Carolyn Bahle Hensel, a 60 year resident of Summit, NJ, passed away at her family home on Friday evening, December 14, with husband John and family. Carolyn devoted her life to her four children and later seven grandchildren and to the community of Summit as a professional volunteer through her commitment to the former Summit Child Care Center and the cause of children, various other community nonprofits, and to local government as Committeewoman. She was a realtor at Weichert Realtors in Summit.
An only child, she was born to Ruth Solem and Thomas L Bahle on July 18, 1935 in Flint, Michigan where she grew up. She attended the University of Michigan, majoring in English Literature, and met John Charles Hensel there. She attended the University of Oslo, Norway in her sophomore year and she was a member of the Kappa Alpha Theta sorority. In 1958, she graduated with a B.A . degree, married John and moved to Summit to take a position teaching English at Madison High School and John began as an experimental physicist at Bell Laboratories in Murray Hill.
In her early years in Summit, Carolyn was active with the College Club and its annual book sale, local elections and fundraising for the affordable housing project at Glenwood Place. She had children Katherine,Tom and Ann in quick succession at which point the family moved to the corner of Hillcrest and Woodland to accomodate the expanding family where youngest daughter Caroline was born. Up the road near town at 32 Woodland Avenue, was the Summit Childcare Center, founded as a project by the Junior League of Summit and which provided day time care for children of working mothers in the community. Through the League, she volunteered there. Early one summer in the late 1960s, the center director and other members of staff quit. Carolyn oversaw the operation until staff could be found, bringing her mother Ruth out from Michigan who prepared lunch and snacks for the children, and conscripting her older children and other temporary volunteers for the center.
She was part of a small group of women led by friend Phyllis Sank, that planned, raised funds and built a much larger Reggio Emilia-based child care center at 95 Morris Avenue and moved the Summit Child Care Center (now known as The Learning Circle) there in the 1970s. Carolyn spent many of the following 35 years serving on the board and was Board President for several different terms. During her last term as board President, she oversaw the purchase of the neighboring property and its conversion to Bobbsie’s House which more than doubled the size of the center and the number of children it served at that location. The Center’s mandate through that time remained to serve the working poor – with roughly one-third of children from families below the poverty line and one-third receiving partial scholarship. With her friend Nancy Creem, she quietly and anonymously connected with each of those children over the years through her gifts of winter coats, boots, hats and mittens for all that needed them. She is remembered most by staff of the Center for the car loads of Christmas gift bags she delivered for Center children and their siblings who were identified as unlikely to have anything under the tree. She touched the lives of thousands of children.
Carolyn was active in the community in many other ways. Through the Junior League where she served on the board and as President, she was involved in numerous projects such as support for drug abuse rehabilitation, affordable housing and a major donation which purchased the Jaws of Life for the Summit Fire Department. She served on the Lay Committee on Education, a board of education subcommittee, tasked with studying and recommending changes in the K-12 curriculum. She served on Summit’s Rent Commission. She was very active in the Summit Republican Party as Committewoman for much of the time she lived in Summit. She acted as political advisor for many local Summit campaigns over the years generally taking on behind the scenes roles – fundraising, campaign strategy, writing copy for both the local newspaper and drop leaflets, assisting in door to door campaigning and coaching and prepping candidates. She and husband John (acting as campaign manager) are probably best known for their work on campaigns for Mayor Walter Long.
When her children had largely grown, she became a realtor at Weichert Realtors hired personally by Jim Weichert for his third real estate office opening in Summit. Over thirty five years, she was appreciated by her clients for her sage advice, impeccable standards, and placing her client’s interests first.
Despite the great impact she had on the community and professionally as a realtor, she viewed her children as her life’s work and their upbringing as her greatest accomplishment.
In addition to her husband, John Charles Hensel, Carolyn is survived by three daughters Katherine Hensel (Fred Ost), Ann H. Beardsley, and Caroline H. Contiguglia (Carl). Son Thomas Wilson Hensel (Dr. Ying Guo Hensel) predeceased her in 2011. Surviving grandchildren include Catherine and Charles Hensel, Carter and Caroline Beardsley, Emma and Courtney Contiguglia and Victor Ost.
A Memorial Service will be held on Saturday, January 12, 2019 at 11:00 am at Central Presbyterian Church in Summit, NJ followed by a reception.
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