On Easter evening, April 4, an unassuming great woman left us. Nancy Luedeman (Anne W.) died at 6:15 pm in the Martha’s Vineyard Hospital of complications from pneumonia. She was surrounded by her daughters and close friends. Having lived for several years at Woodside Senior Housing, Nancy had quite recently moved to Windemere, from which she was eventually transferred to the hospital. There she received a constant stream of visitors, friends from all parts of the Island and from the many facets of her life — all eager to see her, to touch her, to encourage her. To each person Nancy said, “I love you. Come back.” After her death the nurses noted that they’d rarely seen anything like this flow of people, sometimes lining up at the door of Nancy’s room, waiting to see her.
Nancy was born on December 7, 1920, in New York City. Although her given name was Anne Eaverson Waring, she was always called Nancy. She grew up in Essex Falls, New Jersey, with her parents, the late Edward and Laura Waring, and her older brothers, now deceased. Having graduated from Glen Ridge High School, she attended Radcliffe College. While there, she met Robert Thomas Luedeman who was studying at MIT. The two hit it off, and on May 9, 1942, they were married. For the first few years the couple lived in several towns in New Jersey, finally settling in Metuchen, where they raised their three children: Alison, Anne, and Robert. As her children grew older, Nancy decided to go back to college; she graduated from Douglas College in 1963, and then, for a while, attended Rutgers School of Law. Among several jobs she held over the years was one at Dell Publishing Company as an assistant editor of crossword puzzles, a fascination she continued to have until almost the end of her life. Another enduring fascination was with Ireland, which she deeply loved and managed to visit twice.
In 1964 Nancy was looking for an Episcopal church to attend. She happened on the House of Prayer in Newark, and a new chapter of her life began, for at the House of Prayer she met Mary Payne, then wife of the rector, Edd Payne. The story goes that Nancy walked into the kitchen where there was a sink full of dishes (perhaps the water was still running). Anyway, apparently, Nancy walked over to the sink and let the water out. And somehow that simple act of Nancy’s “did it” for Mary who, unbeknownst to Nancy, had written a Passion play for the Easter season: “And He Shall Reign.” Mary was in the middle of casting it and needed a Virgin Mary. Who better than this new stranger? Thus, Nancy’s avocation in the theatre began, her interest grew and lasted the rest of her life.
Nancy and Mary soon became close friends and discovered that they were actually cousins through the Waring line.
In 1968 Nancy and Mary moved up to the Island with Mary’s young daughter, Teresa, and Nancy’s daughter, Anne, living in Mary’s parents’ house across the road from Uncle Seth’s Pond. They joined Grace Episcopal Church in Vineyard Haven and that summer, with the help of the then rector, Donald Lyons, started a summer drama program for children, which became The Children’s Theatre (now 42 years old). When winter came, Mary’s adult acting group morphed, with Children’s Theatre, into Island Theatre Workshop, Inc. Although Mary was the one most in evidence — directing, writing plays for both children and adults, and administering, etc. — Nancy was no less involved. She did whatever was necessary — from acting to typing scripts, to being Mary’s main adviser, to painting, putting up posters. What she became most known for was doing the lights. She spent almost as much time at the top of a ladder placing and focusing lights as she did running the lightboard. She taught several young people “tech” work, and more than one young man’s initiation into the technical aspects of theater was to be clobbered on the head by a falling wrench while “footing” the ladder for Nancy. She continued working lights into her 70s when she decided she’d better remain on the earth.
Meanwhile Nancy was following her other main interest: law. She worked for several lawyers on the Island and eventually went back to law school for a while at Boston University. She did not graduate, but returned to the Island and spent many years working full time in Rosemarie Haigazian’s law office where she became a good friend to Rosemarie and Rosemarie’s entire family.
In October 1978 Nancy became a devoted and regular “friend of Bill W.’s” and many persons of all ages benefited from Nancy’s wise and cogent statements, often spoken as “one-liners,” but with the essence of truth and wisdom behind each remark. If anyone in her hearing complained, “Oh! I should have done or said such-and -such,” Nancy would answer, “Get rid of the ‘shoulda’s; Should is s___.” She was beloved of all “friends of Bill W.” the rest of her life.
Still, she continued with Island Theatre Workshop, acting both in Children’s Theatre and with adults, and helping with all the myriad details to do with theatre. The role she made memorable was the pink-clad “Madame Gabrielle” (who heard voices coming from her teapot in Madwoman of Chaillot).
Mary Payne died quite suddenly and shockingly in October 1996, leaving ITW without an Artistic Director. Lee Fierro, who had worked in many capacities for years with Mary and Nancy, was elected as new Artistic Director and Nancy was an invaluable support to her and all of ITW in those first difficult months, and the following years as well, remaining on the ITW Board until she claimed herself as an “emeritus” and proudly continued to state “I’m the oldest member of Children’s Theatre!”
In her last 10 years Nancy performed not only for ITW and Children’s Theatre, but for Vineyard Playhouse as well, where she went from being an inveterate audience member to acting in several mainstay shows, i.e., the role of “Impi” written especially for her by friend and director M.J. Bruder Munafo in the VP production of “The Snow Queen.” She also joined some of VP’s 4th Grade project plays, enchanting a whole new generation of children. Her most recent was “Secrets of Cecilia” with the Oak Bluffs School.
Nancy was also a consummate and cherished audience member. All of her Island life she attended every theatrical production given by Island Theatre Workshop, the Vineyard Playhouse, the MV Regional High School, most elementary schools and whatever guest productions appeared on the Island. She loved music and attended many concerts at Katharine Cornell Theatre and Vineyard Haven Senior Center. There she’d be in the front row, obviously enjoying every word or note of music.
Some of the comments about Nancy have been, “She never disappointed you — you could always count on her,” “She was a woman of her word,” “never judgmental,” “quick-witted,” “she seemed to give everyone unconditional love.”
Nancy leaves behind two daughters: Alison Luedeman Funke in North Carolina; Anne Eaverson Luedeman on the Vineyard; and one son, Robert Waring Luedeman in Iowa; a stepdaughter, Teresa Payne Gocha in New Hampshire; four grandchildren: William Bald in New Hampshire; Christine Ann Bald Svidal in Iowa; Jason Luedeman in Tennessee, and Jennifer Luedeman Metzger in Pennsylvania; and three step-grandchildren: Martin, Malcolm and Margaret Gocha in New Hampshire. Also five great-grandchildren: Caroline Bald; Amelia and Natalie Svidal; Victoria Luedeman and Jack Metzger.
There will be two memorial celebrations for Nancy sometime during the summer: one at the Vineyard Playhouse and one at Island Theatre Workshop’s first home (it’s been a vagabond organization for 42 years) on Music Street, West Tisbury, the former West Tisbury library, now called the ITW Academy. Nancy knew before she died that ITW finally had a home.
Remembrances in Nancy’s name may be sent to: Island Theatre Workshop, Inc., PO 1893 Vineyard Haven, MA 02568; and Vineyard Playhouse, PO 2452, also in Vineyard Haven, MA 02568.