Merle Haline de Jong (nee Hart) of Point Pleasant and Lakewood, died peacefully, surrounded by her family, in Princeton Medical Center on February 2, 2021. She was 78 years old. The cause of death was heart failure.
Merle was first and foremost a loving and wonderful mother to her three children and grandmother (Nana Merle) to her six grandchildren. She was an adventurous and talented home cook, who was happiest being the "hostess-with-the-mostest" at frequent gatherings of family and friends over the decades. She warmly welcomed everyone from far and wide and made them feel at home.
Merle graduated from Point Pleasant Beach High School in 1960 and continued to get together with "the girls," many of whom she had known since Kindergarten, on a regular basis. Working as one of Jack Baker's first waitresses at the Lobster Shanty, she put herself through nursing school at Orange Memorial Hospital, earning her RN in 1963. She then held leadership nursing roles in Memphis, TN, and Long Island, NY, until the late 1960s when she and her family settled in Sparta then Newton, NJ.
For a few years, Merle put her career on hold to nurture her young children and to cultivate extensive flower and vegetable gardens. She became an avid tennis player and loved skiing with her family. She expanded her cooking repertoire in the 1970s and '80s to include cuisines considered unusual at the time: French specialties like coq au vin, ratatouille and duck a l'orange; Indonesian dishes like bami goreng; and the Polish classics she grew up with such as pierogi, kapusta and golumpki. Her children's friends were introduced to many new foods when they joined the family for dinner.
She later returned to nursing part time at Andover Nursing Home and studied part time at Upsala College, earning a bachelor's degree, summa cum laude, in human resources management in 1982. She then became center supervisor for Planned Parenthood of Northwest New Jersey. In this role, Merle expanded access to affordable women's healthcare, including cancer screenings and family planning services, throughout underserved communities in the region.
In 1984, Merle and her family moved back to her beloved hometown of Point Pleasant where she was appointed clinic supervisor for the Family Planning Program of Ocean County in Toms River. She later changed careers to become a successful Realtor and relocation director with Diane Turton Realtors and Coldwell Banker Riviera Realty, until retirement.
Her marriage to Dr. John H. de Jong ended in divorce, and she later had a long and happy relationship with Richard Corbet, also of Point Pleasant, who predeceased her in 2010.
Merle is survived by her three children, Loraine Bashforth of Norfolk, England; Cheryl de Jong-Lambert of New York City; and Eric de Jong of Plainsboro, NJ. She is also survived by her six cherished grandchildren, Riley and Halina de Jong-Lambert, and Evan, Darren, Christine and Sarah de Jong.
Her family will hold a Celebration of Life in Point Pleasant in the coming months, when travel restrictions are lifted and family and friends are able to travel and gather safely.
Merle was a life-long donor to St. Jude Children's Research Hospital, whose work she came to admire from her time in Memphis. Donations can be made in her name at giftfunds.stjude.org/merledejong