Eleanor Peters Lesser passed away at RiverMead Lifecare Community in Peterborough, NH, on January 11, 2021, at the age of 94. She was pre-deceased by her husband of 70 years, Jack, who died in November 2020.
Ellie was born on July 8, 1926 in Warren, Pa. to Francis R. “Frank” and Marguerite Harrington Peters, and grew up in Irvine, Pa. She was a concert pianist, having graduated from the Warren Conservatory of Music, as well as Warren Area High School. She also held a degree in Home Economics from Seton Hill in Greensburg, Pa., and taught Home Economics at Warren Area High School. As a young woman, she loved her summers working at Chautauqua in exchange for room & board and music lessons.
On her birthday in 1950, she married John D. “Jack” Lesser, her high school sweetheart and a recent graduate of the United States Naval Academy at Annapolis. During Jack’s years in the service they lived in Denison, TX, Las Vegas, NV, Chandler, AZ and Smithton, IL. When in Las Vegas, Jack said Ellie never came home from the grocery store with any pennies in her change purse, thanks to the penny slot machines located just past the cashier. Jack & Ellie moved back to Warren with 2 young boys in 1954 then, in 1962, moved one daughter and 4 boys to Custer City/Bradford, Pa., where their second daughter was born. They moved to Big Flats/Corning, NY as the New Year of 1974 arrived with the two children who still lived at home. In 1983, they joined those few year-round residents who called Chautauqua “home” in a house they built a few years earlier. She and Jack loved Chautauqua for its rich mix of arts, music, theater, literature and civil discourse. It’s numerous recreational opportunities and natural surroundings made it perfect for family gatherings. They made their last move in 2011, when they settled into a more restful life with their many new friends and the caring staff of RiverMead.
Ellie was a devoted wife, mother, grandmother and great-grandmother. She served in many volunteer activities throughout her life, including Cub Scout den mother, PTA, AAUW, Meals-on-Wheels, refugee settlement, and Literacy. She was active in many prayer and Bible study groups and served on several committees of the Chautauqua Catholic Community, and was a past-president of the CCC. Ellie maintained friendships the old fashioned way, always delighting in sending and receiving cards and letters in the mail.
Like many of her generation, Ellie spent endless hours raising a family. She steered her children to the library, the YMCA, to Cub Scouts and Boys Scouts and to other activities that would help foster in them a sense of personal and civic responsibility and an appreciation for volunteerism. Ellie had a hand-rung, brass school-bell which could be heard all over the neighborhood. In the small community of North Warren, Ellie would shoo the children outdoors to do chores and play with the admonition, “When you hear the bell, come home for lunch.” The bell became significant for other mothers, too, who would tell their own children, “when Mrs. Lesser rings the bell, come home for lunch.” Ellie supported all of their children’s requests for pets, including rabbits, puppies, turtles, Tillie (the attack cat), Petunia (let’s call her George-For-Short) the de-scented skunk, Ralph & Alice (the aggressive Bantam chickens) and a horse. When the family grew and moved to the Bradford area, Ellie became one of the first “Uber” drivers, ferrying her children to places too far to reach on a bicycle. She always welcomed into her home their friends who still remember wonderful tobogganing and pizza parties.
Ellie loved playing Bridge and was a serious competitor when playing with regular gatherings of friends. She also hosted large Christmas caroling parties, roving the neighborhood to sing to neighbors, shut-ins and nursing home residents, with tables full of sweet treats and hot chocolate and cider afterwards.
Ellie served as First Mate as she and Jack sailed the waters of Cayuga Lake & Lake Chautauqua aboard The Pixie, and she enjoyed quiet outings with Jack to fly his model airplanes. Her sharp eyes came to the rescue when Jack would say, “Eleanor, I’ve lost sight of it … can you see it?” Jack & Ellie traveled through a lot of the U.S. and enjoyed the experience of other cultures and landscapes in their travels to Europe and Asia. To maintain family tradition (and to be sure the boys’ wives knew what was important) Ellie (and Jack) assembled and gave to each of the children a large cookbook containing recipes for the family’s favorite meals and treats, which were collected from family and her many friends across the country.
When children and grandchildren visited they always said “Yes!” to Ellie’s suggestion for a game of Train Dominos or “Mobbles” and would spend hours in hilarious fun, gathered around the dining room table. The grandchildren will always remember their favorite treats at Grandma’s - Jello popsicles and Chex snack mix - and their time in the basement playroom at Chautauqua, with its pool table, games, travel souvenirs and quirky gadgets made by Grandpa Jack.
Jack & Ellie had six children: Kathy Callahan (John) of Littleton, CO; David Lesser (Rosemary) of Ogden, UT; Tom Lesser (Kathy) of Frederick, MD; Reverend Rick Lesser of Albany, NY; Jim Lesser (Liz) of Belfast, ME; and Mary Lesser of Peterborough, NH, who devoted countless hours to the well-being of Jack and Ellie during their residence at RiverMead. She is also survived by 18 grandchildren and 23 great-grandchildren.
The family wishes to express our deepest appreciation for the love and care shown to Ellie by the staff at RiverMead. She always spoke highly of everyone who works there and praised their dedication to make life comfortable and enjoyable for all RiverMead residents, a task made so much harder by the Covid pandemic.
Due to restrictions imposed by the COVID pandemic, a celebration of life service will be scheduled at a later date.
Jack & Ellie will be interred together at a later date at Mt. Savior, the Benedictine Monastery in Pine City, NY, where both were oblates; that is, they had both committed to living in the spirit of the Rule of St. Benedict.
In lieu of ﬂowers, please consider a donation to any of the charities close to Ellie’s heart: The Shriners Hospital for Children; the Monadnock Area Transitional Shelter (http://matsnh.org/); the Chautauqua Catholic Community (https://www.chautauquacatholics.org/donate); your local Catholic Charities organization.
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