Caroline Luella Devilbiss — “Toots,” as she was lovingly called — was a fixture in Uniontown for nearly a century, as constant as the road that runs through the small community.
Devilbiss, born in 1920, was raised in the town where her grandparents, then father, owned Uniontown's historic village store, known since 1921 as the T L. Devilbiss General Store, according to Carroll County Times archives.
She and her younger brother, Robert, who died in the late 1990s, ran the store together for nearly 50 years. For 48 of those years, she was the town’s postmistress, before the town’s only post office shut down, followed by the store, a year later, in 1999, according to the archives.
The lifetime Carroll County resident died on Dec. 4 at 98.
She’s remembered fondly by family.
Janet Justice, Devilbiss’ sister, said via email the two stayed in close contact as they grew up, even after Justice got married and moved to Philadelphia.
“We would call each other every Sunday night to talk and catch up. Toots would come along on our family vacations and, after my husband passed, Toots and my sister-in-law, Kay, would take bus trips together. She became more like a second mother to my children rather than an aunt,” Justice recalled, referring to Devilbiss by the nickname bestowed upon her by their father.
Terri Hoover, one of Devilbiss’ nieces, echoed Justice’s thoughts. Hoover, via email, said Devilbiss was more like a mother to her, and while she personally lived in Levittown, Pennsylvania, for some of her childhood, she spent her summers and holidays at Devilbiss’ home. Hoover said Devilbiss would read to her each night.
“One of my favorite memories is her taking us to the Five and Dime and letting us pick out a toy then having lunch at the Soda Fountain. She taught me how to make cookies and pie crust and let me sample everything we made,” Hoover said.
Hoover said as she grew up, she was “blessed” to live next door to Devilbiss.
“She also was like a second grandmother to my kids,” Hoover said. “She was loved very much because she showed us such unconditional love.”
Donna Reese, another one of Devilbiss’ nieces, said via text message she loved traveling from Philadelphia to visit her aunt.
Reese said she couldn’t wait to be old enough to spend a full week there in the summer.
“Our nights were spent sitting out front on the porch swing watching the cars go by and talking to the customers visiting the store,” Reese said.
Fred Myers, of Uniontown, lived across the street from Devilbiss.
“I grew up here in town, so I’ve known her all my life,” he said.
Myers said he can’t remember a time she wasn’t in the store, and she was someone who everyone in town knew and loved. He never saw her angry — she was a mild-mannered person, Myers added.
The store was somewhere the locals would come in and hang out in years ago.
“It was a meeting place in town,” Myers said.
And the closing of that store — and now the passing of Devilbiss — is a big loss for the town, he said.
“She was just such a great person,” Myers said.
The two attended the same church — the former St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in Uniontown — before it closed and they both moved to Mount Union Lutheran Church. Up until her later years, Devilbiss was a “loyal” churchgoer, and even as she aged and her health began to decline, she was strong in her faith, he said.
Pastor Cary Moorman, who has been at Mount Union for the last few years, said while he was a newer pastor to the church, he had wonderful visits with Devilbiss and her sister in their Uniontown home.
“She was just a person in a small community there in Uniontown [who] was a staple,” he said, adding that she was someone who helped to ground the community.
Moorman said whenever he would visit Devilbiss and her sister, Janet, they would chat and catch up, each time, celebrate Holy Communion. It was a blessing to be in Devilbiss’ presence, he said.
And while as a pastor it’s his job to minister to others, Moorman said he felt that he was the one being ministered to each time he saw Devilbiss.
“Toots would always have this twinkle in her eye and a smile on her face,” he said.
Devilbiss truly held the community in her heart, Moorman said. The thing she most enjoyed was caring for her family and those in Uniontown. She set an example for the community, he said.
Simply put — she was “a special lady,” Moorman said.