For friends and family of Elva Stauffer, she will always be remembered for more than just her famous baked corn pie.
"She made a wonderful peach pie and her apple dumplings, they were wonderful," said her son Ron Stauffer, who ran the Cloister Restaurant with his mother after his father Aaron Stauffer died in 1999.
Elva Stauffer, known far and wide for her delicious corn pie, passed away on April 5 at WellSpan Ephrata Community Hospital after a brief illness. Just a week before her death, she was still getting out to see family and friends, and was still driving her car.
Elva Stauffer had celebrated her 95th birthday on March 6. To everyone who knew her, she was an indomitable spirit.
"She seemed like the kind of person who would live to be 100," said Stauffer. "She loved to keep busy." It wasn't just family members who admired Elva's indomitable spirit. Tina Thompson starting working at the Cloister Restaurant when she was 15, and spent the next 25 years working at various jobs and even part-time when she was working in other positions in the community.
"Elva was a strong, energetic woman who would help anybody who needed it. She really loved to serve others. She was always one to give people a second chance," said Thompson. "She worked very hard and was there from opening to close." Elva Stauffer was at Thompson's wedding and the two worked together for the Ephrata Ambulance. Stauffer was a driver and Thompson was an EMT, so they made a crew. Stauffer would fearlessly drive through snow and bad weather to get persons safely to the hospital. She was 80 when she finally had to retire, even though she loved serving her community.
Thompson now works for Sen. Ryan Aument, and looks forward to presenting the family with a senate citation to Elva Stauffer for her service to the community over the years.
Troy Bender is another Cloister employee, who worked at the restaurant from the time he was 15. Over 30 years, he worked as a cook. Even after he began his career as a CPA, he still worked parttime and was there on the day the Cloister Restaurant closed.
"Elva was so energetic and when she came in, she was like hurricane, with pots and pans flying," said Bender. "I know it was hard when she decided to close." Bender has great memories of working with Elva and he learned to make her delicious chocolate cake with peanut butter icing. There were lots of fun times. One April Fool's Day one year, they decided to have fun with Elva by calling in a huge order right at closing time. She was rushing around and then suddenly started laughing when she realized that she recognized the voice. "That was you. You fooled me," she said.
Back in fall of 2020, Elva was growing weary of the pandemic, like everyone. She longed to see her family. Her granddaughters decided that she might want to give them lessons on her beloved corn pie, so that the family tradition could be passed down. So they got together outdoors and in her kitchen to get instruction from the expert.
"I was 14 when my mother taught me how to make a corn pie," said Elva at the time.
Later that corn pie became a staple at the Cloister Restaurant, which she and her husband purchased in 1973. Over the years, she guessed that she made at least 500 corn pies every late summer into early fall, totaling somewhere around 25,000 corn pies over 50 years.
Elva's signature corn pie is a simple pie at heart, with a perfectly flaky crust and a filling of fresh sweet corn, milk, corn starch, salt, and pepper to make a almost custard-like filling. The corn was a family secret. Stauffer always used white or bicolor sweet corn from her son Clark Stauffer's farm on Stevens Road.
"She used white corn like Glacial or bicolor corn. And we have a invention called a de-silker that removed all the silk from the corn," said Clark.
Clark noted that his mother lived on her own up to just a few days before she went to the hospital. She had a woman who stayed overnight as a companion as she got older, but during the day, she was still doing well on her own.
"My mother had a very independent streak. She wanted to do things on her own," said Clark. "She got very interested in doing jigsaw puzzles and enjoyed doing very complicated puzzles while everyone had to stay home the past year." Elva granddaughter Michele Brenneman remembers her grandmother as feisty and willing to do anything for anyone. One of those things was passing on her family recipe to her granddaughters and great granddaughters.
Back in the fall of 2020, Brenneman, Melissa Gingerich, and Janelle Horst, asked their grandmother if she would teach them how to make her famous pies, and Elva was delighted. As she said at the time, "I'm getting older, and I wanted to make sure they knew what they were doing." Corn pie-making lessons included great-granddaughters Leah, Emily, and Claire, who loved spending time with Stauffer. They learned to make her flaky pie crust and how to blend the corn kernels with milk and corn starch, getting it to the right consistency.
"It really meant so much to us and to my daughters," said Brenneman. "She had stepped in as their grandma since I lost my mom before they were born. Elva was my grandma and theirs too." Elva was the 10th of 11 children born to the late William Z. and Anna M. Martin of New Holland. Her younger brother, Leon Martin, 92, is now the only sibling still surviving.
"We were the last two of 11, and we saw each other off and on. When she had the restaurant, I always went there and I enjoyed the corn pie. Everyone seemed to like that a lot," said Martin, who had founded Martin Paving.
Her son Ron remembers that his mother rarely took a day off when she ran the Cloister Restaurant. She loved working there and was kept busy making the corn pie, peach pie, raspberry pie, apple dumplings, baked oatmeal, and Pennsylvania German dishes like stuffed pig stomach and schnitz and knepp, made with dried apples, ham, and dumplings.
Ron explained that his mother had always loved baking and cooking. Elva Martin was just a teenager when she set up a shop in the corner of her father's barn in New Holland. While he sold horses and cattle,
she sold pies and soups. Later, when she and her husband purchased the Cloister Restaurant, her corn pie and other recipes made their way to the popular Ephrata dining spot, A member of Hinkletown Mennonite Church, Stauffer did missionary work and loved to travel. She traveled to Russia on four mission trips with Cross Keys Ministry. She enjoyed her journeys to Hawaii, Thailand, Alaska, China, and South Africa, where she got to ride an ostrich. She was also a member of the Farm Women's Association.
Family and friends meant the world to her, and she is survived by her sons Ronald, husband of Bonnie S. (Crowther) Stauffer, and Clark R., husband of Cheryl (Goodling) Stauffer, both of Ephrata; as well as her daughter Shirley J., wife of Fred Redekop of Elmira, Ontario. Stauffer had eight grandchildren and 17 great-grandchildren.
As stated, her brother Leon Martin is the only surviving sibling. She was preceded in death by four sisters, Mary Ellen, Anna Magdalena, Lydia Z., and Elsie Mae, and five brothers, Paul Z., Harvey Z., William Z., Landis Z. and Louis Earl, and a daughterin-law, Lucy (Hess) Stauffer.
A viewing for Elva Stauffer will be held on Thursday, April 15, 2021, from 6 to 8 p.m. at the Hinkletown Mennonite Church, 2031 28th Division Highway, Ephrata. An additional viewing will be held on Friday, April 16, 2021, from 9 to 10 a.m., at the church, followed by funeral services at 10 a.m. with Pastors Glenn Sauder and Jerold Martin officiating. Interment will take place in the adjoining church cemetery.
Laurie Knowles is a correspondent for The Ephrata Review.