Elaine Marie Contento (Miss Elaine), born June 28, 1940, released her loving energy and transitioned from this physical world on Saturday, January 7, at the age of 82. She lived a life of faith, generosity, service, and love of family.
Elaine had humble beginnings as the granddaughter of Italian immigrants and the daughter of first-generation Americans Rose Carriero and Victor Anthony Contento. She grew up on the “other side of the tracks” on Cortland’s south end. They didn’t have much but she was grateful for all the opportunities she had. She graduated from Cortland High School in 1958, earned her BS in Education in 1962, and received an MS in Education in 1966 from SUNY Cortland.
Growing up during the John F. Kennedy years, Elaine’s service orientation was deeply rooted in the concept, “Ask not what your country can do for you. Ask what you can do for your country.” Between 1968-1971, Elaine was among the first group selected to go to Alaska as a volunteer in VISTA (Volunteers In Service To America) as well as teaching English to people in Santiago, Chile in the Peace Corps. Her first job was at Marion Margaret’s from 1956-1962. Between 1969-1973, Elaine was a teacher in Clinton Elementary School in Clinton, NY and a permanent substitute teacher in Seattle, Washington. Beginning in 1973, Elaine was instrumental in establishing the CAPCO Head Start Program in Cortland, NY and was its Director. She took a one-year sabbatical from 1978-79 in Denver and Colorado Springs, Colorado where she was on the Policy Council and provided Parent Decision-Making Training in the area before returning to her position in Cortland. Additionally, Elaine was an independent skin care consultant for Mary Kay Cosmetics for many years starting in 1986. In 1992, she taught two semesters of Communication at TC3. Elaine’s giving nature was further shown through her committee service on the YWCA Board of Directors, Cortland Enlarged City School District Board, Advisory Board for Health Operations on the Cortland-Madison Board of Cooperative Education Services, Communication Committee for the Community Council for Cortland County, the Cortland Area Child Care Council, a founding member of the John Pilato Jr. Distinguished Alumni Wall of Fame Committee at Cortland High School, and on a Board of Directors for the Cortland Housing Authority.
Elaine showed her love as a surrogate parent to many children through her teaching, and some of the young children she nurtured during her tenure at Head Start remained close to her through adulthood. Elaine baptized or confirmed eight children of friends and family and was a beloved godmother (NuNu) to Roseann Petronella, Linda Contento Schmidt, Polly Searles Madsen, Jamie Murphy, Paul Michael Contento, Mark Contento, David Victor Contento, and Chris Carriero. She was also a “foster” parent to two children from The Philippines (Jomelle & Joselle Almayda Rada) via donations through the Save the Children Foundation. Elaine’s love of animals was evidenced by her loving dedication to her own pets, her bird feeders, and contributions to animal charities. Her love of nature could be seen in the beauty of her wonderful garden, kept in honor of her father. Elaine had a deep love of family and was the Contento family historian, keeping the photo albums and scrapbooks current for the annual Contento-Recchio family reunion. She was very proud of her family and her Italian heritage. Elaine loved to travel and was fortunate to explore The Panama Canal, Hawaii, Columbia, Costa Rica, Mexico, The Cayman Islands, Nova Scotia, the Caribbean, and Italy. Her love of knowledge was also apparent as Elaine was an avid reader and informed conversationalist.
Elaine was a woman of great faith and was a dedicated participant of St. Anthony’s Catholic Church. She was a Eucharistic minister offering holy communion in homes and hospitals to those who were unable to attend church. She helped with the annual St. Anthony’s festival and was a member of various church committees for as long as her health allowed. Her faith guided her through all the trials in her life.
Elaine was predeceased by her parents, Rose (Carreiro) and Victor Contento, her brother Peter, and several cherished pets. She is survived by her sister-in-law Cheryl Contento; nephew Paul (Liz) Contento; niece Carrie Contento (Brandon Rew); and great-nephew Dorian Contento, as well as several cousins and close friends.
A Mass of Christian Burial will be celebrated on Friday at 11 a.m. at St. Anthony’s Church, 50 Pomeroy Street, Cortland, NY. Prayers of committal and burial will follow in St. Mary’s Cemetery, Cortland. A luncheon will take place in St. Anthony’s Church hall following the burial, from 1-3 p.m. The family will receive friends from 9 a.m.-10:45 a.m. prior to Mass in St. Anthony’s Church
Although Elaine loved flowers, she asks that in lieu of flowers that you consider paying it forward with random acts of kindness or with a contribution in her memory to the Cortland ASPCA (879 McLean Rd, Cortland, NY 13045) or Central NY Spay Neuter Assistance Program (CNY SNAP, 17 Salisbury Street, Cortland, NY 13045).
Just one more thing… Elaine wished to express her love and gratitude for her family, friends, neighbors, colleagues, caregivers, and pets who enriched her life or helped her in times of need. Those we love are never truly gone for they live on in our hearts and memories. Elaine’s life made our world a better place. May we all learn from her shining example of faith, generosity, service, and love and continue to sow kindness in her memory.
Arrangements are under the direction of Riccardi Funeral Home, Cortland, N.Y.