Bertha Mae Robinson Chaplin, 89, of Liberty Boro, died Friday, November 10, 2017 at UPMC McKeesport. She was born in Liberty Boro on October 12, 1928, the third and youngest child of Nathan McGrew Robinson and Carrie Lou Harper Robinson. Besides her parents, she was preceded in death by her husband, Byron L. Chaplin Jr., her brother William Nathan Robinson and her sister, Carrie Grace Robinson Kauffmann.
She grew up on the dairy farm owned by her grandfather, William J. Robinson. At the age of 14, she ministered to and held vigil for her uncle, grandfather and father as all succumbed in the span of 1 month. Later, she also ministered to her namesake Aunt Bertha in her final days.
After graduating from McKeesport High School in 1946, Bertha Mae attended The Pennsylvania College for Women (PCW – now Chatham University) where she majored in kindergarten-primary education, earning her Bachelor of Science degree in 1950. She taught in the Pittsburgh public schools for two years and was a substitute teacher in the McKeesport Area and South Allegheny school districts.
From her marriage in 1951, she became the mother of Byron L. Chaplin III of Indianapolis, Indiana and Susan E. Chaplin (David) Buchter. She was the grandmother of Sarah J. Cox and Rebecca E. Andrew, both of Illinois.
Bertha Mae’s Sunday School class at the former First Presbyterian Church of McKeesport studied Elton Trueblood’s “The Company of the Committed” which inspired her to pursue an effort to meet the needs of mentally handicapped pre-schoolers in the McKeesport area. This study culminated in the founding of what ultimately became known as the McKeesport Pre-School for Exceptional Children. As its first teacher and director beginning in 1962, she worked tirelessly to secure funding and develop an unparalleled professional program that eventually outgrew multiple sites. In the late 1990’s she worked with her board of directors and architects to envision, fund, and erect a new home for the preschool on Long Run Road in White Oak. The name was changed at that time to the Long Run Children’s Learning Center.
In 1998, shortly after the completion of construction, she retired, having lead the organization for 36 years. That same year, she was honored by the Chatham College Alumnae Association as its Distinguished Alumna of the year. Later that year, the McKeesport High School Alumni and Friends Association selected her as one of 7 recipients for their Hall of Fame, recognizing her contributions to education and her passion and love for these special needs children.
Throughout her life, she was surrounded by and cultivated in a deep Christian faith that served her well and which she shared unapologetically in countless ways with unknown numbers of people in need or in crisis. She honored her Savior, Jesus Christ and set an example for many in her family and community. Many times she speculated about eternal life by saying “if only those in heaven could come back and tell us how wonderful it is…” She never feared the end of life, but instead looked forward to the reunion with loved ones with whom she is certainly celebrating today!
Friends will be received in the Hunter Funeral Home, Inc., 1600 Coursin Street, McKeesport, PA 15132 on Tuesday, November 14, 2017 from 2-4 & 6-8 PM. A service will be held Wednesday, November 15, 2017 at 11:00 AM in the Mount Vernon Cemetery Chapel with The Rev. Lynn Portz officiating. The family suggests contributions to Shadyside Presbyterian Church. A memorial service will be held Friday, December 1, 2017 at 10 AM in Shadyside Presbyterian Church, 5121 Westminster Place, Pittsburgh, PA 15232.
Originally published November 12, 2017.