Ada Van Gelder Bartlett loved family, learning and giving back

Monday, October 22, 2012 | 8:28 p.m. CDT

COLUMBIA — Robert Bartlett was on summer vacation in Paris, France, in 1950 when he met the woman who would be his wife for the next 62 years.

Bartlett walked into a pastry shop and saw Ada Van Gelder standing in the store.


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"Don’t go away," he told her. She grinned and didn’t go away. They spent the summer together, and 10 weeks later they were married in Rome on Sept. 6, 1950.

Ada Van Gelder Bartlett died Sunday, Oct. 21, 2012, at her home in the Lenoir Woods Village in Columbia.  She was 91.

Family meant a lot to her, Robert Bartlett said of his wife, who volunteered at hospitals and soup kitchens.

"She always wanted to be of service," Bartlett said.

Mrs. Bartlett was born Aug. 8, 1921, in Hamburg, Germany, to Dutch parents Maurice and Caroline Van Gelder.

When she was 3 years old, the family returned to Holland, and she finished high school there in 1939.

Around that time, Mrs. Bartlett’s father sensed that Nazi Germany was about to invade his native country.

"Hitler was making terrible noise," Robert Bartlett said.

The family moved to New York City at the last minute, right before Hitler invaded Holland and France, Robert Bartlett said.

During the war, Mrs. Bartlett worked as a translator for the Office of War Information. She could speak four languages: English, Dutch, German and French.

In 1948, she graduated from Columbia University with a major in history and general studies. She then worked as an editorial researcher for Time magazine, finding background information for the magazine’s writers.

She moved to Paris in 1950, looking for a job. That’s when she met Robert Bartlett, an engineering teacher at Robert College in Istanbul, Turkey. Mrs. Bartlett gave birth to their first son, Paul, while they lived in Turkey.

After they moved to Schenectady, N.Y., she gave birth to two more sons, Russell and David.

The couple moved to Columbia for the first time in 1976. During their six-year stay, Mrs. Bartlett attended MU. In 1981, at age 60, she received her master’s degree in child and family development.

Robert Bartlett said she went back to school because she loved to learn and work with children.

After a few more stops across the country, the couple settled in Columbia again in 2005. Robert Bartlett said they had decided it was time to live close to one of their children.

Mrs. Bartlett is survived by three sons, David Bartlett and his wife, Lisa, of Hallsville, Paul Bartlett and his wife, Gail, of Baltimore, Md., Russell Bartlett and his wife, Sandy, of Atlanta, Ga.; one brother, Edgar Van Gelder and his wife, Inge, of Westport, Conn.; eight grandchildren, Daniel Bartlett, Benjamin Bartlett, Melissa Lawrence, Kristen Bartlett, Bradley Bartlett, Asia Klassen, Mason Bartlett and Tonia Bartlett; a sister-in-law, Nikki Van Gelder; and several nieces and nephews.

A brother, Joost Van Gelder, died earlier.

A memorial service will be held at 10 a.m. Thursday at the Lenoir Woods Epple Chapel. Burial will follow at Memorial Park Cemetery at 12:30 p.m.

Memorials can be made to the Lenoir Woods Benevolent Association, 3710 S. Lenoir St., Columbia, MO 65201.

Tributes can be posted at

Supervising editor is Scott Swafford.

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