Edith L. Rocheleau

Edith Lisbeth Tompkins Rocheleau

BERNE — A committed, smiling kindergarten teacher, Edith Rocheleau loved fun and education and didn’t see them differently.

Mrs. Rocheleau was raised on a farm in Berne. Her father donated land nearby for a schoolhouse in which she and her siblings were prepared for high school and college. As an adult, she raised three sons while teaching in schools in Danbury, Conn.

Edith Lisbeth Rocheleau (née Tompkins) died of natural causes on Wednesday, Dec. 18, 2013 in Boca Raton, Fla. one month short of age 101.  

She was born on Jan. 18, 1913 in Berne to Elijah L. and Bertha Tompkins. Her middle name was after a character in the novel Adam Bede by George Eliot that her mother had been reading.

The one-room Bell Schoolhouse was built on land donated by Mr. Tompkins, who tried to petition at meetings in Altamont for building a high school in Berne.

No high school was built, but Mrs. Rocheleau stayed, as her sisters did, with a family in Albany to attend high school, returning home on the weekends and paying off a loan for her education from her older sister, Marion, a teacher.

Mrs. Rocheleau graduated from Albany High School, and went on to the State University of New York at Oneonta, and Western Connecticut State University to earn degrees in education.

She taught school in the region until 1940, when she married Delphis J. Rocheleau. They moved to Atlanta, Ga., where Mr. Rocheleau had a job with the Federal Correctional Institution.

“They went to a lot of gatherings, so she liked his leadership, even though he was a fairly quiet person,” said their son, Bruce Rocheleau.

The Rocheleaus had three children in Danbury. Mrs. Rocheleau stayed home to raise her sons, before returning to teaching in her forties. Mrs. Rocheleau taught kindergarten in South Street, New Street, and Hayestown schools in Danbury from 1956 until she retired in 1975.

“She was a popular teacher and much beloved by her students,” her family wrote in a tribute.

Books flowed through the Rocheleau household, brought home from school and sent as gifts to the boys from their Uncle Edgar Tompkins, who became director of the Albany Public Library and the Upper Hudson Library Federation.

Mrs. Rocheleau played bridge and drove into her late 90s; she spent mornings diligently working through crossword puzzles. She was a member of the Danbury Germantown Firehouse and the Danbury Yacht Club. She loved to dance, laugh, and socialize.

“Whenever she had an experience, she would often come back and she could put on her imitation of some of the people there,” said Bruce Rocheleau, noting his mother’s mother was also a talented storyteller.

Mrs. Rocheleau was a brilliant player of card games, organizing a group to play in Danbury and in Boca Raton, Fla., where she lived in Edgewater Pointe Estates, a retirement community. She and Mr. Rocheleau retired there in 1984 and made friends with the residents and staff, though she was the one Democrat among many Republicans, her son said.

“She wasn’t a contentious person, but she did speak out,” said Bruce Rocheleau. “She was willing to say she was voting for Obama in a location where, with wealthy older people, virtually no one else was.”

Having grown into adulthood during the Great Depression and the administration of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, Mrs. Rocheleau and her husband were lifelong Democrats, her son said.

“She was very progressive and always interested in children and education, and progressive causes,” said Mr. Rocheleau. “She didn’t always look back to the past and say, ‘That’s the way things were.’”

The Berne library has a memoir written by Mrs. Rocheleau of her childhood: Memories of the Tompkins and Moorhouse Families. The family has an audio recording she made of her recollections of her life from high school into her thirties.

“I always remember the neighbors telling Pop how foolish he was to send us to school as we would get married and all the money he had spent on us would be wasted,” she wrote in her memoir. “Not one of us forgot that and we all stayed home for so many years it’s a wonder we left home at all. But, as I look back on those early years in Berne, I now realize what a rich experience we had growing up in the small town in the country.”

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Edith Lisbeth Rocheleau (née Tompkins) is survived by her three sons, Ronald D. Rocheleau of Brooklyn, Bruce A. Rocheleau of Dekalb, Ill., and Richard T. Rocheleau of Port St. Lucie, Fla.; her grandson, Jordy A. Rocheleau of Clarksville, Tenn., her great-grandson, Kaden Rocheleau of Clarkville, Tenn.

Her four siblings — Evelyn Tompkins, Marion Youmans (née Tompkins), Beatrice Tompkins, and Edgar Tompkins — died before her.

Her ashes will be buried in Berne next to the graves of her mother, father, and sisters in Woodlawn Cemetery.

— Marcello Iaia

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