Towns lose a champion with death of Gerstel
The list of local organizations at which Faith Gerstel has played a major role over past two and a half decades is both long in number and broad in scope, ranging from American Legion Post 57 and the National Alliance for Mental Illness (NAMI) Yamhill County to St. Peter Catholic Church and the Dundee Womans Club.
That service to others is a big reason why her death last week has reverberated through the Newberg area and will likely leave a void that no single person could possibly fill.
"Faith was a gigantic figure in this area and this town," local historian and friend George Edmonston Jr. said. "She is going to be hugely missed."
Gerstel died of a heart attack Oct. 29 at the age of 74, according to her husband, Ian.
A funeral Mass will be held for the Dundee resident at 11 a.m. Nov. 18 at St. Peter Catholic Church.
Gerstel was born May 20, 1943, in Endicott, New York.
She served as an air traffic controller in the Navy from 1965 to 1971, during which time she met Ian, as both were stationed at Moffett Field near San Jose, Calif.
The pair moved to Oregon after leaving the service, first to Tigard, and then to Newberg, where Ian worked at the post office. Faith was later hired to work at the post office in Dundee.
Edmonston credits Gerstel not only with keeping American Legion Post 57 alive when membership dwindled, but with leading or playing a part in just about every veteran-related activity in the area, including organizing the annual services at Memorial Park and visitations to the graves of local veterans on Memorial Day, as well as the flag-folding ceremonies at various assisted living facilities and visits to local schools on Veterans Day.
"Faith served as commander of Lester Rees Post 57 in Newberg numerous times and it has often been said that without this commitment Newberg today would probably not have an American Legion post," Edmonston said. "On numerous occasions, she would not only lead the meetings as commander, but also take the minutes, pay the bills, read the treasurer's report and do everything else on the agenda needed to make sure the business of the post was successfully executed."
According to current post commander Don Prescott, Gerstel was active with all the veterans groups in the area, all of which are heartbroken at the news of her death.
"Tireless is the best descriptor I've ever heard for Faith Gerstel," Prescott said.
He noted that she approved the addition of an American Legion Riders program to Post 57, which has helped breathe new life into the organization.
Gerstel, who was cremated, will be interred at Willamette National Cemetery and although details are not yet finalized, the Post 57 Riders will escort her remains from Newberg to Portland.
"This lady was hugely involved in a bunch of different things, but she was first and foremost a veteran and she was deeply involved in veterans things here," Edmonston said. "Among veterans in this area, she was the most active and the top of mind name that you came to when you thought about who's leading the veterans in Newberg and this part of Yamhill County."
Gerstel brought the same energy and dedication to every organization she belonged to, including the Yamhill County chapter of the National Alliance for Mental Illness. According to longtime friend and NAMI volunteer Shirley Kimball, who recently compiled a history of the organization, Gerstell served as president of the organization from 1988 to 1991 and from 2000 to 2007.
"When Shirley wrote that history, Faith was just all through it," NAMI president Jeanne Beck said. "She did so much. She had that tireless energy."
Her accomplishments with NAMI include launching a successful campaign to establish a mental health court in Yamhill County, establishing the "In Our Own Voice" program, in which persons who have a mental illnesses -- typically schizophrenia, depression and bio-polar -- speak to public organizations about the course of their illnesses, and chairing the Northwest NAMI Walk for 10 years.
"She had a very forceful personality, very confident in herself," Kimball said. "If she saw something that needed to be done, she certainly never said, 'No. Not my job.' She just did it."
Ian Gerstel said he and Faith were both active at St. Peter Catholic Church, where she even served as housekeeper for the priest for many years, and with the Knights of Columbus.
Faith Gerstel also served as the president of the Dundee Womans Club for the past several years, according to friend and fellow member Ruth Rogers.
"She was always a help," Rogers said. "As far as the Dundee Womans Club, I always felt like if she was here, she would never let it go. She'd keep it going."
Gerstel was also an avid bowler, traveling to the national tournament every year for about 25 years, according to her husband.
With such a forceful personality and a demonstrable dedication to everything she did, Gerstel was persuasive in rallying others to get involved with all of the groups she represented.
"She lived by a simple rule known by all the inspiring leaders: she would never require you to do anything she was not willing to do," Edmonston said. "If she asked you to sacrifice, she had already sacrificed."
Edmonston added that Gerstel could be blunt, direct, in your face and sometimes short tempered, which often turned some people off, at least at first.
"She wasn't always easy to get along with," Kimball added. "People got mad at her, but that's because she was useful. She would sometimes rub people the wrong way, including me, but I grew very fond of her. I think the world of her."