Berit M. Hattendorf, 79, passed away surrounded by her loving family at her home, 92 Rhode Island Avenue, Newport, after a series of illnesses over several years, on 10 May 2021.
She is survived by her husband of 43 years, Naval War College professor emeritus John B. Hattendorf and their three daughters: Kristina Nasser and her husband Tommy of Middletown; Ingrid Peters and her husband Jason, of Newport, Anna Hattendorf and her husband Frank Doyle of Newport; seven grandchildren: Hannah and Max Nasser, Hazel and Olivia Peters, Freja, Porter, and Levi Doyle. Also, her brother, Vanderbilt University professor emeritus of neonatology Håkan Sundell, M.D., of Nashville, Tennessee, and his children: Erik Sundell, M.D., and his wife Jennifer of New Orleans; Ann-Kristen Sundell, M.D., and her husband Erik Christensen of Olympia, Washington; Alan Sundell and his wife Dr. Rebecca Starr of Singapore; her niece and nephew, Dr. Kim Skyelander of Loveland, Colorado, and William H. Hattendorf III of Onekama, Michigan. In addition, her many cousins in Sweden and England with whom she remained in close contact throughout her life,
Berit was born on 6 November 1941 in Stockholm, Sweden, to Gunnar and Ia (Sandell) Sundell. Raised in Stockholm, where her father was managing editor of the moderate daily newspaper, Stockholms Tidningen, she attended Franska Skolan and Viggbyholmskolan in Stockholm. She went on to earn her qualifications as a dental assistant at Tandläkarhögskolan, part of the Karolinska Institute.
Born on the anniversary of the 1632 battle of Lützen and the death of King Gustavus II Adolphus⸺a day on which Swedes traditionally fly their national flag⸺she developed a natural affinity for Swedish tradition. She always ensured that the flag flew for her on her birthday. She grew up in an apartment on Scheelegatan in Kungsholmen, across the street from the distinctive city courthouse, Rådhuset, and within walking distance of the Stockholm city center. During the height of World War Two, when Nazi forces threatened to attack neutral Sweden, she went with her mother and brother to her maternal grandparent’s farm, Näs Gård, at Hubbo near Västerås, Västmanland. That 18th-century herrgård was an iconic place for her a the center for the closely-knit Sandell family, who lived there for more than a century. Throughout her life, she often returned to Näs. There, she found the inspiration to continue many Swedish family traditions from her youth, from names’ day celebrations to snapsvisor (aquavit drinking songs), holiday traditions, and much else. Decorating her home for Sankta Lucia, Swedish Christmas Eve, and Easter Eve were her delights, along with producing the traditional fare on those occasions.
During her teenage years, she spent summers at the family cottage on Älgö in the Stockholm archipelago. For a time, she was a junior member of the Royal Swedish Sailing Club (KSSS). During those years, she accompanied her parents on vacations to San Marino and particularly loved the Adriatic beaches at Rimini. Twice, she traveled to England as a teenager to improve her English.
In 1965 having finished her education, she followed her brother to the United States, a Pediatric Resident at Marquette University in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. She obtained a green card to stay on in the United States. She found her first job at the Marquette Dental School as a dental assistant. Later, she lived in St. Louis, Missouri; Charleston, South Carolina, and Annapolis, Maryland, before moving to Rhode Island in 1975.
During the Bicentennial Tall Ships visit to Newport in 1976, she volunteered to be a translator for the crew of the Royal Swedish Navy’s sail training vessels Falken and Gladen during their port visit. About the same time, she began to work at Jean Babcock’s Brick Market shop, Iron and Pine, continuing there for many years. During the Swedish challenge for the America’s Cup at Newport in 1980, she was thrilled to be one of Newport’s Swedish ladies who donned their folk dresses to meet the King and Queen of Sweden on their arrival at Newport Airport and to be included in some of the social events during the royal visit. Most memorably, she was able to talk at length to her teenage heartthrob, the Swedish folk singer and actor, Sven-Bertil Taube.
After her marriage at Trinity Church, Newport, Rhode Island, in 1978, Berit became an active member of the Naval War College civilian wives’ club. She took particular interest in the Christmas tree decoration competition and in helping to raise funds for the club’s scholarship program. Beginning in 1984, Berit and her family become regular sponsors for the families of the international officers attending the Naval Command and Naval Staff colleges of the Naval War College. They continued for more than two decades. Through her own experience as a foreign national and permanent resident in the United States, she readily understood the issues that the naval officers and their families faced. She helped them deal with the new challenges they faced during their year in America. She warmly welcomed into her home War College students from many countries, including Egypt, Germany, Malaysia, Netherlands, Pakistan, Singapore, and the United Kingdom. She felt a special responsibility toward Swedish officers attending the Naval War College, which several chiefs of the Swedish Navy personally reinforced, encouraging her continuing devotion. Many of these officer-students become life-long friends and correspondents.
She became interested in the local history of Newport, whose rocky coast and 18th-century wooden buildings reminded her of Sweden. Among her many interests, she developed two fruitful projects. When Nancy Bredbeck recruited Berit as a docent and guide at the Newport Art Museum, she took a particular interest in the art and artists associated with Newport. As part of her museum docent training, she undertook a study of “Newport’s First Woman Portraitist: Jane Stuart.” The Newport Historical Society published her work in Newport History (1995). Another project centered on her favorite children’s Christmas poem: Clement C. Moore’s “Night before Christmas.” Moore had been a Newport summer resident. She particularly enjoyed several opportunities to be a “house-sitter” when Moore’s former Catherine Street house was open for tours during Christmas in Newport. Berit began collecting various editions, parodies, and ephemera relating to the Night before Christmas, eventually accumulating nearly 400 items. She exhibited a selection from her collection at the Redwood Library and hosted the opening reception for Library members.
A keen gardener, she typically spent hours every day tending her garden at home. In 2000, the Newport Garden Club elected her a member. She thoroughly enjoyed her many friends among its members. She participated in several Club committees, particularly enjoying the work of documenting some of Newport’s private gardens for the Smithsonian Institution.
With the development of the digital camera, Berit became an enthusiastic photographer, spending long hours at CVS to print out her photos. She organized her photos in scrapbooks, booklets, and even shelves of shoeboxes that recorded the growth of her family and their activities as well as her extensive travels.
Berit loved to travel. She took her family back to Sweden on numerous trips and accompanied her husband on many of his professional trips that often brought them to Britain. She thoroughly enjoyed the Lake Michigan beach and forest trails during annual vacations at the Hattendorf family cottage at Portage Point near Onekama, Michigan. Additionally, she visited every country in western Europe as well as India, Israel, and Peru. She became interested in ceramics. Porcelain from Sweden and Germany, faience from Quimper in France and Portugal, and hand-painted tiles from Delft in Holland decorated her home.
From 1981 to 1983, she and her family lived in Singapore. She became fascinated with the Straits’ Chinese culture, the Samsui women laborers with their red bandanas, and the city-state’s different ethnic communities. She became involved with activities at St George’s Anglican Church, Tanglin, and in the social life of the diplomatic community in Singapore, particularly valuing her friendships through the Swedish embassy.
In 1990-91, she made a comfortable temporary home in Bad Krozingen, near Freiburg-im- Breisgau, Germany, on a 13-month exchange program during the dramatic year of German reunification. Berit particularly enjoyed the unique opportunity to travel widely in Germany during that time, including visiting places that had once been part of the Swedish empire in the 17th century. Several places she visited still had Soviet occupation troops present. She showed her intrepidity by exercising her Swedish neutrality in negotiating rooms for the night. At Dresden, the reconstruction of the Frauenkirche, which she first saw as a complete ruin, became a recurring interest for her. Later, in 2001-2002, she created a pleasant home in the Jericho section of Oxford, England. During that period, she became an active member of the academic spouse’s club, which introduced her to many unusual features of Oxford and its surrounding area.
For more than four decades, she enabled her husband’s academic career through her insightful and patient understanding of a scholar’s intellectual and professional needs. She was an effective and diplomatic hostess to students, senior academics, and senior naval officers. At the same time, she developed her skills and interests as a distinctive and much-loved individual who conversed as easily with princes and dukes as with academics or ordinary sailors and working men and women.
A funeral will be held at Trinity Church, Newport, at 10 a.m. on Saturday, May 22, 2021. Her ashes will be interred at Trinity Cemetery, Portsmouth, Rhode Island, and with her parents and paternal grandparents in the E.W. Sundell familjegrav,