Sylvia Brocker lived a vibrant 96 years, but it was three months spent in Tanzania in 1977 that was the “highlight of her life,” said her son Andrew Brocker.
She traveled to the country with her husband, during which time he worked to build a bus garage via the International Executive Service Corps while she became involved in a local church and began teaching in a school.
“She grew a love for the people and for that country,” said Andrew Brocker of Franklin Square.
Brocker died April 14 from complications of the coronavirus, after celebrating her 96th birthday in the hospital one week earlier. She was laid to rest in a designer pink suit in a pink casket filled with some of her most treasured possessions, including a tube of Chanel lipstick, a purse and nail polish, a testament to her passion for looking fancy and put-together.
Brocker, nee Laine, was the daughter of Finnish-born parents and was raised in Queens along with five sisters and two brothers. She was proud of her Finnish ancestry and regularly attended FinnFest, an annual festival celebrating Finnish and Finnish American culture.
Her family will remember her for her “sisu” — a Finnish term meaning extraordinary determination, courage and resoluteness in the face of extreme adversity. Her sisu and her faith — she was a longtime member of St. Andrew’s Lutheran Church in Franklin Square — helped her through the loss of her husband in 2000 and the death of her oldest son, Warren, at the age of 55 in 2003.
Brocker was a fashionista. She owned over 50 lipsticks, wearing a different color each day, even if it was just to sit alone at home. Family members described her as a vibrant personality and a night owl who would often stay up late to finish a good book but never pass up a piece of cake for breakfast.
“She loved good food, she loved to eat,” said Brocker’s daughter, Melanie Brocker Osse, adding that her mother was creative in the kitchen. Her specialty dishes were lasagna, macaroni and cheese and lemon meringue pies. “We didn’t have a lot of money so everything was pretty frugal as far as what was spent on food.”
She would always send birthday cards, even to the great-grandchildren she didn’t see often, using the cards to send updates about her life. She learned how to use Facebook and often commented with sweet pictures and hearts on posts.
“She was quite a woman, really very memorable, very outgoing, very social,” Brocker Osse said. “I don’t want to say life of the party, but you always knew my mother was there; she wasn’t exactly quiet, she had a loud voice.”
Brocker and Brocker Osse, who lives in Bozeman, Montana, would speak on the phone nearly every day.
“She could talk, it would get where now we’re almost an hour on the phone and I’d say, ‘Mom, I have to go.” I would have to say that at least three times because she didn’t want to let me off the phone,” she said.
Brocker was a social butterfly and was active at Catholic Charities Senior Center in Franklin Square as the leader of its singing group.
“She had a beautiful singing voice, even in her 90s,” Brocker Osse said. “When I was a child we would go to church and my mother would be belting out these songs.”
She is survived by her children, Melanie Brocker Osse, Russell Brocker of Farmingdale, and Andrew Brocker; and her nine grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren.
The family is planning a colorful celebration of life for April 24, 2021, which will include a church service and a cocktail party.
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