A member of the Coupeville community for over 40 years, Gwendolyn June (Pritchard) Starcher died on Jan. 31 in her sleep in Los Angeles, where she was living with her son Richard and his wife Marcia Starcher. She was 92.
She waited until what would have been her husband Roy’s 100th birthday to join him and her eldest son (Howard) Lee.
She is survived by four children: Martha (Marty) Daitsman, Richard Starcher, Andrew Starcher and Ian Starcher, 12 grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren.
Gwen was born in Akron, Ohio and spent her childhood between Ohio and West Virginia.
When recruiters came to her school looking for workers in a wartime economy, she found herself already at 16 working as a secretary in a factory building tanks, busing to work daily. Upon graduating from high school, she studied one year at the University of Akron. Still in her teens and a young woman of great beauty, she met her future husband through his sister just before the outbreak of the war. He enlisted shortly thereafter following the attack on Pearl Harbor.
While Roy was on leave in Akron from action in the Pacific, she accepted his proposal as they sat looking out of the cracked windshield of his brother-in-law’s pick-up truck. Gwen was 19 years old when they married in 1945, and their first child was born in 1946.
Gwen’s vocation as a Navy wife, mother, friend, neighbor and church lay leader was to be the glue that kept together her family and the communities of which she was part.
Roy learned to depend upon her to make the money last until the end of the month and to keep the children healthy and in school during his long cruises. Through more than 40 transfers during Roy’s 32-year career, Gwen learned how to pack light and quickly, and set up house in places like Bremerton, Wash.; El Cajon, Calif.; New London, Conn.; Dunoon, Scotland; Charleston, S.C., Fremont, Calif. and Coupeville.
It was a great source of satisfaction for her and Roy that, through their combined efforts, their children were able to go to university and later contribute to society in roles as diverse as chief financial officer, entrepreneur, author, professor, university leader, minister, missionary, database expert, political activist, and manager.
When Roy was able to request NAS Whidbey for his last cruise before retirement, they moved to Coupeville in 1972 and made it their final home. They joined the Coupeville Methodist Church upon arrival, and it became one of the centers of their lives. Gwen served in many capacities at the church. Highlights include serving on the bell choir and leading the exercise class for many years.
She was a mainstay of the Sunday breakfast crew, a prayer-group leader, an usher, a bell-ringer and in general a member of that group of women of her generation who could always be counted upon to say “yes” when asked to help.
She played an important role in the work of the Central Whidbey Food Bank and volunteered also with her dear friends Maryon Smith and Darlene Sherman at WhidbeyHealth Medical Center. Gwen’s was a familiar face for members of the community facing moments of vulnerability. Indeed, her faith, compassion, loyalty and discretion allowed her to help countless friends, neighbors and even complete strangers everywhere she lived, often in very quiet ways.
Gwen was an expert gardener. She trained as a Master Gardener through Washington State University Extension and provided free consulting services in Central Whidbey for over 20 years. At their first home in Coupeville on South Main Street, she kept a 70-tree orchard and sold fresh Gravenstein apples. Her canning and cooking talents were legendary. Her applesauce, relish and pickles made their way into many pantries, and she was just as generous with her apples, pears, plums, zucchini, salad greens, potatoes, squash, corn, kale, chard, spinach and aromatic herbs.
She was characteristically modest about her talent as an amateur artist. Three of her oil paintings are on display in the homes of family in Chicago, Los Angeles and Lugano, Switzerland.
A memorial service will be held at the Coupeville United Methodist Church 2 p.m. Saturday, March 16 to allow family to gather and for all members of the community to remember her.