Her Grace and Courage Were the Greatest of Many Gifts

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. 

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STEVE KULLEN (@guest_69479)
11 months ago

Mike, your tribute is gracious, kind and inspiring and I was always encouraged to not use the word, “but” unless to negate at thought. It would seem to me that the use of “but” in the sentence, “Kathleen (Kathy) Hardee Arsenault peaked early as a writer but became a librarian” could be construed to negate the honor of Ms. Arsenault and I would have liked to have seen the word “and” replace “but” – and I always enjoy your postings. Thank you.

KJNemaric (@guest_69498)
11 months ago

It’s not Mike’s tribute. It was written by Kathy Arsenault to honor Carolyn Phanstiel.

Becky Williams
Becky Williams (@guest_69481)
11 months ago

What a lovely tribute and you had me until the very last sentence “purchasing books that may soon be banned in Florida”; even in this you had to make a political statement. It discredited the whole piece and left me thinking you used this memory to make a liberal point.

Noble Member
11 months ago
Reply to  Becky Williams

The reference to banned books is in Kathleen’s bio, not her tribute, so it’s not part of the piece. Also, it seems natural for a librarian and a writer to be concerned with book bans. Furthermore, it is interesting to observe that in 2023, anyone advocating for individual freedom and limited government intervention is quickly labeled as a liberal. Wasn’t that traditionally a core principle of the GOP?

Paula Mutzel
Paula Mutzel(@paula-m)
11 months ago
Reply to  wba

I guess suggesting banning what is put in a tribute or a bio by it’s author is ok..?

Mark Tomes
Mark Tomes(@mtomes)
11 months ago
Reply to  Becky Williams

Becky, please step back and look at the entire article. It was a wonderful tribute to a special teacher, helping a young person find her voice and place in life.

Richard Cain
Richard Cain(@richardcain)
11 months ago
Reply to  Becky Williams

Yes, the “book banning” reference in the bio ruined the otherwise nice article for me. Books that are being banned are nasty pornographic smut and those screaming about “book banning” just want to make it political. My sister is a school librarian and she started in on this crap with me … to hear them talk there is no such thing as a bad book. But when I read to her some passages from books that are appearing in middle school and elementary school libraries and asked her if she thought that was appropriate … she admitted THAT book should be banned (from schools anyway … you are free to buy it for your own “enjoyment”). Precisely. When talking about “banned books” please reference which specific book you are defending so we can all take a look … and probably throw up.

Noble Member
11 months ago
Reply to  Richard Cain

You are the accuser, and as such, the burden of proof is on you to demonstrate that these banned books meet the incendiary criteria you used to label them. I would be surprised if you found even one book that satisfies both the legal and colloquial definitions of the word you employed. Politicians love to use these shocking terms whenever they believe it could benefit them politically. These are fabricated issues meant to divert everyone’s attention from the fact that Republicans are incapable of addressing the real issues that truly matter to real people.

Mary Phinney
Mary Phinney(@phinney-mgmail-com)
11 months ago

Thanks for writing about Carolyn, Kathy. She was important in my life too. Even though our contacts in recent years have been sporadic, I knew I could count on her for a word of support or humor to keep me on track. Oceans of love.