Mary Elizabeth Walls Eshelman, WAVES vet, long-time Girl Scout volunteer, helped found several Lititz organizations

By on October 10, 2018

Known as “Polly,” she lived a life of service to her community and devotion to her family. A trailblazer, Polly embraced challenges, attending college and serving in the military during a time when those were not usual roles for women. She also later embraced the traditional roles of wife and mother as well, tackling them with her trademark dedication aplomb. She died at Luther Acres, Lititz, on Friday, Oct. 5, 2018.

The daughter of the late Elva Walls Jones and Carlton Walls Sr. She was born in Lancaster on April 29, 1923.

Polly was raised in a household that had lively discussions at the dinner table. Her mother encouraged her to be confident and to listen to others. As a result, Polly was a straightforward but caring woman. For many years, visitors to her home were greeted by a sign that said, “I’m not bossy, I just have better ideas.” Most people agreed with at least half of that observation.

Polly grew up in Manheim Township, living in the Landis Valley area when she was younger and playing on the fields near the Landis brothers’ home, which later became a state museum. She was a 1940 graduate of Manheim Township High School, and was one of three people to attend her 75th class reunion in 2015.

She went on to attend Albright College in Reading, graduating in 1944 with a degree in business administration and math, and later earning a Distinguished Alumni Award. While at Albright, she worked for 50 cents an hour at a nearby parachute factory to help pay her expenses. But she also found time to meet and fall in love with another student, Charles Waldo Eshelman of Elizabethtown.

Before settling down together, Polly and Chuck served their country. Chuck entered the U.S. Army. In 1944, Polly enlisted in the WAVES, a World War II-era division of the U.S. Navy that consisted entirely of women. The name is an acronym for Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service. Because she was a paymaster who carried up to $250,000 in cash, she also carried a .33 revolver on her hip. She was fond of recalling, “And I knew how to use it.”

In 1946 she wed Chuck, after getting a letter from her commanding officer giving her permission to don a wedding gown rather than her uniform.

The Eshelmans went to Baltimore, where Chuck attended dental school. They had two children there. In 1952, the couple returned to Lancaster County, where two more children followed. Chuck set up his practice in the couple’s big white house in the 200 block of South Broad Street in Lititz.

Polly quickly dove into community service, a practice she later referred to as being a “professional volunteer,” her activities mirroring the interests of her growing family. One of her first endeavors was in the Girl Scouts, after two teens knocked on her door one day looking for someone to run their troop. Polly stepped in and a 35-year volunteer career with the Girl Scouts followed, as did a lifetime membership. She helped to bring the American Field Service program to Lititz. She and her husband hosted first a student from Cyprus and later another one from Germany in their home, as the students attended Warwick High School. Both students became so close to the family that they also lived with the Eshelmans as they attended college in the states, and called Polly “Mom” for the rest of her life.

Polly helped to start Meals on Wheels in Lititz, retiring after a 38-year career during which she did everything from scrubbing floors to keeping the books. She and her husband were among a group of charter families who started Woodridge Swim Club. She was the first woman to serve on the Lititz Zoning Hearing Board. An active member of St. Paul Evangelical Lutheran Church, she helped to start a nursery school there and was a member of a board that helped to found Luther Acres in Lititz, later serving as the volunteer activities coordinator at the nursing home and on the organization’s board of directors.

She and her husband enjoyed 41 years of marriage before his death in 1987. Following that, Polly moved and lived out her life in a cottage at Luther Acres where, among many volunteer opportunities, she was president of the residents’ council, chair of the chapel committee, and managed the community store. No task was too large or small.

Polly was devoted to her family. When her grandchildren came along, she took them to shows on Saturday mornings at the Fulton Opera House and for lunch at the Rendezvous restaurant at the former Watt & Shand department store. For years, she hosted an annual family summer vacation to Ocean City, N.J.,which included a 6 a.m. beach walk followed by a trip to Browns for doughnuts.

An avid traveler, Polly was most comfortable behind the wheel, whether hauling an 18-foot camper on trips with her husband or exploring the country, driving to 48 of the 50 states as well as to Canada. In her later years, she was accompanied by her dear friend and faithful companion, Marty Sheaffer.

Polly is survived by her four children: Joanne, wife of the late Terence Robb; Jere; Jeffrey, husband of Brenda; and Charles, husband of Susan; and Brenda Homberger Penny, all of Lititz; and Mike Toumazou, husband of Sue, of Davidson, N.C. She is also survived by 15 grandchildren; and 10 great-grandchildren.

In addition to her parents, she was predeceased by a brother: Carlton B. Walls Jr.; a grandson: Charles M. Eshelman III; and Jorg Homberger.

A memorial service will be held at 10 a.m. on Wednesday, Oct. 24 at the community room at Luther Acres, 300 Saint Luke Drive, Lititz. Interment will be private at the Macpelah Cemetery, Lititz.

In lieu of flowers, please spread kindness and volunteer for your favorite organization or charity.

To leave the family an online condolence, visit SnyderFuneralHome.com. Arangements were entrusted to Spacht-Snyder Family Funeral Home, Lititz.

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