Re­mem­ber­ing the life of Yvonne Sill

Daily Freeman (Kingston, NY) - - SPORTS - Steve Schal­lenkamp Run­ning

It is with great sad­ness and deep sor­row that I an­nounce to the run­ning com­mu­nity the pass­ing of Yvonne Marie O’Con­nor Sill on Sept. 14. Yvonne was the third of four chil­dren born to Neil and Yvonne O’Con­nor of Wal­lkill.

Yvonne was born in 1946 and grew up in a happy, joy­ous, Ir­ish fam­ily, in what in the post-war years was a small and tight knit ham­let. Her fam­ily and her com­mu­nity would be­come the corner­stone of the val­ues by which she lived her life.

Her par­ents would open their home to all. Neigh­bors, co-work­ers, parish pri­ests and the neigh­bor­hood kids were al­ways wel­come in the O’Con­nor house­hold.

The fam­ily rule for din­ner, when they had guests, was “FHO,” mean­ing fam­ily hold off as the guests would be served first. Mr. O’Con­nor was a big hearted vo­ca­tional in­struc­tor at the Wal­lkill Cor­rec­tional Fa­cil­ity. He taught pris­on­ers vo­ca­tional skills so they could be­come em­ployed af­ter serv­ing their sen­tences.

In sto­ries told about the pris­on­ers, you could tell he re­spected them as peo­ple. Mr. O’Con­nor’s re­spect and ser­vice to peo­ple, even those who had hit rock bot­tom, did not go un­no­ticed by his chil­dren. Yvonne’s mother “Eve” shared her hus­bands be­lief in the dig­nity of all peo­ple.

Yvonne’s home was near Wal­lkill High. The Wal­lkill School District was spread out, and in an era when not all house­holds had a car, the O’Con­nor home be­came a gath­er­ing place for many of Yvonne’s class­mates wait­ing for af­ter school ac­tiv­i­ties like sports, plays and dances.

Re­mem­ber the old TV com­mer­cial that would ask, “Do you know where your chil­dren are?” Neil and Eve would joke, “yes and ev­ery­body else’s too.”

Yvonne at­tended Wal­lkill High from 1960 to 1964. Her older brother, John, had been a “3 sport star” as he ex­celled in foot­ball, bas­ket­ball and track. Her dad was an avid Dodgers and Gi­ants fan and en­joyed golf. Af­ter John went off to col­lege, Yvonne would at­tend games with her dad and play golf with him.

In “pick-up” games in the neigh­bor­hood, Yvonne would al­ways get picked for teams; of­ten ahead of some of the boys. She shared her brother’s ath­letic tal­ent. In an era of lim­ited sports for women, Yvonne would go on to play bas­ket­ball and vol­ley­ball in high school and at Oneonta State.

Yvonne would of­ten re­mark that she loved grow­ing up in a small com­mu­nity and go­ing to a small school. She said at Wal­lkill you could do any­thing you wanted to. You could play sports, be the lead in the school play, sing in the school choir and be a cheer­leader.

She did all those things and was even the team man­ager for the base­ball team.

Af­ter col­lege, Yvonne got a job as a teacher at Ge­orge Wash­ing­ton Ele­men­tary School in Kingston. She would teach in Room 109 for 38 years. Her first six years in 2nd grade and the next 32 as a beloved 1st grade teacher.

She was the long­est serv­ing teacher in GW’s his­tory. Her love of mu­sic, theater, read­ing and sports made her class­room fun, lively and ac­tive. Her fam­ily bred val­ues of re­spect for all and ser­vice made her a per­fect teacher for a di­verse com­mu­nity like Kingston.

Early in her ca­reer, Yvonne put on a first grade play. Her first play was just her class in pa­per cos­tumes. In col­lab­o­ra­tion with Betty Cor­rado, the other first grade teach­ers, mu­sic teacher, and art teacher this play grew to in­clude all the first graders in the school.

They even had a cos­tume and prop room. The 1st grade play was an orig­i­nal pro­duc­tion in which the stu­dents would learn over 30 songs and many speak­ing lines. They put on a show for the school dur­ing the day and one for the par­ents and the com­mu­nity at night.

They re­hearsed all spring and it was a won­der­ful tool for lan­guage arts ed­u­ca­tion. The kids got their turn to be in the lime­light and to shine. Ask nearly any GW stu­dent about the 1st grade play and be pre­pared for a huge smile and sparkling eyes.

Af­ter her re­tire­ment in 2006, Mrs. Sill amazed her former stu­dents by not only re­mem­ber­ing their names, but also their roles in the play. Ge­orge Wash­ing­ton is the only ele­men­tary school in the district with a full stage and au­di­to­rium.

In 2006, the school district hon­ored Yvonne by ded­i­cat­ing the stage in her name. It will for­ever be the Yvonne O’Con­nor Sill stage.

El­iz­a­beth Carpinelli’s daugh­ter, Lisa, had Yvonne as a 1st grader. Liz likes to tell the story how af­ter the first week of school, Lisa came home ex­cited and said “My teacher is just like Mary Pop­pins.”

I have been asked what made Yvonne such a good teacher. It ob­vi­ously was her com­bi­na­tion of skills. Her back­ground in mu­sic and theater and her com­mit­ment to teach­ing read­ing and writ­ing. How­ever, what made her a great teacher was her com­pas­sion.

She could look into a child’s eyes and her eyes would say I love you and you are safe with me.

She al­ways en­joyed sports and as a camp coun­selor she coached camp vol­ley­ball teams. She coached her daugh­ter’s CYO bas­ket­ball team. In 1996 and 1997, Yvonne was the as­sis­tant cross-coun­try coach at Bard Col­lege. In 1999, Kingston High was look­ing for a girls cross-coun­try coach.

I rec­om­mended Mrs. Sill to Tony Badalato and he found it was a per­fect fit. She coached for 10 years and in 2009 re­tired from coach­ing to spend more time with her new grand­ba­bies and to care for her hus­band, Bill, who had be­come ill. She coached in­door track and worked every out­door meet.

The kids on the team al­ways knew they could go to her to get their times, a hug and sup­port. In 2002, un­der her tute­lage, the girls had ar­guably the best cross-coun­try team in the school’s his­tory. They went 19-5 and qual­i­fied two mem­bers to the state cham­pi­onships.

They won the only Di­vi­sion Cham­pi­onship in the pro­gram’s his­tory and fin­ished 2nd to state pow­er­house War­wick at the Sec­tion 9 Cham­pi­onships. In 2001, her in­door track team qual­i­fied six ath­letes to the state cham­pi­onships. The fol­low­ing year, the team would qual­ify seven. What made her a suc­cess­ful coach was her abil­ity to ob­serve.

She could see when some­one was “off” or hav­ing trou­ble. She could com­mu­ni­cate. In her first year of coach­ing in­door track, she was hav­ing trou­ble with a few se­nior boys. They didn’t want to lis­ten to a new coach who was also a woman.

The team was work­ing out at GW. Yvonne took those boys into her class­room, had them sit down in those lit­tle 1st grade chairs, and af­ter 90 min­utes of talk­ing and lis­ten­ing, they came to agree­ment. That quar­tet of boys would go on to fin­ish 3rd in the Fed­er­a­tion Cham­pi­onships and 2nd in the State for the 4x200 re­lay.

Those boys came to un­der­stand that Coach Sill cared for them as peo­ple, not just ath­letes.

Yvonne be­came in­volved in lo­cal com­mu­nity run­ning in 1986 when her son, Michael and daugh­ter, Cather­ine started run­ning. They were 7 and 5 year­sold. She worked the fin­ish line of races with Tom Casey. They took pride in get­ting every­one’s time recorded ac­cu­rately.

She worked nearly every On­te­ora Run­ners Club race for over 30 years. In 1994, she was in­tro­duced to the Shawan­gunk Run­ners Club as well. She did ev­ery­thing from pre­par­ing the fin­ish line in­dex cards to tim­ing the race. She gath­ered ev­ery­thing needed for the post-race re­fresh­ments like slic­ing the bagels, putting out the fruit and stir­ring the soup.

She cleaned ev­ery­thing up and then packed up the fin­ish line equip­ment as race awards were be­ing an­nounced. She did ev­ery­thing in a quiet way never at­tempt­ing to gain credit or ac­knowl­edg­ment. She worked her last fin­ish line on Au­gust 25 at a small fundrais­ing event in New Paltz.

I must say writ­ing that sen­tence brought tears to my eyes and a heav­i­ness to my heart.

In con­junc­tion with the fam­ily, the Shawan­gunk Run­ners Club is plan­ning a memo­rial race in Yvonne’s honor for 2019. It will sim­ply be called Yvonne’s Race.

The pro­ceeds of the race will go to a fund to pro­vide win­ter coats and a toy for the hol­i­days to Kingston ele­men­tary school stu­dents. In her ten­ure at Ge­orge Wash­ing­ton, she was usu­ally the first teacher to ar­rive at the school and she’d watch the stu­dents en­ter. She no­ticed which kids needed win­ter coats.

On Christ­mas Eve, she drove through the city and se­cretly de­liver pack­ages to houses. The wrapped boxes said, “From Santa’s Helper.” Those rides were great fun as you knocked on doors and ran like heck not to be seen. The Shawan­gunk Run­ners will have at the fin­ish line of all our races a pic­ture of Yvonne along with her chair, clip­board and pack of in­dex cards.

She was a wife, mother, teacher, coach, friend and vol­un­teer. She as­sumed many roles and filled them all with love and com­pas­sion. Her im­pact on the lo­cal com­mu­nity can not be mea­sured but it was im­mense.

She will be re­mem­bered in the heart and minds of many peo­ple. Her son sum­ma­rized in her obit­u­ary:

“Teacher, friend, beau­ti­ful soul. As a sec­ond and first grade teacher at Ge­orge Wash­ing­ton Ele­men­tary School, Yvonne taught gen­er­a­tions of Kingsto­ni­ans to read, to tie their shoes and to be de­cent to one an­other.

“Proudly Ir­ish, she was car­ing, thought­ful and never judg­men­tal. She ac­cepted peo­ple’s flaws, and she for­gave their mis­takes. Her ca­pac­ity for giv­ing to her fam­ily, to her friends, and to her com­mu­nity was lim­it­less.”

Cal­en­dar, re­sults

Race di­rec­tors, please sub­mit in­for­ma­tion for the race cal­en­dar to sports@free­manon­ In­for­ma­tion should be in the form of a con­cise email with im­por­tant de­tails high­lighted and in­cluded in the body of the email. No race flyer PDFs.

Race re­sults should be sub­mit­ted di­rectly to me at ss­

Steve Schal­lenkamp has been ac­tive in area run­ning cir­cles since 1966 as run­ner, race di­rec­tor, vol­un­teer and coach. He is a mem­ber of the On­te­ora Run­ners Club and pres­i­dent of the Shawan­gunk Run­ners Club.


Yvonne Sill and daugh­ter Cather­ine at the Kingston Sum­mer Cross Coun­try race at Twin Lakes on Aug. 18, 2018.

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