Harry Fife Jr., 98, formerly of Middlebury
SEATTLE, Wash. — Harry Moore Fife Jr. passed away peacefully, Monday, Oct. 30, 2023, at the Columbia Lutheran Home in Seattle, Wash. He was 98 years old.
Born on Jan. 12, 1925, in Middlebury, Vt., Mr. Fife was the son of the late Harry Moore Fife and Ella Sanford Fife. He was raised in Middlebury and was a boy scout extraordinaire, known for his prowess in firemanship, once winning a fire-starting competition in 55 seconds while his opponents couldn’t start one in the 5 minutes allotted.
Harry attended the local graded school and Middlebury High School, where he lettered in baseball, basketball and skiing three years, graduating in 1942. He then attended Vermont Academy in Saxtons River one year, where he again was a star in baseball and skiing, graduating in 1943.
On June 28, 1943, at age 18, he was inducted into the Army Air Force (AAF) and after basic training, excelled in training in aircraft armament and aerial gunnery at bases in Denver, Colo., Fort Myers, Fla., and Chicopee Mass. In December of 1944 he went overseas with the 15th Air Force, 454th Bomb Group, 739th Squadron, where he flew six months on bombing missions in B-24 bombers from San Giovanni Air Field in Italy.
Harry was the ball turret gunner in a crew of ten, located in a cramped turret under the plane, the most dangerous position on the plane. On January 31, 1945, his plane was forced down in Pecs, Hungary after a mission to Austria. He was reported missing in action along with his crew for eleven days after which they finally were able to take off, return to their base and resume missions.
Staff Sergeant Fife flew home in June of 1945 and was honorably discharged after two years and four months of war service. For his brave actions, he received the Victory Medal, distinguished Unit Badge, EAME Service Medal with five bronze stars and the Air Medal, plus one Oak Leaf Cluster. He was a war hero and part of the 15th Air Force’s successful bombing missions that directly led to the crippling of the Nazis and the end of the War.
Sadly, Harry was one of the last 1% of WWII veterans still alive.
After the war, Harry attended Middlebury College from 1945 to 1949, again lettering in baseball and starring on the ski team, the last year as it’s captain. He was revered by his teammates who called him “Captain Fearless” for his prowess in the downhill event. He graduated in 1949 with a B.A. in Chemistry and Biology.
In January of 1951, he married Gwen McGeorge in Denver, Colo., and he worked there as a chemist until 1960. Then, he moved his family to Lake Placid, N.Y., where he became a teacher and coach at the Northwood School for the next eighteen years. At Northwood, he taught Biology, Chemistry and Physics and soon became the head of the Science Department.
Mr. Fife was a legendary teacher at Northwood, as both an effective and compelling teacher, as a coach of the ski teams, and the head of the Outing Club, where he supervised students on many outdoor trips, including an annual trip to his beloved Lake Dunmore in Salisbury, Vt. where the Fifes have a camp.
In 1976, the Northwood Yearbook was dedicated to Harry Fife as “the epitome of an educated man and a generator of enthusiasm and awareness.” His three sons grew up on the Northwood campus and all graduated from Northwood. In 1978-9, he taught his last year at the American School of Switzerland on their campus in England.
Harry’s two places he loved the most were Nova Scotia and Lake Dunmore, where he and his siblings spent many summer days. Nova Scotia was the land of both his Fife and Sanford ancestors and it held a special place in his heart. Lake Dunmore was where he learned to love nature and where he swam, hiked, and fished and served as a lifeguard. Nothing could bring a tear faster to his eyes than the memory of the sounds of the whippoorwills and bull frogs at night on the Lake. He often said: “That’s where my heart will always be.”
In his later years, he lived with his oldest son, Chris and his wife Janet Chenoweth Fife in Edmonds, Wash., near his other two sons, David, and Andrew, in Montana, and all his grandchildren and great grandchildren. He loved the Pacific Northwest as he did the mountains near Denver and he continued to take trips to Lake Dunmore with his brother James Arthur Fife each summer, where they hunted and fished and might have enjoyed a Martini or Manhattan or two at the witching hour.
In 2021, he was one of the first two inductees into the Northwood School Hall of Fame as “the brilliant, quirky Uncle Harry” who had nurtured so many students there, and who still speak of how he influenced their lives.
Mr. Fife is survived by his three sons: Christopher (Janet) Fife of Edmonds, Andrew Fife also of Edmonds and David (Wendy) Fife of Missoula, Mt.; five grandchildren, Reed Fife, Samantha Fife, Matthew Fife, Rhonda Weston and Christina Chenoweth; and seven great-grandchildren. He is also survived by a sister-in-law, Janet Fife of Denton, Md., and many nieces, nephews, and cousins from the close-knit Fife, Peck and Sanford families. And, not to be forgotten, many friends and colleagues and hundreds of Northwood School graduates. He was pre-deceased by his parents and by his sisters Doris McGowan Fife and Nona Fife Peck, and his brother James Arthur Fife.
Based on his wishes, his body was cremated and the family plans to spread his ashes over the next months in the Pacific Northwest, at Northwood School and in the waters of his beloved Lake Dunmore. Then, his urn and remaining ashes will be buried with his parents, Harry and Ella, at the Middlebury Cemetery near the college, sometime in the spring.
The family is now planning memorial services on both the east and west coasts, to be announced at a later time.
Donations in lieu of flowers may be made to either the Northwood School Outing Club or to the Harry M. Fife Memorial Prize at Middlebury College funded in 1950 for his father.
For the former, checks can be made out to Northwood School with the memo line indicating NOC-Fife. The address is: Northwood School, 92 Northwood Rd., Lake Placid, N.Y. 12946, Attn. Stephanie Gates. Checks can be made out to Middlebury College, with a memo designating Harry M. Fife Memorial Prize, and mailed to Gift Administration, 700 Exchange Street, Middlebury Vt. 05753. Donations can also be made online at https://engage.middlebury.edu/give with Harry M. Fife Memorial Prize as the designation.◊
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