REMY STEEVENSZ 1947 - 2017
During her time as Head of the Art Department, Remy Steevensz organized the first ArtsFest which started in the spring of 2017 as a celebration of visual and performing arts where both faculty and students can demonstrate their talents, participate in workshops, and try new activities they may not have been exposed to otherwise. She would not get to see the first ArtsFest come to fruition. Remy passed away suddenly in April of 2017 after over 10 years of loving Tilton School. The following story was published in the Winter 2018 edition of 1845: The Magazine of Tilton School.
When Remy Steevensz walked into your life, you knew it. You felt it. Always smiling, always positive, and forever encouraging, Remy filled the world with an energy that defied her petite size. She filled a void many of us didn’t even know we had. When Remy passed away suddenly on Sunday, April 9, 2017, her absence was intensely felt. She left behind an emptiness; a large, noiseless space in the center of Tilton School, the Tilton art department, her classroom, her home, and in the lives of those who loved her. Remy Steevensz was that delightful noise. She was the color, the energy, the creativity, the magic. When she died, the empty space left behind seemed to let out a wounded sigh, and at its edges we grieved.
Remy joined Tilton School in 2005 as a graphic design teacher, following her husband John Elfring who came to Tilton the year before. She brought with her a certain flair and flamboyance that was a signature part of her personality. In talking about his wife, John goes back to the beginning, when they first met. It’s a captivating love story; even a little bit daring. Born in the Netherlands at the end of World War II, John emigrated with his parents and siblings to Holland, Michigan in the 1950s. After his first wife died of cancer in the summer of 1988, John took a trip “home” to visit friends in the Netherlands. It was during this time he met Remy.
It happened during a double date with old friends. The couple had invited Remy to join them, thinking she and John might hit it off. They were wrong. From the start of the evening, Remy coolly ignored John. The spirited, free-thinking Remy wanted nothing to do with the American stranger, but despite her cold shoulder, John was intrigued. As the evening wore on, Remy began to open up. John suggested they take a holiday together, and Remy agreed. They didn’t have enough time to visit Indonesia, Remy’s first choice, so they settled upon the Canary Islands. The date of this first meeting was October 6, 1988. They left for the Canary Islands on October 19 and by the second day there (only their fourth day of seeing each other), they decided to get married. John returned to the States in early November 1988 after their 12-day holiday, with new plans for the future; Remy followed a month later. They were married December 27, 1988. For John, the decision was not a difficult one. “I fell in love with her the moment I met her,” John admitted.
Remy was born in Indonesia, a Dutch colony at the time, on September 14, 1947. Her family relocated in September 1950 to the Netherlands after an independent Indonesia broke diplomatic ties with the Netherlands. She graduated from a teachers’ college in Haarlem, the Netherlands, and went on to study fashion design. She began a boutique in Holland, designing and producing her own clothing line. Shortly after marrying John, Remy began studying graphic design and again started her own design company, this time in the United States. John began his career as a teacher during the height of the Vietnam War. After seven years in the classroom, he left teaching to join the business world, eventually working in New York, Miami, and Texas. After a lucrative career as business owner and manager, the pull of teaching began drawing him back. In 2004, John and Remy moved to Tilton, and he began his tenure in the English department. In 2008, Remy and John became the first dorm heads of the new senior girls’ dorm, Maloney Hall. It was a role that seemed uniquely suited for Remy’s personality. “I think she was the best dorm manager there ever was,” John boasted. “We had people over all the time. Our kitchen door was always open. Even when we weren’t on duty, kids would come in.”
What made Remy a great dorm parent and a great teacher were the same qualities that made her an incredible person; the same qualities that first drew John, and then others, to her. “I thought her honesty was marvelous,” John said. “She had an openness and an honesty that was not connected to herself. The honesty of what she was with people was really remarkable. The way she cared for people was so unique. She absolutely wanted to take care of others.” Remy’s impact at Tilton School is immeasurable. Whether she was on dorm duty, teaching a class, mentoring an art student, joking with faculty, or cooking dinner for her advisees, she spread a sense of calm and acceptance. She met people where they were, rejoicing in their successes and mourning with them in their sorrows. Her ability to be in the present and give her full attention to whomever she spoke with is something that still impresses John. “The thing I most admired about Remy was that I could encounter her having a very difficult meeting with someone that would depress anyone having such a meeting. Then suddenly someone else showed up, and she was absolutely totally fresh in how she then dealt with the new person,” John remembered. “Remy, in short, cleaned her mind and never let others be affected by what a previous meeting might have caused. That made everyone enjoy their own relationship with Remy because Remy totally concentrated on them.”
Remy will forever be remembered for the big things, the small things, and the crazy things. She’ll be recalled for the big gestures and the quiet embraces. Everyone was awesome, everything was going to be just fine, and every moment was larger than life.