WESTFIELD – Maria Russo Van Voorhis, 67, of Westfield, died on September 19, 2019, surrounded by loved ones following a long battle with multiple sclerosis.
Born Maria Ann Russo in Jersey City, NJ on January 12, 1952, she was the second youngest of five children born to Mary and Carlo Russo. Maria spent much of her youth working alongside the family in Schimenti’s Market where her father was the local butcher. She loved spending her childhood summers on a remote family farm in the Catskills, and in the winters she enjoyed riding the bus into Manhattan to skate beneath the Christmas tree in Rockefeller Plaza.
Maria graduated from Henry Snyder High School, Jersey City, NJ, in 1969, and earned a B.A. in Music from Dunbarton College, Washington, DC, in 1973. She remained in DC after graduation and began a successful career in the credit card industry. Family and friends recall Maria’s twenties as a time of boundless energy and optimism. She was the notoriously cool and fun-loving aunt that nieces and nephews adored, and friends were drawn to her light-hearted, irrepressible personality.
After leaving the DC area in the late 1970s, she thrived as a business development representative at Diners Club International in Manhattan, where she handled such high-profile clients as Madison Square Garden and the World Trade Center’s Windows on the World. Following a long-distance romance, Maria married Phil Van Voorhis in 1980 and the newlyweds moved to Troy, NY to welcome their son Matthew later that year.
The family relocated to Westfield, MA in 1981, where Maria earned a Master’s Degree and became certified in elementary and secondary education. She then began a quarter-century career as an elementary school music teacher in West Springfield, MA. From her first day on the job Mrs. Van Voorhis was a favorite among students; decades later she would often encounter former students as grown adults, lifelong music lovers who still fondly remembered her classes.
A rabid fan of her son’s athletic endeavors, Maria was a longtime member of the Westfield Youth Football Board of Directors, and she was twice nearly ejected from little league baseball games for refusing to put away her drums, cowbells, and bullhorn. Before constrained by her illness, she was an avid skier who would proudly boast to anyone in earshot that she “never once fell”. When not skiing or antagonizing umpires, Maria could be found at the family cabin in the Adirondacks, where she loved swimming to the island and twilight canoe rides with her beloved husband and son.
Maria was predeceased by her parents, Carlo and Mary (Schimenti) Russo; a sister, Christine Pace; and a brother, Charles Russo. She is survived by her beloved husband of 39 years, Phillip Van Voorhis of Westfield, MA; her cherished son Matthew Van Voorhis and his wife Katelin of Yonkers, NY; her dear friend of fifty years, Wendy Carnival of Chevy Chase, MD; her caring sisters Lucille Rontz of Manchester, NJ and Angela Crisalli of Brick, NJ. To borrow words from a favorite nephew, the “Russos love hard”; Maria loved like a Russo until her last breath.
Calling hours for Maria will be Friday, September 27 at 5pm followed by a 7pm Celebration of Life at Westfield Funeral Home, 4 Princeton Street in Westfield. A Mass of Christian Burial will take place on Saturday, September 28 at 11am at Our Lady of the Blessed Sacrament, 127 Holyoke Road in Westfield. The family will host a celebration luncheon following mass. In lieu of flowers, the family requests that donations be made to the Maria Russo Van Voorhis Memorial Fund through the National Multiple Sclerosis Society: https://tinyurl.com/MRVVMSfund
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