Engelke Herta Heggie, 81, died early Friday morning, July 6, 2018, in Concord, N.H. She died peacefully in her sleep of an apparent stroke.
Services will be in Penn Yan, and Concord, N.H. The service in Penn Yan will be held at noon Friday, July 20, at the United Methodist Church, 166 Main St., followed by a luncheon. The church will open for greetings at 11 a.m. The service in Concord will be held in the “Great Room” at the Havenwood retirement home, 33 Christian Ave., at 2 p.m. Monday, July 23, with a reception to follow.
Engelke was born in Germany Dec. 25, 1936, in Brunsbuttel, Schleswig-Holstein, by the North Sea near the mouth of the Elbe River and the Kiel Canal. At age 16, she began a two-and-a-half-year apprenticeship on a farm in the North Rhine-Westphalia area. She passed her journeyman exam and then spent a year on a farm in St. Michaelisdonn, Schleswig-Holstein, before attending the Agricultural School there. After completing her studies, she spent four months in Hejsager, Denmark, as part of a European exchange of farm youth.
In 1957, Engelke moved to Berlin at the invitation of an aunt who thought that some city life would well balance out the farm years. Soon after, Engelke was employed as a governess for an American Army major stationed in Berlin with his wife and five children. When the family returned to the United States, Engelke began work for another American officer and his family and in 1958 moved with them back to their home in North Adams, Mass., in the lovely Berkshire hills. There, she lived with and cared for the officer’s ailing mother for three years.
Once settled into New England life, Engelke joined the choir of the First Congregational Church of North Adams. Her warm smile caught the eye of another choir member - her future husband and greatest love, Robert Bryce Heggie, a recent graduate of the University of Massachusetts at Amherst and a chemist at the local Sprague Electric Company. The two shared a love for music, the outdoors, and adventure; in June 1961, they were married.
Engelke gave birth to Peter Christian Heggie in 1962 and Barbara Gail Heggie the following year. She was a devoted mother and was known for her bountiful, delicious cooking and excellent work at the sewing machine and all manner of fiber crafts. After the two children began school, she began school, too, attending North Adams State Teaching College and receiving a Bachelor’s degree.
In 1973, following the closing of Sprague Electric, the Heggie family moved to Vernon, Conn., so that Robert could work at Pratt and Whitney. Again, Engelke went to school, this time earning a Master’s degree in special education at Central Connecticut State University.
Connecticut did not suit the Heggies, and after four years there, the family moved to Penn Yan, in the picturesque Finger Lakes area. There, Robert managed the laboratory at Transelco (later Ferro), and Engelke found work as a teacher of learning-disabled children in the Penn Yan Central School system. She loved every one of her students, was fiercely protective of them, and felt lucky to have the opportunity to work with them.
As the years went by, Engelke became deeply involved in many aspects of the Penn Yan community, which welcomed her family generously. She joined the choir of the United Methodist Church and several committees, then founded the Yates County Chapter of the Association for Retarded Citizens and became active in the local chapter of Literacy Volunteers. For years, she took the Sunday morning wee-hours shift at the Ambulance Corps and still found time to lead a weekly 4-H Club in her home and serve as faculty adviser to the International Club at Penn Yan Academy.
Whenever she learned of a student in need of temporary shelter, due to a difficult home environment or an ill-fitting exchange student placement, she and Robert opened their doors - for weeks, months, and sometimes years. In a similar vein, they took on a foster child, Douglas Magoon, while they still lived in North Adams and nurtured him in the family for ten years, until he was eighteen.
After Engelke’s retirement from teaching, she added more service-related work to her plate, including a creative writing class at the county jail and weekly advocacy for participants in a drug court program. Retirement also opened up more time for Engelke’s version of leisure - hiking, arts and culture, reading, and adventure traveling. With her willing husband, she traveled to and trekked through most of the world’s major mountain chains, including the Alps, the Andes, the Rockies, and the Himalayas, as well as the beloved Appalachians. She and Robert also traveled to Costa Rica several times on mission trips, building schools and churches, and for decades, they made a yearly pilgrimage to a UCC conference on Star Island, one of the Isles of Shoals.
In 2011, after 50 years of marriage and true partnership, Engelke’s beloved husband passed away from skin cancer. A year later, she moved to the Havenwood retirement home near her daughter in Concord, N.H., when it became clear that an insidious dementia was compromising her ability to care for herself. But even as Alzheimer’s Disease eroded her memory and her faculties, she retained her knack for making friends wherever she went, making each new person feel special and welcome and respected.
Engelke will be remembered for her spirit of gratitude, as well as her humility, intelligence, kindness, generosity, and spontaneity. She was up for anything, even to her last day, never turning down a new adventure or a chance to learn and experience something different. And while she never expected the finer comforts of life, she enjoyed them immensely whenever fortune sent them her way — especially when accompanied by her friends and her family, all of whom she adored and appreciated immensely.
Many times in her last months, she declared to her daughter, “If I died tomorrow, I wouldn’t mind. Not that I’ve set a date! But I’ve had a good life, and I’ve been very fortunate. I’m grateful for all I’ve had. I can’t complain about anything, and if I did, it would be very wrong.”
In addition to her husband, she was predeceased by her parents, Friedrich Frey and Anna Rose Frey (Cuno): as well as her sister, Rose Waschinski (Frey): brother, Erne Frey; brother-in-law, James Heggie; and sister-in-law, Cynthia Heggie (Stickney).
She is survived by her children, Peter and Barbara Heggie; daughter-in-law, Susan Heggie (Huzzy); grandchildren, Madeleine and Alexander Stewart; sister-in-law Janice Heggie Dunn; brother-in-law, Russell Heggie; and many nieces, nephews, grand-nieces and grand-nephews, whom she loved dearly.
Engelke’s family wish to thank the many people who enriched her life and returned the love she gave. Heartfelt thanks go to the extraordinary staff at Havenwood, all of whom cared so well for her throughout her six years there. Special gratitude goes to Bennett Funeral Home for the compassion shown to Engelke’s family and the memory of their lost little angel with a heart of gold.