Eugenia Loyster, a 23-year resident of Point Reyes Station, a longtime member of the Mainstreet Moms and a voracious reader who wrote sparse but striking poetry, died this month at 96 years old.
Eugenia spent most of her life in Wisconsin but began a new chapter when she moved to West Marin as a septuagenarian. In California, she found a new source of joy. “She already had a love of nature,” said her daughter Sara, “but there was something very freeing about that move… About a year after my dad died, she said to me, ‘When I think about staying here [in Madison], I think about death. When I think about coming to California, I think about life.’”
Eugenia was born in White Bear Lake, Minn., in 1917. She had a tough childhood, Sara said; her father died when she was a young girl, so her mother, a schoolteacher, raised her and her younger brother.
After graduating from high school, Eugenia attended secretarial school in Milwaukee and married Earl Loyster in 1940. They raised four daughters in Madison, where Earl, an avid outdoorsman, worked for the county’s conservation department. Eugenia worked for the University of Wisconsin, for many years as an administrative assistant helping Ph.D. students navigate their degrees. She sometimes housed them, too. “There was always someone living in the basement,” said her daughter Karen.
While she worked at the university she took classes and earned a bachelor’s degree in literature and master’s degrees in library science. She also belonged to a great books group, reading Plato and other major philosophical and literary texts.
The family didn’t have much money, but Eugenia took the kids to the theater, read to them constantly and baked and cooked for them. She would make apple pies and popcorn on Sunday nights while they listened to radio shows, but she refused to buy a television, fearing it would change the family dynamic.
As her daughters grew up, three moved to California. Eugenia dreamed of moving there, too, but Earl was rooted in the Midwest. But two years after he passed away in 1989, she left Madison and moved into the Point Reyes home that Sara and her husband were buying as a retirement home for the future.
In one poem, titled “Coming From Away to Here,” Eugenia wrote that “the western edge/could happen/only after I shed/the dolor of hope and delusion/my heavy many-colored cloak/of once useful lies/Free as truth/light as tomorrow/soft with believing/I walk.”
Eugenia had long expressed herself poetically in letters, and she joined a small poetry group in Berkeley, with Sara, after her move. Eugenia modestly referred to herself as a “jotter of roughs,” though the jotter’s work was eventually published in the West Marin Review, and in 1995 her friends published a few dozen of her poems in a small book.
She wrote about childhood, love, a friend that passed, a dead beached whale, nature. She loved the beaches of Point Reyes, particularly North Beach and the wildness of its waves. In one poem, “Oceanography,” she writes that the sea “hurls itself/again and again/desperate to reclaim/its kingdom; Remembering itself/as the shimmering cover/protector of a placid earth/before earth rebelled/built mountains, created separation.”
“She perfected the art of simplicity,” Sara said. “She would write something and pare it down and pare it down until it was the essence of whatever the thought was.” Sometimes at their writing workshop, others would suggest she add a bit here or there. But Eugenia resisted; that wasn’t her aesthetic.
Her love of simplicity extended to her material life; she was often throwing things out and giving away clothes. She even tried to discard her journals. (Sara rescued them from the recycling bin.) In her later years, Eugenia found joy in watching the red-shouldered hawk and other birds that lived near her house, admiring her roses, or just observing the way the light shifted and hit the trees or the roses differently as the hours passed.
Eugenia also started two poetry groups in Point Reyes, where a few friends would bring esoteric poems and unpack their meanings. One friend, Kris Brown, said Eugenia always had an interpretation of what the poems meant, “unless she really didn’t like it, and then she’d say, ‘Oh, it doesn’t mean anything.’”
Eugenia read widely, Karen said, encouraging her daughters to do the same. “She told us we should memorize poetry for if we were ever in prison for political reasons,” Karen said.
Her daughters and friends spoke of Eugenia’s love of talking to people: bus drivers, people on the street, anyone. One time, Kris said, Eugenia was at the post office and ran into an acquaintance, Joyce Kouffman, with whom she’d taken a music appreciation class. After Joyce complained that she no longer got letters, Eugenia agreed so emphatically that she said they should start writing letters to each other. For the next few months, they did.
Sometimes after a conversation, she might send a friend a note about something she liked or appreciated about what the other person had said.
She also found an outlet for her political beliefs in West Marin. About 10 years ago, when the Mainstreet Moms got off the ground, Eugenia joined. She had long been politically engaged; Sara said she had her daughters stumping for Adlai Stevenson in Madison in the 1950s.
When the group had their first letter-writing campaign, Kris, a fellow Mainstreet Mom, said that Eugenia wrote letters to hundreds of women. “Eugenia wrote handwritten notes telling about her life and the importance of voting and how old she was, which was maybe 87 at the time, and she was one of a couple of people who would get letters back,” Kris said. She was pragmatic but also optimistic; she believed in activism, and participated in demonstrations in front of the bank, never shying away from engaging passersby.
Eugenia married again after moving to Point Reyes. In 1998 she wed Henry Horowitz, though he was ill through much of their marriage. He passed away in 2012, but she was lucky enough to have a third romance for the last few years of her life, with Howard Schoof.
“They had an absolute love affair,” Sara said. “It was brief, but it was really wonderful.”
She had known Howard for many years; they were friends first, and Eugenia had actually introduced him to his wife, Bonnie, who passed away a few years ago. Howard used to bring Eugenia eggs from a chicken farm near West Marin School. They would chat when he brought them by, sometimes with Henry, sometimes just the two of them.
When their spouses passed away, Howard said, their friendship continued and evolved “in a loving way. Then one night, in a horrific storm, a tree blew over in the back of her house and crushed it, and she didn’t know what to do…she called me, she came to my house and lived here ever since. We became committed. It was a joy and a great pleasure. She was a remarkable, capable woman in many ways.”
Eugenia was survived by her partner, Howard Schoof; her daughters and sons-in-law Gretchen and Waring Fincke, Karen Loyster and Doug Kell, Sara Loyster and Geoff Van Lienden, and Jennifer Loyster and Steve Crossman; and many grandchildren and great-grandchildren.