Obituary: Dorothy Sommer
Dorothy Sommer, an art therapist and counselor and a longtime resident of Montclair who was deeply involved in the community, died on Saturday night, Aug. 13, 2022. She was 92.
Mrs. Sommer was born in 1930 in the Bronx, the only child of Sophie and John Sepp, immigrants from Estonia (John) and Germany (Sophie). Although her hardworking parents had limited means and she was born during the Depression, she recounted a happy childhood growing up in New York City.
She studied art at the High School of Music and Art (now LaGuardia) and Queens College.
In 1951, after graduating college in 3½ years, she married Richard Sommer. Shortly after they married, he served in the Korean War and was stationed in Japan. Upon his return, he attended law school and she supported the couple with her job as an editorial assistant, a job she held for six years. They then started their family; Kate, Marianne, Paul and then Christene were born.
In 1965 the family settled in Montclair, where Mrs. Sommer remained for most of her life. She immersed herself in the community and in her children’s lives, becoming a Girl Scout leader and volunteering at the schools and at the Unitarian Universalist Congregation, where she taught Sunday school and organized the holiday crafts fair and dancing in a dance group.
In the mid-1970s, when her children were older, she sought to further her interest in arts, human development and psychology. She became an art therapist and later a career counselor and therapist after completing two master’s degrees at Montclair State University, one in art therapy and the other in counseling, human services and guidance.
Thereafter, she spent her career helping others in various capacities.
One of her greatest accomplishments came in the late ’70s, when she conceived of and implemented an art therapy program at the Bergen Center for Child Development.
During her career Mrs. Sommer was also the assistant to the director of cooperative education at Montclair State University; the art therapy consultant at the Catholic Counseling Center in Montclair; worked in career services at Fairleigh Dickinson University and Bloomfield College, and taught art therapy at William Paterson University.
She had an endless desire to keep learning and developing in both her professional and personal lives. She often attended training and continuing education courses, obtaining professional certificates, as well as taking watercolor classes, other art classes and attending lectures. She frequently gathered with friends to create art.
Mrs. Sommer loved children. When her grandchildren arrived, she became very involved in their lives, doing art with them weekly, organizing family vacations at the Jersey Shore for everyone, and developing an annual tradition where her grandchildren, all of whom were adopted, would celebrate themselves through creative projects, music, dance, reading and writing.
She lost her husband of 51 years, Richard, in 2002. Adapting to this drastic change in her life, she immersed herself in her grandchildren and children, continued her meaningful work and went on trips with friends (Cuba and Tunisia among them). She traveled to China to help her daughter and her family adopt their second child.
Mrs. Sommer wanted to return to her favorite community, Montclair (which she and her husband left in 1995), and so she moved to The Siena in 2008. She enjoyed all but the last nine months of her life in this home.
She was very active in Montclair, working at Cope Counseling Center, attending the Montclair Y, joining various book clubs and attending programs at the Montclair Public Library, the Adult School and the Montclair Art Museum, where she led workshops for kids.
Mrs. Sommer was thrilled to be across the street from the Unitarian Congregation, which she had originally joined in the 1960s, and became involved again, serving on committees, being a member of “Art and Soul,” helping to design stoles for Revs. Anya and Scott, and meeting with the quilting groups, various book groups and tutoring kids on a weekly basis.
Somehow she found the time to write, design and illustrate a children’s book. She also took advantage of the art world nearby, getting on the DeCamp bus to see art exhibits in New York and driving to the Newark Museum. She retired from her last job at Cope Counseling Center in 2015 at the age of 85.
She will be remembered by her family as a most special person who so appreciated the beauty of life and loved the life she had. She was an eternal optimist. She had great taste and style and loved art, nature, literature and music. She was a creative artist. She was a person of intelligence (with an excellent vocabulary), wit and endless compassion. She was a true friend to many.
But above all, she was a most amazing, loving, nurturing and caring mother, grandmother and great-grandmother.
Mrs. Sommer is survived by her four children, Kate (Bob), Marianne (Dale), Paul and Christene (Arthur); her five granddaughters, Amy, Tara, Grace, Becca and Lucy, and four great-grandchildren, Lucas, Arjen, Adonis and Mona.
A celebration of her life will be held at 2 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 25, at the Unitarian Congregation, 67 Church St.
In lieu of flowers, donations can be made in Mrs. Sommer’s memory to one of her favorite organizations, the Arbor Day Foundation, or her beloved congregation, the Unitarian Universalist Congregation at Montclair.