Lucy M. McNelis

Lucy Marie Johnson was born on June 5, 1913 to Joseph Johnson and Mary Anne Higgins Johnson in Summit Hill, PA.  She was the youngest of 10 children. During her beginning years, the house was filled with people and excitement. One memorable occurrence for her was the death of her sister Sadie and brother-in-law Harry Miller on the same day due to the Influenza Epidemic of 1918. As a result, years later her nephews Phil and Joe came to live with Lucy’s family during the summers. Another memory is the story that Lucy’s mother used to tell regarding her grandfather. One day when Mary Anne (Lucy’s mother) was young, she had a mental image of coal tumbling. She thought, “Oh, Dad!” Although the siren sounded miles away, she heard it in her mind. She immediately got down on her knees and began to pray. Sure enough, there had been an explosion in the mines. Whereas, her father’s friend was thrown on top of him and killed, her father survived but was left blind. Lucy remembers her grandfather Dennis Higgins well, since he too later lived in the Johnson household until he died in his 90’s. Another family member, Lucy’s mother’s cousin, who resided with the Johnson family, was Tom (called Tim) Brogan whose father won the Congressional Medal of Honor. One last testament to the unselfishness of Lucy’s parents was the story of the McFadden’s. When Mary Anne’s sister Rose and her husband died, they left behind four young daughters. Mary Anne spent much of her free time attending to their needs as well as those of her own family.

Lucy’s father was a hoisting engineer, which meant that he took miners to and from the mines. In later years, he became a substation operator. In this position, he was responsible for the power being sent to and from the mines. Both of these jobs contained an element of risk. Meanwhile, Lucy’s brothers faced their own peril, since World War I was raging at this time. Joe joined the navy, and Tom enlisted in the army.

Lucy spent much of her childhood reading any books that she could find. Although she rarely left Summit Hill, she was transported to foreign lands through the written word. She also spent much of her time spectating her brothers’ plays, since Paul and Joe were quite the thespians. Having five older brothers, Lucy’s independent spirit came naturally. Much to her father’s dismay, she worked as an usher in a movie theater during her senior year of high school. She vividly recalls the uniform and bellboy-like hat that she wore. Securing this job meant that she had to take the trolley from Summit Hill to Lansford during all kinds of weather. Her 50 cents a night wages were quickly depleted as she paid 20 cents each to ride the trolley. The remaining money was usually spent on her favorite treat – a banana split.

After Lucy’s graduation from high school in 1931, she attended Temple where she studied dental hygienistry. She later served as an intern at Miseracordia Hospital for one year (1934). For several summers, she received additional training at Temple, until she gained certification as a dental hygienist. Ultimately, she accepted a position in the Summit Hill Public Schools and remained there for the next 15 years.

In 1946, she met John McNelis whom she later married on February 5, 1948.  Their daughter Joan, whose name is a combination of Lucy’s father, brother and husband, was born on March 21, 1949. Lucy kept her job as a dental hygienist until she was pregnant with Ann in 1951. Ann, who was named for John’s mother, was born on November 2, 1952. At this point, Lucy decided to join her husband who was teaching in Chesapeake City. Due to a scarcity of housing, they settled in the nearby town of Hack’s Point, Maryland. Although picturesque during the summer months, their new abode was frigid during the winter. Lucy thought that they would freeze during their time there. In fact, she rarely wore an evening gown after one frostbitten New Year’s Eve.

John and Lucy moved to a much warmer apartment in Chesapeake City during the latter part of 1953. Here Lucy took a job as a teacher, instructing first, second and third graders. According to Lucy, she “didn’t know a damn thing about teaching.” She realized this when a young student commented to her, “Mrs. McNelis, you’re getting better at writing every day!”

Hearing about a position as a dental hygienist in the Newark Public Schools, she decided to give-up her teaching career and return to her first avocation. Thus, she commuted from Chesapeake City to Newark, Delaware for two years. At that time, the Newark School District required their employees to live in the district. When John, too, became an employee of the district, they moved to Brookside Park, a subdivision of Newark, in 1956. However, Lucy’s tenure with the Newark School District did not last for long. Once she became pregnant with her third child, she left her position as dental hygienist.
Tragedy befell Lucy shortly after moving to Newark. While on vacation with George and Peg Lorah in Atlantic City, Lucy fell from a set of bleachers. At the time, she was four months pregnant. Unfortunately, she suffered a miscarriage.

It was at this time that the pendulum swung. Realizing that there was a teacher shortage, Lucy began to take classes on how to teach. She began to substitute teach throughout Newark, New Castle and Cecil County schools. Shortly thereafter, the pendulum resumed its location as Lucy returned to her original profession as a dental hygienist. She went to work for dentist Dr. Stanley Goldburn in 1961. Due to the long, demanding days, Lucy left Dr. Goldburn after two years and began employment with the Wilmington Public Schools as a traveling dental hygienist. Most of her fourteen years there were stress-free. However, at the age of 59, Lucy tripped on a curb abutment, shattered her kneecap and fractured her wrist. This accident had a profound effect on her independence and self-confidence. She continued to work for another 4 years, retiring in 1976 at the age of 63.
Retirement agreed with Lucy. She and John began to pursue interests such as golf and traveling. In 1984, their first grandchild Kevin was born and in 1987, two additional grandchildren Jennifer and Carly were added. In 1985, she and John sold their 30-year home in Brookside and moved to Stoney Batter Condominiums, where they met several new friends. All was fine until Lucy’s vision began to fail due to macular degeneration. Although she could no longer read as she once did, she learned to cope with this disability by listening to books on tape.

Lucy’s husband John passed away on March 18, 2004 at the age of 94. Lucy remained in Stoney Batter Condominiums for another six months and then moved to the independent living section of Foulk Manor North when she was 91. While living there, she acquired many new friends and thoroughly enjoyed solving crossword puzzles and socializing during happy hour.

Eventually, Lucy moved to Brookdale, which is an assisted living facility in Hockessin. She continued to enjoy a great joke, followed the financial market, said a daily rosary, and listened to books on tape. She blessed those around her with her kindness, generosity, and quick wit. In fact, she was described as a people-magnet since so many peers gravitated toward her.

While at Brookdale, family dynamics changed for Lucy. In 2013, her granddaughter Jennifer married Brock Sells, and they moved to Ohio. Jen and Brock had a son Rhett in 2015. In 2017, Kevin married Mallory MacDonald, and one month later Joan married Joe McCullin.

In the fall of 2017, at the age of 104, Lucy fell and broke her leg. After surgery she was transferred to Brackenville Rehabilitation. Her condition quickly deteriorated, and she passed away on November 10. Those who loved her feel as though a beautiful light has been extinguished. However, she is now brightening up everyone’s day in heaven like she did each day on earth.

Online condolences may be made at


Submitted by Geoffrey L. Henry on
On behalf of the residents and associates, please accept our deepest sympathies on the passing of Mrs. McNelis. During the time she was here we grew to love her as a member of our family and appreciated getting to know all of you. It was a privilege to be able to care for her. May God Bless you all during this difficult time.

Submitted by Carol and Geral... on
Dear Joan and Ann, What an amazing life your mother had. We were your neighbors in Brookside back in the 60's. Your parents were very welcoming to us. We extend our sincere condolences to you and your families. Ann, Frank was one of my students at UD. Carol and Jerry Cole

Submitted by Rebecca on
Death can bring so many tears and pain, but may your memories bring you comfort. My condolences to you and your family, May you find comfort in these words at Rev 21:4.

Submitted by Rick Edwards on
Joan and Ann, So sorry for your loss. Rick Edwards

Submitted by April Anderson on
Joan and Ann Deepest sympathy on the loss of your mom..What a neat woman and wonderful to have had such a long, joyful life. April and Bruce

Submitted by Robin Shaeffer on
Lucy, I didn't really know you, but I didn't have to as they say "Life doesn't come with a manual, it comes with a Mother," and you were an extraordinary one as you have two strong and beautiful daughters, Ann and Joan. Rest in peace dear Lucy! Robin Shaeffer

Submitted by Y. Holland on
"My deepest Sympathy go to the McNelis family, may your memories of your loss loved one comfort you and your family today and always, please take comfort in God's word at 2 Corinthians 1:3 "Praised be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of tender mercies and the God of all comfort".