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Sanibel artist, author, community servant Jean Wood passes

Mar 25, 2011

Island friends will remember Jean Wood as an SCCF volunteer, teacher at Sanibel Community Church and as a passionate environmentalist.

Jean M. Wood, a long-time resident of Sanibel Island, died on March 13, 2011 at her Chelmsford, Ma. nursing home. She was 85.

Wood died peacefully in her sleep after a five-year illness, with her eldest daughter at her side. Wood devoted her life and talents to serving others in the community and in her church here on Sanibel and at her summer home in Kismet, Fire Island, N.Y.

In the early 1980s, Wood, an industrial designer, drew up the plans for her unique Sanibel home — architecturally engineered to stay cool without air-conditioning. The home was featured in the Fort Myers newspaper for its beauty and functionality.

Wood, a passionate environmentalist, loved taking guests to the “Ding” Darling preserve “in her backyard” and volunteered for years at the SCCF Native Plant Nursery. She was very active in Sanibel Community Church, where she sang in choir, taught children in the LOGOS program, mentored women in the “Apples of Gold” ministry and led many other projects.

Among many of her community efforts, Wood organized an annual Thanksgiving Service at the Sanibel community center, using adults and children in costume, to celebrate the occasion. A host of other island organizations cooperated with her, and she was known by many for promoting a personal slogan, “Make Thanksgiving Thanks-LIVING.”

It was not uncommon for Wood, who believed in living out the gospel, to take on a short-term house guest who had nowhere else to live or to offer young families a free seaside vacation in her home. Wood incorporated bike rides and nature walks into all such visits, and at her own annual Thanksgiving meal (hosting many who had no local family) she featured an after-dinner scavenger hunt.

In an effort to create more affordable housing for resort workers on Sanibel, Wood also bought property on which she designed and constructed a duplex, one of Sanibel’s first “below market rate” homes, which she rented out. Wood volunteered her time in many Sanibel community events but also found time to swing a hammer on a few “Women Build” projects for Habitat for Humanity in Southwest Florida. Her son, Samuel Wood, a Fire Island builder of renown, has taken ownership of her Sanibel home along with her eldest son, Chris.

“She was a fascinating woman we all loved,” said Sanibel friend Dana Mehlig, who also spent her summers near Wood on Fire Island. “I was amazed at how diversified her interests and talents were. She made wonderful contributions to all of us and our communities.”

The wife of WWII veteran Francis Wood, Jean raised her six children in Port Washington on Long Island, N.Y., and she and her husband bought property in Sanibel Bayous in the mid 1970s with his retirement in mind. Sadly, Wood spent eight of her years on Sanibel caring for him after he developed Alzheimer’s disease. In 2000, she self-published a book of poetry, “A Voice for the Caregiver,” written to encourage others struggling in the same situation.

“Her faith in God gave her the strength she needed to not only care for her husband but to be a huge inspiration to others,” said Chris Jorgensen, a cancer survivor and friend in Fort Myers. “I will never forget her determination to make each year’s National Day of Prayer a community-building event.”

Consumed with charitable work well into her 70s, Wood founded “12 Baskets” on Sanibel Island, a ministry in which a large core of volunteers rescued leftover food from restaurants and resorts and delivered it to Fort Myers’ soup kitchens. Wood devoted much of her energy to teaching biblical lessons and crafts to children at the weekly community outreach “LOGOS” program at Sanibel Community Church.

While summering in Kismet, Fire Island, where there was no local church, Wood offered a summer Sunday school program at her home. Her “church” began each Sunday when she gathered the students around her 1890s pump organ, to lead them in a hymn sing.

Wood’s artistic talent and her gift for hospitality were lent to charities who auctioned off her custom watercolor paintings of people’s homes here and up north and the weekend “bed and breakfast” getaways she would host at her Kismet and Sanibel Island homes.

Jorgensen says Wood once remarked, “People ask me, ‘Jean, how do you do all the things you do?’ and I tell them, ‘I don’t do these things alone. God is the one who helps me do everything.”

A highly creative and energetic woman, Wood sang in church choir well into her 70s. She loved being involved at BIG Arts, painting, and encouraging students in watercolor and calligraphy. In her later years, Wood joined a scribes group in Southwest Florida, designing banners for her church and creating framed quotes, mainly from the Bible. Her favorite Bible verse to letter was Proverbs 3:5-6: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and He will direct your path.”

Wood is survived by her six children: Christopher Wood (Arlington, Ma.); Pamela Wood Clare (Bedford, Ma.); Jonathan Wood (Roxbury, N.Y.); Samuel Wood (Kismet, N.Y.); Fred Wood (Medford, N.Y.); and Wendy Wood-Kaler (Sayville, N.Y.); she is also survived by 14 grandchildren. Her artistic and musical talents live on in all of them.

A public memorial service for Jean Wood will be held on Saturday, May 7 at 1 p.m., at Gospel Community Church, 138 Greeley Avenue, Sayville, NY. Donations in her memory can be sent to Habitat For Humanity (www.habitat.org). A memorial page for Jean Wood can be found on Facebook.