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Honoring her lasting kindness

Helen Marliere was as private as she was frugal, but in her final hours at the hospice care center here, she hinted at something big.

"Things may change around here when I'm gone," Marliere told Evie Parks, a hospice worker who became a close friend.

The little lady looked at Parks with sharp, knowing eyes. "I didn't know the meaning at the time," Parks said Friday. "She chose her words very carefully."

Mrs. Marliere died May 23 at age 91, and only then was her secret revealed: She left Hernando-Pasco Hospice $2.2-million in her will.

In recognition of the gift _ the largest in the agency's 22-year history _ the Rowan Road facility on Friday was renamed Marliere Hospice Care Center. It also honors Marliere's late husband, Walter, and an oil painting of them now hangs in the lobby.

The money has been added to the Hernando-Pasco Hospice endowment and will be used to support the Rowan Road center, which has 24 suites for acutely ill patients, and other facilities in Hernando and Pasco.

"This is an absolutely historic day," Mike McHugh, incoming president of the board of directors, said at a midmorning ceremony that drew dozens of supporters.

The gift was notable not only for its scope, Hospice officials said, but that it came from someone not native to the area. Many times people from out of state give to causes back home. The Marlieres moved to Florida from Illinois in 1963.

"Today we are celebrating the vision of thoughtfulness and generosity that this humble and modest couple has shared with our community," said Ken Gruebel, who also is on the hospice's board. "May their gift inspire others to dream new dreams and encourage new visions."

In some ways, Mrs. Marliere's quiet wealth is not unusual. She and Walter, who went by the name Bud and died in 1979, were children of the Depression. Like many people of that era, they lived spartan lives and socked away money.

She made their clothes and logged every purchase in a notebook. An entry from 1959 shows she spent $1.97 on shoes, 26 cents on a light bulb and 18 cents on shoe polish. The biggest amount, $166, went to their church.

At home in Aurora, Ill., she worked as the bookkeeper for Old Second National Bank (it was there where she acquired stock options) and her husband was a plumber for Ruddy Bros. After Bud retired in 1963, the Marlieres bought property in Colonial Manor in Holiday and erected a modest home.

Mrs. Marliere did not own a washer or dryer, prefering to wash and dry the old-fashioned (and cheaper) way and did not run the air conditioner or use heat.

The couple did not have children but treated two young women as family. Bonita Owen and Judy Brown came to New Port Richey for Friday's ceremony and shared stories of riding the tractor on the ranch in Aurora that Mr. Marliere managed and being treated to big bowls of ice cream topped with chocolate and nuts.

"She was a bundle of energy, up early to read the paper cover to cover," Brown recalled about Helen Marliere.

Mrs. Marliere was one of the first residents of the hospice center when it opened in January and quickly bonded with Parks. "I admired how easily she spoke of being ready to die. And how content she was with being alone," Parks told the crowd Friday.

Parks was at Mrs. Marliere's side the day before she died. "I sat on the bed, close to her face and ran my fingers through her hair, watching this remarkable lady take her last breaths." Parks then honored one of Marliere's requests, removing her wedding ring to give to a friend.

"I had the most overwhelming urge to say to her, "Dear, dear Helen, on behalf of hospice staff and volunteers I want to thank you now for whatever it is that may come because of you. Rest in peace, darlin' '. And I kissed her goodbye."