Ellen M. Potter

Ellen M. Hillicoss Potter

PRESTON HOLLOW — The tiny Helderberg hamlet of Preston Hollow was a lifelong home to Ellen M. Hillicoss Potter who served her community as a mother and grandmother, a farmer and letter carrier, and a leader for the local park.

Mrs. Potter died on Tuesday, Dec. 24, 2013, at Livingston Hills Nursing Home after a long struggle with Alzheimer’s disease. She was 79.

“She was the original Wonder Woman,” said her daughter, Karen Strobeck. “She could do it all, and, if she couldn’t, she’d try and tackle it. She was headstrong. She ran the family and made sure everyone knew their jobs.”

The first child and only daughter of the late Edward and Gertrude Marcinak Hillicoss, she was born on Cheese Hill in Preston Hollow on Dec. 16, 1934. “They lived on a dirt road and probably couldn’t get out with the snow,” said her daughter, commenting on the home birth.

Her three brothers were added to the family, living on the dairy farm. A one-room schoolhouse was quarter-mile from their home. Mrs. Potter walked to school in good weather and was one of the older students. “She liked it and kept a lot of her schoolbooks,” said Ms. Strobeck.

Mrs. Potter went on to graduate from Middleburgh High School.

“My grandfather drove the school bus — actually a car — to take the kids down the hill to meet the bus,” said Ms. Strobeck.

After high school, Mrs. Potter graduated from Albany Beauty School and worked in a shop. Later, she gave haircuts and permanents from her home.

She married Earl Kenneth Potter, who had also grown up in Preston Hollow.  “He was friends with her brother John. They would hang out and go hunting together,” said Ms. Strobeck. “My mom always said my dad was her best friend. They put in the garden together; they went out together; they did everything together.”

Their marriage ended only with his death, on March 5, 2012.

“She was a great mother,” said Ms. Strobeck. “She made our clothes. She gardened. She ruled with a mighty hand.”

In addition to her household duties, Mrs. Potter worked a wide range of jobs. Besides being a beautician, Mrs. Potter drove a school bus, worked summers as a chambermaid at the Weldon House, and made speakers at the Becker Electronics factory.

The job she held the longest was as a letter carrier out of the Preston Hollow Post Office. “People would come out to the box and talk to her,” said her daughter, explaining what she liked about the job.

When the Potters turned 45, they bought a dairy farm in Preston Hollow, moving from their house in town to the farm.

“My mom would get up early in the morning, put the hay and grain down, and get the cows in their stations. Dad would start to milk and she’d go into the house and clean up so she could deliver mail,” said Ms. Strobeck. “She was a wonder. She did it all.”

Besides her work on the farm, her duties as a mother, and doing outside jobs, Mrs. Potter made time to contribute to the community. She was a member of the ladies’ auxiliary of the Tri-Village Volunteer Fire Company and had served as both president and vice president of the Bayard Elsbree Memorial Park.

“She wanted to make sure the kids had a playground,” said Ms. Strobeck. “She helped when they put in a pavilion.”

Mrs. Potter also made time for her grandchildren; she had eight. The Potters’ grandchildren enjoyed their visits to the farm, where they learned to play baseball. Mrs. Potter took them to play and bicycle in the park.

“She was there for them whenever they needed her,” said Ms. Strobeck. “She loved her grandchildren.”

Ms. Strobeck concluded on her mother’s lifelong devotion to Preston Hollow, “It was just home.”

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Ellen M. Hillicoss Potter is survived by her children, Earl David Potter and his wife, Kathy, Karen M. Strobeck and her partner, Jud, Michael Potter, and Deborah LiVecchi and her husband, Joseph; two brothers, Benjamin Hillicoss and his wife, Sharon, and Paul Hillicoss and his wife, Barbara; eight grandchildren, six great-grandchildren with two more on the way; and several nieces, nephews, and cousins.

Her parents and husband died before her, as did her brother, John Hillicoss.

Calling hours were Sunday, Dec. 29, at A.J. Cunningham Funeral Home, 4898 Route 81, Greenville.  Her ashes will be buried at a later date. Mourners may leave online condolences at ajcunninghamfh.com.

Memorial contributions may be made to the Tri-Village Volunteer Fire Company, 3100 Route 145, Preston Hollow, NY  12469; Brookside Cemetery Association, Rensselaerville, NY; or Bayard Elsbree Memorial Park Preston Hollow, NY 12469.

— Melissa Hale-Spencer

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