Mabel Hempstead

Mabel “Sindy” (Sinden) Hempstead, lately of East Greenwich and formerly North Kingstown, RI, died peacefully on December 4, 2020, at the age of 95. She wasborn in 1925 to Theodora Emmerson Sinden and Alfred D. Sinden in Aurora, IL, where she spent her first 17 years. 

She was the beloved mother of Marjorie L. Hempstead of Mountain View, CA; S. Christian Hempstead of Seattle, WA; Joyce E. Hempstead of Boston, MA; and Robert L. Hempstead Jr. of Issaquah, WA. She is also survived by three grandchildren: Bethany H. Morrow, Peter L. Morrow, and Evan C. Hempstead. Mabel leaves a son-in-law, Jerry D. Morrow, and a daughter-in-law, Caroline Hempstead. Mabel also leaves a brother, Dr. Frank Sinden and his wife, Grace (Singer), of Princeton, NJ, and a sister, Sylvia Ashby, of Henderson, NV. She is also survived by her former spouse and father of her children, Capt. Robert L. Hempstead, and by five nieces and nephews.

From her earliest youth, Mabel was fascinated with the natural world. On her 10th birthday her parents gave her a microscope, which became the center of her world. Studying chemistry and education as an undergraduate at University of Wisconsin (where she picked up the lifelong nickname Sindy), she earned a BA in 1947. She went on to earn an MS in zoology and biochemistry from the University of Minnesota in 1951. She took a second master’s in 1994—at age 70—in botany from the University of Rhode Island.

In 1951, while working at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute in Woods Hole, MA, she met and married Robert L. Hempstead. A year later they settled in North Kingstown, RI, where they raised their four children. Her scientific pursuits temporarily on hold, Sindy kept up with subscriptions to her favorite publications:Scientific American, Nature, andScience.

An enthusiastic educator, Sindy taught math and science in the Wisconsin towns of Black River Falls and Bloomington between college degrees, and later in RI at Davisville Middle School in North Kingstown and Rocky Hill School in East Greenwich. During her eight years at Rocky Hill, she taught AP chemistry, math, and earth science, taking particular delight in the school’s bay location for marsh botany projects. She left teaching to satisfy a curiosity about applied chemistry, taking positions in industry including as a chemical technician (Monet Jewelry) and laboratory manager (National Chemical Company), where she conducted analysis of materials using atomic absorption and fire assay—modern day alchemy. 

Sindy’s interest in ponds and aquatic plants was lifelong. It was after she retired from careers as a teacher and chemist and entered URI’s master’s program in botany that she began her 20-year stint as a volunteer with URI’s Watershed Watch program, monitoring the water quality of Tucker Pond in South Kingstown. Studying under the late Dr. Elmer Palmatier and Dr. Keith T. Killingbeck (her thesis advisor), she earned her degree in 1994. Her thesis, on the American white water lily Nymphaea odorata (published in Aquatic Botany in 1995), led her to study countless ponds around the state in her kayak, an activity she continued until age 89. She remained in touch with Dr. Killingbeck to the end of her life.

A long-time volunteer for the Rhode Island Wild Plant Society (RIWPS), Sindy wrote articles on native plants for their publication and led instructional walks and kayak tours of native habitats in South County. She was an ardent environmentalist and left a legacy of conservation easements and land donations to the RI Chapter of Nature Conservancy. She especially enjoyed cultivating her own backyard into a meadow of native flowers, and her front yard into an expanse of Solomon’s seal and ferns. 

Sindy’s drive for discovery didn’t stop with botany. Her inquiring mind drew her to the fields of geology, economics, linguistics, Biblical history—almost no subject failed to pique her curiosity. Mathematical puzzles intrigued her—one outcome of which inspired her to produce a quilt based on the Penrose tile pattern. She was happiest when she was researching questions and solving conundrums.

From the 1960s (when she began composting kitchen waste) to the end of her life, her greatest concern was our abuse of the environment and waste of its resources. At 70, Sindy commissioned the design and construction of a seasonal home in Charlestown, RI, that was fully off the grid, passive solar, and integrated into the coastal woodlands she loved to explore.

A quote in a 2014 Patcharticle on her volunteer work for Watershed Watch exemplifies her attitude: “It’s fun to get out on the water every week, but it’s also important to keep an eye on these water bodies to make sure they’re not getting polluted. It’s the only way anyone will know about changes taking place in the ponds while there’s still time to do something about it.”

Sindy taught Sunday School for more than 20 years at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Wickford, RI, where she was a member since 1959. She was an active member of PEO, a philanthropic organization for educators.

 In her later years in assisted living in East Greenwich, Sindy took up writing a historical fiction of her grandparents’ lives in short chapters.

Burial will be private. A memorial service for family and friends is planned for a future, post-COVID date. Gifts in her memory may be made to NRDC (Natural Resource Defense Fund), www.nrdc.org; and Sophia Academy, 582 Elmwood Avenue, Providence, Rhode Island 02907, info@sophia-academy.org.

Arrangements have been entrusted to the Cranston-Murphy Funeral Home of Wickford. For online messages of condolence, kindly visit www.CranstonMurphy.com

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