Avahlee Mitchell, retired educator and resident of the Village of Goshen, passed away at age 93 on June 28, 2023. She grew up in Forsyth County, North Carolina in an area now part of the City of Winston-Salem. She was baptized in the Moravian Church, with her parents converting to Quakerism when she was 10. Her father John Mitchell served in Europe during World War I turning him to pacifism, his father having served in the Confederate Army. The Mitchells came to North Carolina in the 1700s and were small slaveholders until Emancipation. Avahlee's parents ran a business called Camel City Seed and Feed Store located on Trade Street in Winston-Salem across from the main tobacco warehouse, with her growing up in the Great Depression experiencing the rich street life of farmers, musicians, snake handlers, and day laborers all around her. When Avahlee was a child, she often accompanied her father in his truck to poor sections of town to deliver food from the Salvation Army to people in need as well as to his family's elderly former slaves. This experience informed her social conscience throughout her life and she refused an invitation to join the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) when she graduated from college because at that time they did not admit black members to their organization. Avahlee's mother Mary Musten put herself through business college with the proceeds of growing her own acre of tobacco and was the first woman to get a driver's license in North Carolina. The Musten family came to North Carolina in the early 1800s, with family members serving in the American Army during the War of 1812. Avahlee excelled in music, playing classical piano and being able to transpose from an early age. She was also named the top student in Forsyth County, North Carolina in 9th grade, and for 10th through 12th grades attended the Westtown Friends School in West Chester, Pennsylvania where she met her future husband Bettison Shapiro when she was 14. Avahlee attended Salem College in Winston-Salem, North Carolina for her freshman year of college and then transferred to Mount Holyoke College in South Hadley, Massachusetts where she majored in Zoology graduating in 1951. Avahlee and Bettison were married in 1951 and their daughter Bernis was born in 1952. They worked together at the Summer Regional Nature Museums at Bear Mountain State Park from the early 1950s to the early 1970s.
Avahlee taught 6th grade in Ithaca, New York while her husband Bettison was attending graduate school there, then taught 6th grade in the Cornwall School District starting in 1959, and in 1961 transferred to the Washingtonville School District where she taught 6th, 5th, and primarily 4th grades, retiring from there in 1989. She also over the years taught high school Physics, Chemistry, and Earth Science, as well as environmental education at the Bank Street College of Education in New York City. In 1959, Avahlee and her husband Bettison founded the Museum of the Cornwall Countryside, later known as the Museum of the Hudson Highlands, now known as the Hudson Highlands Nature Museum. Avahlee also served as the Town Historian for the Town of Cornwall and was active in the Orange County Historical and Archaeological Societies.
After her first husband Bettison died in 1978, Avahlee moved from Cornwall to Goshen and married Andrew Westervelt, an avid photographer with whom she shared a love of classical music, with them attending concerts at Tanglewood and Music Mountain in the summers. Andrew died in 1989.
After Avahlee retired from public school teaching, she worked as a New York State Agricultural Field Enumerator visiting farms in Orange and Ulster Counties; volunteered as a docent leading groups at the Storm King Art Center; volunteered at the Neversink Valley Area Museum where she led school groups studying Lenape agricultural practices as well as created an archaeology exhibit of Lenape bowls, tools, and utensils; volunteered at the Beacon Institute for Rivers and Estuaries collecting oral histories; tutored high school students in science and math; participated in a weekly lap dulcimer group; and worked on building support for the new library in Goshen. Avahlee was also very active in the Middletown Area Retired Teachers Association (MARTA), serving on its Executive and Scholarship Committees among other responsibilities including keeping MARTA's website updated.
Avahlee was a voracious reader, reading two to three books a week throughout her life and belonging to several book clubs.
Avahlee is survived by her daughter Bernis Nelson; her son-in-law Dick Nelson; her granddaughter Kelda Nelson; her predeceased grandson Nels Nelson's wife Janine Gillot and their three children, her great-grandchildren Gisele Nelson, Malcolm Nelson, and Vaughn Nelson; and her dear friend and fellow teacher Harriet Beers. They will sorely miss her sound advice, love of learning, curiosity about the world around her, and caring for them.
Services will be held at the convenience of the family.
Arrangements by Ralston-Lippincott-Hasbrouck-Ingrassia Funeral Home, Inc. 845-343-6023 or www.ocfunralhomes.com