Gail Friesema Farnham, age 82, of Ithaca, NY, passed away peacefully on November 15th, 2021 after a short bout with late-stage pancreatic cancer. She was preceded in death by her parents, Tillie Masselink Friesema and Harry Friesema, her brother, H. Paul Friesema, son-in-law Vaughn Blesi and Gail’s husband of 37 years, William Mills Farnham, II. She is survived by her three children, Brad (Jill) Farnham of Trumansburg, NY, Cynthia Blesi of Anoka, MN, and Emily Farnham Mastrianni (Tim Cartwright) of Saratoga, NY; seven grandchildren Heather Blesi, Alex (Louise) Blesi, Martha Mastrianni, Grace Mastrianni, Harrison Farnham, Lucy Mastrianni, and Katherine Farnham; sisters-in-law Janet Irene Farnham and Jane Friesema; and many nieces and nephews.
Gail graduated from the University of Michigan in 1961 and remained a fervent Wolverine; her ring tone on her phone was the Michigan Fight Song. After her marriage that same year, she followed her husband, Bill, to Theological Seminary in Chicago and got her first of many teaching jobs. Next, the Farnham’s moved to Manistique, Michigan where Gail taught for two more years and developed many lifelong friendships. The next move was to Buffalo, NY, where she received her first of two master’s degrees while teaching and raising three children. They then moved to Ithaca, NY around 1970 where she taught with a wonderful group of teacher friends at Boynton Junior High. Then, they moved to the Lehigh Valley and a home in Allentown, PA in 1973. While in the Lehigh Valley, Gail was a Professor of Education at Muhlenberg College, ran and won two elections for the Allentown School Board, received a certificate in Education Administration from Temple University, and finally ended up as Principal at her beloved Weisenberg Elementary School where she retired after twenty-three years in June of 2005. Gail and Bill built a beautiful home in Fogelsville, PA in the late 1980s and lived there until she made the move to Kendal at Ithaca in June of 2016.
Often described as a force of nature, Gail was always devoted to helping others. With her amazing administrative skills honed after years in education, her wit, wisdom, and compassion were well-utilized in retirement. Most recently, she was the President of the Resident Association of Kendal at Ithaca. Since 2007 she has been very active in Presbyterian Disaster Assistance as a PDA national response team member, and recently retired as a member of the NYVOAD Board of Directors.
Besides all her community service, Gail also loved music, playing bridge, reading, and spending time with friends and family. She was in two local Ithaca choral groups, a bridge club, and a book club. She especially loved spending time at the family cottage on Cayuga Lake where she waterskied until her late 70’s. Gail was able to spend a wonderful final weekend visit at her beloved cottage November 5-7 with most of her family all around her.
We all will remember her delightful laugh and smile that would light up a room. But most importantly, we remember her leadership, her positive attitude, her strength, and the love that she had for all others.
Her family would like to thank the caring and compassionate team at Kendal who helped her in her last days. Words cannot express our gratitude.
Flowers are welcome but if you prefer a donation to causes close to Gail’s heart, donations may be made to Kendal At Ithaca Residence Association, 2230 Triphammer Road, Ithaca NY 14850, The First Presbyterian Church of Ithaca, NY, 315 N. Cayuga Street, Ithaca NY 14850, or Presbyterian Disaster Assistance, PO Box 643700, Pittsburgh, PA 15264.
A celebration of Gail’s life will be held at The First Presbyterian Church of Ithaca on December 11th at 2:00pm. Light refreshments to follow.
Livestream of the service appears through the First Presbyterian Church YouTube channel at firstpresithaca.com.
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