By Chris Mayhew
Enquirer staff writer
COVINGTON - Mary R. LaVelle was such a devoted member of Covington's Mother of God Church that she became the official bell ringer and keeper of the keys.
Three times a day, she rang the church bells that tolled across Covington. In the evenings, she locked up the doors with a massive ring of jangling keys.
"The whole church was her pride and joy," said parish secretary Jodi Keller. "This was her territory."
Mrs. LaVelle, a member of the church for more than 70 years, died Tuesday at St. Charles Care Center in Covington. She was 97.
Since moving across the street from the church in the mid-1930s, Mrs. LaVelle regularly looked after the comings-and-goings of the church.
She played the organ, led tour groups and arranged weddings and funerals. She maintained the church's pay-per-spot parking system and emptied the poor boxes.
Mrs. LaVelle prepared the altar for Mass daily, serving as the sacristan from 1981 until she was forced to stop working for health reasons in 2000 when she moved to the St. Charles Care Center.
"She was really something," Keller said. "She didn't want to give up. She used to tell people at the nursing home that 'I'm going back to my house. I'm going to go get my job back.'"
Her favorite responsibility was looking after the bride and groom in the hours before a wedding, Keller said.
"She would come over here at 2 o'clock in the afternoon and busy herself with sewing back on groomsman's buttons, and pinning their flowers on properly," she said.
In her spare time, Mrs. LaVelle went to bingos and played euchre at the church.
"She would crawl to a bingo if she could," Keller said. "She was just a very staunch, reliable, determined woman."
Mrs. LaVelle raised five children. When she was younger she worked full-time as a factory seamstress and volunteered as a Girl Scout troop leader.
Born in Gallatin County, she moved to Cincinnati and worked as a nanny while still a teenager, said her son, Edward J. "Jerry" LaVelle of Denver.
She married James W. LaVelle Sr. in 1926 and they moved to Sixth Street. He died in 1974.
"She was a very giving person," her son said. "She was always willing to go help other people. Most anyone who attended the church knew her at Mother of God."
Her son, James Jr., died in 1998. Another son, John C. "Jack" LaVelle, died in 2003.
Other survivors include two daughters, Rose Tumulty of Richmond, Va., and Joan Burkhardt of Covington; 18 grandchildren, 27 great-grandchildren, and six great-great-grandchildren.
Services have been held. Burial was in St. Joseph Cemetery in Warsaw.
Memorials: Mother of God Church, 119 W. 6th St., Covington, KY 41011 or St. Charles Care Center, 500 Farrell Dr. Covington, KY 41011.
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