Anita Hotchkiss

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Anita Hotchkiss died surrounded by her loving family in Boston on Dec. 23, 2017. We will celebrate this remarkable woman’s life at the Martha’s Vineyard Hebrew Center at 10 am on June 3, 2018.

Anita was born in June of 1938 into an educated and cultured Jewish family in Bielsko, Poland, to Fanny and Emmanuel Mandelbaum. As the Germans approached Bielsko in 1940, the Mandelbaums fled East into the hands of the Russians. The family and many thousands of others were transported to “work camps” on the Siberian side of the Ural Mountains. Those family members who did not make the journey to Russia were victims of the Nazi Holocaust.

The war years must have been extraordinarily difficult for the Mandelbaums, but Fanny and Emmanuel somehow raised a happy, cheerful young child who later in life selectively recalled the stories and absurdities of those war years with great humor and positive memories. This would be a lifelong pattern for Anita: always positive, optimistic, resilient, open, and warm.

After the war, the Mandelbaums moved back to Poland and tried to restart their lives. These were surprisingly happy times for Anita. Her beloved brother Henry, of blessed memory, was born in 1946, and they were extraordinarily close until his death in Toronto in 2012. The family enjoyed a comfortable lifestyle, traveling within Poland to enjoy skiing and beach holidays.

The Iron Curtain had, however, descended on Poland, and Emmanuel and Fanny (lifelong Zionists) made the decision in emigrate to Haifa, Israel, in 1951. Despite their best efforts, conditions were just too difficult for the Mandelbaums to raise a family in Israel, and in 1953 they moved once again to Winnipeg, Canada. Fanny and Emmanuel finally found peace, and remained in Winnipeg for the rest of their lives, dying in the late 1970s.

Thus at age 13, Anita found herself in yet another city, speaking yet another language. The open arms of the Jewish community in Winnipeg allowed the Mandelbaums to rapidly integrate. Anita was a bright, accomplished student who enjoyed a busy social life in that town. Connections to the Winnipeg community exist to this day.

Just prior to entering college, Anita was sent as an au pair to relatives in New Rochelle, N.Y., for the summer. At a temple dance she met Neal Pruzan, a local young man, and was in short order engaged and married, thus turning her whole world upside down once again.

The couple lived in New City, N.Y., and then Eastchester, N.Y., making lifelong friends in those early days. Anita was 21 when Debra was born in 1960, followed by Daniel 11 months later! Trailblazer that she was, Anita proceeded over the next decade to put herself through college and then graduate school, achieving a doctorate in psychobiology with research at SUNY Purchase. All the while, with limited resources and constant juggling, she managed somehow to raise two accomplished children. The family trait of ironic humor was passed on to Debbie and Dan, who can recount many hilarious stories concerning their early years while Anita must have been burning the candle on both ends.

Meanwhile, Anita’s first marriage came to an end, and a couple of years later in 1974 she moved with Debbie and Dan to take up a postdoctoral position in behavioral genetics at the University of Pennsylvania. She was a fruit fly specialist! As an academic, Anita published prolifically, but her true love was teaching. She moved on to a faculty position at Rutgers University, then finally assumed a post as a professor of psychology at the University of Massachusetts at Fitchburg. As an academic, Anita was recognized on many occasions by the faculty, and especially her students, as a singularly outstanding teacher and mentor. It was of particular pride to Anita that she inspired and mentored so many first-generation college students at Fitchburg. Many of Anita’s colleagues and students would in later years be welcomed into the Hotchkiss home on Martha’s Vineyard.

It was during her later years at SUNY Purchase that Anita met Fred Hotchkiss, also an academic, with a doctorate in invertebrate biology. He and Anita were a perfect match. They were married in 1980. They shared a love of music, museums, food, travel (Anita traveled; Fred saw the photos!), fossils, politics, teaching. But above all was a love of family and friends. The blended family now included Fred’s two daughters, Grace and Emily.

For Anita, family always came first. As the grandchildren arrived, Anita would drop everything to make herself available as Grandma. She took such pride in their accomplishments, and was ever ambitious for the grandchildren to succeed. She cooked, she hugged, she schlepped, she hugged some more; the kids could do no wrong. Grandma was absolutely adored by Jason and Alex Clain (Debbie’s boys), by Grace’s children Zachary, Sophie, and Noah, and by Emily’s children, Connor, Matthew, Carly, and Grace. Anita somehow managed to fight her aggressive cancer long enough to celebrate and beam with pride at Jason’s wedding last summer to Alison Goodkind.

Upon retirement, Fred and Anita’s lives took a fortunate turn. They inherited a Mink Meadows home in Vineyard Haven from Fred’s stepmother, Prudence Hotchkiss. A decision was made to sell their house in Harvard, and give the Vineyard a try. It was a return to Fred’s roots, and what an incredible turn of events that turned out to be. The Vineyard home became a gathering place for family. Many wonderful weeks were spent digging clams, fishing, cooking, lounging at the beach, reading, sailing, fishing, discussing politics, and eating her delicious and abundant meals. Friends from off-Island were frequently entertained and warmly welcomed. Moreover, Anita and Fred connected with a wonderful and new group of like-minded people, many of whom were members of the Martha’s Vineyard Hebrew Center. Friendly, open, curious, generous, hospitable, socially conscious, warm and caring … that described the new friends on the Vineyard, and without question, of course, Fred and Anita themselves.

Particularly in the last 20 years or so Anita traveled extensively. She summited Mount Kilimanjaro, did a sabbatical in China, visited Mongolia, Israel, Egypt, India, Patagonia, New Zealand, Tanzania, Russia, France, Italy, Canada, Poland. The list goes on. Top of her list were the bar mitzvah journeys she took individually with Jason to Costa Rica and then with Alex to Belize, followed later by a trip with Alex and Fred to the Amazon and Machu Picchu. After she was diagnosed with lung cancer, Anita’s indomitable spirit and sunny outlook persuaded her (why were we surprised) to travel to Bhutan alone. Somehow she even conversed with the king! Her last trip, most meaningfully, was a girls’ trip to London, with Debbie and Henry’s wife Thea in the fall of 2016.

When we think about Anita and her extraordinary life’s journey, we will remember her smile, her optimism, her humor, her perseverance, her resilience, her intelligence, her warmth, her openness. She loved people, she loved her friends, but most especially she loved her family. Anita Mandelbaum Hotchkiss was beloved, and she set a high bar for how to live a full life. In doing so she created a clear path of fundamental values, attitude, and love that the rest of us can follow.

Anita is survived by her husband of 37 years, Frederick Hotchkiss, her daughter Debra Pruzan Clain and son-in-law Michael Clain, her son Daniel Pruzan and daugher-in-law Anne Pruzan, stepdaughter Grace Scarano, stepdaughter Emily Coggins and her husband Bill; grandchildren Alexander Clain and Jason Clain and his wife Alison Goodkind Clain; step-grandchildren Zachary Scarano, Sophie Scarano, Noah Scarano, Connor Coggins, Matthew Coggins, Grace Coggins, and Carly Coggins; beloved cousins Charlotte and Barry Katzen and family; sister-in-law Thea Mandelbaum; and an enormous group of friends, colleagues, and students.

Memorial gifts may be given to the Global Tzedakah (Charity) Fund at the Martha’s Vineyard Hebrew Center. P.O. Box 692, Vineyard Haven MA 02568.