Elenor Loarie Schoen died at home on October 15 at 2:30 pm surrounded by family two weeks after her 99th birthday. She is survived by all six of her devoted children. To say that Elenor was devoted to her family and to her church is an understatement, and it does not begin to hint at her complexity and her drive.
She was born the youngest of four children to an Irish-English mother, Honor Cahill, and an Italian-American father, John Loarie, who had fought in the Spanish-American War. The two met at a boarding house, married, and had four children. Elenor, born in 1916, had an older sister, Gwendolyn, and two older brothers, Willard and Walter. She grew up in a series of apartments on the near north side of Chicago. An early passion was ice skating. Her parish, St. Gertrude’s, would flood the school playing field and create an ice rink where she raced her friends through most winters. She was popular in school, an extroverted, dark-eyed slip of a girl who was extremely competitive and loved learning. She had a lively imagination and enjoyed writing.
She attended Immaculata High School for girls, conducted by the BVM’s, an order of women she admired and seriously considered joining . . . until the evening before her sixteenth birthday when she met Paul Schoen, five years her senior, very suave, blue-eyed, with sun-bleached hair. They fell for each other pretty rapidly. They wound up with a seven-year courtship while Paul earned his DDS and opened a struggling dental practice. Elenor managed the practice and learned the joys of dead-beat customers and uncooperative landlords. After five years of sacrifices, the practice eventually thrived. The two married in April 1941, but with the attack on Pearl Harbor, Paul was soon invited to either volunteer and be an officer, or wait to be drafted as an enlisted man.
Paul volunteered, and soon Elenor and Paul began several years of trotting around the south and the west to different postings in the U.S. Army Air Force. While they were in the Chicago area, Baby Paul arrived, in 1942, and Teresa was born three years later. Paul was subsequently sent to Texas, and baby Elenor was born in San Antonio. Soon the military announced that Paul was to be transferred to Japan and the army informed him of the provisions it had made to transport the young family there as well. Elenor was not at all pleased and basically refused to take the family there. They made the decision to leave military life, and return Paul to private practice.
Transitioning at forty was not easy, but Paul applied successfully for a position as staff dentist at the Veterans Administration hospital in Wadsworth, Kansas.
Once there, the family bought a home in near-by Leavenworth, and soon babies Annemarie, Suzanne, and Honor made their entries into the world. At a time of greater stability, Elenor took an enthusiastic interest in her new community. The children all attended St. Joseph Catholic School, and then went on to Immaculata High School. She founded the Mothers’ club, a precursor to a PTA, at St. Joe’s and then also started up a vocational counseling program at Immaculata. Her idea of encouraging kids to go to college was to invite General Johnny Johnson, Commandant of the Command and General Staff College, to come speak at her college night. He arrived with motorcycle outriders in a limousine and was striking on stage in his satin cape and dress uniform. Elenor was in heaven.
She and Paul joined the CFM, the Christian Family Movement and managed to integrate the program by inviting the only black family in the parish to join. The pastor was dismayed. “We will have to attend meetings sometimes in their house.” And thanks to Elenor they did. At some point, a discussion arose as to whether or not the local community swimming pool should allow blacks to use it. Elenor and Paul testified on behalf of the black community at the council meeting; the pool was integrated.
Despite joining the Ft. Leavenworth Officer’s Club and having access to their facilities, going on regular pilgrimages into Kansas City to see the latest films or to shop at Macy’s or eat at Putsch’s restaurant, Elenor still missed city life. Paul’s time with the VA allowed him consideration for relocation. In 1965, she was pleased that Paul was transferred to American Lake VA Hospital near Tacoma, WA.
Elenor quickly took stock of the local parish, found some good friends, and began looking for ways to participate in her new parish. Within a very few years, a bill was put before the voters advocating the legalization of abortion up to 20 weeks gestation. Elenor could not remain silent. She immediately got involved with the people opposing the referendum, and with three of her daughters still at home, was out doorbelling and passing out literature.
Elenor took a seat on the Pierce County Human Life board and ran their speaker’s bureau. At one point, she was president of the board and, under her guidance, the Tacoma group hosted the Washington State Human Life conference. Elenor and Paul participated in Life Chain, prayed in front of various abortion clinics, and often found themselves looking for apartments and furniture, etc., for pregnant girls whose parents had kicked them out of the house due to their refusal to abort their unborn babies.
Also at this time, the boat people began flocking to the U.S., attempting to escape southeast Asia in the wake of the fall of Vietnam. Elenor was asked to take responsibility for re-settling the refugees assigned to her parish, St. Frances Cabrini.
Throughout all of this, Elenor continued the freelance writing career she had begun in Leavenworth. As her children grew and left home, she became a full time activist. She corresponded with her local bishop when things occurred in which she felt he should become involved. She was regularly published in the op-ed pages of every newspaper in the area, and she continually wrote articles, often about rather obscure situations in history, that got her name into print multiple times a year.
Life was moving along at a good clip for Elenor until one day when her doorbell rang at about 8 am. School buses were going by in the street. She opened the door with the chain on, and found two young men there asking if this was the house where they had dropped off a friend last evening. She said no, and opened the door to hear them better as they asked for directions. One drew a gun, the other kicked the door so hard the interior handle buried itself in the wall. But Paul, age 78, came charging to the rescue and punched one, driving both away.
Elenor’s sense of well-being was shattered. She and Paul were unhurt, but she could find no serenity. Within a few weeks, Paul and Elenor picked up and left for Seattle, eventually moving into a high security building in Belltown. He and Elenor attended Mass almost daily at Sacred Heart parish near the Seattle Center, and they became very involved with the Lifetime Learning Center which rented space from the parish.
The Lifetime Learning Center was for older folks; retired professors would teach classes in their specialties, and retired folks gathered there nearly every day for stimulating intellectual conversation and fellowship. Elenor made many friends there, even among the majority who were not religious, and disagreed with her views on abortion and euthanasia. She was also a good listener and obviously cared about her new friends, so she and Paul found a very welcoming circle.
When Paul died in 1997, Elenor moved in with her daughters, Tess and Elenor, Jr. Tess had recently moved back from a career in civil service in Washington, D.C., and Baltimore to be closer to her aging parents.
Over time, Elenor began losing her physical abilities. However, she continued to publish until she was 95. She stopped driving in her late 80s, but continued attending the Shoreline Senior Center until about two years ago when her immunity system seemed to be easily overcome by colds and flu every time she stepped out the door to Mass or to class. She became mostly homebound at about 98. Tess brought her communion and El’s job editing Homiletic and Pastoral Review from home meant she and Tess were with Elenor full-time.
Family members made regular visits from all over the country, and she got to meet her growing numbers of great grandchildren.
As she became frailer, her mind finally began to also fail. She had a heart attack, was taken to Northwest hospital, and before being released, a doctor was quizzing her about her surroundings, trying to determine how advanced her dementia was. After several questions about herself and family, he asked her, “Elenor, what do you call this place you’re at today?” She looked confused. He persisted, “Where is this place?” She looked at him with concern, “Don’t you know?” Mom’s feisty side was alive and well inside there and her sense of humor intact, even as she lay dying.
We will certainly miss her and are sad at her death, but we intend to join her in a few years. So it is not goodbye, but au revoir, until we see you again. We are tickled imagining the reunions she is experiencing and hearing her Lord say to her, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”
Elenor Loarie Schoen is survived by her children: Paul (Mary Kay), Teresa, Elenor, Annemarie Muth (Ken), Suzanne Harmon (Rod) and Honor Leitzen. She has 11 grandchildren: Annemarie Schoen (Mike Groenert), and siblings Kathleen (Pete Bixler), Michael Schoen, and Claire (Bryan Gorman); Tom (Cate) Harmon, and siblings Becky, Ken, Nick (Jessie), and Will; and, Richard Leitzen (Stephanie), and David Leitzen; and 10 great-grandchildren.
My sincere sympathy on the loss of your dear Mother. How wonderful it was to have made it to 99 years young, yet life is always too short. She had a beautiful life, always surrounded by her family and friends. Although she is no longer here, you and your family have so many memories and let that be a comfort to you all.
Norene & Richard Arnold
Thank you for sharing a bit of your mother's life for those like me who knew her only later in her life. I shall keep her in mind as I continue to fight for authentic feminity. She has truly left a legacy through her children who stand up for the dignity of all human life.
Dear Suzanne & family, My deepest sympathy on the passing of your mom. The write up on her was incredible. She made a difference with her life. I'm sure she does have a special place in heaven and that all of you will continue to model the legacy of her love. God bless and comfort you!
Oh, Suzanne! So sorry for the loss of your dear mother. I recognize many similar traits in you! It was wonderful reading about her life. A very beautiful tribute. I loved the part about how you all are tickled to think of her meeting our Lord and having Him say "Well done, good and faithful servant!" What a legacy she leaves. See you Tuesday!
Our Aunt Elenor is a legacy. Not only for her children but her nieces and nephews. She was a leader in the "Respect Life Movement" way before it had the momentum it has today. A devoted mother, wife, aunt, friend to many. She ran the race even when she was worn out...she did all she felt that God had called her to in this life...and she did it with excellence as best she knew how. Aunt Elenor you will live on in the lives of all those you touched. We celebrate your life and your example. Rest in peace, love, joy.
Mary Lu Loarie-O'Halloran
Suzanne, I am sorry for the loss of your Mother. She sounds like an amazing woman & has accomplished so much in her lifetime. You were a blessed daughter to have a Mother like her. You are definitely following in her footsteps to make the world a better place. My heart goes out to you and your family. Prayers & hugs to you.
The thought occurred to me about a minute ago to see whether any of the Schoens I have known have Facebook accounts. I found Annemarie's, then looked for Elenor, Jr's. I read the obit about Elenor, Sr., and was reminded what a wonderful person she was. I am glad she lived to 99--I know she and my mother, Kay, who died 10 years ago at 93, almost 94, have run into each other--or will when all of us are gathered at our future home.
God bless all you Schoens--and if you ever think of it, drop me a line. Take care of one another!
Genevieve (Genne) Gwynne, Sidney, Montana