The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

April 25, 2014

Lillian DiBacco Heiner, 84, Lewisburg

The Daily Item

— LEWISBURG — Lillian DiBacco Heiner, of Lewisburg, died Tuesday, April 22, 2014, at Union Memorial Hospital in Baltimore from complications after surgery. She was 84.

Born March 13, 1930, in Columbus, Ohio, she graduated from Oneonta State Teacher’s College in Oneonta, N.Y. with her BS degree in elementary dducation. Lillian was employed as an elementary school teacher with the Colonie Central School System, Colonie, N.Y.  

Elliana DiBacco, soon re-named Lillian by a school district intolerant of unfamiliar immigrant names, was one of the youngest in her large family of Italian farmers. Surrounded by brothers, she grew up with a strong will and a spot-on sense of humor which would endear her to all she met throughout her life. Despite the long hours of fieldwork and housework, Lillian still excelled in all other pursuits as well.

She was named most athletic in her high school’s senior class, and she was the first in her family to attend college. While studying education, she met a handsome, brilliant young student, Bill Heiner, who came from a similar rural immigrant background. They adored each other, and they were each other’s perfect complement.

With her loving husband, Lillian Heiner left her upstate New York farming community to venture into the world of academia, ultimately settling in Lewisburg where Bill was a professor at Bucknell University. She was his wife, and his rock. Together, they raised four beautiful, accomplished children who, in turn, were her rock when Bill tragically succumbed to leukemia at the early age of 55.

Lillian was constantly surrounded by, and surrounded others with love. Her house was a revolving door of friends and family dropping in briefly, but always staying longer than they intended in order to, as she loved to say, “kibbitz.” She was a local celebrity, sitting on her porch overlooking the memorial park on Third Street.

Her children’s sports teams, debate clubs, orchestra and even ex-boyfriends were constant fixtures on this porch and at the house, enjoying her food and petitioning her advice. Every holiday was an open house, with loved ones in every room playing board games, catching up, or helping her cook the vast amounts of pasta and meatballs she would eventually round up everyone to eat together over a long dinner of conversation and laughter. She quickly became a part of any community in which she found herself, for it was not hard for people to recognize and admire her open nature and genuine interest in the welfare of others. No matter the zip code, hers was always a house of friendship, its doors open wide, and love and trust and happiness were forever found within.

Lillian’s ever cheerful manner, her unselfishness, her sweet and sympathetic disposition won for her a friend in every acquaintance. She had a kind word and a smile for all, and she did all the good she could all of the time. Possessed of the most generous heart, she truly lived for her family and friends. She was the best mother and grandmother, and she loved her nieces and nephews as if they were own children as well.

Lillian was the ultimate cheerleader, attending endless recitals, concerts and competitions. When her health began to fail, and she was no longer able to camp out on sidelines or sit in theatre seats, she watched game tapes and performance films, listened to recordings and read school reports. While she always offered opinions, and never sugarcoated anything, her unwavering support had no parallel. Lillian was a true angel in time of distress, coming to the aid of her family when it sometimes seemed as if their worlds were falling down around them. Disappointments, setbacks, illnesses, surgeries, childbirths, deaths; no matter the heartbreak or hardship she was there with an endless love and more than enough strength for everyone.

That death takes a woman who was universally loved and respected is plainly told by the faces of those who are gathered here today to pay their respects to this truly good woman. Her passing removes one whose place will be impossible to fill in the home and hearts of all who knew her. However, we can find joy in knowing with certainty that she has gone to join her husband, her brothers, her grandson, and the Heavenly Father, and that she will continue watching over all of her loved ones from heaven above.

She was a lifelong member of the Sacred Heart Parish in Lewisburg. She actively supported the Parish Women’s Council, the Head Start Program, and the Lewisburg Area Junior League.

She enjoyed gourmet cooking, Italian Soul Food, crochet, gardening and bowling.

She was preceded in death by her husband,  Dr. William Henry Heiner, whom she married  August 16, 1958,  and who died  April 6, 1987; two brothers, Orlando and William DiBacco; and one grandson, John David Openshaw.    

Lillian is survived by four children, Lily Openshaw, of Annapolis, William Heiner, of North Beach, Mary Hankins of Billerica, Mass. and George Heiner, of Ellicott City; two brothers, Richard and Tony DiBacco, both of Watervliet, N.Y.; and six grandchildren, Elliana, Sophia, and Regina Openshaw, of Annapolis, Nicholas and Julia Heiner, of Ellicott City and Jill Heiner, of North Beach.

A rosary will be offered in her memory at 11:30 a.m. on Tuesday at Sacred Heart Church, Lewisburg.  A graveside service will be held at noon in Lewisburg Cemetery with a reception immediately following at Primavera Italian Family Restaurant.

In lieu of flowers, donations can be made in Lillian’s name to Partners in Care, 90 Ritchie Highway, Pasadena, MD 21122 or the Heiner Education Scholarship Fund (for Students intending to major in Education from Lewisburg Area High School), c/o The Green Dragon Foundation, 115 Farley Circle, Suite 306, Lewisburg, PA 17837.  An online guestbook is available at