Marlys Dohanos, Mother Christmas

April 22, 1932 - Dec. 24, 2017
Marlys Dohanos, April 22, 1932 - Dec. 24, 2017

Marlys Gilyard Dohanos, whose personal and professional life in East Hampton began when almost everyone on Main Street recognized each other, died on Christmas Eve at her North Haven home. She was 85 and had been in declining health following numerous surgeries.

Mrs. Dohanos first came to East Hampton in the late 1950s with her husband, Peter Dohanos, a set designer who was here to work at Guild Hall’s John Drew Theater. With friends, she opened Whimseys, a Main Street shop where Obligato is today, in the early 1970s. It was the first store here to sell work by local artisans, from knitted items to tie-dyed T-shirts, along with coffee beans, stuffed animals, and penny candy. It became a gathering place at all times of year and for glogg, the Scandinavian mulled wine, at Christmastime. She would keep the shop open till 6 p.m. on Christmas Eve, rushing home to join her husband in the festivities they created for a wide circle of family and friends over the years.

 Of Norwegian and Danish descent, Mrs. Dohanos celebrated her Scandinavian background most especially during the winter holidays, introducing friends to wood Father Christmases with woolen beards, elves and sprites made of straw, and traditional foods. She would not let Christmas pass without decorating incredibly intricate gingerbread cookies and grilling lefsa, a Norwegian flatbread made with potato as well as flour and cream. She taught her daughters, Nina Landi and Daisy Dohanos of North Haven, how to make her legendary Swedish meatballs from the time they were very young. 

Following in her footsteps, they will prepare all the food and drink for a celebration of their mother’s life to be held at the Bell and Anchor restaurant in Noyac on Saturday night. The restaurant’s owner, a friend, is turning it over to them as a gathering place although it is closed for the season. The singing of Mrs. Dohanos’s favorite Christmas carols and a toast with glogg have been planned as part of the remembrance.

Marlys Gilyard was born on April 22, 1932, in Foley, Minn., the daughter of Clifford Gilyard and the former Lillian Carroll. The circumstances of her childhood were relatively difficult, her daughters said, recalling that she had told them she sewed her own clothes. Her family would take the battery out of the car and bring it inside in order to listen to the radio, which she enjoyed greatly as a child and for the rest of her life (becoming devoted to “Prairie Home Companion,”which evoked the sort of Minnesota-Lutheran community she had grown up in). 

After graduating from high school, she studied for a year to become a psychiatric nurse and worked at an in-patient facility in Minnesota for a short time. Her brother, Russell Gilyard of Isanti, Minn., who survives, said, “She was so caring for other people. Her main objective in life was making other people happy.”

Leaving Minnesota, she went first to California and then to Denver, where she joined Donna Gilyard Perkins, her  cousin and best friend, and both met their husbands-to-be in Colorado. 

Married in 1954, Mr. and Mrs. Dohanos lived first on Gay Street in Greenwich Village, where an upstairs neighbor, John Shinn, eventually showed them the land on Georgica Road in East Hampton where they built a house in 1960. They were quickly known as outstanding hosts, entertaining many friends made through Mr. Dohanos’s theater work in New York City as well as East Hampton, and through his father, the well-known artist and illustrator Stevan Dohanos. After selling the Georgica house in 1994, Mrs. Dohanos lived for a time on Neck Path in Springs. She worked in the front office of The East Hampton Star in the 1990s, using her natural talent for friendship in customer relations. In addition to her daughters, she is survived by two grandchildren, Peter Landi and Daisy Landi.

A funeral service will be held on Saturday morning at 9 at St. Michael’s Lutheran Church in Amagansett, the Rev. George W. Dietrich officiating. Her favorite hymns will be sung. The party at the Bell and Anchor will begin at 5 p.m. that night. The sound of “Good King Wenceslas” is expected to fill the rafters.