By Kathleen Arsenault
Carolyn Phanstiel came into my life my senior year at FBHS, 1964-65.
The previous year was the most miserable year of my young life, nine months filled with the embarrassment of wearing a body cast, trips to Hope Haven Children’s Hospital for surgery for scoliosis and its aftermath, and the general discomfort of un-airconditioned life at home and school.
But by my senior year, I was out of my chrysalis, and Mrs. Phanstiel gave me encouragement and gifts that served me well throughout my life. I still remember her class about an ordinary apple – what do you see here? – and we discussed every aspect of its physical attributes.
She encouraged us all to become thoughtful writers and to enter writing contests. My college typewriter was purchased with the high school writers’ prize of the Southern Pulp and Paper Manufacturer. (I believe that Carolyn’s husband Otto was the Rayonier scientist who helped me find relevant documents and patiently critiqued my drafts about water pollution in the industry.)
I recently came across a short meditative piece of mine that Carolyn sent to a students’ writing contest, and I won the honor, shared by many renowned writers, of having a rejected submission to the New Yorker.
But Carolyn’s greatest gift came later. Little did I know in 1965 that Carolyn also had scoliosis and was soon to have a spinal fusion as I did. Although I didn’t see her often as the years passed, I was inspired by the grace with which she faced her growing disabilities.
As long as she could, she swam daily and devoted long hours to her family, multitudes of friends, St. Peter’s Episcopal Church, and community service. Even as her pain must have increased, she was always generous with her time and cheerful attention, and unfailingly ready to share a thoughtful recommendation of one of the many books she had recently read.
Carolyn’s example keeps me going on my walks, back exercises, Kindle synching, and trying to do a bit of good in the world. I will miss her terribly.
Kathleen (Kathy) Hardee Arsenault peaked early as a writer but became a librarian, eventually becoming Dean of the Library of the University of South Florida St. Petersburg. Before her promotion, she served as its collection development librarian, purchasing multitudes of books that soon may be banned in Florida.