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Tanya Rotenberg's Memories of Mary Kay



Reflections on Mary Kay, March 18th 2001
- by Sandy Rotenberg

Mary Kay at NEFFA 96Our whole family met Mary Kay sometime in the early 80's at a Baltimore Ball. I don't remember if we stayed with her that time, but we invited her to the Philadelphia Ball a few months later and she stayed with us. And ever since then, for every Baltimore or Washington dance event we have stayed with her, and for every Philadelphia or Lambertville event she has stayed with us. We often keep her bed made because she's coming back so soon.

She was here two weeks ago for the February Fling and had planned to return this weekend for a dance and sacred harp sing. When Tanya and Ben were young, people used to ask Mary Kay why 'her children' lived in Philadelphia. I have also stayed with her many times when I've had work conferences in DC, and have even brought colleagues with me.

We have traveled together to Pinewoods, to NEFFA. She and I have traveled to most CDSS board meetings together. Mary Kay was the maid of honor at Tanya & Ted's wedding. Mary Kay, Bob Morris, Sam & I held a joint 50th birthday dance "200 years of good living." In fact she discussed the next such event with Bob just last week at the Boston Ball. We plan to do it anyway and we know she'll be there with us.

Why did we become like family to each other? Mary Kay is a family person, she is very close to her own family, her mom, three brothers and nieces and nephews. And she considered us and treated us like family too. She loved Tanya and Ben and encouraged their early dancing. I remember an out of town dance event which we all attended together when Tanya and Ben were about 13 and 14 but probably looked to be 9 and 10. We arrived late. Christine Helwig was leading the dance and we all lined up for Epping Forrest, done as a three couple round. Christine who had never met our family expressed concern and Mary Kay quickly assured her that Tanya and Ben would have no difficulty with the dance.

I expect we became like family because we share family values and common interests, and just because we all really enjoy each others company. I remember many breakfasts and late night snacks, sharing tea from her wonderful elephant tea pot, with the elephant tea cozy. Mary Kay was delightful to talk with. She loved to talk and to listen. She always had an optimistic and positive view of life. She read many books and papers and constantly listened to the news. She traveled to many countries and continents in her job at the census bureau and with friends and family for pleasure. Mary Kay was a story teller, tales about people she had met, places she had been, ideas she had learned from her travels or reading. She found 'something of value' in everything she did and everyone she knew. I remember that concept as the thing that first drew me to the Quaker activities which I found in my early teen years, and Mary Kay, also from a Quaker background exemplified that value.

I talked with Joseph Pimentel who had dinner with her on Wednesday night just before her stroke occurred. I asked what she talked about at dinner. She talked about her family, her trips with each niece and nephew to their country of choice. She talked about the dance community. She talked about how she first discovered the broader community when we told her about our Philadelphia Ball.

As she drove Joseph through DC Wednesday evening she talked about her town and how much she loves the lure of Washington at night. A few years ago she was considering moving to the suburbs because her neighborhood was becoming dangerous. Instead, she found a struggling neighborhood association and helped bring it and her neighborhood to life. I loved her tours of the city. Most recently she introduced me to the FDR memorial; we went there at night and shared the beauty and values expressed in the memorial.

For Mary Kay, as for many of us, the dance community was her family too. We proudly earned our "Dance Gypsy" bumper stickers together, but I think we both drove those cars to so many events that the cars wore out before the Dance Gypsy title. We talked many times about the camaraderie we felt with dancers, the joy of traveling most anywhere in the country and finding a dance and a place to stay for the night. As we traveled for the CDSS board meetings, to different cities across the continent, we compared the way each region danced and socialized. We learned from the differences and similarities and we always felt a warm welcome.

As Mary Kay organized dance events, as she worked on the CDSS board, the Pinewoods board, or advisory committees for Buffalo Gap, she was always focused on community, on making sure everyone had fun and felt welcomed. This is what she enjoyed about dancing and she wanted us all to share that feeling.

There are literally hundreds of dancers and friends who are mourning the loss of our dear friend, Mary Kay. I know she will live on for us as a model of her lovely smooth dancing style, her smile, her sheer joy of dancing, song and music.

I loved dancing with Mary Kay. A couple months ago we played our recorders together when I was staying there for a conference. We shared many meals together, she loved food from many countries and always found little known restaurant gems, usually a small quiet cafe where we could enjoy a long conversation and delightful ethnic food.

Let's continue her joyful life together as we remember her.