Anna Lou Dehavenon

03/06/2012 4:10 PM |

After she moved to Greenport in 1990, Anna Lou Dehavenon was known mostly as the mother of real estate agent and later mayor David Kapell.

Anna Lou Dehavenon

But her life in New York City had been a different story entirely.

Ms. Dehavenon, who died Feb. 28, at age 85, at San Simeon by the Sound Center for Nursing and Rehabilitation, devoted much of her adult life to aiding the homeless and along the way became one of New York’s foremost authorities on hunger and homelessness. That wasn’t the career path she’d had in mind early in her life, but then fate intervened.

She was just 26 in 1953 when her husband, William Kapell, considered the most brilliant American pianist of the age, died in a plane crash while returning from a concert tour in Australia. She was suddenly left with no income and a family to raise. She’d put aside her own dream of becoming a concert pianist and eloped with Mr. Kapell before completing her undergraduate work at the University of Chicago.

In 1955, she married art dealer Gaston deHavenon, adopting a variation of his name. They had two children, Alexander and Sarah, who survive, and divorced in 1974.

In her 40s, Ms. Dehavenon enrolled at Columbia University’s School of General Studies, receiving a doctorate in anthropology in 1978. That year, she began generating yearly studies on hunger for the East Harlem Interfaith Welfare Committee, finding that an increasing number of Harlem residents were underfed. And her studies on homelessness were cited in a state Supreme Court ruling requiring New York City to provide housing for all homeless families.

During 20 years of research, Ms. Dehavenon spent at least one night a week at a Bronx homeless shelter.

“She was amazing,” David Kapell said. “She had an unbelievable life.”

Ms. Dehavenon was born Nov. 24, 1926, in Bellingham, Wash., to Sarah and Ray Melson. Her father had grown up in a thatched hut in Alberta, Canada, and her mother was descended from pioneers who came west on the Oregon Trail, Mr. Kapell said.

Her father sold pots and pans door to door, her mother was a teacher and, like many others, they struggled during the Depression, he said.

Growing up in Portland, Ore., Ms. Dehavenon studied piano as a child. During World War II she worked in a shipyard helping build Liberty ships, mass-produced cargo vessels. She later enrolled as a piano performance major at the University of Chicago, where she met William Kapell, who was there to perform in concert.

In 1990 she followed her son and his family out to Greenport, settling in a house on Sixth Street.

“She was a wonderful woman and at times a difficult woman,” Mr. Kapell said. “A few of the things she ingrained in me are never take no for an answer and there’s no sense in worrying about things you can’t control.”

In addition to Mr. Kapell and her children with Mr. deHavenon, she is survived by a daughter, Rebecca Kapell Leigh, a stepson, Michael, and 10 grandchildren.

There was no funeral, but the family intends to hold a memorial service in New York City in upcoming months.

The family said anyone wishing to make a donation in Ms. Dehavenon’s name can give to San Simeon by the Sound Center for Nursing and Rehabilitation, 61700 Route 48, Greenport, NY 11944.