Carol Lee Bakunas always planned ahead, and as the second oldest of nine children, her sister Joan said, “she was always giving directions to the rest of us.” But when she planned her 75th birthday party in December, she was in the hospital. Undaunted, she wanted her family and friends to celebrate anyway.
“She had already bought the food, wine, plates, and napkins,” Joan said, adding that her sister Patty “found Carol’s list of party foods and how she wanted the tables arranged.” So, on Dec. 29, two days after Carol’s death, her family and friends celebrated Carol Bakunas’s birthday in her apartment.
Carol had been diagnosed with terminal cancer in June 2021. “She fought valiantly, using both Western and Eastern medicine to hold her disease in abeyance,” Joan said. “She accepted her final diagnosis and was gracious in her death.”
The daughter of John Vito and Marie Helen Behlen Bakunas, Carol Lee was born on Dec. 20, 1947 in Devon, Conn., a neighborhood of the coastal town of Milford. According to Joan, Carol “was always a leader, strong-willed and confident.” She graduated from St. Ann’s Grammar School and Jonathan Law High School before earning a degree in physical education from the University of Connecticut in 1970.
Carol had an adventurous spirit and wanted to see the world. After college she worked at Mittersill Alpine Resort and Mt. Snow in New Hampshire in the winter and at the Harborside Inn in Edgartown to enjoy the sea and surf in the summer. “She liked everywhere she traveled,” Joan said, “because she made it an adventure and always met nice people, some who became lifelong friends.”
Her work in the hospitality industry fed her dream of running a restaurant. In 1980, she partnered with Kenny Bowers to run the Arbor Restaurant, full of antiques and collectibles, and the more casual Binnacle Tavern, which was full of nautical antiques and specialized in homemade pizza. Both were in Orleans.
Carol’s family and friends referred to the restaurant as Kenny and Carol’s “home for wayward boys and girls.” “They took in people, gave them a room, food, and a job, and if they really liked you, you got a nickname,” said Joan.
After Kenny’s sudden death in 1989, Carol continued the restaurant with the help of her mother, Marie, sister Patty, and Arthur Nichols, as well as the Arbor employees, all of whom wanted to carry on the legacy of a great restaurant’s good food and good times.
Over the years, Carol employed siblings, nieces and nephews, children of friends, and anyone who was willing to work hard. “She enriched us all with a strong work ethic,” said Joan, “and she gave us many fond memories.”
Carol hosted memorable parties for staff and family at the restaurant and tavern, as well as at her home in East Orleans and on the Outer Beach. She loved to tell stories about the people she met, the adventures she had, and the places she visited. She was well-read and had many interests.
“Carol believed in the universe,” Joan said. “She was a force to be reckoned with.” She loved shopping at thrift stores, yard sales, flea markets, and swap shops, always on the lookout for treasures for the restaurant or to give away. Joan added, “She didn’t hesitate to share her better ideas for whatever you were doing.”
In 2003, Carol sold the restaurant and started spending winters in Florida, where she had an oceanfront condo in Palm Beach. There, between the pool and the ocean, she satisfied her love of swimming and walking the beach.
She traveled as often as possible, visiting friends around the world. She came back to the Cape in the summer.
A few of her family members were able to be with her in her last days, to care for and comfort her. She is missed by many friends near and far.
She is survived by her siblings: Gini and husband Doug Kasper of Milford, Conn.; Marie Bakunas of Sun City, Ariz.; Giovanna Helena Vitau of Mill Valley, Calif.; Joan Bakunas of Eastham; Spike Bakunas of Watertown, Conn.; Steve Bakunas and wife Linda of North Hollywood, Calif.; Paula and husband Paul Palermo of Norwalk, Conn.; and Patty Bakunas and partner Carol of Dennis Port. She is also survived by nieces and nephews Richie, Renee, Maria, Katie, Zach, Chris, Alexandra, Jake, Sami, and Remy.
Carol was predeceased by her parents and her nephew Brian.
Donations in Carol’s memory can be made to CapeWellness.org. No services are planned.