[Originally published in The Caledonian-Record.]
Rosalie Harris, a pillar of the St. Johnsbury community and a personal mentor to many individuals, died peacefully at her family home on July 17, 2021. Rosalie was 102.
Some reading this obituary may remember Rosalie fondly from her more active years, while others will never have heard of her, or of the impact that she and her husband Ben (1913-2014) had in the Northeast Kingdom for more than half a century. This is what happens when one reaches the age of 102.
Born and raised in Montreal, Rosalie learned early to establish strong interpersonal relationships of support and mentorship, becoming an anchor within her large extended family of cousins which, even today, gathers monthly for global video calls, reflecting the spirit of family and community that Rosalie spread. She studied, practiced and graduated as a Registered Nurse in 1940 from the Women’s General Hospital School of Nursing in Montreal, and received a certificate in First Aid to the Injured from the St. John Ambulance Association in 1941. Her nursing credentials were recognized by Vermont in 1962.
In October 1941 Rosalie met Ben Harris of St. Albans on a blind date and they were married three months later on their fifth “date,” in Montreal, beginning a 72-year marriage. After Ben’s military service, during which Rosalie worked for the Red Cross in Boston, Mass., the couple settled initially in Montpelier and then moved to St. Johnsbury in 1949 when Ben opened the local branch of his statewide business Nate’s, then Vermont’s Largest Men’s Clothier. From that time on, Rosalie committed herself fully to advancing the civic, religious, and cultural life of the NEK. Her public service record includes:
- Caledonia Home Health Care, President and founding member
- Northeast Kingdom Mental Health Services, Inc., member
- Congregation Beth El, Sisterhood President, Secretary and Teacher
- Community Concert Series, Secretary, Publicity Chair
- Northeastern Vermont Kingdom Concert Series, Board
- Methodist Church Fashion Show, narrator and fundraiser for the St. Johnsbury Community School
- Vermont Assembly of Home Health Agencies, Board of Directors
- American Red Cross Blood Bank, Technician
- Fairbanks Museum, Board member, Fellow, Director and Clerk of the Board
- Girl Scouts, Board of Directors
- St. Johnsbury Junior Woman’s Club, President and advocate for the pre-school polio vaccination clinics
- St. Johnsbury Woman’s Club, Member
- Northeastern Vermont Regional Hospital, Corporator, Trustee, Member of the Executive Board, Chair of the Policy and Procedures Committee, Library Staff Volunteer, Central Services Volunteer
- American Cancer Society, Vermont Division Secretary and Publicity Chair
- St. Johnsbury Youth Recreation Council, Member of the Board, Secretary
- Arlington School PTA, Secretary and representative to the public school Social Studies Curriculum Committee
- Kiwanis Club of St. Johnsbury, volunteer
- Northern Vermont University, Lyndon Campus, Foundation founding member, Visitors Board member
- Gilman Housing Trust, now RuralEdge, Board Member
- St. Johnsbury Athenaeum, Board Member
- Northeast Kingdom Chamber of Commerce, Trustee Emerita
- Profiled in the book “To Life! A Celebration of Vermont Jewish History”
Familiar to many through all of these activities and through her boundless optimism and positivity, Rosalie is perhaps best known to a generation in St. Johnsbury as the person who explained Jewish beliefs and traditions through her annual talks in the Sunday Schools of almost every church in town. Rosalie had a way of making Jewish traditions and beliefs accessible and understandable to non-Jews within the context of their own religions, breaking down the barriers which too often divide our communities. Rosalie continued her representation of the Jewish community as a guest at St. Johnsbury Academy graduation ceremonies where, for several years, she delivered the invocation and benediction.
In response to Rosalie and Ben’s commitment to building bridges between the Jewish and non-Jewish communities, their children endowed a Fund which sponsors annual programming in the NEK to share culture, arts and ideas across religions. Rosalie and Ben themselves endowed the Harris Prize at St. Johnsbury Academy and a Nursing Scholarship at Northern Vermont University, Lyndon Campus.
Rosalie’s tireless civic commitment was recognized with many honors including:
- David G. Rahr Community Service Award, with Ben, from the Vermont Community Foundation, 2009
- Community National Bank Community Service Award, with Ben, 2005
- Recognized by the Governor’s Commission on Volunteers, 1994
- St. Johnsbury Chamber of Commerce Citizen of the Year award, 1978
When not busy serving the community, Rosalie devoted her time to her immediate and extended family and to many hobbies and interests, including piano, embroidery, crocheting, knitting, calligraphy, and painting. She also sought and enjoyed conversations in Yiddish and French.
Rosalie is survived by her children Gertrude (Chips) Naparstek and her husband David of Boxboro, Mass.; Andrea Harris of Brighton, Mass.; and Bill Harris and his wife Marcia of Cambridge, Mass.; by grandchildren Mark Naparstek and his wife Ember of Las Vegas, Nev.; Sam Harris and his wife Miriam of Dedham, Mass.; and Jake Harris and his partner Rachel Slusky of Delray Beach, Fla. Rosalie’s beloved granddaughter Amy Sara Naparstek pre-deceased her in 1995. Great-grandchildren, Emerson and Zander Naparstek, live in Las Vegas, Nev.; and great-granddaughter Nora Harris lives in Dedham, Mass.
In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the Amy Sara Naparstek Fund at Congregation Beth Elohim, 133 Prospect St., Acton, MA 01720; the Ben and Rosalie Harris Fund of Beth El Synagogue, PO Box 568, St. Johnsbury, VT 05819; or the Ben and Rosalie Harris Scholarship in Nursing, Northern Vermont University Lyndon Campus, 1001 College Rd., PO Box 919, Lyndonville, VT 05851.
Funeral services and interment were held at a private family ceremony at the Hebrew Holy Society Cemetery in South Burlington, Vt.