“That woman could take a dime and turn it into a dollar,” said the youngest of her children, Michelle McCarty of Hagerstown.
“You know what, she was the richest person in the world. It wasn’t money that made her happy,” said daughter Laura Robair Bivens of Hancock.
Elaine was known for her giving nature, even though the family had little to share. Her children always had change for the offering at church, and at Christmas, Elaine would send each one with a wrapped canned good for the food drive, even though the church would turn around and bring a basket of food to the family, aware of their need.
“She always had somebody looking out for her,” said Laura’s son, Brian Robair.
During the 33 years Elaine worked as an instructional assistant in Hancock public schools, if she knew of a child who didn’t have money for lunch, she would provide the lunch money, forgoing lunch herself.
“She’d give you the shirt off of her back, no matter who you were,” Michelle said.
Despite the family’s tight finances, Elaine made sure her children were neatly dressed for school and church.
“People at school always complimented Mom on how well dressed her kids were,” even though they had to share socks and clothing, Laura said.
Michelle remembers sleeping in pink foam rollers so their hair would look nice for school pictures.
Born Jan. 6, 1941, in Grazier, Pa., a small mining town not far from Johnstown, Elaine was the third of four daughters. The oldest, Alice, was diagnosed with polio when she was about 6 months old and had to be carried to school. The fourth died at birth.
Elaine graduated from Conemaugh Township High School in 1959 and moved to Washington, D.C., where she worked as a secretary for the Federal Aviation Administration. It was in D.C. that Elaine met her first husband, Stephen Robair, the father of her first four children.
He was in the U.S. Navy and they moved to Philadelphia, then back to D.C., before he was injured and discharged from military service. The family settled in Hancock, where Alice and her husband lived.
Not long after moving to Hancock and while pregnant with her fourth child, Elaine found herself on her own after Stephen “disappeared,” Laura said. Elaine wasn’t working at the time and got a job with an educational summer program for children of migrant workers in 1966.
In 1969, she was hired as an instructional assistant at what was Hancock Primary School, now Hancock Elementary, through their Title I program. For 24 years, Elaine worked one-on-one with students who were struggling in school.
“I don’t know anybody who didn’t like her. That’s the kind of person she was,” Michelle said through her tears.
Elaine retired in 2002 at age 62. For the last nine years on the job, she worked at Hancock Middle-Senior High School with students who had in-school suspensions. Elaine’s children attended both schools, earning her the nickname “Mom,” then later “Grandma,” when her grandchildren were students at Hancock schools.
“In-school suspension never bothered her because she knew the students when they were younger,” Laura said.
“One student would get in trouble just to be with her,” Michelle said.