Chelsea Robbins Kesselheim died, quickly and peacefully, at her Lander home on Saturday, October 5th. She was in the company of her life-long partner and husband of 65 years, Donn Kesselheim.
A descendant of the suffragist leader Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Chelsea’s was a life charged with commitment, driven by her principles, and fueled by her indomitable spirit.
She was born in Bronxville, New York in 1927. Her parents, Hilda (Bergner) and James Stanton Robbins, were in the travel business. Consequently, the family lived in various homes, both overseas and in the U. S. That legacy provoked in Chelsea a passion for travel and cultural immersion, that she expressed by teaching overseas and by extensive travel, always fascinated by history and the layers of experience off the tourist trail.
In 1949, three years after graduating from Stanford and marrying Donn, the couple was appointed to a five-year teaching assignment in Tarsus, Turkey. In this new/old country, they developed life-long friendships, and parented two sons, Alan and Craig. Both were born in an American-sponsored hospital in the small town of Gaziantep, on the Euphrates River. In 1957, the family returned to the U. S. to continue their teaching careers, and to raise their two sons. In 1960, their daughter, Ann Noel, was born in Boston.
Teaching took them many places: Beginning in Ojai, California, Chelsea and Donn moved later to a home on Lake Michigan north of Chicago; then later returned to western Massachusetts. From there, they shifted westward to Colorado Springs. Specializing in British and World Literature in each place they lived, Chelsea made her mark as an English teacher who touched many young lives.
After their children grew up and left home, Chelsea and Donn again taught overseas, first near Tibet — northwest of Delhi in the Himalayan foothills of India — and then in Istanbul.
They moved to Lander in 1986, becoming fixtures in the community where they have lived ever since. Chelsea was perhaps best known in Lander for helping to launch the First Stop Help Center, and for her commitment to recycling
Chelsea was drawn to nature — discovering adventure in unexpected places: e.g., fossil-hunting in shale quarries in southern Illinois; exploring the winter shoreline of Lake Michigan in Door County, Wisconsin; digging for clams on the beaches of Connecticut; walking through granite spires on the flanks of Pikes Peak.
She had an abiding love of good dinner conversation, and a knack for provoking meaningful discussion, even at the risk of generating charged opinions. Famously, she would challenge dinner guests to eat with random utensils, like turkey basters or corn tongs.
She was also known for her bountiful repertoire of parlor games. In Turkey, she was called “the Game Lady at the Kolej.”
Both Chelsea and Donn have tried to live according to their principles. During the 1960s, they were active in the Civil Rights movement — even venturing at one point into the Deep South — and in protesting against the Vietnam War. Later, working on parallel paths, they turned their volunteer efforts toward working on behalf of the environment.
For several decades after retirement, they were leaders of the Alternatives to Violence program in Wyoming prisons, helping prisoners break free of destructive behavior patterns. It made for a remarkable scene when — even into their early 80′s — Donn and Chel would engage a circle of Wyoming offenders, talking about personal growth and creative ways of resolving conflict.
Chelsea was centrally involved in establishing a non-profit in 1998 that she called Women For Women, administering a fund to assist impoverished women in need of abortions. A simple concept carried out with straightforward dedication, Women for Women is characteristic of Chelsea’s wholly selfless approach to social problems. This small organization has become a significant resource for women throughout Wyoming. W 4 W has impacted hundreds of lives.
In 2011, the National Network of Abortion Funds honored Chelsea with an award, describing her as a “living legend.”
The morning of her death, Chelsea spoke lucidly about the jewel of pure light shining out of the core of each human being. Our life work, she said, is to keep that light undimmed, while allowing it to reach out toward the same jewel in others. . .
Then she moved away from a table where she had breakfasted, lay down on the couch, and was gone within ten minutes.
She leaves us rich with memories, and infused with the empowering legacy of her inspiration, her Jewel of Light.
Chelsea is survived by her husband, Donn; her two sisters, Noel Congdon and Judith King; her three children, Alan, Craig and Ann Noel; seven grandchildren; and a number of nieces and nephews.
Nothing is lost, only transformed.
Look for me in your memories,
In the generations past and to come.
See me in the blowing grasses,
The flowing rivers,
The spring mud and winter snows.
See me in the sage and the grazing antelope.
Nothing is lost, only transformed.
written by Chelsea