Those who knew Ursula Lerse remembered her this week as a gracious woman who always had a smile.

Ms. Lerse, 85, died Saturday swimming in Candlewood Lake at Millstone Beach, where she had a summer home.

She had been missing Saturday for 10 to 15 minutes when friends made an emergency 911 call at 4:12 p.m.

Emergency responders pulled her from the water some 20 feet from shore, police said. According to the police report, she was found in 6 to 8 feet of water. She was taken to New Milford Hospital, where she was pronounced dead.

"Ursula was one of our dearest friends," said Ronald Shetler, a summer neighbor of Ms. Lerse's on Oak Road. "She was absolutely the best. We knew we'd be losing her soon; she was battling cancer.

"It's a terrible loss," he added "but if we had to lose her, at least she was doing what she loved best when she died, swimming in the lake."

Ms. Lerse had a summer home on Oak Road for more than 30 years. She also maintained a residence on Riverside Drive in New York City.

Oak Road neighbor Linda Ristau met Ms. Lerse when she and her husband, Theodore, had bought their house on the lake 28 years ago.

"She was a woman who loved the outdoors," Linda Ristau said Monday. "She loved to walk in the forest. She enjoyed foraging for wild mushrooms that she would bring home and prepare in dishes like omelettes."

Ms. Lerse's husband, John, died before the Ristaus met Ms. Lerse. The couple had no children, Ms. Ristau said.

Ms. Lerse is survived by a niece and a nephew.

"Her friends were her children," Karin Shetler said. "We had gone peach and blueberry picking with her many times. She loved life and loved food. She'd take the fruit we picked and make jams and liqueurs.

"There was always a celebration when you were around Ursula. I'll never meet another person who loved life more than her," Mr. Shetler said.

Friends were sitting shiva, a weeklong period of grief and mourning, for Ms. Lerse on Monday night in New York City.