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Shelter Island Reporter obituary: Georgette (Yioula) Van Rynbach

Georgette (Yioula) Van Rynbach of Shelter Island passed away peacefully on April 30, 2023 after a long and meaningful life of 100 years. 

She was with her family during her last hours and with great appreciation, her family thanks the staff at Eastern Long Island Hospital for their attentive care during her last hours.

Her husband Jan Van Rynbach predeceased her in 2001 and she is survived by three children, Angela, Eugene and Iris (McAndrews); five grandchildren, Amelie McAndrews, Georgine Jeffries (Van Rynbach), Andre Van Rynbach, Cecily McAndrews, Christopher Van Rynbach; and nine great-grandchildren.

She was blessed to have all her family visit her on Shelter Island during each summer. The visit to their grandmother’s house was the highlight of everyone’s summer. 

Yioula was born in Athens, Greece on May 8, 1923, as one of fraternal twins in a family of six.

Her father Panos Panagopoulos was a teacher, ministry of education regional administrator and writer. Her mother Angela Panagopoulos was from the Greek settlements on the coast of Turkey.

Growing up, she spent her early years in Corfu where her father was stationed, and then her teenage years were spent in Athens after her father retired.

Yioula attended high school at the American School for Girls in Athens, where she became proficient in English, a great help in her future life. Her dream was to become an archaeologist, but then World War II came and completely changed her life and plans for the future.

She survived the difficult war years, including narrowly escaping being sent to prison camp for passing messages to British prisoners of war. The civil war with the Communists that followed was too much for her and she left Greece to go to England with her sister Ione to start higher education.

There she met her future husband, Jan Van Rynbach, a recent naval architecture graduate from the Netherlands who was in England studying English shipyard technology.

They married in 1948 and their oldest daughter Angela was born later in the year. They lived in an historic house on a canal in Amsterdam for three years, but then in 1951, Yioula’s brother Eugene — also a naval architect, working with Greek ship owners in the U.S.— convinced them to come to the U.S. so her husband Jan could become the owner’s representative for the construction of ships in American shipyards.

They came and enjoyed life in the U.S. after being in war-torn Europe and decided to permanently emigrate to the U.S. Her son Eugene was born soon after they arrived, followed by her daughter Iris. 

After a few years in the U.S. her husband Jan was offered another job supervising construction of a fleet of ships, this time in the newly restored Japanese shipyards, and they lived in Japan from 1955 through 1957. Upon their return to the U.S., they settled again in their home in Huntington.

Jan, who had seen Shelter Island from the air while returning on flights from Europe, came to visit and was enchanted by the Island. In 1957 they bought their dream house on the water on Ram Island as a summer house.

Jan was an avid sailor, boater and fisherman and Yioula and the whole family soon enjoyed the pleasures of living by the sea. Jan and Yioula moved to Shelter Island full time in the late 1990s and it was home ever since.

Jan passed away in 2001 after 53 years of marriage. They had a loving marriage and enjoyed traveling together, first for Jan’s business and then visiting her daughter Angela working overseas for the World Food Programme.

In her later years she started spending winters in Rincon, Puerto Rico, enjoying the warm weather there every year, right up through this year before her return to Shelter Island in March.

Yioula had an active life right up to the end, taking daily walks and admiring her garden. She devoted years to building the garden and many came to visit it. She was an active member of the Garden Club of Shelter Island for many years and won many prizes for best arrangements and horticulture.

Yioula’s other passion was trees. She was a co-founder of Shelter Island Friends of Trees and an active proponent over the years of preserving the many magnificent trees on the Island and helping efforts to replant trees along Island roads and preserving forested land. 

She also loved history and read ancient Greek literature in its original Greek. 

In describing her life, Yioula would say she felt like she was caught up in a current that took her away from her home and childhood dreams, carrying her all over the world and then landing her on an Island that brought her an unexpected but happy life and a place to bring up her children.

In the end she thought this journey was positive, and she would say life is full of the unexpected and those who can adapt are able to flourish.

Her family feels blessed to have had such a wonderful mother and grandmother and she will always be in their hearts. She was their guiding light and a pillar of strength, never giving up in the face of any adversity.

As a commemoration to her, the family would be grateful for contributions to the Shelter Island Friends of Trees (sifiriendsoftrees.org).