Obituary: Wavalene “Jinx” Tong
Educator, scientist, traveler, loving wife, mother, grandmother, great grandmother
Wavalene Kumler Tong, 84, affectionately known as “Jinx,” died peacefully at home on September 21 surrounded by her family, after falling ill from cancer earlier in the summer. A resourceful educator, inquisitive scientist, worldwide traveler, savvy outdoorswoman, active church member, and loving wife, mother, grandmother and great-grandmother, Jinx devoted her life to making the world a better place.
Born in Lancaster, Ohio, on December 23, 1937, she was the daughter of Karl and Florence Kumler, both of whom grew up in Ohio farm country. As a child, she enjoyed visiting the family farms. At Bexley High School, she played clarinet in the Capital University Concert Band and for the high-stepping Lions’ marching band. She also acted in school plays. A key member of the field hockey team and Sigma Alpha Tau “Owls” sorority at Otterbein College, she was a serious student, majoring in biology to prepare for medical school.
During her college years, she fell in love with Curtis Whitfield Tong. She married Curt in 1958 and joined him in Rapid City, South Dakota for his final year in the U.S. Air Force. While in South Dakota, she finished the coursework for her Otterbein degree just prior to giving birth to their daughter Karinne in 1959. Sons Kyle and Kurt were born soon after the family returned to Ohio.
As she raised three energetic youngsters, she decided to become a teacher instead of a physician. After completing necessary education coursework at Otterbein, she took a job teaching biology at Westerville High School. Inspired by women scientists like Jane Goodall, she enjoyed getting students excited about lab work and interested in nature.
Always up for a new adventure, she supported her husband’s decision to leave his basketball coaching job at Otterbein to design a graduate program in physical education at the University of Vermont.
She enjoyed her life as a Vermonter — climbing mountains, finding fiddlehead ferns, and cross-country skiing — but she was also happy to move to Massachusetts one year later to become a biology teacher at Buxton School in Williamstown, while her husband took on basketball and tennis coaching responsibilities at Williams College. While living in Williamstown, she became a runner, training for the Boston Marathon, which she completed on Patriot’s Day in 1981.
More opportunities for new adventures arose when the couple decided to spend a sabbatical year at International Christian University in Tokyo, Japan. She embraced her immersion in Japanese language and culture, practicing the arts of flower arranging, tea ceremony, and taiko drumming. On their way back to the States, they visited numerous countries in Asia, Africa, and Europe.
After living and traveling abroad, the prospect of taking on new challenges in California was enticing for both of them. In 1983, she began the new academic year as a biology instructor at the Webb Schools, where she ultimately became dean of Vivian Webb School for girls. She championed the school’s peccary field trips to stunning western locations. She loved camping in the deserts of the Southwest, snorkeling near Catalina Island, and leading the senior girls on their annual hike up Half Dome in Yosemite National Park. At age 68, she completed her last climb of Half Dome with two of her grandsons.
The couple returned to Williamstown in 1998 for retirement years filled with travel, community service, and time with family. Highlights included a year teaching English in China, a trip to Nicaragua for a grandson’s wedding, a trip to Turkey for a granddaughter’s wedding, and summers at their New Hampshire lake house. A loving, selfless caretaker of her husband as he faced Alzheimer’s, she greatly appreciated the support of the First Congregational Church, her family, and friends in Williamstown and around the world.
Predeceased by her husband Curt and brother Karl Kumler, she will be deeply missed by her three children Karinne, Kyle, and Kurt; their respective spouses Tom Heise, Deborah Tong, and Mika Marumoto; grandchildren Conor, Emily, Jack, Mia, Reia, Kurt, and Kyle; and great-grandchildren Martha, Mira, Conor, and Aya Jinx.
A memorial service to celebrate the life of Jinx Tong will be held at the First Congregational Church in Williamstown at noon, Tuesday, December 20. Burial will be private. In lieu of flowers, mourners are encouraged to donate to Hospice Care in The Berkshires at hcib.org/support-hospice-care-berkshires, or to a charity of their choice.