SOUTH GOULDSBORO — Elinor Clarke Blance Vassey, 92, died Feb. 24, 2015, at her home after a short period of declining health. She was born Feb. 4, 1923, to George Clarke and Beulah H. (Bunker) Blance in Bangor, the eldest of three children. She was predeceased by her husband of nearly 59 years, Emuel Edward “Ed” Vassey Jr.
Elinor grew up in Winter Harbor, and attended Winter Harbor Grammar School, and graduated valedictorian from Winter Harbor High School in 1939. During high school, she worked part time at the J.M. Gerrish Drug Store, the Grindstone Neck swimming pool, and the Grindstone Inn. She attended Bates College for a year and a half, then moved back home to be bookkeeper for her father, who was superintendent of the Grindstone Neck summer colony. In 1942, she was an honor graduate from Beal Business College, in Bangor, completing her studies in less than one year. The owners of the college were so impressed with her academics and motivation to learn that they asked her to teach at Fort Myers Secretarial School (with no degree required), another one of their schools located in Fort Myers, Fla., when she was only 19 years old. She was the only teacher at the school and taught all of the subjects the school offered. On her own and away from home for the first time, she taught day school and night school, acted as janitor, kept the books, did some accounting on the side and loved it all. It was there she met her future husband, who was in the Army at the time. In 1943, she returned to Maine and worked at the State Hospital in Bangor, while waiting for Ed to return from his assignment to Europe during World War II. Upon Ed’s return, he and Elinor were married in Winter Harbor in September 1944. After moving a few times with Ed’s military assignments, Elinor stayed home to take care of their children.
Two boys and two girls later, Elinor finally earned her Bachelor of Science in Business Education at the University of Arizona, in Tucson, Ariz., graduating summa cum laude; third in her class of 1,208. Her education continued while rearing her children during numerous, and often long, absences of Ed, while he continued to serve his country. She attended the University of Maine at Orono from 1959 to 1960. She was regent of the Alpha Theta Chi Sorority at Beal; and a member of the National League of American Women, Washington, D.C.; and Pi Omega Pi and Honor Society of Phi Kappa Phi at the University of Arizona.
Elinor accompanied Ed as he served nearly 30 years in the Air Force. The family lived in Mississippi, Texas, Washington, Arizona, Maine, Japan, California, North Carolina, Illinois and South Carolina. She said once that “moving at the whim of the Air Force was not conducive to my job security, but it lent variety to my experience and kept me from getting stale.” While living in Japan, Elinor taught the family’s endeared housekeeper to speak English and type, enabling her to obtain a job as a secretary on the Air Force base. Elinor found great joy in learning new things. She was always interested in what made things work or grow. She completed classes in typewriter repair, furniture upholstering, Japanese writing and conversational Japanese, pattern design and making, stenograph tape program for instructors, and various computer classes. She enjoyed spending time with her children and grandchildren, and turned each visit into a learning experience. She was a member of various parent-teacher associations and a Cub Scout den mother. She was a participating parent in all of her children’s education and extracurricular activities, volunteering in any capacity needed. She was a consummate caregiver, first while rearing her children, then for her parents and parents-in-law, then for Ed in his later years as his health declined. And more recently, she had been a great friend and comfort to her sister.
Throughout her life, Elinor taught seventh grade through business college level. She taught high school at the Department of Defense Schools at Johnson Air Base, Japan; as well as Victor Valley Junior High School in Victorville, Calif.; and Rice Business College in Charleston, S.C. She was certified to teach in five states. She was always eager to stay late at school or take the time to help anyone who was having trouble understanding the day’s lessons. Her only reasons for leaving any of her jobs were for school, marriage, children, or husband’s transfer. She set the ultimate example to her children for school and job attendance.
Some of Elinor’s other accomplishments included president of Tri-State Goodwill Industries of Charleston, S.C.; member of South Carolina Federation on Aging; president of Small Woodland Owners Association of Maine (SWOAM); member of both the South Gouldsboro and Winter Harbor historical societies, and was often the go-to person for filling in the blanks on some historical events or family names or origins, where information was missing. She was invited by Governor Brennan of Maine to serve as the primary representative on the Agricultural Advisory Council to advise him on the wide variety of agricultural matters of Maine. Elinor graciously accepted and became part of the council to establish public policy and generate appropriate responses to major farm issues in the state.
In addition to her husband, Elinor is predeceased by her parents and sister, Charlene Ray. She leaves behind son, Bradford, and his wife, Rose (Edwards), of South Gouldsboro; son, Emuel III (Bud), and his wife, Ann (Merchant), of Winslow; daughter, Mary Frances, and her husband, William Willis, of Satellite Beach, Fla.; and daughter, Katherine Brown of Wilmington, N.C.; and brother, George C. Blance Jr., of Lowell, Mass. She also leaves behind 13 grandchildren, some of whom (up to five at a time) spent summers with her in their childhood; 25 great-grandchildren; and three great-great grandchildren, all of whom adored her and knew her as the smartest, most compassionate and loving person in their lives. Other survivors are sisters-in-law Carol (Carter) Vassey and Nancy (Thorkelson) Vassey of Raleigh, N.C., and numerous nephews and nieces. Elinor deeply enriched the lives of all of those who knew her, and she will be dearly missed.
The family wishes to thank Nancy Chipman for her care, love, and support of our mother over the past year.
Elinor’s funeral service and reception will be held at Bragdon-Kelley Funeral Home in Ellsworth on Saturday, June 6, 2015, at 11 a.m., followed by a graveside service and burial at Greenwood Cemetery in Winter Harbor. If you desire, you may donate in her memory to the Gouldsboro Historical Society, P.O. Box 94, Gouldsboro, ME 04607.