IN MEMORIAM: Thyrza Upson Christel

by Jane Ahrens

Thyrza Upson Christel, 88 passed away peacefully at her home the morning of November 1, in Middlebury, Connecticut at 88 years old, surrounded by her family and in view of her beloved Tranquillity Farm and Lake Quassapaug.

Born December 2, 1930 in Waterbury, CT, she was the daughter of the late Charles Hiram Upson and Gertrude Whittemore Upson, of Middlebury, Lake Wales, Florida and Fishers Island, New York. Though she lived many places during her lifetime, it was the rolling hills, farmland, animals wild and domestic and sparkling waters of Lake Quassapaug that were Thyrza’s true home.

The great granddaughter and granddaughter, respectively, of civic and cultural benefactors John Howard Whittemore and Harris Whittemore, Thyrza grew up with a passion for her family home and her ancestors’ life work.

A radiant, spunky spirit from the first, Thyrza could always be found riding horses, farming, studying flora and fauna or exploring the woods surrounding Tranquillity Farm. A natural athlete, Thyrza grew up sailing, skiing, swimming, golfing and hiking. She attended the Chase School and later the Westover School, founded by her grandfather. She attended Vassar College as an art history major. It was during her school years she formed the friendships that would remain her closest throughout her life.

After college Thyrza went to work in New York for Charm Magazine, a publication for working women. It was in New York that she met her husband of 65 years, Norbert R. Christel of Valders, Wisconsin. Together they had five children: Maria Tamison, William Hiram, John Howard, Sarah Buckingham and Ann Upson.

A series of moves took the family from Los Angeles to St. Louis, Missouri, Baltimore, Maryland and West Hartford, CT. Through every transition Thyrza shepherded her five children from home base to home base, helping them become established in new schools, always creating a welcoming home that was a reflection of her warm heart and infectious smile. Many times Thyrza loaded her five children and the family pets into a station wagon to drive across the country. Family summers were spent everywhere from Yosemite National Park to the New England coast. Adored by all her children, Thyrza was their best friend, confidant and the heart of her family.

During her West Hartford years, Thyrza had time to broaden her artistic skills and began painting. Barely requiring lessons, she created beautiful landscapes, portraits and still lives with a talent most take years to develop. She also began working for Aid To Artisans, then located in Farmington, Connecticut, a non-profit organization building economic opportunities around the globe where communities and local craftspeople are at high risk. Thyrza worked with crafts initiatives in many countries, but her focus became the people of Armenia. At age 65 she flew from New York to Yerevan by herself on a plane loaded with farm animals, a risky mission rarely considered acceptable for women of her generation.

In that conflict-challenged country, Thyrza’s gift for finding marketable local products helped establish the Sharon Crafts Center, a successful collection of children’s clothing and accessories now exported around the world. By introducing Armenia’s arts to mainstream markets, Thyrza provided the care and attention that saved and enhanced countless Armenian lives.

Thyrza’s legacy is one of abundant life spirit and joy. Her physical and emotional strengths came naturally, and she was blessed with an uncanny ability to see through uncertainties and embrace universal essentials. With every breath she celebrated life. Even when injury or illness seriously compromised her health, she breathed in the positive and simply decided to overcome any adversity so she could get back to her family, friends and home. She made everyone laugh with the tiniest glance, and her impish humor is legendary. She embodied Tranquility Farm’s spirit, it was never far from her heart, and she will always be a part of its singular beauty.

Thyrza leaves behind her husband, Norbert R. Christel of Lake Wales, Florida; her four children, Maria Tamison Christel (Tammy), William Hiram Christel (Deborah), John Howard Christel (Kate) and Sarah Christel Scully (Jeff); her grandchildren Sam, Charles and Simon Christel; her beloved brother Charles Hiram Upson of Washington, CT and his partner Muffy Barhydt of Watertown; and her former son-in-law Otis Scott Metje of Trappe, Maryland. She is pre-deceased by her daughter Ann Upson Metje, as well as her sister Justine Brockway Arnold of Middlebury. She is loved and missed by a teeming family of nieces, nephews and cousins. She would want us to note that she deeply loved her dogs, her constant companions.

A private interment is planned at Middlebury Cemetery. A memorial celebration of her life will take place on Tranquillity Farm next May.

In lieu of flowers Thyrza’s family asks that you make a donation to an animal adoption center of your choice, the Flanders Nature Center in Middlebury, the Bok Tower Gardens in Lake Wales Florida or your local Alzheimer’s support group.

Featured Photo

USCG Eagle passing the Race early morning March 18, 2023 on her return from the Chesapeake Bay. Photo Credit Marlin Bloethe

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