May 28, 1923 ~ January 21, 2012
Jean Fay VanBuskirk grew up in Evelith, a small town on the "Iron Range," in northern Minnesota, a beautiful area surrounded by lakes and forests. Her grandfather, Marvin VanBuskirk, was the first mayor of the tiny town. Her father, also Marvin, owned the local automobile agency and repair garage. She remembered her childhood as idyllic, with wonderful, supportive parents, surrounded by friends and relatives, and lives filled with skiing, ice skating, swimming, and music, always music. Her father was a well-known tenor in the area, and frequently sang in concerts, operettas, other musical events, and church. He met his wife, Fay's mother, when she was the school music teacher and became his accompanist. Some of Fay's most cherished memories were of evenings at home, when her mom and dad practiced, and of listening to her father's tenor solos during mass. They were a close family, and Fay and her brother, Marvin, adored their little sister, Irene.
Fay became ill with polio, which required lengthy hospital stays and considerable corrective surgery. She didn't discuss it much, but her family knows how very difficult that was for her, and she battled the physical challenges that resulted for her entire life. Her strong will and zest for life helped her to overcome the chronic pain that plagued her into her final days.
Fay loved school, was active in student government, wrote for the school newspaper, played in the school band and orchestra, and sang in the choir. Her high school band won the state championship three of her four years there. During her senior year, Fay earned "first chair" in the trumpet section and was chosen to be the first female member of her municipal band. The band played weekly concerts at the park and in the city auditorium, and she frequently soloed. Later, she played the string bass in the Virginia, Minnesota symphony orchestra. She was also an accomplished pianist. In short, she was an accomplished musician, and music became the focus of her life.
Due to her mother's advancing health problems, Fay's family decided to make the move to California after her brother, Marvin, graduated from high school. Fay, her dad, and her brother all went to work in the defense industry, for Douglas Aircraft, which was working 24/7 in support of our soldiers in World War II. Soon, her brother Marvin was drafted into the army, and Fay enrolled at UCLA, where she immediately joined the school band. But, with everyone's thoughts on the war, Fay went with two UCLA friends and enrolled in the Navy, as a WAVE. Because of the crippling effects of polio, she was required to sign a waiver and obtain "reluctant" permission from her parents because of her age. After basic training in New York, she was sent to Hospital Corps School at Bethesda Naval Hospital, and became a corpsman assigned to the Naval Hospital in San Diego. Unfortunately, her "polio" leg couldn't hold up to the physical stress of that job, and so she was given a medical discharge. She returned home, and then accepted a scholarship to Immaculate Heart College. During that time, her brother was seriously wounded in the war and returned to a hospital in northern California. After his recovery, he enrolled at USC.
After Fay graduated from Immaculate Heart, she worked as a social worker for the Catholic Youth Organization. She met her husband, Bill, at that time, and they were married on Aug. 25, 1951, while he was still a student at UCLA. They struggled financially during those early times, and were overjoyed when he graduated and their income more than doubled!
Fay lost her beloved father in 1954, shortly after the birth of her daughter, Kathy. She was devastated by the loss, and spoke of him often, and the love she had for him, throughout the remainder of her life. Nearly four years later, her son, Mike, was born eleven weeks premature, and, at the time, his prognosis was very, very guarded. During the days after his birth, Fay spent hours in the chapel at the hospital, "arguing with God," as she told the story, telling him that, under no circumstances was He allowed to take this baby away from her. Apparently God listened, because they eventually brought Mike home to his overjoyed, doting older sister. I'm told he's been doing his best to annoy her ever since.
The family spent 18 idyllic years in Whittier, where Bill and Fay watched their kids grow up, enjoyed the company of wonderful friends and neighbors and frequent visits with their large, extended families. Then, right around the time that Kathy was graduating from high school, Bill made the decision to accept an assignment in Iran, since it was the only way he could stay with his company, Fluor. This launched years of remarkable adventures for Bill and Fay, first living in Iran, then South Africa, and then Abu Dhabi – experiencing the people, the cultures, the food – all of which Fay documented in beautifully written letters sent home to her family. Foreign living and foreign travel became a passion for them.
During those first years overseas, Fay's mother became gravely ill, and Fay was called home to her bedside. Fortunately, she had some time to be with her before she passed away. Fay adored her mother, and continued to miss her, right up until her own passing.
Husband Bill suffered a heart attack on his sixtieth birthday, and endured open-heart surgery a few months later; Fay was at his side every moment, and rejoiced in his recovery.
Their lives continued. Bill retired in 1988, and they bought a beautiful home in Oceanside, with extensive grounds where Bill grew hundreds of bromeliads; Fay and Bill joined the local Bromeliad Society, and enjoyed the company of their fellow members. And they continued to travel the world, planning a major trip each year.
Along the way, grandsons Jason and Josh were born, and brought joy and chaos into Fay's life! Mike married Cherie, and his stepson, Ryan, was immediately welcomed as their third grandson. Fay and Bill even took the entire family on a remarkable cruise of Alaska's inland passage – creating memories that all will cherish forever.
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