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W. Van Tongerloo, 98; Among Last Titanic Survivors

Obituaries

July 12, 2002|DENNIS McLELLAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Winnifred Quick Van Tongerloo never forgot April 14-15, 1912, the night the Titanic struck an iceberg in the North Atlantic and sank, after breaking in half, about 2 1/2 hours later.

Of the approximately 2,200 passengers and crew members on the ship's maiden voyage from Southampton, England, to New York City, only 705 survived, most of them women and children. Van Tongerloo was one of them.

"It has stayed with me," she said in a 1987 interview. "No more water experiences for me."

Van Tongerloo, one of four remaining Titanic survivors, died July 4 of congestive heart failure at a hospital in East Lansing, Mich. She was 98.

One known survivor of the disaster now remains in the United States and two in Britain, all of them women, according to the Titanic Historical Society.

Van Tongerloo was 8 years old when she, her 2-year-old sister, Phyllis, and their mother, Jane Quick, left their home in Plymouth, England, and boarded the Titanic, the largest and most luxurious ocean liner of its time.

Their eventual destination was Detroit, where Van Tongerloo's father, Frederick, already had established a home for his family and found work as a plasterer, said Van Tongerloo's daughter, Jeanette Happel, who heard the story of the Titanic disaster primarily from her grandmother.

"I think my mother was just a private person and didn't like a lot of attention, where my grandmother was more outgoing," she said.

The Quicks had retired to their stateroom about 9 p.m. and were sound asleep when the ship struck the iceberg, about 11:40 p.m.

A female passenger knocked on their door, which Jane Quick had left ajar to help alleviate the smell of fresh paint, and told them there had been an accident. The woman said the family should get dressed and go up on deck.

Happel said her grandmother got out of bed and put a skirt on over her nightclothes and then woke up her older daughter. But she wasn't in a hurry.

When Quick had asked if the accident was serious, the woman had said no.

But then a steward appeared at the door and yelled: "For God's sake, get up! Don't stop to dress. Just put on your life jackets. They've hit an iceberg, and the ship is sinking."

"I remember the steward knocking on our cabin door and telling us to come up on deck because something had happened," Van Tongerloo told United Press International in 1987.

When a life jacket was put on her, she recalled, she thought she would have to jump into the frigid water.

"I was horrified," she recalled. "That wasn't the case, but being a child, that's what I felt."

Van Tongerloo and her sister were loaded into one of the lifeboats. And, just as her mother was about to join the two girls, a crew member announced: "That's enough. No more."

But Quick protested that she wouldn't be separated from her children, and room was made for her.

After they were rowed to safety away from the ship, Van Tongerloo remembered, "We heard the boilers breaking and saw the lights going out. We also heard the people screaming.

"As the years go by, these things fade. But that's something you couldn't forget. It was too bad, too terrible to forget."

The British liner Carpathia, arrived at the site about 4 a.m. and picked up the survivors. When the ship docked in New York, Van Tongerloo's father was there to meet his family.

Van Tongerloo spent the remainder of her childhood in Detroit, married, had five children and later moved to Warren, Mich.

An honorary member of the Titanic Historical Society, she was preceded in death by her sister Phyllis, who, Happel was told, slept through the entire ordeal.

In addition to Happel, Van Tongerloo is survived by another daughter, Gloria Tuck; a son, Jack; a sister, Virginia Nantais; nine grandchildren; 16 great-grandchildren; and five great-great-grandchildren.

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