Posthumus, Sherry

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Sherry Posthumus with her Stanford team in '89
photo by Andy Shaw
 
It is altogether fitting that the sport of fencing played such a vital role in the life of Sherry Posthumus, who spent the bulk of her days touching the lives of others.  As a wife, mother, daughter, sister, grandma, friend, teacher, and coach she shared her wry wit, her subtle wisdom, and her joy for life. A mere list of her accomplishments – ample as that list may be – cannot begin to animate the person that she was and the impact that she had on those around her.  Sherry’s resume would note nearly 25 years in the athletic department at Stanford University, but no bullet point can illuminate the ever-open office door, the careers launched, the lives changed, and  the scores upon scores of students who emerged from the university to take their first wobbly steps into adulthood covered with her fingerprints.   A vital, driving force in the fencing world Sherry represented the United States as the manager of three Olympic Teams.  She helped shape the growth and development of the sport domestically and at an international level, built a highly competitive collegiate program at Stanford, and left a trail of new fencing clubs like footprints in her wake throughout her adult life, sharing the sport she loved with generations to come.  At home Sherry was the keystone of a bustling family.  Behind her impish grin there was no trick too complex to play, no project too large to undertake.  An ancient brown upright piano vanished overnight, reincarnated in black and white as perhaps the world’s first music-making dairy cow, complete with head, tail and bell.  A gourmet cook, a lover of tools, and an entrepreneur forever in search of next great idea, like the wildly popular Pirates Camp for kids that sprung from her mind, cutlass at the ready, engendered by the melding of fencing and sailing, neighbors along the Roble Gym hallway.  The consummate host, Sherry was as generous with her home as she was with her spirit, the Hotel Posthumus hosting a steady stream of students, fencers, friends, and practical strangers for a night, a week, a month, or more.  She never stopped giving. It is perhaps the rarest of traits:  the ability to make every single person you encounter better for having known you.  And sadly, the number of people who can truthfully make that claim is less by one today.  Sherry died at 62 from brain cancer and is survived by her husband Donald, and two daughters and their husbands, Lisa and Danny Milgram and Jennifer Posthumus and Kris Atteberry, and by two grandsons, Nathan and Josh Milgram.  She also is survived by her mother Betty Rose, and her sister and brother-in-law, Evie Rose and Jerry Barnhart.
 
Sherry with her daughter, Jennifer.
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2009 Hall of Fame Speech for Sherry Posthumus, given by her daughter Jennifer

Thank you very much for honoring my mom, Sherry. She certainly would appreciate this and on behalf of my family and many of Sherry’s close friends, we thank you for honoring this very important part of her life. It certainly reflects our admiration for a life well lived.

If my mom were here, this speech would be short and sweet, funny, and she would have found a way to deflect all of her accomplishments to everyone else in the room.

But as her daughter, I am in awe of my mom and her accomplishments and am lucky to have this opportunity to tell everyone how amazing she was in this world of fencing. While many of you knew my mom even longer than I did, I see her through the eyes of a daughter and have that perspective to share today. But regardless of how you knew my mom, we all knew her kindness and generosity, her humor and approachability.

I’ve been rummaging through her old photos and in doing so, realize that she actually had a life other than the one that focused on raising me and Lisa!! While she did so much to improve US fencing through the creation of youth development programs, coaches development, spreading fencing clubs and programs across the country, what many people do not know or may not remember is that she was an accomplished fencer in her own right.

Sherry’s first introduction to fencing started in Santa Monica with Joe Vince. She was already a standout athlete in other sports such as being the Pacific Coast Champion of badminton and a standout pole-vaulter. But apparently she wanted to fence, and so he told her to do footwork… for 2 years, footwork, before he would give her a lesson. I’m not sure how many people, let alone a high school student, would have had the determination and patience to do footwork for 2 years to prove their worth. But she did it, and became one of the top fencers in the country and competed internationally at a time when not many American fencers did including training in Milan and competing in Moscow in the mid-70’s as part of the first US travel group to be allowed into the Soviet Union, in preparation for the 80 games. She was a tough little lefty with a mean elbow parry. I don’t know how lucky you could be, but her training days were spent in large part with Maxine Mitchell. For anyone who knew Maxine Mitchell you can imagine the fun they had at tournaments and the Maxine stories that were told and retold and became a staple of our household growing up.

I never realized that my mom was such a great fencer until one night when nobody showed up for practice at the gym. I was bored --you can only hit the wall so many times-- and it was the first and only time that mom offered to fence with me. At the time I was a member of the US National Team and I was a little concerned about her and didn’t want to hurt her, so when we started I took it easy on my poor old mom. And bam, she hit me. She hit me hard. So, I thought, okay, now it’s time to be serious… then bam, she hit me again. Wow, let’s just say we didn’t keep score…. But we both knew who won.

She continued to fence at UCLA and then USC where she took the bus to USC every day in South Central. And the thought of my mom in the 60’s on a bus to South Central, wow. She only took a car once, and it was stolen. She was the first person in her family to go to college and she paid her own way. The USC Math Department wouldn’t let her major in math because she was a woman, so she majored in Exercise Science and went into coaching --but took the math classes anyway.

Sherry was my first coach in fencing and just in life as my mom. I remember when I was about 8 yrs old after a soccer game my team lost, we played awful. The other mom’s told their kids “it’s okay, it’s just for fun.” My mom said, “Jen, let me ask you something… do you have more fun when you win or when you lose?” That was a good lesson for me. And she imparted thousands of such lessons to people of all ages throughout her life.

Sherry also managed many teams, including being the first female Olympic manager. It’s a tricky job and she was perfectly suited for it. I was on several of the teams that she managed as were many of you in the room. Somehow and mostly without us ever realizing it, she shepharded us expertly ensuring that we would best represent the US on the strip and off.

I was thinking about who were the great influences in my mom’s life. Sherry’s father, a great man, was quick and witty. He was also a professional rugby player for Canada and one of the funniest men I’ve ever known. I believe he was in large part a role model for my mom. And Maxine Mitchell was a great influence. What those two people had in common and what I believe my mom admired in them was their sharp minds, quick wit, and ability to always be one step ahead, but also for their strong character. They took what they were doing seriously without taking themselves too seriously.

Thank you again for honoring my mom. She embodied the qualities that great athletes strive for. Even as she battled brain cancer and the many disabilities it challenged her with, she proved many of the rehabilitation therapists and doctors wrong as she went from function similar to that of Christopher Reeves to walking (with assistance) for 200 steps after a year and a half of hard work. After her treatment, there were 9 months straight of no improvement but she kept trying. She couldn’t move her legs, but we moved them for her and eventually, in month 10, small victories presented themselves and she continued to work so that in 6 more months she could regain some quality of life. Her strength continues to inspire.

Not only did Sherry reap the many benefits that fencing brought to her life, she returned them 10 fold. Whether it was starting an afterschool program for kids, turning an abandoned building into a fencing club, piloting not just the varsity program but also the recreational program at Stanford, or guiding an Olympic team, she left her indelible fingerprints all over fencing and all over fencers, coaches, officials, administrators, and students. She developed champions and helped pushed the US forward internationally, but both of these results were a byproduct of her efforts as opposed to her sole intent. She truly loved fencing and to share the sport she loved with others --young and old, men and women, the best in the world or the worst in the club-- was one of her greatest joys.

Fencing was a huge part of my mom’s life and the sport was very very good to her. But it was never a one way street and fencing was fortunate to have been the lucky recipient of her passion and dedication, her generosity and her ingenuity.

Thank you again for honoring her, and please know that you, our fencing family, gave much meaning to her life.. I thank you for that.

 
 
 

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