Obituary: Linnea Westlake, 98
Linnea Mary Prudence Larson Westlake was born on May 16, 1917, in Kodaikanal, India, the youngest of five children of Lutheran missionaries, the Rev. Oscar Leonard and Lilie Liliedahl Larson. Linnea passed from this life on July 27, 2015.
The years in India made a lasting impression on young Linnea. She remembered traveling with her father to nearby villages where he taught and preached; she recalled occasionally living on a houseboat; and it was in India that she developed her lifelong love of nature. She treasured these vivid memories her entire life. In fact, during her “baby career” she asked parents and children to call her “Ayah” (Hindi for nurse.) She was possibly the only person in the world who drove a yellow VW beetle with “Ayah” on the license plate.
The family returned to their American home in Fremount, Kansas, in 1923, where Pastor Larson served Fremount Lutheran Church and also taught Christianity at Bethany College, Lindsborg, Kansas.
Linnea enjoyed a happy Kansas girlhood as the pastor’s daughter and was the last of her siblings to go off to higher education. She attended Luther Academy and Junior College, after which she traveled to Chicago to earn certification in infant nursing from Augustana Hospital. Babies became her life and her calling before and after her primary career as wife and mother.
It was during one “baby” assignment that Linnea met the love of her life who happened to be visiting the family: Robert Lockwood “Bob” Westlake, Jr., a graduate of Lehigh University.
Linnea and Bob Westlake were married in 1943 at First Lutheran Church in St. Paul, Minnesota, by her brother-in-law, the Rev. Dr. Paul M. Lindberg. Bob served his country during WW II as an ensign and lieutenant in the U.S. Navy.
Following his naval career, Bob was employed by Union Carbide. His career took the family to Pennsylvania, Virginia, Louisiana, Greenwich, Conn., Illinois, and finally to New Canaan, when he was assigned to the company’s New York headquarters.
Bob died suddenly in Feb. 1963, at just 49. That’s when Linnea resumed her baby career, first by caring for at-risk foster babies. Eventually, she began to care for the newborns of area families in their homes. She donned her white uniform, packed her suitcase, climbed into her yellow VW, and quickly became a highly sought after “Ayah” in residence to dozens of babies.
Linnea enjoyed a happy retirement taking many trips to Kansas for annual performances of Handel’s Messiah at Bethany College, in which she had sung as a teenager. She also traveled widely including trips to Iceland, Sweden, Holland, Germany, Jerusalem, Egypt and to Greece and Turkey “In the Footsteps of St. Paul.”
She had a deep commitment to her beloved church family at St. Paul’s, where she served on the altar guild and as a “kitchen angel.” Finally, ill health disabled her and kept her housebound with the happy exceptions of visits to Haydee’s Salon, regular Sunday worship at St.Paul’s, and visits with friends and family.
Anyone who visited Linnea in her cheerful and utterly personal home quickly realized something very important about her: she was a proud Swedish American! The gold and blue of the Swedish flag is everywhere, and Swedish treats – especially cardamom bread – abounded, especially during Advent, a season dear to the hearts of all Scandinavians.
Linnea and Bob had three sons: Robert Lockwood Westlake III, who died in 1981; Mark David Westlake of Brookfield, Connecticut; and James Larson Westlake of New Canaan, who served as her caregiver. A beloved granddaughter, Shea Elise Westlake, a junior at UConn, also survives.
Linnea blessed all who knew her with her extraordinarily warm personality. She was one of the most loving, accepting, non-judgmental and joyful persons many of us had known. She received more Christmas and birthday cards annually than most of us receive over a lifetime. She had a marvelous sense of humor leavened with a touch of mischief. Where Linnea was, there was laughter, good cheer, hospitality, good food, and above all, love. Love for family, friend and stranger. And Love, above all, for her Lord and Savior, in whose arms she now rests in purest joy.
Linnea’s memory of India
“Our garden included orange, lemon, pineapple, banana trees and also peanuts from which we made our own peanut butter. The Kodai Mountains, where our family lived during the rainy season, were beautiful. We could see the Himalayas in the distance. The foliage was lavish. Ferns, orchids, lilies, and many other flowers grew wild all over the area. Mother and I, who were both named after flowers, doted on them.”
"For the Lord your God is bringing you into a good land with streams and pools of water with springs flowing in the valley and hills." Deuteronomy 8:7
A memorial service will be held on Thursday, August 6, at 10 a.m., at St. Paul’s Church, 471 Mansfield Ave., in Darien. A reception will follow in the parish hall.
Memorial gifts in Linnea’s memory may be made to St. Paul’s Church or to a favorite charity.
Hoyt Funeral Home is in charge of arrangements.