildren. I see it already. You all possess some of the very special characteristics of your Mom, and they blend so beautifully with your own personalities. She is very, very proud of you all and Loved you dearly. Thank you, Suzie, for writing this perfect tribute to your Mom of who she is. You have made me a stronger person, and we will always consider your family our extended family. Much love to you all, Isobel and Jim xoxo

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