Remembering Junie Augsbury

By: Betsy Fitter

Volume 16, Issue 6, June 2021

"We love to walk up here and sit, just look at the view on a beautiful day”. ~Junie Augsbury speaking about her River view from Black Hill on Grindstone Island.

When NPR ran a story about Junie Augsbury highlighting her Grindstone residence and her glorious presence in our region, not only did she share the view she enjoyed so much, but also her words memorialized her beloved River.  

Junie was taken suddenly, at the age of 92 on April 26, 2021 at her residence in Naples, Florida and most of her children were able to return to her side to be with her before she joined those who have gone before.

A few weeks earlier, we had visited her at her home in Naples, as we often did when we were in Florida. She was her usual, gracious, smiling, irreverent self, holding court in her family room. She was still glowing about her birthday celebration with her family, who were so central to her happiness.

On that day, however, she focused on her adamant and immediate desire to get back to the River as soon as possible. We talked about those special friends in her life whom she so missed: Rex Ennis, Ken Deedy, Weezie Ford, and all the wonderful people whom she would get to see upon her return with the end of the pandemic. She so loved the River, her home there, and the memories of family and friends that bound her to the land and the flowing water. The River was in Junie's soul.

Junie came to Grindstone for the first time with her Aunt Jo to visit Doug’s mother, Amelia Howard-Smith. In 1947, Doug and Junie were married. Once bitten, she became a true "River Rat". In 1937, Doug's parents, Logan and Amelia Howard-Smith, had purchased 2+ acres on the North Shore from Lawrence and Cynthia Black. When Logan died a month later, Amelia persevered and constructed the Main House, which stands today. It became Doug and Junie's summer home where, when they took a breath, they could sit above the River and watch the sunset from the expansive deck. Over his lifetime, Doug purchased several adjoining farms piece by piece, forming the 600+ acre private preserve that stands today.

Imogen (Junie) S. Augsbury, 1929-2021

There are so many Junie stories that we all hold dear, as she had a very generous heart, as did Doug, and they would often reach out to visitors and share their love of the River and Grindstone. These efforts were heartfelt gestures, which opened the River to so many of us through the years.

The Minnie, a single-cylinder gasoline engine boat with the fringe on top, donated to the Antique Boat Museum, Clayton, NY, and now on display. [Photo courtesy Antique Boat Museum]

Lauren Ennis Sarti says she started her River life at just a few weeks old, in 1953, when her parents Dick and Marlene tied up to Doug and Junie's dock. Then Doug took Dick over to see the Calhoun property in The Minnie, a single-cylinder gasoline engine boat with the fringe on top, and Spook Hollow became the Ennis's. The rest is history. The families had a deep and wonderful friendship from that point forward. It even brought Janet Ennis, then a friend of Rex's in high school, to Grindstone in 1962. She was Junie's first ‘mother's helper’, not knowing she would marry Rex and be there for 30 years. The Minnie was later donated to the Antique Boat Museum and can still be seen there on display.

Alexa Holleran remembers Junie welcoming her family from nearby Lake Fleet Islands, Jolly and Niagara. This welcome included sharing manure for gardens, teaching Alexa’s Mom, Deming, how to drive Doug's Model A Ford, riding lessons for the kids on the Shetland pony, and letting everyone land at the dock and run on the Grindstone trails. This tie led Alexa and her family to build a home of their own on Grindstone.

As Lauren has said, and as many of us share, Junie was like a second mother to us. A caring and nurturing person, who always made you feel like you were the most important person in the room and that she was delighted to see or hear from you. And while in later years, she wouldn't wear her hearing aids, she always wanted to know what you had to say. That was her way with everyone. Her "Hello Doll” still rings in my ears - it was her signature greeting and hers alone.

Junie and Doug had six children who roamed the land with abandon. But there was always room for more. My family's introduction was similar to Lauren's; we met in 1954 as we, five kids strong, were renting Dorothy and Corb Carnegie's two-bedroom cottage across the bay from the Main House. My Mom and Junie were a lot alike, and they became fast friends. One year my sister and I were invited to spend a month at the Main House, which we happily did. Now we all remember Junie as a gracious matriarch, but do you also remember her as I do during that month? I can see her in my mind's eye, barefoot, in shorts, standing by the large dining room table, a cigarette in one hand, and a martini in another, saying "Damn" to one or all of us. She was so Junie. At the other end of the room, Doug was challenging us all to a contest of one-armed push-ups, which only he could do. It was a delightful madhouse. When we all visited together, Junie and Mom would put a checklist in the kitchen with all eleven kids' names on it, to mark each name once they were sure we had been fed.

Grindstone United Methodist Church, Grindstone Island, NY 

Doreen Meeks had a different eating experience though, when she and her husband Donny came to dinner one night. They were sitting at the large dining room table, having a nice and peaceful dinner with Doug and Junie, when suddenly a baby pig entered the house and ran all around the living/dining room as if that was the most natural evening's entertainment. Often the unexpected was taken in stride.

Doug died suddenly in 1969, leaving a large hole in the family. Junie held things together, and in 1971 she married Wilson Foster in California, but always returned to the River. He, too, passed away, and she came back to the River once again. Her third husband was Frank Augsbury, who made such a positive impact on Ogdensburg, and who came to love Grindstone as well. They both could be counted on to share their good fortune. Junie and her family put their land into a TILT preserve while still allowing it to be farmed. She also supported her Grindstone Island United Methodist Church, taking her usual place with her family in the pew on the back left, and never forgetting the collection plate. When the church needed help to buy the turkeys for the Turkey Dinner, I could always turn to her. And if you visited her at The Farm, you always left with an armful of vegetables from her abundant garden or a bag of apples from her trees.

Junie loved her gardens and sitting on her porch deck to enjoy them. They were the best on the Island with something always in bloom. Hopefully, many of you had the chance to see them over the years. She gave total credit to Harry and Urch Slate for their beauty, but you can see her decorating hand in the mix. When we visited, we got talking about how thankful she was to Harry, Jeri Couch, and Brenda Luce for their continued support, which allowed her to be at the Farm. She loved them and was grateful for their care and good company over the past four years. All of which is a great example of how the Grindstone community builds an incredible support team for those in need.

Junie had an indomitable spirit, raising six kids, soldiering through the loss of three husbands and her son Mark, beating pancreatic cancer, and fighting declining health. The River gave her strength, peace, and purpose. She loved having her extended family come to the Farm, being an anchor for their disbursed locations, and finding great joy in their lives through Facebook. Her quiet strength, gentle grace, and warmth were with her all her years.

NPR feature "On Remote Island, The Dead are Buried Far and Wide." By Jackie Northam. 

As she wished, Junie will return to Grindstone this summer, to be buried in the family cemetery on top of Black Hill. The story of the family cemetery done by NPR in their report about Grindstone Cemeteries, describes it best:

"Perhaps one of the most special cemeteries on Grindstone Island is in a small clearing on one of the highest spots on the Island. Four oak Adirondack chairs sit between oak and pine trees, overlooking the fields leading to the St. Lawrence River."

"The luscious scent of milkweed drifts through the area. The site belongs to Imogen Augsbury; two of her husbands are buried here, as are her parents. Another stone marks her son's remains. Augsburg says she loves to sit and meditate at her cemetery".

Junie will come home one final time to her beloved place of peace. She will still hold court high on the hill, taking in the view for eternity. Rest in peace Junie. All of Grindstone will miss your presence and will hold you forever in our hearts.

By Betsy Fitter, Grindstone Island

Betsy has been summering on the North shore of Grindstone island every year since 1954 when her parents bought property on Delaney Bay from Manley Rusho. She has served as the Chair of the Grindstone Island United Methodist Church Council since 2013. In that role she started writing Grindstone based “Remembrances” to share with the congregation upon the loss of a member of the Grindstone community.

Posted in: Volume 16, Issue 6, June 2021, People, Places

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