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The Steuben Courier Advocate
  • Obituary: Desire Howland Vail

  • Desire Howland Vail of Bath, NY died peacefully in her home on July 19, 2014.
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  • Desire Howland Vail of Bath, NY died peacefully in her home on July 19, 2014. Her death was due to pancreatic cancer. She was 82. Born in Ridgewood, NJ, daughter of the late Donald Bain Vail and Eleanor Robbins Vail, she earned a BS in Music from Smith College, and an MS in Rehabilitation Counseling from the State University of New York at Buffalo. She worked as a rehabilitation counselor and teacher in the Buffalo area until she moved to Bath in 1989, where she lived by herself in a beautiful log home built by her younger son, Mark Mitchell. Although she was totally blind by her mid forties, she lived a sighted person’s life with the help of five Seeing Eye dogs: in consecutive order, Tricia, Oprah, and Rainy, who were German shepherds, Maggie, a golden retriever, and Summer a yellow lab and golden retriever mix. Her over-arching interest from childhood was in music, especially singing.  In 1952 she toured Europe for two months with the Chamber Singers of Smith College. She sang in her high school and college glee clubs, a Methodist church choir in Ridgewood while in high school, the Episcopal Church choir on Grand Island, NY, where her husband officiated, and briefly with a madrigal group on Grand Island, and the Scola Contorum with the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra. In Bath she sang with the Finger Lakes Singers almost from its inception in 2002. She worked as a volunteer through the Steuben County Office for the Aging (SCOFA), developing and maintaining a Talking Book program for blind and physically handicapped veterans at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Bath. Other endeavors for SCOFA included membership on the Advisory Council and helping to initiate the Steuben Senior Services Fund. In 2000 SCOFA presented her with the Community Service Award. She was active in several writing groups including one she called the “No Name Writers”. She also belonged to the Bath Area Writers Group, and the Salisbury Hill Poets in Jamestown, NY. Four chapbooks of her poetry were published by FootHills Publishing of Kanona, NY. Other activities included assisting as a leader of the Lakeview II Bone Builders group, and participating in the Wine Country Toastmasters club, both in Bath.  She attended one or two week-long classes in writing prose or poetry, or classes related to music, at Chautauqua Institution every summer for 34 years, and learned to play the dulcimer at age 80, joining a dulcimer group. She was an avid gardener tending her herb and flower gardens and the landscaping around her house until her health no longer permitted this. She loved to listen to the birds sing and tried to identify them by their song. She had a verve for life, was a life-long learner, and had a righteous irreverent sense of humor. She is survived by her two sons: John Mitchell, his wife Barbara, and their children, Anna, Thomas, and Julia of Williamsville, NY; and Mark Mitchell, his wife Eleata, and their two daughters, Lauren and Valerie of Bath; her brother, Peter Robbins Vail of Houston, Texas. Her husband, Rev. Thomas Lee Mitchell, died in 1971. In lieu of flowers, memorials may be made to The Seeing Eye, Inc., P.O. Box 375, Morristown, NJ 07963.
    Page 2 of 2 - A celebration of her life will be held today, Sunday, July 27, 2014. Visit with her family and friends from 2:00pm - 3:30pm. An informal service, filled with music, poetry and sharing of memories will begin at 3:30pm. The gathering will be held at a private residence, at 8336 Pleasant Valley Rd., Hammondsport, NY.

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