In Memoriam

Sylvia Fitts Getchell '47 and L. Forbes Getchell '47
Birds of a feather shared a zest for life, history, and community.

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Sylvia Fitts Getchell '47 knew her wildflowers. She could point out Joe Pye weed and bladder campion. And she delighted in sharing her knowledge of trees and birds, too. Members of the Girl Scout troop she led years ago still reminisce about how much they learned from her, says her daughter Ann Marden Getchell Gray '74. An avid reader, expert seamstress, and prolific knitter, Getchell especially loved spending time in the mountains, picnicking, and swimming in the ocean off the coast of Maine.

After graduating from UNH magna cum laude with a degree in history, Getchell earned a second bachelor's degree in library science from Simmons College in 1948 and married her classmate and best friend, L. Forbes Getchell '47. While her husband attended dental school in New York City, Sylvia worked as a cataloger at Columbia University. After they returned to New Hampshire, where they raised their four children (Ann, Ned '78, William '95, and Faith), she worked as a cataloger at UNH and a school librarian in Newmarket, N.H. She served as a volunteer curator of the Newmarket Historical Society from its founding in 1966 until her death on Nov.12, at the age of 87, following a stroke. Pillars of the Newmarket community, the Getchells received the town's first annual Keeper of the Heritage Award in 1998, honoring their tireless involvement in town committees and organizations.

Forbes Getchell, who died just months before his wife, on May 16, 2012, after a period of failing health, shared Sylvia's love of the outdoors. "Dad took us camping, and he took me hiking as soon as I could keep up with him," says Ned. Forbes, who was also a marvelous skater and dancer, walked back and forth to work in downtown Newmarket—four times a day, since he went home for lunch—for 30 years. After he retired from dentistry, he continued his daily jaunts, walking stick in hand. The Getchells also shared a love of history. Sylvia wrote a book about Newmarket and published three genealogies. Both were members of the 1st New Market Militia, taking part in re-enactments in the United States and abroad. Dressed in period clothing she sewed by hand, Sylvia portrayed a thrifty 18th-century homemaker. Some 21st-century visitors were amazed to learn that a sock with a hole in it could be darned instead of thrown out.

While Sylvia enjoyed studying birds in the wild, her husband preferred carving them. In his home workshop, Forbes created tiny wooden birds complete with realistic wings, feathers, and beaks, forming their feet from delicate 18-gauge wire. "My mother always got the first rendition of his new creations," remembers Ned. By the time of his death, Forbes had carved thousands of birds, representing more than 200 species, all quickly snapped up at craft fairs.

Her mother's smile never wavered, even as she battled health problems and endured the loss of her beloved partner, says Gray. Driving off after her last visit with her mother, she spotted Sylvia in a window, smiling broadly, her hand flashing a silent message in sign language: "I love you."

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