Jean Elizabeth White

Jean White, 86, educator, artist, author and for decades a major presence in Woodstock community affairs, died on August 29, leaving a legacy of kindness and inspired public engagement. A member of a pioneering Woodstock family, Jean was a trustee of the Woodstock Historical Society, a mainstay of Woodstock Meals on Wheels, a member of Village planning committees, and a pillar of the Woodstock Christian Science Church, which she served as clerk, church reader, Sunday school teacher, librarian and Reading Room attendant.

After her passing, she was remembered at an impromptu gathering of church members, friends and relatives as a woman of compassion and endless giving. The attendees spoke of her incomparable pies and Christmas cookies, and stories were exchanged about the times she comforted and counseled the distressed or lent a helping hand. Townspeople without cars who needed rides to doctors’ offices, the supermarket or the airport could count on Jean to drive them. If a neighbor’s plumbing was on the fritz, the bathtub and shower at her house were available. Her caring nature found expression in her tireless charitable work and her opposition to heedless overdevelopment in Woodstock. In support of environmental and other causes, she was a petition-signing, placard-carrying, speechifying force.

Jean was a woman of deep faith and spiritual strength. In her later years, she suffered great losses: her husband, George Covey, who worked alongside her in efforts to preserve what makes Woodstock special and whose passion for Shakespeare and the British Isles she shared; her brother, John (Buddy) White, who phoned her for her special recipes from wherever he might be in his RV travels and for whom she was like a second mother; and, most recently, her beloved daughter, Alison Eriksen, a gifted sculptress whose death at age 55 left a huge hole in Jean’s life. This spring there was a month-long exhibit at the Woodstock Historical Society of Alison’s work. From the nursing home in Riverdale, New York, where Jean spent her final months, she oversaw the show, consulting daily with her sister, Susan Kirshenbaum, and the Historical Society’s Deborah Heppner about which pieces should be included and other details. Although Jean could not attend the exhibit in person, her love for Alison and pride in her work shone through.

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Jean was the author of a slender memoir, Sarah of Overlook Mountain, that she illustrated with her own delightful watercolors depicting the world of long-ago Woodstock. The book touches on the life of her great-great-grandmother Betsy Booth, a Woodstock herbalist born shortly after the Revolutionary War who walked miles to heal the ailing with her supply of bark, leaves and roots, but it focuses on Jean’s grandmother, Sarah MacDaniel Cashdollar, a noted Woodstock artist who started the village’s first restaurant and for many years owned the Homestead boarding house on what is now Mill Hill Road. As a girl, Sarah lived on Overlook, working on her parents’ dairy farm, milking the family’s 25 cows at 4 a.m. and again in the afternoon. Jean tells of young Sarah driving a horse-drawn milk wagon on icy mountain roads, and on one occasion doing battle with a black bear trying to get at the milk. “There were strong women in these generations,” Jean writes.

She herself was such a woman. When friends phoned Jean and she didn’t immediately pick up, it was simply assumed that she was cleaning out the gutters on her roof or carrying in more logs from her woodpile for the cast-iron stove in her living room.

Growing up in Woodstock, Jean developed a love of poetry and art, was a stalwart on the Woodstock girls basketball team and worked as a waitress at Deanie’s. She held degrees in art education from Pratt Institute and SUNY New Paltz. She was a first-grade teacher on the Hopi Indian reservation in Arizona, worked for U.S. Army Special Services in Germany, and was an elementary school art teacher for more than 25 years in New Jersey and Kingston. She was a prolific painter, following in the footsteps of her grandmother and another well-known Woodstock artist in the family, Clarence Bolton, the husband of Jean’s aunt, Louise Cashdollar Bolton, prominent in her own right as the longtime proprietor of Red Barn Antiques.

In Sarah of Overlook Mountain, Jean tells of living as a child across the street from the Homestead and observing the comings and goings of her grandmother’s guests. ”I loved watching as artists painted the view of Overlook Mountain from Frank Bradley’s adjacent meadow, actors rehearsed their roles on the front porch for the next production at the Woodstock Playhouse and writers and musicians were at work in swings and lawn chairs under the tall maple trees.”

Jean is survived by the sister she loved dearly, her brother-in-law Jerry Kirshenbaum, niece Tracy (Steven) Foxx, nephew David (Lisa Schwebke) Kirshenbaum, stepdaughter Claudette Covey, son-in-law Robert Eriksen and cousins Velma Cashdollar Grazier and Eileen Mosher. Memorials may be made to the Woodstock Historical Society, to which Jean directed all proceeds from Sarah of Overlook Mountain.

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