When Rello Oller was born in Victorian-era Waynesboro, she was christened with a unique name. At first glance, her palindromic moniker (Rello is Oller spelled backward) seems playful and light-hearted. But with that name, Rello’s parents, Joseph and Myrtle Oller, may also have taught their first-born an important early lesson: to always remember the values represented by that Oller family name.
During nearly a century of living, Rello embodied the civic-minded and benevolent Oller ideals. When she died in 1992, she became the third Waynesboro woman to bequeath a significant local historic property. She donated her lifelong home, the Oller House.
In 1896, Rello Oller entered a world of privilege. Waynesboro was in the height of its industrial age, and her father was a major contributor to that success. Geiser Manufacturing and Landis Machine Company were two local powerhouses. Joseph Oller worked his way up to become General Manager of the former- and later- President of the latter. Business prosperity brought wealth and influence, but Joseph didn’t abuse that hard-earned privilege. He believed in sharing his good fortune with the community.
Shortly after his marriage to Myrtle, Joseph built a distinctive home for his family. At 138 West Main Street, a Queen Anne style, red-brick home with two and a half stories was completed in 1892. With a wrap-around front porch, multi-gabled roof, and a single tower rising into the sky, the Oller home presented a refined address on the town’s prominent thoroughfare.
Inside, the home had double parlors, a dining room, front office, a large kitchen, and two butler’s pantries downstairs. But the lovely chestnut woodwork, with pocket doors, intricate moldings, and a massive staircase, stole most visitors’ attention when they entered the home.
Upstairs, the house had five bedrooms, a state-of-the-art 1890’s bathroom, and the third floor tower room was utilized as a children’s play room. It was there that Rello Oller developed her lifelong love affair with dolls. A surviving portrait in the home shows infant Rello in a wicker stroller, looking like a porcelain doll. The actual 1895 carriage pictured can still be seen at the home, a relic of Rello’s childhood.
Faith permeated the Oller’s family life. Many connections were made at the Brethren Church, and lessons learned there translated to all facets of their household- both in daily work and weekend play time. Rello absorbed that mindset, always devoted to her chores, she read the bible every day, and followed her father’s lead with innate hospitality. “The latchstring should always hang out”, Joseph always said, meaning all were welcome at their home.
Rello developed an appreciation for music at an early age. She played the piano, later tutored aspiring musicians, and held concerts at the house. Along with dear friend Lettie Gearhart, Rello was part of a quartet that often performed at Waynesboro’s Brethren Church. She preferred music to serious educational studies, but Rello still managed to secure a college degree from Juniata College in 1930. A female with a degree was a major accomplishment during that era, only a few years after women were finally granted voting rights.
Rello’s two younger brothers eventually left the Waynesboro family home, but she stayed. While her parents lived, Rello accompanied them to their winter vacation home in Florida, and summer retreat in Canada. Rello never learned to drive, but later owned a white Bonneville coupe that others chauffeured for her.
Rello rarely dated, never married, and even though she was childless, a large network of “family” came into her orbit. One close female friend, ostracized by the community after a divorce, came to live with Rello. Everyone was welcome at her Waynesboro home.
One family had particularly close ties to Rello Oller: the Ringer’s. Although they were not related by blood, Nancy Ringer Frame remembers Rello by saying: “We just loved her. She was like a grandmother to me, but I called her Auntie Rello.” Nancy’s parents, Bob and Paula Ringer, were also like a second family to Rello, always supportive and willing to help as Rello entered her golden years. Bob was a well-known and respected photojournalist, documenting local Waynesboro history.
When asked about Rello’s character, Nancy recalls: “Rello said she was blessed to be born into the Oller family. She was always thankful for her good fortune, and that showed in her character. Rello was a very benevolent woman, so kind and generous.”
As Rello entered her 90s, she contemplated her family’s legacy. The home that had been so precious during her life had a longer lifespan. For her entire life, she had never lived anywhere else. Rello understood the importance of local history. She took notice of two other Waynesboro women who served as benefactors.
In 1943, Mrs. James Yost donated her family home on Main Street; it later became the Alexander Hamilton Library. Three decades later, Emma Geiser Nicodemus bequeathed her 100-acre property in 1972. That farm became Renfrew Museum and Park.
Rello followed their lead, designating her home be given to Waynesboro’s Historical Society at her passing.
Rello Oller died on January 7, 1992. The transformation of the Oller House to the Historical Society headquarters was accomplished with wide community support. While most of Rello’s personal belongings left the home, it would eventually contain many historic Waynesboro artifacts collected and donated over the past three decades. Bob Ringer’s collection of 1,500 photographs is stored (and digitized) there; as well many research papers that help educate Waynesborians about their illustrious past.
Rello Oller’s legacy remains strong to this day. In June, 1995, the Waynesboro Historical Society (WHS) hosted an honorary 100th birthday celebration to show appreciation for her generosity. The WHS now manages two other historic properties- Harbaugh Church in Washington Township, and rustic Welty’s Mill Bridge, a local landmark that spans Antietam Creek.
The WHS continues with its historic preservation efforts and encourages the community to become involved as a member or participate through donations. They can be contacted by email: [email protected], or phone: 717-762-1747.
The Oller House is open for individual and group tours on Saturdays from 10 am to 1 pm and by appointment. Now decorated for the holidays, the home is a lovely time capsule into Waynesboro’s bygone days. The property is also a fitting memorial to Rello Oller, the benefactor who paid her good fortune forward by sharing a treasured possession from her kind-hearted life.
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