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'Gunni' Manson of chronicled her life in scrapbooks

PALM HARBOR — Gunhilde Manson's 28 photo albums are filled with photos, of course, but so much more.

There are maps, letters, greeting cards, prize ribbons, ticket stubs, restaurant menus, decorative napkins and golf tees from a lifetime of adventure.

For Gunni, as she was called by those who knew her, the mementos served as an inventory for nearly a century of living. She died July 11 at age 98.

Each item on each page had a tacked-on label with a name, date and location. Each label was typed, of course, and not handwritten.

"She was a perfectionist, with all the trappings," recalled Gunni's nephew, Donald Manson, 63.

Scottie Fernandez of Palm Harbor befriended Gunni in her last years, and she recalled that she once helped Gunni print out Christmas letters for family members.

"Three times, she went back to make corrections on the letters," Fernandez said. "Everything had to be just right."

When Gunni's health and energy began to fail, she still spent time every day paging through her old scrapbooks and trying to compile new ones.

"When you went into her room, her desk was covered in all kinds of papers and pictures," Fernandez said. "She was still documenting everything, trying to get all the pictures dated while she still could."

• • •

"Maine Audubon Camp Celebrates 50th Anniversary," reads the headline of an article she clipped out of a newspaper in 1985 and pasted into one of her photo albums.

In the margin of the clipping, she added: "GUNNI attended the first session!"

Gunni was 24 in 1935. She was one of the first campers at Hog Island on Maine's Penobscot River, James Audubon's first summer camp.

One dark night, Gunni and a friend went for an unsanctioned walk through the camp. Gunni took a step on some underbrush, and she fell — right into a hole about one story deep, likely a basement that hadn't been covered, she recounted three years ago for a Clearwater Audubon Society newsletter article. She was trapped, and she had injured her right knee.

Gunni didn't want her friend to get in trouble, so she told her to go back to their cabin and leave her behind. Once her friend was gone, Gunni yelled for help.

She was rescued by none other than Roger Tory Peterson, a famous naturalist who went on to win the Presidential Medal of Freedom for his environmental advocacy.

Gunni was shipped home to recover, and her injury left a scar on her left knee that stayed with her for the rest of her life.

But that did not deter the woman from enjoying the great outdoors.

In 1956, when Gunni was 44, she spent a summer as a counselor at Camp Wightman in North Stonington, Conn.

In one of her scrapbooks, she pasted in a note from Barbara Wolverton, one of her campers from Cabin 5.

"You've been a real pal and I know I'll never forget you," Wolverton wrote. "I'm sorry I was so fresh with you that night I came in late."

• • •

Gunni's early photo albums are filled with images of Edgar Schoonmaker, her first husband, a Navy man. Edgar appears at weddings, on boats and at Gunni's 1953 graduation from the University of Connecticut.

He died Sept. 3, 1955. In her next photo album, Gunni pasted a photo of his headstone.

The next year, Gunni married Edwin Manson, a man of Scottish heritage who enjoyed a good adventure and, more than anything, loved to travel.

The two took dozens of trips together, and each trip had an album: Norway. Sweden. England. Scotland. Wales. Hong Kong. Singapore. South Korea.

Edwin, who died in 2003, never tired of the international excursions, recalled Donald Manson, the nephew who lives in Virginia. Gunni always came along for the ride.

"Gunni was something of an adventurer," Donald Manson said, "but perhaps she was also just a loyal wife."

The pair moved to Florida shortly after the start of their marriage. They settled in Ozona, which was largely undeveloped at the time.

"I think my uncle may have gone to Florida to seek his fortune," said Donald Manson said.

But Gunni adored Florida, too. She took dozens of photos of their new Florida home and the surrounding neighborhood. She taught at high schools in Dunedin and Largo. She joined the Clearwater Audubon Society and took up Chinese brush painting at the Dunedin Fine Art Center.

And rumor has it that Gunni and Edwin enjoyed their new Florida home in one other way.

"It is alleged that in those days they went skinny-dipping in the canal by their house," Manson recalled. "But apparently, there were alligators, and that kind of curbed their swimming in the canal."

Martine Powers can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 445-4224.


Gunhilde Manson

Born: Sept. 24, 1911.

Died: July 11, 2010, at St. Mark Village in Palm Harbor.

Survivors: A nephew, Donald Manson, and a great-nephew, Christian Cherau.

Donations: Can be made to St. Andrew's Presbyterian Church in Dunedin or the Clearwater Audubon Society.

'Gunni' Manson of chronicled her life in scrapbooks 07/23/10 [Last modified: Friday, July 23, 2010 7:50pm]
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