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Nancy O'Keefe, former West Islip High School teacher and volunteer

Nancy O'Keefe, who taught history for a quarter

Nancy O'Keefe, who taught history for a quarter century at West Islip High School. Photo Credit: O'Keefe family

Nancy O'Keefe spent a quarter-century breathing life into the history she taught her students at West Islip High School, and in retirement served her church, hospital patients and her retirement community in Babylon.

O'Keefe died at home on July 3 after a brief illness, with her family at her side. She was 85.

"You couldn't meet her and walk away a stranger. She never held anything back," said her daughter, Eileen Culhane, a lawyer and teacher who lives in Oakdale. "She loved to weave tales, tell stories and was an very good listener."

Her favorite subject to teach was 11th-grade American history, but in her personal life she was "a pure Anglophile -- she loved everything British," her daughter said. O'Keefe's interest was so avid she even spent several summers traveling to England to take courses in British history at Oxford University.

Born in Chicago, O'Keefe was an only child. When she was about 10, her family moved to Pelham, where she attended Catholic schools. After high school, she went to College of Mt. St. Vincent in Riverdale, graduating in 1952. She later earned a master's in education from Hunter College in Queens.

She worked several years as a teacher at a boys high school in Westchester County and later got a job in advertising in New York City.

O'Keefe married and had five children; the family moved to West Islip in 1962. Two of her children predeceased her: son Daniel died at 16 and daughter Mary K. Finn of West Islip died at 50.

O'Keefe returned to teaching in 1968 at West Islip High School and during that period earned a second master's in history from Stony Brook University.

During her career, she was actively involved as a lector and volunteer at St. Joseph's Catholic Church in Babylon. "She was always volunteering, reading to the blind and making Christmas trees of dollar bills for the nuns," Culhane said.

After retiring in 1993, she also became actively involved as a volunteer at Good Samaritan Hospital in West Islip, and for a number of years was in charge of enlisting and scheduling volunteers.

In the late 1990s, she moved to Village Commons, a retirement community in Babylon, and spent about a decade as a member of its board of directors. In the last few years, she served as president.

Other survivors include her son Thomas, of Annapolis, Maryland; daughter Susan Bush, of North Branford, Connecticut; seven grandchildren; and one great-granddaughter.

The wake will be held Friday at Chapey's and Sons Funeral Home in West Islip from 2 to 4:30 p.m. and from 7 to 9 p.m. Mass will be celebrated Saturday at 11 a.m. at St. Joseph's Catholic Church in Babylon. Burial will follow at St. Joseph's Cemetery.

In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to Good Shepherd Hospice, 110 Bicounty Blvd., Suite 114, Farmingdale 11735.

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