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The Dash Between: Elsie Danevich was a champion for people with disabilities

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Elsie A. Danevich preferred to use her own arm-power to get around in her standard wheelchair rather than depend on others to push her.

"She wheeled herself around," said Lori Kneisel, who worked with Elsie at LEAP, which stands for Linking Employment, Abilities and Potential. "She never had an electric chair. She was as independent as she could possibly be, though she was in a wheelchair."

Elsie, said to be the first woman to compete in the pole vault at Brookside High School, served as the director of LEAP's Independent Living Program for Lorain County.

"She worked tirelessly to promote the concept and philosophy of independent living," said Melanie Hogan, LEAP executive director.

The Elyria Township resident, who died of complications from lung cancer Nov. 27, 2010, at age 65, became paralyzed from the waist down in 1983 as a result of surgery related to arterio-venous malformation, or AVM.

Although the condition was congenital, Elsie was unaware she had it until symptoms surfaced when she was 25.

She was born Elsie Jeffreys on March 28, 1945, in Crafton, Pa., just west of Pittsburgh. Elsie and her siblings, Jane Graziano, Bonnie Hahn and John Jeffreys, grew up in Sheffield Lake.

The Dash Between: About this feature

The dates of birth and death that appear like bookends on a tombstone do not matter as much as the dash between those dates. Award-winning writer Alana Baranick has made her living writing about the dash between. She’s focusing on Lorain and Medina counties and those who have made our area the unique and interesting place it is. Look for her stories on alternating Sundays and visit

www.chroniclet.com to find additional photographs.

The Dash Between is scheduled to appear twice a month in The Chronicle-Telegram. To suggest a story or make a comment, contact Baranick at abaranick@chroniclet.com or (440) 731-8340.

Today, Baranick examines The Dash Between March 28, 1945, when Elsie Danevich was born Elsie Jeffreys in Crafton, Pa., and Nov. 27, 2010, when the Elyria Township resident died at age 65.

Read more:

Their father worked for many years at Watteredge in Avon Lake, according to Elsie's daughter, Lisa.

"My grandmother (Elsie's mother) worked a few different jobs, but most remember her as the kitchen coordinator at Brookside High School in Sheffield," Lisa said.

While attending Brookside High in 1961, Elsie served as treasurer of Teen Canteen, an independent group of teens who raised money for Sheffield Lake's first public library.

After graduating in 1963, Elsie worked as a carhop for Hoop Drive-In restaurant, where she met Bruce Danevich.

Years later, she would tell her daughter, "Your father came into the Hoop every day and played 'Born to Lose' by Ray Charles all the time. I had to go out with him!"

Elsie worked as a cashier at Gray Drugs before she and Bruce married on May 22, 1965.

In 1970, she had her first bout with AVM. Following surgery to remove malformed veins, arteries and tumors that were choking her spinal cord, Elsie could walk but was advised to avoid strenuous activities.

She took a job as a dental assistant and office manager for Tower Dental Associates around 1978 but had to quit in 1983 because the AVM had returned with a vengeance. She had surgery to save her life, but it took away the use of her legs.

Elsie began working for LEAP in 1990.

"She was a champion for people with disabilities," Kneisel said. "She was incredibly passionate about her work, about her family. She was a wealth of information, had a list of resources in her head. She always made you feel at ease. We were all in awe of her, her strength and her energy and her commitment to LEAP."

Elsie encouraged LEAP clients and staff by her example. New clients, upon seeing that the woman in charge was like them, came away seeing possibilities rather than limitations.

"She didn't always feel the greatest, but she was a trouper," Kneisel said. "She had challenges just getting up and getting ready for work that most of us can't even imagine."

She also left people laughing with her colorful language and wicked sense of humor.

"So many times she'd have us laughing, and she didn't know why," Kneisel said. "She had a wonderful laugh. As we say in our business, sometimes you have to laugh, so you don't cry."

Elsie led demonstrations to raise awareness of the needs of people with disabilities. At one such event in Elyria, she helped lead 40 marchers on a "Peaceful Walk for Justice" to protest proposed federal budget cuts to social programs that help low-income people and people with disabilities.

Many of the marchers, of course, were marching on wheels.

Elsie once told a reporter that she never lost hope that with enough public outcry, the system can start serving all people with dignity and respect.

"Sherrod Brown (then a U.S. congressman) has given us our marching orders," she said in 1999. "We can't sit back and wait for someone to do this for us. We need to do it ourselves and be a part of the solution and end the tragedy."

She praised government officials and business people when they added access ramps in accordance with the Americans with Disabilities Act and LEAP requests.

"It's about equal access," Elsie would say. "We're not asking for special. We're asking for equal."

In 2008, the Department of Labor gave LEAP a New Freedom Initiative Award at ceremonies in Washington, D.C. Elsie narrated a video about the agency that was shown at the Washington event.

On the video, she said that people with disabilities are different.

"We look different; we act different," she said. "I think the biggest myth is to think that people with disabilities are broken or that somehow they're not whole. That makes people with disabilities feel as though they're insignificant. That they have nothing to give. That their life is less valuable."

Elsie was committed to dispelling the myth. That's how she rolled.

Contact Alana Baranick at (440) 731-8340 or abaranick@chroniclet.com.

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