SALEM - Salem native Penny Barton described her mother as a person who was there for everybody.
Eleanor Robertson served as mom of the neighborhood at their South Lincoln Avenue home while Penny and her brother, Scot, were growing up.
She worked in the toy department at the McCulloch Department Store in downtown Salem, chaperoned a Pride of Salem band trip to New York City and chauffered her kids and their friends, who pulled Chinese fire drills at the corner of Lincoln and State.
Former Salem residents Penny Barton, of Clinton, and her mother, Eleanor Robinson, of Madison, pose for a mother/daughter portrait on Christmas 2010. Penny and her brother, Scot, and their families are celebrating Christmas without her this year, in mourning since her murder in June. the other photo shows Eleanor Robinson is shown with her four grandchildren, Paula, Nicole, Zachary and Rachel, at Christmas a dozen years ago. (Photos courtesy of Penny Barton)
She made her famous potato salad for countless dinners in her community, both before and after she moved from Salem to Madison, near Geneva. She called bingo at a nursing home and cheered on her grandchildren at their many activities.
This Christmas, the 77-year-old mother, grandmother and great-grandmother is sadly missed and mourned by her family, friends and neighbors. The former Salem resident died a horrific death in June at the hands of two people now sitting in prison for life for her murder and the theft of her belongings.
"They took a wonderful person away. I don't think I will understand why or how it got to that point," Penny said recently, struggling to hold back her tears. "We never got the chance to say our goodbyes or say I love you one more time."
To say the past six months have been a nightmare for her and her brother and their families would be a gross understatement, but at least in this case, some sense of justice came quickly.
Zachary Weimer, the 23-year-old Geneva man convicted of stabbing Eleanor multiple times after entering her Madison home to rob her on June 13, was sentenced last week to life in prison without parole for aggravated murder and 16 other counts. His mother, Danna Weimer, 53, of Austinburg Township, was sentenced earlier this month to life in prison with parole eligibility after 44 years for the same charges for her part in the crime.
According to published reports, neither one of them addressed the court at sentencing or took the stand at trial, but Eleanor's family members made sure they knew what they took from them.
"It's really been a life-changing ordeal. I have trouble sleeping at night. I'm afraid to be at home by myself," Penny said.
She said she asked Zachary Weimer what he was thinking about on June 12 and shared the fact that she was thinking about her mom and her upcoming birthday and what she was going to get her for a gift. Her mother loved yellow roses and would have turned 78 on June 19.
She had not talked to her mother the day Eleanor's neighbor called and said something was going on. The neighbor couldn't reach her and said the garage door had been up, then it was down. Penny, who lives in Clinton in Summit County, called Scot to check it out since he lived close by in Geneva.
He called her back when he couldn't get inside, then he and a neighbor found a window they could get open and the neighbor crawled inside.
"I could hear her yelling through the cell phone, the house is trashed, the house is trashed," Penny said.
When Penny arrived at the house, police wouldn't let her inside. A silver alert had been issued for her mom and at first, they all just thought she was out somewhere. They had no idea her mother's body was inside the house the whole time, covered by a mattress and other debris, and discovered later in the day.
"Every time a car would go by, we would think it was her," she said.
Euclid Police stopped a suspicious vehicle and found some of Eleanor's belongings inside, with the Weimers taken into custody and subsequently charged with causing her death. Penny said in some ways, she wished they could have gotten the death penalty, but said they'll take the life in prison.
If anything good could come from the tragedy, Penny said at least it has pulled her and Scot closer together. They're celebrating the holiday at his home and they'll be dealing with cleaning up their mom's house and putting it up for sale. The family members are all trying to deal with the loss in their own way. Penny and Scot and their respective spouses each have two children apiece. Eleanor's four grandchildren are Paula, Nicole, Zachary and Rachel and her three great-grandchildren are Hailey, Coy and Bradley.
Penny's son, Zachary, honored his grandmother last Monday by getting a tattoo on his chest in her honor - a heart with her name.
Eleanor grew up in East Liverpool. She and her husband Frank, who passed away in 1996, moved to Salem in 1959, staying until moving north in 1987. Frank had gotten a job in Painesville in 1985 and they decided to move closer.
She was a member of the V.F.W. Women's Auxiliary and the Fraternal Order of Eagles, both in Geneva, and was always being called on to help with dinners, always making potato salad.
Penny described their years in Salem as happy ones. She recalled her mom traveling to New York on buying trips for the McCulloch toy department and said she remembered helping her mom wrap gifts at the store, where she also worked in draperies. After the store shut down, she worked at the Salem Goodwill store.
She and Frank were active in Salem, as SHS band boosters and chaperones for trips, including when the band performed at the St. Patrick's Day parade in New York. Frank was a Boy Scout leader for Troop 3 and Eleanor was a den mother. She volunteered a lot for their church, Salem First Presbyterian, and was a member of the PTA at school.
Their house was a gathering point for neighborhood kids, always a football game or basketball game going on. They had a big hill in their back yard where kids went sled riding.
"They knew my mom would have hot chocolate," she said, sort of the mom of the neighborhood. "She became mom number 2 to quite a few people."
She used to pick them up after football games and they would do Chinese fire drills on the way to Burger Chef. One time she got pulled over by the police who said she had too many kids in the car. She told him she had to get all the kids home.
"She was a person you could go to if you needed something," Penny said.
While going through a box of papers from her mother's home, she came across a letter written to her mother about 15 years ago by her good friend, Gary Poage, who is now a patrolman with the Salem Police Department.
He talked about how people have memories of other people or families who have affected them in the past and said their family was one of those families that came to his attention. He said he would never forgot the memories made at their house and how proud he was to have known them.
"She was a wonderful person," Penny said.