Melanie R. Steele, 63, who traveled to Peru as a Catholic missionary in the 1970s, was a nun and grief counselor over the years, and helped grow the northwest Ohio hospice network as its first director of volunteers, died Tuesday of abdominal cancer in the Hospice of Northwest Ohio, South Detroit Avenue.
The Toledo resident, known for her mischievous nature, including filling co-workers desks and offices with balloons, worked in the first area hospice located in the former Flower Hospital, 3314 Collingwood Blvd.
"She was one of the pioneers," said close friend Roseann Botts. "She worked for Hospice of Northwest Ohio when it was in its beginning years in Toledo. She was with them when they only had one office."
Ms. Steele was born in East Detroit, Mich., but spent much of her life in different areas of Ohio, including Cincinnati where she served as a Catholic nun. She worked as a missionary with Chinese immigrant children and South American Indians in Lima, Peru. She left the order, but during her life continued to work as a grief counselor and as a director with hospice.
"She was involved with the bereaved. I can tell you she was extremely spiritual and compassionate," said Dr. Sharon Erel, who works for the hospice network. "After she left here, she continued to work with the bereaved. She was very dedicated, kind, quiet-natured, and smiling."
The low-key Ms. Steele's alter ego was Tickles the clown, who would entertain gravely ill children as part of the now-defunct Rainbow Connection.
"We worked with children with catastrophic illnesses and conditions. It was kind of all-volunteer - just a group of people," Dr. Erel said.
Ms. Botts said her friend's true life's work was always to work with the bereaved.
"She knew she wanted to be a grief counselor before people even knew what that was," she said. "She loved to laugh and get in trouble, in mischief. She was sort of like a person who knows the rules and knows when to bend them."
Surviving are her brothers, William and Dennis Steele, and a niece and three nephews.
Services will be at noon Saturday in the Ansberg-West Funeral Home, where visitation will be after 5 p.m. tomorrow.
The family suggests tributes to Cancer Connection in Monroe; Hospice of Northwest Ohio, or Susan Komen Foundation of Northwest Ohio.