Solveijg Zaferes, grassroots activist, global ballet dancer


Solvejg Petronella Zaferes died on Aug. 9, 2018, surrounded by family, friends and medical staff at Columbus Hospital in Newark, New Jersey, after a fierce five-month battle fully alert on a ventilator.

She was born Oct. 2, 1931, in the Netherlands, into a family notable for starting a national newspaper and for its gifted contingent of artists and musicians.

As a child, she and her family, the Sluyters, risked their lives to help give safe passage for children out of the Netherlands during World War II by hiding them under their living room floor and talking Nazis out of much-needed food.

Despite having a Type 2 spina bifida birth defect and other problems that should have left her in a wheelchair, she emerged from the war determined to live a life uncircumscribed by her condition. As a young teen, she moved to Paris to study ballet, and went on to live and dance in Israel, India, the Netherlands and California, where she started a dance school.

In New York, the 5-foot-2 dancer met fellow Schrafft’s waiter Thomas Zaferes, a 6-foot-2 art student at Cooper Union, and married him — becoming the first non-Greek in the traditional Zaferes clan.

After several failed pregnancies and six consecutive months in bed, she gave birth to a daughter. Neurologists had predicted she would remain childless.

She was a devoted wife and mother who also gave invaluable lessons of empathy and caring to the Riverdale children for whom she babysat by teaching them how to appreciate nature and interact with animals. As her daughter got older, she became a vocal supporter of human, animal and environmental causes, including asserting the rights of nursing home residents, stopping the fur trade, sparing American wild horses from slaughter, banning horse-drawn carriages in New York City, and preventing wildlife habitat destruction.

She continued to distribute educational materials and participate in political demonstrations into her 80s.

She also took great advantage of living in the Big Apple. When two strokes left her unable to drive her beloved Ford Bronco, she used Access-A-Ride to attend dance performances, concerts, art exhibits, protests and lectures.

She didn’t spend energy complaining or being resentful of her numerous physical afflictions. Instead of saying, “This isn’t fair,” she said, “What can be done to overcome this challenge?”

She loved fast cars, wild horses and elephants, and made every moment count. And when she smiled — which was often — she made you feel like you were just given a bouquet of her favorite flowers, sunflowers.

She is survived by her daughter, Andrea Zaferes; her sister, Leonora Sluyter; a slew of now non-traditional Zafereses; and many wonderful friends.

A memorial service will be held Nov. 10 at 1:30 p.m., at Christ Church Riverdale, 5030 Henry Hudson Parkway East. Those wishing to attend are asked to RSVP with Andrea Zaferes at (845) 657-5544, or email

Instead of flowers, please consider donating in Solvejg Zaferes’ memory to Big Life Foundation USA to protect elephants and other wildlife at 1715 N. Heron Drive, Ridgefield, WA, 98642, or to Front Range Equine Rescue to protect wild and domesticated horses, P.O. Box 458, Ocala, FL, 34478.