Anne Gass, 84

Anne Gass

Anne Gass

EAST RAYMOND — Anne “Nanky” Gass, 84, passed away at her beloved camp in East Raymond, on Sunday, June 1, 2014.

She was an amazing woman who will be much missed by the people who loved her including her children and grandchildren and the many friends she made, and kept, throughout her long life.

She was born in Portland to Anne and Brooks Whitehouse and grew up attending schools in Portland and in East Raymond, where her grandparents had built a camp at the turn of the century. Her father preferred to live at camp from April to November, so initially Nanky attended public schools in both towns, though she later stayed with her grandmother during the winters to attend Waynflete.

In high school, Nanky joined the Portland Children’s Theatre (PCT) and discovered a passion for all things theatrical. She learned to act, build sets, do electrical wiring, and direct plays. In the summer the PCT created the Stagemobile, loading the stage on the back of a flatbed truck and then unfolding it for performances in parks throughout southern Maine. The Stagemobile even traveled to New York City to participate in a gathering of children's theatres from throughout the country. She majored in theatre at Skidmore College and continued in children's theatre for many years. She loved watching kids grow through the process of rehearsing and performing as much as she loved the plays themselves.

During summer breaks from Skidmore, Nanky worked as a counselor at Little and Big Wohelo on Sebago Lake. It was there she met her future husband, Allen Gass, who worked as a counselor at Camp Timanous on Panther Pond. They married in 1953.

Marriage to Allen led to adventures she had never dreamed of growing up in cozy Portland, where she’d assumed she would live for the rest of her life. They started their married life in Cambridge while Allen completed his coursework at MIT. Tom, Katy and Amanda were born there, and then Allen accepted a job offer from a Canadian engineering firm, GeoCon, which required a move first to Vancouver, British Columbia, and then back to Port Credit, Ontario where Anne, Elizabeth and Vicki were born. Although the moves were challenging, she made many new friends from all over the world.

In 1964, the family moved to Andover, Mass., where Mom busied herself with her six children but still found time to direct plays at the YMCA in nearby Lawrence. She juggled scheduling and transportation to before- and after-school hockey practices, art classes, horseback riding, and swimming. Somehow, she figured out how to equip, pack for, and shepherd the kids, two dogs, and often one or two neighbor friends on skiing trips to Mt. Abram in Maine, and on camping trips in the White Mountains. Eventually, to help with the family coffers she found work substitute teaching in the Andover Junior High School and managing a fabric store.

Nanky discovered a new creative outlet when Allen’s work required a move from Andover to the Seattle area in 1977, where they built a house in Snohomish in a grassy field with terrific views of the North Cascades. She bought her first sheep and soon became expert in spinning and knitting. This passion led to breeding natural-colored sheep for their high-quality, hand-spinning fleeces, and she won many prizes at state fairs. As her human flock dispersed her sheep flock increased in size, eventually numbering about 30. This presented a challenge when Allen decided in 1984 that it was time to move back to Maine. What to do with the prize-winning sheep?

They bought a large gooseneck trailer (the “ewe haul”) for their sheep that their big black truck (“Darth Vader”) could tow. Another U-Haul held their worldly goods. Together, the caravan took a week to make the 3,000-mile drive. In later years Nanky loved telling the story of the sheep caravan road trip.

Nanky and Allen settled at Moose Crossing Farm in South Paris, where they lived until Allen died in 1999. Nanky had just one more move to make, and that was to a house she built next door to the farm that which would be easier for her to manage as she grew older. In South Paris Nanky quickly made new friends and settled into the community, keeping in touch with her far-flung brood, 15 grandchildren and old friends by phone, mail and e-mail. She also continued raising and promoting natural-colored sheep, served for many years as the president of the Maine Sheep Breeders Association, judged sheep and fleeces at the Common Ground and Fryeburg Fairs, and demonstrated spinning in the Museum at the Fryeburg Fair. She was inducted into the Maine Sheep Breeders Hall of Fame in 2010 for her leadership in the industry.

A central focus of the summers was time at the family camp on Panther Pond. She was always happiest when all six kids and as many grandkids as possible could be gathered there. In the summer of 2013, she spearheaded organizing a Whitehouse family reunion that brought nearly 100 relatives from all over the United States. So it was fitting that she spent her remaining days at camp, with her family gathered around.

She is survived by her brother, Brooks Whitehouse of Portsmouth, N.H.; her six children, Tom Gass of Seattle, Wash., Katy Walker of Lincoln, Mass., Amanda Dustin of Berlin, N.H., Anne Gass of Gray, Elizabeth Scully of Novelty, Ohio and Vicki Gass of South Paris; 15 grandchildren; and two great-grandchildren.

Her sister, Priscilla Whitehouse Rand, passed away on April 25, 2014.

A memorial service to celebrate her life will be held on Sunday, July 27, at 2 p.m., at the First Baptist Church, Paris Hill Road, Paris. Arrangements are in the care of the Chandler Funeral Homes, 45 Main Street, South Paris. Condolences can be expressed at www.chandlerfunerals.com

In lieu of flowers, donations to Loon Echo Land Trust (www.loonecholandtrust.org/) for the Tenny River Corridor Protection Project, the river near her home on Panther Pond, would be welcome.

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