Donald H Colflesh
February 1, 1932 – January 5, 2021
Donald H. Colflesh, 88, long-time resident of Morningside Heights, NYC, passed away un-expectedly on January 5th, 2021 at his home. The second of three children, Donald was born on February 1st, 1932 to Donavan Reed and Byrle Geer Colflesh in Cleveland Heights, Ohio.
He attended the Cleveland Institute of Art, where he met his wife of 25 years, Elinore Schnurr. Donald transferred to the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, NY, where he received a BFA in Industrial Design in the spring of 1955. After finishing her BFA in Cleveland, Elinore joined him in New York where they married on June 5th, 1955 at Riverside Church. That fall, Donald was hired by the Gorham Silver Company and they moved to Providence, RI. During his time at Gorham, he designed a number of pieces that are highly sought after today, notably, the now famous Circa ’70 sterling coffee and tea service, which was created in 1958 and which has become an important example of modern silver design, celebrating the upcoming age of space travel with its sleek, futuristic lines. This set is part of several major silver collections, including at the Art Institute of Chicago and the Dallas Museum of Art.
Donald left Gorham in 1960 and moved to NYC where he and Elinore started a family, raising two children together on the Upper Westside until their divorce in 1980. Donald worked as an industrial designer and eventually started his own freelance design business. He was a talented artist and enjoyed both surrealism and landscape painting. He loved the long summer days on weekends spent painting in nature at the family’s cabin in upstate New York. His watercolors of rocks are highly treasured by both his children.
He was an anti-war activist and fierce advocate for tenants’ rights in the 1960s and 70s and helped to secure the building from demolition and its tenants from eviction. He was also instrumental in forming the co-op that exists today with a group of long-term residents after his divorce in 1980.
In addition to his appreciation of art, Donald was known for his good looks, his intellect, and his love of books (if you were in his life, you most likely have received a well-worn paperback or two relating to a recent conversation). He was an accomplished baker of pies (mince-meat with a lattice crust was a holiday staple). He loved natural history, psychology, classical music (Mozart was a favorite), Buster Keaton, stimulating conversation, and long days spent at The Met looking at art. He enjoyed sharing his enthusiasm for the arts and natural history with his children and grandchildren, often accompanying them on visits to museums, and zoos and will be remembered for his thoughtfulness, great conversation and family dinners at “The V&T.”
He believed in freedom and self-determination and lived his life accordingly. Despite his diagnosis of slow progressive Multiple Sclerosis in 1985, he continued to live independently even as the disease progressed, eventually taking away his ability to walk.
For many years he shared his apartment with international students studying at Columbia University, who, almost without exception, remained in contact with him well after they moved on with their lives. He insisted often that he was “not a people person,” but the many folks whose lives he touched would vehemently disagree - he will be deeply missed by all who knew him.
Donald is survived by his brother, George Colflesh and wife Trudy; his sister Eugenia Hilbrink; his ex-wife Elinore Schnurr; his son, Hans Colflesh and wife Fatima; his daughter, Sarah Brooks and husband Eddie; his grandchildren Hans, Jordan, Daniel and Samantha; his great-grandchildren Kayden and Koi; his cousin (1R), Robert Welther, wife Leslie and son Cameron; his nephews David, John, Michael and Christopher and the many friends and neighbors whose lives he touched.
A wake for the immediate family was held at Walter B. Cook Funeral Home on January 8th, 2021 followed by a cremation, as per his wishes. A memorial will be scheduled in the spring for friends and family to gather and celebrate his life.
If you wish to make a charitable contribution in his honor, please consider the National MS Society (nationalmssociety.org) or LiLY (lifeforce-in-later-years.org).
Donald H Colflesh
January 22, 2021
We are sorry for your loss and send you our condolences. From the day we moved in to the Blennerhasset in 1996, Don was a friendly, inspiring neighbor. We were beneficiaries of the book lending you wrote about in your lovely eulogy. Many times we enjoyed conversations about art. This year, we were able to stay in touch by phone. We will remember him fondly.
Every year at the holiday party, Don ate potato latkes that Micha made. This year, without the party in the lobby, he brought Don a plate of them with applesauce and sour cream. We will remember Don's smile, sharp mind, and bright spirit. We shared laughs in the lobby and are very grateful that his activism enabled us to buy an apartment and raise our three children in the neighborhood. We will miss him.
with sincere condolences,
Deborah Crowell and Micha Lang
Aviv, Ella, and Evan - Apt. 24