Judith Jane Slocum VanDerburgh, a former registered nurse and beloved volunteer for the Salvation Army’s Meals on Wheels program, died Sunday. She was 88.

Mrs. VanDerburgh delivered meals to homebound older adults across the Portland area for more than 30 years. She was also an active member of Clark Memorial United Methodist Church in Portland from 1976 to 2008. According to her obituary, she served as its first female lay leader.

Mrs. VanDerburgh was remembered by her family Tuesday as a kind, selfless woman who devoted her life to family and the communities she lived in.

“Mom was a very strong person emotionally, morally, lovingly and compassionately,” said Julie Bell of Allen, Texas, the oldest of her six children. “She had a strong sense of justice and compassion for people.”

Mrs. VanDerburgh grew up in Vermont, the daughter of an osteopathic doctor. She knew from an early age that she wanted to be a nurse. In 1953, she graduated from Columbia University with a bachelor of science in nursing.

She began her career working as a registered nurse with preemie babies at New York-Presbyterian Hospital in New York City.

In 1954, she married Arthur VanDerburgh, her husband for 64 years.

Mrs. VanDerburgh continued her career as a nurse in the infirmary at Springfield College in Massachusetts, where he was a pre-med student. The couple then moved to Missouri, where she was a night supervisor at Kirksville Osteopathic Hospital.

Before moving to Maine, she worked at a hospital in Bennington, Vermont.

Mrs. VanDerburgh worked at her husband’s medical practices in Brewer and Bangor before giving up her nursing career to raise a family, Bell said.

Bell and her siblings gathered this week to honor their mother.

She was described as kind and compassionate, yet tough as nails. She always had a smile for people, always a word of encouragement. She also could make a mean batch of chocolate chip and ginger snap cookies and homemade white bread.

“She was 100 percent there for all of us,” said Jane VanDerburgh of Biddeford, her youngest child. “She loved her family and friends so deeply. She was such a loving woman.”

Mrs. VanDerburgh was a member of State Street United Church of Christ, where she sang in the choir. She also sang in the choir at Clark Memorial.

Bell noted that her mother recently gave her sewing machine to an African immigrant from her church.

“She was always thinking about other people,” Bell said.

Mrs. VanDerburgh took care of her husband, whose health declined about a year ago when he had a minor stroke.

“In the last 11 months, my mother became my best friend,” Jane VanDerburgh said. “My mother and I did everything. It was some of the hardest things I have ever done. She became my best friend and my confidant.”

Six weeks ago, Mrs. VanDerburgh went to Maine Medical Center complaining of back pain. A day later, she was diagnosed with Stage IV lymphoma, which had metastasized.

Jane VanDerburgh said her mother chose not to receive chemotherapy. She spent her last days surrounded by family.

“She said so many times over the past six weeks, ‘I just don’t understand why this is happening to me,’ ” her daughter said. “One night she sang me a lullaby that I didn’t know. Another night, she told me how proud she was of me. Two weeks of memories I’ll never forget.

“This was the hardest thing I’ve ever done. I’m so incredibly grateful that I was able to be there holding her hand as she took her last breath.”

Melanie Creamer can be contacted at 791-6361 or at:

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