Eleanor L. Stevens, 78
July 12, 2007
Eleanor L. (Runkle) Stevens, 78, died peacefully in her
home on Thursday, July 12, 2007, following a lengthy illness. She was the
daughter of the late Lloyd O. and Helen M. (Tarr) Runkle.
She was born in Tiffin, Ohio but was raised and educated
in Gloucester. She was married for a brief time to the late Jack R. Stevens.
In her youth, she was surrounded by music and learned to play piano at her
She had a wonderful voice and sang with Chorus Pro Musica
and in the paid choir at Trinity Church in Boston for many years. Ringing
handbells was a lifelong passion that began in1938 when her mother Helen
purchased eight bells from the White chapel foundry in London and founded
the Bell Ringers of Cape Ann. When Ellie returned to live in Massachusetts,
she formed a group of ringers among her co-workers at IBM in Burlington and
later on a group on Cape Ann. More recently, she has been a part of The
Bells of Harvey Park, and the handbell choir at the Rockport Baptist Church.
After graduating from Colby College in Waterville, Maine,
she worked for many years at the Air France office in Boston. After residing
for several years in Denver, Portland, Oregon and New York State, she
returned to Massachusetts. She worked for IBM in administration for 22
years, and after her retirement, was a long-time secretary for St. Mary's
Episcopal Church and the Sandy Bay Yacht Club in Rockport.
She is survived by a sister-in-law, Priscilla D. Runkle
of Billerica; several nieces and nephews, Virginia R. Scott of Gilroy,
Calif., Paul E. Runkle of Billerica, Dita Runkle of British Columbia, Emily
Chorba of Aptos, Calif. She also leaves her great-nieces and great-nephews,
James Scott of Olympia, Wash., Kendra Scott of Gilroy, Calif., and Scott and
Kimberly Runkle, both of Billerica; and a wide circle of many loving
friends who will dearly miss her loving presence.
ARRANGEMENTS: A memorial concert will be held at St.
Mary's Episcopal Church, Rockport, in the fall. Donations may be made in her
memory to the St. Mary's Episcopal Church, 24 Broadway, Rockport, MA 01966;
or to the Thacher Island Association, P.O. Box 73, Rockport, MA 01966. For
more information and to send online condolences, please visit
Eleanor L. Stevens, 78, handbell-ringer
By J.M. Lawrence, Globe Correspondent | July 20, 2007
Last Christmas, Eleanor L. Stevens put on her green vest,
packed her black gloves, and headed to a Rockport church to create the
handbell harmonies she loved. Her quartet commanded a demanding four octaves
of 49 bells for that holiday concert.
She began her lifelong passion for handbells almost 70
years ago, when her mother bought a set of eight bells from the Whitechapel
Bell Foundry in London.
Ms. Stevens performed a few more times before her death
July 12 in her Rockport home at age 78. She had battled kidney cancer for
"Ellie just loved music," said Ruth Bowers, who played
handbells with her at the Rockport Baptist Church. "She was a very kind
lady, and that's how she related a lot was through bell ringing."
Friends and family described Ms. Stevens as a
quintessential New Englander. She was frugal, self-sufficient, and loved to
sail. She was secretary of the Sandy Bay Yacht Club in Rockport, where flags
fly at half-mast this week in her honor. She enjoyed sailing on the boat of
her late brother, James O. Runkle, and racing her good friend, Emily Wick,
an avid sailor and friend for 55 years.
"She was very kind to everybody and always worked hard,"
Wick said. Wick had to give up sailing recently because of knee problems,
and Ms. Stevens often drove her to her doctor's appointments.
Ms. Stevens, who was married briefly and divorced,
nurtured many friendships. "We never worried about Ellie being alone,
because she had a huge circle of friends," said her niece, Virginia Scott of
Ms. Stevens was born in Tiffin, Ohio, where her mother,
Helen (Tarr) Runkle, had moved from Massachusetts to teach at Heidelberg
College and met her husband, Lloyd Runkle. The couple soon moved back to
Helen's native Cape Ann, where Ms. Stevens went to school in Gloucester.
Her mother was a church organist and had her daughter
study piano as a child. In her living room, Ms. Stevens kept a painting of
herself at age 9 sitting beside her mother's piano, according to friend
In 1950, she graduated from Colby College in Waterville,
Maine, after majoring in Spanish and French.
After college, Ms. Stevens went to work for Air France in
Boston and sang with the professional Boston choir Chorus Pro Musica,
beginning in the 1950s. She also sang with the professional choir at Trinity
Church. She later lived in Denver, Portland, Ore., and New York.
By the 1970s, she had returned to Massachusetts and
worked 22 years at IBM as an executive secretary. After retirement, she
worked part time as the church secretary at St. Mary's Episcopal Church in
Rockport for eight years and also at Brown's insurance company, C.H. Cleaves
Brown said her friend's secretarial devotion came from a
lost era. "For the most part, people don't want to make the commitments to
keeping things together for other people the way she did," she said.
Ms. Stevens's great niece, Kendra Scott, 24, of Gilroy,
Calif., recalled playing a handbell performance at age 14 with her aunt and
She said she was thrilled when her normally reserved aunt
said she was proud of Scott for hitting her notes. Ms. Stevens later gave
Scott the original set of Whitechapel bells her mother had given her, plus
an additional octave, as a graduation present.
"I was stunned and thrilled," said Scott, who is a music
teacher. "I was amazed she would choose me to get the bells. I have sort of
made it my personal goal to widen people's understanding of handbells."
Ms. Stevens leaves her sister-in-law, Priscilla Runkle of
Billerica, and several other nieces and nephews.
Her family is planning an October memorial concert at St.
Mary's Episcopal Church in Rockport. Burial of her ashes will take place at
Beech Grove Cemetery in Rockport.