Local Obits

Obituary of Rona Lee Knobel


Rona Lee Knobel, 71, of Cortland, New York, passed away on February 4, 2023, at home, surrounded by family, after a courageous two-year battle with cancer.


Rona was born February 28, 1951, in Cortland, daughter of James Henry Knobel and Dorla Simmons Mercer, both of whom predeceased her. Her grandparents were Mr. and Mrs. Fay Simmons and Mr. And Mrs. Henry Knobel, all of Homer. Rona was also predeceased by Gardner Mercer, Rona’s stepfather, of Homer and by Betty Knobel also of Homer, her stepmother.

She is survived by five siblings, Tom Knobel (Catherine Bertini) of Homer, Beanie Knobel (Dina) of Bernville, PA, Kim Knobel Welch (Thomas) of Three Mile Bay, NY, Jeff Mercer (Colleen) of Belle Harbor, NY, and Joel Mercer (Beth) of Cortland. Rona had 15 nieces and nephews, including Jim Welch (Gwennan Carlson), Erin Welch Albro (Shawn), Patty Welch, Vivienne Knobel, James Mercer, Tommy Mercer, Mary Mercer, Katie Mercer, Ted Mercer, Olivia Knobel, Brandon Maitland, McKenna Albro, Ben Albro, Quinn Albro, Liliana Caloiero. Her extended family was vast, including special nieces, Elan Smith and Maria Broughton.

Rona was graced by countless friends, many lifelong.

Rona graduated from Homer schools in 1969 and attended Buffalo State University, eventually earning BA/MFA degrees (1978). Rona taught art at Homer High School for 35 years, retiring in 2009. As a student at the high school, Rona participated in theater, club gymnastics, and was a varsity cheerleader. And later, as a teacher and mentor at Homer High School, Rona choreographed and directed Homer High School’s award-winning theater and musical productions for many years. In 1991, Rona was named an Outstanding Teacher. She was a judge for Cortland Repertory Theatre’s Pavilion Awards for seventeen years.

As an accomplished artist, she completed many private commissions and demonstrated her skills in multimedia, ceramics, wood craft, jewelry, and sculpture. She traveled to Sweden to study textile design. Rona was awarded a Painting Fellowship to Skidmore College in 1988 and attended the Adirondack Painting Workshop that year. Many of her art students ranked high in regional and state competitions.

Over many years, Rona was also a judge for student competitions, including local art shows at Homer’s Center for the Arts and for the NYS Scholastics Competition (1973-2020). She was an active member of Cortland Arts Council, 1976 to 1990.

As a professional actor, Rona appeared on stage in a variety of roles for Cortland Repertory Theatre’s summer productions and had lead roles in plays and musicals at the Cider Mill Theater in Endicott (2002-2017).

Rona loved travel with foreign trips to Sweden, Poland, UK, and other European sites. Over the years, Rona spent many weeks on horseback in the Big Horn Mountains of Wyoming with Tom, Vivi, and invited friends, and later with a motorbike adventure through the Rockies. She frequently revisited friends in Arizona, New England, and North Carolina, and her family in Chaumont and Rockaway, New York.

Beyond travel, art and theater, her interests included genealogy, history, crafts, and film. Family and friends were central to her life, along with her cats, Boo and Meep.

In lieu of flowers, please consider donations to the Cortland Repertory Theatre (c/o Kerby Thompson), the Homer High School Art Department (c/o Paul Andre), or the Homer High School Theater department (c/o Cara McLaughlin). Rona also supported New International and its missionaries: mailing address is c/o Alys West, 2701 Cleveland Avenue, Suite 200, Fort Myers, FL 33901 (www.newinternational.org).

Arrangements are supported by Donald L. Barber Funeral Home in Homer, N.Y. Our thanks go to them and to the staff of Regional Hospice and Palliative Care services.

A celebration of Rona’s life will be held at CRT Downtown starting at noon on March 12th, on Port Watson Street in Cortland.

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