Brenda Jean Smith took care of people, her family said. Now in the wake of her sudden death, the community has rallied around her children as they struggle to come to terms with losing their mother.
Smith, 48, died about 8:45 p.m. Monday when her home at 3091 Sticks Road in Codorus Township exploded.
The York County Coroner's office on Thursday morning announced the body recovered from the rubble has been positively identified as Smith, who died of smoke inhalation and burns.
A state police fire marshal is investigating to determine what caused the split-level home to explode, but as of Thursday morning had not released any findings.
On Wednesday afternoon, as daughters Amber Mentzell and Amanda Stuber and their husbands were still waiting for that positive identification, they spoke about Smith, their recollections punctuated by laughter and tears.
"She was a hardworking mother for most of her years," Jeremy Mentzell said. "She had trials and tribulations she went through, but she remained a caring, loving mother."
Single mom: "She was so strong," Amber Mentzell, 30, of Windsor, said. "She raised us all herself, and that's no easy job."
"Especially with you two," Steve Stuber teased.
In addition to her daughters, Smith also leaves a son, 21-year-old John Emery of Windsor, and grandson Collin Emery, 3, also of Windsor.
Amanda Stuber, 26, of Dallastown, said their mother always wanted to help and take care of people -- especially her children.
"She'd drop everything to take care of her kids," she said.
"We didn't have a lot of money growing up," Amber Mentzell said as she recalled "the look of pride" on their mother's face knowing she was working hard and providing for her children. "We might not have had a lot. But we had her love."
Became welder: The single mom went to night classes at the York County School of Technology when her elder daughter was about 11 years old and became a trained welder, her daughters said.
"She went to night classes so she could get a better job," Amber Mentzell explained.
Smith wasn't currently working, but previously worked as a welder for a Thomasville-based company.
"It brought her happiness," said Amanda Stuber, who also is a welder and knows firsthand what her mother found so appealing about the trade.
Born in Delaware and raised in Clearfield County, Smith moved to Windsor in the mid 1980s after meeting the man who would become Amanda Stuber's father.
As her own children became adults and left the nest, Smith became part of a second family as well, her daughters said.
Second family: She moved to the Sticks Road home about five years ago and grew extremely close to several of her neighbors, including Bill Davis and Deb Smith.
"They loved her," Amanda Stuber said, and she loved them.
"I am very grateful to them for ... making her part of their family the way they did," Amber Mentzell said.
Smith's concern for those around her included a love of animals, and a desire to help them, according to her family.
Amber Mentzell recalled finding a tiny abandoned kitten in a construction area of a fast-food restaurant.
"I took him to my mom," she said. "She would bottle-feed him and bathe him like his mom."
Loved her pets: Smith named the kitten Oliver, after actor Oliver Platt from one of her favorite movies, "Lake Placid."
Perhaps a week later, Brenda found another kitten in the woods behind her home at the time. She adopted that cat as well, naming him Little Bear. Both cats remained her companions.
Animals in need seemed to gravitate toward Smith, her daughters said, and she treated her children's pets like grandchildren.
Smith loved watching movies and had a large movie collection; she had a special fondness for Elvis Presley, her family said.
She also was an enthusiastic reader and could be found with her nose buried in Dean R. Koontz horror novels.
Homemade gifts: Smith enjoyed crocheting, often giving away what she made, including an afghan for Amber Mentzell in her school colors of blue and white.
Smith also crocheted strange hats. She gave son-in-law Jeremy Mentzell a brown cat hat complete with ears.
"It might have been a little lopsided, but I didn't care," he said. "I wore it every day."
The family said they are grateful to her mother's neighbors, to local fire companies and to other members of the community who have offered them support and kind words in the wake of Smith's death.
CELEBRATING BRENDA SMITH'S LIFE:
The family of Brenda Jean Smith is holding a celebration-of-life gathering in her honor.
The celebration will be held from noon to 6 p.m. Saturday, Setp. 28, at York Township's Goodwill Fire Co. No. 1, 2318 S. Queen St.
"Anyone (is welcome) who wants to celebrate the wonderful ways she touched our lives," daughter Amber Mentzell said.
The family hopes people will share their memories of Smith.
"That would be fantastic for us," Mentzell said.
-- Reach Liz Evans Scolforo at firstname.lastname@example.org.