AMHERST - Sara Starr Wolff, 82, died Nov. 11, 2012, following a long illness, at the Hospice of the Fisher Home with family members by her side.
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As a wife, mother, friend, mentor, counselor, therapist, educator and expert in the field of aging, she had been a postive presence in the Pioneer Valley for more than 40 years.
Born Aug. 8, 1930, in Nashville, Tenn., she was the daughter of Milton and Zaro Starr. Her father, Milton Starr, helped foster a group of poets and philosophers at Vanderbilt University that became known as the Fugitives.
Sara grew up among family friends that included Robert Penn Warren, Hodding Carter, Merrill Moore and Randall Jarrell, who dedicated a book of poetry to Sara.
During the Second World War, her family moved from Nashville to Washington, D.C., where her father was a dollar-a-year man working in the Office of War Information. Sara attended the Sidwell Friends School and graduated with a bachelor's degree in Literature from Sarah Lawrence College in 1952.
In 1955, while doing graduate work at Columbia University, she met Michael Wolff, a then graduate student in the English department at Princeton, at a party in New York City. Four days later, Michael proposed marriage by asking her to come with him to Bloomington, Ind., where he had just been offered his first job teaching at Indiana University. She said yes, and they were married for 57 years.
The young couple moved to the Midwest, where Michael co-founded the magazine and discipline of Victorian Studies. Sara had three children in two and a half years; Jessica Rachel, Jeremy Joseph and Judith Starr. In Bloomington, Sara also found time to volunteer with Planned Parenthood, the League of Women Voters and the local PTA.
The family spent a sabbatical year in Michael's hometown of London, England, and a year in Middletown, Conn., where Michael had a fellowship at the Center for the Humanities at Wesleyan University. They moved to Amherst in 1970, where Michael joined the faculty at the University of Massachusetts.
In 1972 Sara completed a master's degree in Education at the University of Massachusetts. Newly engaged by feminism and women's health, she helped to found the Everywoman's Center, first volunteering in and ultimately coordinating its counseling program. During this exciting time, she also became an early member of the pioneering Amherst Area Feminist Counseling Collective. She undertook post-graduate training in family therapy at Georgetown University and the Austin Riggs Center and completed her Doctorate in counseling psychology at UMass in 1981. Over the years, she worked as a psychotherapist for the University's Health Services, then at Amherst Medical Associates, eventually becoming its Director of Mental Health.
At Amherst Medical (later Kaiser Permanente), Sara became interested in problems of the elderly, particularly elderly women, moving her practice from the medical center to Amherst's community center. She later joined the Amherst Council on Aging.
She was on a board of advisors for the creation of the Hospice of the Fisher Home where, more than a decade later, she would spend her final months. The Vital Aging program, a series of support groups for seniors, which she created, would be a main focus of the rest of her career and her greatest legacy. She led the groups, Vital Aging and Vital Aging II: Pioneering the Third Age from 1994 to 2001. In 2010, Levellers Press published her book on this work, Vital Aging: Seven Years of Building Community and Enhancing Health. Vital Aging has become a textbook at the University's School of Nursing and elsewhere. It was her first published book, though she and her husband, Michael, have collaborated on six books for their six grandchildren.
She was a member of the American Psychological Association, the National Council and Aging and Gerontological Society of America.
From the age of 10, Sara spent summers on Cape Cod and had the great joy of watching her children and grandchildren discover the beauty of the beach and ocean. An enthusiastic cook and gracious hostess, she carried on her mother's tradition of hospitality and grand dinners at the family's West Yarmouth home and was an avid, educated and resourceful gardener at her Amherst home on Pokeberry Ridge. Music and dance were important throughout her life and in her late sixties she was a member of Dance Generators, a multi-generational dance company based in Northampton.
Sara is survived by her husband, Michael; her children, Jessica Wolff of New York, N.Y., Jeremy Wolff of Pawling, N.Y. and Judith Wolff of Brooklyn, N.Y.; six grandchildren, Violet and Ivy Wanta of New York City, Zaro and Jonah Bates of Brooklyn, N.Y. and Molly and Joseph Wolff of Pawling, N.Y.; and her sisters, Linda Starr Spain of Skillman, N.J., Ann Leslie Rosenbatt of Natick and Barbara Starr of Washington D.C.
Her brother, Dr. Henry J. Starr, died in 2011.
Her ashes were interred at a small family ceremony at Wildwood Cemetery in Amherst, on Saturday.
There will be a public memorial celebrating the life of Sara Starr Wolff at the Jewish Community of Amherst, 742 Main Street, Amherst, on Saturday, Dec. 15, at 2:30 p.m.
In lieu of flowers, please send donations to the Hospice of the Fisher Home, 1165 North Pleasant St., Amherst, MA 01002.
Obituary and memorial register at www.douglassfuneral.com.
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Douglass Funeral Home
87 North Pleasant Street
Amherst, MA 01002
Published in Daily Hampshire Gazette on Nov. 21, 2012