Elinor Jean (Merrick) Runge, born November 7, 1921, passed through the gates of heaven on Thursday, January 31, 2019. She was born to William Arthur Merrick and Rosa Belle (Gregg) Merrick in Maxwell, Nebraska, where her Daddy filed the incorporation papers for the First Baptist Church in 1916. She had three brothers, including Keaton Merrick, who did not survive infancy. Elinor’s father died when she was eight, leaving Rosa Belle alone to raise the three children in 1930. That was a tough time by any measure; but though of small stature, she was equal to the task. She should have had regular payments from her husband’s store in Maxwell, but the money did not come, so the little family worked hard for subsistence.
In her early years, Elinor moved with her family from Maxwell to North Platte to Lincoln to Sidney. The move from North Platte to Lincoln was a far distance; her mother never learned to drive a car, and no one else was available. So at the age of thirteen, her uncle taught her to drive the car around a pasture. Once she was comfortable with the operation of the automobile, they packed the car and she drove her mother and her little brother Bruce Aaron Merrick with their belongings off to Lincoln. Elinor Jean was never one to shrink from adventure.
Elinor graduated from Sidney High in 1940 where she participated in the Adelphic Club, the Junior Play, and the Pep Club. She was always full of “pep”! She attended the University of Nebraska at Lincoln where she was a member of Phi Chi Theta and studied Business Administration at a time when few women were pursuing such a degree. Her studies were interrupted by World War II, and so she returned and finished in 1949.
In 1939 when Elinor was in high school, what became Merrick Shoes of Sidney, Nebraska was founded by her mother and her older brother, Eldred Bryant Merrick. Merrick Shoes truly became Elinor’s store, and she kept the families of Cheyenne County and beyond in shoes until her retirement in 1999. In the meantime, she participated in and managed family shoe stores in Nebraska, Colorado, Arizona and Idaho.
She considered it her duty to the students at Sidney High to hire and train them in the retail shoe business. Merrick Shoes became quite the sought after summer and after-school place to work. She kept a corkboard in the back room with pictures of the students she had hired. It is quite the history of high school fashion! She also provided jobs for a number of nieces and nephews through the years. One of those students, was Delores Elaine Johnson, who after being promoted to manage one of the Scottsbluff shoe stores, years later married Elinor’s brother Bruce, and became her life-long best friend. Two of the best ever at selling shoes working in concert for over fifty years in various locations at a time when that was quite uncommon.
Speaking of nieces and nephews, Elinor kept all of them in shoes. Even at over ninety years of age, the first thing she might notice is what shoes we were wearing and whether they fit properly or were too worn out. She would then sit the subject child (or adult) down and bring out a stack of styles to try on. It was rare that one would walk out of the store without at least one pair, and much more rare that one would be allowed to pay for the shoes.
She was a member of the PEO and Daughters of the American Revolution. We count as many as thirteen revolutionary war soldiers among Elinor’s ancestors. One of her ancestors built the house where General George Washington planned his crossing of the Delaware (it still stands today), and another supplied farm animals for food to the army raised by the Continental Congress. They gave receipts in those days, but payment depended on the war being won!
Elinor delivered Meals on Wheels and spent many of her lunch hours visiting residents of the two “rest homes” in Sidney where she would encourage them and wash their feet. She was the most generous lady in the world, giving often beyond her means.
On October 16, 1966, she married Lester Bismark Runge, a farmer from out west of town whose interest in work boots seemed to intensify that year. Although her brothers were initially suspicious and not at all sure that they wanted to share Elinor, Les became a wonderful companion and protector for the next thirty-six years. He worked the farm, and she worked the shoe store, and together their lives and love blossomed. On Thursday evenings, when the store stayed open late to serve anyone who could not come shop during the day, he would arrive at the store before eight o’clock, help her close up, and take her out for pizza, chili, or fried chicken.
Together they cared for Elinor’s mother in her old age, and Les was tender son-in-law as well as husband. When knee replacements and Parkinson’s disease took his strength, she took care of him for years, giving of her reserve of strength to supplement his.
A few years after his passing, Elinor lived with family in Colorado, Indiana, and Texas, her infectious smile lighting up our homes until she came to the point of needing a place of her own. For almost two years, she would look up and exclaim (so loudly it would scare you if you weren’t prepared) OOOOOOOH! (insert your name) whenever family came to visit. Hers was a heart full of love.
One final note: Queen Elizabeth bears a striking resemblance to our Aunt Elinor and has, at each stage of her life. They do share similar bloodlines, so perhaps that is to be expected. Howsomever that may be, we can say without reservation, that our Aunt Elinor Jean is our royalty, and we will see her again some day with the well-deserved crown on her head placed there by none other than her Redeemer and King, the Lord Jesus Christ.
Elinor is preceded in death by her parents, all three brothers, her sisters in law, and her husband Les. She is survived and missed by friends, relatives, and the families of her brothers: Eldred’s sons Taylor Bryant and Lana Merrick, William Arthur (Art) and Ann Merrick, Gregg DeWalt and Deb Merrick; Bruce’s children Robin Jené (Merrick) and Ken Schmidt, Heather John (Merrick) and Jerry Esparza, Aaron Seymour Gregg and Brenda Merrick, Amy Leigh (Merrick) and Tom Hillstrom, William Henry and Anni Merrick II, and Elinor Jean Merrick, who is named for this most favorite Aunt.
Grand nieces and nephews include Eldred’s grandchildren Dana Michelle (Merrick) Koinzan, Erika Anne Merrick, Joseph Scott Merrick, Seth Taylor Merrick, Kimberly Nichole (Merrick) Sommer, Livia Christine (Merrick) Custer, Lisa Lorraine Merrick and Bruce’s grandchildren Emily Laine (Schmidt) Walker, Jacob Aaron Schmidt, Brandon John Esparza, Alex Barron Esparza, Jenáe Sheree Esparza, Audrey Josephine (Merrick) Steinbach, Robert Aaron Merrick, Anna Jolie Hillstrom, Leisel Rose Young, Madeline Mae Merrick, William Henry Merrick III, Lucy Morgan Merrick, Lyric Vincent Merrick Kemper, great-grandnieces and nephews numbering twenty-one, and one great-great-grandniece.
A memorial service is planned for half past eleven in the morning on Thursday, February 7, 2019, at the Sidney Church of Christ, 2651 11th Avenue, Sidney, Nebraska, preceded by time for viewing on Wednesday from 1:00 P.M. through 7:00 P.M. at the Gehrig-Stitt Event Center, 1212 10th Avenue and Thursday morning at the church until service time. You may view Elinor’s Book of Memories, leave condolences, photos and stories at www.gehrigstittchapel.com. Your memorial of Elinor will be best made by doing as she did, finding someone in need and helping them.