Sypko Wybo Andreae, born December 6, 1930, in Arnhem, The Netherlands, had a knack for turning challenges, even the most painful sort, into adventures. He demonstrated this magnificently in the way he approached his final challenge, eight months of chemotherapy for leukemia (CMML). Sypko even turned driving to Medford, Ore., for the treatments into a joy. He assembled a crew of family and friends to do the driving and, from the passenger seat, merrily introduced them to various scenic back routes that led to Hematology Oncology Associates and the infusion room. With just as much verve, Sypko also put together a small team of beloved holistic practitioners for complementary care.
His intention was to live fully, with open heart and curious mind, as long as he was vertical, and then to die consciously and peacefully. And so it came to be. At midday May 31, 2012, in his Ashland, Ore., home, Sypko shifted into dying mode. He spoke words of love to each of those closest who had gathered around him, his wife of 25 years, Carolyn Shaffer; his sister, Augusta Lucas-Andreae; his "chosen" sister, Shoshana Alexander; and his godson, Elias Alexander. At 6:05 p.m., Sypko left his body like a whisper on the wind.
The final year of his life was anything but a whisper. In late August 2011, just before the official leukemia diagnosis and against his physician's advice, he squeezed in one last trip, with Carolyn, to The Netherlands to visit his Dutch family and reunite with his core group of former college classmates. That fall, he engaged, with greater gusto than ever, in his favorite volunteer work, screening documentaries for the Ashland Independent Film Festival. He then set to writing, reconnecting with old friends and former classmates around the world, mainly through blog posts on his CaringBridge.com site.
Five months into chemotherapy, Sypko surprised all by taking another major trip, this time to San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, where he and Carolyn stayed with friends and attended a writers conference. Sypko's blog posts changed after that. They grew deeper, funnier, and more revealing. When Shoshana, a published author and highly skilled book developer and editor, offered to help collect these writings into a book, Sypko gave an enthusiastic thumbs up. Together they gave shape to "Laughing with Leukemia," which Shoshana lovingly brought into published book form after Sypko's death.
Sypko's ability to transform apparent misfortune into exciting opportunity began in his youth. He was nine years old when World War II started and the Nazis occupied Holland. To keep his spirits up, he and his friends engaged in risky hunts, under the noses of the German officers, for strands of abandoned (they hoped) field telephone wire. In Sypko's first year of college at Delft University of Technology, he survived a near-breakdown by learning to soar, literally, in engineless sailplanes. Soon he was flying the thermals across Europe in international
competitions. He continued soaring in the United States until age 78.
Water also called. In his forties and fifties, ocean and river adventures eased work pressures and took his mind off his relationship challenges, a first marriage that ended in divorce and the later breakup of a seven-year partnership. In 1971, Sypko sailed a 30-foot ketch from Hawaii to San Francisco, Calif. He later rafted, repeatedly, several of the most difficult whitewater rivers in the United States, including the Grand Canyon portion of the Colorado.
On the professional front, Sypko was adventuresome as well. He emigrated to the United States in 1962 to take an engineering job at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, then called the Lawrence Radiation Lab, on the University of California at Berkeley campus. But he refused to let engineering define him. Sypko had the heart of a poet and storyteller, a mind fascinated by interpersonal and organizational dynamics, and a thirst for innovation and creative expression. These aspirations defined his life.
Among the many professional adventures upon which Sypko embarked were earning a master's degree in psychology from Sonoma State University; switching from engineer to computer scientist at LBNL, and developing software for such projects as the Keck Observatory telescopes on the summit of Mauna Kea in Hawaii; creating and publishing an international computer users magazine, the "Morrow Owners Review," financed by Morrow Designs, the maker of a well-regarded desktop computer that pre-dated the Apple and IBM versions; and buying, with a score of others, Shenoa Retreat and Learning Center in Mendocino County, Calif., and helping operate it during its 12-year run. After that, retirement to Ashland was in order.
Although Sypko never had his own biological children, he helped raise, with great pleasure, three "chosen" children. During April 2012, all three, now adults, flew to southern Oregon from various parts of North America to spend time with him. Kirsten Andreae came from Montreal, Canada; Eric Walstedt from Manhattan, N.Y.; and Elias Alexander from Middlebury, Vermont. Kirsten so appreciated all Sypko taught her that, as an adult, she officially took his last name. Eric described Sypko as his "first model for the qualities that make a man: strength without anger, gentleness without weakness, love without neediness, perseverance without stubbornness, usually." Elias called Sypko a "great man" and "an inspiration," adding that "when I near my own passing, I will remember his as a model for a beautiful and fearless death."
Besides his wife, sister, chosen sister, and three chosen children, Sypko is survived by, in The Netherlands, his brother-in-law, Jaap Mook; niece, Tineke Mook; nephew, Willem Mook; and grand-nephew, Tim van Rijk; and, in the United States, by his niece, Daisy Teske (and husband, Jim); his nephews, Peter Mark and Andy Mark (and wife, Jill); grand-nephew, Tim Teske (and wife, Janeen); and grand-niece, Tammy Teske.
A memorial service, conducted by Norma Burton, minister of Unity in Ashland, will be held Sunday, July 22, 2012, from 3:00 to 5:00 p.m., at Havurah Shir Hadash, 185 N. Mountain Blvd., Ashland, OR 97520.
Special thank yous to nurses, Brenda Kizzire and Denise Davis, of ACH Hospice; Timothy Simonsen, of Litwiller-Simonsen Funeral Home in Ashland; and Bob Ireland, of Montague Soaring Center, for helping us carry out Sypko's last wishes with such care and sensitivity.
In lieu of flowers, contributions may be made to the Ashland Independent Film Festival, P.O. Box 218, Ashland, OR 97520.