“Midge,” to her friends, of whom there were many, died in the early morning of 21 October 2011 while being caressed by the hand of George, her beloved husband of 70 years.
Midge lived a full and remarkable life. Born in Newark, New Jersey into the family of an Italian immigrant ladies tailor, Carmine De Santis, and his wife, a Canadian-born nurse, Agnes Senecal, Carmel grew up in a family of over-achievers. Her surviving brother, Vincent, became a physical chemist who participated in many of the great scientific ventures of the twentieth century. Carmel was early recognized as a violin prodigy who followed her own passion for music. Carmel’s younger sister, Mary, followed her mother as a compassionate nurse.
After graduating high school in Chatham, New Jersey, Carmel moved to Philadelphia to study under Russian-born violinist, Jasha Brodksy, who was on the faculty of Curtis Institute of Music. Then, having excelled under his tutelage, Carmel was sponsored by the North Carolina Wyeth family in the Wilmington, Delaware area and roomed at one point with artist Andrew Wyeth’s sister, Henrietta. Next came two years at the University of Miami where Carmel was not only a principal member of the symphony orchestra but a cherished and responsible assistant in the English Department.
Then, (fortunately for her husband to-be and their children), Carmel returned to Chatham to polish her violin skills. By chance, Carmel knew some of the students at Drew University in Madison, New Jersey. By chance, one of them, Donald Yott, student in Brothers College, had befriended some of us in the theological school (or was it the other way around?). By chance, 15 September 1941 was the first day of the new school year for Drew with a special dinner for the “Drewids” in the Hoyt-Bowne refectory. And by chance, a Brothers College student, Donald Yott, welcomed his chance to invite Carmel to meet us. So, absolutely by chance at the end of the meal, Carmel invited any or all of us to come to her Chatham home and she would play for us. But, no longer “by chance“, George was the one who accepted, and that made all of the difference in their lives. Carmel and George married on 21 September 1942.
During World War II, Carmel moved to San Francisco with her husband, by then a chaplain in the United States Navy. There their twin sons, George and John were born.
At the end of the war, George returned to the parish ministry in the Philadelphia Conference of the Methodist Church at Berwyn, a career choice that threatened to interrupt Carmel’s continuing practice and concert career.
Within a year George was back in the Navy and the entire family was sent by troopship to Guam where Carmel endured a year without fresh vegetables. Over the next twenty years the Navy sent the family to all of the usual bases, especially Norfolk twice but also to places that became family favorites, Chincoteague where the family met “Misty”, Brunswick, Maine, Cape May, New Jersey, Argentia, Newfoundland. In the course of George’s career, Carmel endured the hardships of George’s year-long overseas tours on her own career, practicing hours a day and continuing as a sought after soloist.
When George ended his military career in the mid-1960s and became the chaplain at the Pennington School, Carmel honed her teaching skills at the University of Pennsylvania and later at Rider College where she graduated magna cum laude in 1968. She became a first class instructor of French and poetry at the two private boarding schools the couple served.
During their six-year stint at Pennington, Carmel and George were selected to chaperone a six-member team of college students to run the summer coffee house in Falmouth, Massachusettes. Simultaneously, they hosted a young Thai student who, to express his gratitude requested the queen’s household to create a queenly gown for Midge.
After six years at Pennington, Carmel and George moved to the Perkiomen School in Pennsburg, where they assisted Headmaster Brown in developing a strong faculty core. Carmel developed close friendships with students and faculty that have continued throughout her life.
At the same time Carmel worked with the school to develop cultural programs that brought music, theater, and the arts to the up-country school. She continued in that role as well as performing and teaching music until she and George moved to Cornwall. PA in 2000.
The perfection that Midge aimed at in music affected every aspect of her life. She was a remarkable cook, delighting in classic Italian specialties as well as new recipes that she continued to explore even after she had found what her family immediately knew was the perfect cheesecake. Anticipating Martha Stewart by a generation, she was a creative hostess who made her guests feel simultaneously like royalty and at the same time like members of her family.
Carmel managed all of this in a life that began, according to her calendar, in 1920, a date which made her younger than her husband – and kept her a prodigy for a few additional years. However, this made for a remarkable compression of time that was explained when Carmel was confronted a few years ago with the question of her actual birth date and she responded, “Do you want my professional age or my chronological age?”
In the last few years, Midge was slowed by the ravages of Lewy Bodies syndrome that diminished and then in many ways removed her from the repartee of conversation. Five years ago, her daily violin practicing, which had sustained her for nearly 85 years, ended.
Midge is survived by her husband, George, her twin sons, John and George, granddaughters Kate, Colby, Merri-Beth and grandson, Parker and two great-granddaughters and by a host of friends who will remember her rapier wit, her boundless energy, her love of her family and her passion for everything and everyone that she encountered. In more than a few ways, she gave all who knew her the gift of life.