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Smiles and tears at couple’s joint memorial

  • In the front row, Matt Levinger, left, with his wife, Cristin, children Isaac and Alexandra, and others, listen as Jim Levinger, Matt's brother, speaks during a memorial meeting celebrating the lives of their parents, Ann Cotton Levinger and George Klaus Levinger, Saturday at Wesley United Methodist Church in Hadley. —GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Nancy Cotton Barker speaks during a memorial meeting celebrating the lives of Ann Cotton Levinger and George Klaus Levinger, Saturday at Wesley United Methodist Church in Hadley. She is the sister of Ann. GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Molly Scott sings "Centering Home" during a memorial meeting celebrating the lives of Ann Cotton Levinger and George Klaus Levinger, Saturday at Wesley United Methodist Church in Hadley. She wrote the song. —GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Peter Blood, standing, of Amherst, speaks during a memorial meeting celebrating the lives of Ann Cotton Levinger and George Klaus Levinger, Saturday at Wesley United Methodist Church in Hadley. He is a longtime friend of the couple. —GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Vannoch Sin, standing, of Amherst, speaks during a memorial meeting celebrating the lives of Ann Cotton Levinger and George Klaus Levinger, Saturday at Wesley United Methodist Church in Hadley. She was helped by the Levingers after she immigrated from Cambodia in the early 1980's. —GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Mary Link, who is the clerk of ministry and worship at Mt. Toby Friends Meeting, speaks during a memorial meeting celebrating the lives of Ann Cotton Levinger and George Klaus Levinger, Saturday at Wesley United Methodist Church in Hadley. —GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS



@RebeccaMMullen
Saturday, September 09, 2017

HADLEY— They were married for 65 years, and died just 12 days apart.

On Saturday, about 340 of Ann and George Levinger’s friends and family recalled the couple’s love, activism and lives lived to the fullest.

Bright florals, jaunty ties and cheery colors dominated the sartorial scene at Wesley United Methodist Church, where members of the Mount Toby Friends Meeting, the Leverett Quaker group of which the Levingers were a part, held a joint memorial service.

Many attendees spoke of the couple’s lifelong commitment to volunteerism and activism, and their familiar presence at the weekly meetings over the 50 years the Levingers lived in Amherst.*

Longtime Mount Toby member Alice Swift said she will most remember Ann’s graciousness.

Even at the end of her life when she was struggling with dementia and other health concerns, Swift said that Ann was still cleaning up dishes after the meeting’s coffee hour.

“They set an example to me of how I should live my life,” Swift said before the service.

Even months after the couple has passed, Swift said she still goes to meetings expecting to see the Levingers there.

As is customary in the Quaker tradition, anyone who felt moved to speak was encouraged to do so during the service. The memorial started at 2 p.m. and lasted for more than two hours with the Levingers’ friends, family, and fellow Quakers sharing joyful memories of the couple.

The Levingers’ playful and warm personalities shone through during the service. Old photos of the couple were displayed in the back of the airy church, and the hosts served cookies made using Ann’s special recipe. The funeral program contained an ink illustration, charting the couple’s life, done by their friend Micha Archer.

A storied life

They came from different backgrounds, but the pursuit of peace brought them together.

George was born to a Jewish family in Berlin in 1927. In 1935, his family fled the Nazi regime and settled in New York. He achieved his doctorate in 1955 from the University of Michigan’s social psychology program, and dedicated his academic career to studying interpersonal relationships focusing on using his theoretical knowledge to work toward international peace.

Ann was born in Laurel, Mississippi, in 1931. She received a bachelor’s degree in psychology and education from the University of Michigan in 1952, and later received a doctorate in counseling from the University of Massachusetts School of Education in 1982 after which she served as an adjunct faculty member at the university.

The Levingers met at a international peace-building conference in California while they were both studying at the University of Michigan in 1950, and were married two years later.

They began attending Quaker meetings together in Ann Arbor. At that time, the religion was going through a renaissance, with many people joining looking for a peaceful alternative. The group was full of college students and young families who were optimistic.

“It was like having a large extended family all around you,” said Peter Blood of Amherst of those early days.

Building a family

Living in Ann Arbor, the couple had four sons, Bill, Jim, Matthew and David. In 1965, George became a professor of psychology at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst and the family moved to the Pioneer Valley.

George was an outdoorsman who loved hiking, skiing, kayaking and backpacking, and Ann joined him in hiking the Valley’s many trails. Those who knew her described her as good-humored and popular, with a perpetual twinkle in her eye.

“My mom had a smile that would just light up a room,” said Jim Levinger, the couple’s second son, during the service.

The evening before the memorial, the sons scattered the couple’s ashes on Mount Pollux, one of the Levingers’ favorite hiking spots.

“My parents were a hard act to follow,” said Matthew Levinger, the couple’s third son.

During the heyday of social activism in the 1960s, the Levingers became involved in protests against the Vietnam War and demonstrated every Tuesday night on the Amherst common with other peace activists. This continued through the 1970s, as Ann worked as a draft counselor, helping young men file for conscientious objector status.

Even as the Levingers’ family was expanding, they treated newcomers to the United States as surrogate family as well. In the 1980s, they helped Cambodian families fleeing genocide in their home country.

Vannoch Sin was a young child when she came to the U.S. in 1982, but she remembers how much the Levingers taught her parents about life in America.

“They were like informal adoptive parents… helping my parents figure out how to survive,” Sin said, adding that the Levingers helped her parents navigate everything from Christmas traditions to home buying.

After the couple retired, the continued their commitment to the Mount Toby Friends Meeting by getting involved in several committees. They also spent months teaching English to schoolchildren in China and Vietnam.

The couple’s grandson, Will Levinger, spoke about the joy and passion that his grandparents brought to their days.

“I always could feel the joy she felt in being alive,” he said of Ann during the service. “It was important to her not that we just see the beauty in the world and enjoy it but also that we nourish and protect it.”

In keeping with the Levingers’ lifelong commitment to activism and service, the family requested that in lieu of flowers, donations be made to the American Friends Service Committee or the Amherst Survival Center.

*This article has been updated to reflect that Ann and George Levinger lived in Amherst.