ST. PETERSBURG — Louise Dodenhoff moved away from Prince Edward Island 60 years ago for St. Petersburg.
But she returned every summer for several weeks, and in a way never really left.
She was born on the island, the smallest Canadian province, with plunging cliffs and breathtaking beaches on the mouth of the St. Lawrence River.
In every direction, she saw simplicity and grandeur of nature.
She considered herself a subject of the queen, and read about her in the news. She never saw the need for U.S. citizenship.
The roses she planted at her summer cottage contained the central message she wanted to pass on to her children.
"She set the example that hard work is good for you," said Don Higgins, her son. "Good things happen if you are willing to work hard."
Louise Simpson grew up on a farm on Prince Edward Island — "PEI" to Canadians — and told stories about riding in sleighs across frozen lakes. Even then, PEI had its share of tourists coming to see Green Gables, the home author Lucy Maud Montgomery used as the setting for her Anne of Green Gables series, first published in 1908.
But until recent years, visitors had to take one of two ferries from New Brunswick or Nova Scotia, a 45-minute ride one way.
While enrolled at the Charlottetown Hospital School of Nursing, she met Neil Higgins, an accountant. They married in 1940 and had two children.
Tragedy struck the family in 1950 when Janet, their 7-year-old daughter, died of a staph infection. She had been playing the day before, Don Higgins said.
When Don's whooping cough recurred, a doctor attributed both children's conditions to cold weather. The family moved to St. Petersburg that year.
Mrs. Dodenhoff began working as a nurse at St. Anthony's Hospital. But according to Higgins, his parents never recovered from the combined trauma of their daughter's death and the long-distance move. Within a few years, they had divorced.
In 1955, she married William Dodenhoff, a mechanic and German immigrant who had two children from his first marriage.
Mrs. Dodenhoff held increasingly responsible jobs at St. Anthony's, including years as charge nurse of the emergency room. "She loved to work the 11 (p.m.)-to-7 (a.m.) shift, and would come home with stories about crashes and shootings," said Higgins, 65.
The family spent three to four weeks each summer at her cottage on Prince Edward Island, with windows across the front and a clear view of the island's north shore. The cottage also bordered Prince Edward Island National Park.
Mrs. Dodenhoff rose early and walked on Cavendish Beach a mile away. Later, she picked wild blueberries and strawberries for pies and strudel. Evenings were spent playing cards or crokinole, a board game. On weekends, the national park hosted free travelogue movies. Even in July, temperatures dropped in the evenings to sweater weather.
Mrs. Dodenhoff retired from St. Anthony's in 1975. She worked for several years as a private nurse to businessman Hubert Rutland, her family said.
Her health declined, and after 1986 she never returned to Prince Edward Island. She would hardly have recognized the place anyway, her son said, especially after the completion of the Confederation Bridge in 1997.
Now that it was no longer necessary to take a ferry, he said, "You have McDonald's and trucking. Most of the stores now are open on Sundays. Nothing used to be open on Sundays. … A couple of gas stations, and that was it."
His mother had seen the changes coming and was saddened by them, her son said.
William Dodenhoff died in 1993.
Mrs. Dodenhoff enjoyed crossword puzzles and was a faithful member of First Congregational Church in St. Petersburg. She never drank alcohol, even at holidays. For the last four years, she has lived at Baytree Lakeside, an assisted living facility, about the same length of time she battled leukemia.
Mrs. Dodenhoff died Sept. 2. She was 93.
Andrew Meacham can be reached at (727) 892-2248 or [email protected]