Esther Pank loved nothing better than a spirited debate. Especially when talk turned to politics or social issues.
"It was an avocation," said Roger Snyder of Huntington. And who would know better than Snyder, Pank's son-in-law, himself frequently open to engaging in a difference of opinion?
This week, after Pank's death on Nov. 20, Snyder remembered an encounter with her in 1994, as plans were being made for his wedding. He and his wife, Jennifer, wanted to serve organic spirits, apple wine and beer from Vermont.
Snyder said Pank was worried guests would not appreciate "this woodchuck cider," perhaps spoiling the reception. In the end, guests enjoyed the quirky beverages, and Pank told her new son-in-law, "Everybody loved it. You were right."
Pank, an activist and a noted leader among protesters of the Shoreham nuclear power plant, died of pancreatic cancer at her home in Reston, Va. She was 75.
She lived in Hauppauge from 1968 to 1989, Snyder said, and was in the thick of protests against the nuclear plant, which was decommissioned in 1989 after years of costly political battles.
"She was an extraordinary woman who lived and worked for peace and justice here on Long Island," said Margaret Melkonian, director of the Long Island Alliance for Peaceful Alternatives, a Garden City-based nonprofit.
Pank was born in California and attended UCLA-Berkley before enlisting in the Army. She served in the office of the judge advocate general in Arlington, Va., was honorably discharged in 1955 and then married and divorced, Snyder said.
In the 1960s, she began working with Long Island groups supporting migrant workers and later opposed the war in Vietnam.
Snyder first met his future mother-in-law in 1983, at a protest outside the gates at the Shoreham plant. He quickly became friends with her and her second husband, Roland Bostrom, he said.
In 1989, when the power plant issue finally was resolved, Snyder said Pank felt a sense of relief.
That same year, Pank left for the University of New Hampshire, where in 1995 she earned a master's in sociology.
From 1995 to 2007, she worked for nonprofits in Washington, D.C., including the National Peace Foundation. All the while, she remained poised for debate, frequently with her son-in-law. "It sometimes got interesting for us," Snyder said. "Often, my wife would just take a break and go for a walk."
What Snyder and the rest of Pank's close friends realized, however, is that her passion "came from a good place," he said.
In addition to her second husband, survivors include daughters Marey Oakes, of Reston, Va.; Judith Strain, of Westerville, Ohio; Jennifer Snyder, of Huntington; son Bryan Pank, of Valencia, Calif.; a stepdaughter, Vida Fitzgerald, of Manhattan; a brother, John Sylar, of Taylorsville, Utah; and 11 grandchildren.
Her remains were cremated. A memorial service is scheduled for Dec. 11 at the Unitarian Universalist Church, in Fairfax, Va.