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Obituary Stories

Mom spent much of 101 years teaching

Joe Napsha
| Saturday, Feb. 3, 2018, 11:00 p.m.

Erma Eckels was a lifelong teacher for her 101 years, whether in the classroom at Norvelt Elementary School, at home teaching organ and piano, showing girls how to knit and crochet or teaching life lessons to her three children.

“She taught us to respect others and believe in ourselves. She instilled an energetic work ethic which you don't see today,” said her son Roger Eckels, the district judge in Norvelt.

“She was incredible. I never saw her really angry,” said her son Dr. Dennis Eckels.

Erma Eckels of Mt. Pleasant died Tuesday, Jan. 30, 2018, at Westmoreland Manor, Hempfield.

She was born March 17, 1916, in Youngwood, the daughter of the late William and Louise Boning Smith. Her parents moved to Mt. Pleasant Township when she was young, and she graduated from the former Hurst High School in Norvelt in 1934.

Her father was strong believer in education, and she enrolled in Seton Hill College in Greensburg, where she earned a degree in music, graduating in 1938.

Mrs. Eckels later earned her teaching degree at what was then California State Teachers College.

She taught kindergarten classes at Norvelt Elementary in Mt. Pleasant Township in the 1960s and '70s, before her retirement in the late 1970s.

In addition, she taught piano and organ at her home. While the students were practicing, she would often knit and crochet, Dennis Eckels said.

He recalled the time in the 1950s — before the Civil Rights movement had swept through America — when three black girls arrived at the back door of their house to take lessons. She reminded the girls that next time they came to the Eckels house, they were to come in through the front door like everyone else.

Her compassion for children was reflected in the stories she read to preschool children during Story Hour at the Mt. Pleasant Library.

Mrs. Eckels was a member of United Methodist Church of Mt. Pleasant and its missionary society. At church, she played piano for the Sunday school orchestra and sang in the choir.

The family had a large 100th birthday party for her in Mt. Pleasant, where about 80 people — all of her family and many friends — celebrated her life. Many of her kindergarten students and those whom she taught piano and organ, as well as knitting and crocheting, joined them, Roger Eckels said.

“She had a good time,” Dennis Eckels said.

Dennis Eckels attributed her longevity to “good genes” and the fact that “she took very good care of herself,” refraining from alcohol and tobacco.

“She is going to be missed by all of us. Her legacy will live on,” Roger Eckels said.

Mrs. Eckels was preceded in death by her husband of 64 years, Franklin F. Eckels.

She is survived by her children, Dr. Dennis Eckels of Bolivar; Sandra Atkins of Urbana, Ohio; and Roger Eckels of Mt. Pleasant; eight grandchildren; and 17 great-grandchildren.

Friends will be received from noon to 6 p.m. Sunday at the Galone-Caruso Funeral Home, 204 Eagle St., Mt. Pleasant, where funeral services will be held at 11 a.m. Monday. Interment will follow in Green Ridge Memorial Park, Connellsville.

Memorial contributions may be made to United Methodist Church of Mt. Pleasant, Mt. Pleasant Library or Norvelt Union Church.

Joe Napsha is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 724-836-5252 or

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