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1916-2012 Gertrude Halstead, 96, died on October 10, 2012 at home in Pittsfield, Mass. where she had lived with her daughter Alice Halstead and daughter-in-law Joan Shanti Cousins for the past three years. Her spirit remained optimistic and connecting, though she knew her body was "winding down." As she savored her last taste of dark chocolate, her heart.. simply stopped.
Gertrude was born on July 21, 1916 in Bensheim, Germany, to Zacharias and Berthe Hochschild Bendheim. Gertrude's first 25 years spanned two world wars in Europe, and by the time she fled to the US in 1941, most of her closest relatives had perished. Her future husband Walter Halstead (Halberstadt) had preceded her to the U.S.; reunited after five years apart, they wed in New York, on August 29, 1941.
Throughout her life, Gertrude was drawn to mentor, to teach, to help those around her.
She worked and volunteered with pre-schoolers, the poor, the elderly, the dying. Gertrude deeply valued connection with her fellow human beings. She also delighted in being a mother, always encouraging her three children to explore the natural world. She loved to be outdoors, whether gardening, hiking, beach combing or flying a kite.
In her 50's, Gertrude began writing poetry, a passion she pursued for the rest of her life. Her first chapbook and first book of poetry were published when she was 90 and 92. At 91, she became the first Poet Laureate of Worcester, Mass. In New Jersey, when Gertrude first began reading her poetry in public, she joined an acting class to quell her stage fright and found another enduring creative home in community theatre.
Gertrude is survived by: her daughter Alice Monica Halstead and wife Joan Shanti Cousins; daughter Celia Halstead and wife Bonnie Walz; and by her cousin, nieces and nephews.
She was predeceased by her husband Walter Karl Halstead (2004), her son Thomas Roger Halstead (2001), her sister Alice Bendheim Selberg and family.
In her last years, Gertrude was greatly helped by the warmth and wisdom of many, including the staff of HospiceCare in the Berkshires and Home Instead Senior Care in Pittsfield, and by her dear friends of all ages.
Gertrude gave her body to the Anatomical Gift Program at UMass Medical School in Worcester where she will 'teach' for the next year. Please consider making donations in Gertrude's memory to organizations supporting the arts, the environment, the homeless, immigrants or refugees.
A celebration and remembrance of Gertrude's life will be held on Sunday, November 18th in Worcester, her creative home and community. Bring a memory, a story, a photo, a poem to Assumption College, Hagan Center Hall, 2 to 5 p.m. Together let's celebrate her long life, well lived.
Published in The Berkshire Eagle on Nov. 14, 2012