Ellie Himmelberger passed peacefully on March 10, 2018 at Homestead Hall Rest Home in Worcester Massachusetts amongst family, friends and angelic caregivers. She was 93 and had outlived most of her contemporaries. She is survived by sisters Lorraine Fish and Yvette Francis, four children, eleven grandchildren, and thirteen great grandchildren.
Ellie was born in an Alfred Ontario farmhouse on October 17, 1924 to Joseph and Roseanda (Currier) Bissonnette. She was christened Electa Anita Bissonnette because her francophone parents liked the visiting midwife’s unusual name. As an infant, Ellie lived in Alfred with her mother and older brother Rheal Bissonnette. Her father lived separately in Massena NY to work at Alcoa and to build a family home on Douglas Road.
The family moved to Massena NY in 1926 when Ellie was two years old, where younger sisters Lorraine and Yvette were born. The Great Depression took hold. These were the days of families without cars, candlelit homes awaiting electrification, water from hand-pumped wells, Saturday evening baths in basement washtubs, big band music, and boisterous French-Canadian gatherings for games of pinnacle and gin rummy. As children, Ellie and her siblings were expected to be “seen but not heard” while doing their chores, obeying their parents, and minding their Catholic School nuns. These rules disappeared when they adventured outside where they could run amok, play tag, toss baseballs, ride bicycles, climb trees, swing skyward, swim, picnic, and ice skate.
During World War II Ellie left high school to work in Alcoa’s mail room and care for her ailing mother who passed in 1943. She became Mrs. Bernard Smith in 1945 following a grand wedding at Sacred Heart Catholic Church. Her brother and sisters married soon afterwards. All four families lived near one another, with dads working for Alcoa and moms raising eleven children as television entered their living rooms and rock music energized radio stations. All four family nests eventually emptied, then grandchildren emerged. Ellie’s son Richard Smith settled in Massena with his wife Judy and their three children (Deanna, Natalie and Kenny). Her daughter Joan Meyers settled in Massachusetts with her husband Arthur and their four children (Robin, Chad, Mark, and Meagan).
Ellie’s marriage to Bernard unraveled during the early 1960s when divorces were rare and severely shunned by the Catholic Church. These were very difficult times, but Ellie endured. For the first time in her life she boarded an airplane to arrive at a Mexican border town (Ciudad Juarez) known for granting speedy legal divorces. Ellie then married James Himmelberger, who hailed from Baker Oregon and navigated throughout the world’s oceans before becoming one of Massena’s inaugural St. Lawrence Seaway pilots. Ellie was in her early forties when she began raising her second family on South Grasse River Road alongside new neighbors and amongst James’ river piloting associates. In 1970 Ellie embarked with James and their young children on a four-month cross country Volkswagen campervan odyssey that featured extended stays with James’ brother Jack Himmelberger, sister Mary Frank, and younger sister Joan Bates. Ellie was relieved to return home to Massena, where she re-connected with the Catholic Church and adhered to traditional child rearing conventions widely followed by her generation. Ellie’s son Jeff Himmelberger settled in West Boylston MA with his wife Lena and their three children (Ksenia, Anthony and Katarina). Her daughter Heidi Letitia also settled in West Boylston MA with her husband Todd and their son (Elijah).
Ellie relocated to Sun City AZ in the early 1990s following James’ retirement. She soon made many new neighborhood friends and frequented the nearby recreational center to swim and join a bowling league. For over twenty years Ellie enjoyed hosting all her kids and many of her grandkids, accompanying them to mini putt golf and giving them the keys to her car for southwestern adventures. After James passed in 1999, Ellie enjoyed the companionship of her oldest son Richard for several winters together in Sun City. Ellie would later reconnect with her sisters Lorraine and Yvette for summer adventures in Massena. Together they enjoyed garage sales, casino resorts, and endless card games. In 2014 Ellie moved to Worcester MA to be near her children and grandchildren. She enjoyed her last four years among late-life friends at Goddard House and Homestead Hall. Her final years were brightened by her son Jeff’s daily visit.
An informal remembrance of Ellie’s long life will take place this summer when her ashes are interred alongside James Himmelberger’s ashes in West Boylston, MA.
Alfred Roy & Sons Funeral Home 12 Hammond St. Worcester assisted the family with arrangements. To share a memory of Ellie, or to sign the online guestbook please visit www.Royfuneral.com