- Barbara Marian (Putnam) Burnham was 90 years old when she died peacefully on Thursday, November 10th at a Maine hospital with family at her side. For her family and friends, there is sadness and thanksgiving for a long and well-lived life. Services will be held when warm weather returns to Maine next summer.
Barbara was born on January 31, 1926 in Fort Fairfield, Maine. With her brothers George and David, she was raised by her parents George W. Putnam, Sr. and Rae (Merrithew) Putnam in a loving environment in the Great Depressions challenging years. Unlike many Americans, her family always had food. Her father's work as a plumber and National Guard officer, and her mother's household skills, including the work of Barbara and her brothers, made sure of this. Everyone helped with the large garden, chickens, and other tasks. They were encouraged to be engaged in church and school activities, so they had a community upbringing as well. In remembering those times, Barbara told of shelling 5 gallons of peas for 25 cents to attend a movie. When older she helped her mother can vegetables, pickles, even meats to feed family through the winter. Eggs were stored in the basement for winter use when the hens laid poorly. Baked weekly were bread(store-bought bread was a treat - can you imagine?) and beans for Sunday dinner. Hers was a happy childhood, despite the teasing and pranks(usually good-natured) of her brothers.
She attended Fort Fairfield's high school lettering in tennis. She graduated high in her class in June 1943 wanting to study nursing at Eastern Maine General Hospital in Bangor. She had to wait until her 18th birthday the next January. She remembers the hospital having 1 long ward each for men and woman with beds separated by curtains, plus a pediatrics wing, and a three private rooms. She jokingly called nursing students "slave labor" because of the long hours spent working those wards.
In the fourth year of her program she was invited to a party where she met her future husband who was visiting family in Old Town from his work in Hampton, Virginia. Finding joy in each other's company, a romance developed despite long separations. Barbara married B.B. Burnham on February 26, 1948 at her parent's home, and moved with him to Virginia. Late that year their first child Alan was born. In April 1951 BB found employment in New London, Connecticut considerably closer to family in Maine.
They first rented on Franklin Street in New London. With another child coming, they bought a home on Manwaring Road near the beach in Niantic, Connecticut. Bruce was born in 1952 as they settled in their home. Their third child, Karen, was born in spring of 1954. Alan, Bruce and Karen grew up in Oak Grove Beach where Mom functioned as a neighborhood nurse. Her patience with her occasionally wayward sons and independent daughter also extended to neighborhood kids who were always welcome. The skills she learned from her Mom were applied in her home: gardening, canning, baking, sewing, knitting, crocheting and more. These and other interests benefited her family and were part of her lifelong outreach to friends, and others in need. She followed her Methodist roots into the Niantic Community Church where over the years she would be Sunday School teacher, Deaconess, Pastoral Search Committee member, and a WCSA member. She led Cub Scout dens for her sons and was a Girl Scout leader for her daughter. When the Oak Grove Beach Association was formed in 1958 she was secretary until 1969 and then president for 2 years. Her backyard annual meeting hospitality was always appreciated.
Barbara remained a homemaker until her children were older and she returned to nursing. As an East Lyme Visiting Nurse she worked with new mothers, folks returning home from hospital, and elders to help them stay home - retiring in 1980.
Each retirement year was split between the summer camp on Pushaw Lake in Old Town, and Niantic. In 2006, the camp was rebuilt as a year-round home and they were again Maine residents after 58 years. The Federated Church in Stillwater was where Barbara attended worship, and worked at suppers and fairs. She worked hard to keep BB at home as long as possible before his death in 2014. During her last 2-1/2 years she did a lot of reading and enjoyed the visits of family and friends, along with the companionship of her dog, Ruby. With the help of her children, neighbors, and others, she was able to remain home until her death.
Barbara is survived by Alan and Joan; Bruce and Pamela; Karen and Bruce, by her grandchildren Ross with Jena, Rachel with Patrick, Robyn with Chris, Katherine with Josh, Mark with Amanda, by her great grandchildren Madison and Caleb and by relatives and friends, and Ruby.
A celebration of life will be held during the coming summer. In lieu of flowers, gifts may be made to the Federated Church, P.O. Box 386 Stillwater, ME 04489 or Niantic Community Church, 170 Pennsylvania Avenue, Niantic CT 06357, or to WildAid | 333 Pine St, Suite 300, San Francisco, CA 94104; wildaid.org
Published on  December 10, 2016