Mary Leona Cornelius - Passed away peacefully at home on January 4, 2022, surrounded by her family.
Mary was born on January 20, 1925, in Melcher, Iowa to Christopher LeRoy (Roy) and Charlotte Neisius. Mary began her life in the middle years of the Great Depression, living on a Homestead in the Sand Hills of Cherry County in western Nebraska. Roy and Charlotte were unable to support the family by farming that barren land. The family moved frequently following work offered by the New Deal Projects of that era. From this life of hardships, Mary knew the value of hard work, how to survive adversity, and saw a life full of possibilities.
Mary met her husband, Elmer Sr., in Fremont, Nebraska. Elmer had been in the Army since Sept 1942 and had just completed Basic Training. They were married in Fremont on Feb 20, 1943. By April 1944 Mary was living in Brownwood, Texas, where Elmer was stationed nearby at Camp Bowie, and their first child was born. When Elmer left to serve in the Pacific, Mary moved back to Nebraska to live with Elmer’s parents and await his return in December 1945. Eventually they moved from Nebraska and settled in Sonoma County, CA in 1954. With grit, determination and sometimes plain stubbornness, they built and maintained a permanent home for their family.
Mary worked her entire life. While Elmer Sr. served overseas, she found jobs to support herself and Elmer Jr. When Elmer Sr. returned, and for most of her life, Mary kept serving and cooking for restaurants. Many patrons throughout Sonoma County have appreciated the professionalism she brought to the normally unappreciated work of food service in restaurants and truck stops in the county.
During the summer months Mary herded her brood to the orchards of Sebastopol, Forestville, and environs to make money for clothing and supplies for school in the fall. Her children learned to work hard alongside her. If someone left a task too soon, she had a good throwing arm and impeccable aim with the apples.
Mary was constantly teaching and reinforcing the value of hard work and determination. Her eyes always let us know that she knew when we were not telling the whole story. Honesty was important, and she would let you know what you needed to know, especially when it came to caring for one another, because nothing was ever done without thinking of others first.
After the family had left the nest, Mary stayed active working in their large garden, canning the fruits and vegetables they grew, sewing, and helping with continuous home improvements. She enjoyed baking Gravenstein apple pies, watching old movies, embroidery, visits from her growing family, and she always had a pot of beans on the stove. Not being one to sit and do nothing, she insisted on continuing to work outside the home until age 88 and drove regularly to appointments, errands and to visit family. Mary often amazed us with her memory that reached back to days of living in a sod home on the western prairie in Nebraska, and seemingly every home since. Her stories kept us entertained and connected on birthdays and anniversaries. With a mind as sharp as a tack, she would be sure to remind us of a favorite dessert we may have promised her.
Mary was preceded by her husband, Elmer Warren Cornelius, Sr., her parents, Christopher LeRoy Neisius and Charlotte Norton Neisius, sisters Clara Ester, Vesta Jean, Barbara Ruth, and brother Charles, her daughter in-law Theresa, great-granddaughter Rhiannon and great-great-grandson Noah. She is survived by her children, Elmer (Linda) Cornelius, Jr., Richard (Deborah) Cornelius, Nels Cornelius, Mary (Gary) Pauley, Linda Vaughn, Barbara Cornelius (significant other Rene Zakhour), and Peter (Colleen) Cornelius. Mary is also survived by many cousins, nieces, and nephews, and her lifetime friends, sister-in-law Jessie Ann Waterman and Niece-in-law Connie Montgomery.
Mary was a loving grandmother of 20, great-grandmother of 38, great-great-grandmother of 2, and a cherished friend to many.
Her heart and home were always open to visits from many who were part of the lives of her husband and their children. With each visit, hoping they would stay long and share their lives with her.
Mary Leona’s memory will forever remain present in the land she cultivated and in the family she grew. Her cherished fruit trees are like her children, grown strong and proud. Her children carry their own weight in this world with strength and fortitude, reflecting the values and integrity she instilled. Proud of where they came from, what they built, and who they are. All of them are particularly gifted in telling stories and displaying "the look". She instilled discipline and respect in the marrow of their bones. Their muscle memory is to get the job done and to work together. In her words and example, she taught us: Don't think so much, just use what you have, whether it be ingredients, materials, or family. Always cook with salt, make eye contact when speaking, laugh, listen, in times of conflict "take it outside", and always say "I love you".