A woman filled with Kindness, Grace and Love, Mary exuded “Warmth, Laughter, Wisdom, Gentility” (Cindy Hinman-Cosola). And now she bids farewell and leaves her essence to her family, friends and community she loved so dearly.
Mary (97+) was born to John W. and Helen Durkee McMaster in West Sparta, New York on April 19, 1921 “AD” (as she would jokingly say whenever anyone asked her for her birth date). Growing up, Mary lived a charmed life and she loved and dearly appreciated every bit of it. She was raised in a loving home with her older brother Warren (Brub) and identical twin sister Jean and was surrounded by joy, music, strong principles, hard work and fun-loving relatives to instill her humanitarian values.
Mary and Jean graduated with honors from Geneseo State Teachers College in 1942 and began teaching in the fall. That summer, however, they had an important decision to make because they had an exciting opportunity! The twins were talented singers and at the age of 21, they were each offered a scholarship to the Milwaukee, WI Radio Drama Workshop, where they won a singing contest and twice sang with the Jimmy Dorsey Orchestra (once on their senior high school trip to DC). They were even asked to tour with the band but declined and began their teaching careers with Mary going to Canisteo for three years and then moving to Wayland for five years.
Married in November 1944 and divorced in January 1956, Mary returned to Dansville and continued teaching and raised her “three little special people” (her three children) on her own, whom she “loved to pieces and loved all of the pieces.” It was a very painful road for a while as she documented: “trying to hide my grief, despair and *shame (*Divorce in 1956 was for movie stars and celebrities, not the innocents of rural Western NYS). Jean was my ‘Rock of Gibraltar’! I couldn’t have done it without her!!” A few years later, Mary was engaged to Ellis B. Hyde, the Superintendent of the Dansville Public Schools. Sadly, he suddenly passed away during their engagement. Holding onto her children, brother and sister, teaching, and survival instincts, Mary persevered. As a lover and promoter of learning, Mary continued her education and acquired the equivalent of a Master’s Degree in Education.
Mary taught 33 years, 25 years in Dansville and 22 of those teaching the first grade. She considered her teaching role a privilege and honor and one of the loves of her life. And it showed because upon her retirement, her Primary School Principal Howard Lapidus sent her the following note: “To a person who has a positive and ‘graceful’ attitude towards everyone she meets.” Mary and her sister, Jean, retired from teaching in 1981 after positively touching the lives of thousands of children.
Throughout her teaching career, Mary loved her involvement with community service and volunteer work. She dedicated herself to: the Clara Barton Chapter No. 1 of the American Red Cross (Board of Directors); the Dansville Area and Livingston County Historical Society (Correspondent); the Dansville Museum; the Dansville Women’s Civic Club; Noyes Memorial Hospital Auxiliary; Genesee Valley Council on the Arts; Opportunity Circle of the King’s Daughters and Sons; the Samaritan Dinner Program; Hospital Visitors’ Desk; Retired Teachers Association (Dansville and Livingston County); Geneseo Alumni Association; Meals on Wheels; Friends of the Dansville Public Library; Livingston County Children’s Protective Association; Red Cross Blood Drive; and, as a Deacon for the Dansville Presbyterian Church, among many other roles she willingly undertook.
Mary enriched her life every single day and here’s a glimpse into her greatest joys and activities: family gatherings; documenting her life’s precious moments through thousands of images she and others took and writing comments on the back of nearly every photo; singing and listening to good music (classical, semi-classical, and popular music of the ‘30s and 40’s); birds, especially the chickadees; walking the woods; arranging flower bouquets; beautifying her surroundings with aesthetics and the arts; specialty/gourmet cooking; chinning with her dear friends and friend groups (e.g., the PDQs, M&Ts and M&Es) and making new friends; voracious reader; collecting and practicing quotes and sage sayings she lived by every day; writing and sending her special messages on holiday and birthday cards to family and friends; and, planning-cooking-hosting all holidays and special occasions, to name a few. Mary was known throughout the region for her scrumptious apple, blueberry and pumpkin pies. She was a gifted writer and known for it because she was repeatedly asked to write letters for others (e.g., thank you letters requested by community institutions, letters requested by individuals, etc.).
During her “golden retirement years,” between the ages of 60 and 86, Mary continued her community service, volunteer work and activities, traveled more to visit her family and friends, created more occasions for meetups with friends, and typically walked 5 miles a day for her health and to meet with friends around town (“very special”).
The next two years took a medical toll on Mary, and her children rallied to her side to help her continue her life in her home and beloved community. But as life would have it, a different decision was needed and just following her 88th birthday, Mary said good-bye to the home (38 years) and community (88 years) she knew and loved.
Mary lived the last 9+ years of her life with her daughter, Ingrid, and Ingrid’s husband, John, in Springfield, VA. While she was so sad to leave her beloved friends and hometown, of which she held such pride and joy, she embraced her new phase of life with curiosity, grace and love. Everyone who met her became her friend.
Mary was hospitalized on Sunday, July 8, 2018 with aspiration pneumonia of which progressive dementia is a contributing cause. She still knew her family and recognized old friends with all her love. Over the course of five days complications progressed and Mary passed peacefully in Northern Virginia at INOVA Fairfax Hospital with Ingrid, Celia and their husbands by her side. We’re thankful that during her last critical days, she was mostly unaware of her current state.
Living beyond age 97, Mary outlived many of her friends and family members. She was predeceased by her brother Warren (Doris) McMaster (Dansville, NY), and her identical twin sister Jean (Bill) McMaster Ullyette (Dansville, NY); her three nieces Susan Ullyette (New York, NY), Sarah Ullyette Harrington (Dansville, NY), and Janine Ullyette (New York, NY); her fiance’ Ellis Hyde (Dansville, NY); her brother-in-law Robert (Kay) Melenbacker (Fresno, CA), and her former husband Alfred Melenbacker (Truro, MA). Her other sister, Harriet McMaster (Dansville, NY), died before Mary was born.
Mary is survived by her three children Eric (Wendy) Melenbacker (Rochester, NY), Ingrid Melenbacker (John DeLaura) (Springfield, VA), and Celia Melenbacker (Jack Harris) (Erieville, NY); 5 grandchildren Stephanie Melenbacker Dempsey (Avon, NY), Nathan Melenbacker (East Rochester, NY), and Kate (Eric) Hollerbush Saeger (Hamilton, NY); Art (Kacie) DeLaura (San Antonio, TX) and Amy DeLaura (San Francisco, CA); 4 great grandchildren Sean Dempsey (Avon, NY) and Maggie Dempsey (Avon, NY); Caleb DeLaura (San Antonio, TX) and Sara DeLaura (San Antonio, TX); 5 nieces WixumLee McMaster (Nunda, NY) and Laurel Ullyette (Donald Sanzotta) (Auburn, NY); Laura Melenbacker Davis (Fresno, CA), Linda Melenbacker Stindt (Clovis, CA), and Lani (Scott) Melenbacker Turner (Modesto, CA); 4 nephews Jan (Thelma) McMaster (Marana, AZ); Bob (Cindy) Melenbacker (Fresno, CA), Gary (Lori) Melenbacker (Madera, CA), and Gregg Melenbacker (Fresno, CA); 2 great nieces Shannon Harrington Mayes (Dansville, NY) and Meris Sanzotta (Washington, DC); 3 great nephews Samuel Durkee McMaster (Marana, AZ), Shawn Tobin McMaster (Marana, AZ), and Nikolas (Angelina) Sanzotta (Auburn, NY); and several great nieces and nephews and great, great nieces and nephews, many from California.
There are no prior calling hours. Interment will be in Oak Lawn Cemetery behind the West Sparta United Methodist Church, 4287 Redmond Road, Dansville, NY 14437, on Saturday, September 22, 2018 at 11 AM. Following, there will be a short, casual and intimate gathering with Mary’s favorite music for family and friends inside the Church on location. Family and friends are most welcome to share your fond memories and thoughts of Mary at the gathering.
In lieu of flowers, contributions may be made in the name of Mary McMaster Melenbacker to the Alzheimer’s Association: http://act.alz.org/goto/memmcl
Please be sure to visit the “Mary Eileen McMaster Melenbacker Celebration of Life” website as it continues to evolve: http://www.delauratech.com/MEMMCL/index.htm
NOTE: Mary’s website is a work in progress and is in its very early stage (items she cherished are still being added) and is a living memorial where related documents, news clippings, photos and notes also will be added for as long as they arrive. Please forward your treasures of her via email to: email@example.com and check back in from time-to-time.
Arrangements were made by the Hindle Funeral Home, 271 Main St., Dansville, NY.