HANCOCK, Md. — Elaine Weller knew how to stretch a dime, raising six children on a limited income.
“That woman could take a dime and turn it into a dollar,” said the youngest of her children, Michelle McCarty of Hagerstown.
“You know what, she was the richest person in the world. It wasn’t money that made her happy,” said daughter Laura Robair Bivens of Hancock.
Elaine was known for her giving nature, even though the family had little to share. Her children always had change for the offering at church, and at Christmas, Elaine would send each one with a wrapped canned good for the food drive, even though the church would turn around and bring a basket of food to the family, aware of their need.
“She always had somebody looking out for her,” said Laura’s son, Brian Robair.
During the 33 years Elaine worked as an instructional assistant in Hancock public schools, if she knew of a child who didn’t have money for lunch, she would provide the lunch money, forgoing lunch herself.
“She’d give you the shirt off of her back, no matter who you were,” Michelle said.
Despite the family’s tight finances, Elaine made sure her children were neatly dressed for school and church.
“People at school always complimented Mom on how well dressed her kids were,” even though they had to share socks and clothing, Laura said.
Michelle remembers sleeping in pink foam rollers so their hair would look nice for school pictures.
Born Jan. 6, 1941, in Grazier, Pa., a small mining town not far from Johnstown, Elaine was the third of four daughters. The oldest, Alice, was diagnosed with polio when she was about 6 months old and had to be carried to school. The fourth died at birth.
Elaine graduated from Conemaugh Township High School in 1959 and moved to Washington, D.C., where she worked as a secretary for the Federal Aviation Administration. It was in D.C. that Elaine met her first husband, Stephen Robair, the father of her first four children.
He was in the U.S. Navy and they moved to Philadelphia, then back to D.C., before he was injured and discharged from military service. The family settled in Hancock, where Alice and her husband lived.
Not long after moving to Hancock and while pregnant with her fourth child, Elaine found herself on her own after Stephen “disappeared,” Laura said. Elaine wasn’t working at the time and got a job with an educational summer program for children of migrant workers in 1966.
In 1969, she was hired as an instructional assistant at what was Hancock Primary School, now Hancock Elementary, through their Title I program. For 24 years, Elaine worked one-on-one with students who were struggling in school.
“I don’t know anybody who didn’t like her. That’s the kind of person she was,” Michelle said through her tears.
Elaine retired in 2002 at age 62. For the last nine years on the job, she worked at Hancock Middle-Senior High School with students who had in-school suspensions. Elaine’s children attended both schools, earning her the nickname “Mom,” then later “Grandma,” when her grandchildren were students at Hancock schools.
“In-school suspension never bothered her because she knew the students when they were younger,” Laura said.
“One student would get in trouble just to be with her,” Michelle said.
After her first husband left, Elaine had two children with Eugene Weller, whom she married after her youngest child, Michelle, was born. They divorced in about 1994.
Even though they were a blended family, the children “got along like we were all brothers and sisters,” sticking together through their mother’s marital difficulties. The children were born about a year apart, from 1962 to 1967.
Besides the Weller home being a gathering place for friends, Elaine often drove other children to sports and band practices and Scouts, along with her own children.
“She had a heart of gold,” Michelle said.
“She never held a grudge,” Laura said.
Michelle said her mother always treated her six children fairly. As an example, she said Elaine would get the prizes out of cereal boxes before her children could and would put them away until she had one for each.
Grandson Brian said Elaine treated her 21 grandchildren the same way. There are also 10 great-grandchildren.
Michelle said that at one point, Elaine worked three jobs while her children were in school to provide for them.
While there wasn’t the money for family trips to the beach, Michelle said she had good memories of her mom taking them back to her hometown to visit.
Even though Elaine wasn’t much of a cook, her daughters have fond memories of her all-night cookie baking sessions that would yield “six, seven, eight huge tins of cookies, no matter what holiday,” Laura said.
Elaine parented her children without raising her voice or raising a hand, Michelle said.
She let her children learn from their mistakes.
“She always supported us whatever we decided. Mom never talked negatively about anything like that, even bad relationships. She walked side by side with us, hand in hand,” Laura said.
Elaine was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis in her late 30s, the start of a long list of health issues. She also had macular degeneration in her early 60s, which forced her to stop driving.
Congestive heart failure led to a double bypass and replacement of two heart valves in 2010. Renal failure, on top of high blood pressure and diabetes, followed. After having a leg amputated in December 2011, Elaine awoke from surgery with a smile on her face and reassured her children she was OK, as always.
“She had the surgery because she said she needed to make herself better for her kids,” Michelle said.
The family had a ramp built at Elaine’s home, ready and waiting for a welcome home that never happened.
Elaine had a previous tracheotomy and not long before she was to return home in February after her amputation, she got pneumonia and had to be intubated. It was her decision to have the tube removed, knowing that she would not survive.
“The most comforting thing was she made her own decision. I think she was so at peace with her decision,” Laura said.
Her family kept vigil by her bedside. It wasn’t until they were out of her hospital room that Elaine died with her pastor, the Rev. Allan Weatherholt of St. Thomas’ Episcopal Church in Hancock, and only surviving sister by her side.
“She was protecting us to the end,” Laura said.
“It’s the perfect ending to this story. If anybody deserves it, she does,” Michelle said of her mother being highlighted in “A Life Remembered.”
Editor’s note: Each Sunday, The Herald-Mail runs “A Life Remembered.” Each story in this continuing series takes a look back — through the eyes of family, friends, co-workers and others — at a member of the community who died recently. Today’s “A Life Remembered” is about Elaine A. Weller, who died March 2 at the age of 71. Her obituary was published in the March 4 edition of The Herald-Mail.