WILTON — Hildegarde Maria (nee Burovna) Heinrich, 95, (Hilda), died at home at 5 p.m. on Dec. 5, with her daughter, Marianne, her good friend Sally, and Kitty, the feline, beside her. Her death was a peaceful conclusion to months of struggle with the ravages of old age. Many friends and relatives had spent the prior day at her bedside, giving her love and comfort.
Hilda was born in Koenigsberg, Germany, (now Kaliningrad, Russia), on Oct. 28, 1917, the daughter of Bertha and Leon Burovna. Later, the family moved west to Poznan, Poland. After graduating from a Catholic teaching college, Hilda went to the Borowki Estate in western Poland, employed by her future husband, Gerd Heinrich. Gerd, a renowned biologist, entomologist and explorer, needed a tutor for his daughter, Ulla. The tutor was to be young, athletic and fluent in Polish and German, and Hilda fit the bill perfectly.
World War II brought dramatic changes for Hilda and Gerd and their children, Bernd and Marianne. The estate was overrun by the advancing Russians and the Heinrich family was displaced to western Germany. For five years after World War II, the family resided in a woodsman’s cottage in Trittau, Germany, mostly subsisting off the land. In 1951, they moved west again, immigrating to the U.S. and settling down in Wilton. This would be Hilda’s hometown for the next 61 years. People in the town of Wilton opened their arms to Hilda and her family. Even so, living was challenging for a new family from an overseas culture, speaking little English and having little money, but the family was ambitious and determined to make a living in their chosen country. They paid off a big portion of their new home (a drafty old New England farmhouse) by working with axes and a crosscut in the woods behind the farm. Other odd jobs filled in some of the financial gaps and led to more social contacts.
Hilda learned well how to get along in Maine, even becoming an expert in the making of fine home brew. While the family was getting its feet on the ground in Franklin County, Gerd was re-establishing his reputation as a natural scientist. He and Hilda sought and received opportunities from several prestigious museums to collect mammal, insect and avian specimens. In 1952, Gerd and Hilda started a series of collection expeditions to Mexico, Angola, Canada and Tanzania. During these trips, Hilda used her expert taxidermy skills to prepare the collected specimens (sometimes 50 skins each day) for museum display and research.
In later years, Hilda would travel on her own, returning to her home lands of Germany and Poland and journeying to India and Pakistan to visit her brother. The Heinrich family soon became “Mainers.” Hilda had regular get-togethers at her home for friends and family. She ensured that the guests were well-fed, had a chance for a Polka or a waltz, and maybe a drop or two to drink. Lightness and subtle humor was always an undercurrent in her life. She was always a classy lady, well-dressed and in command of all situations. To make ends meet, she often had to make do with material at hand rather than running to the store for new. She was never one to throw anything away. To this day, an old outhouse stands (barely) behind her home for emergency use.
Although Hilda has never e-mailed, tweeted or twittered, she was a master communicator by letter and voluminous journal writings. Typewritten correspondence was her specialty and everything was done with carbon copy, so many traces of her past remain intact. Hilda was the typist and editor for all of her husband’s personal and scientific writings. She was a lifelong and constant recorder of life. Unfortunately, organization was not a specialty and her writings continue to emerge from the inner recesses of desks and closets. (What looks like an old recipe turns out to be a message from a real prince!) Other passions in her life included sewing, gardening, photography, reading, collecting mushrooms and improving her home. Throughout her life, Hilda was self-sufficient, strong-willed, and was a true survivor. There is no better testament to these traits than the escape from Borowki she made with Bernd, Marianne and Ulla in a horse-drawn cart, in the winter of 1945, a few miles ahead of the Russian army as it was advancing across Poland toward Berlin. This experience taught her to trust her instincts, to hold tightly to her possessions, to keep striving for her goals. Other travels, including a bus ride through the mountain passes of Kashmir, were tame compared to the winter of 1945. Much of her travel in later life was limited to the shops and stores in the Farmington area. Her trips to Hannaford, to the Farmer’s Union and to the Farmer’s Market were highlights of each week. There, salespeople recognized her by her long dresses, happy smile and engaging conversation. She was a loyal and valued patron of these and other community markets.
Hilda’s friends and family will miss her dearly, though they rejoice for the end of her suffering. She leaves behind her son, Dr. Bernd Heinrich and wife, Rachel Smolker; her daughter, Marianne Perry and husband, John; her grandchildren. Dr. Stuart Heinrich, Dr. Erica Heinrich, Eliot Heinrich, Lena Heinrich, Christopher Sewall and wife, Linda Moran and Dr. Charles Sewall; her great-grandchildren, Gabe Jacobson, Liam Jacobson, Mia Roy, Gwenyvere Sewall, Fiona Sewall, Shea Sewall and Baxter Sewall; and her stepgrandson, Thomas Wartowski. Her “almost-daughter,” Rhea Carroll and caregivers, Sally Locke and Charrie Moultrie, will miss this feisty, determined lady. Kitty, too, is grieving the loss of her human companion.
Hilda was predeceased by her husband, Gerd Heinrich in 1984. Each in its own time, she mourned the loss of her canine companions, Matushka, Hector, Alex, Prince Phillip, Samantha and Duke. Other pets, including a raccoon, a monkey, hens and roosters passed through life with her.
Hilda’s life in the last few years involved all too frequent encounters with the health care community. The skilled medical professionals in the Farmington area helped her to enjoy her latter years. She would want to especially acknowledge the good work on her behalf of Franklin Community Hospital’s Emergency Room and the 3rd floor medical teams, the staff at Sandy River Rehabilitation Center, and the staff of Androscoggin Home Health and Hospice. Hilda’s family wishes to acknowledge and thank Finley Funeral Services for their expert assistance.
“Omnia mutantur, nihil interif.” (“Everything changes, but nothing is truly lost.”)
Messages of condolence may be sent to: www.finleyfuneralhome.com.