Passed away on September 25, 2020
Carolyn Shah, 76, of Elk Rapids passed away peacefully at her beloved Wandawood Resort on September 25, 2020 while surrounded by family. She lost her decade long battle with “Al” Zeimers (Alzheimer’s), which robbed her of her identity and lastly her life. Carolyn’s life accomplishments and legacy live on.
Carolyn, the daughter of Emily and Carlos Palmer, grew up in Ann Arbor. She graduated from Ann Arbor High School and subsequently earned a Bachelor’s Degree in English and a Master’s Degree in Urban Planning from the University of Michigan. It was at U of M where Carolyn met and married Navin Shah, the father of her children. Carolyn began her career at the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), then worked at Southeast Michigan Council of Governments (SEMCOG) and later began her own market analysis consulting business where she specialized in low income housing.
Carolyn was a warrior in life and in death. She was fearlessly determined to fight for what she believed in. She was a vocal advocate for women’s rights, racial and economic equality and the preservation of historic landmarks and natural resources.
In 1978, Carolyn spear headed a gift to the Grand Traverse Regional Land Conservancy of 2000 feet of pristine Lake Michigan frontage that had been in the family for generations. Her mother was so grateful that the Wilcox-Palmer-Shah Preserve “became a reality, ensuring future generations of a natural resource which was ignored and exploited by the “past”, too often prostituted by the “present”, and could well have been denied to the “future”.
Upon her mother’s death in 1979, Carolyn took over Wandawood, the historic family resort, located on the shores of Elk Lake on land homesteaded by her great grandfather, Moses Fish Gates, in the mid-1800s. Wandawood continues to be a place where generations of families share the treasured land. Long time Wandawood resorter, Jean Hildreth, wrote in a letter, “I cannot imagine our lives without our yearly sojourns at Wandawood these past 30+ years… the zenith of each year, marked with family and friends in a place we sincerely love and have come to call home… there is no place else that can hold a candle to the soul and beauty of Wandawood. Thank you for sharing this magnificent piece of heaven!”
In 1983, Carolyn made Elk Rapids her permanent residence. She obtained her Michigan general contractor’s license and spent endless hours around the resort fixing cottages, maintaining the grounds and greeting her beloved resorters. Carolyn was also very active in the community. In the 1980’s she purchased and renovated two historic buildings: Odd Fellows Hall and Longfellow School. In 1988, soon after completing those endeavors, Carolyn was awarded “Business Person of the Year” from the Elk Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce and “Woman of the Year” from Elk Rapids Business and Professional Woman’s Club. Her family coined the term “super woman” when talking about Carolyn’s hardworking ethic. One of her friends remembers “her amazing industriousness. Is there anything she couldn’t build, remodel or fix? She could make things happen.” Another friend stated, “She was creative, strong, generous, intelligent and multi-skilled…. you couldn’t help but look up to her.”
Through all of Carolyn’s many undertakings she remained loyal to “her” Wandawood. In 1999, with the ever increasing traffic on Cairn Highway, which intersected the resort, it “was becoming apparent that the road was going to be the death of Wandawood”. She put her energy into the daunting task of saving Wandawood by re-aligning Cairn Highway. Bill Sholton, an employee of the Michigan Police Department at the time was quoted in the 2006 book, “How Moving a Road Saved a Resort in Northern Michigan”, “I want to compliment you (Carolyn) for your tenacity and your vision on this project. It took a unique combination of those things to get this accomplished”… It was thought by many that there was very little that could be done to eliminate the increasing hazard on the straight away. “Until… some crazy lady with a harebrained idea says, “Let’s move the road!” Her hard work and perseverance paid off. In 2000, Cairn Highway was re-routed.
Carolyn enjoyed spending time with her friends, many of whom commented how they valued their time with her - whether working, traveling or just having an insightful conversation. Carolyn also loved music and dancing. One of her favorite songs was “Tapestry” by Carol King. While listening to the song next to Carolyn during her final days, her family recognized the irony in the lyrics: “My life has been a tapestry of rich and royal hue. An everlasting vision of the ever-changing view. A wondrous woven magic in bits of blue and gold. A tapestry to feel and see; impossible to hold…”
Carolyn is survived by her daughters Chandra Shah (Mike Nye) of Denver, CO and Kamala Huron (Steve Huron) of Elk Rapids, Michigan; grandchildren Jeff, Lisa and Sonya Huron; great granddaughter Ava, her former husband, Navin and numerous cousins who considered Carolyn their ‘sister’. Carolyn was preceded in death by her parents, her partner Rod Adkison, her brother David Palmer and sister-in-law Jean Lathrop.
Condolences can be expressed at: https://www.dignitymemorial.com/obituaries/elk-rapids-mi/carolyn-shah-9378643
In lieu of flowers, contributions can be made in memory of Carolyn Shah to the Grand Traverse Regional Land Conservancy, the Alzheimer’s Association or Doctors Without Borders.
A celebration of life will be held next spring.
The family thanks the staff of Cherry Hill Haven, Eden and Heartland Hospice for the care and love they gave to Carolyn.
December 16, 2020
I am writing on behalf of the entire Kish/Stephens family: my Dad and Mom Leslie and Rhea Kish (both deceased), sister Carla Kish and husband Jon Stephens, their daughter Nora Stephens, myself and husband Joe Mueller. Starting in the mid-1950's, my family were yearly Wandawood Resort visitors until about 2005. Going to Wandawood was a highlight of the year for our family. I echo what others have said so well: Carolyn was such a huge presence at Wandawood, whether she was purposely striding to get something done, digging around in the always interesting shed, organizing a fire/s'more event at Lake Michigan, stopping by the cabin for a more relaxed chat. We all loved seeing Carolyn, and send our condolences to Kamala, Chandra and all family members.
October 22, 2020
Our condolences to Kamala, Chandra and Carolyn's extended family and sphere. Our family has been lucky to have enjoyed Wandawood each summer for the past 25 years and benefited from the force of nature which was Carolyn. Her legacy will continue. Best, Randy, Peggy, Kate and Andrew Wilcox
October 14, 2020
It was always wonderful to see Carolyn striding along with her head high and her back straight, whether she was 5 years old or 15 or 50, with purpose in her step. And as resorters about her age, my sister and I followed her. She was a leader, whether it was planning a funeral for a kitten when we were little, or organizing the teen-age gang of us to go build a fire at the Bay, or later, figuring out how to move entire cottages away from the road. She could be all business, or all fun, or both at once. My best memories were the years she and David were our social directors, bringing the kids together that spent weeks at Wandawood summer after summer. My first time there was 1950, and our family's fourth generation now joins us in coming back again. Carolyn's presence will always be felt; she made sure this place would retain its natural wild beauty for generations to come. Thank you Carolyn!
October 11, 2020
Add to earlier memory sent.
October 11, 2020
I join Jean Hildreth's beautifully put gratitude for the summer retreat Carolyn and her parents provided our family. Wandawood, the lake, the bay, the historical cottages and the families that ran it are synonymous, for us, with release and rejuvenation. More than that, I treasure memories of my friendship with Carolyn in later years when I joined her in remodeling those historical houses in Traverse City and carpentering about the resort. She was a remarkable woman, and we will carry her in our hearts in full bloom.
October 7, 2020
the Hoekstra family wishes to send its condolences to Kamala and her family. Carolyn was always a wonderful host to us during our time at Wandawood. I will always remember the time she took to show us around the resort, she obviously took great pride in it. She definitely made her mark on this world. We are all greatful for the time, effort and sacrifice she made to keep Wandawood Resort here for us to enjoy.
October 6, 2020
I feel wrapped in Carolyn's tapestry whenever I'm at Wandawood.
Some member of my family has gazed at, walked along, and swam in Elk Lake via Wandawood for 75 years....none of which could have happened without the tenacious and dedicated personalities of Carolyn, her predecessors, and Kamala.
As a young resorter, I remember Carolyn hanging out with my brother Greg every summer....sometimes finding wine bottles (empty) in the woods that used to connect Orchardside with the other orchard cottages.
I also remember Carolyn scooting around Wandawood, moving at 100 miles per hour, starting and completing her many projects.
I will always carry her memory in my heart.
October 5, 2020
lovingly remember Carolyn as a friend and the fun we had together. She amazed me with her knowledge of home wiring and so many things that she was talented at. She certainly was a hard worker. I did not know her when she was fighting Alzheimers as we had drifted apart.
God bless you Carolyn
October 5, 2020
Dear Chandra and Kamala,
I was so sorry to read about your Mom's passing yesterday. As I have mentioned to you in the past, I enjoyed your Mom so much in the couple of years I had her in my water aerobics class. It was prior to her illness and I remember as it was yesterday when she would attend the class, greet me with a smile and always have a few nice words of conversation to share. The conversation was always about both of you, or Jeff as he was doing so well with his sports in high school at that time. She was so proud of her family. It was a long time ago but I can still see her plainly as she would walk towards me with her suit and water shoes on ready to go. My thoughts are with you. Kim Stevens
October 5, 2020
I was a friend of Carolyn's. I fondly remember kayaking and cross-country skiing with Carolyn and Rod. Carolyn invited me and some Gaylord friends of mine to play tennis with her at the Grand Traverse Resort. We had good matches and such fun visiting in the hot tub afterwards. And of course there were the great times at the Wandawood gatherings.
I am from Ann Arbor and graduated with Carolyn's cousin, Mary Palmer. I however did not meet Carolyn in high school and got to know her through Amy Wilks after Carolyn moved up here.
The last time I saw her was when she was in the memory unit in Kalkaska. I think she had broken a hip. We had a nice visit although at that time I don't think she remembered who I was.
Carolyn was such an energetic and cordial lady. I have thought of her often throughout the years and have missed her. She had such a nice twinkle in her eyes and a captivating smile.
My sympathy goes out to her family.
October 4, 2020
I was a good friend of Carolyn’s mother, Emily, who, for many years had invited me and my family plus many other friends from the Ann Arbor Figure Skating Club to enjoy the Labor Day weekend at Wandawood. We all loved Wandawood! After Emily died I stopped at Wandawood a few times when I was in the area and had some short visits with Carolyn. Kamala and Chandra - you wouldn’t remember me but I remember you when you were just little kids! I’m so very sorry for the loss of your Mom. But I’m sure Wandawood will live on.
October 2, 2020
Read the obituary of Carolyn Shah. My sincere condolences.
I am also an alumni of Ann Arbor HS class of 1966....a few years after Carolyn. I also grew up in Ann Arbor. We both had blessed childhoods. I wish we knew each other before her passing so we could have shared memories.
Rockne (Rocky) L. Paige
Elk Rapids. MI
October 1, 2020
For a woman who I only saw a few times a year I sure have a lot of great memories. The two that stand out most were helping her setup the Wednesday hot dog and smores cookouts on the bay and her repeatedly beating me at ping pong, no matter how good I thought I was. Not that these were singular events, especially her beating me at ping pong. That happened repeatedly and she took great joy in it. But that's who she was, always at her best. She was a wonderful woman and will be missed.