Woman, 109, dies two days after 87-year old daughter's death

CANTON, Ohio (AP) - She was 109, but still had a daughter to live for and care about. Two days after her 87-year-old daughter died, Rhea Steffy died too.

Steffy, a person of strong faith, yearned for the day when she could reunite with loved ones who preceded her in death, said her granddaughter, Katherine Zwick.

Two husbands and two sons had died. Then on Monday, her daughter, M. Maxine Stone, also died. Rhea had been told her daughter's health was failing.

When Zwick told her grandmother about Maxine's death, the matriarch asked to be reminded about her daughter's stroke.

Katherine told her it had been four years ago.

"That's long enough," Rhea said.

Staff members at Canton Christian Home, where Rhea lived for 20 years, wondered how she would react to her daughter's death.

Wednesday, Rhea wanted to have her hair done, Zwick said.

"Maybe she knew it was her day," she said.

Two days after holding her mother's hand as life slipped away, Zwick found herself doing the same for her grandmother.

Rhea was the oldest resident at the nursing home. She was born Feb. 21, 1893, in Massillon. She married Roy Cover in 1913. Maxine was born in 1915. Cover died in 1930 in a car accident that Rhea witnessed.

Nine years later, she married Leon Steffy, a postal worker she met at the office where she worked. Steffy died in 1973.

Suzanne Burnett who befriended Rhea, began visiting the nursing home and reading to her. Eventually, instead of reading, they would just sit and share stories.

"She was a real gift in my life," Suzanne said. "She would always just glow."

Rhea suffered a broken hip in the mid-1990s, and hesitated to walk, fearing another fall. She usually used a wheelchair to get around and hadn't been able to attend a service at Christ Presbyterian Church since 1986. But the church's members looked after her.

The Rev. Carolyn Griffeth took Communion to Rhea last weekend, and several church members also visited her to sing Christmas carols.

"She was famous for us, because she was so old, but so alert," said the Rev. Russell Cowden Jr.

(Copyright 2002 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)