Isabelle Hickingbotham Monteleone
A Life Well-Lived: Isabelle Hickingbotham Monteleone died peacefully in her sleep October 11 at her home in East Harwich, almost exactly a year after family and friends held a 100th birthday celebration for her. She was born in Peru, Massachusetts, December 15, 1918, to Harry and Gladys Sherman Hickingbotham. She started life where water came from a hand pump in the house and the family raised its own vegetables, chickens and pigs.
Isabelle’s lifelong sense of reality and clear-eyed approach to the world was born on that small working farm. Through two marriages, work with paratroopers in World War II, three children and a series of careers, Isabelle was known to all around her as a steadfast, loyal employee, mother and friend, a woman who cared and was able to find many moments of humor in life’s twists and turns.
She went to General Electric after graduating from Pittsfield High School and became the first woman working as a steel buyer. She never forgot that she had taken a man’s place in that first job and was paid less money. In her quiet but not silent way, she was always an advocate for what women could do.
She married Ben Messenger of Dalton, an Air Force pilot killed in a training flight in 1942. She then joined the Red Cross where she was sent to the European Theater of Operations and attached to the 502nd Parachute Infantry, 101st Airborne Division, known as the Screaming Eagles. It was her job to start clubs where soldiers could get away from the war to play cards, dance and relax. She also filled requests from gravely injured D-Day soldiers – helping them write letters home and bringing them their paratrooper boots. She traveled with the paratroopers through France, Germany and Austria and helped bring supplies to soldiers at the Battle of Bastogne.
For her service, she was awarded the Medal of Freedom, the top U. S. civilian medal for meritorious service. Last year, the Red Cross on Cape Cod added its Hero Award for her wartime work.
Coming home, she married Vincent Monteleone, a newspaper man. They lived in Pittsfield and raised three children. Isabelle worked for the U.S. Census Bureau, the Berkshire Eagle Newspaper’s Santa Toy Fund and the Red Cross Donor Center. She played golf, cross-country skied, gardened, followed the Red Sox, Tiger Woods and the Patriots. She helped create Pittsfield’s Hospice Garden and swam frequently, first for recreation and then for the osteoporosis that plagued her later years, a disease that broke some of her bones, but not her spirit.
In 2004 Isabelle moved to the Cape to be nearer family. She continued to live by herself, her door unlocked for easy access of neighbors and their children. She fed and watched birds on her deck, did crossword puzzles daily, read newspapers, kept current on world affairs and trusted the old-fashioned weather stick outside her window instead of TV meteorologists.
She always kept a bowl of Hershey’s Kisses to welcome the constant stream of neighbors, friends and family who came to visit. It was an amazing accomplishment and testament to her strength and resilience that she embraced her move to the Cape at 86 and went on to make a whole new group of loving friends.
Right up to her final days, without glasses or hearing aids and in possession of a sharp mind, Isabelle went right on doing crossword puzzles, cheering for the Patriots, and commenting on people, sports and politics in her forthright way, usually with grace but with a touch of vinegar when she thought it was warranted.
Isabelle is survived by her daughter Deborah Fish, her husband Robert and their daughter Annie Cameron Fish of Chatham; her son William and his wife Carol (Baker) Monteleone of Chatham and their children Timothy Monteleone and his wife, Emily Tettelbaum of Ellicott City, Md., and Sarah Monteleone and her husband, Brandon Mones of Orange, Conn.; her daughter, Andrea(Monteleone) and husband, David Matthiesen of Houston, Texas, their children Christopher Matthiesen and wife Schuyler of Bethesda, Md. and Kate Matthiesen of Houston, Texas as well as five great grandchildren.
She would also want to thank her long-time, loyal care-givers – Terry Peabody, Janet Uhlar, Joanne Coombs and Barbara Kaminski who supported her with patience and kindness. And in loving gratitude to her dear and constant friend, Kathie Gulotta, whose Thursday visits brought her so much pleasure.
At Isabelle’s request, there will be no service. Burial will be private in a family plot in Hinsdale, MA. Memorial donations may be made in her name to the local Red Cross, Town of Harwich Fire and Rescue, Harwich Conservation Trust, Berkshire Humane Society or to the charity of the donor’s choice.
Isabelle Hickingbotham Monteleone