Mrs. Elsie Annette Kirkham, 92, of Vinalhaven died Jan. 29, 2010, at Penobscot Bay Medical Center in Rockport after a short illness.

Born on Vinalhaven on Feb. 15, 1917, to Olaf and Rosa Holmquist, Elsie was the first in a large family of Swedish immigrants to be born in America.

Fiercely intelligent but uncompromising in demeanor, her grade three report card reads nothing but A’s, save a C in deportment. A capable protector throughout her life, when her little brother Olaf was teased for his poor English at school, Elsie took it upon herself to remedy the situation.

During the summers of her high school years she would lie about her age to waitress at Squirrel Island off of Boothbay, where she made $1 per week and won the staff banana eating contest three years running, once eating 17. After graduating from Vinalhaven High School in 1938, Elsie traveled alone to Brooklyn, N.Y., to study nursing at King’s County Hospital. There she met Dr. Dunham Kirkham and after a brief city romance, they were married at the Vinalhaven Town Office on July 11, 1941.

For an island girl Elsie led a very unusual life. The next 40 years would take her from the Togus VA hospital in Augusta, where she would often put the kids in the car and drive to Rockland simply to watch the ferry come in, to the remote island of Majuro in the South Pacific, where she worked as a hospital administrator, home schooled her two children for two years and was fondly known as “Elichi” by the local people with whom she got along famously. After caring for two children while her husband, Dunham, served as an Army doctor through World War II and Korea, the family moved to Saranac Lake, N.Y., where they remained for the next 15 years. Remembering this time growing up, her son David recounted her as adventurous and intellectual, but most of all fun. “My friends always wanted to play at my house, so we usually did. The food was better and it was harder to get in trouble,” David said.

It was their retirement to Vinalhaven in 1972, however, that began the iconic run of “Dunham and Elsie.” For the next 30 years, the couple held court in their large house overlooking Roberts Harbor, a distinct presence in both their immediate family and the island at large. Delicious potato salad, seafood chowder, and endless lobster feasts with very strong gin and tonics were the norm, while any children who visited were treated to ice cream sundaes, peanut butter cups and the run of a huge stuffed animal collection. Large dinners for 10 to 20 guests were not uncommon, with the evening always extended by drinks and long discussions of history, current events and hilarious stories told by Elsie herself. As well known for her pies as her hospitality one granddaughter remembers standing on a chair to reach the counter as “Elsie let me make a tiny blueberry pie while she was making a big one.” Elsie and Dunham would take a yearly trip to a far off land, which they always studied closely before they left. Together they traveled across the Atlantic by ship, cruised both the Danube and Nile rivers, and visited Morocco, India and Japan. Elsie and Dunham filled their home and their relatives’ closets with gifts from all over the world. “It was like nothing I’d ever seen before on Vinalhaven,” remembered a great-niece. Every Saturday morning Elsie’s grandchildren and friends would head over the hill for waffles and cartoons, with maybe a mackerel fishing trip in the afternoon. Lively and capable, Elsie was an incredible gardener, cook and knitter. She could teach someone how to snap a mackerel’s neck while recounting stock tips from the Sunday New York Times; she read it from start to finish up until the very last months of her life.

Since her husband Dunham passed in 2002 after 61 years of marriage, her death marks the end of an era in the Kirkham family. She is survived by three children, nine grandchildren and five great-grandchildren. Most recently, Nadia Marie Kirkham was born down the hall from Elsie’s hospital room two days before she died.

A memorial service is planned for Sunday, Feb. 14 at 12:30 p.m. at the Pleasant River Chapel on Vinalhaven. Elder Robert Candage will coordinate. A graveside service in Vinalhaven is planned for next summer.

Donations in Elsie’s name may be made to Vinalhaven Eldercare Services, P. O. Box 624, Vinalhaven, ME 04863. Elsie’s family would like to thank all those involved in her care at Quarry Hill and Penobscot Bay Medical Center. They would also like to thank the community of Vinalhaven, especially the Calderwood Home, the medical center and the ambulance crew for her warm welcome back and her loving care these past few months. Adventurous, hospitable and intelligent, Elsie Kirkham will be missed by innumerable friends and a large family.

Arrangements are with the Burpee, Carpenter & Hutchins Funeral Home in Rockland.