Obituary of Asha Shirley Stager
Shirley M. (Asha) Stager passed away unexpectedly on June 22, 2023, at her home in mid-coast Maine, where she had planned to spend the summer amid her friends and beautiful garden after wintering with her son and daughter-in-law. Much loved by many around the world, her light shone brightly as artist, poet, musician, camp-co-director, Rosen body-worker, sacred dancer, nursery school director, social activist, and more.
Born in 1934 in Lancaster, PA, to a family of artistic performers in a vaudeville group called The Golden Dawn Dancers, Asha developed her own musical skills as well, acting in school theater, singing in church choir, and leading songs at summer youth camps. Her love of music and theater continued throughout her life.
She was smart, motivated, and talented, being the first in her family to complete high school and go to college. She graduated at the top of all her classes and completed a degree at Millersville State Teacher's College. While studying there she met Jay Stager, whom she introduced to summer youth camps and eventually married.
For the rest of their years together, every summer revolved around children's summer camps. Initially, Asha and Jay helped provide respite for impoverished urban families at Camp Bungalow Hill (Annandale, NY). Later they directed Camp Claire (Hamburg, CT) for the Congregational Church. In 1964 they bought Camp Med-O-Lark in Washington, ME, intent on creating a non-sectarian, co-ed, multi-racial, non-competitive, and international youth camp. It was a visionary and successful program for its day that became widely respected in the camping industry. They invited staff and campers from around the world and continued promoting their vision of social justice and international good will by starting other camps as well, including Hidden Valley in Montville and the Samantha Smith World Peace Camp in Poland Springs, all of which have positively influenced thousands of young lives.
Always devoted to the welfare of others, Asha led her church's youth group and organized day care for local migrant workers as a teen. Later, after moving to Connecticut, she co-created a local pre-school for young children and hosted international students through the American Field Service. She was involved in the civil rights movement of the 1960s, joining the March on Washington in 1963, and sheltering a young SNCC activist, June Johnson, who had been beaten in a Mississippi jail. Shirley also sent provisions to Greenwood, MS, during the Food Blockade, promoted racial integration of Manchester's schools, and adopted a Hmong family of refugees.
In 1964, Asha persuaded Jay to accept a Fulbright teaching scholarship in Turkey, immersing the whole family in world views and intercultural experiences that impacted their lives ever since.
During the following decades, Asha devoted herself to a ministry of love, which she expressed through the Sacred Dance Guild, Rhythmic Choir, and Fools for Christ. In 1982, she moved to California to attend Pacific School of Religion, completing a Masters in pastoral education. She was given the name “Asha”, a Sufi name meaning “trust,”“truth,” and “alive and well,” a title that fit her well and that she used ever after. After becoming disillusioned with organized religion, she abandoned her pursuit of chaplaincy and instead trained in Rosen Method Bodywork, using touch for individual healing of body mind, and spirit. With her new life partner Carl Putz, she moved back to Maine where she supported social and environmental causes, hosted philosophy discussions, shared their love of the natural world, and planted a bountiful, widely admired flower garden.
Through her sixties, Asha continued to pursue her activist and artistic life path, taking up acrylic painting, starting a Shifting Gears for Aging Years group to address the needs of elderhood, supporting the Strand Theatre, and taking to the street corners of Rockland for social and political action with the Peace and Justice Group. She sang for years with the Midcoast Community Chorus, composed original music, and participated in the Saturday Girls Book Club. She loved attending Metropolitan opera broadcasts at the Strand Theater with friends and discussing the shows afterwards over wine, cheese, and crackers.
As she gracefully aged, her greatest joys included watching the birds and squirrels outside her windows, time with family and friends, and tending her beautiful garden.
Asha is survived by her son Curt and daughter Leslie.