Ellie O’Toole dies following battle with cancer | RecordCourier.com
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Ellie O’Toole dies following battle with cancer

by Linda Hiller

An Alpine County woman who was active in Douglas County for 25 years lost her battle with ovarian cancer Saturday.

Ellie O’Toole, 54, was the force behind the Sierra Assisted Living Foundation, an affordable, interactive home for senior citizens and people with disabilities.

She had worked toward getting SALF built for nine years, and it was this goal that loved ones attribute to her living past doctor’s predictions in 1998.

“She was diagnosed with ovarian cancer two years ago – almost to the day – and at that time, after the initial surgery, the doctors said her cancer was so bad she’d probably only live for six months,” said younger brother Ted Nagel. “Most of us feel that Ellie’s staying on was so she could see her dream fulfilled.”

Mary Elena “Ellie” O’Toole was born to Tim and Peck Nagel July 3, 1945 in Detroit Mich.

“She was our firecracker,” Peck Nagel said from her Gardnerville home.

The fourth child of eight, Ellie became interested in helping people with disabilities when Ted, the youngest, was born with a rare birth defect.

“She taught me to swim when I was 3,” he said. “She had a heart for helping people all her life, and her strength very much came from the Lord.”

– Two months ago. During her two-year treatment for cancer, Ellie kept up her normal pace through what Ted called a “roller coaster” existence. In December, she was interviewed for a story on SALF in The Record-Courier.

“I am not one to sit home, and my family is always after me to slow down, but I’ve been lucky in that I’ve suffered very little from the chemotherapy,” she said then. “I’ve been real blessed. Everybody and their uncle has been praying for me – I take great strength from that.”

During that interview, O’Toole said she realized that every person has their own challenges in life and that hers was no different.

“For me, losing my hair was no big deal, and I count my blessings every day,” she said in December. “Some people have trials all their lives. When I start to feel sorry for myself, I hang onto that.”

Ellie O’Toole died Feb. 5 at her home in Woodfords, Calif., with her husband, Terry, at her side.

– Journey north, then east. Ellie and Terry moved from Southern California to Meyers, Calif., in 1971. Ellie worked for the City of South Lake Tahoe several years before opening The Substitute personnel agency in South Lake Tahoe and later Personnel Plus in Carson City.

O’Toole worked tirelessly with the disabled through Special Olympics as well as the Tahoe Area Coordinating Council for the Disabled. She also taught the disabled other recreational activities, including golfing, skiing, swimming, dancing and more.

In 1992, O’Toole began developing her dream of a congregate-living facility for active/low income seniors as well as high-functioning physically and developmentally disabled adults. The Sierra Assisted Living Foundation (SALF), a non-profit Nevada corporation, was established to accomplish that dream.

She was hoping to see the first phase of the facility completed before she died. Although her dream has not yet come to fruition, SALF’s board is currently accepting bids for the project and it is hoped the actual building will begin by April 1, Ted Nagel said.

A new director for SALF has been tentatively selected, pending final approval by the board of directors.

– Inner strength. While battling cancer and fund-raising for SALF at the same time, O’Toole kept a “good face” on, family members say.

“The most memorable thing about my sister Ellie was her ability to smile through any situation and the contagiousness of her smile,” Ted Nagel said.

Two weeks before she died, O’Toole was still going to the SALF office to work, he said.

“She cared more about most people than they do about themselves,” said Terry O’Toole. “It took a lot out of her. I’m just glad she’s not suffering anymore.”

On Saturday, Feb. 19, family and friends will gather to celebrate O’Toole’s life.

“Ellie was a bright spot in all our lives,” said Peck Nagel. “People didn’t know how sick she really was because she put on a happy face up until the end. Knowing she is no longer in pain lends us some sense of peace.”

The service will be at St. Gall Catholic Church in Gardnerville at 2 p.m. To honor O’Toole’s wish, the family requests that donations be made to SALF.

Donations may be sent to SALF, P.O. Box 8728, South Lake Tahoe, Calif., 96158.