Shirley Cronig Smith died Jan. 5. Born to Henry and Mae Cronig on Feb. 2, 1923, Shirley grew up in a family whose roots began in Vilnius, Lithuania, and whose legacy supported Island life and helped to form its contemporary history. The Cronig brothers, Sam, Henry, Ed, and Theodore, began their grocery store in the early part of the 20th century, and they and their wives and families were instrumental in founding the Martha’s Vineyard Hebrew Center.
Mae was adamant that their three daughters have access to education in the arts — music, dance and theatre. Shirley was educated in the Tisbury School, was a member of the Children’s Theatre of The Rice House Playhouse in East Chop where she portrayed Sister Theresa, a nun, in Little Joan of Arc in 1937. As teenagers, Shirley and sister June, were part of their mother Mae’s Gosnold house staff, as well as running the hotel at the Pawnee House on Circuit avenue in Oak Bluffs for their dad, Henry. Shirley and June helped with many aspects of running The Gosnold including taking guests on all-day excursions to South Beach or to picnic at the Gay Head Cliffs, while youngest sister Carole helped in the dining room.
Shirley left the Island as a young woman to attend Mt. Ida Junior College and then to work in New York city where she met Howard Kramer whom she married in 1944. Their son, Jeffrey, was born in 1945, and daughter, Marjory, in 1949.
The Beach House at Juniper Place, the family compound wisely created from an old camp and set aside for his daughters by real estate visionary, Henry Cronig, has been the site of annual summer family gatherings for decades. Being part of a large, warm, and gregarious family, Shirley carried on the tradition of welcoming one and all her entire life. Once you’d broken bread with Shirley (who made any occasion a cause for celebration) you were considered family, and could count on boundless invitations to gatherings populated by folks from far and wide — family certainly, and friends from years gone by as well as those brought into the fold no longer than the day before.
When Shirley’s son, Jeff Kramer, helped to create the Vineyard Players, “the Vineyard’s own Straw Hat theatre,” Shirley was an avid supporter. She often spoke of the joy of those days with the young actors and actresses from Ithaca College in and out all the time, and the delight she experienced mothering them all. How she would laugh recalling the frequency of walking into her own house and finding it bereft of furniture, the pieces spirited away by the repertory group to become the set for the next play at their theatre-in-the-round at the old Oak Bluffs gym.
Shirley was lovely — plain and simple — a champion of art and artists in all media, a lover of humanity who embraced life and loved entertaining all who crossed her threshold.
Shirley was widowed and also was pre-deceased by her sister June Cronig Kapell, brother in law, Dave Kapell, and daughter in law, Vikki Kramer.
She will be deeply missed by those who survive her: sister Carole Abrahams and brother in law, David of New York city; her son Jeffrey Kramer and his partner, Lauren Karp of Sherman Oaks, Calif.; her daughter Marjory Kramer and husband Rabbi Seth Phillips of Allentown, Pa., Dr. Mark Zuckerman and wife, Lori, of Amherst; her grandchildren: Jordan, Jeremy, and Jackson Kramer, Rachel Bussel, and Laura and Abby Zuckerman; and her nieces, Elisa Kapell and Bess Kominik, her nephews, Joe Kapell, Robert Kapell, and Fred Abrahamson, and all their families who were so very much a beloved part of Shirley’s life, as well as the countless members of her “extended family of choice.” Donations in Shirley’s memory may be made to The Martha’s Vineyard Hebrew Center or the Tourette Syndrome Association.