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Peppi Elona

  • | 12:14 p.m. June 27, 2023
  • Siesta Key
  • Tributes & Obituaries
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Peppi Elona
Neé Elona Peppi Gruber
July 18, 1936—May 29, 2023

Peppi Elona, a vibrant, colorful, unconventionally imaginative and kind woman passed away peacefully at her home on Siesta Key.

Peppi’s children, her life as an artist and her wife made every day meaningful for her; fulfilling and enriching her 86 years.

Peppi had an innate sense for bold, creative thinking in her artwork and how she lived her life. If there was an artwork on display that was out of the ordinary, that was a Peppi piece.  Making art and being an inspiration to other artists was very gratifying to her. She was quick to help and advise her art colleagues. She showed a kind heart and generous spirit with her eloquent and honest art critiques.

Peppi’s almost 23 years in Sarasota were filled with showcasing her artwork as an exhibitor and/or member of Women Contemporary Artists, The Petticoat Painters, Art Center Sarasota, Longboat Art Center, Manatee Art Center, Palmetto Art Center, Morean Art Center, Towles Court Gallery, Harmony Hall, State of the Arts Gallery and Selby Gallery at Ringling College. Peppi was selected twice to be on the Fine Arts Creators and Collectors Tour. Her artwork was also exhibited at the Newark Art Museum, The Johnson & Johnson Art Gallery at their corporate headquarters, and at galleries in New York City.

Peppi was one of the 13 Founding Members of the Sarasota Museum of Art (SMoA). Her gift for creating promotional materials and her masterful writing helped move the project from idea to reality.  She made SMoA look professional and real. The ArtFul Restroom was her brainchild that many still talk about. Peppi devoted many hours to SMoA including hosting ArtMuse artists, members of the art community and donors in her home. When she wasn’t in her studio or at SMoA, she was home preparing meals for visiting artists and their guests.  This energy, time, and devotion was second only to playing an integral support role to her wife, SMoA Founding President Emerita, Wendy Surkis. They were a remarkable duo.

Family was Peppi’s glow and deep heartbeat. She always wanted to be a mother to four children –and she did it!

Married at 19 years old, this Paterson, New Jersey gal and her former husband, Edward Henig, had four children together. They lived in several cities during their 17 years of marriage as an IBM couple. Each time her family moved, though still busy rearing children, opportunities arose for Peppi to further her art studies, earning her Bachelors of Arts from Rutgers in 1966, Bachelor of Fine Arts from Washington University in 1973 and her Master of Arts from Montclair State College in 1983. Though they divorced, Peppi and Ed always remained close friends.

During her life she briefly taught in the New Jersey school system; worked as a licensed commercial real estate agent with Cross & Brown; and helped her father and his associates in his real estate development business in Paterson, New Jersey.

She was a philanthropist and generous soul. 

Peppi impacted the lives of numerous people who had a myriad of life challenges. She was quick to step forward when she perceived that they could benefit from her help. She was a philanthropist and generous soul. Peppi helped and gave without being asked. She never sought a thank you.

Peppi met her best friend and classmate, Wendy Surkis, in 1973 at the University of Louisville.  They shared 47 years of a mutually wonderful life; supporting each other’s goals, desires and dreams. This twosome was each other’s confidante, companion, cheerleader, project partner, adventurer, support system and helper. They were genuine soul mates.

Peppi was the family’s treasured gift. She was the initiator of gatherings for the blended family. Peppi and Wendy, the Grammas, journeyed with each grandchild to places around the world. These were trips for the three of them – no parents! It was a time to get to know each other much better, and to adventure to a place of the grandchild’s interest. The idea for these trips was all Peppi’s. Each grandchild reflects on their trip as a very special moment in their teenage life. Peppi and Wendy dabbled in this with Wendy’s three nephews.

Peppi loved and was beloved by her wife, Wendy Surkis; her children, Robert Henig (Sara Mrsny), Lee Henig-Elona (John Orenczak), Jane Fellows (Philip Fellows) and David Henig (Dr. Noreen Henig); her bonus children, Jennifer Deare (Christopher), Susan Schneider, and Neil Schonwald (Virginia); her sister, Joan Faust; her grandchildren, great-grandchildren, niece, nephew, cousins, relatives, friends, and Wendy’s nephews and their families and the many, many people who comprise Peppi’s blended family.

Peppi’s final resting place is at Mt. Nebo Cemetery in Totowa, New Jersey. She is buried next to her mother and father, Isabelle and Jack Gruber, to whom she was very close.

The cruelty of dementia stole Peppi from us. We ask that everybody remember Peppi for the sparkle and exuberance that she brought to our lives.

Thank you for enriching PEPPI’S life.

Those who have asked where they can send a donation in honor of Peppi may do so to the Sarasota Museum of Art (SMoA), a division of Ringling College. 1001 South Tamiami Trail, Sarasota, FL 34236 Attn: Virginia Shearer, Exec Director.

Those who have asked where they can send a donation in honor of Peppi may do so to the Sarasota Museum of Art (SMoA), a division of Ringling College. 1001 South Tamiami Trail, Sarasota, FL 34236 Attn: Virginia Shearer, Exec Director.


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