SAN ANTONIO – Neighbors are banding together to make the final arrangements for the elderly woman who died after being removed from her flea-infested home in Northwest Bexar County.
They say 74-year-old Marietta Collins passed away early Wednesday from cancer that was complicated by severe malnourishment and flea bites.
Neighbors say they're relieved Collins will no longer suffer, because she suffered so much the last few years of her life.
But it wasn't always that way and they want people to remember her as more than the elderly woman whose skin was eaten away by fleas.
"When I saw those pictures [of her home] splashed [on the news], I thought, no one's going to remember what it was like before that,” neighbor Shelia Schneider says. “What she was like.”
Schneider grieves for her neighbor and friend of more than 20 years.
"She was just the sweetest, sweetest person you'd ever meet,” she says. “I want people to know she could decorate. She was smart. She loved to read. She was just a beautiful person.”
Schneider says she’d often browse thrift stores with Collins, who worked as an animal groomer.
"Marietta was proud,” she says. “She didn't want to take a whole lot of help from anybody. You had to force it on her. She worked hard. She never went on the system to have assistance. She always worked for her money."
But when her finances dried up and her health faded, Collins held tight to those values, refusing to see a doctor. Her once pristine house eventually turned into squalor.
"I didn't realize it was that bad,” Schneider says.
Neighbors did realize Collins needed help and reached out to several city, county and state agencies for nearly two years.
"I said, 'If you don't come get this lady, she is going to die,’” Schneider says she told authorities. “And they did not come."
Her worst fears came true, but she’s grateful her dear friend died with dignity.
"She was treated with dignity at the hospital,” Schneider says. “She had a clean sheet. She was clean and she was comfortable. There was nothing eating on her."
Collins had not made any final arrangements for herself so neighbors have pooled together enough money through a memorial fund at Security Services to pay for a proper burial.
They're holding a graveside service Wednesday, June 13 at 1 p.m. at First Memorial Park located at 20567 State Hwy 16 S in Von Ormy.
Friends are also planning a balloon release at 6 p.m. Sunday at Government Canyon State Natural Area, near her neighborhood.