Obituary : Harriet A. Almstead
Harriet A. Almstead died peacefully on Thursday, March 18, at Windemere Nursing Facility in Oak Bluffs, with her son Douglas and daughter Beverly at her side. Harriet was born in Greenwich, Conn., on December 23, 1924, the daughter of William Schulze and Harriet Barnes Schulze.
Harriet graduated from Greenwich High School in 1942 and immediately went to work at the Electrolux factory in Old Greenwich along with her mother and other classmates making airplane engine parts during World War II.
In 1945 Harriet was married to Arthur P. Johnson, also of Greenwich, Conn., and they had four children. Arthur served in World War II and was then stationed in Korea. To help make ends meet while Arthur was away, Harriet began seamstress work out of her home and gradually turned to interior decorating and did all the custom sewing work herself. Harriet and Arthur were divorced in 1961 and Harriet was left to raise her four children on her own.
In 1963, Harriet met Rev. Luther T. Freimuth, Pastor of St. Paul's Evangelical Lutheran Church in Byram, Conn. They were married on Easter Sunday in 1964. Harriet gave up her interior decorating business to become a full-time pastor's wife, which she did with grace and dignity. She also took on the role of stepmother to Luther's daughter and developed a strong, loving relationship that has never died. Luther had a quaint gingerbread cottage in the Campground in Oak Bluffs that he purchased shortly before their marriage. Harriet, with her aesthetic eye, immediately painted the cottage pink and green and started a trend of color that permeated throughout the Campground. Harriet and Luther came to the Vineyard the week after Easter every year to open the cottage, and spent the month of August with their children at the cottage. In 1969 Luther retired from the church due to illness and Harriet, Luther, and their youngest son, Donald, retired to the cottage in Oak Bluffs. Harriet then became a full-time caregiver for Luther for the next five years and did it with love and total devotion. Luther died in 1974.
After Luther's death, Harriet began working as a kitchen designer for Keyland Kitchens where she excelled and was totally in her element. She married Gordon M. Almstead, Social Director for the Camp Meeting Association, in 1976 and moved to Delaware, Ohio, where Gordon was a voice professor at Ohio Wesleyan University. Harriet took on her new role of professor's wife with enthusiasm and zest. Harriet's family also grew with the addition of Gordon's four children. Gordon retired in 1984 and they built their home in Dodger's Hole in Edgartown. Both were ecstatic to be back on the Vineyard. They became active members of the West Tisbury Congregational Church where Gordon was the Choir Director and Harriet served as a Deacon. Harriet was also very involved in the organization of the annual Strawberry Festival and was Chairman of the annual Christmas Fair. Harriet loved the church and made many cherished friends.
In June of 1997, Harriet underwent extensive cancer surgery and had a long road to recovery but she never complained or lost faith, she only thanked her surgeon for saving her life and Gordon for caring for her so lovingly. Gordon died suddenly in December of 1997 and her family worried that she was too weak to be able to be on her own. Nonetheless, Harriet thrived, she fought every day to get stronger, joined a Widows & Widower's group, began her cherished "Circle of Friends", and became even more involved in the church. Harriet always thought ahead and made sure everything was in order, so in 2004, she decided to sell her house in Dodger's Hole, give all her material goods to her children and grandchildren, and start a new life at Havenside Apartments in Vineyard Haven. She loved her apartment at Havenside, where she finally had a water view, and she made even more dear, close friends.
In the spring of 2008 Harriet suffered a stroke and try as she did, she was never able to return to Havenside to live on her own. She worked hard and with determination, and eventually she was able to move to assisted living at Windemere. She was so proud of her room, and it most definitely showed off her still keen eye for decorating, and she enjoyed being semi-independent.
Harriet is survived by her brother, Robert Schulze, of Uncasville, Conn., and his wife, Mildred; her children, Douglas Johnson of Vineyard Haven and his partner in life, Uta Kirchlechner, Gerald Johnson of Beaufort, N.C., Beverly Robinson of Vineyard Haven and her husband, Albert, Donald Johnson of Intervale, N.H., and his wife, Kim; Martha Freimuth of Manchester, Conn., and her husband, Stephen Smith, Robert Almstead of Marengo, Ohio, and his life partner, Sherry Fisher, David Almstead of Orlando, Fla., and his wife Wendy, Laurie Campos of Delaware, Ohio, and Wendy Bell of Carmi, Ill., and her life partner, Linda Hunt, 22 grandchildren and 24 great grandchildren.
A Memorial Service will be held on April 11, 2010, at the West Tisbury Congregational Church 12:30. Harriet will be laid to rest with her husband, Gordon, at the National Cemetery at Otis Air Force base in a private family service on April 12, 2010. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the West Tisbury Congregational Church or Hospice of Martha's Vineyard.