Carolyn Edna Phanstiel: Teacher, Activist — and Friend

Carolyn Edna Phanstiel was born in Queens, New York, February 28, 1938, and died peacefully at home April 30, 2023, surrounded by loved ones and gazing upon the Atlantic Ocean.

Carolyn was valedictorian of her high school class but never considered going to college until a guidance counselor pulled her aside. She received a B.A. from Albright College, a graduate degree from NYU, and post-graduate studies from UF. Both Carolyn and her husband/soulmate Otto came from working-class families. They both were the first and only ones in their families to graduate from college. She has been a local Fernandinian since 1962. Carolyn and Otto worked overseas in Taiwan for three years and in American Samoa for two years while raising their two children. From there, they moved back to Fernandina Beach in 1977.

Carolyn was beautiful. When she and Otto came to Amelia Island in 1962, people thought they were movie stars. Little did the community know what a gift they had received. She loved all social activities. In fact, she celebrated her 80th birthday with numerous parties over a three-month period.

Carolyn was a teacher. She had an inquisitive mind and wanted the same for her students. Former students from Fernandina Beach High School and Florida Community College of Jacksonville remember her as their favorite. Over the years, she continued to enjoy meeting with faculty friends from FCCJ.

Carolyn was a friend, a best friend to man.  She had this amazing ability to connect people so that they too could form lasting friendships. She lived, “To have a friend, be one.”

Carolyn enjoyed new experiences. She supported local theater, organizing groups to boost ticket sales. For two decades she looked forward to lively discussions in her beloved book club. She traveled the world, visiting all seven continents, always returning to her ocean-view home filled with sunflowers and memories. She loved lap swimming and sailing. She was constantly exploring new talents. She even learned to juggle in her 70s.

Carolyn had a big heart for those less fortunate. She served on the board of Barnabas and volunteered at hospice. She wrote grants for local parks and playgrounds. She was the co-founder of the Coalition for the Homeless. She participated in Study Circle: Voices of Diversity on Amelia Island and Oceans of Fun Reading Camp. Whenever she saw a need, she was ready to lend support with both time and money. In 2010, she received the Elsie Harper Volunteer of the Year award.

Carolyn was a political activist. She was inspired by the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about the things that matter.” She wrote articles for publication, called her congressmen, walked door-to-door and wrote postcards to bring out the vote, and participated in peaceful demonstrations. She once wrote that she would “say a prayer of gratitude for lessons taught to me by my mother about the necessity of common decency, the values of inclusiveness and the love of the United States of America.”

Carolyn was an active member of St. Peter’s Episcopal Church. She loved the liturgy, the activities, the people and the priests. When she was confined to a wheelchair, St. Peter’s made special accommodations so that she could attend a Wednesday morning service. She exemplified the Christian life.

Carolyn’s greatest joy was her family. Daughter Cheryl (David), son Otto (Nicole), granddaughter Jennifer and grandsons Christopher (Ioanna), Zack and Cole. She took great pride in their accomplishments, large and small. Carolyn never let geographical distances separate her from the close bond she had with each and every one of them. Her extended family included much-loved nieces and nephews.

Her greatest advice in all matters of living was that “Love is the Policy” and she regularly signed her letters with “Oceans of Love.”

Her funeral will be held Saturday, May 13, 2023, at 11:00 a.m., at St. Peter’s Episcopal Church in Fernandina Beach, Florida.  All are welcomed.  Also available will be remote access via a livestream during the funeral. You can access it at:

In lieu of flowers, memorial gifts should be directed to Barnabas Center, 1303 Jasmine St., Fernandina Beach, FL 32034.

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Joan Cipriano
Joan Cipriano(@islandcipscomcast-net)
9 months ago

Thank you, Carolyn, for being part of my life.

Peggy Bulger
Peggy Bulger(@peggy-bulger1949gmail-com)
9 months ago

She touched so many people’s lives here and made an indelible contribution to our entire community. We need more Carolyns in the world!

Dickie Anderson
Dickie Anderson(@dickie-andersongmail-com)
9 months ago

A treasure in so many ways and in so many places. She will be missed.

Chuck Colcord
Chuck Colcord (@guest_69241)
9 months ago

Carolyn was the best! Grateful to have known her and been touched by her joy in life.

trudie richards
trudie richards (@guest_69242)
9 months ago

A one in a million women – a heart as big as the earth, a spirit that was always loving, a terrific sense of humour, and a kindness that touched all who knew her. Keep that light lit, dear Carolyn.

Jean DesBarres
Jean DesBarres (@guest_69249)
9 months ago

Carolyn and I were in several Amelia Lifelong Learning classes together. Such a smart woman! I’ll miss her wisdom in class.

Thomas Washburn
Thomas Washburn (@guest_69256)
9 months ago

Carolyn, your contributions and volunteer work at Barnabas went on for many wonderful years.
Your legacy to our community is immense. So grateful are we!