Obituary: Eleonora Benda Bostelmann Shimler, of Redding

Eleonora Benda Bostelmann Shimler

Eleonora Benda Bostelmann Shimler

Eleonora Benda Bostelmann Shimler, June 11, 1921- October 23, 2014.

On October 23rd, “Elly” passed away peacefully, embraced by members of her loving family in the home of her daughter, Ann Bostelmann (Taylor), at New Pond Farm Education Center.

Born in Gramercy Park in 1921, the daughter of actress and model Romola Canfield and artist W. T. Benda, she had an extraordinary childhood living above Café des Artistes in New York City, surrounded by artists, illustrators and musicians. Her father was a well-known illustrator, cover artist for Hearst publications, author and creator of the celebrated Benda Masks. Her great aunt was Shakespearean actress Helena Modjeska whose home “Arden,” designed by Stanford White, is a national historic site. Elly’s first tropical fish were captured and presented to her by neighbor William Beebe, and each Sunday she and her younger sister Basia would race to the paper to see if Peter Rabbit had a freckle on his nose, a sign that her godfather, illustrator Harrison Cady, thought they had displayed exemplary behavior that week.

Elly’s childhood was further enriched by spending her summers in Southport and in Redding, at times living across the street from Southport Beach and also on Redding Ridge and in Poverty Hollow. She fondly shared stories of their woodland adventures and swimming with the turtles in the Huntington’s pond, and it is in Redding where she was most inspired by the natural world, spending hours observing, drawing and painting the wildflowers, snakes, salamanders, and the scenes around her. Elly also enjoyed being a part of the beloved Nit Wits Club, which conducted its meetings in the attic of the old barn on top of Cross Highway and held creative initiations with the help of Jesse Sanford and others. Redding is also where she met her childhood sweetheart and future husband, Louis John “Jack” Bostelmann Jr., who lived on Meeker Hill. Back in the City, Jack attended Trinity School, while Elly attended its sister school, St. Agatha.

After graduating from Pratt Institute, Elly was thrilled to be the first woman hired as an illustrator by the Fawcett Company, and for many years her illustrations appeared in national publications. Elly and Jack married in 1940 but his premature death in 1958 left her alone to raise their daughter Ann, then three years of age, so she sought out a profession with a more family friendly schedule, and fortunately she was hired by principal Alvin Goodfield as the Art teacher for Redding Elementary School. This career, which she dearly loved, lasted for 31 years.

She was excited to share experiences in pottery, wire sculpting, rug hooking, block printing, collage, and painting with her students. She was perhaps best remembered for her annual art shows with works displayed by each and every one of the children. For many years the highlight of these shows was a display of enormous papier-mâché creatures. Each year there was a different theme ~ farm animals, African animals, rain forest creatures, to name a few. Students would use their recess time, come in early and stay late to spend time with Mrs. Shimler. They’d be up on ladders building chicken-wire armatures for their animals, having a wonderful time.

Elly was creative and encouraging, she adored children and had a special way of celebrating and nurturing their talents. Elly completed her Masters Degree in Education and was partway through her PhD before retiring. Then First Selectman, Mary Anne Guitar, proclaimed June 10, 1988 as Elly Shimler Day in Redding, “as our way of giving back a little of the love she has lavished on Redding’s children for more than three decades.”

An amateur naturalist, loving all creatures great and small, her home in Southport had expandable walls as she welcomed injured and orphaned reptiles, birds and mammals, providing care until they could be released. In 1969 she married a very understanding man who accepted this rotating menagerie. Dr. Donald Shimler was a minister of United Church of Christ, high school History teacher, and enthusiastic European traveler. Until his passing in 1989, they made many a trip visiting cathedrals, churches and art museums.

Never one to rest, upon retirement Elly worked as a volunteer at the Pequot Library in Southport, where she had lived since 1956, and The Carousel at Southport Congregational Church, where she had been one of the first woman deacons. When her daughter Ann became the Executive Director of New Pond Farm Education Center in 1987 she could not have been more pleased and she began years of volunteer work designing festival crafts, sharing art lessons with the summer campers from the inner cities, and teaching craft classes. She also took fantastic care of her grandsons, Thatcher and Gavin Taylor, exploring all corners of the farm and filling their lives with all manner of creative art projects.

As time went on, Elly was fortunate to find companionship with Warren Chewning, spending 20 happy years in Southport together. Her final three years were spent surrounded by the beauty and activity of New Pond Farm, living in the farmhouse with her loving family.

Elly is survived by her daughter, Ann Bostelmann (Taylor) and partner Ted Augustine, grandsons Thatcher and Gavin Taylor, her step-daughters Donna Shockley of NH and Diana Young of VA, their spouses, children and grandchildren, niece Tammy Kidess Lucey and her family of Longmeadow, MA, and sister-in-law Helen Bostelmann Kidess of Springfield, MA.

The family thanks everyone who made Elly’s life so happy and rewarding, especially the exceptional Hospice team and caregivers who made it possible for Elly to live in the peace, joy and comfort of her family’s home.

In lieu of flowers donations may be made to Regional Hospice and Home Care of Western, CT. 39 Old Ridgebury Rd., Danbury, CT 06810.

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